Q: Perhaps you might not be able to answer this question, but I would like to know if Jacob wrestled with an angel in Genesis 32:24-32 or was it Jesus in His pre-incarnate state?
A: Like most people I have my opinion about the man with whom Jacob wrestled. All I can do is share my conclusions with you and you can make up your own mind. Let me first state my conclusion. To me it was Jesus in His pre-incarnate state.
There are a few reasons why I came to this conclusion; namely, Jesus made it clear that no man had heard the voice of the Father or seen His shape for we know He is spirit, and that Jesus was the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (John 4:24; 5:37).
With that said, it is also clear in Scripture that one person of the Godhead was seen by people such as in the case of Abraham when the LORD (Jehovah) appeared to him in Genesis 18. What he saw were three men, two were later identified as angels and the other one he addressed as “Lord” or Adonai. At the end of his conversation with the Lord, we are told that, “And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.”
In Joshua 5:13-15, Joshua encountered a man. He introduced Himself as the captain of the hosts of the LORD. Clearly, “captain” points to the One who leads all the host of heaven, and there is only one captain, the Lord. The one thing that confirms that the Old Testament Joshua encountered the future New Testament Joshua (Jesus, is the Greek word for Joshua), is that Joshua worshipped Him. If He was a mere man or an angel, it would have been blasphemous for Joshua to show such homage. Only the true God of heaven deserves such worship. (See Matthew 4:10.) In fact, that is a good test to consider as you read about these encounters between mere man and spiritual entities. Angels refuse worship and true saints of God would not worship anyone but God.
In Daniel 3, when the three Hebrew men were in the fiery oven, a fourth man appeared. It was King Nebuchadnezzar who made this statement, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25). Note the word “form.” It means shaped like the Son of God.
At the beginning of chapter 32, Jacob actually saw angels of God. We also must remember that in Genesis 28 he had a vision of the LORD God standing at the top of the ladder that reached from earth to heaven, and Jacob clearly knew who He was. Fear came over him because He saw God and lived. In fact, John 1:18 makes this statement, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” In order to see God, a person would have to see the full glory of God which would entail the complete glory of all three persons of the Godhead Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was made clear in Exodus 33:19-20 that no man could look into the full glory of God and live. It is for this reason God’s glory always had to be veiled in darkness, behind a curtain, or an outward form, such as the humanity of Christ.
Let’s consider a couple of facts here. Jacob wrestled with this man until the breaking of day, seeking a blessing. It is clear that he was not wrestling with an angel or he would have been identified as such, but on the other hand Jacob would not be seeking a blessing from a mere man. Only God is the one who can bless.
The second thing has to do with the blessing, which was a new name. It is clear that God alone reserves the right to change or give a new name to one of His servants. Consider what Revelation 2:17 tells us, ”He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” (Emphasis added.)
To me another clue that it was Jesus in His pre-incarnate state is that Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint. When man has an intense encounter with the Lord, he never walks away the same. In fact, his encounter with the Lord reminded him to walk humbly before the Lord. Isaiah in Isaiah 6, felt the live coal from the altar of heaven against his lips, and the Apostle Paul, who had seen great things, was given a thorn in his flesh in order to avoid self-exaltation (2 Corinthians 12).
Can you imagine if Jacob had wrestled all night with the Lord and walked away with only a blessing? Satan could have used it to tempt him into thinking he had managed to somehow gain victory over the Lord in his own strength. We must remember that all blessings from God are a matter of His grace and are nothing we have acquired or obtained in our own strength.
I have always asked God to keep me from touching His glory. I want Him to keep me reliant on Him, walking softly before Him when He so graciously entrusts me with matters concerning His kingdom. Jacob limped the rest of his life, no doubt remembering who did what. In my mind, the Lord humbled him so he could walk in accordance to the blessing of his new name which also gives the final clue as to the identity of the man, “Israel, a prince prevailing with God.” (Emphasis added.)