“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” by Alexander Louis Leloir, 1865. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
When Jacob was journeying to the land of his father and kinsmen, he met the “angels of god” in a place called Mahanaim. When he was informed that this brother Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men, Jacob was “greatly afraid and distressed,” for there was past enmity between Jacob and his brother. He sent his people and their retinue ahead. On the night when he passed over the ford Jabbok, he sent his wife, his servants and his eleven sons to cross over the brook and remained alone (KJ Gen., 32:2 and 7).
Then Jacob “wrestled” with a man until the “breaking of the day.” The man did not prevail against him, but touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh and caused it to come out of joint. Still Jacob persisted, until at the first sight of dawn, the man asked to be released from their struggle. And Jacob said: “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” (KJ Gen., 32:24-26).
The man replied: “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” Jacob received the blessing from the strange man, for “he blessed him there.” Only then did he realize he had wrestled with an angel: “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” He called the place Penuel, and as he passed from it “the sun rose upon him and he halted upon his thigh” (KJ Gen., 32: 28-31).
What lessons can be learned from the wrestling match between Jacob and the angel? (more…)
“Rest on the Flight into Egypt” by Luc-Olivier Merson, 1880. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In the Catholic pantheon, the cult of Saint Joseph has three aspects: head of family, worker, and dreamer. In the gospel of Matthew, during the days of the birth of Christ, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph three, perhaps four times (KJ Matthew, chs. 1-2): (more…)
“War in Heaven,” ceiling fresco, Göttweig Abbey, 1739, by Paul Troger. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
According to Jorge Luis Borges, in his brief pages dedicated to a History of Angels (1926), the angels are “two days and two nights” older than we are, and “these primitive angels were stars.” As proof he cites the Book of Job, in which the Lord speaks out from the whirlwind about the genesis of creation “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”
In times like the present, when so many backwoods stupid things are being said about Muslims and Islam, Borges’s summary essay reminds us:
Islam, too, knows of angels. The Muslims of Cairo live blotted out by angels, the real world virtually deluged by the angelic, for according to Edward William Lane, each follower of the Prophet is assigned two guardian angels, or five, or sixty, or one hundred sixty.
“The Angel of the Lord Preventing Abraham from Sacrificing his Son Isaac” (1616) by Pieter Lastman.
In the (Brome) Abraham and Isaac play (15th century) of the English Religious Theater, Isaac exclaims when confronted with Abraham’s purpose:
“Now I would my mother were here on this hill!
She would kneel for me on both her knees
To save my life.”
Like Iphigeneia at Aulis, Isaac eventually consents to the sacrifice. But when Abraham raises his hand to strike his son, an Angel appears and takes “the sword in his hand suddenly” (A.C. Cawley, ed., Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays, 1967). In René Marqués’ allegorical play Sacrificio en el Monte Moriah (1969), Sara (Isaac’s mother) masquerades as the Angel, tricking Abraham into believing that God wants him to substitute a ram as a burnt offering for the boy. (more…)