Hagar and Ishmael sent away: an exegesis of Genesis 21:8-21

Hagar and Ishmael sent away: an exegesis of Genesis 21:8-21

Abraham’s expulsion of his wife and firstborn son is a significant event in the Patriarchal family. The exploration of this story will unveil many implications for the nations surrounding, for Ishmael as well as Isaac personally as well as shed light on the importance of election for the sake of national identity.



The story of Abraham banishing Hagar and Ishmael is located in Genesis 21:8-21.  It presents as a necessary occurrence to safeguard Isaac’s inheritance.  In exegeting this passage, however, it is evident that this story possesses more significance than the expulsion of Ishmael, but also emphasises the separation of Abraham’s treasured sons and the subsequent election of the ancestral family from other nations.  This essay will explore the themes of Genesis that contextualise this passage, while also examining the narrative link with Genesis 22:1-19, in which God directs Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  This essay will suggest that God’s blessing was upon Ishmael, but the promise he made to Abraham resulted in the election of Isaac as the son to inherit the covenant, demonstrated through progeny and land.


Background of Genesis

In chronologically examining Genesis, the writings can be dated to the second millennium BC.[1]  Despite its ancient language, recent scholarship has altered the dating of Genesis and the entire primary history (Genesis-Kings 2) to the post-exilic Persian period.[2]  The Persian empire began in 550AD and extended to 330AD and was both expansive and expertly administrated.  This period saw the blossoming of Greek culture including literature, philosophy, medicine, democracy, and architecture. During the Persian empires dominance, a global cultural exchange ensued that encouraged the emergence of thought and innovation from the likes of Archimedes, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.[3]  The authors use of Greek histography in Genesis appears to be influenced by this and contributed to by sources including law, epic poetry, and exilic prophets that add interpretive depth to its composition.[4]  In order not to be consumed by these sources or the Greco-Persian culture, the redactor produced a distinctly Jewish theology within the historical narrative of Israel’s origin and early development.  The authorship, although unknown, has been suggested to have been a school of priest historians centred around the Jewish temple.[5]  At this time the authors audience, the Jewish diaspora, were scattered throughout the Persian empire without land or temple.  The origins of Israel and God’s promises to his chosen people would have provided them identity and security, especially through the ancestor narratives that commence with Abraham.


Genesis themes

The title Genesis in Hebrew is beresit, translated as ‘in the beginning’.  The themes contained in Genesis are an appropriate introduction to the history and theology of Israel.  Whilst scholarly opinion varies regarding the overview of the book, the history of Israel is undoubtably a significant theme.  Israel’s history is recounted from Abram’s calling in Genesis 12, followed by Isaac’s biography, and is finalised by the long Jacob novella that stretches to Genesis’ conclusion.[6]  Brodie suggests two meta-themes for Genesis including the history of Israel and human life.[7]  According to his view, the description of origins and the sequential documentation of history are tied to the permanent realities of life that are experienced by humans.  The theme of human life, however, is suggested by Brodie to supersede that of history.  Whilst history is an important record of events, the patriarch narratives communicate to the Jewish people the realities and significance of human life including generational cycles, human environments, and individuals’ responses to challenging events.[8] Arnold cautions that when read in the context of Genesis 1-11, the focus upon Israel’s history and identity as God’s chosen people should not drown out God’s divine blessing on all nations and that they, along with the elect nations, are enveloped in God’s plans.[9] 

The Jewish genealogy detailed in Genesis is found in its eleven toledots.  Toledot is translated as family or generations and creates a structure for Genesis with each section commencing with a genealogical list.[10]  The distinction of Israel from other nations becomes apparent following the Terah toledot.  In Genesis 12:1-3, Abram is called away from Haran and his father’s household to a new land.  It is here that the Abraham journey begins as the first novella (Genesis 12-25) of the ancestral narratives (Genesis 12-50).  The call to a new land is the first of Abraham’s three ‘promise’ encounters with God.  In Genesis 12, Abram is promised by God that he will become a great nation and that all the people of the earth will be blessed through him.  The primordial history as recorded in Genesis 1-11, transitions to God’s revised plan to use Abram to father a family that will multiply and become God’s chosen people.  In Genesis 15:1-21, God reaffirms this promise with a covenant and the assurance of a biological son for Abram.  Finally, in Genesis 17:1-22, God introduces circumcision as the sign of the covenant and changes the ancestors’ names to Abraham and Sarah.  In examining Abrahams encounters with God, it can be suggested that the blessing of God is evidenced through descendants inhabiting the land of Canaan, which should be considered when examining Genesis 21:8-21.


The context of Genesis 21:8-21

The events concerning the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 21:8-21 immediately proceed the birth of Isaac and his entrance into the Genesis storyline.  It is noteworthy that these events are encompassed within the account of Abraham’s interactions with King Abimelech, which commence with the second of three sister-wife stories involving the patriarchs recorded in Genesis.  In this event, Abimelech responds kindly to Abraham’s deceit,[11] acknowledges that Abraham’s God is with him in all that he does, and resolves with the pair’s treaty at Beersheba.[12]  The second component of this interaction reveals that Abimelech is a Philistine.  Importantly, they are not the only national representatives in the storyline.  The birth stories of Lot’s sons, Moab and Ben-Ammi, the fathers of the Moabites and the Ammonites respectively,[13] also form a broader context for the arrival of Isaac.  While Lot’s children are born in disgrace and as a consequence of incestuous manipulation,  presenting a stark contrast to the miraculous birth of Isaac[14], it can also be seen that Abraham’s family of promise is surrounded by other nations such as the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, and Egyptians.  This is important for consideration because the separation of Ishmael from Isaac detailed in Genesis 21:8-21 is representative of the broader election and distinction of Israel from all other nations.


The separation of the promised son from the firstborn son

Genesis 21:8-18 documents the separation of Ishmael, Abraham’s first-born son, from Isaac, God’s promised son.  Many commentators consider Ishmael’s dismissal occurred in order to remove him as a challenger to the son-elect.[15][16] [17] [18]  Blum highlights that in verse 10 of this passage, gares, translated as ‘drive out’ (NASB) or ‘get rid’ (NIV), is the same word utilised for the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden in Genesis 3:24, and Cain in Genesis 4:14.[19]  Despite the similarity in language, when considering the promise of blessing to Ishmael from God, it may be that the dismissal of Ishmael could also be contextualised as a necessary separation to bring God’s promise into fulfillment for both sons.  Despite Sarah‘s desire to banish Hagar and Ishmael, examination of the passage in context of the Abrahamic narrative reveals a pattern of amicable divergence of the non-elect lines,[20] similarly observed with Lot and Eleazar the servant.[21]  Therefore, the passage can be considered as necessary in tracing Israel’s genealogy but also in clarifying how Ishmael came to a life separate both geographically and socially from God’s chosen family.[22]  It is possible that this event does not just concern the expulsion of Ishmael and the protection of the elect line, but also highlights the inevitability of separation, which both Genesis 21:8–21 and Genesis 22:1–19 illustrate.  Chung suggests the maidservant and her son to be heroic characters rather than secondary figures.[23]  This assertion is supported by Yahweh, the angel, Abraham, and Hagar all viewing Ishmael as treasured.[24]  Chung’s description may be overstated, however, as although Hagar and Ishmael respond to their circumstances with courage, they are secondary figures when understanding the narrative as predominately concerning God’s chosen family.

The passage of Genesis 21:8-21 commences with a feast celebrating Isaac’s weaning and that the fulfilment of God’s promise of a son.  Bruggerman captures this stating that, “The text holds together the word of God and the birth of the child.”[25]  From the introduction of Abram and Sari in Genesis 11:30 as unable to conceive, God’s word that Abraham would be the father of many nations has rested upon the miracle of a son and the more distant reality of land.  Arnold states that, “Abram must depend on Yahweh’s divine decree rather than his own ability to navigate his journey.”[26]  The unfolding elements of God’s promise in the three covenant passages emphasise this.  God speaks and Abraham responds by obeying the initial call in Genesis 12:4, believing the Lord in Genesis 15:6 when he is promised an heir, and finally by  obeying the circumcision directive in Genesis 17:23.  God’s promise is fulfilled and the divine word becomes a reality in Isaac.  Through the apparent theme of promises fulfilled as evidenced by progeny, the diaspora would have been encouraged to obey God’s word as Abraham did and reminded that Israel’s covenant with Yahweh will be fulfilled spiritually and in reality, through descendants and land.

The aforementioned celebration of Isaac’s weaning was interrupted by Sarah as she observes Ishmael mocking Isaac.  She subsequently demands that Abraham send Ishmael and Hagar away.[27]  This event was the final episode in the rivalry between Abraham’s two wives.  The poor treatment of Hagar reveals her secondary status to the covenantal family but greater than status, rivalry, or the mocking of Isaac, is Sarah’s desire to protect Isaac’s rightful claim to the inheritance.   It is important to note in Genesis that the matriarchs, such as Sarah and Rebecca, and later Bathsheba during the monarch period, play a crucial role in determining the line of blessing and inheritance.[28]  This is observed in Genesis 21 as Sarah appeals to Abraham and influences the future and succession of her son.


Parallels with Genesis 22, the sacrifice of Isaac

The separation of Ishmael caused Abraham great distress as Ishmael was the first born son and he was treasured by his father.[29]  The distress concerning Ishmael parallels with the distress Abraham experienced when directed by God to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22.  Abraham treasured both of his sons and twice he is confronted with the unimaginable request to let them go.  Genesis 22 echo’s Abraham’s pre-Isaac pleading with God that Ishmael might live under his blessing.  God assures Abraham that the Egyptian, despite being the non-elect son will be blessed, but that Isaac the younger brother will be the son of the everlasting covenant.[30] The younger brother as blessed by God and usurping the firstborn’s birthright exemplified in this passage is an intriguing and pervasive theme in Genesis.  One example of this is when Esau, Isaac’s firstborn, also becomes the non-elect son and the younger brother Jacob carries the covenantal promises.[31]  Expanding on this pattern, Genesis depicts Israel as chosen from among the nations, while other nations are still to be blessed by God as Ishmael was.  The redactor ensures this motif brings great hope to the diaspora, reminding them of God’s everlasting covenant that cannot be compromised despite the existence, prosperity, and apparent dominance of other nations and surrounding people.

Abraham, reassured by God that Ishmael will remain blessed and become a great nation, sends Hagar and Ishmael away in Genesis 21:14.  In this passage Abraham loaded water upon Hagar’s shoulders, which parallels with the wood he loaded upon Isaac in Genesis 22:6.  Both of these materials represent the upcoming threat to his sons lives; a lack of water for Ishmael and wood for Isaac’s sacrifice.  Hagar finds herself wandering the desert for a second time, but unlike the initial escape from Sarah’s mistreatment towards her recorded in Genesis 16, there is no immediate divine intervention.  Consequently, Hagar wanders unprotected and without direction.  This experience for Hagar contrasts to Abraham’s three-day journey in the wilderness to Moriah, in which he is afforded a plan from God and possesses clarity regarding destination.  For Hagar and Ishmael, the food and water are exhausted and Hagar sets Ishmael under a tree to die.  The suffering experienced by Hagar in this passage parallels with Abraham’s at Moriah, as both characters believed they would lose their sons.[32]  The narrative link between these passages appears to be intentional.  Both Genesis 21 and 22 culminate with the future and the promise of blessing afforded to each son being brought into question.


Promises kept by God

God intervenes at the crying of Ishmael and fulfills Ishmaels name meaning, God hears.  God then reaffirms the promise he made concerning Ishmael in Genesis 16:10 and Hagar sees the well and water that offers salvation for both her and her son.  The story then progresses to Ishmael as a grown man, blessed and successful as God promised.   Ishmael’s story concludes in Genesis 21:21 with Hagar, depicted similar to a patriarch, reassured of God’s promise and securing a wife for her son.  This concluding scene possesses similarities with Hagar’s angelic encounter in Genesis 16:7-13, where God intervenes on behalf of the vulnerable, provides relief, the character sees what offers timely deliverance, and God reaffirms his promise.  Likewise, as Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac, the angel intervenes providing relief and Isaac’s salvation is confirmed upon Abraham seeing a ram caught in the bushes.  In these aforementioned accounts the deliverance offered by God is acquired once the character in the story sees, which conversely along with blindness (for example the men at Lot’s door[33] and when Jacob does not see Leah[34]), can be considered an interesting motif in Genesis. 

It is apparent that there are a number of themes relevant in the interpretation of Genesis 21:8-21 including human life, Israel’s history, God’s promises, the value of progeny, election, and the blessing of non-elect people and nations.  The narrative link between Genesis 21:8-21 and Genesis 22:1-19 reveals both Isaac and Ishmael are treasured by Abraham.  Additional parallels include God’s intervention on behalf of the vulnerable and those in distress, his provision, and the reaffirming of his promises.  Despite the similarities between the passages, there exist contrasts such as in Hagar’s and Abraham’s journey in the dessert and to Moriah respectively.  In exploring Abraham’s banishment of Ishmael, it can be concluded that not only was this course of action necessary for the affirmation of Isaac as heir of the covenant, but it also enabled Ishmael to emerge as another blessed son and nation. For the Jewish diaspora, Isaac’s and Ishmael’s story offers reassurance concerning God fulfilling his promise to them as the chosen nation, while also revealing God’s value and concern for all nations. 




Arnold, Bill T. Genesis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Barry, John D., David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, eds. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.

Blum, Edwin A., Trevin Wax. CSB Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017.

Brodie, Thomas L. Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Bruggerman, Walter. Genesis. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982.

Chung, Il-Seung. “Hagar and Ishmael in light of Abraham and Isaac: Reading Gen. 21:8-21 and Gen. 22:1-19 as a dialogue.” The Expository Times, 2017: 573-582.

Dockery, David S. Holman Concise Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.

Gore, Charles, Henry Leighton Goudge, Alfred Guillaume. A New Commentary on Holy Scripture: Including the Apocrypha. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942.

Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Longman, Tremper, III. How to Read Genesis. Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2005.

Shectman, Sarah. “Israel’s Matriarchs: Political pawns or powerbrokers?” In The Politics of the Ancestors: Exegetical and Historical Perspectives on Genesis 12–36, by Jakob Wöhrle Mark Brett, 151-165. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2018.

Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

[1] Blum, Edwin A., and Trevin Wax, eds. CSB Study Bible: Notes (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 3.

[2] Thomas L. Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 81.

[3] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary, 51.

[4] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary, 71.

[5] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary, 82.

[6] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary, 89.

[7] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary, 89.

[8] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary, 95.

[9] Bill T. Arnold, Genesis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 132.

[10] John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 22.  

[11] Genesis 20:1-18

[12] Genesis 21:22-34

[13] Genesis 19:30-38

[14] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary, 255.

[15] Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax. CSB Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 2.

[16] Charles Gore, Henry Leighton Goudge and Alfred Guillaume. A New Commentary on Holy Scripture: Including the Apocrypha (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942), 22 .

[17] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 22.

[19] Blum, Edwin A., and Trevin Wax, eds. CSB Study Bible: Notes. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017, 42.

[20] Bill T. Arnold, Genesis, 71.

[21] Genesis 15:3

[22] Bill T. Arnold, Genesis, 71.

[23] Chung Il-Seung, “Hagar and Ishmael in light of Abraham and Isaac: Reading Gen. 21:8-21 and Gen. 22:1-19 as a dialogue.” The Expository Times (2017): 573.

[24] Walter Bruggerman. Genesis (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982), 183.

[25] Walter Bruggerman. Genesis, 180.  

[26] Bill T. Arnold, Genesis, 131.

[27] Genesis 21:9-10

[28] Sarah Shectman, “Israel’s Matriarchs: Political pawns or powerbrokers?”, in The Politics of the Ancestors: Exegetical and Historical Perspectives on Genesis 12–36, ed. Jakob Wöhrle Mark Brett (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2018), 153.

[29] Walter Bruggerman. Genesis, 183.

[30] Genesis 17:18-19

[31] Genesis 25:23

[32] Chung, “Hagar and Ishmael in light of Abraham and Isaac: Reading Gen. 21:8-21 and Gen. 22:1-19 as a dialogue”, 581.

[33] Genesis 19:11

[34] Genesis 29:25

God’s names and characterisations in Genesis

God’s names and characterisations in Genesis

The book of Genesis is considered foundational to both Jewish and Christian faiths. Subsequently it introduces God with numerous names and varying portrayals of His character and conduct. This short essay attempts to unveil the God of Genesis as the author intended within the context of the book alone.


Introduction: God equally transcendent and imminent

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, offers the reader an introduction to the primary history (Genesis-Kings 2) of the Israelites and to its main character, God.[1]  God may be considered unfathomable in description; however, the authors of Genesis offer a variety of names and characterisations for the God of Israel.  The most utilised names for God in Genesis, include Elohim and Yhwh are introduced in Genesis 1 and 2, respectively.  These names present a depiction of God as being a transcendent but imminent, omniscient but then inquisitive, a cosmic ruler while also a modest gardener.  Additionally, God is described as an anthropomorphic deity as evidenced most noticeably in theophanies to the characters in Genesis.  This essay will explore these characterisations of God as described in Genesis and evaluate the importance and value of a multifaceted portrayal of God. 


Elohim revealed in the first creation story

The God revealed in Genesis 1-2:3, is a divine authority whose presence is portrayed through a collection of concise verbal commands that create the universe.  The first of the two creation accounts detailed in Genesis has been accepted to be a Priestly source,[2]  in which God is named Elohim, whilst the second creation story commencing in Genesis 2:4 names God as Yhwh.[3]  Speaking from a transcendent position of absolute power, the Priestly account describes God as first speaking into the darkness, commanding, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).  Miraculously and without delay, God’s command results in the appearance of light and he proceeds to name the light day and the dark night before the conclusion of the first day.  The author clearly portrays in the text a God of divine supremacy, who orders the world through infallible commands.  Furthermore, God is also characterised as being separate from creation and the earth, with the only connection between the omnipresent ruler of the cosmos and the material world being his spoken word.  Brown correctly observes that, “God’s presence from the priestly perspective is primarily verbal. Palpable, overwhelming, glorious presence is entirely lacking”.[4]   


El Shaddi, almighty God

God characterised as a divine commander continues to appear throughout Genesis.  Another portrayal of this is located in Genesis 17:1-22, where God appears to Abraham and reveals himself by a new name, El Shaddi, which means ‘God of the mountains’ or ‘The Almighty God’.  Arnold states, “Abram speaks hardly at all but hears five divine speeches, in which God emphasizes again how vast will be Abram’s offspring, changes his and Sarai’s names, institutes circumcision as a sign of their covenant relationship, and announces the birth of Isaac”.[5]  The introduction of God as El Shaddi further emphasises God’s authority and continues the Priestly depiction of a highly verbal God deficient of physical characteristics.  As with Elohim in Genesis 1, El Shaddi appears and speaks what is to be, before returning to his heavenly abode.

The Priestly source is recognised by the sequential prose describing the six days of creation, which follows a predictable pattern of God speaking, creation occurring as instructed, and the creator describing His work as good.  The author presents a deity who is measured, decisive, and omnipotent, whilst simultaneously remaining distant and lacking physicality.  As God commences his final creation, mankind in Genesis 1:26, the English translation records God addressing himself three times, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”.  Elohim is the plural form of El, the Canaanite name for god.  In its original context, Elohim does not describe a trinitarian God or polytheism, but rather the infinite and incomprehensible nature of God.  Humankind is created theomorphic, bearing the imago Dei, reflecting Godly characteristics.[6]  As God shares his likeness with human beings the author conversely reveals the anthropomorphic characteristics of God, humanising the divine authority.[7] 


Yahweh (Jehovah) revealed in the second creation story

The second creation account commencing in Genesis 2:4 is recognised as a Lay or non-priestly source (L).[8]  This account of creation, in conjunction with the temptation and fall narrative of Genesis 3, typify God as a grounded gardener with a fatherly presence that comprises both intimacy and authority.  Through these stories in Genesis, the redactor successfully reveals another aspect of God’s character and conduct.   It is in the L account of creation that the transcendent and highly verbal God depicted in Genesis 1 and named Elohim, is given another name in Genesis 2:4, Yhwh. Brown describes the Genesis 2 account as the “drama of the dirt”[9] and Yhwh as the “down-and-dirty deity”.[10]   In stark contrast to Genesis 1, God is the divinity on the ground, who makes the earth and heavens (v 4), plants a garden (v 8), makes all kinds of trees (v9), separates great rivers (v 10), and takes the man and places him in the garden (v 15).  Yhwh is clearly portrayed as a present, practical, and participatory God who is comfortable being seen at the epicentre of his earthly creation.  The transition from the God of Genesis 1 to Genesis 2 is aptly summarised by Brown who states, “God exchanges the royal decree for a garden spade”.[11]

The second creation story unfolds quickly with the entire cosmos, including the earth, appearing to be created in one day.  Yhwh acts rapidly with perfect competence. The authors emphasis is on God as particularly active in making and shaping the garden and its inhabitants.  God appears distinctly anthropomorphic and is portrayed as a visible deity in close proximity to his creation.[12]  The anthropomorphic presence of Yhwh is most obvious early in the creation account.  In Genesis 2:7, Yhwh forms the man from the dust, metaphorically revealing him as the master craftsman constructing and shaping a complex human by his own hands.  Interestingly, the earthling is merely ornamental until Yhwh appears face to face with his human creation and breathes his divine breath into the man bringing him to life.  This face to face close encounter with God is consistent with accounts recorded later in Genesis. In Genesis 16:13, Hagar expresses, “I have now seen the one who sees me,” and subsequently Hagar names God, El Roi. In Genesis 32:30 where Jacob, upon realising he has wrestled with a deity  exclaims, “I saw God face to face.”  Through these passages the redactor characterises the God of Genesis as tangible, personal and at times face to face with his highly treasured humanity.


Yahweh’s Fatherly concern

The Genesis 2 creation account not only depicts Yhwh as an active gardener cultivating creation who possesses supreme authority, but also as a fatherly God with deep care and concern for his creation.  Yhwh reveals this affection for Adam by placing him at home in the garden and providing him with meaningful work (v 15).  God also endows Adam with the authority to name the animals as he seeks to find Adam a suitable helper (v 18-19), another act revealing fatherly interest.  God’s concern for and participation in earthly affairs does not stop with Adam.  In Genesis 18:17-33 the interactive and involved Yhwh includes Abraham in his intimate thoughts and his deliberation concerning the grievous sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Yhwh’s authority as judge of all the earth (v 25) is abated by his decision to not hide from Abraham his destructive intent (v 17), but collaborate face to face with the patriarch.  This characterisation of God as both intimate and relational with humankind, whilst simultaneously being the ultimate judge, interplay throughout Genesis.  Genesis 3 contains the account of Adam and Eve’s temptation by the serpent and the consequences of which render Yhwh imminent once more.  In Genesis 3:8-9, God’s afternoon stroll is disturbed by the unusual absence of Adam and Eve.  At this point, Yhwh is illustrated as investigator and judge, where inquiry leads him to judge and punish the three culprits, Adam, Eve and the serpent.[13] Yhwh’s all-powerful authority is clearly portrayed to the disobedient characters, however, L’s explanation does not end the narrative with God as judge and condemner. Rather, despite exiling the first humans from their garden sanctuary, God, like a father graciously clothes Adam and Eve (v 21), generously helps Eve birth Cain (4:1-2), and in his mercy protects the murderer Cain in his exile (4:15).  Yhwh proves to be both ‘shield of protection’ and ‘very great reward’ to the characters of Genesis, just as he self-identified when he appeared in a vision to Abram in Genesis 15:1.


Adonai, the elusive God

The three visitors to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre recorded in Genesis 18:1-15, describe God’s manifest presence to be somewhat mysterious and elusive.   In this story, Abraham addresses the three strangers and in turn God as Adonai, which is translated as ‘lord’.   Adonai is not exclusively a title for a deity and is often utilised throughout Genesis in the addressing of a superior individual, such as a master.  For example, Jacob addresses Esau as Adonai in Genesis 33:8 in their reconciliation dealings.  The emphasis of the aforementioned passage concerning Abraham, revolves around the identity of the visitors and their intention.[14]  Genesis 18:1 reveals that the passage is a theophany, however, Yhwh is represented as three and the dialogue in the narrative vacillates between a singular and a plural Yhwh.  In this narrative, Yhwh is clearly depicted as a man or men who are walking, talking, eating, and enjoying Abraham’s hospitality, all the while remaining unidentified.  The three visitors appear to talk as one until Yhwh is unveiled by the supernatural nature of the promise in verse 10 where he states, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”  Brown captures this stating, “The narrative gradually builds to an unveiling of the divine identity from “three men,” to “one” to Yhwh”.[15]  The intent of the ambiguous visitors is revealed, the delivery of the promise, a son for the aging Abraham and barren Sarah. Yhwh is revealed as a prophetic voice and a broker of the miraculous.  The portrayal of Yhwh as the three visitors in Genesis 18 contrasts with Abraham’s other visions, words and theophanies recorded in Genesis 12, 15, 17, 19, and 22.  Despite the differing context or manifestation, however, Yhwh’s promises provide reassurance of his covenant on each occasion.  Yhwh is revealed to be unmistakably without equal, however, in Genesis 18:1-18 appears casually, unannounced, and without formally revealing his authority, hence the label Adonai from the unsuspecting Abraham.  Despite the humanness of God and his unspectacular manifestation, his promise supersedes Abraham and Sarah’s unbelief, altering their future, and further revealing Yhwh as a covenantal, involved, and concerned God.   


Laying the foundations for Monotheism

The God of Genesis is afforded a diverse range of names and representations.  This may indicate an attempt by the redactor to convey and establish a monotheistic Israelite theology.[16]  Monotheism, the belief that only one God exists, is not specifically stated throughout the Genesis story.[17]   As previously mentioned, it is evident that the numerous characteristics of God reveal him to be multifaceted in nature and definition, including a cosmic creator, a practical gardener, a caring father, an obscure three in one stranger, and a divine covenant keeper.   Given the differing names and explanations for God in Genesis, it could be considered that the God of Israel is not one but many indicating Polytheistic Jewish origins.  Furthermore, P’s name for God in Genesis 1, Elohim, is derived from El, the chief God in the Canaanite pantheon.  The multiplicity of God’s name and character is prominent in Genesis 14:18. Abram, on his return from victory over the five Kings meets Melchizedek, the King of Salem and Priest of El Elyon.  Melchizedek blesses Abram in the name of his god, El Elyon, who like Elohim and Yhwh also holds the title of creator of heaven and earth.  It appears in this interaction that Abram is comfortable to amalgamate Yhwh with Melchizedek’s God, when he abruptly states to the seemingly manipulative King of Sodom that he has sworn an oath to Yhwh El Elyon.  This may suggest that Abram’s allegiance to Yhwh is not subdued by his acknowledgment of El Elyon.  The redactor may be indicating that Israel’s one true God and creator can possibly be understood by many names, including foreign designations.  Whilst not explicitly stated, the theology of Genesis does appear to align to monotheism as opposed to monolatry, an exclusive and Israelite only God among many other gods.[18]  The many names and characterisations of God in Genesis, rather than imply polytheism or monolatry, may instead be a product of an intricate procedure to shape an Israelite identity and nation, promoting a theology of a singular God who is above all nations and has many names and forms.

Despite the apparent theological polytheism, the Genesis redactor appears to be constructing the foundations for a monotheistic God. The redactors ambition does not appear to be construct a monolatry for Israel. This can be evidenced by the inclusion of many foreign characters such as Melchizedek in the plot of Genesis. Inclusivity not exclusivity is a character trait of Yhwh. In Genesis 16:7, Hagar, the runaway slave is graciously encountered by Yhwh’s messenger beside the road to Shur and the son in her womb is promised to be a great nation. Likewise, Yhwh appears in Abimelek’s dream in Genesis 20:3 to warn him of Abraham’s deceit in the sister-wife incident. Genesis presents a belief in one true God not only for Israel but for all peoples and nations.[19]  The God of Genesis is depicted in a wide range of names and forms that do not explicitly outline a monotheistic Israelite theology or communicate allegiance to a single deity. However, the God of Genesis is Creator of heaven and earth, his dominion is cosmic, what he says happens, foreigners are included in his care and concern and Israelite worship is exclusive.[20]


Conclusion: All-powerful yet personal God

The God of Genesis is known by differing names such as Elohim and Yhwh and according to the text is characterised in a multifaceted manner. God is portrayed as both king and landscaper, transcendent and imminent. God commands from on high and also comes down to eat and wrestle like a human being. God is both elusive and near, he is depicted as all powerful while also portrayed to the reader as a concerned protector and gracious judge. The significance of God’s multiple names and descriptions could be suggested that the redactor’s intention in Genesis is to introduce the all-powerful cosmic Creator to the Israelite people as a God who is also eager to be known in a meaningful and personal way. In addition the text  suggests that the monotheistic God is God of all nations. This essay has not been exhaustive in its approach to the names and characteristics of God in the Genesis text. The names mentioned along with El Olam (21:33) and Yhwh Jireh (22:14) could be explored further for their significance. In addition, place names involving the appearance of God like Bethel (28:19), Peniel (32:30) and Jacob’s new name, Israel (32:28) contain further opportunity to understand the nature of the God of Genesis.


Arnold, Bill T. Genesis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Brodie, Thomas L. Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Brown, William. “Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis.” In Genesis and Christian Theology, edited by N. McDonald et al, 3-25. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010.

Carr, David M. An introduction to the Old Testament. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2010.

Clements, Ron. “Monotheism and the God of Many Names.” In The God of Israel, edited by                                                  Robert Gordon, 47-59. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Knafl, Anne Katherine. Forming God: Divine Anthropomorphism in the Pentateuch. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2014.

[1] Thomas L. Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 35.

[2] David M. Carr, An introduction to the Old Testament (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2010), 195.

[3] Anne Katherine Knafl, Forming God: Divine Anthropomorphism in the Pentateuch. (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2014), 47.

[4] William, Brown, “Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis.” In Genesis and Christian Theology, edited by N. McDonald et al, 3-25 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 22.

[5] Bill T. Arnold, Genesis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 167.

[6] Brown, “Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis,” 22.

[7] Knafl, Forming God: Divine Anthropomorphism in the Pentateuch, 62.

[8] Carr, An introduction to the Old Testament, 189.

[9] Brown, “Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis,” 23.

[10] Brown, “Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis,” 24.

[11] Brown, “Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis,” 23.

[12] Knafl, Forming God: Divine Anthropomorphism in the Pentateuch, 52.

[13] Brown, “Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis,” 24.

[14] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010), 157.

[15] Brown, “Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis,” 9.

[16] Knafl, Forming God: Divine Anthropomorphism in the Pentateuch, 51.

[17] Ron Clements, “Monotheism and the God of Many Names.” In The God of Israel, edited by Robert Gordon, 47-59 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 48.

[18] Clements, Monotheism and the God of Many Names,” 52.

[19] Clements, “Monotheism and the God of Many Names,” 56.

[20] Arnold, Genesis, 218.

The connection between sin and death in Genesis 2-3

The connection between sin and death in Genesis 2-3

This essay suggests that Genesis 2-3 is not saying what we often assume. The narrative of Genesis 2-3 is often understood as a catastrophic fall account where Adam and Eve’s sin result in a loss of immortality and subsequent physical death for all humankind. However, the story does not mention sin let alone original sin, accentuate a fall, or understand God’s Genesis 2:17 death punishment as literal physical death.

The narrative of Genesis 2-3 details the story of God creating a perfectly ordered world, which included Adam, and his union to Eve.  The story describes how Adam and Eve are deceived by a serpent and subsequently reprimanded by God, a punishment that results in their banishment from the Garden of Eden.  Often identified as the ‘fall account,’ Genesis 2-3 are thought to accentuate the connection between sin and death.  A common deduction made concerning this connection is that disobedience of Adam and Eve resulted in their loss of immortality and ensuing physical death.  This essay will attempt to examine the relationship between sin and death, while concurrently providing a rationale for the sermon presentation piece that addressed the connection.



The command from God refrain from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis 2:17 is ascribed the consequence of ‘certain death’.  The text is not explicit concerning the common assumption that Adam and Eve’s sin assigned them to mortality and literal death.  However, the relationship between the pre and post sin state of humans appears more ambiguous than assumed.[1] The inevitability of physical death appears to be an accepted certainty of human existence from the beginning.  God formed Adam from the dust and the dust is also his final destination.[2]   God also named the first man, adama, meaning earth.  The connection between humans and the land beginning with the first person is a continual theme in Genesis. The redactor appears eager to remind the exiles of their connection to the land. This ongoing theme introduced in Genesis 2-3, that humans are created from the earth, to cultivate the earth, and finally return to the earth,[3] may suggest that despite the warning from God of certain death should his command be broken, Adam and Eve’s sentence may not be physical death as a returning to the earth had previously been recognised as their final destination.[4] 



Rather than the consequences of sin resulting in physical death, Genesis 2-3 may illuminate the association of sin with an alternative concept of death, namely separation from God.[5] Expanding further, separation from God is the demise of the intimate relationship between the creator and his created at the intrinsic level of the heart or the soul, rather than the body.[6]  Inter-testament Jewish literatures’ response to Genesis 2-3 appears comfortable holding the notion of death in a multi-perspectival way.[7]  The point of humanity’s deviation from God commences in Genesis 3:1-5.  The serpent appeals to Eve’s independence, casting doubt on God’s motive for commanding they refrain from eating from the tree and rejecting the notion that they would certainly die.  While the first humans reside in intimate proximity to God, they lack knowledge, the acquisition of which Eve perceives as an attractive prospect.  The serpents appeal to eat from the tree offers Eve the one thing she doesn’t have.[8]  The forbidden tree, however, while increasing knowledge, does not further the bond with God but causes alienation from him.[9]  The narrative implies that taking responsibility for good and evil does not result in immediate physical death but rather a divorce from God and banishment from his presence.[10] This separation as a notion of death is further illustrated in Genesis 4. Cain appeals to God concerning his sin punishment, equating his exile from God’s presence and the land to death.[11]  The redactor is a forthright in suggesting to Israelite exiles the connection between disobedience and the curse of toil as well as the punishment of exile.[12]



As can be seen, the connection between sin and death can be interpreted as an association between human fallibility and banishment from God’s presence.  While Genesis 2-3 does not use the word sin, it first occurs in Genesis 4:7, it is implied due to the disobedience to God’s command.  Arnold summarises the purpose of Genesis 2-3 to be, “an explanation of the common experience of all humans in alienation, guilt and death.”[13]  The nature of humanity possesses a proclivity for error that subsequently results in separation from God, culpability, and predictably death.  This same tendency is witnessed in Adam and Eve, they appear as ordinary mortals and the template of humankind.[14]  This approach to the text reduces the likelihood of interpreting Genesis 2-3 as a catastrophic fall that subsequently cursed all humankind.  Importantly, the human proclivity for wrongdoing does not mitigate the reality of the consequences that ensue.  God judge’s the serpent, the woman and the man in Genesis 3:14-19 with punishments including male dominion, painful toil, painful childbearing, and exile from the garden.  Despite the penalising, God extends mercy and offers protection.  Genesis 2-3 reveals that estrangement from the creator may alter the relational intimacy and proximity to God, but it does not void the relationship.  For example, God covers Adam and Eve with garments of animal skin (Genesis 3:21).  While guilt is evident, grace is extended by God.[15]  The redactor reassures the audience of God’s continual association with his created humans despite their independence and fallibility.


The Genesis 2-3 connection between sin and death may pertain to more than the loss of immortality and subsequent physical death because of sin.  The relationship between sin and death may be better understood utilising an alternative notion of death, namely relational separation from God.  A deeper exploration of Adam and Eve’s error could possibly deepen the understanding of the concept of sin.  Furthermore, analysis of Apostle Paul’s writings on sin, Adam, and immortality (Rom 5:12-21, 1 Cor 15:12-58) may further illuminate the connection between sin and death, specifically while considering sin as separation from God rather than literal death and immortality as possible through Jesus, as opposed to the assumed state of humans prior to Genesis 3.






Arnold, Bill T. Genesis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. “Creation and Fall.” In The Bonhoeffer Reader, by Clifford Green, & Michael DeJonge, 210-260. Minnieapolis: Fortress Press, 2013.

Brodie, Thomas L. Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010.

Carr, David M, and David M Carr. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2010.

Schmid, Konrad. “Loss of Immortality? Hermeneutical Aspects of Genesis 2–3 and its early receptions.” In Beyond Eden: The Biblical Story of Paradise (Genesis 2–3) and its Reception History, by Konrad Schmid, & Christoph Riedweg, 58-78. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008.

[1] Konrad Schmid, “Loss of Immortality? Hermeneutical Aspects of Genesis 2–3 and its early receptions.” In Beyond Eden: The Biblical Story of Paradise (Genesis 2–3) and its Reception History, by Konrad Schmid, & Christoph Riedweg (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 60.

[2] Schmid, “Loss of Immortality?”, 64.

[3] Bill T. Arnold, Genesis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 58.

[4] Schmid, “Loss of Immortality?”, 62.

[5] Thomas L. Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 140.

[6] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue, 140.

[7] Schmid, “Loss of Immortality?”, 68.

[8] Schmid, “Loss of Immortality?”, 61.

[9] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue, 140.

[10] Schmid, “Loss of Immortality?”, 61.

[11] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010), 62.

[12] David M. Carr and David M. Carr. An Introduction to the Old Testament (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2010), 191.

[13] Arnold, Genesis, 73.

[14] Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue, 145.

[15] Brueggemann, Genesis, 60.

Wrestling with God and with man

Wrestling with God and with man

This short essay is an exegetical exploration of Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob’s wrestle with God at Jabbok. It outlines the importance of doubt, struggle and overcoming in the life of Jacob that foreshadowed the journey of Israel and ultimately the pathway of all Believers. Wrestling with God produces mature Christians.



The wrestle between God and His creation is universal as all individual’s struggle to discover their purpose and identity.  The recording of events in Genesis 32:22-32 illustrate how the Patriarch Jacob, the grandson of Abraham and the current guardian of the covenant between God and his family, was no exception to this struggle.  This passage details how Jacob who in his habitual manner, has fled his father-in-law Laban and arrives at the wadi, Jabbok.  Here Jacob anxiously anticipates the impending confrontation with his brother Esau, whom he also fled from as a young man.  Jacob’s constant wrestle with man has led him to a final wrestle with God, which is of such significance that by dawn Jacob is bestowed a new name and permanently disabled.

This essay will demonstrate that the author’s intended meaning of Genesis 32:22-32 was to reveal the nature of Israel’s future relationship with God, utilising Jacob’s wrestle with life and God Himself as an example.  The man with whom Jacob wrestles acknowledges his life journey thus far, stating “you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed” (v.28).  This statement is more than an astute description of Jacob’s life.  It is a prophetic statement outlining the future for the nation of Israel, which similarly would include long periods of wrestling and subsequent prevailing, seasons of blessing, and days that host new beginnings.


Setting the scene
Genesis 32:22-32 can be divided into three sections; Jacob’s long wrestle through the night with a faceless and nameless opponent (vv. 22-25), the dawn of the day that results in Jacob blessed with a new name (vv. 26-29), and the new day in which Jacob departs Jabbok forever marked by God (vv. 30-32).

The author of the Pentateuch and this passage in Genesis is traditionally believed to be Moses.  Although a reasonable assumption, there exists no conclusive evidence to support this.  Due to the work in source criticism authors from the pre-exilic and post exilic ages are hypothesized to have collated the Pentateuch[1] together in their present form during the time of the early monarchy to represent a “look back” on Israel’s ancestry.[2]  Assuming this is correct the author’s intention would likely be to record the origins of Israel for the Israelite reader.[3]  The purpose of translating the oral story to written text would be to describe the birth of Israel in Jewish history and to give context to the dark periods experienced by the nation as they wrestle with their God, as well as the subsequent times of blessing throughout their tumultuous history. 


Wrestling: God and humans
Tired, alone and at the end of his human strength, the Lord’s word to Jacob’s mother Rebekah, that “the elder shall serve the younger”[4] and the subsequent belief that he would be free from Esau’s vengeance, would have appeared unlikely to Jacob.  Jacob’s striving with God and humans accurately describes his life until now.  The Hebrew word for striven, warah, means to persist or contend.  The New International Version Bible (NIV) utilises the word ‘struggle’ to emphasise the tussling nature of Jacob’s relationship with God and people. The two camps into which he has grown[5]mirrors two dimensions of Jacob’s life struggles; the divine and the human.[6]

In the night an unknown man thrusts himself upon Jacob, however, Jacob is not easily overcome.  The years of evading the wrath of his physically superior brother Esau and resisting the injustice of a cunning Laban, all the while amassing a personal fortune has shaped Jacob into a staunch contender.  Verse 24 states the man grapples with Jacob throughout the night until day break.  Jacob’s stamina is not diminished and his divine opponent aware that he is not prevailing against him draws on supernatural strength to disable him and continues to wrestle, eventually crying out “Let me go!” (v. 26).  Brueggemann postulates that the wrestling match was a draw and even suggests that, “Jacob is the stronger party.”[7]  This, however, could only be possible if the man is not God, which is not the case as Jacob identifies his opponent as God in verse 30.  God has infinite and unstoppable strength and is not suggesting that God is lacking or that Jacob is superior in any way.  Rather, the author is attempting to emphasise Jacob’s persistence.  Frederick aptly describes Jacob’s wrestle with God as ‘the magnificent defeat.’[8]  The magnificence of the conflict is Jacob’s undying perseverance captured in his declaration, “I will not let you go.”

God desires the attribute of perseverance in his people Israel.  This trait is required of the Israelites to persist through slavery in Egypt, the wandering to and conquest of the land of Canaan and even in exile when the nation appears to be dislocate and limping.  The prophet Hosea when appealing to Israel to return from their adultery to God reminds the people of Jacob’s plight, “In the womb he tried to supplant his brother, and in his manhood he strove with God.”[9] The two dimensions of wrestling are rendered ideal by the prophet, however the following verse explains how Jacob succeeded where Israel currently was not, “He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought his favor.”[10]Hosea’s referencing of the story acknowledges that Jacob’s victory was not found in his own ways, his own power or in turning to other gods, but in his persistence and humbling himself vulnerable before God, which leads to blessing and new beginnings.


Naming: The dawning of a blessed nation 
The persistent and prevailing attitude of Jacob is his winning. The wrestle throughout the night reaches its climax at day break and the divine being must vanish, a mark of the antiquity on which the story is based.[11] Despite his valiant efforts, Jacob is now exhausted with a dislocated hip.  God, however, cannot be worn out and in simply touching Jacob’s hip has dealt his opponent a critical blow.  The winner of the wrestle is affirmed in Jacob’s indirect acceptance of defeat, as he requests a blessing from the man who says, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” (v. 28).  This blessing is the pivotal turning point of Jacob’s life trajectory and subsequently the birthing of a new nation, Israel.  This passage in Genesis 32 and naming are closely linked.  Long states “the fixation on names and naming in this text, that is, Jacob’s name, the man’s name, and the name of the place all underscore the name change for Jacob,”[12] which suggests the name change is of primary importance in the passage.

The meaning of Jacob is ‘supplanter’, which reflects his character as a usurper of Esau’s firstborn position and rightful double portion blessing.[13]  The divine being who wrestles with Jacob renames him Israel in a prophetic statement that has overtures not only for Jacob’s immediate life trajectory as the Father of a nation but for the entire nation of Israel being born in this very statement. The name Israel has been suggested to originally have meant “El rules” (the god El was the head of the Northwest Semitic pantheon[14]), however, based on the current passage is interpreted to mean “the one who strives with God.” This connotation is fitting for the identity of Israel as a nation that persists and remains faithful to their God.

It must not be forgotten that the blessing did not stop at the bestowing of a new name but also in the acknowledgement that  “… you have prevailed.”  Alternate translations use the words ‘won’ (New Living Translation) and ‘overcome’ (NIV) to highlight the victorious destination achieved by Jacob.  Victory was attained by remaining in the wrestle with God and humans, not because of natural strength or his ability to deceive.  Jacob prevails with prayer not with natural strength and this is the change of Jacob to Israel.[15]

Waltke’s statement that this narrative “is a quite concrete assertion about the forming of Israel”[16] supports this paper’s interpretation of the meaning of the passage.  Similarly, the prophet Isaiah states, “he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.”[17]  It can be concluded that both man and nation are divinely shaped at Jabbok.  The denotation of the new name identifies the nation of Israel as not created through the Patriarchs only, but formed by God’s own hands in readiness to produce a saving Messiah.


Marking: limping into a new day
Upon arriving at Jabbok, Jacob was fearful of meeting with his brother Esau.  After encountering God face to face, Jacob’s initial fears are quenched for he had met with God and lived.   He subsequently names the place of his encounter with God ‘Peniel’ or ‘Penuel’ to enshrine the memory.  The encounter with God not only marked Jacob physically but also inwardly as it altered his approach to the future and instilled him with confidence.  The mark of God upon Jacob is evident across his lifespan from this encounter onward.  Even at the end of his lifetime and he is dying, he must lean upon the top of his staff as he blesses Ephraim and Manasseh.[18]

The Jabbok theophany turns Jacob’s perilous journey with Esau from aggressive conflict to warm reconciliation,[19] demonstrating Jacob’s wrestle with not just God but also people has finished.  Despite this, the wrestle for Israel as a nation with God and humans has just begun.  The promise of light after darkness, however, has been secured.  The author emphasises the day breaking three times in Genesis 32:22-32, highlighting its importance and metaphorically suggesting that despite future periods of darkness and confusion that Israel may experience, the eventual dawning of light and clarity will transpire for the new nation.  The mark of God is upon Israel as it was upon Cain[20], as a mark of ownership which also ensures protection.


The Jabbok passage is a timeless story laden with principles for life.  This essay has outlined the three parts of Jacob’s encounter including his wrestling with God, his blessing from God and his marking by God.  The intended meaning of the passage, however, is not for Jacob alone.  In his blessing he is renamed Israel, which becomes the national name of his posterity and the God of his family becomes the God of the nation.

A messianic hint exists in the author’s writing and it would be useful and enlightening to pursue the messianic thread in the future writings pertaining to Israel beyond Genesis.  The limp Jacob exhibits for the remainder of his life is a foreshadow that is superseded by price the Messiah would pay for Israel and all people.  Despite receiving a new name, it did not ensure a completely new nature for Israel and a Messiah would reveal a superior way to redemption.  The need for a new light dawning, greater than Jacob’s after Jabbok would be required for Israel to be completely reconciled to God but God knowing he would send this messiah needed a nation from which to birth His very own son. The prophet Isaiah knows that the light will be a child born, a son given.[21]




[1] Andrew Hill and John Walton. Survey of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 64.

[2] Fredrick Carlson Holgren, “Holding your own against God: Genesis 32:22-32.” Interpretation 44, no. 1 (1990), 5-17, http://web.a.ebscohost.com.divinity.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=698eeffd-418e-4436-86d6-28e67be14023%40sessionmgr4007 (accessed March 29, 2018), 7.

[3] Holgren, “Holding your own against God: Genesis 32:22-32”, 7.

[4] Genesis 25:23

[5] Genesis 32:10

[6] Bruce K Waltke and Cathi J Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).

[7] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010), 267-268.

[8] Frederick Buechner, The magnificent defeat (New York City: Harper Collins, 1965).

[9] Hosea 12:3

[10] Hosea 12:4

[11] Michael D Coogan et al. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 57.

[12] Jesse Long, “Wrestling with God to win: a literary reading of the story of Jacob at Jabbok in honor of Don Williams.” Stone-Campbell Journal, (2012), 47-61, http://web.a.ebscohost.com.divinity.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=8&sid=698eeffd-418e-4436-86d6-28e67be14023%40sessionmgr4007 (accessed March 29, 2018), 49.

[13] Genesis 25:29-34

[14] Coogan et al. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 57.

[15] Brueggemann, Genesis, 270.

[16] Waltke and Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary.

[17] Isaiah 43:1

[18] Hebrews 11:21

[19] Brueggemann, Genesis, 271.

[20] Genesis 4:15

[21] Isaiah 9:6





Barker, Kenneth L. New International Version Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010.

Buechner, Frederick. The magnificent defeat. New York City: Harper Collins, 1965.

Coogan, Michael D, Marc Z Brettler, Carol Newsom, and Pheme Perkins. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010 

Hill, Andrew, and John Walton. Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Holgren, Fredrick Carlson. “Holding your own against God: Genesis 32:22-32.” Interpretation 44, no. 1 (1990): 5-17. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.divinity.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=69eeffd-418e-4436-86d6-28e67be14023%40sessionmgr4007 (accessed March 29, 2018).

Long, Jesse. “Wrestling with God to win: a literary reading of the story of Jacob at Jabbok in honor of Don Williams.” Stone-Campbell Journal, 2012: 47-61. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.divinity.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=8&sid=69eeffd-418e-4436-86d6-28e67be14023%40sessionmgr4007 (accessed March 29, 2018).

Manser, Martin H. Dictionary of Bible Themes. Kindle edition: BookBaby, 1996.

Waltke, Bruce K, and Cathi J Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.