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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) Jacob went on his way.—The meeting of Jacob and Laban had been on the dividing line between the Aramean and the Canaanite lands, and consequently at a spot where Laban would have found no allies in the natives, but rather the contrary. Delivered thus from danger from behind, Jacob now takes his journey through the country that was to be the heritage of his seed, and doubtless he was harassed by many anxious thoughts; for Esau might prove a fiercer foe than Laban. It was fit therefore that he should receive encouragement, and so after some days, probably after about a week’s journey southward, he has a vision of “angels of God.”

Angels of God.—Numberless conjectures have been hazarded as to who were these “messengers of Elohim,” and how they were seen by Jacob. Some, taking the word in its lower sense, think they were prophets; others, that it was a caravan, which gave Jacob timely information about Esau’s presence in Seir; others, that it was a body of men sent by Rebekah to aid Jacob in repelling Esau. More probably, as Jacob on his road to Padan-aram had been assured of God’s watchful care of him by the vision of the angels ascending and descending the stairs, so now also in a dream he sees the angels encamped on each side of him, to assure him of protection against his brother.

Verses 1-32

THE TÔLDÔTH ISAAC (Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 35:29).


Abraham begat Isaac—The Tôldôth in its original form gave probably a complete genealogy of Isaac, tracing up his descent to Shem, and showing thereby that the right of primogeniture belonged to him; but the inspired historian uses only so much of this as is necessary for tracing the development of the Divine plan of human redemption.

The Syrian.—Really, the Aramean, or descendant of Aram. (See Genesis 10:22-23.) The name of the district also correctly is “Paddan-Ararn,” and so far from being identical with Aram-Naharaim, in Genesis 24:10, it is strictly the designation of the region immediately in the neighbourhood of Charran. The assertion of Gesenius that it meant “Mesopotamia, with the desert to the west of the Euphrates, in opposition to the mountainous district towards the Mediterranean,” is devoid of proof. (See Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier, 1, p. 304.) In Syriac, the language of Charran, padana means a plough (1 Samuel 13:20), or a yoke of oxen ( 1 Samuel 11:7); and this also suggests that it was the cultivated district close to the town. In Hosea 12:12 it is said that “Jacob fled to the field of Aram;” but this is a very general description of the country in which he found refuge, and affords no basis for the assertion that Padan-aram was the level region. Finally, the assertion that it is an ancient name used by the Jehovist is an assertion only. It is the name of a special district, and the knowledge of it was the result of Jacob’s long-continued stay there. Chwolsohn says that traces of the name still remain in Faddân and Tel Faddân, two places close to Charran, mentioned by Yacut, the Arabian geographer, who flourished in the thirteenth century.

Isaac intreated the Lord.—This barrenness lasted twenty years (Genesis 25:26), and must have greatly troubled Isaac; but it would also compel him to dwell much in thought upon the purpose for which he had been given to Abraham, and afterwards rescued from death upon the mount Jehovah-Jireh. And when offspring came, in answer to his earnest pleading of the promise, the delay would serve to impress upon both parents the religious significance of their existence as a separate race and family, and the necessity of training their children worthily. The derivation of the verb to intreat, from a noun signifying incense, is uncertain, but rendered probable by the natural connection of the idea of the ascending fragrance, and that of the prayer mounting heavenward (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:4).

The children struggled together.—Two dissimilar nations sprang from Abraham, but from mothers totally unlike; so, too, from the peaceful Isaac two distinct races of men were to take their origin, but from the same mother, and the contest began while they were yet unborn. And Rebekah, apparently unaware that she was pregnant with twins, but harassed with the pain of strange jostlings and thrusts, grew despondent, and exclaimed—

If it be so, why am I thus?—Literally, If so, why am I this? Some explain this as meaning “Why do I still live?” but more probably she meant, If I have thus conceived, in answer to my husband’s prayers, why do I suffer in this strange manner? It thus prepares for what follows, namely, that Rebekah wished to have her condition explained to her, and therefore went to inquire of Jehovah.

She went to enquire of the Lord.—Not to Shem, nor Melchizedek, as many think, nor even to Abraham, who was still alive, but, as Theodoret suggests, to the family altar. Isaac had several homes, but probably the altar at Bethel, erected when Abraham first took possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 12:7), and therefore especially holy, was the place signified; and if Abraham were there, he would doubtless join his prayers to those of Rebekah.

Verse 2

(2) Mahanaim.—That is, the two camps, his own and that of the angels; or, possibly, two camps of angels, one on either side of him. Mahanaim was in the tribe of Gad, and became an important town. (See 2 Samuel 2:8; 2 Samuel 17:24; 1 Kings 4:14.)

Verse 3


(Genesis 32:3 to Genesis 33:16.)

(3) Jacob sent messengers.—As Jacob travelled homewards to Hebron the news somehow reached him that Esau, at the head of a large body of retainers, was engaged in an expedition against the Horites. These, as we have seen on Genesis 14:6, were a miserable race of cave-men, utterly unable to cope with Esau and his trained servants. We learn from Genesis 36:6 that Esau’s home was still with Isaac at Hebron, and probably this was a mere marauding expedition, like that against the people of Gath, which a century later cost Ephraim the lives of so many of his sons (1 Chronicles 7:21); but it revealed to Esau the weakness of the in habitants, and also that the land was admirably adapted for his favourite pursuit of hunting. He seems also to have taken a Horite wife (Genesis 36:5), and being thus connected with the country, upon Isaac’s death he willingly removed into it, and it then became “the country,” Heb. the field of Edom. Its other name, Seir, i.e. rough, hairy, shows that it was then covered with forests, and the term field that it was an uncultivated region. It was entirely in the spirit of the adventurous Esau to make this expedition, and on his father’s death to prefer this wild land to the peaceful pastures at Hebron, where he was surrounded by powerful tribes of Amorites and Hittites. The land of Seir was a hundred miles distant from Mahanaim, but Esau apparently had been moving up through what were afterwards the countries of Moab and Ammon, and was probably, when Jacob sent his messengers, at no very great distance. At all events, Jacob remained at Mahanaim till his brother was near, when he crossed the brook Jabbok, and went to meet him.

Verse 7

(7) Jacob was greatly afraid.—Jacob’s message to his brother had been very humble, for he calls Esau his lord, and himself a servant. He hopes also to “find grace in his sight,” and by enumerating his wealth shows that he required no aid, nor need claim even a share of Isaac’s property. But Esau had given no answer, being probably undecided as to the manner in which he would receive his brother. The “four hundred men with him” formed probably only a part of the little army with which he had invaded the Horite territory. Some would be left with the spoil which he had gathered, but he took so many with him as to place Jacob completely in his power. And Jacob’s extreme distress, in spite of the Divine encouragement repeatedly given him, shows that his faith was very feeble; but it was real, and therefore he sought refuge from his terror in prayer.

Verse 9

(9) Jacob said.—Jacob’s prayer, the first recorded in the Bible, is remarkable for combining great earnestness with simplicity. After addressing God as the Elohim of his. fathers, he draws closer to Him as the Jehovah who had personally commanded him to return to his birthplace (Genesis 31:13). And next, while acknowledging his own unworthiness, he shows that already he had been the recipient of the Divine favour, and prays earnestly for deliverance, using the touching words “and smite me, mother upon children.” His mind does not rest upon his own death, but upon the terrible picture of the mother, trying with all a mother’s love to protect her offspring, and slain upon their bodies. In Hosea 10:14 this is spoken of as the most cruel and pitiable of the miseries of war. But finally he feels that this sad end is impossible; for he has God’s promise that his seed shall be numerous as the sand of the sea. In prayer to man it may be ungenerous to remind another of promises made and favours expected, but with God each first act of grace and mercy is the pledge of continued favour.

Verse 13

(13) He lodged there.—That is, at Mahanaim. On the first news of Esau’s approach in so hostile a manner, Jacob had divided his possessions into two main divisions, in the hope of saving at least one. He now, quieted by his prayer, makes more exact arrangements, selects a present for Esau of five hundred and fifty head of cattle, sends them forward with intervals between, that repeated impressions might soften his brother’s fierce mood, sees all his followers safely across the Jabbok, and remains alone behind to pray. As he thus placed everything in Esau’s power, faith seems to have regained the ascendancy over his fears, though he still takes every prudent measure for the safety of those whom he loved.

Of that which came to his hand.—Heb., of that which came in his hand. Some Jewish interpreters take the phrase literally, and suppose that it was precious stones; more truly it means “what he possessed,” or what he had with him. The phrase “which came to his hand” would imply that he made no selection, but took what came first in his way.

Verses 14-15

(14, 15) Goatsewes—camelskineasses.—As the kinds of cattle are arranged according to their value, it is remarkable that kine should be prized above camels; for the milk of cows was regarded as of little worth. This high estimation of them, therefore, must have arisen from an increased regard for agriculture, the ploughing being done in the East by oxen. Asses of course come last, as being the animal used by chieftains for riding, and therefore prized as matters of luxury. (See Genesis 12:16; Judges 5:10.) Jacob selected “milch camels” because their milk forms a valuable part of the daily food of the Arabs.

Verse 16

(16) A space.Heb., a breathing place. These paration of the droves would be a matter of course, as each kind would travel peaceably onward only by itself. But Jacob rightly concluded that the repeated acknowledgment of Esau as his lord, added to the great value of the gift, would fill his brother’s heart with friendly feelings, and perhaps therefore he put a longer space than usual between the successive droves.

Verse 20

(20) I will appease him.—The Heb. literally is, he said I will cover his face with the offering that goeth before my face, and afterwards I will see his face; peradventure he will lift up my face. The covering of the face of the offended person, so that he could no longer see the offence, became the usual legal word for making an atonement (Leviticus 9:7, &c). For the “offering” (Heb., minchah) see Genesis 4:3; and for “the lifting up of the face,” Genesis 4:7.

Verse 22

(22) The ford Jabbok.—Heb., the ford of the Jabbok. This river, now called the Wady Zerba or Blue Torrent, formed afterwards the boundary between the tribes of Manasseh and Gad. It flows through a deep ravine, with so rapid a current as to make the crossing of it a matter of difficulty. Dr. Tristram (Land of Israel, p. 558) says that the water reached his horse’s girths when he rode through the ford.

Verse 23

(23) The brook.—Really, the ravine or valley; Arab., wady. Jacob, whose administrative powers were of a very high character, sees his wives, children, and cattle not only through the ford, but across the valley on to the high ground beyond. Staying himself to the very last, he is left alone on the south side of the torrent, but still in the ravine, across which the rest had taken their way. The definite proof that Jacob remained on the south side lies in the fact that Peniel belonged to the tribe of Gad; but, besides this, there could be no reason why he should recross the rapid river when once he had gone through it, and probably the idea has risen from taking the word brook in Genesis 32:23 in too narrow a sense. Really it is the word translated valley in Genesis 26:17, but is used only of such valleys or ravines as have been formed by the action of a mountain torrent. When Jacob had seen his wives and herds safe on the top of the southern ridge, the deep valley would be the very place for this solitary struggle. This ravine, we are told, has a width of from four to six miles.

Verse 24

(24) There wrestled.—This verb, abak, occurs only here, and without doubt it was chosen because of its resemblance to the name Jabbok. Its probable derivation is from a word signifying dust, because wrestlers were quickly involved in a cloud of dust, or because, as was the custom in Greece, they rubbed their bodies with it.

A man.—Such he seemed to be to Jacob; but Hosea (Genesis 12:4) calls him an angel; and, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob recognises in him a manifestation of the Deity, as Hagar had done before, when an angel appeared to her (Genesis 16:13). There is no warrant for regarding the angel as an incarnation of Deity, any more than in the case of Manoah (Judges 13:22); but it was a manifestation of God mediately by His messenger, and was one of the many signs indicative of a more complete manifestation by the coming of the Word in the flesh. The opposite idea of many modern commentators, that the narrative is an allegory, is contradicted by the attendant circumstances, especially by the change of Jacob’s name, and his subsequent lameness, to which national testimony was borne by the customs of the Jews.

Verse 25

(25) The hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint.—The hollow is in the Hebrew the pan or socket into which the end of the thigh bone is inserted, and the verb more probably signifies that it was sprained from the over-tension of the muscles in the wrestling. But, in spite of his sprained tendons, Jacob still resisted, and could not be thrown down, and the angel, unable to gain any further advantage, at last acknowledges Jacob’s superiority, and at sunrise craves permission to depart.

Verse 26

(26) Let me go . . . —Heb., send me away, for the gleam of morning has gone up. The asking of permission to depart was the acknowledgment of defeat. The struggle must end at daybreak, because Jacob must now go to do his duty; and the wrestling had been for the purpose of giving him courage, and enabling him to meet danger and difficulty in the power of faith. A curious Jewish idea is that the angel was that one whose duty it was to defend and protect Esau. By the aid of his own protecting angel Jacob, they say, had overpowered him, and had won the birthright and the precedence as “Israel, a prince with God and man.”

Except thou bless me.—The vanquished must yield the spoil to the victor; and Jacob, who had gradually become aware that the being who was wrestling with him was something more than man, asks of him, as his ransom, a blessing.

Verse 28

(28) Israel.—That is, a prince of God, or, one powerful with God. (See Note on Genesis 17:15.) Esau had given a bad meaning to the name of Jacob, nor had it been undeserved. But a change has now come over Jacob’s character, and he is henceforth no longer the crafty schemer who was ever plotting for his own advantage, but one humble and penitent, who can trust himself and all he has in God’s hands. The last words signify, for thou art a prince with God and men; or possibly, for thou hast striven with God and men.

Verse 29

(29) Wherefore . . . —In much the same manner the angel refuses to tell Manoah his name (Judges 13:18). Probably, however, in the blessing which followed there was a clear proof that Jacob’s opponent was a Divine personage.

Verse 30

(30) Peniel.—Elsewhere Penuel, and so probably it should be read here. It means, “the face of God.” For the rest of the verse see Note on Genesis 16:13.

Verse 31

(31) As he passed over Pemiel.—Rather, as he passed Penuel. It was the place where he had wrestled, and as soon as the angel left him he proceeded onwards to rejoin his wives. It appears, from what is here said, that it was not till he tried to walk that he found out that he was lame. As his sinews grew cool, the injury to his hip-joint showed itself.

Verse 32

(32) The sinew which shrank.—This translation has much authority in its favour, as the LXX. render the sinew that became numb, and the Vulgate the sinew that withered. More probably, however, it is the proper name for the large tendon which takes its origin from the spinal cord, and extends down the thigh unto the ankle. Technically it is called nervus ischiaticus, and by the Greeks was named tendo Achillis, because it reaches to the heel. Jewish commentators notice that this was the second special ordinance imposed upon the race of Abraham, circumcision having been enjoined upon them by God, while this grew out of an historical event in the life of their progenitor, to the reality of which it bears remarkable testimony.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 32". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/genesis-32.html. 1905.
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