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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 32

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



Jacob now approaches the great crisis in his spiritual life. After twenty years’ absence from the land of promise, he again comes upon its eastern border; and as the angels of God appeared to him at Beth-el on his departure, so now, on his return, they appear again, as if to welcome him back to the Lord’s land.

Verse 1

1. Jacob went on his way From the place of his covenant with Laban, southwards, through the hills and valleys of Gilead .

Angels of God met him How or in what form, we are not told . Some suppose he had another dream, like that at Beth-el; but the absence of any mention of dream, or night vision, and the statement in Genesis 32:2 that “Jacob saw them,” argues rather that the vision was an open one by day . His eyes were probably opened, as were those of the servant of Elisha, (2 Kings 6:17,) and he beheld all around him a host of the angels of God.

Verse 2

2. This is God’s host Or, God’s band . He at once recognises them as the same class of heavenly powers that had appeared to him in the vision of Beth-el . He has around him his own company, no small host; and behold, he is also encompassed by another camp, God’s company of holy watchers, set to guard and guide him in his way .

Mahanaim Two camps; his own and that of the angels . Comp . Psalms 34:7. The great lesson of this event was that of the immanent providence of God . His angels ever guard the ways of his chosen . The site of Mahanaim is probably the modern Maneh, on the north of mount Ajlun . It was on the border of Gad and Manasseh, (Joshua 13:26; Joshua 13:30,) and was a city of the Levites. Joshua 21:38. Here Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, reigned two years .

2 Samuel 2:8-12.

Verse 3

3. Sent messengers To conciliate his brother, open the way for a friendly meeting, and discover the spirit and circumstances of Esau . The land of Seir, the country (or field) of Edom From this it appears that at that time Esau had entered the mountainous district south of Palestine, afterwards called after his name . This does not necessarily imply that he had already removed his wives and children and possessions thither. On the contrary, it appears from Genesis 36:6-8, that his removal with all his effects to Mount Seir, took place at a later date . The probability is, that Esau was at this time engaged, with a warlike band, in driving out the Horites from the strongholds of Edom . Comp . Deuteronomy 2:12; Deuteronomy 2:22. Jacob’s messengers, learning of his whereabouts, went and found him with a band of warriors . On receiving Jacob’s message, and not knowing altogether what to make of it, and purposing not to be surprised or wronged by any new stratagem of the brother who had cheated him so sorely in the past, he proceeded at once with four hundred of his men to meet him .

Verse 7

7. Jacob was greatly afraid The report of his messengers might naturally have this effect on Jacob . He had fled from his brother because of his threat to kill him, (Genesis 27:41,) and now his coming with a body of four hundred men seemed ominous of a purpose of vengeance . “His excited imagination saw his wives and children murdered; his ill-gotten flocks destroyed; and himself struck by the fatal blow or chained in ignominious fetters. Agony and fear overpowered him, but that agony was his atonement; it was a suffering commensurate with his guilt; it was at once his retribution and his justification. But though it was a torture to his heart, it did not unbend his energy. All his faculties, feelings, and affections were roused to their utmost power, and his whole nature was quickened into vigorous activity.” Kalisch.

Verse 9

9. Jacob said Having made all prudent arrangements possible, he betakes himself to prayer . He has been pursued from behind by his uncle and father-in-law Laban, and by the help of his father’s God he has been redeemed from evil on that side . Now a danger threatens from the opposite direction, an enemy, though a brother . His prayer, under this sore distress, arose to a lofty height of poetic fervor . It was ever afterwards remembered, and repeated by generations of his children until Moses wrote it in this book .

O God of my father Abraham, And God of my father Isaac; Jehovah, who saidst to me, Return to thy land and to thy kindred, And I will do well with thee, I am less than all the mercies, And than all the fidelity, Which thou hast done thy servant.

For with my staff I passed over this Jordan, And now I have become two bands.

Deliver me, now, from the hand of my brother, From the hand of Esau, For I fear him, Lest he come and smite me, Mother upon children. And thou didst say, Doing well I will do well with thee, And I have set thy seed as the sand of the sea, Which is not numbered from multitude.

In this fervent prayer we note with interest the following: 1) He appeals to the God of his fathers. 2) He makes use of the covenant name Jehovah. 3) He pleads the promises. 4) He humbly acknowledges the mercies of God. 5) God’s truth or fidelity is honoured as against the untruthfulness of Jacob. 6) He acknowledges his great temporal prosperity as a blessing of God. 7) He prays for deliverance from Esau. 8) He confesses his fear. 9) He pleads for the mothers and children. 10) He pleads, in conclusion, the promises again.

Verse 13

13. Of that which came to his hand The present was a large and princely one, probably a very large proportion of all that he possessed . He would fain give all to be reconciled to his warlike brother, and will spare no pains or sacrifice on his part that his prayer may be answered . The skilful arrangement of this present, which was to go over before him, is thus noticed by Lange: “Observe: 1) The climax; goats, sheep, camels, cattle, asses . 2) The spaces (breathing places) 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.”

Verse 20

20. I will appease him Here is a notable instance of metaphorical language . Literally, he says: “I will cover his face with the present which goes before me, and afterwards I will see his face; perhaps he will lift up my face . The word cover ( כפר ) is that so often used afterwards in connexion with expiation and atonement for sin . He would cover Esau’s face, so that he whom he had sinned against might cease to see the transgressions of the past . Those past offences hidden, he hopes himself to look on Esau’s face, as on one so far appeased as not to turn away from him, and refuse to see him . Then he hopes that there will come the further favour of Esau condescending to lift up his (Jacob’s) face the downcast face of one prostrate in humility and contrition before him.

Verse 21

21. That night The night following the day on which the messengers returned from Esau . Genesis 32:6. His successive movements seem to have been as follows: 1) Report of Esau’s coming. 2) Great fear and excitement, and first plans and arrangements for escape. Genesis 32:7. Genesis 32:3) He betakes himself to earnest prayer. Genesis 32:9 to Genesis 12:4) Having encamped for the night, he selects the present for Esau, and sends it on at once, over the ford, while he proposes to stay all night in the encampment. Genesis 32:13 to Genesis 21:5) After the present has passed over, he is restless still, and rises up that same night, and sees his wives and all his family safely over the Jabbok, he only remaining behind. Genesis 32:22-24.

Verse 22

22. The ford Jabbok Or, the crossing place of the Jabbok . This stream is believed to be identical with the modern Wady Zerka, which runs north of Mount Jelad, and empties into the Jordan directly east of Shechem .

Verse 24

24. Left alone He doubtless sought to be alone with God that night, and called up the memories of all his past life. All the deception and wrong that had stained his record pressed sorely on his awakened conscience. He had all along leaned too much to his own devices, and had not fully relied on God. He probably repeated over and over again the prayer of Genesis 32:9-12, until it became fixed in his soul; and then there came a tangible presence, as of a human form; there wrestled a man with him until the rising of the dawn; a fact which we can understand and explain only as a supernatural visitation of the angel of Jehovah. See note on Genesis 16:7. The prophet Hosea (Hosea 12:3-4) refers to this conflict, and his words may be rendered thus:

In the womb he took his brother by the heel .

And by his vigour he was a prince with God,

And he acted the prince towards the angel, and prevailed .

He wept, and made supplication to him .

The exact nature of this struggle it is impossible for us to tell, but the whole drift of the narrative is against our explaining it as a dream, or an inner vision which had no external reality. The experience, however, may have gone on through alternate sleeping and waking, as often, when greatly agitated, the spirit of man rises above the weakness and weariness of the flesh. Doubtless Jacob’s praying wrought his soul into impassioned fervour. In such a state the coming of a man to him would have excited, comparatively, little or no additional alarm. In the first hours of struggle he as little apprehended the nature of his combatant as did Abraham and Lot when they entertained angels unawares; but towards the close of the struggle, as the morning drew on, he began to realize that he wrestled not with flesh and blood, but with Jehovah’s angel.

Verse 25

25. When he saw that he prevailed not That is, when the angel saw this . Let us not marvel at such an anthropomorphism, but remember that the angel of Jehovah yielded to Abraham’s intercession; ate with him like a man; found Hagar in the desert; led Lot by the hand out of Sodom, and said, “I cannot do any thing till thou escape . ” These self-limitations of the Divine One are manifesting themselves continually through all the history of his revealing himself to the chosen people, and we are not competent to say that he could have revealed himself as well in any other way.

Touched the hollow of his thigh The socket of the hip-joint, which is here called caph, ( כ Š ,) from its resembling the hollow palm of the hand . The angel’s touch dislocated this joint; and gave Jacob to know that the mighty wrestler could at any moment disable him, and in so far contending with him had only been graciously condescending to his weakness. “The reason of this act of the angel was very probably lest Jacob should be puffed up by the ‘abundance of the revelations.’ He might think that of his own strength, and not by grace, he had prevailed with God; as St. Paul had the thorn in the flesh sent to him lest he ‘should be exalted above measure.’ 2 Corinthians 12:7. ” Speaker’s Commentary .

Verse 26

26. Let me go He had power to free himself from Jacob’s grasp as easily as he touched his thigh . But still he accommodates himself to Jacob’s condition and needs, that he may teach a lesson for all ages .

For the day breaketh Hebrews, the morning ariseth . This is not to be explained as a part of the superstitious notion that spirits perform their earthly ministries in the dark hours of the night, and cannot abide the morning air . The three angels appeared at midday to Abraham .

Genesis 18:1-2. But the rising dawn required that Jacob should be now moving on to look after his family and to meet Esau.

I will not let thee go, except thou bless me Thus “he wept and made supplication unto him.” Hosea 12:4. It is the language of earnest, persistent prayer .

“Yield to me now, for I am weak,

But confident in self-despair,

Speak to my heart, in blessing speak,

Be conquered by my instant prayer .

Verse 27

27. What is thy name This question was the introduction of the answer to Jacob’s petition for a blessing . The answer of Jacob was the confession of his name, Jacob, supplanter; the man who took his brother by the heel, and had been guilty of many an act of wrong . Thus to confess one’s name is to confess one’s sins, and “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness . ” 1 John 1:8.

Verse 28

28. No more Jacob, but Israel No more the supplanter; no more the self-seeker, filled with all artifice, and cunning, and deceit . This was the grand crisis and turning-point in Jacob’s life and history . Hereafter he shall be called Israel, princely contender with God . This was the new name by which the chosen people should be chiefly known among themselves, and in their sacred books . Israel, rather than Hebrews, and rather than Jews, shall be their covenant name . The word is compounded of אל , God, and ישׂר , from שׂרה , akin to שׂור and שׂרר , in which are combined the ideas of prince and power. The common version beautifully and forcibly presents both meanings, as a prince hast thou power. The oft-occurring word שׂר , sar prince, noble, chief is of the same root . We deem it best in every rendering of the verb to preserve the idea of princely power . In this new name is suggested the glorious attainments and prerogatives of the true spiritual sons of God . They become “a kingdom of priests,” (Exodus 19:6,) or, according to Revelation 5:10, “a kingdom and priests . ” In every case, the leading thought is that of princely power before God and from God .

Verse 29

29. Tell me… thy name In the loftiest attainments of soul-struggle with God this is the profoundest prayer that can be uttered . It is a rising above human desires, a ceasing even to ask for blessings, and a yearning to know the sacred name. It is equivalent to, Reveal to me thy nature; or, as in Exodus 33:18, “Show me thy glory . ” Such was Manoah’s prayer .

Judges 13:17. But he learned that he might not ask too deeply after the Wonderful, פלא .

He blessed him there In what particular form or manner, besides the giving him the new name, we are not told . But Jacob’s prayer for a blessing was answered. At the same time an implied rebuke was administered for his asking after the angel’s name. When shocks of divine power are felt, sufficient to prove the personal presence of Omnipotence, it is presumptuous for feeble man to essay to “find out the Almighty to perfection.”

Verses 30-31

3 0, 31 .

Peniel… Penuel The two words mean the same thing, and differ only by the changing of the vowel-letter י into ו . Elsewhere it is always written Penuel, and possibly the form Peniel is a corruption that has here crept into the text . The name means face or presence of God, and the deep and lasting impression made on Jacob, as having struggled face to face with God, made this a fitting name of the place. He had there a vision of God such as he had not before, and though now he halted upon his thigh, he was thankful for the preservation of his life.

Verse 32

32. Eat not… the sinew which shrank This is understood of the ischiadic, or sciatic nerve, extending from the thigh bone downwards .

Even to the present day the Jews religiously abstain from eating this sinew in animals.

The narrative of Jacob’s experiences in this chapter is wonderfully suggestive. We trace the struggles of a man of great natural endowments from the period of a mighty awakening to a mighty triumph. Released from Laban, he turns his face towards the Land of Promise, but before he enters it, he must be made to know more of himself and more of God. His acquaintance with God, thus far, has been only general, formal, and not sufficient to work any deep spiritual change in his inner life. He has stood altogether in his own strength. He obtained Esau’s birthright by taking advantage of him at an hour of want. He obtained Isaac’s blessing by guile. He had practiced many an artifice against Laban, and in their recent interview he had said much more about his own works than about the blessing of God. It is time for him to be humbled. First, then, comes the vision of angels at Mahanaim. But immediately after that he sends messengers to Esau with words that show great leaning to his own devices. Then follows the report of Esau’s coming with four hundred men, and fear and trembling take hold of Jacob’s soul. In his excitement and distress he plans for possible escape; but having little hope in that way, he turns to God in prayer. See notes on Genesis 32:9-12. Then he sets apart a princely present for his brother. He would fain make restitution for the wrongs of other days. He sends the present on by night. Still he cannot rest, and gets up in the night, and sends his family forward over the Jabbok. He is all excitement and emotion; and now, having done all he can, he lingers behind alone. Then comes the wonderful struggle with the angel, which was, in its first hours, like all the course of his life thus far, a struggle against God. God lets him wrestle, to know all his strength, and to find in the end that it is altogether weakness. At last a touch of the divine power breaks all Jacob’s energy, and opens his eyes to see that he struggles not with man, but with God. It is a wondrous revelation that thus bursts upon his soul. It brings to him at once a conviction of the divine mercy as well as of divine power. Thus he is made “confident in self-despair,” and learns, what every child of saving faith may know, that victory with God is had, not by a wrestling against him, but a confident clinging to him. Then and thus he obtained the new and princely name, and the blessing of God.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 32". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-32.html. 1874-1909.
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