Jacob and the angel: Wrestling to reconcile body and spirit

by Kittredge Cherry | Oct 20, 2019 (qspirit.net)

When Jacob wrestled with the angel in the Bible, they embodied the struggle between sexuality and spirituality. Artists have created many homoerotic images of the scene over the centuries.

The story of Jacob wrestling (Genesis 32:24-31) will be read at many churches worldwide this Sunday as the alternate lectionary reading for Oct. 20, 2019.

Many have interpreted the story as a struggle between material and spiritual needs, but it is especially powerful for queer people who are trying to reconcile their sexuality and their faith. Jacob refused to give up the fight until he forced a blessing out of God. Like Jacob, LGBTQ people can also win God’s blessing by continuing to wrestle with our faith, regardless of those who condemn as sinners.

The story in Genesis begins when Jacob, ancestor and namesake of the Israelites, is alone one night.  A mysterious stranger comes to him. Scripture refers to the stranger as a man, God, and an angel (Hosea 12:4). He wrestles with Jacob until dawn. Then the angel wants to leave, but Jacob insists, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

The angel gives him a new name and identity as Israel, which can be translated as “one who has prevailed with God.” Jacob asks to know the angel’s name, but he just gives a blessing and leaves. Alone again, Jacob marvels, “I have seen God face to face and lived.”

Jacob is honored in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For Christians, some see the pre-incarnate Christ himself as the mysterious stranger who wrestled with Jacob.

A notable nude and rather homoerotic “Jacob and the Angel” was sculpted by Hendrik Andersen (1872-1940), lover of famed British-American novelist Henry James.

The story raises intriguing questions. What was the nature of the “wrestling” that went on all night long? Whether or not there was an erotic interaction, the friendly conclusion affirms that God wants to relate to human beings as equals. God rewards those who challenge God.
Related link:
Wrestling with God” at the Queering the Church Blog is a queer reflection on Jacob and the angel.

Top image credit:
“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” by Leon Bonnat (1876) Wikimedia Commons

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBT and queer martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Kittredge Cherry

Kittredge Cherry

Founder at Q SpiritKittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author who writes regularly about LGBTQ spirituality.She holds degrees in religion, journalism and art history.She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its national ecumenical officer, advocating for LGBTQ rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches.

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