Sunday, 26 July 2009

Genesis 32, Jacob and Jesus

What are we to make of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32? Jacob cried, "I won't let you go until you bless me!" A traditional revivalist/pietist piece of exegesis would go, "We must wrestle with God in prayer until we sense some kind of blessing." But that reading is a derivative application at best and it cuts Christ out of the picture.

Jacob is a type of Christ, who "strives" with God for His blessing, or for the joy set before him according to Hebrews 12:2. Jacob 'sees' God's face (32:30 - probably that of the pre-incarnate Christ), whereas only Christ has seen God's face (John 1:18). Like Jacob, Christ comes away injured after his procuring the blessing. Jacob's side was injured whilst Christ's was pierced. The people of Israel, out of reverence for Jacob's encounter "do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip." (v32) In contrast, the New Israel, in response to Christ's crucifixion, feed on his body and blood (John 6:55).

How should we respond? By realising that Christ has done it all; that he fulfilled the law's demands. All that is left for us to do, is to bask in the glory of the blessing he procured. We bask by feeding on him through the word preached and the sacraments received. We no longer strive for the blessing. Gospel righteousness isn't something to be wrestled down from heaven, or dug up from the grave; rather it's as near as the Christ we confess (Romans 10:5-12). And resting on his accomplishments is the impetus we need as we strive to make every effort to add to our faith all kinds of evangelical virtues (2 Peter 1:5).

14 comments:

David Shedden said...

Em, you slag of pietism and then say that "Jacob is a type of Christ"... can you point me to the passage in Scripture that tells us that Jacob is such?

I would have thought a better reading is to think about what God does through this encounter, rather than simply turning to Jesus when you find the text a little confusing or difficult to understand.

Nick Mackison said...

Oh Shed, how slow of heart you are to believe all that the Scriptures have said. (BTW that's "slag OFF" pietism).

Since you're confident that it can't be exegeted this way and of what it doesn't mean, then tell us what it does mean. I suppose you prefer a Christless moral tale as a better reading of the text?

David Shedden said...

No, no... I meant "you slag of pietism"... it is just the rest of the post that doesnt make any sense...

I would post the relevant quote from my generic 'Jacob' sermon but I'd just be plagiaring the decent commentaries that I stole/read from...

The best way to read Old Testament narrative is simply to read it... as story... so how does the incident fit into the Jacob story, and why does God do what he did? God deals with Jacob in order to shape Jacob and in order to keep his promises through Jacob. Simple as that... it just happened to mean a night time wrestle where Jacob ends up with a limp.

Anonymous said...

Trying to fit Jesus into selected bits of Hebrew scripture is a vastly overrated exercise which demeans the value of these scriptures as the Word of God in their own right. Why can't this be simply a Christless moral tale - does that make it any less significant? A better exercise might be to find out how the Jews understand this passage - how it adds to their understanding of their spiritual tradition and heritage and what it tells them (and us) about God. It is supremely arrogant for us Christians to assume that the Old Testament stories are simply there to tell us something deep and meaningful about Jesus Christ and it is really stretching interpretation here to compare Jacob to Christ in the way you do,or to state that the face that Jacob saw was that of the pre-incarnate Christ!

I think this is a great story about how we wrestle with God... not just in prayer, but in respect of things we don't understand or can't (or won't) accept. The Psalm writers clearly wrestle with God, so do the patriarchs and prophets - and they don't always end up feeling blessed by him at the end of the battle!

Nick Mackison said...

Dave, I understand your concerns but I think that consistent approach to the text falls short. I think ultimately, it turns Scripture into a moralising story and is theologically vacuous when Christ is jettisoned.

As unsophisticated as typology can be, it's still a valid hermenuetic - that is if we believe in a providential God and the inspiriation of the Holy Spirit!

Nick Mackison said...

Anonymous said: A better exercise might be to find out how the Jews understand this passage - how it adds to their understanding of their spiritual tradition and heritage and what it tells them (and us) about God.

Nick: Wow, and here's me thinking that the Gospel brought greater clarity to the OT. Here's silly old me thinking that a veil covered the hearts of the hearers when Moses was read to them. The apostle Paul must have been wrong to write "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope." (Rom. 15:4)

Anonymous:It is supremely arrogant for us Christians to assume that the Old Testament stories are simply there to tell us something deep and meaningful about Jesus Christ..

Nick: Wow again, you are a zeitgeist meister. I suppose Paul was arrogant in Romans 15? What about Paul's typological interpretation of Deut. 25:4 to Christian ministry in 1 Cor. 9:9? God wasn't talking about oxen, he was talking about Christian ministers. Is that arrogant? And what about the arrogance of Jesus? How dare he suggest that these Jewish Scriptures "testify about me" (John 5:59). What an unsophisticated hermenuetic he employed.

Regarding the pre-incarnate Christ, I take it you've heard of theophany?

Anonymous: I think this is a great story about how we wrestle with God... not just in prayer, but in respect of things we don't understand or can't (or won't) accept.

Nick: I think....And where is prayer in this story exactly? Seems that you've rubbished a Christological interpretation in favour of your own random musing. I'll say again, if you believe in divine inspiration and providence, typological readings aren't that far fetched.

I may be unsophisticated or unmodern or what, but I'm in good company. Just listen to Tim Keller for instance.

Chadd Sheffield said...

Christ becomes the incarnation of Israel. 40 days in the wilderness, out of Egypt, under the law, etc. Hence, I agree with you that Jacob (Israel) does struggle with God and come away bruised just as Christ, the perfect Incarnation of Israel, struggles with God and comes away bruised and sweating blood.

Jacob's story certainly is more than a story about striving for a blessing.

"Why can't this be simply a Christless moral tale - does that make it any less significant?"

Yes! It devalues Christ, therefore the whole of the Triune God and his Word.

"The best way to read Old Testament narrative is simply to read it"

Right, and I suppose that is how the author of Hebrews understood Haggai 2:6 "For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land." as referring somehow to Christ.

David Shedden said...

Dear Chadd and Nick,

Please refer me to the Scripture passage that tells us that Jacob is a type of Christ.

Yours sincerely

Shed

JohnGreenview said...

The NT sees the OT as replete with references to Christ and the gospel in type. Adam (Roms 5). The rock Moses struck was Christ (1 Cor 10) the passing through the Red sea was baptism (1 Cor 10). Melchezidek was Christ (Hebs 10), The tabernacle (Jn 1) and temple (Jn 2); the bronze serpent (Jn 3); the passover (1 Cor 5); Jonah (Matt 12); Solomon (Luke 11); David (Mark 2) and Jacob (Jn 1)etc. Narritive is not simply story but anticipating story and preparatory story - anticipating and preparing for the Christ.

Having said that, the wrestling episode seems a bit strained as a type. Is the heart of the incident - God changing Jacob to Israel - appropriate for Jesus?

David Shedden said...

John, good to see you contributing once again. Thanks for the John 1:51 reference... I think you'd agree it is a subtle lesson we can draw from that verse. I'd be wary of using it to turn Jacob into a type in the same way that King David is a type of Christ.

Yes types are present in the New Testament.

My point - following FF Bruce I believe - is that we have absolutely no hermeneutical warrant to make up typological or messianic explanations to OT passages.

The NT apostles and prophetic scribes have told us which OT passages we can read that way. Otherwise we should read OT narrative to learn about how God relates to his people, and to see the details of the big story.

Nick Mackison said...

Shed: "Dear Chadd and Nick,

Please refer me to the Scripture passage that tells us that Jacob is a type of Christ."

Nick: I didn't realise I needed an explicit text. Given that Jesus said the Scriptures testified about him (jn. 5:59) I thought I had enough warrant. I get your reading it the FF Bruce way, but am I really supposed to read of a Samson pulling down the temple and destroying God's enemies while sacrificing himself without seeing Christ? I suppose a better reading, in your book, is saying after you start to obey God, you can start winning spiritual battles?

John, is the heart of the story God changing Jacob to Israel? I'm not sure.

Steve said...

Dave Shedden,

Please refer me to the Scripture passage that tells us that Jacob is a type of Christ.

You are right that there should be a biblical argument for Nick's christocentric premise. At the same time, though, I wonder if you can manage to see how this demand from you leans heavily toward a biblistic premise: the Bible must explicitly and literally spell out all our theological conclusions.

One might ask you (assuming you hold to it), ok, where does the Bible spell out hypostatic union?

JohnGreenview said...

Dave

I understand your concerns about typology (I would distinguish between typology and allegory, though Paul also uses allegory). The danger is that the imagination becomes the limit. However, I don't think we can limit types to those explicitly referred to in the NT. Surely, as in other aspects of OT interpretation, the NT supplies the key/model to how we should interpret the OT rather than presenting us with the sum total of OT types/allusions etc.

The OT never presents Joseph as a type of Christ (except in Stephen's Acts sermon as one more person Israel rejected) yet Joseph seems self-evidently a type of Christ.

Interesting to note how in scholarly circles typology has become in vogue again. Books by Clowney, Goldsworthy, and Greidanus are popular introductions.

I agree we must preach the meaning in the context but we must also, whether by typology or through considering its place in redemptive history relate the OT text to the NT gospel. Goldsworthy says something like this, 'If I preach a sermon from the OT that a rabbi or Imam could preach it is not a christian sermon.' This seems to me a good test.

As christians our understanding of the OT must always be goverened by the NT. I find Goldingay's OT theology lacking at this point for his insistence on allowing the OT to speak, as he sees it, in its own right, means he can reach conclusions that conflict with the NT.

JohnGreenview said...

Anonymous

One problem with listenening to how Jews interpret the jacob story is that despite the best jewish minds being strenuously applied to Scripture in Jesus' time and since, even until today, they still have not been able to see in Jesus, the messiah. This does not inspire me with confidence in their hermeneutical skills.