In the September/October issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, Phyllis Trible, a professor of sacred literature at Union Theological Seminary, discusses the strange account of Jacob wrestling with the God (or a man or an angel — it’s not so clear).
(Gen 32:24-31 ESV) 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 And he said to him, “What is your name?”
And he said, “Jacob.”
28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”
But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.
30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [the face of God], saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Trible is a feminist and writes about her struggles reconciling the Old Testament with her feministic perspective. She concludes,
Moving this haunting story to my predicament at the boundary of faith and feminism, I pluck from it two memorable lines, one from Jacob and one from the storyteller. First, Jacob’s defiant words to the stranger I take as a challenge to the Bible itself: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” I will not let go of the book unless it blesses me. I will struggle with it. I will not turn it over to my enemies that it curse me. Neither will I turn over to friends who wish to curse it. No, over against the cursing from either Bible-thumpers or Bible-bashers, I shall hold fast for blessing. But I am under no illusion that blessing, if it comes, will be on my terms — that I will not be changed in the process. Indeed, the second line I pluck from the story undercuts that illusion: The storyteller reports: “The sun rose upon him [Jacob] … limping because of his hip.” Through this ancient story, appropriated anew, Biblical studies, faith and feminism converge for me. Wrestling with the words, to the light I limp.