Gen 32:1 Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
Jacob will have three significant meetings: (a) with angels; (b) with God himself; (c) with Esau.
In travelling to the place God wants him to be, Jacob must first be reconciled with his brother. The story recorded in Gen 32-33 thus provides a vivid illustration of Mt 5:23-25.
‘Those that keep in a good way have always a good guard; angels themselves are ministering spirits for their safety, Heb 1:14. Where Jacob pitched his tents, they pitched theirs about him, Ps 34:7. They met him, to bid him welcome to Canaan again; a more honourable reception this was than ever any prince had, that was met by the magistrates of a city in their formalities. They met him to congratulate him on his arrival, as well as on his escape from Laban; for they have pleasure in the prosperity of God’s servants. They had invisibly attended him all along, but now they appeared to him, because he had greater dangers before him than those he had hitherto encountered.’ (MHC)
‘When God designs his people for extraordinary trials, he prepares them by extraordinary comforts. We should think it had been more seasonable for these angels to have appeared to him amidst the perplexity and agitation occasioned first by Laban, and afterwards by Esau, than in this calm and quiet interval, when he saw not himself in any imminent peril; but God will have us, when we are in peace, to provide for trouble, and, when trouble comes, to live upon former observations and experiences; for we walk by faith, not by sight.’ (MHC)
Gen 32:2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.
“This is the camp of God!” – ‘A good man may with an eye of faith see the same that Jacob saw with his bodily eyes, by believing that promise, (Ps 91:11) He shall give his angels charge over thee. What need have we to dispute whether every particular saint has a guardian angel, when we are sure he has a guard of angels about him?’
Gen 32:3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
Gen 32:4 he instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my master Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now.”
“This is what you are to say to my master Esau” – ‘The purport of the message was that, after a residence of twenty years in Mesopotamia, he was now returning to his native land, that he did not need any thing, for he had abundance of pastoral wealth, but that he could not pass without notifying his arrival to his brother and paying the homage of his respectful obeisance. Acts of civility tend to disarm opposition and soften hatred.’ (Ec 10:4) (JFB)
‘He calls Esau his lord, himself his servant, to intimate that he did not insist upon the prerogatives of the birthright and blessing he had obtained for himself, but left it to God to fulfil his own purpose in his seed.’ (MHC)
Gen 32:5 “I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favour in your eyes.'”
Gen 32:6 When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”
“He is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him” – Esau’s silence in response to the message, and his approach with four hundred men, struck terror into the heart of his brother. ‘Their report left Jacob in painful uncertainty as to what was his brother’s views and feelings. Esau’s studied reserve gave him reason to dread the worst. Jacob was naturally timid; but his conscience told him that there was much ground for apprehension, and his distress was all the more aggravated that he had to provide for the safety of a large and helpless family.’ (JFB)
Gen 32:7 In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well.
Jacob was terrified to hear that Esau was on his way with 400 men. Kidner notes Jacob’s energetic response: he plans, v7f, he prays, vv9-12, he plans, vv13-21, he prays, vv22-32, he plans, vv33:1-3. Kidner adds, ‘It is over-facile to condemn his elaborate moves as faithless, for Scripture approves of strategy when it is a tool rather than a substitute for God.’ (cf. Jos 8:1-2 Ne 4:9 ff)
Gen 32:8 he thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”
Gen 32:9 Then Jacob prayed, “Oh God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, oh LORD, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,'”
‘This is the first recorded example of prayer in the Bible. It is short, earnest, and bearing directly on the occasion. The appeal is made to God, as standing in a covenant relation to his family, just as we ought to put our hopes of acceptance with God in Christ. It pleads the special promise made to him of a safe return; and after a most humble and affecting confession of unworthiness, it breathes an earnest desire for deliverance from the impending danger. It was the prayer of a kind husband, an affectionate father, a firm believer in the promises.’ (JFB)
Jacob’s prayer shows how much he has changed since he left home. He now trusts God to deliver him. ‘Times of fear should be times of prayer; whatever frightens us should drive us to our knees, to our God.’ (MHC)
Gen 32:10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups.
Gen 32:11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.
“Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau” – ‘When our brethren aim to be our destroyers, it is our comfort that we have a Father to whom we may apply as our deliverer.’ (MHC)
‘God loves to have us plead with him, and use arguments in prayer. See how many arguments Jacob used in prayer. ‘Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother.’ Gen 32:11. The arguments he used are from God’s command ‘Thou saidst to me, Return to thy country;’ ver 9; as if he had said, I did not take this journey of my own head, but by thy direction; therefore thou canst not but in honour protect me. And he uses another argument. ‘Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good;’ ver 12. Lord, wilt thou go back from thy own promise? Thus he was argumentative in prayer; and he got not only a new blessing, but a new name. ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God, and hast prevailed;’ ver 28. God loves to be overcome with strength of argument. Thus, when we come to God in prayer for grace, let us be argumentative. Lord, thou callest thyself the God of all grace; and whither should we go with our vessel, but to the fountain? Lord, thy grace may be imparted, yet not impaired. Has not Christ purchased grace for poor indigent creatures? Every drachm of grace costs a drop of blood. Shall Christ die to purchase grace for us, and shall not we have the fruit of his purchase? Lord, it is thy delight to milk out the breast of mercy and grace, and wilt thou abridge thyself of thy own delight? Thou hast promised to give thy Spirit to implant grace; can truth lie? can faithfulness deceive? God loves thus to be overcome with arguments in prayer.’ (Thomas Watson)
Gen 32:12 “But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.'”
Gen 32:13 he spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau:
He selected a gift for his brother Esau – Jacob was trusting God to deliver him. He did not use this as an excuse, however, for doing nothing. This is an illustration of the saying, ‘Trust in God; but keep your powder dry.’
‘Jacob, having piously made God his friend by a prayer, is here prudently endeavouring to make Esau his friend by a present. He had prayed to God to deliver him from the had of Esau, for he feared him; but neither did his fear sink into such a despair as dispirits for the use of means, nor did his prayer make him presume upon God’s mercy, without the use of means. Note, When we have prayed to God for any mercy, we must second our prayers with our endeavours; else, instead of trusting god, we tempt him; we must so depend upon God’s providence as to make use of our own prudence. “Help thyself, and God will help thee;” God answers our prayers by teaching us to order our affairs with discretion.’ (MHC)
‘Jacob combined active exertions with earnest prayer; and this teaches us that we must not depend upon the aid and interposition of God in such a way as to supersede the exercise of prudence and foresight. Superiors are always approached with presents, and the respect expressed is estimated by the quality and amount of the gift. The present of Jacob consisted of five hundred fifty head of cattle, of different kinds, such as would be most prized by Esau. It was a most magnificent present, skilfully arranged and proportioned. The milch camels alone were of immense value; for the she camels form the principal part of Arab wealth; their milk is a chief article of diet; and in many other respects they are of the greatest use.’ (JFB)
Gen 32:14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams,
Gen 32:15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.
Gen 32:16 he put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”
Gen 32:17 he instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?'”
Gen 32:18 “then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.'”
Gen 32:19 he also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him.”
Gen 32:20 “And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.'” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.”
Gen 32:21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.
Gen 32:22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
The ford of the Jabbok – ‘A stream that rises among the mountains of Gilead, and running from east to west, enters the Jordan, about forty miles south of the Sea of Tiberias. At the ford it is ten yards wide. It is sometimes forded with difficulty; but in summer it is very shallow.’ (JFB)
Gen 32:23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.
Gen 32:24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
‘Jacob remained alone on the north bank of the river. He probably wanted privately to pour out his heart to the Lord. There in the darkness he experienced a theophany, an appearance of God in human-like form. The man who met him there was none other than the angel of the Lord who appeared earlier to Hagar and to Abraham. Jacob might have thought at first that the stranger was Esau or one of his agents.’ (OT Survey)
According to v28,30, the man with whom Jacob wrestled was God. This, then, is a theophany. Cf. Gen 16:7-14.
Luther said, “Every man holds that this text is one of the most obscure in the Old Testament.” Interpretative options are as follows:-
1. The story is a myth, reflecting other ancient stories that tell of gods fighting people.
2. The story is an allegory, representing the soul’s struggle against inner passions and vices (Philo).
3. The story is a dream narrative (Josephus).
4. The sotry is a portrayal of deep and earnest prayer, with meditation on the presence of God, and confession of sin.
5. The one who fought with Jacob is an angel.
6. The story tells of a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God.
See Ho 12:3-4 for a divinely-inspired commentary on this passage. Ho 12:4 identifies the antagonist as an angel. However, we are familiar, from other OT passages with the idea of the ‘angel of the Lord’ being identified with the godhead, and we are justified in understanding this to be a pre-incarnatve appearance of Christ. HOw 12:3 makes it clear that in struggling with the angel, Jacob was struggling with God.
There is a punning word-play between the words for Jacob, Jabbock, and the action of wrestling. As a result of this wrestling, Jacob was renamed Israel and prepared for his part in fathering the nation that God had promised. In order to preserve Jacob’s memory of this spiritual crisis, God left a permanent mark on his body. God touched Jacob’s thigh and dislocated it; so he limped from that point onward.
‘Jacob was now full of care and fear about the interview he expected, next day, with his brother, and, to aggravate the trial, God himself seemed to come forth against him as an enemy, to oppose his entrance into the land of promise, and to dispute the pass with him, not suffering him to follow his wives and children whom he had sent before. Note, Strong believers must expect divers temptations, and strong ones. We are told by the prophet (Ho 12:4) how Jacob wrestled: he wept, and made supplication; prayers and tears were his weapons. It was not only a corporal, but a spiritual, wrestling, by the vigorous actings of faith and holy desire; and thus all the spiritual seed of Jacob, that pray in praying, still wrestle with God.’ (MHC)
‘The moral design of this story was to revive the sinking spirit of the patriarch and to arm him with confidence in God, while anticipating the dreaded scenes of the morrow. To us it is highly instructive; showing that, to encourage us valiantly to meet the trials to which we are subjected, God allows us to ascribe to the efficacy of our faith and prayers, the victories which his grace alone enables us to make.’ (JFB)
‘The conflict brought to a head the battling and groping of a lifetime, and Jacob’s desperate embrace vividly expressed his ambivalent attitude to God, of love and enmity, defiance and dependence. It was against him, not Esau or Laban, that he had been pitting his strength, as he now discovered; yet the initiative had been God’s as it was this night, to chasten his pride and challenge his tenacity…It was defeat and citory in one.’ (Ho 12:4) (Kidner)
Gen 32:25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.
He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip – The hip or thigh was considered to be the seat of reproductive power, so the injury was symbolic of the suffering of one of Jacob’s descendants. Cf. Isa 53:4.
Gen 32:26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
For other examples of power in prayer, see:Elijah 1 Kings 17:21,22 The dying thief Lk 23:42 Early disciples Acts 4:31
Gen 32:27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered.
Gen 32:28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
“You have struggled with God and with men and have overcome” – ‘The whole incident is shrouded with mystery. Not only did it take place at night, but what was God doing attacking Jacob and yet being unable or unwilling to defeat him? Here the paradox of the human condition is vividly summed up. On the one hand, God allows, even puts his people into, difficult or impossible situations, but it is the same God who delivers us from them. We pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’. This experience of Jacob at the Jabbok summed up his career. It was God who had brought him to this crisis situation, confronting Esau, but it was the same God who would bring h im through victoriously. His successful struggle at the Jabbok was a pledge that his confrontation with Esau would also have a happy outcome. He was a new man as his new name ‘Israel’ indicated, the victor over God and man.’ (NBC)
Gen 32:29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
Gen 32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
Peniel – = ‘face of God’.
Gen 32:31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.
He was limping because of his hip – ‘As Paul had a thorn in the flesh given to humble him, lest he should be too elevated by the abundant revelations granted him, (2 Cor 12:7) so Jacob’s lameness was to keep him mindful of this mysterious scene, and that it was in gracious condescension the victory was yielded to him. In the greatest of these spiritual victories which, through faith, any of God’s people obtain, there is always something to humble them.’ (JFB)
Gen 32:32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.