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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-5


Verses 1-5:

Jacob resumed his journey, traveling in a southerly direction from Mizpah to the Jabbok. Angels, literally messengers, of God (Elohim) met him, not as a chance encounter but with the definite purpose of assuring him of God’s protection and blessing on his journey, and in his coming encounter with Esau.

The number of angels is unknown. The language implies there was a considerable company. When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is God’s host," mahaneh Elohim, the army or camp of God. The text implies there were two bands: one to the rear to protect against pursuit, and one in the forefront to welcome him back to Canaan and to protect from any attackers. Jacob gave to this site the name "Mahanaim," meaning "two hosts or camPs" An important city later developed at that place, in the territory of Gad. Other Scripture references to it are 2Sa 2:8; 17:24, 27; 19:32; 1 Kings 4:14. Josephus ("Antiquities," 7:9) describes it as a strong and lovely city at one time, about 20 miles from the Jabbok.

Jacob sent messengers to inform Esau of his return to Canaan. Esau at that time occupied a territory to the south and west of Canaan, in the rough mountain region which is today part of Jordan. Jacob had mixed emotions about meeting his brother. He was not sure just how Esau would receive him. He had fled Canaan to escape Esau’s wrath. He did not know if the intervening years had cooled his brother’s anger. Jacob instructed his servants to address his brother as "my lord Esau." This may have been due to several factors: (1) common Oriental courtesy; (2) a desire to placate Esau’s anger; (3) genuine contrition on Jacob’s part for his wrong-doing; (4) apprehension regarding the inevitable meeting between the two brothers.

In his message, Jacob informed Esau of the wealth he had accumulated during the past twenty years. This was to let Esau know that Jacob had no need for anything that was Esau’s, either by his own labors or by inheritance from Isaac.

Verses 6-8

Verses 6-8:

Jacob’s messengers returned with news which struck great fear to his heart. Esau was coming to meet him, accompanied by 400 soldiers. Such a large armed band showed that he had become a powerful chieftain. It was in fulfillment of Isaac’s prophetic blessing that he would live by the sword (Ge 27:40). He had begun the military conquest of the Horites, which explains his presence in Mount Seir while his main base was yet in Canaan. The unusually large force accompanying Esau was prepared either to welcome Jacob, or to fight against him, as the occasion demanded.

Once more Jacob sought to scheme his way out of a dilemma. He divided his company into two groups, hoping that if one were attacked the other might escape. His first reaction was not to call upon Jehovah for protection, but to solve the problem in his own way. This is a common reaction for God’s people today. How much better it is that we put first things first: call out for deliverance from God first, then do what we can.

Verses 9-12

Verses 9-12:

As he neared Canaan in obedience to Jehovah’s directive, Jacob’s faith increased. He first tried his own scheme for deliverance, but then cried out to Jehovah for protection from what he perceived was a threat of death not only for himself but also for his wives and children. Jacob addressed his petition not to Deity in general, but directly to the Covenant-God Jehovah, and pled his case on the merits of the Covenant made with Abraham and renewed in Isaac. Jacob was in this position at the specific instruction of Jehovah; now it was up to Jehovah to protect him.

Jacob’s simple, beautiful prayer of faith illustrates the principle of petition for God’s people in every age. So long as one is following God’s specific directive and is where God wants him to be, he can call out to the Lord and find deliverance.

The fulfillment of the Covenant Promise was evident to Jacob. Twenty years before his time he had passed this way, a fugitive with only the staff in his hand. Now he was returning with such great wealth that he was able to divide it into two "bands." In addition, he saw the beginning of the fulfillment of the promised posterity, in the eleven sons whom God had given him. This was assurance that the Covenant-keeping God was with him, as He had been with his father and grandfather before him.

Verses 13-23

Verses 13-23:

The next morning, Jacob carefully selected a "present," minchah (Ge 4:3-5), literally a "sacrifice or offering" to give to his brother Esau. He selected 200 female goats and 20 males, 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 camel cows with their calves, 40 cows and 10 bulls, and 20 jennets with their colts. Then he divided them into. separate droves, and sent them ahead to meet Esau, each drove separated by some distance from the other. He gave precise instructions to the herdsmen what to say when they met Esau. All was calculated to appease any animosity Esau may have felt toward his brother. The servants were to make it clear that this considerable display of wealth was intended as a present from Jacob to Esau. Jacob then tarried by the brook Jabbok for yet another night.

Verses 24-32

Verses 24-32:

Jacob sent his family across the Jabbok, and remained all night behind on the north bank of the stream. There he encountered a Divine messenger, the Angel of Jehovah (Ho 12:4), in an all-night wrestling match. Jacob recognized Him as such (verse 30). Jacob prevailed, and the Angel touched the "hollow of his thigh," the hip-socket, throwing it out of joint. Still Jacob held on to the Heavenly Antagonist. As daylight approached, the Angel demanded that Jacob let go and let him leave. There was much Jacob needed to do that day; also, it is implied that this contest was intended only for Jacob’s eyes. Jacob persisted, and refused to let go the Angel until He blessed him.

The Divine blessing was: Jacob would be no longer the heel-catcher, the scheming trickster. From henceforth in God’s sight he would be Israel, prince or royal man of God. He had prevailed with Elohim, and thus would prevail with man.

Jacob then asked of the Angel his name. His reply was the same given to Manoah years later, see Jg 13:18, where He is identified as "secret" or "wonderful" (see Isa 9:6). Jacob then named the place Peniel (Penuel), "face of God," for there He had seen God, face-to-face (see Ge 16:13; Ex 24:11; 33:20; Jg 6:22; 13:22; Isa 6:5).

As the sun rose over the scene, Jacob crossed the ford to join his family. The nerve in his leg was numb, and this caused him to walk with a limp. This experience led to a practice that continued to "this day" (the time of Moses), and centuries later. The "sinew that shrank" refers to the Achilles tendon. The Hebrews cut this sinew from the animals they kill to eat.

Jacob received the blessing he desired from Jehovah. But he was given a memorial of this blessing: a perpetual limp. This is like Paul’s "thorn in the flesh," 2Co 12:7, given as a reminder to the flesh that God’s real blessings are spiritual and not material only.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 32". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-32.html. 1985.
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