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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

Verses 1-32

Jacob the Aspiring

Genesis 32:1

We are accustomed to think of Jacob as a character of lights and shadows mingling without reason.

I. As commonly understood, the portrait of this man does present an inconsistency. This apparently bad man has a beautiful dream, so beautiful that it has become immortal. What the best men of the past had not seen this fraudulent youth beholds.

II. Why did the artist give such a vision to such a man? The previous life of Jacob had not been that prosaic thing which the popular view would have us believe. This dream of the night was in the first instance a dream of the morning, and the vision which Jacob saw in the desert was the vision which had followed him amid the haunts of men. Jacob, then, appears from the very outset as a mentally aspiring man. He wanted to be the cleric of the family, the ecclesiastic of the clan.

III. But in Jacob's Bethel dream there is a penal as well as a pleasurable element. He pronounced the spot of the vision to be a 'dreadful place'. The dream had a retributive as well as a rewarding function. To be a Churchman in those days was to be a power; it was to wield an influence far beyond the strength of the secular arm. Jacob felt what many a young man now feels the social uplifting involved in the clerical office. This was the bane of his dream, and this was the feeling which the vision reproved.

IV. The effect of Jacob's dream in one word was 'Peniel'. He never would have wrestled at Peniel if he had dreamed at Bethel! This dream gave him a conscience. It told him that to be an angel of God was a very serious thing.

V. There is a curious suggestion in the picture of this conflicting period of Jacob's life. The angel with whom he is struggling is represented as saying 'Let me go! for the day breaketh'. Jacob found it easier to be good by night than by day. But his greatest glory is reserved for his hour of greatest solitude the hour of death. There the angel of the struggle appears once more. He is still the angel of ministration, but he is no longer a mere helper to Jacob he is inciting Jacob to bless others. The dying man becomes for the first time the universal benefactor.

G. Matheson, Representative Men of the Bible, p. 152.

The Season for Divine Help

Genesis 32:1

I. The important word here is the word 'met'. It is distinctly implied that no supernatural help came to Jacob at the beginning. He went out on his own way and on the strength of his own resources; it was only in the middle of his journey that he encountered the angels of God. And I believe this is typical of the life of every man. We are most of us under a mistake on this point. We often see young people waiting for a special call to some mission for a manifest intervention of God that says, 'This is the way; walk ye in it'. The special call does not come at the outset; they must start without it. There is a great difference between not having a special call to go and having a special call not to go. The latter case is a very common one, and it should certainly be taken as a prohibition. Many a man has a family dependent on him for bread. Many a woman has an aged mother to nurse. Many a youth has an ancestral taint of delicacy which incapacitates for active service. All these hear a voice which says, 'Do not work today in my vineyard'. Sometimes a man has no prohibition, but simply an inability to see the full length of the way. In extreme youth I was offered in a crowded town an appointment which involved weekly preaching at two services. I had only twelve sermons, and I did not see where the thirteenth was to come from. I was tempted to decline. But I asked myself the question, 'Are you adequate to the twelve?' and I answered 'yes'. Then I said to myself: 'God's presence will not reveal itself till your own power is exhausted. He has given you twelve talents to begin with. Do not bury them, do not lay them up in a napkin; go in your own strength as far as you can; and on the way He will meet you and light your torch anew.' The experience was abundantly realized. If there is a multitude to be fed in the wilderness, it is no proof of your disqualification that you have only five loaves. You have five; and that is your call to a beginning. You have probably material for ten people. Minister to the ten! Do not let the eleventh frighten you beforehand! Take each case as it comes! Break the bread as far as it will go! Refuse to paralyse yourself by looking forward! Keep the eleventh man in abeyance until you have come up to him; and then the angels will meet you with their twelve baskets, and the crowd will greet you with their blessings, and the limit will expand into an overflow.

G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 27.

St. Michael and All Angels

Genesis 32:1

I. All the Company of Heaven. It is not the custom in this day to think as much about this unseen holy existence as men did in days that are gone. It is impossible for us to read the Holy Scriptures without constantly observing that those who lived in the days of the writers of these sacred books very fully believed in the existence near about them of endless holy beings belonging to God's unseen kingdom, holy souls serving God either in worship or in ministration to the sons of men. In the book of Genesis we read of Jacob and the angels. Passing on to a later stage we read of the ministration by Angels in the times of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha, and, not to multiply instances, we can readily recall the words of the Hebrew Psalmist when he speaks of the angel of God tarrying round about those of the sons of men who fear God. Passing to the New Testament, we can think of the appearance of angels to minister to One no less great than the Son of Man at the end of His temptation, to minister to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane when His mind was overwrought with the greatness of the thoughts which pressed upon Him then; and we read of angels, too, appearing on the Resurrection day with their message of explanation of the things which the faithful Disciples saw. But in our own day we do not perhaps realize quite so fully that there is ever about us, above us, this great realm of unseen beings under the government of God, pure and holy souls, servants of the same God Whom we serve, and it may be that perhaps in thinking too seldom of them we miss an uplifting thought that we might otherwise have to help us in our religious life. May we not endeavour, acting upon the suggestion which comes to us at this time through the occurrence of Michaelmas Day, the feast of St. Michael and all Angels, to see whether we cannot put some more thought about the great realm unseen into our minds?

II. Joy amongst the Angels. Not only may we in our times of worship have our thoughts uplifted and imaginations warmed, our conception extended, by thinking of all the inhabitants of this great unseen world over which our God rules, but we can go out from our worship into the world of our daily duties in which we meet as men and women. We know well, as Christian men and women held down by their human infirmities, by the sins which they are continually committing, we can go out with the thought that not only may we in church worship be linked with the holy angels of God, but we can go out with the thought that these angels are with us during the life we live day by day, taking cognizance of all the efforts we make to win other souls to God, and we go out with the assurance that there is joy in the presence of these angels of God when through the effort of ourselves or through the effort of any other believer in the Lord one sinner only repenteth. Let us be encouraged at this time by the thought of the greatness of the realm to which we belong. God, in calling us into His service and making us His sons, has not made us members of a small concern, not united us into a tiny family, but has given us a great birthright, made us members of an immense kingdom. We profess in our creed our belief in Him as 'Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,' and as members of that great kingdom, as members of that immense family over which God rules and shows His love, let us go forward inspirited and ennobled, determined that, so far as our influence reaches, other souls shall get to know the greatness of this inheritance which has become ours. So may we be strengthened to be more happy and joyful in our own lives, more useful to those who are about us in the world, and thereby bring more honour, praise, and glory to our God.

Jacob, a Prince with God

Genesis 32:1-32

Jacob's name was changed to Israel. Why are the names of men changed? Sometimes it is just the fashion of the times; sometimes it is for safety in time of peril, as when John Knox signed himself John Sinclair (his mother's name); but in the Bible change of name indicates change of character, or a new and true appreciation of what a man really is. Abram becomes Abraham, Simon becomes Peter, Saul becomes Paul. In the clear light of heaven there is to be a new name given to every one that overcometh.

References XXXII. 1. R. W. Winterbotham, Sermons, p. 461. XXXII. 1-2. A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 195. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1544. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 214. XXXII. 7, 11, 24, 28. J. Clifford, Daily Strength for Daily Living, p. 39. XXXII. 9, 12. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 222. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. lii. No. 3010.

Remembrance of Past Mercies

Genesis 32:10

Jacob's distinguishing grace... was a habit of affectionate musing upon God's providences towards him in times past, and of overflowing thankfulness for them. Not that he had not other graces also, but this seems to have been his distinguishing grace. All good men have in their measure all graces; for He, by whom they have any, does not give one apart from the whole: He gives the root, and the root puts forth branches. But since time, and circumstances, and their own use of the gift, and their own disposition and character, have much influence on the mode of its manifestation, so it happens, that each good man has his own distinguishing grace, apart from the rest, his own particular hue and fragrance and fashion, as a flower may have. As, then, there are numberless flowers on the earth, all of them flowers, and so far like each other; and all springing from the same earth, and nourished by the same air and dew, and none without beauty; and yet some are more beautiful than others; and of those which are beautiful, some excel in colour and others in sweetness, and others in form; and then, again, those which are sweet have such perfect sweetness, yet so distinct, that we do not know how to compare them together, or to say which is the sweeter; so is it with souls filled and nurtured by God's secret grace

J. H. Newman.

References. XXXII. 10. J. Baldwin Brown, Aids to the Development of the Divine Life, No. vii. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1787. XXXII. 11, 12. Ibid. vol. xlix. No. 2817. XXXII. 12. Ibid. vol. xxxiii. No. 1938; ibid. Evening by Evening, p. 109. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 1874, p. 235.

The Name of God

Genesis 32:24 ; Genesis 32:29

Among simple and primitive folk people are named after what they are, and therefore to tell their name is to tell their nature. Thomas means a twin, Peter means a rock, and in old days, or among primitive tribes in our own day, a man would not be called Thomas unless he were a twin, nor Peter unless there were something about him, or the circumstances of his birth, reminding of a rock. So are the names of God in the Old Testament. They are the revelations of His nature, or aspects of His character. 'God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by My name Jehovah was I not known unto them.' Thus there comes to Moses a deeper insight into the Divine nature than was attained by his forefathers. To them God was known only as power, God Almighty; to Moses He becomes known as the Eternal Unity, the Supreme One. Once more and this, surely, is the most beautiful of all the names revealed to those men of olden time 'And the Lord descended in the cloud'... 'and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.'

I. To us as much as to any Patriarch or Prophet, both to us and to our children as much as to the men who lived three thousand years ago, there is nothing in all the world and in all our life so important as the name of God. In every supreme crisis of our lot, when in the presence of wrong, or of shipwreck, or grief, or misfortune, or death, when we feel our littleness and weakness amid the great forces which move the world, the one thing we need to know is the name or character of God. If His name be Father and His heart eternal kindness, then there is light in the darkness, however dark it be.

II. The Story of Jacob's Midnight Wrestling. Jacob had travelled a long way since that dark day of the cheated birthright and the stolen blessing. He had travelled a long way since the dream of the angels on the ladder and the sound of God's voice above. His heart had been softened and ripened by the experiences of life, by Rachel and by the children; and he had grown rich in something more than in flocks and herds, in camels and in goats, in friendships, in affections, in the cherished treasures of the heart; and the man was changed, deepened in insight and in character; and here, in this matter, sees he is face to face with the consequences of the sin of his youth. To-morrow perhaps the pitiless vengeance of the desert chieftain may fall not only on him, but on all whom he loves. The sense of security and comfort fell away from Jacob, as once and again it falls from you and from me. His life was stripped bare by his own conscience, and in that hour of suspense and of terror, when the evil of his own deed seemed coming back to judgment, in that hour of midnight silence and solitude, he felt the unseen presence with him which is the only stay of man in his extremity and in his agony. He cried, Tell me, I pray Thee, thy name. Tell me, thou unseen visitor to my soul. Art thou mercy or art thou judgment? Art thou love or fear. Art thou truly my God and my safety, or dost thou disregard my cry and look down unmoved as these stars in the midnight sky while I am delivered to the fate I have deserved.

III. There are Secret Wrestlings of the Soul which can only be told in Parable. The anguish of them refuses the poor interpretation of our common speech. So the wrestling of Jacob by the ford Jabbok is pictured to us. 'There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.' It is not possible to come out of such a struggle without some change of character, some mark or scar which shall remain with us all our earthly days, and so we read and interpret the meaning of that touch of the unseen visitor which made Jacob from that day forward halt upon his thigh.

IV. It is not to the Wise and Learned only or chiefly, it is not to the reason and intellect that God oftenest tells the secret of His name. It is for those who wrestle and strive with Him, those who struggle and pray, for light and beauty and the presence divine; to those stricken with their own sins and sorrows, or the sins and sorrow of the world, or they who are bewildered with the evidence of their own ill-doing, or pity for the ill-doing of others, who cry out to Him in their loneliness, 'Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name'. And these it is who all their life afterward can catch amid the disasters and the distresses of life, amid the ruin of hopes and the separations of love, the music of a finer harmony, the music of the everlasting chime. These it is who can behold, not indeed unmoved, but confident in a righteous purpose and a final recompense, who can behold in faith the catastrophes of the human lot which make up so much of human history.

References. XXXII. 24. Bishop Boyd Carpenter, Penny Pulpit, No. 608. Archbishop Magee, Penny Pulpit, No. 1708. XXXII. 24, 26, 30. J. T. Bramston, Fratribus, p. 58. XXXII. 32. D. Wilton Jenkins, Christian World Pulpit, vol. p. 170.

Wrestling with God

Genesis 32:26

This passage has been for ages, not only the locus classicus but also the chief resources of inspiration, for persevering and persistent prayer. Many of us can remember to what an extent the old divines loved to linger with extraordinary affection upon the incident of Jacob at Penuel, and how eloquently they expounded the lesson of every detail of the narrative.

I. Now there is a certain mastery that every man has to acquire and win if he is to rise to the height of his being and attain his full development. He will have to be master of his circumstances and prove master of his fate, but more especially he will have to master himself, and not only so, but the highest spiritual blessings are reserved only for those who do obtain the victory over self, and who by means of conflict gain supremacy over their lower nature. In the respect in which God envelopes and encircles our lives and is in all our environment and has permitted our limitations and our disabilities, there is no reason why any man who has to fight against great odds should not suppose that he is wrestling with God, and only realize the higher blessings as he wins them and wrests them from his opponent. In this sense a man prevails with God.

II. Further, this self-mastery is a condition of our mastery and effective influence over others. Our impression is that we have more difficulty with regard to other wills and other men's actions. But, after all, the surest key to the hearts of other men is to know how to find our way to our own darker recesses of being.

III. This triumph is one of prayer and faith. In Hosea we read that 'he had power over the angel and prevailed, he wept and made supplication to him' (12:4). This wrestling was a distinct triumph of prayer and prayer's supreme effort. The incident is that of the clashing of wills, and it ended, as all true prayer does, in the complete surrender to the Divine and the cheerful acceptance of God's purpose and plan.

J. G. James, Problems of Prayer, p. 193.

References. XXXII. 26. J. T. Bramston, Sermons to Boys, p. 66. W. H. Aitken, Mission Sermons (3rd Series), p. 38. F. W. Farrar, The Fall of Man, p. 236. XXXII. 28-29. F. W. Robertson, Sermons (1st Series), p. 36. XXXII. 28. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. lii. No. 2978; ibid., vol. xlii. No. 2486. XXXII. 29. Bishop Thorold, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi. p. 145.

The Defeat Under Sin

Genesis 32:31

The battle had been severe, mysterious, lifelong. From that battle Jacob came out victorious decidedly and completely victorious. Nevertheless, his own thigh was put out of joint by the power which he was defeating. And long after he was doomed to feel the loss and the damage which he had there sustained. 'The sun rose' upon Jacob; but still 'he halted upon his thigh'.

In the great conflict with sin the issue is quite safe at last to all those who engage in it with an honest purpose and a true heart. Still, none come off without many a scar. You may 'bruise the head' of the serpent which is in you; but it will not be till that serpent has 'bruised your heel'. You may wrestle and prevail; but there will be touches of the enemy which will leave their long and bitter memories. Reverses, disasters, defeats, there will be all along in the spiritual warfare, even to the very gate of heaven. The way to heaven is made up of falling down and rising up again. The battle is no steady, onward fight; but rallies and retreats retreats and rallies.

I. Reasons for Defeat. Let us endeavor to see the reasons of these defeats under sin, which recur, again and again, in a regenerate man. Perhaps many of us are not sufficiently alive to the truth that the old sin of the character continues, and continues with unabated force, in the heart of a child of God.

( a ) Ingenuity of the enemy. Sometimes, by an ingenious stratagem of the enemy, an entirely new temptation, or an old temptation in a perfectly new form, suddenly presents itself. You had been looking for danger on the one side, when at once it rises up before you on the other. Had you only been looking for it in that direction it would have been nothing. It is its unexpectedness which gives it its influence and its success.

( b ) A reduction of grace. All sin in a believer must arise from the reduction of grace. And whence that reduction of grace? From grieving the Holy Ghost. And whence the grieving of. the Holy Ghost? An omission of something or other; prayer, the means of grace, some safeguard. And whence that omission? Carelessness. And whence that carelessness? Pride, always pride; self-confidence, self-exaltation.

( c ) Empty places. Another secret in your failures lies in empty places. You can never simply expel a sin, you must introduce the opposite to the sin, and so occupy the ground. You can do nothing by a vacuum. Therefore it is that you are overcome. You must fill the heart with good; then there will not be room for the sin.

II. Defeat as Training Yet defeat is part of your training. It may be converted into a positive good to your soul. God can and will overrule guilt to gain. Let me see how.

( a ) Sorrow for sin. There is no sorrow for sin compared to the sorrow after a fall. It is not the sins which we did before the grace of God, but the sins after we have tasted peace, which make the bitterness of repentance. All the great recorded sorrows for sins are sorrows after falls. Therefore God has allowed this defeat to teach you repentance.

( b ) Humbling required. Depend upon it, you wanted humbling. God saw that you would never be what you wished to be, that you would never be what He wanted you to be, that you would never do what He wanted you to do for him, till you were humbled. He saw that nothing would humble you but sin. Other things had been tried and had failed. Therefore, God, as He is wont, took up His severest method, and let you fall, to humble you.

( c ) And punishment. Only go lower, consent to humiliation, accept that sin as a punishment. Yield yourself to the penitential feeling which is stealing over you. And thank God that He still loves you well enough to give you that miserable sense of sin, and shame, and nothingness.

( d ) Restoration. Fourthly, get up from your fall as quickly as you can; the danger does not lie in the depth of a fall, but in the length of the time that we lie fallen. The deepest water will not drown us if we do not stay in it; and the shallowest water will destroy life if we do.

( e ) Union with Christ. Fifthly, look more to your union with the Lord Jesus Christ. You see what you are, and what you are without Christ.

You may 'halt'; but 'the sun' will 'rise' upon your 'halting'. You may cross over the last passage more as a poor, forgiven sinner crosses but your crossing will be a safe one.

Reference. XXXII. 31. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (6th Series), p. 33.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 32". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/genesis-32.html. 1910.
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