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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-2


Jacob’s flight. Laban’s persecution. The covenant between the two on the mountain of Gilead. Departure.

Genesis 31:4 to Genesis 32:2

, 4And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock. 5And said unto them, I see [am seeing] your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as before: 6but the God [Elohim] of my father hath been with me. And ye3 know that with all my power I have served your father. 7And your father hath deceived4 me, and changed my wages ten times: but God suffered him not to hurt me. 8If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The [symm.: white-footed] ring-streaked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ring-streaked. 9Thus God hath taken away the [acquisitions] cattle of your father, and given them to me. 10And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and behold [I saw], the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ring-streaked, speckled, and grizzled.5 11And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I. 12And he said, Lift up now thine eyes and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ring-streaked, speckled, and 13grizzled: for I have seen all that Laban [is doing] doeth unto thee. I am the God of Beth-el, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred [birth]. 14And Rachel and Leah answered, and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? 15Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured6 also our money. 16For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children’s: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.

, 17Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and wives upon camels; 18And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods [his movable property, gain] which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padan-aram; for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan. 19And Laban went to shear his [to the feast of sheep-shearing] sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images7 [Teraphim, household gods] that were her father’s. 20And Jacob stole away unwares [the heart of] to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled. 21So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river [Euphrates], and set his face [journey] toward the mount Gilead. 22And it was told 23Laban on the third day, that Jacob was fled. And [Then] he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days’ journey: and they overtook him in the mount Gilead. 24And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

25Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren [tented] pitched in the mount of Gilead. 26And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unwares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword [the spoils of war]? 27Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away [given thee a convoy] with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp? 28And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons [grandsons], and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing. 29It is in the power of my hand8 to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed 30that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad. And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father’s house; yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? 31And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said [said to myself], Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me. 32With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee: for Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them. 33And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maid-servants’ tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent. 34Now Rachel had taken the images [household gods], and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not. 35And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women [female period] is upon me. And he searched [all], but found not the images.

36And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered, and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued [burned] after me? 37Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household-stuff? set it here before my brethren, and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us both. 38This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she-goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten. 39That which was torn of beasts, I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it [must make satisfaction for it]; 40of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. 41Thus have I been twenty years in thy house: I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times. 42Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction, and the labor [wearisome labor] of my hands, and rebuked [judged] thee yesternight.

43And Laban answered, and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle [herds], and all that thou seest is mine; and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have borne? 44Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant 45[a covenant of peace], I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee. And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar. 46And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap. 47And Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha [syriac: heap of witness]: but Jacob called it Galeed [the same in Hebrew]: 48And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and 49 thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed: And Mizpah [watch-tower]; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another. 50If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives besides my daughters, no man is with us; see, God, is witness betwixt me and thee. 51And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap [stone heap], and behold this pillar, which I have 52cast [erected] betwixt me and thee; This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm. 53The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge [plural] betwixt us. And [But] Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac. 54Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount. 55And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.

Genesis 32:1 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And 2when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim [two camps: double camp].


1. Delitzsch regards the present section as throughout Elohistic; but according to Knobel, Jehovistic portions are inwrought into it, and hence the narrative is here and there broken and disconnected.
2. The present journey of Jacob is evidently in contrast with his previous journey to Mesopotamia; Mahanaim and Peniel form the contrast with Bethel.

3. We make the following division: 1. Jacob’s conference with his wives, Genesis 31:4-16; Genesis 2:0. the flight, Genesis 31:17-21; Genesis 3:0. Laban’s pursuit, Genesis 31:22-25; Genesis 4:0. Laban’s reproof, Genesis 31:26-30; Genesis 5:0. Laban’s search in the tents of Jacob, Genesis 31:31-35; Genesis 6:0. Jacob’s reproof, Genesis 31:36-42; Genesis 7:0. the covenant of peace between the two, Genesis 31:43; Genesis 31:53; Genesis 8:0. the covenant meal and the departure, Genesis 31:54–ch. Genesis 32:2.


1.Genesis 31:4-16. Jacob’s conference with his wives.—Unto his flock.—Under some pretext Jacob had left the flocks of Laban, although it was then the feast of sheep-shearing, and gone to his own flocks (a three days’ journey, and probably in a direction favoring his flight). Hither, to the field, he calls his wives, and Rachel, as the favorite, is called first.—Changed my wages ten times.—The expression ten times is used for frequently, in Numbers 14:22, and in other passages. [Keil holds that the ten, as the number of completeness, here denotes as often as he could, or as he had opportunity. It is probably the definite for an indefinite.—A. G.]—If he said thus, The ring-streaked.—As Laban deceived Jacob in the matter of Rachel, so now in the arrangement for the last six years, he had in various ways dealt selfishly and unjustly, partly in dividing equally the spotted lambs, according to his own terms, and partly in always assigning to Jacob that particular kind of spotted lambs which had previously been the least fruitful.—And the Angel of God.—Jacob here evidently joins together a circle of night-visions, which he traces up to the Angel of the Lord, as the angel of Elohim, and which run through the whole six years to their close. If Laban imposed a new and unfavorable condition, he saw in a dream that now the flocks should bring forth lambs of that particular color agreed upon, now ring-streaked, now speckled, and now spotted. But the vision was given to comfort him, and indeed, under the image of the variegated rams which served the flocks. This angel of Elohim declares himself to be identical with the God of Bethel, i, e., with Jehovah, who reveals himself at Bethel as exalted above the angels. It is thus his covenant God who has guarded his rights against the injustice of Laban, and prepares this wonderful blessing for him; a fact which does not militate against his use of skill and craft, but places those in a modified and milder light. The conclusion of these visions is, that Jacob must return. [The difference between this narrative and that given in ch.30, is a difference having its ground and explanation in the facts of the case. For obvious reasons Jacob chose here to pass over his own strategy and craft in silence, and brings out into prominence the divine providence and aid to which his prosperity was due. That Jacob resorted to the means he did, is not inconsistent with the objective reality of the dream-vision, but rather confirms it. If he regarded the vision as prophetic of the issue, as he must have done, the means which he used, the arts and cunning, are characteristic of the man, who was not yet weaned from confidence in himself, was not entirely the man of faith. If we regard this vision as occurring at the beginning of the six years’ service, it is entirely natural that Jacob should now connect it so closely with the voice of the same angel commanding him to return to the land of his birth.—A. G.]—Are we not counted of him strangers?—Laban takes the same position towards his daughters as towards Jacob himself. Hence they have nothing more to hope for from him. He had sold them as strangers, i. e., really, as slaves, for the service of Jacob. But this very price, i. e., the blessing resulting from Jacob’s service, he had entirely consumed, i. e., the daughters had received no share of it. Hence it is evident that they speak with an inward alienation from him, although not calling him by name, and that they desired the flight.

2.Genesis 31:17-21. The Flight.—The circumstance that Jacob, with his wives, was already at the station of his herds, while Laban remained at his own station, three days’ journey distant, keeping the feast of sheep-shearing, favored the flight. Either Laban had not invited Jacob to this feast, which is scarcely probable, since he was usually at this station, or Jacob took the opportunity of leaving, in order to visit his own flocks. As the sheep-shearing lasted several days (1 Samuel 25:0.) the opportunity was a very favorable one.—And Rachel had stolen.—This feature, however, as also the following, when she denied the theft to her father, reveals a cunning which is far more befitting the daughter of Laban, than the wife of the prudent Jacob.—The images.—Literally Teraphim (see Delitzsch, p. 410, Note 73), Penates, small figures, probably resembling the human form, which were honored as guardians of the household prosperity, and as oracles. But as we must distinguish the symbolic adoration of religious images (statuettes) among ancients, from the true and proper mythological worship, so we must distinguish between a gentler and severe censure of the use of such images upon Shemitic ground. Doubtless the symbolic usage prevailed in the house of Laban and Nahor. It is hardly probable that Rachel intended, by a pious and fanatical theft, to free her father from idolatry (Greg. Naz., Basil), for then she would have thrown the images away. She appears to have stolen them with the superstitious idea that she would prevent her father from consulting them as oracles, and under their guidance, as the pursuer of Jacob, from overtaking and destroying him (Aben Ezra). The supposition of a condition of war, with its necessity and strategy, enters here with apologetic force. This, however, does not exclude the idea, that she attributed to the images a certain magical, though not religious, power (perhaps, as oracles. Chrysostom). The very lowest and most degrading supposition, is that she took the images, often overlaid with silver, or precious metals, from mercenary motives (Peirerius). Jacob himself had at first a lax rather than a strict conscience in regard to these images (see Genesis 35:2), but the stricter view prevails since the time of Moses (Exodus 20:0; Joshua 24:2; Joshua 24:14 f.) [The derivation of the Heb. word teraphim, always used in the plural, is doubtful. Some derive it from taraph, to rejoice—thus dispensers of good; others from a like root, to inquire—thus they are oracles; and others, as Kurtz and Hofmann, make it another form of Seraphim. They were regarded and used as oracles (Judges 17:5-6; Ezekiel 21:21; Zechariah 10:2). They were not idols in the worst sense of the word; and were sometimes used by those who professed the worship of the true God (1 Samuel 19:13). The tendency was always hurtful, and they were ultimately rooted out from Israel. Laban had lapsed into a more corrupt form of religion, and his daughters had not escaped the infection. We may modify our views of Rachel’s sin, but it cannot be excused or justified (see Keil, “Arch.,” p. 90; Wordsworth, p. 132; Hengstenberg, “Christology;” Haverick’s “Ezek.” 13:47).—A.G.]—And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban.—The explanation κλέπτειν νόον in the sense of “to deceive” (Del., Keil), appears to us incorrect. The expression indeed does not bear the sense which we moderns associate with the words “steal the heart,” and Genesis 31:26 seems to indicate that the heart of Laban is the love which this hard-hearted father bears towards his daughters. Rachel, however, seems to have been his favorite. He regarded and treated her not only as a wise but cunning child, and, hence, while he searched carefully everything in all the tents, he did not venture to compel her to arise. The last clause of Genesis 31:20, further cannot possibly mean “in that he told him not that he fled.” For who would betray his own flight? We interpret הִגִּיד impersonally, it was not told him.—The Syrian.—“Moses gives this title to Laban because the Syrians were more crafty than other nations.” Jacob, however, surpassed him (Cleric.). Over the river.—The Euphrates.—Toward the mount Gilead.—For the mountains of Gilead see Geographies of Palestine, Bible Dictionaries, Books of Travels, etc. “Knobel understands הַר גִּלְעָד to be the mountain range now known as Gebel Gilad, or Gebel es-Ssalt, and combines מצפה with the present Ssalt. But this assumption leads to the improbable results that Mahanaim, south of Jabbok and Succoth (probably the one on the other side), lay north from Jabbok, and thus Jacob’s line of march would be backwards in a north-westerly direction.” Delitzsch. Delitzsch understands correctly, that it is the northern side of the mountains of Gilead, above the Jabbok, which lay nearest to those coming from Mesopotamia.ְ

3.Genesis 31:22-25. Laban’s pursuit.On the third day.—This is partially explained by the long distance between the two stations.—His brethren with him.—Of the same tribe, kinsmen.—Seven days’ journey.—As Jacob, with his herds, moved slower than Laban, he lost his start of three days in the course of seven days.—And God came to Laban.—A proof that he had still some nobler traits of character.—Either good or bad.—The translation neither good nor bad is not fitting here. Literally from good to bad (Knobel). It presupposes that he was inclined to pass from a hasty greeting of his daughters and their children, to reproaches and invectives.—Now Jacob had pitched his tent.—As soon as he reached the heights of the mountain range, the mount Gilead, he pitched his tent, but here Laban with his retinue overtook him, and tented near by him. The text assumes: 1. That a certain mountain, north of Jabbok, gave its name to the whole range of mountains (just as Galilee, originally designating a small mountain region, gradually extended its significance). 2. That thus we must distinguish between this first mountain in the range of Gilead, and the principal mountain mentioned later.

4.Genesis 31:26-30. The words of Laban are characteristic, passionate, idiomatic, exaggerated even to falsehood and hypocrisy, and still at the end there is a word which betrays the man—shows his human nature and kindness. He calls his daughters his heart; their voluntary flight (although he had sold them) an abduction, as if they were captives. He asserts that he had not given any occasion to Jacob to flee, on the contrary, that he would have sent him away with music and mirth. He had not, however, even suffered him to take leave of his daughters and grandsons. These tender utterances are followed at once by haughty threats (Genesis 31:29). From his own point of view it seems imprudent to relate the night warning, but his pride and animosity lead him to do it. Jacob should not think that he willingly let him go unpunished, but “the God of your father,” he says, with a bitter heart, has forbidden me. He finally (Genesis 31:30) acknowledges in a sarcastic way that Jacob might go, but only to crush him with the burden of his accusation, in which, however, there was a two-fold exaggeration; first, in calling the teraphim his gods, and then, second, in making Jacob the thief. The true sentiment for his children, the fear of God, and, finally, a real indignation at the secrecy of Jacob’s departure, form the core of the speech, which assumes at last the shape of a pointed accusation. There is no trace of self-knowledge or humility.—With mirth.—(See 1 Samuel 18:6; 2 Samuel 6:5.) The word שִׂמְחָה is indeed a collective for all that follows, and Delitzsch thinks it probably means dance.—With tabret.—See Winer: “Musical Instruments.” [Also Kitto and Smith.—A. G.].—Thou hast done foolishly.—Thou who art usually so prudent hast here acted foolishly. The reproach of folly carries with it that of immorality.—It is in the power of my hand.—Knobel and Keil [and Jacobus.—A. G.] translate “There is to God my hand,” with reference to Job 12:6; Habakkuk 1:11. Others translate אֵל power (so Rosen., Gesen.), [Wordsworth, Bush, A. G.] and this seems here to be preferable, notwithstanding Knobel’s objection, since Laban immediately says it is Elohim who restrains his hand.

5.Genesis 31:31-35. Laban’s search.—Laban’s rash accusation gives Jacob, who knew nothing of the theft of the teraphim, great boldness.—Let him not live.—We must emphasize the finding, otherwise Jacob condemned Rachel to death. “The cunning of Rachel was well planned, for even if Laban had not regarded it as impure and wrong to touch the seat of a woman in this state (see Leviticus 15:22), how could he have thought it possible that one in this state would sit upon his God.”—Delitzsch. But Keil calls attention to the fact that the view upon which the law (Leviticus 15:0.) was based, is much older than that statute, and exists among other people. [See also Kurtz: Gesch., vol. i. p. 252; Baehr’s “Sym. of the Mosaic Cultus,” vol. ii. p. 466.—A. G.] For the camel’s furniture or saddle, see Knobel, p. 251.

6. Genesis 31:36-42. Jacob’s reproof. He connects it with Laban’s furious pursuit and search. Then he reminds him generally of his harsh treatment, as opposed to his own faithful and self-sacrificing shepherd service for more than twenty years. “The strong feeling and the lofty self-consciousness which utter themselves in his speech, impart to it a rhythmical movement and poetic forms (דָּלַק אַחֲרֵי to pursue ardently; elsewhere only 1 Samuel 17:53.”) Delitzsch.—And the frost by night.—The cold of the nights corresponds with the heat of the day in the East (Jeremiah 36:30; Psalms 121:6).—My sleep.—Which I needed and which belonged to me. He had faithfully guarded the flocks by night. Notwithstanding all this Laban had left him unrewarded, but the God of his fathers had been with him and secured his rights. Both the name of his God, and of his venerable father, must touch the conscience of Laban.—The fear of Isaac.—[Heb: he whom Isaac feared.] The object of his religious fear, and veneration; of his religion, σέβας, σέβασμα.—Rebuked thee yesternight.—This circumstance, which is only incidentally alluded to in the course of Laban’s speech, forms the emphatic close to that of Jacob. Jacob understands the dream-revelation of Laban better than Laban himself.

7. The covenant of peace between the two. Laban is overcome. He alludes boastfully indeed once more to his superior power, but acknowledges that any injury inflicted upon Jacob, the husband and father, would be visited upon his own daughters and their children.—What can I do unto thee.—i.e., in a bad sense. The fact that his daughters and grandsons were henceforth dependent upon Jacob, fills his selfish and ignoble mind with care and solicitude about them; indeed, reminded of the promises to Abraham and Isaac, he is apprehensive that Jacob might some time return from Canaan to Haran as a mighty prince and avenge his wrong. In this view, anticipating some such event, he proposes a covenant of peace, which would have required merely a feast of reconciliation. But the covenant of peace involved not only a well-cemented peace, but a theocratic separation.—Let us make a covenant.—Laban makes the proposal, Jacob assents by entering at once upon its execution. The pillar which Jacob erected, marks the settlement, the peaceful separation; the stones heaped together by his brethren (Laban and his retinue, his kindred) designate the friendly communion, the covenant table. The preliminary eating (Genesis 31:46) appears to be distinct from the covenant meal (Genesis 31:54), for this common meal continued throughout the day. The Aramaic designation of the stone heap used by Laban, and the Hebraic by Jacob, are explainable on the supposition “that in the fatherland of the patriarchs, Mesopotamia, the Aramaic or Chaldee was used, but in the fatherland of Jacob, Canaan, the Hebrew was spoken, whence it may be inferred that the family of Abraham had acquired the Hebrew tongue from the canaanites (Phœnicians).”—Keil. [But this is a slender foundation upon which to base such a theory. The whole history implies that the two families of Abraham and Nahor down to this time and even later found no difficulty in holding intercourse. They both used the same language, though with some growing dialectic differences. It is just as easy to prove that Laban deviated from the mother tongue as that Jacob did.—A. G.] Knobel regards it an error to derive the name Gilead, which means hard, firm, stony, from the Gal-Ed here used. But proper names are constantly modified as to their significance in popular use, from the original or more remote, to that which is proximate.—And Mizpah, for he said.—Keil concedes that Genesis 31:49-50 have the appearance of an interpolation, but not such as to justify any resort to the theory of combination from different sources. But since Laban’s principal concern was for the future of his daughters, we might at least regard the words, And Mizpah, for he said, as a later explanatory interpolation. But there is not sufficient ground even for this, since Galeed and Mizpah are here identical in fact, both referring to the stone heap as well as to the pillar. Laban prays specifically to Jehovah, to watch that Jacob should not afflict his daughters; especially that he should not deprive them of their acquired rights, of being the ancestress of Jehovah’s covenant people. From this hour Jehovah, according to his prayer, looks down from the heights of Gilead, as the representative of his rights, and watches that Jacob should keep his word to his daughters, even when across the Jordan. But now, as the name Gilead has its origin in some old sacred tradition, so has the name Mizpah, also. It is not to be identified with the later cities bearing that name, with the Mizpah of Jephthah (Judges 11:11; Judges 11:34), or the Mizpah of Gilead (Judges 11:29), or Ramoth-Mizpah (Joshua 13:26), but must be viewed as the family name which has spread itself through many daughters all over Canaan (Keil, 216).—No man is with us.—i.e., no one but God only can be judge and witness between us, since we are to be so widely separated.—Which I have cast.—He views himself as the originator, and of the highest authority in this covenant.—That I will not pass over.—Here this covenant thought is purely negative, growing out of a suspicious nature, and securing a safeguard against mutual injuries; properly a theocratic separation.—The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor.—The monotheism of Laban seems gliding into dualism; they may judge, or “judge.” He corrects himself by adding the name of the God of their common father, i.e., Terah. From his alien and wavering point of view he seeks for sacredness in the abundance of words. But Jacob swears simply and distinctly by the God whom Isaac feared, and whom even his father-in-law, Laban, should reverence and fear. Laban, indeed, also adheres to the communion with Jacob in his monotheism, and intimates that the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor designate two different religious directions from a common source or ground.

8. Ver. Genesis 31:54 to Genesis 32:4. The covenant meal, and the departure.—Then Jacob offered Sacrifice.—As Isaac prepared a meal for the envious and ill-disposed Abimelech, so Jacob for Laban, whom even this generosity should now have led to shame and repentance. The following morning they separate from each other. The genial blood-tenderness of Laban, which leads him to kiss both at meeting and parting should not pass unnoticed (see Genesis 31:28; Genesis 29:13, and the Piel forms). It is a pleasant thing that as a grandfather he first kissed his grandsons. Blessing, he takes his departure.—Met him.—Lit., came, drew near to him, not precisely that they came from an opposite direction. This vision does not relate primarily to the approaching meeting with Esau (Peniel relates to this), but to the dangerous meeting with Laban. As the Angel of God had disclosed to him in vision the divine assistance against his unjust sufferings in Mesopotamia, so now he enjoys a revelation of the protection which God had prepared for him upon Mount Gilead, through his angels (comp. 2 Kings 6:17). In this sense he well calls the angels, “God’s host,” and the place in which they met him, double camp. By the side of the visible camp, which he, with Laban and his retainers, had made, God had prepared another, invisible camp, for his protection. It served also to encourage him, in a general way for the approaching meeting with Esau.—Mahanaim.—Later a city on the north of Jabbok (see V Raumer’s “Palestine,” p. 253; Robinson: “Re searches,” vol. iii. 2 app. 166), probably the one now called Mahneh. [For the more, distinct reference of this vision to the meeting with Esau, see KurtzGeschichte, p. 254, who draws an instructive and beautiful parallel between this vision and that at Bethel.—A. G.]


1. Jacob a fugitive even in his journey home. But the God of Bethel protects him now as the God of Mahanaim; and the angels who, as heavenly messengers, moved up and down the ladder at Bethel, now appear, as became the situation, a warlike host, or the army of God. Keil holds that he saw the angels in a waking state, “not inwardly, but without and above himself; but whether with the eye of the body or of the spirit (2 Kings 6:17) cannot be decided.” At all events, in the first place he saw an objective revelation of God, with which was connected, in the second place, the vision-power [i.e., eine visionäre stimmung, a power or disposition corresponding to the vision and enabling him to perceive it.—A. G.].

2. The want of candor between Laban and Jacob at Haran leads finally to the violent and passionate outbreak on Mount Gilead. But such outbreaks have ever been the punishment for the want of frankness and candor. The fearful public terrors of war, correspond to the secrecies and blandishments of diplomacy.—The blessing of a genuine and thorough frankness. Moral storms, their danger, and their salutary results.
3. The visions in which Jacob saw how God secured his rights against Laban’s injustice, prove that from his own point of view he saw nothing wrong in the transaction with the parti-colored rods. But those rods are thus seen to be merely a subordinate means. There is no sufficient ground for the conjecture of Keil, that it may be suspected that the dream-vision of Jacob (of the spotted rams) was a mere natural dream (see p. 212). It is evident that the vision-disposition pervades the night-life of Jacob, growing out of his oppressed condition and his unjust sufferings.—Schröder: “But Jacob’s crafty course (Genesis 30:37) is not therefore commended by God, as Luther and Calvin have taught. Jacob was still striving to bring about the fulfilment of the divine promise by his own efforts.”

4. The alienation of the daughters of Laban from their father is not commendable, but is explained by his severity. On the other hand, they are bound to their husband in a close and lovely union. For the theft of the teraphim, see the Exegetical notes.

5. It is not a chance that we meet here in the idols of Laban the earliest traces of idolatry in the Old World, although they had doubtless existed elsewhere much earlier and in a grosser form. We can thus see how Polytheism gradually developed itself out of the symbolic image-worship of Monotheism (Romans 1:23). Moreover, the teraphim are estimated entirely from a theocratic point of view. They could be stolen as other household furniture (have eyes but see not). They could be hidden under a camel’s saddle. They are a contemptible nonentity, which can render no assistance.

Genesis 31:23. The zeal for gods and idols is always fanatical.

6. The speech of Laban, and Jacob’s answer, give us a representation of the original art of speaking among men, just as the speech of Eliezer did. They form at the same time an antithesis between a passionate and exaggerated rhetoric and phraseology on the one hand, and an earnest, grave, religious, and moral oratory on the other hand, exemplified in history in the antithesis of the heathen (not strictly classic) to the theocratic and religious oratory. The contrast between the speeches of Tertullus and Paul Acts 24:2) is noticeable here. Laban’s eloquence agrees with his sanguine temperament. It is passionate, exaggerated in its terms, untrue in its exaggeration, and yet not without a germ of true and affectionate sentiment. Analysis of diffuse and wordy speeches a difficult but necessary task of the Christian spirit.

7. Proverbs 20:22, Romans 12:17, come to us in the place of the example of Jacob; still we are not justified in judging the conduct of Jacob by those utterances of a more developed economy (as Keil does). [This is true in a qualified sense only. The light which men have is of course an important element in our judgment of the character of their acts. But Jacob had, or might have had, light sufficient to know that his conduct was wrong. He might have known certainly that it was his duty, as the heir of faith, to commit his cause unto the Lord.—A. G.]

8. The establishment of peace between Laban and Jacob has evidently, on the part of Laban, the significance and force, that he breaks off the theocratic communion between the descendants of Nahor and Abraham, just as the line of Haran, earlier, was separated in Lot.
9. At all events, the covenant-meal forms a thorough and final conciliation. Laban’s reverence for the God of his fathers, and his love for his daughters and grandsons, present him once more in the most favorable aspect of his character, and thus we take our leave of him. We must notice, however, that before the entrance of Jacob he had made little progress in his business. Close, narrow-hearted views, are as really the cause of the curse, as its fruits.
10. The elevated state and feeling of Jacob, after this departure of Laban, reveals itself in the vision of the hosts of God. Heaven is not merely connected with the saint on the earth (through the ladder); its hosts are warlike hosts, who invisibly guard the saints and defend them, even while upon the earth. Here is the very germ and source of the designation of God as the God of hosts (Zebaoth).

11. There are still, as it appears to us, two striking relations between this narrative and that which follows. Jacob here (Genesis 31:32) pronounces judgment of death upon any one of his family who had stolen the images. But now his own Rachel, over whom he had unconsciously pronounced this sentence, dies soon after the images were buried in the earth (see Genesis 35:4; Genesis 35:18). But when we read afterwards, that Joseph, the wise son of the wise Rachel, describes his cup as his oracle (although only as a pretext), the conjecture is easy, that the mother also valued the images as a means of securing her desires and longings. She even ascribes marvellous results to the mandrakes.

12. The Mount of Gilead a monument and witness of the former connection between Mesopotamia and Canaan.


Contrasts: Jacob’s emigration and return, or the two-fold flight, under the protection of the God of Bethel, and of Mahanaim.—Laban the persecutor: a. of his own; b. of the heir of the promise.—The persecutor: 1. His malicious companions; 2. those who flee from him; 3. his motives.—The word of God to Laban: “Take heed,” etc., in its typical and lasting significance.—The punishments of the want of candor: strife and war.—The two speeches and speakers.—The peaceful departure: 1. Its light side, reconciliation; 2. its dark aspect, separation.

First Section, Genesis 31:4-16. Starke: Cramer: The husband should not always take his own way, but sometimes consult with his wife (Sir. 4:35).—It is a grievous thing when children complain before God of the injustice of their parents.—Children should conceal, as far as possible, the faults of their parents.—Lisco: The human means which he used are not commanded by God, but are his own.—Gerlach: Jacob’s conduct, the impatient weakness of faith; still a case of self-defence, not of injustice.—Schröder: A contrast: the face of your father, the God of my father.

Second Section, Genesis 31:17-21. Starke: Although Jacob actually begins his journey to the land of Canaan, some suppose that ten years elapse before he comes to Isaac, since he remained some time at Succoth, Sichem, and Bethel (comp. Genesis 33:17; Genesis 35:6).—The shearing of the sheep was in the East a true feast for the shepherds—an occasion of great joy (see Genesis 38:12; 1 Samuel 25:2; 1 Samuel 25:8; 1 Samuel 25:36).

Section Third, Genesis 31:22-25. Starke: Josephus. The intervention of the night, and the warning by God in his sleep, kept him from injuring Jacob.—Bibl. Tub.: God sometimes so influences and directs the hearts of enemies that they shall be favorably inclined towards the saints, although they are really embittered against them.—Hall: God makes foolish the enemies of his church, etc.—Whoever is in covenant with God need have no fear of men.—Schröder: Jacob moves under the instant and pressing danger of being plundered, or slain, or of being made a slave with his family and taken to Mesopotamia. Still the promiser (Genesis 28:15) fulfils the promise to him. Thus, whatever may oppress us for a time, must at last turn to our salvation (Calvin).

Section Fourth, Genesis 31:26-30. Starke: (It is the way of hypocrites when their acts do not prosper, to speak in other tones.)

Genesis 31:29. He does not say that he has the right and authority, but that he has the power (comp. John 19:10). In this, however, he refutes himself. For if he possessed the power, why does he suffer himself to be terrified and deterred by the warning of God in the dream?—Calwer Handbuch: He cannot cease to threaten.—He would have injured him but dared not.—Schröder: The images are his highest happiness, since to him the presence of the Deity is bound and confined to its symbol.

Section Fifth, Genesis 31:31-35. Starke: Cramer: Genesis 31:32. A Christian should not be rash and passionate in his answer. Genesis 31:35. The woman’s cunning is preëminent (Sir 25:17; Judges 14:16).—Calwer Handbuch: Genesis 31:38. The ewes and the goats in their state were the objects of his special care.—Falsehood follows theft.—Man’s cunning is ready; woman’s inexhaustible and endless (Val. Herberger).

Section Sixth, Genesis 31:36-42. Starke: What is included in a shepherd’s faithfulness (Genesis 31:38).—Bibl. Wirt.: When one can show that he has been faithful, upright, and diligent, in his office, he can stand up with a clear conscience, and assert his innocence. Cramer: A good conscience and a gracious God give one boldness and consolation.—Schröder: The persecution of Jacob by Laban ends at last in peace, love and blessing.—Thus the brother line in Mesopotamia is excluded after it has reached its destination.

Section Seventh, Genesis 31:43-53. Starke: (Different conjectures as to what Laban understood by the God of Nahor, whether the true God or idols).—Cramer: When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7).—Calwer Handbuch: Laban now turns again and gives way to the natural affections of a father. The circumstances which tended to calm his mind: 1. The seven days’ journey; 2. the divine warning; 3. the mortification resulting from his fruitless search; 4. Jacob’s self-defence and the truth of his reproaches.—His courage and anger gradually give way to fear and anxiety.—Schröder: In the Hebrew, the word “if ” occurs twice, pointing, as we may suppose, to the idea, may God so punish thee.—(Luther: How can this fellow (Laban) so name the thing?)

Eighth Section, Genesis 31:55 to Genesis 32:2. Starke: Jacob has just escaped the persecutions of his unjust father-in-law, when he began to fear that he should meet a fiercer enemy in his brother Esau. Hence God confirms him in his faith, opens his eyes, etc.—It is the office of the angels to guard the saints. (Two conjectures as to the double camp: one that some of the angels went before Jacob, others followed him; the other that it is the angel camp and the encampment of Jacob.)—(Why the angels are called hosts: 1. From their multitude; 2. their order; 3. their power for the protection of the saints, and the resistance and punishment of the wicked; 4. from their rendering a cheerful obedience as became a warlike host.—Calwer Handbuch: The same as Genesis 28:0 Probably here as there an inward vision (Psalms 34:7).—Schröder: Jacob’s hard service, his departure with wealth, and the persecution of Laban, prefigure the future of Israel in Egypt.—(Val. Herberger.) Whosoever walks in his way, diligent in his pursuits, may at all times say with St. Paul: “He shall never be forsaken.”—The invisible world was disclosed to him, because anxiety and fear fill the visible world.—Luther: The angels. In heaven their office is to sing Glory to God in the Highest; on the earth, to watch, to guide, to war.


Genesis 31:6; Genesis 31:6.—The full form of the pronoun, see Green’s Grammar, 71, (2.)—A. G.

Genesis 31:7; Genesis 31:7.—הֵתֶל, Hiphil from תָּלַל; see Green’s Grammar, 142, (3.)—A. G.

Genesis 31:10; Genesis 31:10.—Heb., Beruddim, spotted with hail. Our word, grizzled, is from the French, grêle, hail, and thus a literal translation of the Hebrew.—A. G.

Genesis 31:15; Genesis 31:15.—The Hebrew form, the absolute infinitive after the finite verb, denotes continuance of the action.—He has constantly devoured.—A. G.

Genesis 31:19; Genesis 31:19.—תְּרָפִים. The word occurs fifteen times in the Old Testament; three times in this chapter, and nowhere else in the Pentateuch. It is always in the plural. It means, perhaps, to live well, or to nourish. In two passages (Judges 17:0. and 18., and Hosea 3:4), they are six times associated with the ephod. The use of them in the worship of God, is denounced as idolatry (1 Samuel 15:23), and hence they are classed with the idols put away by Josiah, 2 Kings 23:0. Murphy—A. G.

Genesis 31:29; Genesis 31:29.—Heb., There is to God my hand.—A. G.

Verses 3-32


Jacob’s return. His fear of Esau. His night wrestlings with God. Peniel. The name Israel. Meeting and reconciliation with Esau.

Genesis 32:3 to Genesis 33:16

3And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother, unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned [have been a stranger] with Laban, and stayed there until now: 5And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and men-servants, and women-servants: and I have sent [and now I must send, the ה paragogic] to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.

6And 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. 7Then Jacob was greatly afraid, and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and 8herds, and the camels into two bands: And said [thought], If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.

9And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst [art saying] unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred [birth- place], and I will deal well with thee: 10I am not worthy [too little for] of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant: for with my staff 11[alone] I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands [camps]. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest Hebrews 12:0 will come and smite me, and the mother with [upon, over] the children. And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make [establish] thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.

13And he lodged there that same night,1 and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother; 14Two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine and ten bulls, twenty she-asses and ten foals. 16And he delivered them into 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. 17And 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 [what he drives before him]. 18Then 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. 19And 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. 20And say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us. For he said [thought], I will appease2 him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept [make cheerful my face] of me. 21So went the present over before him; and himself lodged that night in the company. 22And 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. 23And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and [then] sent over that he had [his herds].

24And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled3 a man with him, until the breaking of the day. 25And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh [hip-joint or socket]: and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. 26And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh: and he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. 27And he said unto him, What is thy name? 28And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel [Yisrael]: for as a prince hast thou power [thou hast contested] with God, and with men, and hast prevailed. 29And 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? And he blessed him there. 30And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [face of God]: for I have seen God face to face, and my life [soul] is preserved. 31And as he passed over Penuel [Peniel], the sun rose upon him, and he halted [was lame] upon his thigh. 32Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew [sciatic nerve], 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.

Genesis 33:1. And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. 2And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost [at the last], 3And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. 4And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. 5And he lifted up his eyes, and saw [now] the women and the children, and said, Who are those with thee4 [whom hast thou there]? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant. 6Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves. 7And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves; and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves. 8And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove [camp] which I me?5 And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord. 9And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself. 10And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore [now] I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me. 11Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough: and he urged him, and he took it. 12And he said, Let us 13take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee. And [But] he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young6 are with me, and if men should over-drive them one day, all the flock will die. 14Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according7 as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure; until 1 come unto my lord unto Seir. 15And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me: And he said, What needeth it? Let me find grace in the sight of my lord.

16So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir.


Knobel supposes here an artificial mingling of heterogeneous and even contradictory parts, taken from different sources, a supposition resting, as is often the case, upon a want of insight as to the connection, which is the great law in that kind of criticism. The sending of messengers by Jacob to Esau, is regarded as a proof that he was not afraid of his brother, while the Jehovist represents him as being in terror of him, etc. (p. 256). All parts of this section turn upon Jacob’s relation to Esau: 1. The sending of messengers (Genesis 32:3-6); 2. the fear of Jacob, and his preliminary division of the train into two bands (Genesis 32:7-8); 3. Jacob’s prayer (Genesis 32:9-12); 4. the delegation of new messengers with his presents (Genesis 32:13-21); 5. the night passage of the train over Jabbok, and Jacob’s wrestling; Peniel (Genesis 32:21-32); 6. Esau’s approach, the new arrangements of the train, and the greetings (Genesis 33:1-11); 7. Esau’s offer and return (Genesis 32:12-16).


1. The sending of the messengers (Genesis 32:3-6).—Sent messengers before him.—The measure was precautionary, to inspect what the danger was, and to conciliate his brother.—Unto the land of Seir.—The natural taste for hunting and the thirst for power, must have led Esau, even during the lifetime of Isaac, to think of a location more suitable to him, since the thickly settled region of Hebron was not favorable either for hunting or for the establishment of a strong power. The region of Seir, or the mountians of Edom (see Bible Dictionaries and geographies, and books of travels) seemed more favorable in both respects. We thus see that Esau had already made a decided progress in his occupation of the new land, without having completely transferred his residence from Hebron to Seir, which followed afterwards (see Genesis 36:6). The same distinction between the chief residence, and an out-station or colony, meets us in the life of Isaac. Keil says he severed the relations which bound him to his father’s house and possessions, “because he was more and more thoroughly convinced that the blessing pronounced by his father upon Jacob, and which excluded him from the inheritance of the promise, the future possession of Canaan, could not be changed.” But this would ascribe too much to Jacob’s obedience of faith to Esau. The fact takes place, doubtless, upon natural grounds. Esau’s power did not lie in his faith, but in his strong hand. This man of might had gathered his sons, servants, and confederates, and already partially completed the conquest of the Horites. He deems the momentary possession of power of greater value than the promise of a religious dominion, the actual possession of which lay in the dim future. He entertains, no doubt, therefore, that he has already surpassed his brother, and this may, first of all, have predisposed him to peaceful thoughts towards him, especially after Jacob’s humble message, whose prominent thought was that he now cheerfully conceded to him the external honors of the first-born. In his present state of mind Esau is satisfied to leave his brother to struggle a little longer with his fear, and to harass and distress him with a pompous show of his forces. The messengers return without bringing back any friendly counter-greeting. He comes as a princely sheik of the desert, with his retainers. This is the preliminary answer. The text here presupposes that Jacob had received some notice of Esau’s operations at Seir. [There is no contradiction between this text and Genesis 36:6. It is not said here that Esau had any fixed abode or dwelling in Seir. The fact that he appears with his armed band shows that he was out upon a warlike expedition, and probably with the design of driving the Horites from Seir. It was not his home. His family and possessions were still in Canaan, and were first removed to Seir (Genesis 36:6) when it had been freed from his enemies, and thus made a safe abode for his wives and children.—A. G.]

2. The fear of Jacob, and his preliminary division of the train into two bands (Genesis 32:7-8).— Was greatly afraid.—Jacob’s fear was not groundless. Rebekah had not called him back. Esau has not intimated that he was reconciled or would be easily appeased. The messengers had not brought back any counter-greeting. Esau was coming with his four hundred men. The promise at Bethel, too, relates definitely only to the journey and the return, and the vision at Mahanaim was a disclosure as to his deliverance from the hand of Laban, but not accompanied with new promises. The main thing, however, was this, he is ill at ease in his conscience, with regard to his offence against Esau. His fear, therefore, as well as his prudence, appears in the division of his train into two bands. This measure precedes his prayer, as the last act of his overhasty and impatient cunning, which does not appear to have been exercised after his prayer and struggle. The measure itself has little to do with the name Mahanaim, to which Knobel refers it. It may serve to explain the fact that the Bedouins usually march in divisions.

3. The prayer of Jacob (Genesis 32:9-12). Jacob is conscious now that all his cunning cannot give his heart rest.—Which saidst unto me.—Here begins the third link in the chain; God of Abraham and God of Isaac. He appeals to the repeated promise of the covenant God of his fathers, given to him in the divine intimation and warning to return.—I will deal Well with thee.—He strives to draw from this vague expression a promise of protection against Esau. On the other hand, he cannot appeal with any confidence to the blessing of his father Isaac, which he had stolen.—I am not worthy of the least.—Literally, am less than. Humiliation and gratitude underlie the joyful confidence in asking for deliverance.—This Jordan.—We must conceive of the ford of Jabbok, as lying in the neighborhood of the Jordan.—The mother with the children.—Literally, upon the children, since she protects the children against the raging foe. Used proverbially (see Deuteronomy 22:6; Hosea 10:14). Knobel, Keil, Delitzsch, reject the rendering, upon the children.—As the sand of the Sea.—This is the import of the promise Genesis 28:14, as the dust of the earth; and thus he increases the imagery of the Abrahamic promise, Genesis 22:17. Such a destructive attack as now threatens him, would oppose and defeat the divine promise. Faith clings to the promise, and is thus developed. [The objection that it is unbecoming in Jacob to remind God of his promise, shows an utter misconception of true prayer, which presupposes the promise of God just as truly as it implies the consciousness of wants. Faith, which is the life of prayer, clings to the divine promises, and pleads them.—A. G.]

4. The delegation of new messengers with his presents (Genesis 32:13-21).—And took of that, etc.—His prayer led him to better means of help than the division of his train in fear, and for a flight near at hand. He passes from the defensive to the offensive. He will not flee from Esau, but go to meet him, and overcome him with deeds of love. Delitzsch thinks he did not select the present until the next morning. Keil, however, says, correctly, that the prayer, the delegation with the present, the transfer across the Jabbok, and Jacob’s struggle, all took place on the same night (Genesis 32:14). Delitzsch, indeed, admits that the crossing of the Jabbok, and Jacob’s struggle, occur in the same night. The present which Jacob chose for an immediate departure during the night, was a great propitiatory sacrifice to the injured brother, and an humble homage to the mighty prince of the desert, consisting of five hundred and fifty head of cattle. And thus, while making an atonement to Esau, he actually atones also for his cunning course towards Laban. The selections corresponded with the possession of the Nomadic chiefs, as to the kinds of animals (comp. Job 1:3; Job 42:12), and as to the proportion between the males and females to the rule of Varro, De re rustica. Keil. The present is broken up into divisions with intervening spaces [lit., breathing places.—A. G.], and thus approaches Esau, that by the regular appearance of these different droves, he might, by one degree after another, soften the fierce disposition of his brother. Observe: 1. The climax; goats, sheep, camels, cattle, asses. 2. The spaces between the droves. Each impression must be made, and its force felt by Esau, before the next comes on. 3. The ever repeated form of homage: Thy servant, Jacob. A present. My lord Esau. 4. The final aim: friendly treatment: Thy servant, Jacob himself, is behind us. Knobel supposes that he finds here even, a difference between the interpretation of the Jehovist, and the design of his predecessor to describe the procession according to oriental custom (p. 230).—For he said.—We meet here, for the first time, the later important כִּפֵּ־ (comp. xx.16). Esau’s face is to be covered by atoning presents, so that he should not see, any more, the offence which Jacob had committed against him. Jacob had, in an ideal sense, deprived him of princely honor; he now recognizes, in a true and real sense (and one entirely suited to Esau’s thought and disposition), his princely honor, and thus atones, in fact, for his fault, since Esau cared nothing for the ideal element in and by itself. כִּפֵּר here, at its first occurrence, refers to the reconciling of one who is angry, and to the atonement for guilt. Since the offence is covered for Esau’s face, so even Esau’s face is covered as to the offence. It is very remarkable, moreover, that the word “face” here occurs three times. Esau’s face is covered towards Jacob’s obligation and guilt. Then Jacob beholds the face of Esau, and is comforted, and Esau lifts up Jacob’s face, i. e., cheers, enlightens it, since he receives him kindly.

5. The night-crossing of the train over Jabbok, and Jacob’s wrestling (Genesis 32:21-32).—And he rose up that night.—The confidence of Jacob, rising out of his prayer and the sending of his present, is so strong that he does not defer the crossing of his train over the ford of Jabbok until the morning. Jabbok is now called the Zerka, i. e., the blue, from its deep-blue mountain water. “It rises near the caravan route at Castell Zerka; its deep mountain valley then forms the boundary between Moered on the north and Belka on the south. It empties into the Jordan about midway between the Sea of Tiberias and the Dead Sea, and about an hour and a half from the point at which it breaks through the mountain.” Von Raumer: “Palestine,” p. 74. The Jabbok comes from the east nearly opposite to Sichem. It was at one time the boundary between the tribes of Gad and Manasseh. For further details, see the Bible Dictionaries.—Although it is quite customary in the East to travel during the night (see Knobel, p. 258), yet still the crossing of his train over a rapid mountain stream would be difficult. The ford which Jacob used was not that upon its upper course, near the route of the Syrian caravans, at Kŭla’t Zerka, “but the one farther to the west, through which Buckingham, Burkhardt (‘Syria,’ p. 597), and Seetzen (‘Travels,’ I. p. 392) passed, between Jebel Adschlun and Jebel Jelaad, and at which are still to be seen traces of walls, buildings, and the signs of an older civilization (Ritter, Exodus 15:0. p. 1040).” Keil.—And he was left alone.—It is generally supposed that Jacob remained on the north side of the Jabbok. Keil, p. 218; Delitzsch, p. 334. [Jacobus; Wordsworth, p. 136.—A. G.] Rosenmüller and Knobel reject the idea that Jacob recrossed the stream, although nothing there claimed his attention, the latter indeed, on the incorrect assumption that Jacob crossed the Jabbok going from the south, northwards. In Genesis 32:23 it is, he passed over, i.e., he himself, without mentioning that he took his family, which is specially related elsewhere. [It seems probable that he first went over himself, and then, finding the crossing safe, he returned and sent over his herds and his family.—A. G.] Then, too, it is not necessary that וַיִּוָּתֵר should be understood in a local sense (see Ges. under יתר). Moreover, we find him (Genesis 32:32), when leaving the place of his wrestling, Peniel, ready to proceed on his journey. Lastly, it would seem an act of cowardice if Jacob had sent his wives and children across the brook, which was a protection against the danger, while he himself remained behind. [Still, the narrative plainly implies that Jacob remained on the north of the Jabbok. And whatever courage may have prompted to do, as to protect his own with his life, Jacob was dimly conscious that the crisis of his life was now upon him, and that he must be alone with God. It was not the want of courage, but the sense that help must come from God, and the working of his faith which led him to cling to the arm of God, which kept him here for the prayer and struggle and victory.—A. G.]—And there wrestled a man with him.—Now, when he supposed everything arranged, the greatest difficulty meets him. The unmeasured homage, with which he thought to reconcile Esau, touches the violation or at least puts in peril the promise which was given to him. Moreover, he has not only injured Esau, but offended God (Elohim), who is the God of Esau, and will not suffer him to be injured with impunity.—There wrestled a man.—This archaic form occurs only here and in Genesis 32:25-26. Dietrich traces it to the idea of “struggling or freeing oneself from;” Delitzsch to חבק, to limit, to touch each other closely, member to member. We prefer the reference to the kindred form, אפק, to hold fast, to adhere firmly, etc. Hithpael, to hold to oneself. There seems to be an allusion in the word to the name Jabbok (Knobel), or rather, the brook derives its name from this struggle, יַבּק instead of יְאַבֹּק (Keil). An older derivation traces the word, “to dust,” to raise dust in the struggle. The question arises whether the sense of the word here is, that the nameless man came upon Jacob, as if he had been his enemy, or that Jacob seized the man, as he appeared to him, and held him fast, while he strives to free himself from the grasp. According to Genesis 32:27, the last sense is the true one. If we take the other supposition, we must conceive that Jacob, during the night-wrestling, recognized as a friend the man who came upon him as an enemy. Still there is no intimation of a hostile attack. The passage in Hosea 12:4, also supports the idea that Jacob held fast the mysterious man, and not vice versâ. “He took his brother by the heel in the womb—and by his strength he had power with God—he had power over the angel and prevailed—he wept and made supplication unto him—he found him in Bethel.”—And when he saw that he prevailed not against him.—That is, Genesis 32:27, he could not compel him to let him go.—For the day breaketh.—In regard to this, and to the circumstance that Jacob remained alone, Knobel remarks, “that the acts of God are not spectacles for the eyes of impious mortals (see Genesis 19:17; Genesis 22:13; Exodus 12:29).” There is, however, a broad distinction between the heathen and theocratic interpretation of this event. There is no reference here to any fear or dread of the day-light on the part of spirits.—The hollow of his thigh.—Lit., the socket of the hip. It is not said that he struck it a blow (Knobel); the finger of God (for it is God who is spoken of) needs but to touch is object, and the full result is secured.—And the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint.—This is explained more fully in the thirty-fourth verse. The sinews of his thigh (nervus ischiadicus) were paralyzed through the extreme tension and distortion’. But this bodily paralysis does not paralyze the persevering Jacob.—I will not let thee go.—Now the blessing which he obtained from his father by cunning and deceit, must be sought with tears from this mysterious divine man. And then he blesses him when he gives him the name Israel, i. e., the God-wrestler or fighter (from שׂרת and אל). [The captain and prince of God, from sarah, to marshal in battle, to lead, to command, to fight, and hast prevailed, שָׂרִיתָ, as a prince. Wordsworth, p. 138.—A. G.] Instead of a supplanter, he has now become the holy wrestler with God, hence his name is no longer Jacob, but Israel. There is no trace in his after- of the application of his wisdom to mere selfish and cunning purposes. But the new name confirms to him in a word the theocratic promise, as the name Abraham confirmed it to Abram. For the connection of this passage with Genesis 38:10, see the Exegetical note upon that passage.—And hast prevailed.—Has he overcome in his wrestling with God, he need have no further fears as to his meeting with Esau.—Wherefore is it, that thou dost ask after my name?—The asking after his name in this particular way, not the general inquiry, is the point which occasions this answer. The believer is not to learn all the names of the Lord in this theoretic manner, but through the experience of faith; thus even the name Immanuel. Indeed, he had already learned his name substantially.—Thou hast wrestled with God and men.—It does not rest upon “the view which the Jews have when they regard the name Jehovah as ἄῤῥητον,” as Knobel asserts.—And he blessed him.—The blessing contained already in the name Israel, is now definitely completed.—Peniel, or Penuel with the ו conj., face of God. The locality of this place has not been definitely fixed (V. Raumer, p. 255), but if it could be identified it would be idle to look for it upon the north of the Jabbok. Knobel refers for an analogy to the Phœnician promontoryΘεοῦ πρόσωπον. [Keil thinks Peniel was upon the north of the Jabbok, though he does not regard it as certain. Kiepert locates it on the Jabbok. It was certainly east of Succoth (see Judges 8:8-9), and was most probably on the north of the Jabbok.—A. G.]—Face to face.—With his face he had seen the face of God (Exodus 33:0.; Deuteronomy 34:10). Exodus 33:20 is not in contradiction to this, since that passage speaks of the seeing of God beyond and above the form of his revelation in its legal development.—And my life is preserved.—Luther’s translation and my soul is healed, saved, is equally beautiful and correct. For it is impossible that the idea here is that of the later popular notion: he rejoices that he had seen the face of God and did not die.—The sun rose upon him. The sun not only rose, but rose especially upon him; and with a joyful mind he begins with the sunrise his journey to meet Esau.—And he halted upon his thigh.—He appears not to have noticed this before. In the effort of the wrestling it had escaped him, just as the wounded soldier oftentimes first becomes aware that he is wounded by the blood and gash, long after the wound was received.—Therefore the children of Israel eat not.—“The author explains the custom of the Israelites, in not eating of the sinew of the thigh, by a reference to this touch of the hip of their ancestor by God. Through this divine touch, this sinew, like the blood (Genesis 9:4) was consecrated and sanctified to God. This custom is not mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament; the Talmudists, however (Tract. Cholin, Mischna, 7), regard it as a law, whose transgression was to be punished with several stripes.” Knobel. Delitzsch adds: “This exemption exists still, but since the ancients did not distinguish clearly in גִּיד (גיד הנשׁה, the large, strong cord of the sinew of the thigh), between muscle, vein, and nerve, the sinew is now generally understood, i.e., the interior cord and nerve of the so-called hind-quarter, including the exterior also, and the ramifications of both.”

6. Esau’s approach, the new arrangement of the train, and the greeting (Genesis 33:1-11).—And Jacob lifted up his eyes.—In contrast to his previous inward contemplation, and in confident expectation.—And he divided the children.—We read no more of the two bands or trains. He now separates his family into three divisions. He himself, as the head of the family, as its protector and representative, takes the lead; then follow the handmaids with their children; then Leah with hers; and at last, Rachel with Joseph. This inverted order, by which the most loved came last, is not merely chosen from a careful and wise prudence, but at the same time the free expression of the place which they occupied in his affections.—To the ground seven times.—Not that he cast himself seven times to the ground, which would have been expressed by אפים ארצה, but he bowed himself seven times with the low inclination of the head [the low oriental bow, in which one bends the head nearly to the ground without touching it. Keil.—A. G.]. But even this courtesy far excels the usual degree in oriental greetings, and finds its explanation in the number seven. The bowing itself expresses the recognition of an external princely prerogative, from which Esau believed that he had robbed him; the seven-fold utterance of this recognition stamps it with the mimic (Ger., mimische) seal of the certainty which belongs to the covenant. Thus Jacob atones for his offence against Esau. The manifestation of this courtesy is at the same time, however, a barrier which in the most favorable issue protects him, before mingling with the spirit and temper of the Edomitic army.—And Esau ran to meet him.—He is overcome; his anger and threats are forgotten; the brother’s heart speaks. Jacob’s heart, too, now released from fear, is filled with like affection, and in their common weeping these gray-headed men are twins once more. “The unusual pointing of יַשָּׁקֵהוּ probably indicates a doubt as to the sincerity of this kiss. But the doubt is groundless. The Scriptures never authorize us to regard Esau as inhuman. He is susceptible of noble desires and feelings. The grace of God which ruled in his paternal home has not left him without its influence.” Delitzsch. The assertion of Knobel, “that the author of Genesis 27:1 ff; Genesis 32:8 ff. could not thus write if he wrote proprio marte,” is critically on the same level with the remark of Tuch upon Jacob’s prayer, Genesis 32:9—“it is unseemly in the narrator that he allows Jacob to remind God of his promises.” The old Jewish exegesis has indeed outbid this modern zeal in effacing this great and beautiful moral feature in the narrative. “The Breschith Rabba and Kimchi inform us that some in the earlier time held that יִשָּׁקֵהוּ meant here that he bit him. The Targum of Jonath. says that Jacob’s weeping sprung from a pain in his neck, and Esau’s from a toothache.” Knobel.—The children which God.—The name Elohim, out of regard to Esau’s point of view [and, as Delitzsch and Keil suggest, in order not to remind Esau of the blessing of Jehovah, of which he was now deprived.—A. G.]—Joseph and Rachel.—It is a fine trait in the picture that the order is here reversed, so that Joseph comes before his mother. The six-year-old lad seems to break through all the cumbrous ceremonial, and to rush confidently into the arms of his uncle.—By all this drove (camp or train).—Knobel thinks that he here discovers a third explanation of the name Mahanaim, and finds in the answer of Jacob, these are to find grace, etc., an offensive fawning, or cringing humility. But in fact, it is not a mere present which is here in question, but a voluntary atonement—an indirect confession that he needed forgiveness. We find this same thought also in Esau’s refusal.—I have enough.—Esau had a two-fold reason for his refusal, for he doubtless possessed a large share of the paternal estate, while Jacob had earned all that he had by the labor of his hands. It is nevertheless a noble strife, when Esau says, keep that thou hast,I have enough, and Jacob overcomes him, take, I pray thee, my blessing,I have enough of all, or briefly all.—For therefore I have seen.—This cannot mean, I have gained the friendly aspect of thy face by my present, but therefore, for this purpose, is it. As things now stand, the present is an offering of gratitude.—As though I had seen the face of God.—The words sound like flattery, but they bear a good sense, since in the friendly face of his brother he sees again in full manifestation the friendliness of God watching over his life’s path (Job 33:26; Psalms 11:7). [He refers either to his wrestling with the angel, in which he had “learned that his real enemy was God and not Esau, or in the fact that the friendly face of his brother was the pledge to him that God was reconciled. “In the surprising, unexpected change in his brother’s disposition, he recognizes the work of God, and in his brother’s friendliness, the reflection of the divine.” Delitzsch.—A. G.] The words, take, I pray thee, my blessing, are just as select and forcible. It is as if, in allusion to the blessing he had taken away, he would say, in so far as that blessing embraced present and earthly things, and is of value to you, I give it back. Knobel explains the choice of the expression from the benedictions which accompanied the present. “The presents to the clergy in the middle ages were called benedictions.” But the idea of homage lies nearer here. In the reception of his present he has the assurance that Esau is completely reconciled to him. The friendliness in Esau’s countenance is a confirmation to him of the friendliness of the divine countenance, a seal of the grace of God, which he saw in his face at Peniel.

7. Esau’s offer and return (vers.12–16).—I will go before thee.—The kindness of Esau assumes a confidential and officious character. He will take the lead in the way, go before as the protector of his caravan. But that could have happened only at the expense of Jacob’s freedom. Besides this, the caravan, with tender children, and sucklings among the cattle, could not keep pace with a train of Bedouin. Jacob urges this strenuously, in order to effect a separation. It is no pretence on his part, but it is the only reason he ventures to offer to the powerful Esau, whose superficial nature unfitted him to appreciate the other reasons. He reveals to him also, in a striking way, his purpose to come to him at Seir. Is this the new Israel or the old Jacob who speaks? The words are ambiguous, even if he actually visited him in after years at Seir, as some have urged as an excuse. There is, indeed, a peculiar emphasis upon the word לְאִטִי, in connection with the verb, which excludes any obligation to hasten there. He declines, also, the offer of a protecting band.—What needeth it?—He is conscious of a higher protector. He desires nothing from Esau but a peaceful and friendly deportment. [Jacob’s promise of a visit was honestly made. His course led him to Canaan, probably to Hebron, and from thence he contemplated a visit to Esau at Seir. Whether it was ever made, or not, we do not know. The narrative does not record all the events of Jacob’s life, and this may well have been one of those less important, which it passes over in silence. There is no ground, in any case, to question his sincerity, or to think that it is the old Jacob who speaks.—A. G.]


1. This section belongs to the more important parts of Genesis, especially of the patriarchal history, holding in the life of Jacob a position like Genesis 15:17, Genesis 15:18, , 22, in the life of Abraham, Genesis 27:0 in the life of Isaac, and Genesis 41:45. in the life of Joseph. We have here, indeed, the full development of patriarchalism, the bud which shall open into its most perfect flower, and which unfolds itself completely in the blessing of Jacob. As the institution of a sacred sacrifice reached its full development in the offering of Abraham (Genesis 22:0), and the mysterious fact of election comes into prominence in the blessing of Isaac (Genesis 27:0), so this narrative brings out in a clear, distinct form: 1. The prayer of faith, based upon the promise and the clear consciousness of the contrast between human unworthiness and divine grace; 2. the actual occurrence of a believing wrestling with God, and its result, the prelude to the theanthropic life; 3. the contrast between the old and new man, between Jacob and Israel, the token of the new birth growing out of the circumcision of the heart; hence, also, 4. the dawn of the love of one’s enemies, and of the triumph of that affection over the hatred of our enemies, through confidence in God and the proofs of his reconciliation; and 5. lastly, that divine law, according to which believers inwardly and truly overcome the world, by their outward subjection to the demands of its power. In the struggle with Jacob, moreover, the form of the Angel of the Lord passes already into the form of the angel of his face, which afterwards, in the book of Exodus, develops itself more completely. Thus, also, we find here already clearly intimated the germ of the distinction between the external aspect of the kingdom of God (the blessing of Isaac), and its inward essence, a distinction winch was not fully comprehended by Israel at the time of Christ, and over which, even in our own day, many toil and labor without clear conceptions. This section contains also a representation of the nightly and sacred birth hour of Israel, and in a formal point of view is well fitted to introduce a true insight into the fundamental form of revelation.

2. The intellectual movement and progress in the narrative, correspond to the most subtle laws of the spiritual and intellectual life of the soul. After Jacob had seen the divine messengers, the angels, in his journey, he takes heart, and sends a human embassy to greet Esau. The contents of their message is determined by his prudence. He greets his lord Esau, as Jacob his servant. The unpleasant and dangerous recollections of the events which had occasioned his long absence, are passed over; on the contrary, he speaks of his rich possessions in herds and flocks, which he had acquired while with Laban, lest Esau should think that he was now returning, longing for the paternal goods. He wishes only to find favor in the eyes of Esau. In thus rendering homage to him, he recognizes the earthly and temporal prerogatives of the first-born, and at the same time makes indirectly a confession of his guilt. When the messengers return without any counter-greeting, and announcing that Esau was drawing near, the mere human prudence of Jacob again suggests his course. As he apprehends a hostile attack from Esau, so he thinks of resisting force with force, but with the prospect of being vanquished. Hence the division of his caravan into two bands. But this measure gives him no rest. His pressing wants drove him to faith and prayer, a prayer which marks already a great development of the patriarchal life and faith. His soul was thus so sustained and comforted, that he can no more rest or sleep during the night. He now boldly crosses the Jabbok (his Rubicon, or better, his Kedron) with his whole train. And then, in the loneliness and solitude, he meets with the decisive struggle of his life. After the victory of his faith in this struggle, he is, as Jacob, lame in his thigh; he no longer expects salvation from his natural struggles with Esau, but has found, in the grace of Jehovah, the source of his world subduing humility and love. He thinks no longer of the two bands for mutual self-defence or flight, but on the contrary, he sends his five bands to the attack, five different acts of homage embodied in presents, which, as a continuous train, has the most impressive aspect, and gives the highest satisfaction to Esau in the presence of his four hundred men. The closing word of the messengers was that Jacob was coming after them; he himself, and thus the strongest expression of his confidence toward his brother. Upon the five droves which designate the completed act of homage, as an actual outward occurrence (since five is the number of free choice), there follows now the seven-fold bowing of Jacob himself, as a sacred assurance of his intellectual, real homage, as to the prerogatives of the first-born which belonged to Esau. Hence his family also, in three intervals and acts, which follow the salutation, must render the same homage. Jacob, in offering so large a portion of his herds, had made a great sacrifice; so that probably it may be literally true that his children, who at first rode upon camels, now that so few of the camels were left, were obliged to walk. But it was both noble and wise not to take advantage of Esau’s magnanimous feelings, as he had formerly done of his natural and sensual infirmity in the matter of the lentile pottage. And now he has completely overcome him, and even more than this. As he had at first to guard against his former threats, and his alarming appearance, so now against his amiable importunity, which might have led him into the danger of mingling and developing his cause and future history with those of Esau. Esau actually yields to his request, and returns. He overcomes him in this, too, but not as Jacob the supplanter, but as Israel the warrior of God [the prince with God.—A. G.].

3. Jacob’s prayer. The great development of faith which marked this prayer: 1. The resting of the prayer upon the divine promises, and the more definite development of prayer in its general idea; 2. the contrast: I am not worthy, etc. [literally, I am too little for, less than.—A. G.], an ancient denial of any righteousness of works, a watchword of humility for all time; 3. the connection of the divine goodness and grace (here in the plural) and truth, or faithfulness, which henceforth runs through the sacred scriptures; 4. the beautiful description of the divine blessing, for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, etc. [Jacob’s faith appears in the very terms by which he addresses God, in his confidence in the divine promise and command, the two pillars of his hope, in his expectation of deliverance, not-withstanding his deep sense of his personal unworthiness, and in the clear, sharp contrast which he makes between the destruction he feared and the divine promise. How could the promise: I will make thy seed as the sand of the sea, be saved, if the mother was to be slain with the children? As Luther has said, this is a beautiful specimen of all hearty prayer, and has all the attributes of real prayer.—A. G.]
4. The prayer of Jacob precedes his choice of his presents for Esau. We must first deal with God, be reconciled with him, then with men. First faith, then works.
5. Jacob’s present. A great sacrifice of penitence and restitution, of large value in itself, but far more glorious in its spiritual form and import.
6. Jacob’s wrestling. We must distinguish: 1. The motive of the struggle; 2. its elements; 3. its greatness; 4. the fruits of victory. Its motive cannot lie in Jacob’s fear of Esau, although he was not yet free from all fear. For as to the main thing, his fears have been removed by the foregoing prayer and the sending of the present, with which, indeed, is connected also the announcement that Jacob himself was coming to meet Esau. The motive arises from the fact, that a new, and indeed the final and greatest necessity, sprang from this act of homage which Jacob had just performed. He had restored to Esau in spirit as well as in his outward arrangements the honor of the first-born, as to its earthly aspects. But had he not thus resigned also his theocratic birthright, the Abrahamic blessing? This question rested upon his mind with great weight, since the external aspect of the blessing was apparently inseparably connected with the inward. To how many of his descendants has the external theocracy occupied the place of the inward and real kingdom of God! Abraham must distinguish the present from the future, Isaac between patient endurance and dominion, but Jacob must now learn to distinguish between the external attributes and the internal and real possession of the birthright and the blessing. And since these things have hitherto been inseparably blended in his mind, there must now be, as it were, a rent in his very soul; it is only through the sorest birth-throes that he can attain a faith in the blessing, stripped of its outward and temporal glory. If he will retain the real blessing, then apparently he must recall the messengers who have gone to render homage to Esau. If he suffers these to go on, then all his hopes for the future seem to vanish. And still this is impossible, since his hope is inscribed, as a destination, in his innermost being, his election. Like Abraham upon Moriah, he must also, through his readiness to make the sacrifice, attain the full assurance in its great gain, the new life springing out from this sacrifice. Hence his wrestling. According to Hosea, it consisted essentially and fundamentally in weeping and tears; a weeping and tears that he might secure the assurance of the blessing in his very sacrifice of the blessing. His sacrifice must be completed in his heart, for it is the genuineness of his repentance, but he must also have the certainty of his blessing, for it is the genuineness and certainty of his faith. And all that he can present to the God of revelation, for redemption and deliverance from this fearful appearance of opposition in his inward life, is his sighs and tears. There his prayer becomes a vision of the most intensive form and nature. Jehovah appears to him in his Angel, the Angel appears to him in human form, in the form, indeed, of some individual man. The man in a certain measure is his alter ego in an objective form, in so far as he is the image of his innermost individuality in its communion with Jehovah, or the type of the Son of Man, the God-man. But the man meets him as a stranger. He must in him become certain of his own inward election, as Moses was made certain of the law in his own heart, in the law of the two tables of stone. At first he meets him as a mighty wrestler, who will cast him to the ground, and then proceed on his way. That is, the Angel of his election will cast him down and then leave him lying in his repentance in bitter anguish over his life lost through his sin and guilt. But Jacob wrestles with him, although unable, and even not choosing, to make use of his strivings as Jacob, of his supplanting and crafty efforts. His human prudence discerns no way of escape from this fearful inward sorrow, nor does it seek any. But what was the very core and centre of his nature as Jacob, his adherence to his faith in the future, that is preserved, even now; he does not yield in his wrestling. The day dawns upon the struggle, and now the strange man seems to get the upper hand; he puts Jacob’s thigh out of joint. The human strength and elasticity of the patriarch were gone. And now the trial culminates, when the man says: Let me go. But now also the precise thought of Jacob, and the purpose of his heart, comes out in the words: I will not let thee go except thou bless me. He struggles no more, but throws his arms around the neck of the divine man and clings to him. This is the full renunciation, and the full and determined embracing of faith, both in one act, and there lies his victory. The mysterious stranger asks after his name and his name is now as an acknowledgment, a confession, Jacob. His new name, Israel, which is now given to him, on the other hand, imports not only his absolution, but also his restitution, indeed, his exaltation above his previous blessed condition. From this time onwards he is the warrior of God. He not only overcomes Esau, but God suffers him to prevail over him in that specific way of wrestling which he has just learned. Jacob now asks after his name. He must not seek this name, however, prematurely, but learn it in his actual experience. The names Peniel, Shiloh, Immanuel, are for him to be developed from the name Israel. But when the parting one gives him a special blessing, that is the assurance, that in bringing the offering of the external qualities of the blessing to Esau, he has perfectly and fully gained the essential blessing of Abraham. As in the very beginning of his new birth he had learned to distinguish between the old and new life, between Jacob and Israel, between the wrestlings of Jacob and the strength of Israel, so also he has now been taught to distinguish between the rights of the natural human birth, and the rights of the new divine birth. [There is another view of this wrestling, which bases it upon the character and previous history of Jacob. He was not, indeed, destitute of faith and reliance upon God, but the prominent feature of his character was a strong reliance upon his own resources and strength. He had thus fallen into doubtful and censurable courses. In this confidence he had wrestled with Esau for the birthright, and with Laban for the reward of his wages and his present possessions. God had dealt with him by chastisements. He had been involved in difficulties and trials which he could not well have failed to connect with his sins. Still his fault was not corrected. And now, on his return to the land of promise, and his paternal home, to inherit the blessing he had so striven to secure, he is met by Esau with his four hundred men. Conscious of his weakness, and reminded of his sins, feeling as he doubtless did that Esau’s anger was not unprovoked, he flies to God for help (Genesis 32:10-13). His prayer gives him relief from his fears. But it does not necessarily wean him from his self-reliance. He must feel that his crimes against men are at the same time sins against God. And to teach him this, and at the same time bring him to unreserved reliance upon God, is the purpose with which God meets him here. The progress of the struggle and its issue show this. He struggles with this new combatant to the very end, or as long as he had any strength, but when his thigh was thrown out of joint, then he saw how vain the struggle in this form was. In his disabled state he merely hangs upon the conqueror, and thus overcomes him. He is no longer strong in himself, but in the Lord. It is his faith, the divine principle planted in him, in one sense “the divine energy” working in him, which secures the victory. The lesson which Jacob here learned reveals its power in his whole after-life. He is no longer the supplanter. His life is not marked by his own strivings, but by his reliance upon God. And this is in accordance with the prophet Hosea (Genesis 12:4 ff.), who not only teaches that the sighs and tears were prominent features in the struggle, but that in his wrestling with God in this way, Jacob has completely secured what he had been striving for from his birth, the inheritance of the first-born, the promise and blessing of the covenant; secured it, however, not by his own strength, but by casting himself upon God.—A. G.]

7. With regard to the form of the struggle, it cannot on the one hand be a dream-vision which is spoken of (Rosenm. and others), nor on the other hand an external event (Kurtz: “History of the Old Covenant,” i. p. 260; Auberlen, in the article “Jacob,” in Herzog’s Encyclopædic.) [Jacobus: “Notes,” ii. p. 134; Murphy, p. 414; Wordsworth, p. 137.—A. G.]; for the mythical explanation may be entirely left out of view. For moral struggles and decisions are not wrought in dreams or in dream-visions. Against an external bodily wrestling, Hengstenberg reminds us forcibly that an outward wrestling does not occur in the form of weeping and supplication. Kurtz attempts to evade this difficulty by assuming two acts in the struggle, in which the external bodily wrestling precedes the spiritual wrestling with tears and prayers. He thus seeks to exclude the vision and the ecstasy (conditions which in our view are only two aspects of one and the same state). Keil rejects the idea of a natural corporeal wrestling, but thinks that an ecstasy, of a like or related condition of the body and soul, must be received. We have often seen already that the condition of vision or ecstasy does not exclude the objective manifestation. We now see, also, that the soul-struggles in vision, might present themselves under the form of bodily labor, and wrestlings of the soul, since in the vision the whole spiritual process is represented in pictures; and further, that such a struggle may even produce bodily effects, as here the lameness of Jacob’s thigh. Kurtz replies, on the contrary, that such effects of the inward life upon the body are not certainly ascertained; that, indeed, the reverse is for the most part true in such cases, the germinant bodily complaint giving its peculiar form to the dream. But how can one confound these mere natural dreams with the very highest religious events in the world of mind? Should we suppose that the whole history of the despised one rested upon a mere illusion, still the history of Gethsemane would not stand there in vain with reference to the event here before us. It has been denied that such a lameness as that described here, could result from any corporeal wrestling. [It may be said, however, that there is no necessity here for departing from the obvious and literal sense of the passage. The idea of close personal corporeal conflict seems to be suggested in the very terms which the sacred writer has chosen to describe this wrestling. It is certainly implied in the crippling of the thigh. And if God walked in the garden with Adam, and partook of the feast which Abraham prepared, there is no reason why he should not enter into bodily conflict with Jacob. The other events in the narrative, the crossing of the Jabbok, the rising of the sun, seem also to require that we should understand this wrestling as real, objective, corporeal, without any attempt, however, to define too closely its precise mode.—A. G.]

8. The man who wrestled with Jacob. “Some have absurdly held that he was an assassin sent by Esau. Origen: The night-wrestler was an evil spirit (Ephesians 6:12). Other fathers held that he was a good angel. The correct view is that he was the constant revealer of God, the Angel of the Lord” Schröder. Delitzsch holds “that it was a manifestation of God, who through the angel was represented and visible as a man.” The well-known refuge from the reception of the Angel of the Incarnation! In his view, earlier explained and refuted, Jacob could not be called the captain, prince of God, but merely the captain, prince of the Angel. “No other writer in the Pentateuch,” Knobel says, “so represents God under the human form of things as this one.” Jacob surely, with his prayers and tears, has brought God, or the Angel of the Lord, more completely into the human form and likeness than had ever occurred before. The man with whom he wrestles is obviously not only the angel, but the type also of the future incarnation of God. As the angel of his face, however, he marks a development of the form of the angel of revelation which is taken Up and carried on in Exodus.

9. The angel and type of the incarnation, is at the same time an angel and type of atonement. When Kurtz (p. 257) says “that God here meets Jacob as an enemy, that he makes an hostile attack,” the expressions are too strong. There is an obvious distinction between a wrestler and one who attacks as an enemy, leaving out of view the fact, that there is nothing said here as to which party makes the assault. After the revelations which Jacob received at Bethel, Haran, and Mahanaim, a peculiar hostile relation to God is out of the question So much, certainly, is true, that Jacob, to whom no mortal sins are imputed for which he must overcome the wrath of God (Kurtz, p. 258, the divine wrath is not overcome but atoned), must now be brought to feel that in all his sins against men he has striven and sinned against God, and that he must first of all be reconciled to him, for all the hitherto unrecognized sins of his life.

10. The wrestling of Jacob has many points of resemblance to the restoration of Peter (John 21:0). As this history of Peter does not treat of the reconstituting of his general relation to Jesus, but rather of the perfecting of that relation, and with this of the restitution of his apostolic calling and office, so here the struggle of Jacob does not concern so much the question of his fundamental reconciliation with Jehovah, but the completion of that reconciliation and the assurance of his faith in his patriarchal calling. And if Christ then spake to Peter, when thou wast young thou girdedst thyself, etc., in order that he might know that henceforth an entire reliance upon the leading and protection of God must take the place of his sinful feeling of his own strength and his attachment to his own way, so, doubtless, the lameness of Jacob’s thigh has the same significance, with this difference, that as Peter must be cured of the self-will of his rash, fiery temperament, so Jacob from his selfish prudence, tending to mere cunning.

11. A like relation holds between their old and new names. The name Simon, in the narrative of Peter’s restoration, points to his old nature, just as here the name Jacob to the old nature of Israel. Simon’s nature, however, was not purely evil, but tainted with evil. This is true also of Jacob. He must be purified and freed from his sinful cunning, but not from his prudence and constant perseverance. Into these latter features of his character he was consecrated as Israel. The name Abram passes over into the name Abraham, and is still ever included in it; the name Isaac has in itself a two-fold significance, which intimates the laughter of doubt, and that of a joyful faith; but the name Jacob goes along with that of Israel, not merely because the latter was preëminently the name of the people, nor because in the new-birth the old life continues side by side, and only gradually disappears, but also because it designates an element of lasting worth, and still further, because Israel must be continually reminded of the contrast between its merely natural and its sacred destination.

12. The sacred and honored name of the Israelitish people, descends from this night-wrestling of Israel, just as the name Christian comes from the birth and name of Christ. The peculiar destination of the Old-Testament children of the covenant is that they should be warriors, princes of God, men of prayer, who carry on the conflicts of faith to victory. Hence the name Israelites attains completeness in that of Christians, those who are divinely blessed, the anointed of God. The name Jews, in its derivation from Judah, and in its Messianic import, forms the transition between these names, since it designates those who are praised, who are a praise and glory to God. But the contrast between the cunning, running into deceit, which characterized the old nature of Jacob, and the persevering struggle of faith and prayer of Israel, pervades the whole history of the Jewish people, and hence Hosea, Genesis 12:1 ff., applies it to the Jewish people (see Kurtz, p. 259, with reference to the “Practical Com.” of Umbreit, iv. p. 82). The force of this contrast lies in this, that in the true Israelite there is no guile, since he is purified from guile (John 1:47), and that Christ, the king of Israel (Gen 32:44), is without guile, while the deceit of the Jacob nature reaches its most terrible and atrocious perfection in the kiss of Judas.

13. The natural night, through which Jacob carried on his long wrestling, not only figures symbolically the inner night which brooded over his soul, but also the mystery of his new-birth, determined of course by its Old-Testament limits. Hence the dawn and sunrise indicate not only the blessed state of faith which he had now gained, but also the fact that he, as the halting and lame, now appeared as a new man in the light of the breaking day.
14. When it is said of Israel that he had prevailed with God, we must not forget that he prevailed with him because God permitted him to do so. The idea that God permits himself to be overcome, assumes a gross and dangerous form if we should apply it to our selfish prayers according to our own selfish thoughts. In the entire concession to the grace of God, the believer first reaches that turning-point in his life where the will of God becomes even his own will, where God can yield and confide himself to the will of his faith.
15. In the apparent rejection of Jacob’s question, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name? the angel proceeds in the same way with Christ in his public ministrations. He does not immediately call himself Christ. Believers must attain the true idea of his name from the experience of its effects.

16. The growth in Jacob’s life of faith is marked by the names Bethel, Mahanaim, Peniel. But it. is surely an entirely unallowable explanation of the words “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved,” when they are explained upon the prevalent Jewish notion, that whoever has seen Jehovah must die. Leaving out of view the essential germ of that notion, that the sight of the glory of God terrifies sinful men and mortifies sin within them, which takes place in this case also, it might be held more plausibly that this very notion grew out of a misunderstanding of these words (comp. the similar expression of Hagar, Genesis 16:13). Delitzsch: “The sun which rose upon Jacob at Peniel has its antitype in the sun of the resurrection morning.”

17. The glorious reconciliation between Jacob and Esau is based upon the perfect reconciliation of Jacob with God. For the old way in which he hoped to overcome Esau, he now makes amends in the new method by which he actually overcomes him. We shall do injustice to the history if we do not distinguish here the elements of humility, satisfaction, reconciling love, and confidence. Jacob’s humiliation before Esau implies his humiliation before God; his satisfaction to Esau, his reconciliation with God; and the strength of his love and confidence by which he overcomes Esau, comes from Jehovah’s grace and truth.
18. The fact that Jacob after his reconciliation with Esau, could not be prevailed upon by any consideration whatever, either of fear or favor, to mingle with him, is the clearest proof of the strength of his patriarchal consciousness.
19. For the mythical traditions which resemble this wrestling of Jacob with God, see Delitzsch, Bunsen, Schröder, upon the passage.


See the Doctrinal paragraphs.—Jacob between Laban and Esau on his homeward journey.—Jacob’s progress from struggle to struggle.—His conflict with Laban compared with that with Esau.—His struggle with men, in comparison with that with God.—How the sins of youth are punished after a long period of years. How Jacob, through his prayer, passes from the plan of flight from Esau, suggested by his human fears, to the method of attacking him with the weapons of humility and love; from a mere human defensive, to a divine offensive.—The prayer of Jacob.—The distinction between his prayer and his wrestling.—Jacob’s act of faith in crossing the Jabbok.—Jacob’s struggle and victory, or how from Jacob he became Israel.—The features of the development of revealed faith in Jacob’s wrestling: 1. The germ of the incarnation (Godhead and humanity wrestling with each other; the Godhead in the form of a man); 2. the germ of the atonement (sacrifice of the human will); 3. the germ of justification by faith (I will not let thee go, etc.); 4. the germ of the new-birth (Jacob, Israel); 5. the germ of the principle of love to one’s enemies (the reconciliation with God, reconciliation with the world).—Jacob’s night and Jacob’s dawn.—The sacrifice of human prudence upon the altar of God, one of the most difficult sacrifices (more so than that of human strength).—Bethel, Mahanaim, Peniel, divine stations in the journey of the pilgrim of faith.—The shepherd train of Jacob, and the warlike procession of Esau.—Civility a barrier against injury, and a source of security and protection.—In their tears Jacob and Esau are twins once more.—Thus the nobler life of the world and the life of faith have twin elements and moments.—The permanent friendship between Jacob and Esau (persons so in antipathy with each other, the children of God and men of the world, the church and the state), under proper conditions and at proper distances.—The triumph of departing Esau, and Jacob (the future Bedouin sheik and the ancestor of Israel).—Jacob between the Jabbok and the Jordan.—The return of the banished to his fatherland.—The native country.—The bloom of patriarchalism.

First Section, 4–7. Starke: Christians must be open to reconciliation with their enemies (Romans 12:18).—Schröder: If his mother had sent him the message, as was agreed upon: Thy brother has now laid aside his anger, then Jacob would have had an easier journey than now, when he returns leaning upon the hand of the invisible God (Baumgarten).—The little ship nears the haven, all depends on this last moment.—Esau as prince in Mount Seir.—Thus he chooses with perfect freedom what God has from the beginning determined (Baum. and Calvin).

Second Section, Genesis 32:8-9. Schröder: We must not overlook the name of Jehovah in his prayer. The danger is so great that a mere general belief in a general providence will not sustain him (Hengstenberg).

Third Section, Genesis 32:10-13. Starke: Nothing is more humbling than the grace of God.—Cramer: There is no better way to avoid danger than by be lieving prayer (Psalms 27:8).—Schröder: His humility does not blush at the recollection: for with my staff, etc.—The mother with the children. The words describe the most relentless cruelty.—The death of a mother, over and with her children, is the most cruel way of taking life imaginable (Baumgarten).—God saved his promise in saving Jacob.—Taube: The school of the cross is the most glorious school, for: 1. It reveals his God to the Christian; 2. it reveals also the Christian heart before God and the world.

Fourth Section, Genesis 32:14-22. Starke: If we may infer from his presents, as to the size of his flocks of different kinds, we shall easily see how abundantly God has blessed Jacob, and fulfilled to him his promise of prosperity.—Schröder: He chooses milchcamels because they are more valuable for their milk, which is used by the Arabians as a drink. The camel’s milk becomes intoxicating when it has stood a few hours, but when fresh has no such property (Michaelis).

Fifth Section, Genesis 32:23-32. Starke: Cramer: When a Christian has prayed, he is not to sit down in idleness and security, but should consider well how he may best accomplish his end.—There is no better way to win the heart of an enemy than by good deeds (1 Samuel 25:18).—Bibl. Tub.: There is no conflict more blessed and glorious than when we wrestle with God in faith and prayer, and thus take heaven by violence.—Osiander: God is often accustomed thus to try his saints, and prove their faith; he sends upon them many afflictions at the same time, but still sustains his saints so that they shall not sink (Exodus 4:24; Psalms 38:6 ff.).—We bear about with us the marks of our sin, our misery, and our mortality, that we may not become proud (2 Corinthians 12:7).—(Genesis 32:26. The Jews, who hold this man to have been an angel, suppose that in thus addressing Jacob he wished to remind him that it was time for him to sing his morning song. For the Jews believed that at the dawn the angels raised their hymns of praise to God.

Genesis 32:28 (no more; No, here, is equivalent with not alone).—Luther: Here the temptation to despair often enters, a temptation by which the greatest saints are wont to be tried. Whoever stands the test, he comes to the perfect knowledge of the will of God, so that he can say, I have seen God face to face.—Hall: When the angel of the covenant has once blessed, no trial can make us miserable (John 10:28).—(Genesis 32:32. The Jews think that Jacob was healed at Sichem, and hence the city was called Shalem.)—Compare the conflict of Jacob after he had crossed the Jabbok, with the conflict of Jesus in Gethsemane, after he had crossed the Kedron. [Wordsworth also has a long and suggestive note, in which Jacob is held up as a type of Christ, and this comparison is carried out into various minute points.—A. G.]—Jacob a type of the New-Testament church.—Bibl. Tub.: They are blessed who see the face of God in faith, for thus their souls are healed.—Cramer: To see God is the best food for souls, their strength and courage (1 Corinthians 13:12).—Gerlach, upon the 28th verse: In the words, with men, God reminds him of the more consolatory aspect of the events of his former life, of the opposition which first Esau, then Isaac, etc (We must remember, however, that in the previous struggles he was victorious as Jacob merely.)—Calw. Hand.: Although all human power is weakness compared with God, yet he suffers himself to be overcome by faith and prayer.—His name truly was a confession of his sin.—Schröder: Quotations from G. D. Krummacher’s “Contest and Victory of Jacob.”—The thigh is the very basis of the body; when it is put out of joint the body falls (Krummacher: Jacob, however, did not fall).—There was nothing left for him but to hang upon his neck if he would not fall.—Hope maketh not ashamed—The wrestler first for himself and with men, then with God and with men, lastly for God and for men.—The name of Christian is the completion of the name Israel.—Taube: Jacob’s conflict and victory: 1. The contest; 2. the victory.

Sixth Section, Genesis 33:1-11. Starke: In this manner we Christians are in the eyes of the world the most miserable, subject to every one, but in truth we are and remain the heirs of heaven and earth.

Genesis 33:7. The wives of Jacob. Now when they thought to reach his father’s house and their kindred, they are in fear of death. This was certainly a severe test.—How beautiful when contending parties come together; but then previous difficulties must not be called up (Romans 12:10).—In the world, among all outward means there are none more effectual than presents and gifts (Proverbs 17:8).—Gerlach: An atoning present is indeed blessing (1 Samuel 25:27).—Lisco: His victory of faith is typical for all the children of God.

Seventh Section, Genesis 32:12-16. Starke: (Genesis 32:14.) Some are offended at Jacob and have charged him with deceit (Calvin). But it rather seems that at the first he was willing to go thither. Perhaps God had warned him, as he did the wise men (Matthew 2:12).

Genesis 33:15. Osiander: All official persons in ecclesiastical or worldly positions should use wise precaution, that they may direct affairs according to the power of those who are entrusted to them, lest they should be rather injured than helped.—Schröder: Luther: Note, the justified and those resting in their good works cannot walk together.—Calw. Hand.: Persons so widely different as Esau and Jacob are the best friends when they do not come into too close relations.—Schröder: The sacred Scriptures are indeed sacred. As the dark side of the elect is revealed without any attempt at concealment, so they do not pass without notice the brighter features of those who are without. We find traces of the divine image in every one, and it is too frequently true that the world teaches morality to the believer.


[1][Genesis 32:13.—The night after the return of the messengers, and his arrangement of his company.—A. G.]

[2][Genesis 32:20.—Heb., cover his face; and so, in the last clause: he will lift up my face.—A. G.]

[3][Genesis 32:24.—יֵאָבֵק, an antique form, only used here and Genesis 32:25-26, from אָבַק,to struggle with, or the kindred root חָבַק, to limit, enclose, as one member the other. Keil, p. 219.—A. G.]

[4][Genesis 33:5.—Lit., Who these to thee.—A. G.]

[5][Genesis 33:8.—What to thee all this train.—A. G.]

[6][Genesis 33:13.—Heb., which are milking.—A. G.]

[7][Genesis 33:14.—According to the foot, or pace.—A. G.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 32". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/genesis-32.html. 1857-84.
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