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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 32:0


Jacob's Fear of EsauEsau Comes to Meet JacobJacob's Reconciliation with Esau (Genesis 32:1-20)Jacob Prepares to Meet EsauJacob Prepares For His Meeting with Esau
Genesis 32:1-2Genesis 32:1-8Genesis 32:1-2Genesis 32:1-2
Genesis 32:3-5 Genesis 32:3-5Genesis 32:3-5
Genesis 32:4-7
Genesis 32:6-8 Genesis 32:6-8Genesis 32:6-8
Genesis 32:8-14a
Genesis 32:9-12Genesis 32:9-12Genesis 32:9-12Genesis 32:9-12
Genesis 32:13-21Genesis 32:13-21Genesis 32:13-21Genesis 32:13-21
Genesis 32:14-22
Wrestling with God Jacob Wrestles at PenielJacob Wrestles with God
Genesis 32:22-23Genesis 32:22-32Genesis 32:22-32Genesis 32:22-24a
Jacob Wrestles Genesis 32:23-25a
Genesis 32:24-32 Genesis 32:24-26a
Genesis 32:25-30
Genesis 32:26b
Genesis 32:27a
Genesis 32:27b
Genesis 32:28
Genesis 32:29a
Genesis 32:29b
Genesis 32:30-32
Genesis 32:31-32

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-2

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 32:1-2 1Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. 2Jacob said when he saw them, "This is God's camp." So he named that place Mahanaim.

Genesis 32:1

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV“met" NJB, JPSOA"encountered"

This VERB (BDB 803, KB 910, Qal IMPERFECT ) denotes a chance encounter (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 575, e.g., Exodus 23:4; Numbers 35:19, Numbers 35:21; Joshua 2:16; 1 Samuel 10:5; Amos 5:19).

One wonders if this brief and ambiguous verse is somehow linked to the wrestler of Genesis 32:22-32. The wrestler is obviously an angel or spiritual being of some kind that had the power (from YHWH) to bless Jacob and change his name. The problem lies in

1. this ambiguous opening verse

2. the wrestler's inability to defeat Jacob in a protracted physical contest

"the angels of God" He had seen the angels as he left Canaan (cf. Genesis 28:12), now on his return, they appeared again (cf. 2 Kings 6:16-17; Psalms 34:7). They represented YHWH's presence and protection. It would have reminded him of his conditions and God's promises of chapter 28. This chapter is a mixture of fear and trust. Jacob contends with these two options!

"met" This VERB (BDB 803, KB 910, Qal IMPERFECT) means to "meet" or "encounter." The Anchor Bible Commentary (p. 254) links these angels to Genesis 32:24-32. This does allow one to see the chapter as beginning and ending with a divine encounter.

Genesis 32:2 "God's camp" The term "camp" (BDB 334) implies a place of encampment or rest on a journey. It can denote an armed military camp (cf. Joshua 6:11, Joshua 6:14; 1 Samuel 4:3, 1 Samuel 4:6, 1 Samuel 4:7; 1 Samuel 17:53; 2 Kings 7:16) or army (cf. Exodus 14:24). This is one of several Hebrew military terms translated "hosts."

"Mahanaim" This word literally means "two camps" or "two hosts" (BDB 334, dual form). These two camps can refer to

1. Laban and Jacob

2. the angels and Jacob

3. Esau and Jacob

4. Jacob's divided family groups

In light of the immediate context, #2 fits best. In light of the larger context, #4 fits Jacob's character of trying to trust in his own resourcefulness.

Verses 3-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 32:3-5 3Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4He also commanded them saying, "Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: 'Thus says your servant Jacob, "I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; 5I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight."'"

Genesis 32:3 "messengers" In both Hebrew (BDB 521) and Greek the term "messengers" (same root as the name Malachi) means "angels." The rabbis say he sent the angels before him to meet Esau. The same Hebrew root is translated "angels" in Genesis 32:1 and "messengers" in Genesis 32:3 and 6.

Genesis 32:4 "lord Esau" Here "lord" is used as a title of courtesy (Adon) in Jacob's message to Esau.

"your servant" The messengers are to address Esau as "Lord" (BDB 10) and call Jacob "slave" or "servant" (BDB 713). Jacob is still afraid (cf. Genesis 32:7, Genesis 32:11) that Esau holds a grudge (because of the stealing of the family blessing in Genesis 27:0).

Genesis 32:5 Apparently this message has a dual purpose.

1. Jacob has become prosperous

2. he wants to give Esau some of his wealth as a gift (cf. Genesis 32:13-21)

Verses 4-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 32:4-11 4Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. 5He lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and said, "Who are these with you?" So he said, "The children whom God has graciously given your servant." 6Then the maids came near with their children, and they bowed down. 7Leah likewise came near with her children, and they bowed down; and afterward Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed down. 8And he said, "What do you mean by all this company which I have met?" And he said, "To find favor in the sight of my lord." 9But Esau said, "I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own." 10Jacob said, "No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably. 11Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me and because I have plenty." Thus he urged him and he took it.

Genesis 33:4 "Esau ran. . .embraced. . .fell on his neck. . .kissed. . .wept" These are all signs of warm greetings.

1. "ran," BDB 930, KB 1207, Qal IMPERFECT

2. "embraced," BDB 287, KB 287, Piel IMPERFECT

3. "fell on his neck," BDB 656, KB 709, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Genesis 45:14; Genesis 46:29

4. "kissed," BDB 676, KB 730, Qal imperfect (this is missing in the LXX and marked in the MT as an addition), cf. Genesis 45:15; Genesis 48:10; Genesis 50:1

5. "they wept," BDB 13, KB 129, Qal IMPERFECT (the LXX and TEV, REB have "they both wept," but possibly, "he wept," cf. NJB, AB, p. 258)

Genesis 33:5 Esau asks about the groups of women and their children who were all accompanying Jacob. It must have been unusual for a man to have two wives and two concubines and children with each or Esau would not have asked. Esau's reaction to this is not recorded.

Genesis 33:8 Esau asks about all the presents (i.e., animals) that Jacob has sent before his family (cf. Genesis 32:13-21).

Genesis 33:9 "my brother" The NASB Study Bible (p. 51) makes a good point in mentioning that Esau calls Jacob "my brother," but Jacob calls Esau "my lord." Jacob is either (1) being tactful or (2) fearful.

Gifts were common at special occasions. To refuse a gift in this culture implied a strained relationship (i.e., James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 41). Esau's refusal would have supported Jacob's worst fears! Esau did not need these gifts, but accepted them as a sign of accepting his brother.

Genesis 33:10 Jacob urges Esau to accept his gifts because Esau's acceptance of him (cf. Genesis 33:14) would parallel God's graciousness ("as one sees the face of God") toward him. This may be a veiled allusion to Genesis 25:23.

Genesis 33:11 Jacob acknowledges the source of his physical wealth as the covenant God (i.e., "graciously," BDB 335, KB 334, Qal PERFECT, cf. Genesis 33:5; Genesis 43:29).

"gift" This (BDB 139) is literally "blessing." It is the very term used to describe what Jacob cheated Esau of in chapter 27. It is not by accident that Jacob wants to bless his brother by giving a gift (lit. blessing). In a sense he was trying to make up for his earlier manipulations.

Verses 6-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 32:6-8 6The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, "We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him." 7Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; 8for he said, "If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape."

Genesis 32:6 "four hundred men are with him" Esau did not answer Jacob's message and he had 400 men with him. This really scared Jacob (cf. Genesis 32:7).

Genesis 32:7 Note Jacob's mental response to the news.

1. "greatly afraid"

a. afraid, BDB 431, KB 432, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Genesis 3:10; Genesis 18:15; Genesis 43:18

b. greatly, ADVERB, BDB 547

2. "distressed," BDB 864 I, KB 1058, Qal IMPERFECT, which basically means "to be cramped," cf. Job 20:22; Isaiah 49:19, but it is used metaphorically for a "cramped spirit" (i.e., depressed), cf. Judges 2:15; Judges 10:9; 2 Samuel 13:2

Genesis 32:7-8 Jacob plans for the worst possible situation. Again in the context of Genesis 32:1, this seems to denote a lack of faith. He does pray in Genesis 32:9-12, but in a sense he is still trying to control his own destiny.

Verses 9-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 32:9-12 9Jacob said, "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,' 10I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. 11Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. 12For You said, 'I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.'"

Genesis 32:9 Notice the different ways to refer to Deity.

1. "O God (אלה, BDB 43) of my father Abraham"

2. "O God (same as above) of my father Isaac"

3. "O LORD" (יהוה, BDB 217)

See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY at Genesis 12:1. These all refer to the God of Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:1; Genesis 28:3-4) and to His promises to Jacob in Genesis 28:13-17.

"who didst say to me" This refers to Genesis 31:13, Genesis 31:29 and ultimately back to Genesis 28:15.

1. "return," BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal IMPERATIVE, cf. Genesis 31:13

2. "I will prosper you," BDB 405, KB 408, Hiphil COHORTATIVE, cf. Genesis 32:10, Genesis 32:13; Genesis 28:14

Genesis 32:10 "I am unworthy" This is an important admission for Jacob (BDB 881, KB 1092, Qal PERFECT, which denotes insignificance, cf. 2 Samuel 7:19; 1 Chronicles 17:17). The emphasis is on the covenant God's grace, protection, and provision!

NASB“lovingkindness" NKJV“mercies" NRSV, REB"steadfast love" TEV“kindness" NJB“faithful love" LXX"justice" or "righteousness" Peshitta"favors"

The word used here is hesed (BDB 338 I), which denotes covenant loyalty. See Special Topic: Lovingkindness (Hesed).

NASB, NRSV, TEV“faithfulness" NRSV, LXX, Peshitta"truth" NJB“constancy" REB"true"

This is the Hebrew word emeth (BDB 54), which denotes loyalty. Hesed and emeth are often found together in the OT to describe God. See Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the OT.

Genesis 32:11 "deliver me" This term (BDB 664, KB 717, Hiphil IMPERATIVE) in the Hiphil stem means "to snatch away" and metaphorically "deliver."

"lest he come and attack me" The term "attack" (BDB 645, KB 697, Hiphil PERFECT) in the Hiphil stem means to strike a whole company with a fatal blow (cf. Genesis 34:30). Jacob was afraid Esau would kill all the heirs of his family.

Genesis 32:12 Jacob is reminding God of His covenant promises of Genesis 32:4 and 22:17. This was a recurrent covenant promise to the Patriarchs. It was a corollary to giving them a son.

"prosper you" This is literally "I will do you good." This phrase is an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and anIMPERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 405, KB 408), which denotes intensity.

Verses 13-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 32:13-21 13So he spent the night there. Then he selected from what he had with him a present for his brother Esau: 14two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, "Pass on before me, and put a space between droves." 17He commanded the one in front, saying, "When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, saying, 'To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and to whom do these animals in front of you belong?' 18then you shall say, 'These belong to your servant Jacob; it is a present sent to my lord Esau. And behold, he also is behind us.'" 19Then he commanded also the second and the third, and all those who followed the droves, saying, "After this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; 20and you shall say, 'Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.'" For he said, "I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me." 21So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp.

Genesis 32:20

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, REB, PESHITTA"I will appease him" TEV "I will win him over" NJB "I conciliate him" JPSOA, LXX "I propitiate him"

The VERB (BDB 497, KB 493, Piel COHORTATIVE) is the VERB used for a blood cleansing sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 4:0 and 16). Its basic meaning is "to cover" or "make atonement."

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, LXX"accept me" TEV“forgive me" NJB“be inclined towards me" JPSOA"show me favor" REB"receive me kindly"

The VERB (BDB 669, KB 724, Qal IMPERFECT) means "to lift." This is a Hebrew idiom "to lift the face" (cf. Job 42:8, Job 42:9; Psalms 82:2; Proverbs 18:5; Lamentations 4:16). In a legal setting it referred to a judge lifting the face of the accused, which jeopardized his impartiality.

Verses 22-32

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 32:22-32 22Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. 24Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." But he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." 27So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." 28He said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." 29Then Jacob asked him and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there. 30So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved." 31Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob's thigh in the sinew of the hip.

Genesis 32:22 "crossed the ford" The Hebrew root for "crossed" (BDB 716, KB 778, Qal IMPERFECT) is the same root as "ford" (BDB 721, cf. Joshua 2:7; Judges 3:28; Isaiah 16:2). It denotes wading across at a shallow point.

"the Jabbok" This root means "flowing" (BDB 132). It had cut a very deep gorge.

Genesis 32:24 "a man wrestled" Here "wrestled" (BDB 7, KB 9, Niphal IMPERFECT), "Jabbok" (BDB 132), as well as "Jacob" (BDB 784), all sound similar when pronounced. Here the person is called a "man" (BDB 35, ish, cf. Genesis 32:6), but the context implies it was a physical manifestation of Deity (cf. Genesis 32:28, Genesis 32:30; Genesis 18:1-2). However, Genesis 32:26 implies some kind of angelic creature.

This is the kind of text that western literalism cannot understand. This has both physical and symbolic aspects. This contest was for Jacob's benefit. It surely does not describe the "wrestling" characteristics of God!!

YHWH appears to Jacob several times (cf. Genesis 28:10-22; Genesis 32:22-31; Genesis 35:9-13; Genesis 46:2-4) and each time it is the character and promises of God that are emphasized. The key element is not Jacob (or his acts), but God and His covenant promises!

Genesis 32:25 "when he saw that he had not prevailed against him" The Jewish Study Bible, p. 67, mentions an interesting Jewish tradition (Gen. Rab. 77.3) that asserts it was Esau's patron angel and that this encounter serves as a warning to all who would oppose the covenant people. This does attempt to explain why an angelic creature cannot defeat a mere human. However, can Esau's angel change Jacob's name to Israel?! This was somehow a "God thing."

"the socket of his thigh" The rabbis say this refers to the vein of the thigh and this part of the animal carcass is not allowed to be eaten in Judaism (cf. Genesis 32:32).

Genesis 32:26 "the dawn is breaking" This time of day was known as a special period of God's activity (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 85). It was often mentioned in ancient folklore.

In light of the Hebraic fear of seeing God (cf. Genesis 16:13; Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:20), possibly the dawn would have revealed the divine identity of Jacob's opponent.

"bless me" It was not Jacob's wrestling ability that was rewarded, but his tenacious dependent attitude upon God.

Genesis 32:27 "What is your name" This is not lack of information on the angelic/divine wrestler's part, but a reminder to Jacob of his character of trickery and manipulation.

Genesis 32:28 "Israel" This name change seems to be the key to the interpretation of the entire account. Israel means "may El preserve" (BDB 975) or if JUSSIVE, "let El contend" (cf. Hosea 12:3-4). It was not Jacob's strength, but God's purpose. One's name was very important to the Hebrews and denoted a person's character.

Another option for the name "Israel" (ישׂראל, BDB 975) is from ישׂרונ ("Jeshurun," BDB 449, cf. Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 33:5, Deuteronomy 33:26; Isaiah 44:2), which means "upright one."


"with me" The wrestler seems to differentiate himself from God, although in Genesis 32:30 Jacob realizes he has somehow been with Deity.

Genesis 32:29 "Please tell me your name" In the Ancient Near East the name of a spiritual being was closely guarded because of the possible use of that name in curses, oaths, and rituals. This is surely not the issue in biblical texts (cf. Judges 13:17-18). In biblical texts YHWH reveals His name to His people (cf. Exodus 3:13-15). However, its meaning is not always comprehended (compare Exodus 6:3 with Genesis 4:26). As Judges 13:18 states, the name is too "wonderful" for humans to comprehend.

Genesis 32:30 "Peniel" Peniel means "the face of God" (BDB 819). The spelling "Penuel" may be the alternative spelling of an older name for the location.

This name surely implies Jacob thought his opponent was YHWH, who could have easily defeated a mere mortal, but allows a contracted context to denote His willingness to work with and on the side of Jacob. He was not an antagonist, but a present help and one who blesses.

This really is a strange ancient account with many unknown aspects, much like Exodus 4:24-26. It would be very unwise to use these ambiguous texts for doctrine or application. They remain a mystery and their interpretation mere modern conjecture!

Genesis 32:31 "he was limping" Whether this was permanent (later Jewish tradition) or temporary is not certain.

Genesis 32:32 "to this day" This phrase is textual evidence of a later editor. The ban on eating this part of an animal is rabbinical, not biblical.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Who was the wrestler?

a. a man (cf. Genesis 32:24)

b. an angel (cf. Genesis 32:26, Hosea 12:3-4)

c. God in human form (cf. Genesis 32:30)

d. Jesus (Martin Luther, following Justin)

2. What part do the angels of Genesis 32:1 play in the rest of the chapter?

3. Why were these encounters (i.e., with the angel and Esau) so important to Jacob?

4. Why the name change?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 32". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-32.html. 2021.
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