Previously, we explored Abraham and Sarah’s encounters with the angel of the LORD. Now, we learn about three visits Jacob has with the angel, including Jacob’s classic wrestling match with the pre-incarnate Christ.
The angel appears to Jacob
Isaac has blessed Jacob and sent him to find a wife from the family of Jacob’s uncle, Laban. While on his journey, Jacob stops for the night and, having fallen asleep, experiences a most remarkable dream. He sees a ladder extending from earth into heaven. Angels are moving up and down the ladder. Above it all (or perhaps beside Jacob; English translations differ) stands Yahweh, who identifies himself as “the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (Gen. 28:13).
The LORD promises Jacob and his offspring the land on which he sleeps. He also assures Jacob of descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. And he promises that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through Jacob and his descendants. Finally, the LORD tells Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (v. 15). The description of the LORD as standing evokes images of a human-like figure, so it’s possible we are witnessing a Christophany.
Lending credence to this view is Jesus’ conversation with Philip and Nathanael in John 1:51. Jesus says to these disciples, “Truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Perhaps Jesus is urging his new followers to see him as the one who appeared to Jacob in the vision, especially as he connects the heavenly ladder with the Son of Man.Continue reading
A figure identified as the angel of the LORD appears to four different individuals in the Book of Genesis. He first comes to Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian handmaiden; then to Abram; then to Abram and Sarai, whom he renames Abraham and Sarah; then again to Abraham; and finally on two occasions to Jacob.
In these personal encounters with human beings, the angel appears in human form yet is recognized as God. He comforts, prophesies, commands, delivers, prevents a human sacrifice, and even disables an opponent in a wrestling match. In these visits, we capture our first glimpses of a second Yahweh figure – one who bears the name, presence, and power of God, yet is a distinct person from the unseen Creator.
Genesis 16 records the first undisputed appearance of the angel of the LORD in Scripture, and he comes to a fleeing Egyptian handmaiden. A little background may help set the stage. God has promised Abram a child through whom many descendants are to come, and a land they are to possess (Gen. 15). The LORD even appears as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch in a theophany to seal his covenant promises (Gen. 15:17-21). But after a decade, the LORD has yet to deliver on his promise. So, Sarai takes matters into her own hands, offering her handmaiden Hagar to Abram, who agrees with his wife’s plan. But when Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarai burns with jealousy, mistreats her servant, and banishes the Egyptian from her tent.Continue reading