The biblical story of Jacob wrestling an angel brings to mind the question – Why would someone be wrestling an angel in the first place?
We gain an understanding when we realize that Jacob has been a trickster most of his life. In fact, Jacob sounds like the Hebrew words for “heel” and “deceiver.” He tricked his brother, Esau, out of his birthright, and tricked his father out of Esau’s rightful blessing. Jacob later tricked his father-in-law, Laban, out of more than his share of their flocks.
Although Jacob fled his brother’s wrath and prospered, he was always aware that the unresolved issues with his brother would have to be addressed. As he returned to his familial land, he received word that Esau was coming to meet him with an army of men. Jacob sent his family and servants across the river for safety, and prepared for the dreaded yet necessary meeting.
Genesis 32 (NLT) stated: “Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’
So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ 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.”
The confusion of pronouns makes it difficult to tell who is doing and saying what to whom. In fact, it is because Jacob is wrestling with himself – confronting his own guilt and anxiety for past actions. He could have stayed away and defended his former trickster ways to his brother, as was his previous ways. Ego would rather ignore repressed and deemed ‘bad’ parts of us (‘I don’t lie.’), however; ‘blessings’ come when we actually acknowledge our range of human traits.
Jacob is now able to confront his shadow traits (the parts that deceive, that need personal wealth and which Ego strongly defends). Having wrestled with the angel of his own conscience, Jacob is transformed. His name changes from Jacob (the ‘supplanter’) to Israel, which means ‘the one who struggles with God.’
The line “I will not let you go unless you bless me,” tells the importance of facing our shadow work and communicating with our inner god – our true selves. As Jung noted, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” We will eventually have to face and wrestle with our demons – our angel shadow material – if we are to become more whole and human.