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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-8

The Messengers to Esau

v. 1. And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him, literally, they came up with him, joined him. Their protection had shielded him on Mount Gilead, and the meeting with them at this time gave him the assurance of their further assistance.

v. 2. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host; and he called the name of that place Mahanaim (double host). He thus commemorated in the name of the place where he was shown this vision the fact that the army of the Lord joined his own little band for the sake of protection. The camp of the angels may have been invisible to all eyes but his own, but he had received his encouragement nevertheless, and went his way with greater cheer.

v. 3. And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau, his brother, unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom. As Esau's family grew, he gradually loosened the bonds which tied him to the home of his parents, since he felt that he really had no part in the patriarchal blessing. He made the wilderness of Zin, with Mount Hor, his home, the level portion of which was known as the fields of Seir.

v. 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;

v. 5. and I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and men-servants, and women-servants; and I have sent to tell my lord that I may find grace in thy sight. This message with its humble, almost abject submissiveness was intended to conciliate Esau; it was purposely held like the report of a subordinate to his superior officer, otherwise the details may well have been omitted.

v. 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 return of Jacob's messengers without a friendly greeting was intended by Esau to make an ominous impression. As a princely sheik of the desert he came with his retainers, his sons, his servants, and other adherents, with whose aid he was gradually driving out the Horites from the land of Seir. If nothing else, Esau wanted to have his brother feel his superior power, for this he valued more highly than the promise of a religious dominion in the dim and distant future.

v. 7. Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. Rebekah, who had not been informed as to a change of mind in Esau, had not called her favorite son back, nor had Esau given any sign that he would now easily be reconciled. Even the believers still have their weak flesh to contend with, and this is very easily discouraged. And he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;

v. 8. and said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape. This division of the entire caravan into two companies was a precaution intended to save at least one half of his possessions. It shows that Jacob, although in an advanced state of panic, had not lost his natural cunning, overhasty and impatient though it was. The actual experience of danger often causes even firm Christians to forget their simple trust in the Lord's almighty power for a while.

Verses 9-12

Jacob's Prayer

v. 9. 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:

v. 10. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. This was the proper reaction from the abject fear and panic with which Jacob had been suffering, carrying the matter to the true God in humble prayer. His prayer had the proper form, for he reminded God of His promises, at the same time declaring his own unworthiness so far as all the mercies and all the truth of the Lord were concerned, for his entire possessions twenty years before, when he crossed the Jordan near this point, had consisted of a staff, and now there were two bands of animals and of servants whom he was taking back to his home country.

v. 11. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children, literally, upon the children, since a mother will protect her children against the enemy with her body. The situation was so serious in the eyes of Jacob that he utterly despaired of all human help.

v. 12. And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude. Because an attack such as was now threatening him would tend to defeat the divine promise in the patriarchal blessing, therefore Jacob once more reminded the Lord of this promise, Genesis 28:14. Faith clings to the divine promises, and he that prays properly always refers the Lord to His own Word with its many assurances of mercy, blessing, help, and assistance.

Verses 13-23

The Presents to Esau

v. 13. And he lodged there that same night, he encamped in that place for the night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau, his brother;

v. 14. two hundred she-goats, and twenty he-goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams,

v. 15. thirty milch camels with their colts, forty-nine, and ten bulls, twenty she-asses, and ten foals. The prayer had calmed the excited mind of Jacob to such an extent that he now took measures, not to flee, but to meet Esau, and to overcome him with love. The selection and the apportionment of the animals showed Jacob's experience in cattle-raising, just as the arrangement of each small caravan indicated his wisdom, for he placed the smallest and least valuable animals first, and the more valuable in the rear.

v. 16. And he delivered them in to the hand of his servants, every drove by themselves; and said unto his servants, Pass over before me, and put a space betwixt drove and drove. There was literally a breathing space between the various small bands as they traveled along, just enough room to make a new impression every time, and thus to increase the force, the effect of the offered present.

v. 17. And he commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau, my brother, meeteth thee, and asketh thee, saying, Whose art thou? And whither goest thou? And whose are these before thee?

v. 18. then thou shalt say, They be thy servant Jacob's; it is a present sent unto my lord Esau; and, behold, also he is behind us. The careful instruction of each servant as to the form of homage which he was to show to Esau, the repetition of the formula which called Jacob a servant and Esau lord, together with the offering of the presents all these were calculated to overcome Esau's anger gradually.

v. 19. And so commanded he the second, and the third, and all that followed the droves, saying, On this manner shall ye speak unto Esau when ye find him.

v. 20. And say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us. It was the cumulative effect of the atoning presents that Jacob counted on to make the impression on Esau, the humble mention of the servant Jacob being very effective as the climax. For he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept of me. Jacob called his presents gifts of atonement, for they were intended to cover the face of Esau so that he would no longer see the offense which Jacob had committed against him. Esau's mind being taken up by the presents, he would no longer think of Jacob's guilt, but would lift up his face in kindness and receive him with his favor.

v. 21. So went the present over before him; and himself lodged that night in the company. Night travel was nothing unusual in the East, so Jacob sent the small bands of presents off to the south at once, probably before nightfall, while he himself remained in camp for a while.

v. 22. And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two women-servants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. Jacob's anxiety did not permit him to rest very long. Before the night had advanced very far, he took the members of his family and transferred them to the south side of the Jabbok, at the ford which is about eighteen miles from the Jordan.

v. 23. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had. So the tents were struck, and the entire caravan was on its way toward the south. Thus Jacob had made all the necessary arrangements, had done what he could to appease his brother, and could await the outcome of his plans with a more confident heart. It is nothing but a matter of simple wisdom to agree with adversaries as soon as possible, to offer them the hand of reconciliation, to appease them with kindness.

Verses 24-32

The Struggle at Peniel

v. 24. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day, until the morning dawned and its brightness arose in the eastern sky. Jacob, having crossed first with his family, returned and sent over his herds in charge of the servants, while he himself remained on the north side of the brook. Suddenly there came upon him a nameless man, and the two engaged in a fierce wrestling-match.

v. 25. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, when the unknown man found that he could not overcome the determined resistance of Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh, the socket of the hip-joint. And the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. His hip was sprained or paralyzed in consequence of the twisting in the struggle and the touch of the unknown man.

v. 26. And he said, Let Me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me. In spite of the sprained hip Jacob persevered in his struggle with the man, of whose identity he became surer every moment. It was the Lord Himself, in human form, who here assumed the role of an antagonist to Jacob, and for that reason Jacob insisted upon having His blessing before permitting Him to depart.

v. 27. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.

v. 28. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. From the position of a mere Jacob, holder of the heel, in which capacity he had overcome his brother Esau, he was here advanced to that of Israel, God-wrestler, the captain, or prince, of God, because he had prevailed as a prince in his struggle with the Lord. Cf Hosea 12:4-5.

v. 29. And Jacob asked Him and said, Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? Cf Judges 13:18. It is not for sinful man to know every name of the great Lord of heaven; besides, the Lord had already indicated His name. And he blessed him there. The Lord formally repeated the patriarchal blessing, Genesis 28:13-15, with its Messianic promise.

v. 30. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel (face of God); for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. So it was not only a bodily struggle, but a spiritual wrestling as well which Jacob was obliged to endure. But he stood the test, he persevered until he had received the Lord's blessing, until he saw the face of God turned to him in mercy, until his soul was healed of all its fear and terror.

v. 31. And as he passed over Penuel, the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. Just as he passed over and away from the place of the night's wrestling, the sun rose upon him, and with its rising the courage which now possessed his heart sent him forth cheerfully to meet his brother Esau. He had probably taken little notice of his injury in the course of the struggle, but now the sprain caused him to wince and to walk lame.

v. 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. Thus even in later years the Israelites commemorated the wonderful struggle of their ancestor in setting aside this part of the hip of animals as consecrated to the Lord. Special revelations of God's goodness and mercy deserve to be commemorated through the ages by those who have received the benefits following from such visitations.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Genesis 32". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/genesis-32.html. 1921-23.
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