This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 2 (Most recently Sept 27, 2015)
This passage is also found in the Revised Common Lectionary at points during Pentecost season., most recently October 2016.
Summary: This passage is rich with names and their meanings. But don't get distracted by all of this. The main action is not in the words, but in the dirt! God is getting down and dirty with Jacob, wrestling away. God will stop at nothing to transform us [insert segue to cross], so that, quoting Luther, "I might be his own!"
בד (pronounced "bad", meaning "alone", 32:24) Jacob's being alone harkens back to the first case of man being alone in the Bible, namely the Garden of Eden (2:18). A few contrasts and connections:
- Cause of loneliness: Adam did not have a partner yet; Jacob has alienated his loved ones (his brother; his uncle)
- God meets dust: In Genesis 2, God creates out of the dust; in Genesis 32, God "gets dusty" (see below)
- God blesses through creation: In the Garden, God creates a woman; in Genesis 32, God creates a humble Jacob, ready to love, forgive, be forgiven.
אבק ("abaq", meaning to wrestle; literally dust, 32:24) It is worth pointing out that the word for wrestle is related to the word for dust (they are the same spelling and root.) To wrestle is literally to get dusty. God gets down and dirty with Jacob to transform him.
יעקב ("Yakov" or "Jacob", 32:27) The name Jacob means "he cheats" or "he steals." I've read before that names had power in the ancient word; knowing the name gave one authority over another. I still think this is true when I teach children. Once I know there names, I can much more easily manage their behavior! The point is that Jacob's revelation of his name was giving God power over him; but it also reveals humility because Jacob's name was a confession of sin.
שרית (conjugated form of שרה, "Sarah", meaning "strive", 32:28) This is fascinating. The root word of "Israel" (ישראל) is "Sarah" (שרה), which means strive/struggle. Of all the patriarchs and people in the Bible, Israel has the name Sarah in it!! As a side note, the full meaning of the word is hard to ascertain because it is not used that often in the Bible. Sarah certainly embodies the striving and struggling as much as anyone in the OT.
As a curious side note, the first example of the name is "Israel" in recorded history is from 1200 BC Egypt: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merneptah_Stele
יכל ("yacal", meaning "able", 32:28) This is fascinating verb because it simply means "can" and "is able." I think the translation of "prevail" is far too strong. I think endure is much better translation. I think it is worth pointing out that the only victory over God in life (again, I just "endure" as a better verb) is through submitting to God.
פניאל ("Peniel" meaning "face of God", 32:30) What I would like to point out here is that most English translations leave this as Peniel. The Greek (LXX) leaves it as "the place he saw God." This brings up a great question about Old Testament translation -- when do we translate the meaning of names and places and when do we leave them as is? (Do we expect people to read footnotes!)