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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



The angels of God meet Jacob: he sends messengers to Esau, with presents, to soften him. Jacob wrestles all night with God, and prevails, and is thence named Israel.

Before Christ 1897.

Verse 1

Genesis 32:1. The angels of God, &c.— When Jacob embarked in this enterprize, and left Canaan, God was pleased to encourage him by a vision of angels, and by the assurance of his protection: and now that he was returning, happily escaped from Laban, but with good reason afraid of Esau, another vision of the celestial messengers is presented to him. From the vision of the angelical powers, he called the place, by a military name, referring to the idea of hosts or armies, Mahanaim, or camps, which is not a dual, but a plural word; and therefore all that has been said of two camps, is built upon a mistake, Psalms 34:7. Mahanaim was situated between Mount Gilead and the brook Jabbok: it was afterwards one of the residences of the Levites, and one of the strong places of David.

REFLECTIONS.—God hath preserved the patriarch hitherto, and still continues to guard him safe home. He had the promise of protection, and he trusted in it: now he has the sight of his angelic convoy, and may be comforted. Who can hurt them to whom angels minister? And need there was of every support; for his part dangers were only the prelude of greater impending. God thus prepares his people by strong consolations for difficult services. Note; When the believer draws near his last conflict in death, then shall these attendant spirits surround the dying bed, to welcome the departing soul, and lodge it safe in the bosom of Jesus.*

[* The lines of our ancient poet on the ministration of angels to the heirs of glory, are so suitable to the present subject, and so extremely beautiful, that I cannot forbear inserting them.
And is there care in heaven? And is there love In heavenly spirits to these creatures base, That may compassion of their evils move? There is: else much more wretched were the case Of men than beasts. But O! th' exceeding grace Of highest God that loves his creatures so, And all his works with mercy doth embrace, That blessed Angels he sends to and fro To serve to wicked man, to serve his wicked foe!
How do they their silver bowers leave To come to succour us that succour want? How oft do they with golden pinions cleave The flitting skies, like flying Pursuivant, Against foul fiends to aid us militant? They for us fight, they watch and duly ward, And their bright Squadrons round about us plant; And all for love, and nothing for reward: O why should heavenly God to men have such regard!]

Verse 3

Genesis 32:3. Jacob sent messengers, &c.— It was very natural for Jacob to conceive fearful apprehensions of Esau, and very prudential in him to take all proper methods to conciliate his favour; and this consistently with the firmest dependance upon the protection of that God who had so graciously revealed himself to him: for it never has appeared that God's providential care is intended to supersede our own just and proper endeavours. As, therefore, he was about to pass over Jordan, he sent a message to his brother, Gen 32:4 that, as Dr. Shuckford observes, he might found his inclination to him, mollify his resentment, if any remained, and win his friendship by complaisance and respect. Nor was it only in order to reconcile Esau that he sent these messengers to him, but also to apprize him that he brought his subsistence with him from Haran, and that he was not going into Canaan to do him any injury: whereas, had he returned home without Esau's knowledge, Esau might have thought that Jacob had got the greatest part of his substance from his father; and when he came, at Isaac's death, to take away with him to Edom what his father had to leave him, he might have looked upon Jacob as having defrauded him of his right.

The land of Seir, the country of Edom, was situated on the south of the Dead-Sea, thence extending to the Arabian Gulph, 1 Kings 9:26. It was distant from Galeed, where Jacob now was, about one hundred and twenty miles. It took its name Seir from a considerable person of that name among the Horites, who possessed it before Esau: but Esau, it seems, having conquered it in Jacob's absence, verified his father's prediction, by thy sword shalt thou live, ch. Genesis 27:40. and from him it was called, the country of Edom. See Wells's Geogr. vol. 1: p. 354.

Verse 5

Genesis 32:5. I have oxen, &c.— Jacob mentions this to give the more weight to his address, and to shew Esau, that he did not come to be a burden to him, nor to dispute with him the possession of his father's inheritance, though he had a right to it.

Verse 7

Genesis 32:7. Jacob was greatly afraid, &c.— When the messengers returned with the information that Esau was advancing to meet Jacob, with four hundred men, having no idea of his brother's kind and honourable intentions to him, Jacob apprehended little less than destruction. He resolved, however, to make use of every prudent measure; and accordingly, not only divided his train into two distinct bands, but sent magnificent presents, disposed in striking order, to soothe his brother; and had recourse in a most humble and fervent prayer to the God who had graciously engaged to protect him, Genesis 32:9. His prayer is a pattern for all grateful minds, and testifies at once the most humble and most thankful disposition, I am not worthy, &c.

Verse 10

Genesis 32:10. With my staff, &c.— When this expression is properly considered, it will not be found to contradict the opinion we have advanced in our note on ch. 28: Gen 32:5 for it simply means, "I passed this Jordan without family, or social connections, a single man, and unpossessed of wife, family, or possessions; with all which it hath pleased the Lord now so to bless me, that I, the individual who crossed the river, am become two bands." He might say this with great truth, supposing him to have been accompanied with servants and attendants from his father's house. It is very evident that Jacob had the most formidable sense of Esau's revengeful temper, from the expression he uses at the end of the 11th verse, which expression implies such an instance of cruelty, as shocks human nature; I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with, or upon the children, i.e.. lest he will totally destroy and extirpate me and mine. See Hosea 10:14.Jeremiah 13:14; Jeremiah 13:14.

REFLECTIONS.—Justly apprehensive of Esau's old grudge, he endeavours to pacify him by a kind and humble message, acquainting him with his return, and the prosperity God had given him. Note; 1. Yielding pacifies wrath. It is often wise to make submissions to superiors, though unjustly exasperated against us. 2. Abundance, which should make a good brother rejoice, often proves to a wicked one an occasion of greater envy and displeasure.

We have in the next place,
1. The Messenger's return; and an alarming answer he brought back. Note; What would become of the poor church of Christ, if some support more than human did not attend it?

2. Jacob's fear. And reason enough he had for it. Note; (1.) Repeated trials must be expected by every Christian. (2.) There may be some fear of approaching danger, where there is yet much confidence in the promise.

3. His disposition of his family. At least one part may escape, if the other be smitten. Note; Though God hath given us his promise, we are nevertheless called to the use of all prudent means.

Jacob having now made the best disposition his circumstances would admit of, depended more, notwithstanding, on the effects of prayer, than upon the arm of flesh. Accordingly we find him pouring out his distress before God. Note; The more danger presses us, the more loud should be our cry to God; for in him is our help. A glorious prayer this was, and well worth notice: his plea is urgent, and his arguments forcible. He approaches God as his Covenant-God, as having the entail of the blessings promised to Abraham and Isaac. He pleads God's warrant for his journey, and therefore God's honour engaged for his protection. He acknowledges his own unworthiness of any favour, yet with thankfulness mentions the great mercies he had received, as an argument to hope for more. He then speaks his fears and distress from his apprehensions of Esau; and, as he had no prospect of help elsewhere, commits his cause with earnest importunity into his hand who was able to save him, and closes with the plea of God's faithfulness; not so much perhaps to remind him of his promise, as to encourage his own heart to depend upon it. Learn hence, 1. In all your trials, to spread them before the Lord. 2. To come to God as your Covenant-God, believing his readiness to hear and help you. 3. When we are in the way of our duty, we may boldly claim the fulfilment of the promises. 4. Never let us forget our own vileness and sinfulness: Nor, 5. the great and repeated mercies we have already received, that no present distress may prevent our grateful acknowledgments. 6. We cannot be too particular in our prayers, mentioning to God persons and circumstances, as to a friend who can be touched with the feeling of our distresses. 7. We should rise from our knees with full faith and confidence in the promises and faithfulness of God.

Verse 13

Genesis 32:13. Which came to his hand Not any thing which offered itself by chance, as this phrase seems to import: for it is very evident, that the present was selected with great care, and was of the choicest kind: milch-camels in particular were a very exquisite present, as their milk was held in the greatest estimation: see Bochart Hieroz. p. 1. But the phrase means, which was in his power, which he had to present him with, see 1 Samuel 25:8. This whole transaction and disposition of the present shews the prudence and sagacity of Jacob.

REFLECTIONS.—Jacob having poured out his soul to God in prayer, in dependance on his care, takes the most likely methods to appease his brother's resentment.

1. By a considerable present, so divided into several droves, as both to set them off, and to serve, from their repeated reproach, to stay Esau for inquiry: thus giving him time to think, and such matter to muse upon, as might allay the fury of his anger. Note; (1.) We cannot buy peace too dear, if we sell not our conscience. (2.) It is wisdom to present a part, if that can preserve the whole. Some through covetousness to spare a shilling, often lose a pound.

2. By a submissive message. Esau must be called my lord, and Jacob his servant. Alas! it tickles vain minds to have their titles repeated to them. Every servant pays his respects in Jacob's name, and adds, that Jacob himself was behind. Note; Apparent confidence in a man's goodness lays him under a kind of obligation to shew it.

Verse 22

Genesis 32:22. Rose up that night That is, towards the close of the night, before break of day; when setting forward his family, who crossed the brook called Jabbok, which rises out of the adjacent mountains of Gilead, he was left alone, choosing to be so, in order, no doubt, to address himself more fervently to God, and to strive earnestly with him for his blessing, which the subsequent wrestling was designed to figure, as the prophet Hosea, ch. Genesis 12:4. plainly informs us. That it was a real event, and no dream or visionary representation, appears from the whole tenor of the history, as well as from that passage in Hosea to which we have referred. It is probable, that the Divine Person was at first unknown to Jacob when he entered into contest with him, but was discovered to him in the event, and the whole affair, consequently, unravelled in its mystical and spiritual meaning. See the next note.

Verse 24

Genesis 32:24. There wrestled a man with him, &c.— From the prophet Hosea, ch. Genesis 12:5. it appears undeniable, that this man or person, who wrestled with Jacob, was the same with him who appeared to him at Beth-el; that is, the second Divine Person, who assumed probably a human form, and whom the prophet Hosea calls the Lord God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial. This is equally evident from the name which Jacob gives the place where this transaction happened, Peni-el, the face of God; from the reason of the name, for I have seen God (el) face to face, Gen 32:30 and from the name which that Divine Person gave to Jacob, Isra-el, Gen 32:28 of which we shall say more hereafter. Such being the person, we may reasonably inquire into the meaning of the transaction. Bishop Warburton (Divine Legation) observes, that information by action was at this time a very familiar mode of instruction, and the deficiences of languages were supplied by significative signs. If we turn back to Jacob's prayer, and consider the circumstances he was in when it pleased God to wrestle with him, we may perceive that God's intention was to inform him of the happy issue of his adventure, and that his petition was granted, by a significative action. But as this is not followed by an express explanation, this circumstance in Jacob's history has afforded abundant mirth to illiterate libertines, and manifested their ignorance likewise. For this information by action concerning only the actor, who little needed to be told the meaning of a mode of instruction at that time in vulgar use, hath now an obscurity, which the Scripture relations of the same mode of information to the prophets are free from, by reason of their being given for the use of the people to whom they were to be explained.

Verse 25

Genesis 32:25. And when he saw, &c.— The Angel or Divine Person prevailed not, because he was willing to give Jacob the apparent superiority. But, at the same time, to convince him how easily he could have prevailed; had he thought fit, by a single touch he dislocated the joint of his thigh: and hinting that it was time for him to depart, in order to give Jacob an opportunity to pursue his journey, as the day was breaking, Jacob shews that he had fully learned who he was, by saying, I will not let thee go, unless thou bless me: and as blessing was the peculiar prerogative of God, he proves hereby sufficiently that he believed that Person to be Divine. See Grotius on the place.

Verse 27

Genesis 32:27. And he said unto him, What, &c.— This inquiry is made, not for information, but for the sake of giving the new name following. The words should here be rendered more properly, Genesis 32:28. Thy name shall be called not only Jacob, but Israel; or Israel rather than Jacob: that is, a man prevailing with God, rather than a supplanter.

Verse 28

Genesis 32:28. For as a prince, &c.— Our translation renders these words of the Angel to Jacob, as if Jacob had prevailed over men as well as over him; whereas he had been so far from prevailing over the only two enemies he had, viz. Esau and Laban, that he had been forced to flee from them both. This makes it therefore necessary to have recourse to a better version of these words, if the original can bear us out in it; which it will do, without the least violence, or rather by following the most strict and literal sense of it, which runs thus: thou hast acted or behaved prince-like (in thy wrestling) with GOD, and thou shalt also prevail over men. And indeed, what could be more comfortable to Jacob in the strait he was in, about meeting his brother Esau, than such a promise? or what can more naturally account for the vision of angels, as well as this appearance of Jehovah, than to suppose that he was favoured with them, in order to dispel his fear, as well as, no doubt, to afford him spiritual strength. This version is likewise more agreeable to the Chaldee paraphrase, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate, which render it thus: if thou hast been thus far able to prevail with GOD, how much more wilt thou be able to prevail over men! As to the Person who wrestled with Jacob, some have believed him to be a mere angel, only because Hosea calls him by that name (ch. Genesis 12:4.); whereas, when it is God or Christ that appears like one, he is distinguished by the Angel of the Covenant, or some other word. But what follows in the very next verse of the prophet just quoted, plainly confutes that notion; he found him in Beth-el, even the LORD GOD of hosts. That it was GOD who met him in Bethel is plain, by his saying, I am the God of Beth-el. The general opinion therefore of ancient and modern authors is, that it was CHRIST who wrestled with Jacob here.

Verse 29

Genesis 32:29. And Jacob said,—Tell me, I pray thee, thy name i.e.. That I may do thee honour, and pay thee worship, under that peculiar attribute and title which suits this condescension and revelation of thyself to me. The Divine Person replies, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? as much as to say, Can'st thou be ignorant who I am, or how I have regarded thee and thy family? I who am the God of Beth-el, &c. But, fully to satisfy thee, I will bless thee; that is, most probably, renew to thee the Abrahamic blessing. For we find that Jacob doubted no longer: he gave the place the name of Penuel, or Peniel, immediately; and he adds, because I have seen God face to face, i.e.. have had an immediate and direct revelation of God to me. See ch. Genesis 35:9. and note on ch. Genesis 16:13.

Verse 31

Genesis 32:31. He halted upon his thigh, &c.— Some think that he continued to do so all his life after; others, that his lameness continued only for a time: the latter seems the most probable. However, to preserve the memory of this extraordinary event, the descendants of Israel eat not of that sinew (or tendon) of any animal, which fastens the hip-bone in its socket, which comprehends the flesh of that muscle which is connected with it. See Bishop Patrick. Some have been so scrupulous as never to eat of the whole hind-quarter; while others, less so, abstain from the thigh only, and some only from the sinew above-mentioned. Dr. Harle, in his Essay on Physic in the Old and New Testament, says, that "the Angel touched (when it was upon the stretch) the sinew, or gave it a smart stroke, to disable his antagonist, by stupefying and benumbing the part for the present, which was all that was necessary for his yielding. If it had been a luxation, or a dislodging of the head of the thigh-bone from its socket on a sudden, and with violence, he must have felt it immediately; whereas it was not taken notice of till the sun was up, and he was walking up the hill. It seems rather to have been a subluxation, a less and partial remove of the bone from its place, which has less pain, and is easier gone with. Either of these might continue his life-long. These luxations, especially those of the first sort, are hard, some say impossible, to be cured, and frequently happened in wrestling. It is said to be the sinew that shrank, because of the apparent shortness of the leg upon standing or moving. Luxations of this kind were so common among wrestlers, that they had physicians or surgeons provided to give some immediate assistance to the sufferer." See Saurin's 31st Dissertation.

REFLECTIONS.—Jacob having dismissed his servants, in the next place takes care to remove his family and children over the brook, choosing to spend some time alone with God in prayer and supplication. Note; While we are using means, we must be looking up to God for a blessing on them. We have hereupon a very singular occurrence.

1. A man wrestled with him: a man in form, but more than man in nature, even the great God-man, the Angel of the Covenant. Jacob now had a sore conflict to sustain, which extorted from him strong crying and tears; for while he struggled, he wept, and made supplications to the Angel. Note; They who would prevail in temptation, must first wrestle in prayer with God.

2. Jacob's perseverance. He who wrestled with him, upheld his strength, and but opposed to make his victory more glorious. Note; If God exercises us with sore conflicts, we may have confidence in him, that as our day is, our strength shall be.

3. The Angel's touch disjointing his thigh: probably without pain, yet incapacitating him for corporal struggle: not, however, inducing him to quit his hold, or give up the contest. Note; When we are weak, then are we strong: the deepest sense of our own insufficiency gives our faith more hold of Christ and determined trust in him.

4. The Angel's request to be gone, because the day breaks. He who had disjointed his thigh, might have disjointed his arms too; but he seeks not to prevail, only to exercise Jacob's faith and constancy. His family calls, business approaches; and these usually oblige us to leave the closet of prayer for the employments of our profession. But,
5. He will not let him go without a blessing. He knew with whom he had to do, and resolves, though he were slain, to trust in him, and by a holy importunity extorts his benediction. Note; Christ loves importunate fervent prayer.

6. His prayer is granted, and, in token of it, his name is changed into Israel, a Prince with God. Note; (1.) Perseverance will certainly be crowned with victory. (2.) Let every Israelite indeed shew by his prayers his relation to the patriarch.

7. In grateful acknowledgment of the mercy shewn him, he calls the place Peniel. They who have received most from God, will never value themselves on their own prayers or piety, but wonder at God's pity and condescension to them.
8. On parting, at sun-rising he finds his halting. In the heat of contest, the hurt is less felt. But it is an honourable scar; and the inconvenience it occasioned, is well repaid by the constant remembrance of the mercy. Note; It were happy for professors, if the rising sun found them not on beds of sloth, but rising from the place of prayer.

9. The custom observed by posterity, to continue the memory of God's goodness to their father Jacob. Children's children should look back upon their fathers' mercies as their own.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 32". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-32.html. 1801-1803.
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