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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-2

These angels (messengers) must have resembled the angels Jacob had seen at Bethel (Genesis 28:12) for him to have recognized them as angels. They joined his own company of travelers for Jacob’s protection (cf. Psalms 34:7). This is the reason for the name "Mahanaim" (i.e., double host or double camp). Jacob probably saw the camp of angels as a source of comfort to his own camp as he prepared to enter the Promised Land.

"Although outside the land of promise, he was not outside the hand of promise." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 547.]

Verses 1-21

11. Jacob’s attempt to appease Esau 32:1-21

Chapters 32 and 33 can be viewed as one episode in the life of Jacob. They describe his return to the Promised Land including his meeting with Esau. There are thematic parallels between these chapters and chapter 31.

In spite of the vision of God’s assisting messengers, Jacob divided his people into two groups as a precaution when he heard Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. Furthermore he sought to pacify Esau’s anger with an expensive gift in addition to praying for God’s deliverance.

Jacob had been able to handle his problems himself by hook or by crook until now. At this point in his experience God brought him to the end of his natural resources.

"As Jacob is at the precipice of receiving the promise of Canaan, he is not yet morally ready to carry out the blessing. Jacob must possess his own faith, obtaining the blessing through personal encounter, not by heredity alone." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 537.]

"The events of this chapter are couched between two accounts of Jacob’s encounter with angels (Genesis 32:1; Genesis 32:25). The effect of these two brief pictures of Jacob’s meeting with angels on his return to the land is to align the present narrative with the similar picture of the Promised Land in the early chapters of Genesis. The land was guarded on its borders by angels. The same picture was suggested early in the Book of Genesis when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden and ’cherubim’ were positioned on the east of the garden to guard the way to the tree of life. It can hardly be accidental that as Jacob returned from the east, he was met by angels at the border of the Promised Land. This brief notice may also be intended to alert the reader to the meaning of Jacob’s later wrestling with the ’man’ . . . at Peniel (Genesis 32:25-30). The fact that Jacob had met with angels here suggests that the man at the end of the chapter is also an angel." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 208.]

Verses 3-12

Why did Jacob initiate contact with Esau (Genesis 32:3)?

"He knows that there can be no peace and quiet until his relations with Esau are assured and put on a proper footing. Not until that matter was settled could Jacob feel certain of his future." [Note: Thomas, p. 293. Cf. Matthew 5:23-25a.]

Esau may have had a large army because he had had to subjugate the Horite (Hurrian) population of Seir (Genesis 32:6). His soldiers probably consisted of his own servants plus the Canaanite and Ishmaelite relations of his wives.

Jacob’s reaction to Esau’s apparently hostile advance against him was to try to protect himself (Genesis 32:7-8). This was Jacob’s standard response to trouble. Yet this time he knew it would not be enough. So, he called on God for help (Genesis 32:9-12). We need to be right with God before we can be right with our brothers.

Jacob’s prayer (his first recorded prayer) reflects his deeply felt need for God’s help and his own humility (Genesis 32:9-12). One writer likened its form to the penitential psalms. [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 443.] He reminded God of His past dealings with his forefathers and with himself (Genesis 32:9). He confessed his personal unworthiness and lack of any claim upon God’s favor (Genesis 32:10). By calling himself "your servant" he became ready to serve others. He requested divine deliverance and acknowledged his own fear (Genesis 32:11). Finally he claimed God’s promise of a continuing line of descendants (Genesis 32:12). This is an excellent model prayer.

Verses 13-21

Though he hoped for God’s help, Jacob did not fail to do all he could to appease his brother (Genesis 32:13-15). He offered his magnanimous gifts diplomatically to pacify his offended brother.

"As the narrative unfolds, however, it was not Jacob’s plan that succeeded but his prayer. When he met with Esau, he found that Esau had had a change of heart. Running to meet Jacob, Esau embraced and kissed him and wept (Genesis 33:4). All of Jacob’s plans and schemes had come to naught. In spite of them all, God had prepared Jacob’s way." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 209.]

Jacob’s ability to give Esau 580 animals proves that God had made him enormously wealthy.

"Jacob’s behavioral response was classically narcissistic." [Note: Shepperson, p. 183.]

In view of God’s promises believers can pray with confidence for His deliverance and do not need to give away His provisions to appease their enemies.

Verses 22-32

12. Jacob at the Jabbok 32:22-32

"Hebrew narrative style often includes a summary statement of the whole passage followed by a more detailed report of the event. Here Genesis 32:22 is the summary statement, while Genesis 32:23 begins the detailed account." [Note: The NET Bible note on 32:22.]

This site was probably just a few miles east of the Jordan Valley (Genesis 32:22). The Jabbok joins the Jordan River about midway between the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) and the Salt (Dead) Sea. [Note: On the location and significance of the Jabbok River, see Bryant G. Wood, "Journey Down the Jabbok," Bible and Spade (Spring 1978):57-64.]

It was when Jacob was alone, having done everything he could to secure his own safety, that God came to him (Genesis 32:24). An unidentified man assaulted Jacob, and he had to fight for his life. The "man" was the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:28-30; cf. Hosea 12:4). Note that God took the initiative in wrestling with Jacob, not vice versa. God was bringing Jacob to the end of himself. He was leading him to a settled conviction that God was superior to him and that he must submit to God’s leadership in his life (cf. Romans 12:1-2).

"The great encounter with God came when Jacob knew himself to be exposed to a situation wholly beyond him." [Note: Kidner, p. 168.]

This was not a vision or a dream, but a real event. The injury to Jacob’s hip joint proves this. It was God’s third revelation to Jacob.

Jacob’s refusal to release the man indicates the sincerity of his felt need for God’s help (Genesis 32:26; cf. John 15:5). Again Jacob demonstrated his strong desire for blessing.

"Jacob completed, by his wrestling with God, what he had already been engaged in even from his mother’s womb, viz. his striving for the birthright; in other words, for the possession of the covenant promise and the covenant blessing . . . . To save him from the hand of his brother, it was necessary that God should first meet him as an enemy, and show him that his real opponent was God Himself, and that he must first of all overcome Him before he could hope to overcome his brother. And Jacob overcame God; not with the power of the flesh however, with which he had hitherto wrestled for God against man (God convinced him of that by touching his hip, so that it was put out of joint), but by the power of faith and prayer, reaching by firm hold of God even to the point of being blessed, by which he proved himself to be a true wrestler of God, who fought with God and with men, i.e., who by his wrestling with God overcame men as well." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:305-6.]

With his wrestling with God Jacob began a new stage in his life (Genesis 32:28); he was a new man because he now began to relate to God in a way new for him. As a sign of this, God gave him a new name that indicated his new relationship to God. "Israel" means "God’s warrior."

"The acknowledgment of the old name, and its unfortunate suitability [Jacob, Genesis 32:27], paves the way for the new name [Israel, Genesis 32:28]." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 333.]

". . . the name Israel denoted a spiritual state determined by faith; and in Jacob’s life the natural state, determined by flesh and blood, still continued to stand side by side with this. Jacob’s new name was transmitted to his descendants, however, who were called Israel as the covenant nation. For as the blessing of their forefather’s conflict came down to them as a spiritual inheritance, so did they also enter upon the duty of preserving this inheritance by continuing in a similar conflict." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:307.]

"Elohim" (very strong one) occurs here to bring out the contrast between God and His creature. Jacob prevailed, in the sense of obtaining his request, by acknowledging his dependence and cleaving to God as his deliverer.

"The transformation pertains to the way in which Jacob prevails. Heretofore he prevailed over people by trickery. Now he prevails with God, and so with humans, by his words, not by the physical gifts conferred on him at birth or acquired through human effort." [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 446.]

"One wonders if ’Why is it that you inquire about my name?’ [Genesis 32:29] is another way of asking, ’Jacob, don’t you realize who I am?’" [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 336.]

Another view is that God withheld His name to heighten Jacob’s awe at this great event and to impress the significance of the event on Jacob all the more.

Jacob believed that he had seen God face to face (Genesis 32:30). The ancients believed that anyone who saw God face to face would die (cf. Genesis 16:13; Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:21-22). He was probably also grateful that the Angel had not dealt with him more severely, as he deserved. "Peniel" sounds more like "face of God" in Hebrew than the more common Penuel, which means the same thing. Perhaps Peniel was an older form of the place name and Penuel a newer form. Penuel seems to have been more common (cf. Judges 8:8). Or perhaps these names describe two places located closely together, though this seems less likely.

The result of this spiritual crisis in Jacob’s life was obvious to all who observed him from then on (Genesis 32:31). It literally resulted in a change in his walk. [Note: See Harry Foster, "Walking with a Limp," Toward the Mark (September-October 1982):97-100.]

"When God touched the strongest sinew of Jacob, the wrestler, it shriveled, and with it Jacob’s persistent self-confidence." [Note: Allen P. Ross, "Jacob at the Jabbok, Israel at Peniel," Bibliotheca Sacra 142:568 (October-December 1985):350.]

Every Christian does not need to have this type of drastic experience. Abraham and Isaac did not. God has told us that we can do nothing without Him (John 15:5) and that we should believe Him. It is only when we do not believe Him that He must teach us this lesson. Sometimes He has to bring us very low to do it. Every Christian should yield himself or herself to the lordship of God (Romans 6:13; Romans 6:19; Romans 12:1-2).

"If only the swimmer yields to the water, the water keeps him up; but if he continues to struggle, the result is disastrous. Let us learn to trust, just as we learn to float." [Note: Thomas, p. 298.]

To become strong in faith the believer must forsake self-sufficiency.

"The narrative is presented in a deliberately enigmatic manner to channel the reader’s imagination in certain directions." [Note: Stephen Geller, "The Struggle at the Jabbok: The Uses of Enigma in a Biblical Narrative," Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 14 (1982):39. See also Edward M. Curtis, "Structure, Style and Context as a Key to Interpreting Jacob’s Encounter at Peniel," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30:2 (June 1987):129-37.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 32". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/genesis-32.html. 2012.
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