Achilles’ Heel and Jacob the Heel-Grabber: Wrestling with Weakness, Fate, and the Mysterious Divine

If the most famous Hellenic heel is that of Achilles, then perhaps the most famous Hebraic heel association is that of Jacob. Jacob, the wily supplanter who is born grasping at his brother’s heel, seems at first a more likely comparison for the crafty Odysseus. But the stories of Achilles and Jacob also share important similarities: both deal with the issues of human weakness, of struggling with fate (or providence), and of the often mysterious will of the divine.  Yet while Achilles’ heel is a mortal weakness bound up with fate and the aloof and mysterious divine, Jacob’s heel-grabbing is a moral weakness that is confronted by a gracious God who operates on the basis of not flesh but promise.1The terms “flesh” and “promise” are taken from the Apostle Paul in a passage from the epistle to the Galatians, discussed further below. Gal 4:23, The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Crossway Bibles, 2016), on Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com.

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According to legend, Achilles is the son of a mortal father and a goddess mother, Thetis, and is invulnerable except for his heel (or ankle). He becomes the foremost Achaean warrior, the model of heroic virtue. Achilles’ feet are famous not only for his legendary heel: Homer frequently describes Achilles as “swift-footed.” After eventually re-entering the battle, Achilles is ultimately killed by an arrow to his ankle (or heel).  In what follows, I will focus on the presentation of Achilles in Homer’s Iliad while drawing upon the myth more generally.

Achilles’ Heel and the Dictates of Fate

The legend of Achilles’ heel presents Achilles as a man whose fatal weakness is a result not of some character flaw in himself but rather of the foibles of the gods and the dictates of fate. Achilles’ life is overshadowed, through no fault of his own, by the prophecy of an early death. As Thetis tells Achilles, “death, with the strong hand of fate, is already close beside you.”2Homer, The Iliad, trans. Samuel Butler (Louisville, KY: Memoria Press, 2012), Book XXIV, 428 Kalliopi Nikolopoulou notes, “Physical quickness in this story goes hand in hand with the brevity of life.”3Kalliopi Nikolopoulou, “Feet, Fate, and Finitude: On Standing and Inertia in the Iliad,” College Literature 34, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 175. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25115426.

The [Greek] gods care more about piety—the proper fulfillment of propitiatory rituals—than about anything like the Hebraic concept of righteousness.

Achilles himself suggests he can avoid the fate of an early death not through prayers or through living more piously but rather through manipulating circumstances—namely, by giving up the quest for heroic glory: “If I stay here and fight, I shall not return alive, but my name will live forever. Whereas, if I go home, my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me.”4Homer, Iliad, Book IX, p. 161. Yet when Hector, the leading Trojan warrior, kills Achilles’ beloved friend Patroclus—a death which Homer attributes to “the counsels of Zeus [which] pass man’s understanding”5Homer, Iliad, Book XVI, p. 299.—Achilles yields to his mortality6Nikolopoulou, “Feet, Fate, and Finitude,” drew my attention to this issue of mortality, a theme to which I remain attentive in examining the Jacob narrative. and his fate. He returns to battle in a bloodthirsty rampage which ends with his slaying of Hector. Yet Hector’s death also is guided by a fate even beyond the gods, as Zeus holds his golden scales to determine the warriors’ lots.7Homer, Iliad, Book XXII, p. 392.

At the end of the Iliad, Priam, Hector’s father and king of the Trojans, sneaks into the Achaean camp and falls at Achilles’ feet, begging for the return of Hector’s body.  Surprisingly, Achilles yields—a yielding which Homer seems to suggest is due both to the threatening command of Zeus and to Achilles’ own pity and reverence for Priam. Achilles tells the aged man, “We will hide our sorrows in our hearts, for weeping will not avail us. The immortals know no care, yet the lot they spin for man is full of sorrow.” Zeus, Achilles goes on to suggest, at best gives a man a lot of mixed evil and good, never only good.8Homer, Iliad, Book XXIV, pp. 428-9, 438-41. The Iliad ends with this quiet hopelessness of mortals in the face of the immortals and fate. Only in the Odyssey do we learn from Homer that Achilles has died and entered the miserable world of the dead.9Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Samuel Butler (Louisville, KY: Memoria Press, 2012), Book XI.

The Hellenic gods operate on a system of merit, a system where they love the mortals that please them—those who are beautiful, wise, pious, or spawned (adulterously) from their loins. Zeus credits his love for Hector to the fact that “his offerings never failed me,”10Homer, Iliad, Book XXIV, p. 427. while Achilles’ elder tells him that the gods can be appeased (perhaps even manipulated?) by prayer and sacrifice.11Homer, Iliad, Book IX, p. 163. Thus, the gods care more about piety—the proper fulfillment of propitiatory rituals—than about anything like the Hebraic concept of righteousness. They generally seem interested in their own good, not that of “miserable mortals.”12Homer, The Iliad, Book XXI, p. 381. Ultimately, mortals are subject to the arbitrary will of the gods and the fates, to which even the gods themselves are subject.13C.f. Homer, Iliad, Book XXII, p. 392 as well as Morrison, “Kerostasia, the Dictates of Fate, and the Will of Zeus in the Iliad,” 278; Morrison, however, goes on to consider other portions of the Iliad that would seem to suggest the gods are not so bound (286ff). Thus, Achilles’ heel points to his weakness—a weakness not moral but mortal, that of a human who wrestles with and is ultimately crushed under the weight of aloof and arbitrary gods and heartless fate.

Jacob the Heel-Grabber

Like Achilles, the biblical patriarch Jacob also wrestles with weakness, fate, and the mysterious will of the divine.14I am grateful to Dr. Clifford Orwin for his exposition of the Jacob narrative during his course, “Comparative Studies in Jewish and Non-Jewish Political Thought,” University of Toronto, 2019-20. This article is an adapted version of an essay I wrote for that course. But Jacob’s story is very different. Smooth-skinned and a bit of a mama’s boy, Jacob does not strike us immediately as a comparison to Achilles, though as the biblical narrative unfolds, he performs more than one “‘Homeric’ feat of strength.”15Robert Alter, commentary in Genesis, trans. and commentary by Robert Alter (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996), 152. Alter uses this phrase to describe Jacob’s rolling of the stone from the well in Gn 29. Moreover, Jacob does not enter the world fighting fair in face-to-face combat.16C.f. Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 407. Rather, the Biblical narrative records the birth of Jacob and his twin brother Esau in this way: Jacob, born second, “came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.”17Gn 25:26, The Holy Bible, ESV. The name “Jacob” itself means “heel” or “supplanter.” Notably, up to this point, only one other figure in Genesis has been associated with attacking the heel: the “cunning”18Gn 3:1, Genesis, trans. Alter. serpent, whose deception of Eve led to the Fall and who is told by God, “[the woman’s offspring] shall bruise your head, / and you shall bruise his heel.”19Gn 3:15, The Holy Bible, ESV.  C.f. Hayyim Angel, “‘Heeling’ in the Torah: A Psychological-Spiritual Reading of the Snake and Jacob’s Wrestling Match,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 42, no. 3 (July–September 2014): 178, 181. https://jbqnew.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/423/jbq_423_angelheeling.pdf. Hayyim Angel’s insightful connection of Jacob and the serpent has helpfully guided my thinking in this paper. The cunning, heel-grabbing Jacob grows into a man who continues to try to make his own way in the world “underhandedly.”20C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 407.

Jacob bribes his brother Esau to sell him his birthright, and later he deceives his father, Isaac, to steal Esau’s blessing. Exploiting Isaac’s blindness and Esau’s absence while hunting, Jacob brings meat to his father, claiming, “I am Esau your firstborn.” When Isaac asks him, “How is it that you have found [the game] so quickly, my son?”, Jacob replies, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.”21Gn 27:19-20, The Holy Bible, ESV. Leon Kass renders this, “God has sent me good speed.”22Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 463. Like Achilles, Jacob relies upon swiftness of feet and of words23See Nikolopoulou, “Feet, Fate, and Finitude,” 175 for Achilles as a man of “winged words.” (that is, for Jacob, lies) to accomplish his ends. Esau responds to the news of the stolen blessing with the outburst: “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times.”24Gn 27:36, The Holy Bible, ESV. Faced with Esau’s murderous anger, Jacob must swiftly foot to a distant land where he continues to grapple cunningly, struggling against his deceptive uncle Laban in the matters of marriage and business. 

But Jacob does not only seek to manipulate other humans. When Jacob is fleeing from Esau, God meets him at Bethel and gives him an unconditional promise:

The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth . . . and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.25Gn 28:13-15, The Holy Bible, ESV.

Rather than simply receive the promise and yield himself to God, Jacob sets up conditions, “bargaining with God”26Jesse Long, “Wrestling with God to Win: A Literary Reading of the Story of Jacob at Jabbok in Honor of Don Williams,” Stone-Campbell Journal 15, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 53. http://search.ebscohost.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001906629&site=ehost-live. C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 417; Alter, commentary in Genesis, 150.: “If God will be with me and will keep me . . . then the Lord shall be my God.”27Gn 28:20-21, The Holy Bible, ESV. Italics added. Jacob tries to manipulate God Himself.28See Paul Kissling, Genesis (College Press NIV Commentary Series), cited in Long, “Wrestling with God to Win,” 53, n. 23. Even more, Jacob does not seem to trust God’s promise and would rather wrestle his fate into submission by his own power. Jacob the “Heel-Grabber” remains “the man who seizes his fate, tackles his adversaries, with his own two hands.”29Alter, “Biblical Type-Scenes,” 362.

But what exactly is Jacob trying to achieve through his supplanting? Is he simply greedy for material gain? Perhaps he is seeking to bring to pass the prophecy God gave his mother before the twins’ birth: “The older shall serve the younger”?30Gn 25:23, The Holy Bible, ESV. But the text does not tell us this—or even whether Jacob knew of the prophecy. And either way, the story of Jacob’s grandparents, Abraham and Sarah, has already cast a negative light on those who would seek to force the promise of God through their own less-than-upright means. When Sarah sought to bring about the promised offspring through giving her maidservant Hagar to Abraham, God would have none of it: “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son.”31Gn 17:19, The Holy Bible, ESV. The Apostle Paul exegetes this narrative in his epistle to the Galatians: “The son of the slave [Ishmael/Hagar] was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman [Isaac/Sarah] was born through promise.”32Gal 4:23, The Holy Bible, ESV. Reliance upon human effort—“flesh”—stands in contrast to trust in the promise of God.

Wrestling with God

But promise throws off human calculation, and thus the God of the Bible, like the Hellenic gods, is mysterious. God’s choices often stand in the face of convention. Often He unexpectedly chooses younger sons instead of older, but not always: neither Reuben (Jacob’s eldest) nor Benjamin (Jacob’s youngest) but rather Judah becomes the father of Israel’s preeminent tribe. The chosen of God are the children of the promise, not of the flesh. But in this, God is unlike the Hellenic gods: He does not choose the most pious, beautiful, wise, heroic. And His choosing differs from the arbitrary and partisan politics of the Olympians. In His promise to Jacob, as in His calling of Abraham, God adds, “In you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”33Gn 28:14, The Holy Bible, ESV. Italics added.

Whereas Achilles’ heel is a mortal but not moral weakness, the Bible presents Jacob’s heel-grabbing manipulation as morally problematic

In Jacob, however, we see a man who would rather work out his own fate than rely upon God. Jacob seems to prefer an economy of merit to one of grace, of “flesh” rather than “promise”—an economy where God, as well as man, will be judged based on whether He produces. Thus Jacob, like Achilles, strives in some way to manipulate his fate (or God). But whereas Achilles’ heel is a mortal but not moral weakness, the Bible presents Jacob’s heel-grabbing manipulation as morally problematic—where “moral” designates not simply a set of rules but a righteousness bound up with a relationship of covenant, grace, and trust. And unlike the Achilles story, which is pervaded by the hopelessness of divine ambivalence and heartlessness, the Jacob story is transformed by a God who steps in to grapple with the heel-grabber. Jacob wishes to remove life’s mysterious element, but God forces him to wrestle with it—literally.

When returning to Canaan, Jacob is warned that Esau is approaching with four hundred men. Terrified to see his brother’s face,34Gn 32:6-7. Jacob finally seems to come to the end of his rope. No swiftness of foot can save him now. Like Achilles, Jacob finds himself face to face with his mortality. Unlike Achilles, he responds not in despair but by crying out to God and (finally) acknowledging his unworthiness:

O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,” I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant. . . . Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him.35Gn 32:9-11, The Holy Bible, ESV.

In Jacob’s words we might finally see a willingness to hold God to a promise, to operate on an economy of grace rather than of merit.36Cf. Sarna, Genesis, 225.

Jacob wishes to remove life’s mysterious element, but God forces him to wrestle with it—literally.

One might have expected God to respond eagerly to such a show of humility from Jacob, but the narrator records no response.37C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 453. C.f. Kass’s implicit suggestion, on p. 461, that the wrestling encounter which follows can be conceived of as an answer to this prayer, a suggestion upon which I build here. However, that night, after Jacob moves his family and servants to the other side of the river, a mysterious encounter takes place:

Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”38Gn 32:24-26, The Holy Bible, ESV.

The wrestling match might seem a preeminent example of Jacob operating on the level of flesh. Kass calls it Jacob’s “one shining and heroic—Achillean—moment.”39Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 455. Jacob’s physical preeminence allows him to demand a blessing from his opponent. Is this yet another attempt by Jacob to control his fate, to wrest a blessing out of God just as he has out of Esau and Isaac?40C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 458.

In fact, there is another way to read this passage, which Kass phrases as follows: “Jacob acknowledges both his own neediness (for a blessing) and the higher standing of his opponent.”41Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 462. As in his prayer the day before, Jacob suggests a willingness to operate in an economy of grace. He finally faces “the limits of his own shrewdness”42Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 461. and his own weakness and mortality.43C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 461.  Moreover, Jacob understands himself to have been wrestling with God Himself: “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”44Gn 32:30, The Holy Bible, ESV. In the prophet Hosea’s retelling, Jacob’s opponent seems to be presented as both God and angel, while Kass affirms that perhaps “Jacob has here been wrestling simultaneously with man and God.”45“In his manhood he strove with God. / He strove with the angel and prevailed.” Hos 12:3-4, The Holy Bible, ESV. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 460. Even if Jacob was wrestling only with a “man” or an angel, we must not miss the radical nature of his survival: the episode still witnesses to divine involvement and supernatural struggle which ends in life rather than death, the fatal expectation in the Tanakh for those who see God’s face.46See, for example, Ex 3:5-6; Ex 33 and 34; Isaiah 6.

Jacob’s opponent renames him “Israel,” offering the following etymology: “you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”47Gn 32:28, The Holy Bible, ESV. Jacob, we might say, has gone from being a “supplanter,” a snaky attacker at the heel, to a wrestler in fair, face-to-face combat. Yet, unlike Achilles, Jacob does not end with a swift and blazing show of glory. He is given not just a blessing and new name but also a limp. “Swift-footed” Jacob will, as Kass puts it, “forevermore remember that the Lord has permanently slowed him down.” Jacob’s “self-sufficiency” is humbled. “The man who limps gets along only with the help of grace.”48Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 463. As in his prayer he recognized his own unworthiness, so after his fight perhaps he realizes that Esau is not the greatest danger: God is—a God whose holiness and transcendence is so great that to look on His face would be fatal but for grace.

Unlike the Hellenic gods, who have little interest in the growth and good of mortals, God refuses to allow Jacob to remain a heel-grabber. Jacob’s wrestling match forces him to confront his spiritual “Achilles’ heel”—his attempt to supplant even God Himself by seeking through cunning to control his fate. To truly encounter God, Jacob must accept his own mortality and reliance upon grace. He must receive the blessing as blessing: a gift from God. Thus, at the heart of Jacob’s wrestling is an encounter with God as Savior.  And a God who does not wound cannot save.

Achilles’ Heel vs. Jacob’s Hip: Saved by Wounds

To conclude, both the Achilles’ heel and Jacob’s heel are points of weakness. Achilles’ weakness is mortal—that of a finite man confronted by the heartlessness of fate and the gods. Jacob’s weakness is moral—that of a finite man who seeks to supplant the living God. Both men must ultimately yield to the mystery which is the divine. But whereas Achilles’ wound kills him, mortal life spilled out under the distant gaze of immortal apathy, Jacob’s wound saves him: or rather, his wrestling encounter with the living God injures not just his mortal flesh but also his hope in flesh,49I am indebted here to Martin Luther’s teaching in the Heidelberg Disputation, expounded by Gerhard O. Forde and David Demson, about the non-negotiable requirement that the sinner must “die”—must, in other words, give up reliance upon works and self (we might say reliance on the “flesh”) to be acted upon by the cross. See Martin Luther, “Disputation Held at Heidelberg (1518),” in The Essential Luther, ed. and trans. Tryntje Helfferich, 27-47 (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2018); Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1997), e.g. 81-90; David Demson, “Theologies of Luther and Calvin,” (course, including handouts and lecture notes, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, Fall 2019). driving him finally toward the promise of an uncontainable God.

A Christian exegesis might find in this passage a God who wounds us only because He, too, was first wounded. Mercifully, the snaky, heel-grabbing Jacob does not have his head crushed (c.f. Gn 3:15); rather, he encounters the God-Man who graciously leaves him with a limp.50C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 463-5. But this wrestling match typifies the greater struggle to come, when the God-Man—offspring of the woman—will finally crush the heel-biting serpent’s head, but only through His own bruising. As Augustine puts it, Christ was overcome at his crucifixion, yet “precisely when he was overcome, he overcame for us . . . because when he suffered, he shed the blood with which he redeemed us.”  Thus, as Jacob demanded a blessing from the one he overcame, so in Christ we see a “grand and splendid mystery! Overcome, he blesses.”51St. Augustine, qtd. in Sheridan, ed. Genesis 12-50, 219.  The God who wounds in order to save does so only because He, too, was also wounded:

Jacob came cloth’d in vile harsh attire

But to supplant, and with gainful intent:

God cloth’d himself in vile man’s flesh, that so

He might be weak enough to suffer woe.52John Donne, “Holy Sonnet XI” (1633), in The Broadview Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Verse & Prose, ed. Alan Rudrum, Joseph Black, & Holly Faith Nelson: 123-4 (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2000). Italics in original.

End Notes

1. The terms “flesh” and “promise” are taken from the Apostle Paul in a passage from the epistle to the Galatians, discussed further below. Gal 4:23, The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Crossway Bibles, 2016), on Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com.

2. Homer, The Iliad, trans. Samuel Butler (Louisville, KY: Memoria Press, 2012), Book XXIV, 428

3. Kalliopi Nikolopoulou, “Feet, Fate, and Finitude: On Standing and Inertia in the Iliad,” College Literature 34, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 175. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25115426.

4. Homer, Iliad, Book IX, p. 161.

5. Homer, Iliad, Book XVI, p. 299.

6. Nikolopoulou, “Feet, Fate, and Finitude,” drew my attention to this issue of mortality, a theme to which I remain attentive in examining the Jacob narrative.

7. Homer, Iliad, Book XXII, p. 392.

8. Homer, Iliad, Book XXIV, pp. 428-9, 438-41.

9. Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Samuel Butler (Louisville, KY: Memoria Press, 2012), Book XI.

10. Homer, Iliad, Book XXIV, p. 427.

11. Homer, Iliad, Book IX, p. 163.

12. Homer, The Iliad, Book XXI, p. 381.

13. C.f. Homer, Iliad, Book XXII, p. 392 as well as Morrison, “Kerostasia, the Dictates of Fate, and the Will of Zeus in the Iliad,” 278; Morrison, however, goes on to consider other portions of the Iliad that would seem to suggest the gods are not so bound (286ff).

14. I am grateful to Dr. Clifford Orwin for his exposition of the Jacob narrative during his course, “Comparative Studies in Jewish and Non-Jewish Political Thought,” University of Toronto, 2019-20. This article is an adapted version of an essay I wrote for that course.

15. Robert Alter, commentary in Genesis, trans. and commentary by Robert Alter (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996), 152. Alter uses this phrase to describe Jacob’s rolling of the stone from the well in Gn 29.

16. C.f. Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 407.

17. Gn 25:26, The Holy Bible, ESV.

18. Gn 3:1, Genesis, trans. Alter.

19. Gn 3:15, The Holy Bible, ESV.  C.f. Hayyim Angel, “‘Heeling’ in the Torah: A Psychological-Spiritual Reading of the Snake and Jacob’s Wrestling Match,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 42, no. 3 (July–September 2014): 178, 181. https://jbqnew.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/423/jbq_423_angelheeling.pdf. Hayyim Angel’s insightful connection of Jacob and the serpent has helpfully guided my thinking in this paper.

20. C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 407.

21. Gn 27:19-20, The Holy Bible, ESV.

22. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 463.

23. See Nikolopoulou, “Feet, Fate, and Finitude,” 175 for Achilles as a man of “winged words.”

24. Gn 27:36, The Holy Bible, ESV.

25. Gn 28:13-15, The Holy Bible, ESV.

26. Jesse Long, “Wrestling with God to Win: A Literary Reading of the Story of Jacob at Jabbok in Honor of Don Williams,” Stone-Campbell Journal 15, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 53. http://search.ebscohost.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001906629&site=ehost-live. C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 417; Alter, commentary in Genesis, 150.

27. Gn 28:20-21, The Holy Bible, ESV. Italics added.

28. See Paul Kissling, Genesis (College Press NIV Commentary Series), cited in Long, “Wrestling with God to Win,” 53, n. 23.

29. Alter, “Biblical Type-Scenes,” 362.

30. Gn 25:23, The Holy Bible, ESV.

31. Gn 17:19, The Holy Bible, ESV.

32. Gal 4:23, The Holy Bible, ESV.

33. Gn 28:14, The Holy Bible, ESV. Italics added.

34. Gn 32:6-7.

35. Gn 32:9-11, The Holy Bible, ESV.

36. Cf. Sarna, Genesis, 225.

37. C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 453. C.f. Kass’s implicit suggestion, on p. 461, that the wrestling encounter which follows can be conceived of as an answer to this prayer, a suggestion upon which I build here.

38. Gn 32:24-26, The Holy Bible, ESV.

39. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 455.

40. C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 458.

41. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 462.

42. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 461.

43. C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 461.

44. Gn 32:30, The Holy Bible, ESV.

45. “In his manhood he strove with God. / He strove with the angel and prevailed.” Hos 12:3-4, The Holy Bible, ESV. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 460.

46. See, for example, Ex 3:5-6; Ex 33 and 34; Isaiah 6.

47. Gn 32:28, The Holy Bible, ESV.

48. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 463.

49. I am indebted here to Martin Luther’s teaching in the Heidelberg Disputation, expounded by Gerhard O. Forde and David Demson,about the non-negotiable requirement that the sinner must “die”—must, in other words, give up reliance upon works and self (we might say reliance on the “flesh”) to be acted upon by the cross. See Martin Luther, “Disputation Held at Heidelberg (1518),” in The Essential Luther, ed. and trans. Tryntje Helfferich, 27-47 (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2018); Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1997), e.g. 81-90; David Demson, “Theologies of Luther and Calvin,” (course, including handouts and lecture notes, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, Fall 2019).

50. C.f. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom, 463-5.

51. St. Augustine, qtd. in Sheridan, ed. Genesis 12-50, 219.

52. John Donne, “Holy Sonnet XI” (1633), in The Broadview Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Verse & Prose, ed. Alan Rudrum, Joseph Black, & Holly Faith Nelson: 123-4 (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2000). Italics in original.

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