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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-32

Genesis 32:2. Mahanaim, two camps or hosts, or the camp of God; a city in Gilead, mentioned in Joshua 13:26; Joshua 21:38; denoting that the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him. Psalms 34:7.

Genesis 32:4. My lord Esau. Jacob salutes his brother as a prince, but he says nothing of the birthright. That being the gift of God, must not be given to another.

Genesis 32:6. Four hundred men. A rabbi remarks here, that Laban followed Jacob with some shame, but that Esau came to meet him bare faced, as a bear. The dismissal of Jacob’s messengers in silence, followed by the approach of this armed host, are sufficient indications of Esau’s intentions, and fully justified all Jacob’s fears.

Genesis 32:9. Oh God of my father Abraham. Jacob in terror has recourse to God, to his covenant and promises. He pleads that God had bade him return; that he had already done great things for him, though not worthy of the least of his mercies; and surely he would not now allow an angry brother to frustrate the riches of his grace. What a model is this prayer for christians in the time of trouble!

Genesis 32:22. The ford Jabbok. This river runs between Amma or Philadelphia, and Gerazan, and joins the Jordan about four miles from the latter place. Jacob therefore now entered the promised land, and retired for devotion, on his critical but safe arrival.

Genesis 32:24. A man. This being the only place in which Jehovah, the angel, is expressly called a man, there can be no doubt but Jacob took the stranger for a man of the country. But from his age and aspect, and more so from his conversation, he soon discovered him to be a personage of a very superior order; and therefore solicited of him a patriarch’s blessing, with more eagerness and tears than Esau had solicited the blessing of Isaac.

Genesis 32:25. The hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, being distended, and so much so, that he limped a little all his future years. Is this a law of the invisible world, that he who sees his Maker, though in vision, shall bear till death a thorn in the flesh?


The Annotations of the Assembly of Divines, Matthew Henry and others, represent the wrestling between Jacob and Messiah the Angel, almost as an outward conflict. They suppose, that God the Angel assuming a sort of human vehicle for the occasion stepped in between Jacob and his family, and refused to give him passage into the promised land. This however is quite improbable, because God had bidden him depart from Padanaram. The text also suggests that Jacob was left behind solely for devotion; that the wrestling on the man’s part was to get away before the day dawned; and on Jacob’s part it was not a pagan conflict, but consisted of supplication and tears. Hosea 12:4. He was resolved to die rather than let him go without a blessing. Hence we may suppose that the man, as he is called, graciously obtruded himself on Jacob’s solitude; and finding him in the depths of trouble, tenderly enquired into the cause; and that Jacob instantly acquainted him with the whole family history concerning the birthright, and the critical situation in which he now stood with his brother Esau. We may farther suppose that the man, on hearing this account, sat down and discoursed with him of God and religion; and in particular, of such providences as would be edifying to the patriarch in his beclouded situation. Jacob, hearing the wisdom of heaven unfolded, and with a simplicity not less captivating than instructive, felt himself in the presence of a superior personage; and probably supposing him to be some such man as the venerable Melchizedek, from whom his grandfather had obtained a blessing, Genesis 15:14; he prostrated before him to receive his benediction, and to entreat his prayers for deliverance on the approaching day. This the man sternly refused to grant, faithfully reproaching Jacob, at the same time, with his former duplicity, and with all his sins, making these, no doubt, with the want of deeper repentance and of earlier fruits, the chief reasons for withholding the favour. Now the conflict began, and it was a severe and weeping conflict; for so peremptory was the man in the refusal, and so determined to disengage himself from his grasp, that he gave Jacob a dreadful sprain in the sinew of his thigh, and thereby occasioned his walking lame for life. This took away all human hope and confidence; and Jacob now could neither fight nor fly. But oh his soul strengthened as his body weakened: he still held the man with a strong arm, and would not let him go. Yea, he felt that he held him with more than human strength; for he felt that the stranger did not use his whole strength to break away. He perceived that the man was not only wiser and holier than himself, but far more powerful. And when the divine stranger saw that he prevailed not against him, he asked to know his name. The patriarch, little suspecting the grace about to follow, simply answered “Jacob.” Thy name, said the Lord, shall no more be called Jacob, a supplanter, but Israel; that is, a man seeing God, for as a prince thou hast power with God and with man, and hast prevailed. Jacob, now encouraged by this favour, ventured to ask at parting the stranger’s name. Wherefore, said the Lord, dost thou ask after my name? Hast thou not perceived a presence more than human! And he blessed him there, and while the benediction descended, Jacob felt all his soul renovated with a divine flame; he felt an awe which sanctified beyond all that language can describe, because, he a worm, a sinful man, had seen his Maker face to face, and his life was preserved. Now, refreshed with this holy fire, all fear was expelled from his heart; he could go forth and meet his brother Esau, in the spirit of confidence and love. He knew the shield which covered his arm. How blessed and happy are the people of God! The angel of the Lord encamp around them, to deliver them from all evil. Psalms 34:7. Christ himself is on their right hand to save them.

We ought not to forget however, that it was Jacob’s sin, his complicated sin, which brought him into trouble; he had personated Esau in obtaining the blessing. And providence is the same still. Those who commit family crimes, those who through covetousness and ambition influence a dying parent in a moment of weakness, will feel its effects at some future day. It shall be so also with every other class of sinners. God’s justice, though at the distance of twenty years, will come armed against them for destruction.

We learn farther, that sinners should bring forth the proper fruits of repentance before they go to God; or at least, if these fruits cannot be all brought forth now, the time for doing this should be firmly fixed in the mind. Unless restitution is made for wrongs, when men are in circumstances to do it, our prayers and sacrifices are in God’s account no better than if we cut off a dog’s neck. And oh, do sins revive in all their strength and vigour, which have slept for twenty, yea for a thousand years? Who then would not tremble at thy justice, oh Lord, and implore thy mercy.

So did Jacob. He resolved to die sooner than suffer his God to go, and leave him destitute of his love. Sinners, here is your model in prayer. The want of food and raiment, the loss of health and all its comforts, are occurrences which concern providence; whenever they are denied, you must submit to the will of God. But the pardon of sin, and a sense of the divine favour, are blessings essential to salvation. Therefore, learn of Jacob; get alone and wrestle with God in all the strength of prayer. Take no denial, for God has promised: be discouraged at no reproaches, for the blessing shall come in larger stores of grace, having for the moment been withheld.

Jacob on prevailing, obtained a new name of the highest honour, having seen his Maker face to face. And whenever God gives the white stone of absolution to a sinner, he writes on his heart a new name of sanctifying grace. The new heart, and the new name are inseparably joined. All we beholding in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. Then we become indeed the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, and are called by his name. The perfect love of God casteth out all fear of death, and we are not afraid of any adversary.

But let all families, as well as penitents, learn of Jacob to plead and wrestle with God, whenever providence, or their own imprudence may have drawn them into difficulties. He used also every prudent means to pacify his brother, and then cast himself on the divine protection, and God was better to him than all his fears.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 32". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-32.html. 1835.
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