Jacob was the third in the line of the patriarchs of Israel (after Abraham and Isaac). Jacob had two major encounters with angels. In one encounter, Jacob had a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. Referred to as Jacob’s ladder, this famous encounter was often depicted in many Christian religious artworks. In another encounter, Jacob wrestled with an angel.
Jacob encounters Angels in a Vision of a Ladder to Heaven
In Jacob’s first encounter with angels, he was on his way to Haran to take a wife among the daughters of his uncle Laban. At the end of the first day’s travel, he laid his head on a stone and slept. The following is a description from Genesis 28:12-17:
And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood about it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants…
I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awakened from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Jacob Wrestles with an Angel
Jacob’s second encounter with angels occurred many years later as he was returning home. These angels seemed to act as threshold guardians between the ordinary world of Jacob’s parental home and the world of trails and adventures to which he journeyed.
Though it was a challenge, Jacob received a blessing through his wrestling match with an angel. This blessing did not come easy, as Jacob had to struggle with his opponent. He also had to be persistent and enduring. Eventually, he won this blessing by his perseverance and persistence. Genesis 32:24-28 describes Jacob’s ordeal:
And Jacob was left alone; and a man (an angel) wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man (angel) saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh 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.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
Jacob called the place Peniel, meaning, “Face of God.” In Genesis 32:30 he said, “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is spared and not snatched away” As a consequence of this dream, Jacob received a new identity and a new status as the one who provided his people with the name of Israel.