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Tuesday, May 21st, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-23


Genesis 32:1

And Jacob (after Laban's departure) went on his way (from Galeed and Mizpah, in a southerly direction towards the Jabbok), and the angels of God—literally, the messengers of Elohim, not chance travelers who informed him of Esau's being in the vicinity (Abarbanel), but angels (cf. Psalms 104:4)—met him. Not necessarily came in an opposite direction, fuerunt ei obviam (Vulgate), but simply fell in with him, lighted on him as in Genesis 28:11, συνήντησαν αὐτῶ (LXX.), forgathered with him (Scottish); but whether this was in a waking vision (Kurtz, Keil, Inglis) or a midnight dream (Hengstenberg) is uncertain, though-the two former visions enjoyed by Jacob were at night (cf. Genesis 28:12; Genesis 31:10). Cajetan, approved by Pererius, translating בּוֹ "in him," makes it appear that the vision was purely subjective, non fuisse visionem corporalem, sed internam: the clause interpolated by the LXX; καὶ ἀναβλέψας εἰδε παρεμβολὴν θεοῦ παρμεβεβληκυῖαν, seems rather to point to an objective manifestation. The appearance of this invisible host may have been designed to celebrate Jacob's triumph over Laban, as after Christ's victory over Satan in the wilderness angels came and ministered unto him (Rupertus, Wordsworth), or to remind him that he owed his deliverance to Divine interposition (Calvin, Bush, Lange), but was more probably intended to assure him of protection in his approaching interview with Esau (Josephus, Chrysostom, Rosenmüller, Keil, Murphy, 'Speaker's Commentary'), and perhaps also to give him welcome in returning home again to Canaan (Kurtz), if not in addition to suggest that his descendants would require to fight for their inheritance (Kalisch).

Genesis 32:2

And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host:—Mahaneh Elohim; i.e. the army (cf. Genesis 1:9; Exodus 14:24) or camp (1 Samuel 14:15; Psalms 27:3) of God, as opposed to the Mahanoth, or bands of Jacob himself (vide Genesis 32:7, Genesis 32:10)—and he called the name of that place Manahan.i.e. Two armies or camps, from the root חָנַה decline or bend, and hence to fix oneself down or encamp; meaning either a multitudinous host, reading the dual for a plural (Malvenda), or two bands of angels, one before, welcoming him to Canaan, and another behind, conducting him from Mesopotamia (Jarchi and others), or one on either side to typify the completeness of his protection, as in Psalms 34:8 (Calvin, Bush, Gerlach, 'Speaker's Commentary'), or, as the best expositors interpret, his own company and the heavenly host (Abort Ezra, Clericus, Dathe, Keil, Lange, Rosenmüller, Kalisch, Murphy). Mahanaim, afterwards a distinguished city in the territory of Gad (Joshua 13:26), and frequently referred to in subsequent Scripture (2 Samuel 2:8; 2 Samuel 17:24; 27; 2 Samuel 19:32; 1 Kings 4:14), as well as mentioned by Josephus ('Ant.' 7. 9, 8), as a strong and beautiful city, has been identified with Mahneh, a deserted ruin six or seven miles north-west by north of Ajlun (Mount Gilead), and about twenty miles from the Jabbok; but the narrative appears to say that Mahanaim lay not north of Ga-leed, but between that place and Jabbok. Hence Porter suggests Gerasa, the most splendid ruin east of the Jordan, and bordering on the Jabbok, as occupying the site of Mahanaim.

Genesis 32:3

And Jacob sent messengers (with the messengers of Jacob, the messengers of Elohim form a contrast which can scarcely have been accidental) before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir,—vide on Genesis 14:6. Seir, nearly equivalent in force to Esau (Ewald), and meaning the rough or bristling mountain (Gesenius), was originally occupied by the Horites, but afterwards became the seat of Esau and his descendants (Deuteronomy 2:4; 2 Chronicles 20:10), though as yet Esau had not withdrawn from Canaan (Genesis 36:5-8)—the country (literally, plain or level tract = Padan (male Hoses Genesis 12:13) of Edom, as it was afterwards called.

Genesis 32:4, Genesis 32:5

And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus;—the expression "my lord "may have been designed to intimate to Esau that he (Jacob) did not intend to assert that superiority or precedency which had been assigned him by Isaac's blessing (Genesis 27:29), at least so far as to claim a share in Isaac's wealth (Calvin, Bush, Gerlach), but was probably due chiefly to the extreme courtesy of the East (Gerlach), or to a desire to conciliate his brother (Keil), or to a feeling of personal contrition for his misbehavior towards Esau (Kalisch), and perhaps also to a secret apprehension of danger from Esau's approach (Alford, Inglis)—I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed—אֵחַרthe fut. Kal. of אָחַרoccurring only here, is a contraction for אֶאֱחַר, like תֹּסֵק for תֹּאסֵק (Psalms 104:29; vide Gesenius, § 68, 2)—there until now: and I have (literally, there are to me, so that I stand in need of no further wealth from either thee or Isaac) oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and women servants:—cf. Genesis 12:16 (Abraham); Genesis 26:13, Genesis 26:14 (Isaac)—and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight (cf. Genesis 33:8, Genesis 33:15; Genesis 39:4; and vide Genesis 6:8; Genesis 18:3).

Genesis 32:6

And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee (vide Genesis 33:1), and four hundred men with him. That Esau was attended by 400 armed followers was a proof that he had grown to be a powerful chieftain. If the hypothesis be admissible that he had already begun to live by the sword (Genesis 27:40), and was now invading the territory of the Horites, which he afterwards occupied (Delitzsch, Keil, Kurtz), it will serve to explain his appearance in the land of Seir, while as yet he had not finally retired from Canaan. That he came with such a formidable force to meet his brother has been set down to personal vanity, or a desire to show how powerful a prince he had become (Lyra, Menochius); to fraternal kindness, which prompted him to do honor to his brother (Poole, Calvin, Clarke), to a distinctly hostile intention (Willet, Ainsworth, Candlish), at least if circumstances should seem to call for vengeance (Keil), though it is probable that Esau's mind, on first hearing of his brother's nearness, was simply excited, and "in that wavering state which the slightest incident might soothe into good will, or rouse into vengeance" (Murphy).

Genesis 32:7, Genesis 32:8

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed:—literally, it was narrow to him; i.e. he was perplexed. Clearly the impression left on Jacob's mind by the report of his ambassadors was that he had nothing to expect but hostility—and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;—according to Gerlach, caravans are frequently divided thus in the present day, and for the same reason as Jacob assigns—And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape. It is easy to blame Jacob for want of faith in not trusting to God instead of resorting to his own devices (Candlish), but his behavior in the circumstances evinced great self-possession, non ita expavefactum fuisse Jacob quin res suns eomponeret (Calvin), considerable prudence (Lange), if not exalted chivalry (Candlish), a peaceful disposition which did not wish vim armata repellere (Rosenmüller), and a truly-religious spirit ('Speaker's Commentary'), since in his terror he betakes himself to prayer.

Genesis 32:9-12

And Jacob said,—the combined beauty and power, humility and boldness, simplicity and sublimity, brevity and comprehensiveness of this prayer, of which Kalisch somewhat hypercritically complains that it ought to have been offered before resorting to the preceding precautions, has been universally recognized—O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord—Jacob's invocation is addressed not to Deity in general, but to the living personal Elohim who had taken his fathers Abraham and Isaac into covenant, i.e. to Jehovah who had enriched them with promises of which he was the heir, and who had specially appeared unto himself (cf. Genesis 28:13; Genesis 31:3, Genesis 31:13)—which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:—here was a clear indication that Jacob had in faith both obeyed the command and embraced the promise made known to him in Haran—I am not worthy of the least of (literally, I am less than) all the mercies, and (of) all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant;—the profound humility which these words breathe is a sure indication that the character of Jacob had either undergone a great inward transformation, if that was not experienced twenty years before at Bethel, or had shaken off the moral and spiritual lethargy under which he too manifestly labored while in the service of Laban—for with my staff (i.e. possessing nothing but my staff) I passed over this Jordan (the Jabbok was situated near, indeed is a tributary of the Jordan); and now I am become two bands (or Macha-noth). Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau (thus passing from thanksgiving to direct petition, brief, explicit, and fervent): for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me (i.e. my whole clan, as Ishmael, Israel, Edom signify not individuals, but races), and the mother with the children. Literally, mother upon the children, a proverbial expression for unsparing cruelty (Rosenmüller, Keil), or complete extirpation (Kalisch), taken from the idea of destroying a bird while sitting upon its young (cf. Hosea 10:14). And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good,—literally, doing good, I will do good to thee (vide Genesis 28:13). Jacob here pleads the Divine promises at Bethel (Genesis 28:13-15) and at Haran (Genesis 31:3), as an argument why Jehovah should extend to him protection against Esau—conduct at which Tuch is scandalized as "somewhat inaptly reminding God of his commands and promises, and calling upon him to keep his word; but just this is what God expects his people to do (Isaiah 43:26), and according to Scripture the Divine promise is always the petitioner's best warrant—and make thy seed as the sand of the sea,—this was the sense, without the ipsissima verb? of the Bethel promise, which likened Jacob's descendants to the dust upon the ground, as Abraham's seed had previously been compared to the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16), the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:5), and the sand upon the sea-shore (Genesis 22:17)—which cannot be numbered for multitude.

Genesis 32:13

And he lodged there that same night; and took—not by random, but after careful selection; separavit (Vulgate)—of that which came to his hand—not of those things which were in his hand, ω}n e!feren (LXX.), such as he had (Ainsworth), quae in mann erant (Rosenmüller), but of such things as had come into his hand, i.e. as he had acquired (Keil, Alford, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Inglis)—a present (Minchah; used in Genesis 4:3, Genesis 4:4, Genesis 4:5, as a sacrifice to Jehovah, q.v.) for Esau his brother.

Genesis 32:14, Genesis 32:15

Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams, thirty milch camels (specially valuable in the East on account of their milk, which was peculiarly sweet and wholesome) with their colts, forty kine, and ten hulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals. The selection was in harmony witch the general possessions of nomads (cf. Job 1:3; Job 42:12), and the proportion of male to female animals was arranged according to what the experience of the best ancient authorities has shown to be necessary for the purposes of breeding (Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch).

Genesis 32:16

And he delivered them into the Band of his servants, every drove by themselves; and said unto his servants, Passover (the river Jabbok) before me, and put a space (literally, a breathing-place) betwixt drove and drove—as is still the manner with Oriental shepherds.

Genesis 32:17-20

And he commanded the foremost, saying (with admirable tact and prudence), When Esau my brother meeteth thee, and asketh thee, saying, Whose art thou? and whither goest thou? and whose are these before thee! then thou shalt say, They be thy servant Jacob's; it is a present sent unto my lord Esau: and, behold, also he (Jacob) is behind us. And so commanded he the second, and the third, and all that followed the droves, saying, On this manner shall ye speak unto Esau, when ye find him—literally, in your finding of him. And say ye (literally, and ye shall say) moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob is Behind us'' for he thought that this would convince Esau that he Went to 'meet him with complete confidence, and without apprehension" (Kalisch)—for he said (the historian adds the motive which explained Jacob's singular behavior), I will appease him (literally, I will cover his face, meaning I will prevent him from seeing my past offences, i.e. I will turn away his anger or pacify him, as in Proverbs 16:14) with the present that goeth before me,—literally, going before my face. So Abigail appeased David with a present (1 Samuel 25:18-32)—and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept of me—literally, lift up my face; a proverbial expression for granting a favorable reception (cf. Genesis 19:21; Job 42:8). "Jacob did not miscalculate the influence of his princely offerings, and I verily believe there is not an emeer or sheikh in all Gilead at this day who would not be appeased by such presents; and from my personal knowledge of Orientals, I should say that Jacob need not have been in such great terror, following in their rear. Far less will now 'make room,' as Solomon says, for any offender, however atrocious, and bring him before great men with acceptance".

Genesis 32:21-23

So (literally, and) went the present over Before him: and himself lodged that night in the company. And he rose up that night,—i.e. some time before daybreak (vide Genesis 32:24) and took his two wives, and him two women servants (Bilhah and Zilpah), and his eleven sons (Dinah being not mentioned in accordance with the common usage of the Bible), and passed over the ford—the word signifies a place of passing over. Tristram speaks of the strong current reaching the horses girths at the ford crossed by himself and twenty horsemen—Jabbok. Jabbok, from bakak, to empty, to pour forth (Kalisch), or from abak, to struggle (Keil), may have been so named either from the natural appearance of the river, or, as is more probable, by prolepsis from the wrestling which took place upon its banks. It is now called the Wady Zerka, or Blue River, which flows into the Jordan, nearly opposite Shechem, and midway between the Lake Tiberias and the Dead Sea. The stream is rapid, and often Completely hidden by the dense mass of oleander which fringes its banks. And he took them, and sent them (literally, caused them to pass) over the brook, and sent over that he had—himself remaining on the north side (Delitzsch, Keil, Kurtz, Murphy, Gerlach, Wordsworth, Alford), although, having once crossed the stream (Genesis 32:22), it is not perfectly apparent that he recrossed, which has led some to argue that the wrestling occurred on the south of the river (Knobel, Rosenmüller, Lange, Kalisch).


Genesis 32:1-23

Mahanaim, or preparing for Esau.


1. The time when it occurred.

(1) After Jacob had concluded a covenant of peace with Laban. Celestial visitations of a peaceful and encouraging character are never vouchsafed to those who are living in a state of enmity with their fellow-men. The troubled sea reflects not the shining face of heaven, and neither does the wrathful soul invite approaches of God.

(2) When Jacob was proceeding on his way to Canaan. The road which Jacob now pursued was the path of duty, inasmuch as it had been prescribed by God, and led to the covenant inheritance; and only then need the saints expect to meet with either God or his angels, when they are walking in the way of his commandments, and making for the better country, even an heavenly.

2. The impression which it made. Whether completely surrounding him, or divided into two companies, one on either side of him, Jacob's angelic visitors, from their number, their orderly array, their military dispositions, assumed the appearance of a heavenly army lying encamped over against His own; and the sight of the two companies immediately suggested the ejaculation, "This is God's host," and caused him to name the place Mahanaim.

3. The purpose which it served. For an enumeration of the different ends which this sublime vision is supposed to have been intended to subserve the Exposition may be consulted. The greatest probability attaches to that which regards it as having been designed to prepare Jacob for his rapidly-approaching interview with Esau. It was fitted to remind him of the heavenly reinforcements that are always at hand to succor saints in their extremities (cf. 2 Kings 6:17; Psalms 34:6; Zechariah 9:8; Hebrews 1:14).


1. The dispatch of the messengers.

(1) Their destination—to Mount Seir, to Esau;

(2) their instructions—to inform Esau of Jacob's prosperous estate and immediate return;

(3) their design—to deprecate the wrath of Esau, and find grace for Jacob in his sight.

2. The return of the messengers.

(1) Their alarming report—that Esau was on the way with 400 men;

(2) the terror it produced—Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed;

(3) the acts to which it led—stratagem, supplication, conciliation.

III. THE SUDDEN STRATAGEM. Jacob divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two bands.

1. An evidence of Jacob's self-possession. The fear inspired by Esau's approach had not been so great as to make him lose command of his faculties. Men that have God upon their side should not allow themselves to be thrown by evil tidings into excessive trepidation (Psalms 27:1-3; Romans 8:31).

2. A proof of Jacob's prudence. The division of his company into two bands afforded to one at least of the portions a chance of escaping the sword of Esau. Though contrary to the Divine word to resist evil, it is not wrong to use all lawful endeavors to avoid it.

3. A testimony to Jacob's chivalry. In a time of danger he thinks of the safety of others, of the women and children, rather than of himself.

4. A sign of Jacob's meekness. He contemplates not armed resistance to the onset of his infuriated brother, but prepares by peaceful means to elude at least the full force of his attack.

IV. THE EARNEST PRAYER. Characterized by—

1. Lofty faith. Jacob addresses himself to God as to a living personality, and not as to an impersonal force; to the God of the covenant,—"O God of my father Abraham," &c.,—and not simply to God in the abstract, as the inscrutable power that presides over men and things, and bases his appeal upon the promises which God in virtue of that covenant had extended to himself.

2. Profound humility. He not only acknowledges the Divine hand in his remarkable prosperity, which is always difficult for the proud spirit of the worldling to do, but he distinctly describes "all the mercies" he has received to the pure, unmerited grace of God, declaring himself to be utterly less than the least of them. Language such as this is either impious hypocrisy or lowly humility.

3. Beautiful simplicity. Plain, direct, artless, and confiding, it is such a prayer as a loving child might breathe into a mother's ear when driven by impending danger to seek shelter in her bosom:—"Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of Esau my brother: for I fear him."

V. THE CONCILIATORY PRESENT. "A man's gift maketh room for him," says Solomon. (Proverbs 18:16); and again, "A gift in secret pacifieth anger, and a rewared in the bosom strong wrath" (Proverbs 21:14). The gift of Jacob to his brother was—

1. Handsomely prepared. It was munificently and generously selected from the best of the flocks and herds in his possession.

2. Skillfully arranged. The sheep, goats, camels, asses, kine that composed it were drawn up in a series of droves, which were dispatched in succession under the care of as many drivers.

3. Promptly dispatched. The measures just recited were adopted on the very day that Jacob's messengers returned, and the several droves dispatched upon their journey ere the night fell.

4. Peacefully designed. They were meant to appease the wrath of Esau.


1. The ministry of angels.

2. The courage inspired by true religion.

3. The value of prayer.

4. The use of a present.


Genesis 32:1, Genesis 32:2

Divine protection.

The pilgrim on his way is met by the angels of God. They are two hosts—"Mahanaim," that is, twofold defense, before and behind. There was fear in the man, but there was trust and prayer. He saw the objective vision, but the inward preparation of heart enabled him to see it. On our way we may reckon on supernatural protection—protection for ourselves, protection for those who are Divinely appointed to be with us. The double host is an emblem of that angelic guardianship which we are told (Psalms 34:1-22, and Psalms 91:1-16.) "encampeth round about them that fear the Lord, and delivereth them," "keepeth them in all their ways."—R.

Genesis 32:3-8

Faith and fellowship.

Jacob's preparation against danger betokened his sense of duty to do his utmost under the circumstances, and his sense of past errors and ill desert towards his brother. There is an exercise of our own judgment in times of distress and extremity which is quite consistent with dependence upon God.—R.

Genesis 32:9-12

Jacob's prayer.

1. It was the prayer of humility.

2. Of faith—faith in a covenant God, faith in him who had already revealed himself, faith in promises made to the individual as well as to God's people generally, faith founded on experience of the past, faith which has been mingled with obedience, and therefore lays hold of Divine righteousness. He has commanded me to return; I am in the way of his commandments. Faith in the great purpose of God and his kingdom: "I will make thy seed as the sand of the sea," &c. So Luther, in his sense of personal weakness in a troubled world, cried, "The Lord must save his own Church."

3. It was the prayer of gratitude. "I was alone; I am now two bands;" "not worthy of the least of thy mercies," &c; "yet abundantly blessed."—R.

Genesis 32:13-23

The crisis at hand.

Jacob understood the human heart.

I. KINDNESS WILL WORK WONDERS. "I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face." It gave Esau time to think of an altered state of things, a changed brother, and his own brotherly affection, not entirely destroyed.

II. IMPORTUNITY IN DOING GOOD. The repeated strokes upon the iron changes its nature. We may learn a lesson from Jacob to prepare human hearts for the reception of the gospel by the same importunity. Kind deeds and kind words will often open the way for a more direct face-to-face pleading for God.

III. EXPERIENCE SANCTIFIES. The trials of Jacob's life were working a deeper and more loving wisdom—working out the more selfish craft, and transmuting the natural features of a character, far from pure and simple at first, into such as blended more really with the work of grace. So in the course of providence family cares and anxieties deliver us from lower thoughts, or may do so, if we serve God, and help us to walk steadfastly in the way of faith.

IV. THE TRUE LOVE PROVIDES FOR ITS OBJECTS. The shepherd with his flocks, and family, with his little bands of precious ones, fearing for them, and yet working for them, and putting them before him in the hands of God, is a type of the great Shepherd of the sheep, who was "not ashamed to call them brethren;" and saying, as he stood in their midst,—partaker of their infirmities, representative of their wants and sorrows, guardian of their safety,—"I will put my trust in him. Behold I and the children which God hath given me" (Hebrews 2:13).

V. THE TWO WORLDS. If Esau be taken as a type of the kingdoms of this world threatening the kingdom of God, Jacob represents the little flock to whom the promise of victory and peace has been given. The true mediator must be left alone by the ford Jabbok. The place of his intercession and prevailing is where none of the people is with him, can be with him.—R.

Verses 24-32


Genesis 32:24

And Jacob was left alone (probably on the north bank of the Jabbok; but vide on Genesis 32:23); and there wrestled—thus assaulting in his strong point one who had been a wrestler or heel-catcher from his youth (Murphy). The old word נֶאֱבַק, niph. of אָבַק, unused, a dehorn, from חָבַק, dust, because in wrestling the dust is raised (Aben Ezra, Gesenius), or a weakened form of חָבַק, to wind round, to embrace (Furst), obviously contains an allusion to the Jabbok (vide on Genesis 32:22)—a man—called an angel by Hosea (Genesis 12:4), and God by Jacob (verse 30); but vide infra—with him until the breaking of the day—literally, the ascending of the morning.

Genesis 32:25

And when he (the unknown wrestler) saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched—not struck (Knobel)—the hollow of his thigh (literally, the socket of the hip); and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him—literally, in his wrestling with him.

Genesis 32:26

And he (the man) said, Let me go (literally, send me away; meaning that he yielded the victory to Jacob, adding as a reason for his desire to depart), for the day breaketh—literally, for the morning or the dawn ascendeth; and therefore it is time for thee to proceed to other duties (Wilet, Clarke, Murphy), e.g. to meet Esau and appease his anger ('Speaker's Commentary'). Perhaps also the angel was unwilling that the vision which was meant for Jacob only should be seen by others (Pererius), or even that his own glory should be beheld by Jacob (Ainsworth). Calvin thinks the language was so shaped as to lead Jacob to infer nocturna visions se divinitus fuisse edoctum. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. The words show that Jacob now clearly recognized his mysterious Antagonist to be Divine, and sought to obtain from him the blessing which he had previously stolen from his aged father by craft.

Genesis 32:27

And he said unto him, What is thy name? (not as if requiring to be informed, but as directing attention to it in view of the change about to be made upon it) And he said, Jacobi.e. Heel-catcher, or Supplanter (vide Genesis 25:26).

Genesis 32:28

And he said, Thy name shall be called no more (i.e. exclusively, since both he and his descendants are in Scripture sometimes after this styled) Jacob, but Israel:—יִשְׂרַאֵל, from שָׂרָה, to be chief, to fight, though, after the example of Ishmael, God hears, it might be rendered "God governs" (Kalisch), yet seems in this place to signify either Prince of El (Calvin, Ainsworth, Dathe, Murphy, Wordsworth, and others), or wrestler with God (Furst, Keil, Kurtz, Lange, et alii, rather than warrior of God (Gesenius), if indeed both ideas may not be combined in the name as the princely wrestler with God ('Speaker's Commentary,' Bush), an interpretation adopted by the A.V.—for as a prince hast thou power with God—literally, for thou hast contended with Elohim [Keil, Alford, &c.), ὅτι ἐνισχυσας μετὰ θεου (LXX.), contra deumfortis fuisti (Vulgate), thou hast obtained the mastery with God (Kalisch), rather than, thou hast striven to be a prince with God (Murphy)—and with men, and but prevailed. So are the words rendered by the best authorities (Keil, Kalisch, Murphy, Wordsworth), though the translation καὶ μετὰ ἀνθρώπων δυνατὸς ἔσῃ (LXX.), quanto magis contra heroines prevalebis (Vulgate) is By some preferred (Calvin, Rosenmüller, &c.).

Genesis 32:29

And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. A request indicating great boldness on the part of Jacob—the boldness of faith (Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 10:19); and importing a desire on Jacob's part to be acquainted, not merely with the designation, but with the mysterious character of the Divine personage with whom he had been contending. And he (the mysterious stranger) said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? Cf. Judges 13:18, where the angel gives the same reply to Manoah, adding, "seeing it is secret;" literally, wonderful, i.e. incomprehensible to mortal man; though here the words of Jacob's antagonist may mean that his name, so far as it could be learnt by man, was already plain from the occurrence which had taken place (Murphy, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Bush). And he blessed him there. After this, every vestige of doubt disappeared from the soul of Jacob.

Genesis 32:30

And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel (i.e. "the face of God." Its situation must have been close to the Jabbok. The reason given for its designation follows): for I have seen God (Elohim) face to face, and my life is preserved (cf. Genesis 16:13; Exodus 14:11; Exodus 33:20; Judges 6:22; Judges 13:22; Isaiah 6:5).

Genesis 32:31

And as he passed over Penuel—this some suppose to have been the original name of the place, which Jacob changed by the alteration of a vowel, but it is probably nothing more than an old form of the same word—the sun rose upon him,—"there was sunshine within and sunshine without. When Judas went forth on his dark design, we read, 'It was night,' John 13:30" (Inglis)—and he halted upon his thigh—thus carrying with him a memorial of his conflict, as Paul afterwards bore about with him a stake in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Genesis 32:32

Therefore the children of Israel cat not of the sinew which shrank,—the gid hannasheh, rendered by the LXX. τὸ νεῦρον ὅ ἐνάρκησεν, the nerve which became numb, and by the Vulgate nervus qui emarcuit, the nerve which withered, is the long tendon or sinew nervus ischiaticus (the tends Achillis of the Greeks) reaching from the spinal marrow to the ankle. The derivation of hannasheh is unknown (Gesenius), though the LXX. appear to have connected it with nashah, to dislocate, become feeble; Ainsworth with nashah, to forget (i.e. the sinew that forgot its place), and Furst with nashah, to be prolonged—which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day:—i.e. the day of Moses; though the custom continues to the present time among the Hebrews of cutting out this sinew from the beasts they kill and eat (vide Ainsworth in loco); but, according to Michaelis, eo nemo omnino mortalium, si vel nullo cognationis gradu Jacobum attingat, nemo Graecus, nemo barbarus vesci velit—because he (i.e. the angel) touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.


Genesis 32:24-32

Peniel, or the mysterious contest.


1. The scene. The north bank of Jabbok (vide Exposition).

2. The time. Night; the most suitable season for soul exercises, such as self-examination (Psalms 4:4), meditation (Psalms 63:6), devotion (Luke 6:12).

3. The circumstances. Jacob was alone. In solitude the human soul discovers most of itself, and enjoys most frequent interviews with God (Psalms 77:6; Daniel 10:8; John 16:32).

4. The combatants.

(1) Jacob: by nature the supplanter, by grace the heir of the covenant; who in early life by craft had overreached his brother Esau in the matters of the family birthright and theocratic blessing, and who had now, by the dispatch of his munificent present to "my lord Esau," renounced both, so far at least as renunciation was possible, i.e. in respect of material and temporal advantages.

(2) A man, i.e. one who in outward appearance wore the form of a man, though in reality "the visible revealer of the invisible God" (Delitzsch); the angel of Jehovah, who had previously appeared in like guise to Abraham at Mature (Genesis 18:1), and who subsequently, in the fullness of the times, incarnated himself as the Word made flesh (John 1:14).

5. The combat.

(1) Its commencement. When precisely this mysterious conflict began, and how Jacob was engaged at the moment of the unknown wrestler's approach, are points upon which the narrative is silent, though it is probable that Jacob was employed in fervent supplication, and that, without knowing how, he suddenly became conscious of being involved in a close physical struggle with a powerful antagonist. Perhaps this was designed to suggest that God's approaches to the praying soul are mostly sudden and inexplicable (cf. John 3:8).

(2) Its character. Though unquestionably depicted in the narrative as a veritable contest between two human beings, it is apparent that underlying the physical struggle, and related to it as the substance to the shadow, as the soul to the body, was another spiritual contending carried on by means of prayers and tears (Hosea 12:4).

(3) Its continuance. Beginning probably at midnight, it was protracted until dawn, a circumstance suggestive of Jacob's earnestness and determination, and yet attesting the severe character of all true spiritual conflicts, and the extraordinary difficulty of achieving victories with God (Matthew 12:12).

(4) Its course. Four stages are discernible in this mysterious struggle.

(a) The wrestlers appear to be equally balanced in their strength and skill, so that the stranger finds himself unable to prevail against Jacob, and laying his finger on his adversary's hip, puts it out of joint—a hint to Jacob that though seemingly the victory inclined towards him, it was due not so much, or even at all, to his wisdom and prowess, but rather to the stranger's grace and good-will.

(b) Jacob having thus been disabled, his mysterious antagonist, as if owning that the mastery remained with him, requests permission to depart, alleging as a reason that the ascending dawn proclaimed the day's return, and called to other duties—a valuable reminder that religion has other necessary works for God's saints besides devotion and contemplation; but Jacob, who by this time recognized his antagonist as Divine, objected to his departure without confirming the blessing he had formerly received at Bethel—and this, the personal reception and enjoyment of the blessing of the covenant, should be the end and aim of all the saint's contendings with God and communings with Heaven.

(c) Inquiring Jacob's name, the Divine adversary now discovers his true personality by authoritatively changing that name to Israel, prince of El, in token of his victory—an outward symbol of the completed spiritual renovation which had taken place in Jacob since God first met with him at Bethel.

(d) Probably excited, or spiritually elevated, by what had just transpired, Jacob ventures, either with holy boldness or with unthinking curiosity, to inquire after his heavenly antagonist's name, but is answered that in the mean time he must rest satisfied with the blessing Which was then and there pronounced. It was either a rebuke to Jacob's presumption, or, and with greater probability, a reminder that even holy boldness has its limits, beyond which it may not intrude.

(5) Its close. Suddenly and mysteriously as the stranger came did he also disappear, leaving Jacob in possession of the blessing indeed, but also of a dislocated limb. So God frequently accompanies spiritual enrichment with material and temporal deprivation, in order both to evince his own sovereignty and to keep his saints humble (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7).

(6) Its commemoration. By Jacob, who called the place Peniel; by Jacob's descendants, who to this day eat not of the sciatic nerve in animals they kill for food.

II. THE REALITY OF THE STRUGGLE. The question arises whether the contest just described had an objective reality (Havernick, Kurtz, Murphy, Alford, &c.), or partook of a purely subjective character, being in fact an allegorical description of a spiritual conflict in the soul of Jacob (Kalisch), or a wrestling which took place only in a dream (Hengstenberg), or in an ecstasy (Delitzsch, Keil, Lange), for the idea of its being a myth (Bohlen, De Wette, Oort, Kuenen) may be discarded.

1. Against the notion of a dream-vision it is sufficient to remark that if Jacob's wrestling was a dream, so also were his victory and his blessing dreams. Besides, limbs do not usually become dislocated in dreams.

2. To read the passage as an allegory is both forced and unnatural, and "little better than trifling with the sacred narrative" (Alford).

3. There is no insuperable objection to the idea of an ecstasy, provided it is not intended to exclude the objective manifestation yet.

4. There does not seem sufficient reason for departing from the obvious and literal sense of the passage, according to which there was a beret fide corporeal contest between Jacob and the angel of Jehovah in human form; for

(1) the narrative gives no indication that it was designed in this part to be interpreted otherwise than literally and historically, as in the surrounding context;

(2) unless on the hypothesis that the supernatural is the unreal, there is no imperative necessity why exception should be taken to the objective character of this remarkable struggle;

(3) the dislocation of Jacob's thigh points to an actual physical contest; and

(4) the other events in the narrative appear to require that the historic credibility of Jacob's wrestling be maintained.

III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STRUGGLE. That a momentous crisis had arisen in Jacob's history is universally admitted. He was now returning to the land of Canaan a man of mature age, being in his ninety-seventh year, and of a singularly diversified experience, both natural and spiritual, In his early life he had twice supplanted Esau by means of craft, depriving him of his birthright and blessing, and now he was on the eve of meeting that formidable brother whom he had wronged. That the prospective interview filled him with alarm is explicitly declared (Genesis 32:7); but it likewise drove him to take refuge in prayer, in which exercise it is scarcely doubtful he was engaged when his mysterious assailant approached. What then did this extraordinary combat signify in the spiritual consciousness of Jacob? Putting together those views which do not necessarily exclude one another, and which appear to contain an element of truth, it may be said that this remarkable experience through which the patriarch passed at Jabbok was designed to have a threefold bearing.

1. On his fear of Esau. Apprehensive of his brother, he now learns that not Esau, but Jehovah, was his real adversary (Keil, Kurtz, Gerlach, Candlish), and that before he can ever hope to triumph over Esau he must first conquer God.

2. On his retention of the blessing. Having previously, as he thought, obtained the birthright and its accompanying blessing by means of carnal policy and worldly stratagem, he now discovers that it cannot be received, or, if he renounced it in the act of homage done to Esau (Lange), cannot be recovered except directly from the lips of God, and by means of earnest cries and entreaties (Keil)—a truth taught him, according to Kurtz, by the dislocation of his thigh, which caused him to discontinue his corporeal wrestling, and resort to prayers and tears.

3. On his personal character. Jacob during all his past career, from his birth, when he caught his brother by the heel, to his last years in Haran, when he overreached the crafty and avaricious Laban, having been a person who sought to overcome by means of self-reliance and personal effort, it was now designed to teach him that, as the heir of the covenant, the weapons of his warfare were not to be carnal, but spiritual, and that his advancement to the place predestined for him of pre-eminence over his brethren was to be brought about by earnest reliance upon God (Murphy).


Genesis 32:24-32

Peniel. The face of God.

The patriarchal revelation at its best. The main point, the personal wrestling of the believer with the angel of deliverance. Through that scene Jacob passed as by a baptism (ford Jabbok) into the full enjoyment of confidence in Jehovah, into the theanthropic faith. A man wrestled with him. The faith of Jacob was now to be a faith resting not upon tradition alone, nor upon promises and commandments alone, nor upon past experience alone, but upon a living, personal union with God. The wrestling was a type of that intimate fellowship which spiritually identifies the individual child of God with the Father through the man Christ Jesus. The pilgrim on his way is hence-forth the prince, having power with God and with men. It is a great lesson on prevailing prayer.

1. The prayer of faith.

2. The prayer of importunity.

3. The prayer of intense desire.

"I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." Bless me for myself, bless me for my family, bless me for the world. But Jacob was a type of the true Prince of God prevailing for his people. He wrestled, he wrestled alone, he wrestled to his own suffering and humiliation, although into victory. He obtained the blessing as the Mediator. Although the patriarch was not allowed to know the name of the angel, he was himself named by the angel. Although we cannot with all our searching find out God, and even the revelation of Christ leaves much unknown, still we are "known of him." He gives us one name, and by that name we know him to be ours, which is the true saving knowledge. Peniel, the face of God, is the name not of God himself, but of the blessed revelation of God. We know where we may find him. We may each one start afresh from our Peniel, where we have been blessed of God, and have through Christ prevailed against the dark- ness of the future and the helplessness of our own impotence. Nor must we forget that this wrestling was reconciliation—the reconciliation between man and God, preceding the reconciliation between man and mare The lameness of the patriarch symbolized the life of dependence upon which he henceforth entered with much more entire surrender than before. "As the sun rose upon him, he halted upon his thigh." It was the morning of a new life—the life of man's confessed nothingness and God's manifested sufficiency. In such a light we can see light. The day may have dangers in it, but it will be a day of mighty deliverance, Divine blessedness, rejoicing in personal salvation and peaceful life.—R.


Genesis 32:28

A new name.

"Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel." Twenty years before Jacob learned at Bethel to know God as a living and present Protector. This a great step in spiritual life; belief of God in heaven, becoming consciousness of God "in this place," guiding all events. It is the first step towards walking with God. But his training not yet complete. Truth is usually grasped by degrees. Unbelief, cast out, returns in new forms and under new pretences. A common mistake at beginning of Christian life is to think that the battle is at an end when decision made. The soul may have passed from death to life; but much still to be done, much to be learned. Many a young Christian little knows the weakness of his faith. During these years Jacob shows real faith, but not perfect reliance (Genesis 30:37; Genesis 31:20). Returning home greatly enriched, he heard of Esau at hand. He feared his anger. No help in man; God's promise his only refuge. Could he trust to it? His wrestling. We cannot picture its outward form; but its essence a spiritual struggle. His endurance tried by bodily infirmity (cf. Job 2:5) and by the apparent unwillingness of the Being with whom he strove (cf. Matthew 15:26). His answer showed determination (cf. 2 Kings 4:30). This prevailed; weak as he was, he received the blessing (cf. Hebrews 11:34). And the new name was the sign of his victory (cf. Matthew 21:22; 1 John 5:4).

I. THE STRUGGLE. Why thus protracted? It was not merely a prolonged prayer, like Luke 6:12. There was some hindrance to be overcome (cf. Matthew 11:12); not by muscular force, but by earnest supplication. Where Scripture is silent we must speak cautiously. But probable explanation is the state of Jacob's own mind. Hitherto faith had been mixed with faithlessness; belief in the promise with hesitation to commit the means to God. Against this divided mind (James 1:8) the Lord contended. No peace while this remained (cf. Isaiah 26:3). And the lesson of that night was to trust God's promise entirely (cf. Psalms 37:3). When this was learned the wrestling of the Spirit against the double mind was at an end. Such a struggle may be going on in the hearts of some here. A craving for peace, yet a restless disquiet. The gospel believed, yet failing to bring comfort. Prayer for peace apparently unanswered, so that there seemed to be some power contending against us. Why is this? Most probably from failing to commit all to God. Perhaps requiring some sign (John 20:25), some particular state of feeling, or change of disposition; perhaps looking for faith within as the ground of trust; perhaps choosing the particular blessing—self-will as to the morsel of the bread of life to satisfy us, instead of taking every word of God. There is the evil. It is against self thou must strive. Behold thy loving Savior; will he fail thee in the hour of need? Tell all to him; commit thyself into his hands; not once or twice, but habitually.

II. THE NEW NAME (Cf. Revelation 3:12). No more Jacob, the crafty, but Israel, God's prince (cf. Revelation 1:6). The token of victory over distrust, self-will, self-confidence. In knowledge of poverty is wealth (Matthew 5:3); in knowledge of weakness, strength (2 Corinthians 12:10). That name is offered to all. The means, persevering prayer; but prayer not to force our will upon God, but that trust may be so entire that our wills may in all things embrace his.—M.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 32". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/genesis-32.html. 1897.
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