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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.

Angels of God met. It is not said whether this angelic manifestation was made in a vision by day, or a dream by night, It was most probably the former-an internal occurrence, a mental spectacle, analogous, as in many similar cases (cf. Genesis 15:1; Genesis 15:5; Genesis 15:12; Genesis 21:12-14; Genesis 22:2-3), to the dream which he had on his journey to Mesopotamia. For there is an evident allusion to the appearance upon the ladder (cf. Genesis 28:12); and this occurring to Jacob on his return to Canaan, was an encouraging pledge of the continued presence and protection of God (Psalms 34:7; Hebrews 1:14).

Verse 2

And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

Mahanaim - two hosts or camps. Two myriads is the number usually employed to denote an indefinite multitude; but here it must have a reference to the two hosts, God's host of angels, and his own camp. The place was situated between mount Gilead and the Jabbok, near the banks of that brook. A town afterwards rose upon the spot, on the border of the tribal territories of Gad and Manasseh, supposed by Porter to be identified in a ruin called Mahneh.

Verse 3

And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.

Sent messengers - i:e., had sent. It was a prudent precaution to ascertain the present temper of Esau, as the road, on approaching the eastern confines of Canaan, lay near the wild district where his brother was now established.

The land of Seir - a highland country on the east and south of the Dead Sea, inhabited by the Horites, who were dispossessed by Esau, or his posterity (Deuteronomy 11:12). When, and in what circumstances he had emigrated there-whether the separation arose out of the undutiful conduct and idolatrous habits of his wives, which had made them unwelcome inmates in the tent of his parents, or whether his roving disposition had sought a country, from his love of adventure and the chase, he was living in a state of power and affluence; and this settlement on the outer borders of Canaan, though made of his own free-will, was overruled by Providence to pave the way for Jacob's return to the promised land.

Verse 4

And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now:

Thus shall ye speak. The purport of the message was that, after a residence of twenty years in Mesopotamia, he was now returning to his native land-that he did not need anything, because he had abundance of pastoral wealth; but that he could not pass without notifying his arrival to his brother, and paying the homage of his respectful obeisance.

My lord Esau - [ 'ªdoniy (H113) my lord.] This is a title of honour, given to a person on account of his rank My lord Esau - [ 'ªdoniy (H113) my lord.] This is a title of honour, given to a person on account of his rank or venerable character (see the note at Genesis 31:35). It is a style of adulation employed in certain special circumstances to an absent person, and used by Jacob, with other carefully-chosen expressions, in the hope of mollifying his resentful brother. Acts of civility tend to disarm opposition and soften hatred (Ecclesiastes 10:4).

Thy servant Jacob. He had been made lord over his brethren (cf. Genesis 27:29). But it is probable he thought this referred to a spiritual superiority; or if to temporal, that it was to be realized only to his posterity. At all events, leaving it to God to fulfill that purpose, he deemed it prudent to assume the most kind and respectful bearing.

Verse 5

And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 6

And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.

The messengers returned. Their report left Jacob in painful uncertainty as to what was his brother's views and feelings. Esau's studied reserve gave him reason to dread the worst; and there can be little doubt that the first feeling which the mention of Jacob's name and approach awakened in the breast of his brother was a purpose of revenge. Jacob was naturally timid; but his conscience told him that there was much ground for apprehension; and his distress was all the more aggravated that he had to provide for the safety of a large and helpless family.

Verses 7-8

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands; No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 9-12

And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:

Jacob said, O God. In this great emergency he had recourse to prayer. This is the first recorded example of prayer in the Bible. It is short, earnest, and bearing directly on the occasion. The appeal is made to God, as standing in a covenant relation to his family, just as we ought to put our hopes of acceptance with God in Christ; because Jacob uses here the name [ Yahweh (H3068)], Jehovah, along with other titles, in the invocation, as he invokes it singly elsewhere (Genesis 49:18). He pleads the special promise made to himself of a safe return; and after a most humble and affecting confession of unworthiness, breathes an earnest desire for deliverance from the impending danger. It was the prayer of a kind husband, an affectionate father, a firm believer in the promises.

Verses 13-20

And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother;

He lodged there that same night. The scarcity of water leads traveling companies or caravans to choose their camping ground near a river, fountain, or well (cf. 1 Samuel 30:21).

Took ... a present. Jacob combined active exertions with earnest prayer; and this teaches us that we must not depend upon the aid and interposition of God in such a way as to supersede the exercise of prudence and foresight. Superiors are always approached in the East with presents, and the respect expressed is estimated by the quality and amount of the gift. The present of Jacob consisted of 550 head of cattle, of different kinds, such as would be most prized by Esau. It was a most magnificent present, skillfully arranged and proportioned. The milch camels alone were of immense value; because the she-camels form the principal part of Arab wealth; their milk is a chief article of diet; and in many other respects they are of the greatest use. [ `ªyaariym (H5895)], here called "foals" - a donkey's colt (Genesis 49:11), a wild donkey's colt (Job 11:12). But it is frequently also described as used for riding (Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14; Zechariah 9:9), for bearing burdens (Isaiah 30:6), and for plowing (Isaiah 30:24). Hence, Gesenius takes it to denote in this passage young, but full-grown male donkeys.

Verse 16. Every drove by themselves. There was great prudence in this arrangement, because the present would thus have a more imposing appearance; Esau's passion would have time to cool as he passed each successive company; and if the first was refused, the others would hasten back to convey a timely warning.

Verse 17. He commanded the foremost. The messengers were strictly commanded to say the same words, that Esau might be more impressed, and that the uniformity of the address might appear more clearly to have come from Jacob himself.

Verse 20. I will appease him with the present - literally I will cover his face with the present; or, I will turn away his attention by a gift (cf. Genesis 20:16, where the same phrase is used). [The Septuagint renders it correctly, tauta estai soi eis timeen tou prosoopou sou ... timee, being taken in the sense of fine, penalty, compensation.]

Verse 21

So went the present over before him: and himself lodged that night in the company.

Himself lodged - not the whole night, but only a part of it.

Verse 22

And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.

Passed over the ford Jabbok, [ Yaboq (H2999)]. Gesenius quotes Simonis ('Onomast'), who derives it from a root-verb, signifying to pour out, to empty-namely, its waters into the Jordan. But that lexicographer seems to prefer tracing its etymology to a different verb [ 'aabaaq (H80), to wrestle or contend]; so that the Jabbok means the river of wrestling or contest.

The Jabbok, now the Zerka, which rises in the Hauran, flows westward to Bozrah, where, after a circuit of about fifteen miles to the south, it again flows in a westerly direction across an extensive arid plain, until it penetrates a deep gorge, cleft through the mountains of Gilead, which rise precipitously 500 feet in height on either side of it, and after a winding course of about sixty miles, discharges itself into the Jordan, about forty miles south of the sea of Tiberias. At the point where it runs through the ravine of tall and abrupt cliffs in Gilead, its banks are thickly wooded with oleander and plane, wild olive and almond trees, pink and white cyclamen flowers, with tall reeds, about 15 feet in height. The Jabbok is generally a small, but impetuous stream, flowing down a deep and wide torrent-bed. It is properly termed [ naachal (H5157)] a wady-a ravine, generally dry, except immediately after rain (cf. Psalms 74:15; Psalms 126:4). But in consequence of the numerous torrents which, running down the sides of the adjoining hills, feed it, the Jabbok becomes, after its entrance into Gilead, a permanent stream. It was about the middle of its course, among the Gileadite hills, that the incident described in this chapter took place; and the ford there, which is about ten yards wide, is sometimes difficult and dangerous to cross, but in the summer it is shallow.

He rose up ... and took. Unable to sleep, he waded the ford in the night-time by himself; and having ascertained its safety, he returned to the north bank, and sent over his family and attendants-remaining behind, to seek anew, in solitary prayer, the divine blessing on the means he had set in motion. 'The ford by which Jacob crossed was hardly the one which he took on his outward journey, upon the Syrian caravan road, by Kalaat-Zerka, but one much further to the west, between Jebel Ajlun and Jebel Jelaad, where there are still traces of walls and buildings to be seen, and other marks of cultivation' (Delitzsch).

Verse 23

And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 24-30

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day - an unknown person appeared suddenly to oppose his entrance into Canaan. Jacob engaged in the encounter with all the mental energy, and grasped his opponent with all the physical tenacity he could exert; until the stronger, unable to shake him off or to vanquish him, touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh-the socket of the fermoral joint-which was followed by an instant and total inability to continue the contest [ teeqa` (H8629), was dislocated].

This mysterious person is called an angel by Jacob himself (Genesis 48:15-16), and God (Genesis 32:28; Genesis 32:30; Hosea 12:4); and the opinion that is most supported (Justin, 'Dialogus cum Tryphone;' Clement of Alexandria, 'Paedag.,' lib. 1; Tertullian contra Praxeam; Athanas., 'Orat.,' 3; Jerome on Hosea 12:4) is, that he was "the angel of the covenant," who, in a visible form, preluding the incarnation, as was frequently done, appeared to animate the mind, and sympathize with the distress, of his pious servant. This appearance was most seasonable to Jacob, who, on the confines of the promised land, which, with his family, he was about to enter, was menaced by him who had been his bitter opponent respecting the blessing and the inheritance, with a formidable force, sufficient to destroy both his person and his posterity. In that promise which had excited the rivalry of the brothers, the fate of the ancient Church, the interests of true religion in all future time, were involved: so that, as it was a contest on the issue of which the most momentous consequences depended, the clear and final adjustment of Jacob's title made it an occasion worthy the appearance of Him who, as the Promiser, was principally concerned in its appropriation to the proper recipient.

It has been a subject of much discussion whether the incident described was an actual conflict or a visionary scene. Many think that, since the narrative makes no mention, in express terms, either of sleep, or dream, or vision, it was a real transaction; while others, considering the bodily exhaustion of Jacob, his great mental anxiety, the kind of aid he supplicated, as well as the analogy of former manifestations with which he was favoured-such as the ladder-have concluded that it was a vision (Calvin's 'Commentary on Genesis;' Hess., 'Geschichte;' Hengstenberg, 'Christol.,' vol. 1:, pp. 115-156). The moral design of it was to revive the sinking spirit of the patriarch, and to arm him with confidence in God, while anticipating the dreaded scenes of the morrow.

The idea of 'wrestling' implies the vigorous acting of his faith and holy desire; and though assailed by strong temptations and fears, his confidence in the divine promise remained unshaken, and his prayer for its accomplishment intensely earnest and importunate. The mode by which this wrestling was maintained and conducted to an ultimate victory was by "strong crying and tears" [Hosea 12:4: cf. Colossians 4:12, agoonizomenos (G75) en (G1722) tais (G3588) proseuchais (G4335), wrestling: King James Version, "labouring fervently in prayer"] in which Jacob was a type of Christ (Hebrews 5:7). To us the record is highly instructive, showing that, to encourage us valiantly to meet the trials to which we are subjected, God allows us to ascribe to the efficacy of our faith and prayers the victories which His grace alone enables us to make.

Verse 26. I will not let thee go ... It is evident that Jacob was aware of the character of Him with whom he wrestled; and, believing that His power, though by far superior to human, was yet limited by His promise to do him good, he determined not to lose the golden opportunity of securing a blessing. And nothing gives God greater pleasure than to see the hearts of his people firmly adhering to Him. But since Jacob continued wrestling all night, and was not blessed until "the breaking of the day," so God frequently does not answer the prayers of His people until the last moment-until, by the very delay-strengthening the spirit of prayer, and by the continued exercise of it-their hearts are brought into such a state of submission and of faith, that they become fit recipients of the blessing.

Verse 28. Thy name ... no more Jacob. The old name was not to be abandoned; but referring, as it did, to a dishonourable part of the patriarch's history, it was to be associated with another, descriptive of his now sanctified and eminently devout character. Israel - i:e., according to Gesenius, 'Warrior or Soldier of God' [from saaraah (H8283) to war, and 'Eel (H410), God]; according to Jerome ('Quaest. Heb. in Gen.'), 'Man (who) sees God' [from 'iysh (H376), man; raa'aah (H7200), sees; 'Eel (H410), God]; but far better, and in accordance with our translation [yisoraah 'et 'Eel], wrestler with God.

For as a prince hast thou power, [ saariytaa (H8280)] Gesenius renders it simply, 'thou contendest or strivest.' [The Septuagint renders it accurately: hoti enischusas meta Theou, kai, meta anthroopoon dunatos esee.] In Scripture the name indicates the nature of the office; here the change of a name denoted the exaltation of person and of dignity. Jacob was raised to be a prince, and a prince with God! A royal priesthood was conferred upon him; the privilege of admission into the divine presence, and the right of presenting petitions, and of having them granted. And all this was granted to him, not as an individual merely, but as a public personage-the head and representative of those who in after-times should possess like faith and a similar spirit of prayer. Nothing could be more dissimilar than Israel's real dignity and his outward condition-an exile and a suppliant, scarcely escaped from the hands of Laban, and seemingly about to perish by the revenge of his brother-yet possessing an invisible power that secured the success of his undertakings. By prayer he could prevail with God; and through Him who overrides all the thoughts of the heart, he could prevail with men also, though they are harder to be entreated than the King of kings (Douglas on 'The Revival of Religion').

With men. The word "men" is in the plural, as indicating that he had not only prevailed over Isaac and over Laban, who presented obstacles to the fulfillment of the divine promise, but that he would prevail in overcoming the wrath of his vindictive brother, and giving him a pledge that, wherever he might go, he would be an object of the divine care and protection.

Verse 29. Jacob asked ... Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. The name, as in early times it was always significant, was expected to be descriptive of the nature and rank of the bearer. But His name was ineffable, because His nature was wonderful, mysterious, and incomprehensible (cf. Judges 13:17). Besides, there was no need for an explicit declaration, because Jacob had penetrated the secret of the Stranger's more than mortal character. The request was denied, that he might not be too elated with his conquest, nor suppose that he had obtained such advantage over the angel as to make him do what he pleased.

Verse 30. Jacob called the name of the place Peniel (Penuel) - i:e., Face of God. Though here and elsewhere in Scripture mention is made of manifestations of the Divine Being to particular persons, it must be borne in mind that it was not the real (John 1:18), but only the substituted face-the reflected image of the Deity; not the full splendour of His transcendent glory, but such a display of it as the human faculties in their present state can bear (cf. Exodus 33:20); and so He was revealed with chastened radiance, in the character of Him who was "the express image of His person."

For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. There was a prevailing belief that man, in a state of sin, could not survive any direct vision of the Divine Being; because to such God is a consuming fire. This is evidently alluded to (Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 4:4; Hebrews 12:29), and it forms the ground of the joyful surprise which is expressed by Jacob.

Verse 31

And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.

Halted upon his thigh. Since Paul had a thorn in the flesh given to humble him, lest he should be too elevated by the abundant revelations granted him, so Jacob's lameness was to keep him mindful of this mysterious scene, and that it was in gracious condescension the victory was yielded to him. In the greatest of those spiritual victories, which, through faith, any of God's people obtain, there is always something to humble them.

Verse 32

Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.

The children of Israel. The descendants of Jacob were designated for the most part by this name, though they are sometimes called also by his first name. It may be remarked, that in the case of Abraham and Sarah, their old names were never used, because their new appellations indicated their high and important position. But the new name bestowed upon Jacob was descriptive of spiritual character, and yet, since he still retained in his regenerated state a portion of his corrupt nature, he was often called Jacob as well as Israel; in like manner, since his posterity inherited both his privileges and his conflict, they are called sometimes the children of Jacob, at other times the children of Israel (Numbers 23:7; Numbers 23:10; Numbers 23:23; Deuteronomy 33:10; 1 Chronicles 16:13, etc.).

The sinew which shrank - [Hebrew, giyd (H1517) hanaasheh (H5384), nervus ischiaticus, the nerve or tendon that extends from the top of the thigh down the whole leg to the ankles.] Our version follows the Septuagint, which renders the hapax legomenon word [ naasheh (H5384), ho enarkeesen], which shrank. Josephus ('Antiquities,' book 1:, chapter 20:, section 2) renders it more correctly [to neuron to platu] the broad sinew. 'Jacob himself,' continues that historian, 'abstained from eating that sinew ever afterward; and for his sake it is still not eaten by us.' The practice of the Jews in abstaining from eating this in the flesh of animals is not founded on the law of Moses, but is merely a traditional usage. The sinew is carefully extracted; and where there are no persons skilled enough for that operation, they do not make use of the hind legs at all.

Abstinence from this particular article of animal food is universally practiced by the Jews, and is so peculiar a custom in their daily observance, that as the readers of 'The Jews in China' will remember, the worship of that people is designated by the name of the Teaou-kin-keaou, or 'Pluck-sinew-religion.' This remarkable incident formed a turning point in the history of Jacob-a point at which he was raised above the deceit and the worldliness of his past life into higher and more spiritual relations with God.

Those who regard it as a vision, an ecstasy during which all the powers of his nature were intensely excited, so that, in fact, he was above and out of himself, consider the impression made upon his limb as the effect of 'a mental struggle, involving a strain so severe, not on the moral only, but also on the physical being of the terrified man, that the muscles of his body bore the mark of it ever after. Such results of wild emotion are not of unfrequent occurrence in persons of enthusiastic temperament, as is exemplified by the proceedings of the dancing dervishes of our own times.' But that it was not merely a vision or internal agony of soul-that it was a real transaction-appears not only from a new designation being given to Jacob himself, which was always in memory of some remarkable event, and from the significant name which he bestowed upon the scene of this occurrence, but from the fact of the wound he received being in a part of his body so situated that Jacob must have been assured no mere man could have so touched it as to effect a dislocation.

No objection can be urged against the appearance of the Divine Being on this occasion in the form of humanity that will not equally militate against the reality of similar manifestations already recorded as being made in the experience of the patriarchs. There he was a special propriety in the appearance of "the angel of the Lord" as a man on this occasion, and in his assuming the attitude of a foe, to convince Jacob that, in order to overcome his formidable brother, he must first overcome God, not by the carnal weapons with which he had heretofore obtained his advantages over men, but by the spiritual influence of faith and prayer. Hence, while the contest was at first carried on as between man and man, Jacob appeared more athletic and powerful. But his antagonist having wounded him in such a manner as could only have been done by a being of a superior nature, his eyes were opened; 'he found himself unconsciously striving with God, and his self-confidence utterly failed, so that forthwith he desisted from the struggle, and had recourse to supplications and tears (Hosea 12:4).

In short, this wrestling was a symbolic act, designed to show Jacob that he had no hope of conquering his powerful foe by stratagem, reliance on his own strength-as his lameness indeed proved-or by any other means than a firm, unwavering trust in the word of that covenant God who had promised (Genesis 28:13-15), and would establish him in, the possession of Canaan as an inheritance to his posterity. 'Hosea clearly teaches that Jacob merely completed, by his wrestling with God, what he had already been engaged in from his mother's womb-namely, his striving for the birthright; in other words, because the possession of the covenant promise and the covenant blessing' (Delitzsch).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 32". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-32.html. 1871-8.
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