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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Genesis 32

Verses 1-32

Peniel - the face of God. The reason of this name is assigned in the sentence, “I have seen God face to face.” He is at first called a man. Hosea terms him the angel (Hosea 12:4-5 (3, 4). And here Jacob names him God. Hence, some men, deeply penetrated with the ineffable grandeur of the divine nature, are disposed to resolve the first act at least into an impression on the imagination. We do not pretend to define with undue nicety the mode of this wrestling. And we are far from saying that every sentence of Scripture is to be understood in a literal sense. But until some cogent reason be assigned, we do not feel at liberty to depart from the literal sense in this instance. The whole theory of a revelation from God to man is founded upon the principle that God can adapt himself to the apprehension of the being whom he has made in his own image. This principle we accept, and we dare not limit its application “further than the demonstrative laws of reason and conscience demand.” If God walk in the garden with Adam, expostulate with Cain, give a specification of the ark to Noah, partake of the hospitality of Abraham, take Lot by the hand to deliver him from Sodom, we cannot affirm that he may not, for a worthy end, enter into a bodily conflict with Jacob. These various manifestations of God to man differ only in degree. If we admit anyone, we are bound by parity of reason to accept all the others.

We have also already noted the divine method of dealing with man. He proceeds from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, from the material to the spiritual, from the sensible to the super-sensible. So must he do, until he have to deal with a world of philosophers. And even then, and only then, will his method of teaching and dealing with people be clearly and fully understood. The more we advance in the philosophy of spiritual things, the more delight will we feel in discerning the marvelous analogy and intimate nearness of the outward to the inward, and the material to the spiritual world. We have only to bear in mind that in man there is a spirit as well as a body; and in this outward wrestling of man with man we have a token of the inward wrestling of spirit with spirit, and therefore, an experimental instance of that great conflict of the Infinite Being with the finite self, which grace has introduced into our fallen world, recorded here for the spiritual edification of the church on earth.

“My life is preserved.” The feeling of conscience is, that no sinner can see the infinitely holy God and live. “And he halted upon his thigh.” The wrenching of the tendons and muscles was mercifully healed, so as to leave a permanent monument, in Jacob’s halting gait, that God had overcome his self-will.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Genesis 32". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/genesis-32.html. 1870.