In one corner, we have Jacob. Jacob’s had a lot of crap happen in his life over the course of Genesis Chapters 25-32 (and more), but he’s managed to emerge okay, after impersonating his brother, dealing with a father-in-law from hell (Laban), and generally outsmarting everyone around him. Jacob’s savvy. He’s eventually the founder of the 12 tribes of Israel. He’s a talented farmer.
In the other corner is God.
This isn’t a fair fight, obviously, but something tells me that when Jacob and God wrestle (Gen. 32) God isn’t really giving it his 100% effort. Or probably even 1%. Anyway, it probably wouldn’t be any fun for God if he did, as the match would be over quickly. Of course, that’s not what is interesting about this story, and the point of it isn’t to wonder how God would actually wrestle, but…okay, okay, what if he did? What kind of costume would he wear? Would he be like the Undertaker? Or Hulk Hogan?
A deep breath — okay, that, as I’ll explore in this post, is altogether not the point.
At first, the text only initially calls Jacob’s opponent “a man”:
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ (Gen. 32:24-26)
Later on in the chapter we find out this “man” is actually God. And God gives up! Jacob must be pretty tough! Anyway, after getting beaten (presumably) this “man” gives Jacob a new name: Israel (Gen: 32:28). By now, if you’ve been reading Holey Books enough, and/or you already know this story, you probably saw this coming. After the wrestle, the text also notes: “Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.”
So two things come out of this Wrestlemania: Jacob gets a new name; and there’s a reason why the Israelites don’t eat “the tendon attached to the socket of the hip.”
This is yet another classic etiological narrative. Regardless of whether we want to literally take the truth of Jacob actually wrestling with God — and I don’t think we should, as this is perhaps the single most obvious metaphor in the entirety of Genesis, as virtually every single main character/person in Genesis figuratively wrestles with God — it’s clear that the point of this narrative is to explain how Jacob got his new name (and became another in the line of the patriarchs of the Israelites) and to explain one particular eating practice (this not eating the tendon thing is part of the mitzvah). In other words, it’s beside the point of whether God actually gave 100% or 1% or even took the form of a dude and wrestled with Jacob all night.*
So there you have it — unlike the current Wrestlemanias, whose apparent purpose is to make a bunch of money, the purpose of the Jacob v. God heavyweight matchup was to explain a particular eating practice, and show, metaphorically, everyone’s struggles with God.
*Seriously, all night? Who wrestles for that long? Shouldn’t one of them pinned the other at some point? Or at least, why didn’t Jacob ask, “Dude, who are you and why are you wrestling with me all night?” The ridiculousness of these questions only underscores my point — this story is not to be taken literally.