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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 32

 

 

Verse 1-2

Genesis 31:22 to Genesis 32:2. After Mutual Recriminations, Jacob and Laban Make a Covenant to Refrain from Aggression on each other's Territories.—The analysis is uncertain; Gunkel assigns Genesis 31:22-24, Genesis 31:26, Genesis 31:28-31 a (to "Laban"), Genesis 31:32-35, Genesis 31:36 b, Genesis 31:37, Genesis 31:41-43, Genesis 31:45; Genesis 31:49 f., Genesis 31:53 b - Genesis 33:2 to E the rest, apart from Genesis 31:47, to J. According to E, Laban learns of Jacob's flight on the third day, and overtakes him seven days later, but is warned in a dream the night before their encounter to say nothing to him, a command which he interprets as forbidding him to take hostile measures. He reproaches Jacob with his sudden flight, depriving him of the opportunity of saying adieu to his children. He could hurt him but for God's prohibition. And if sore home-sickness excused him, why has he stolen his gods? Jacob, ignorant of Rachel's theft, replies that the thief shall die (cf. Genesis 44:9), and gives him full liberty to search. Laban searches the tents of Jacob, the maids, and Leah, without discovering the teraphim. Last of all, he enters Rachel's tent. She had concealed them in the camel's howdah, in which she travelled, and alleges her condition of ceremonial uncleanness as the reason why she cannot rise (a stolen god protected from discovery in so ignominious a way!). Jacob concludes that Laban's charge was a pretext for ransacking his property to see if he can find anything of his own, and challenges him to produce it. Then (Genesis 31:41 f.) he carries the war into the enemy's camp. Fourteen years he had served for the daughters, six for the flock; but for God's care Laban would have turned him away penniless. God's rebuke shows that he bad marked Jacob's wrongs. Laban replies, "Daughters, children, flocks, all you have is mine, yet I must part with them; what kindness can I show them?" Then he (not Jacob) sets up a pillar, to indicate that God will watch between them, to see that Jacob, when no longer under his father-in-law's eye, does not illtreat his daughters. Jacob swears by the Fear of Isaac, offers a sacrifice, and partakes with his brethren of a sacrificial meal. In the morning Laban bids his children adieu, and returns home.

According to J, Laban overtakes Jacob and reproaches him for leaving without the customary "send-off." He replies that he feared that Laban might rob him of his daughters. (Laban's reply is not preserved; it aroused Jacob's hot anger (Genesis 31:36 a), and from the tenor of Jacob's reply Gunkel conjectures that he charged him with stealing his flocks.) Jacob replies in wrath that he had served him twenty years, there have been no miscarriages in the flock, he has not eaten the rams, if beasts had devoured he had not brought the mangled remains for inspection to prove his honesty (Exodus 22:13, Amos 3:12), but had borne the loss; pitiless heat by day, biting frost by night, scanty sleep, such had been his thankless lot. Laban proposes a covenant (and (?) the making of a cairn) to witness between them. He (not Jacob) bids his brethren collect stones, and they celebrate the covenant feast on the cairn. This cairn is to be a witness that neither will pass it in hostile aggression against the other.

In Genesis 32:1 f. (E) we have apparently a fragmentary explanation of the name Mahanaim. The incident is so curious that probably something objectionable to later piety (possibly a conflict between Jacob and the angels; cf. Genesis 32:24-32) has been struck out.

Genesis 31:25. the mountain: apparently different from "the mountain of Gilead"; perhaps Mizpah stood in the text (Genesis 31:49).

Genesis 31:42. the Fear of Isaac: i.e. the deity feared by Isaac, not the terror inspired by the god Isaac (E. Meyer) or a sacred object belonging to and reverenced by Isaac and now in Jacob's possession (Eerdmans).


Verses 3-21

Genesis 32:3-21. Jacob Takes Precautions to Appease Esau.

Genesis 32:3-13 a seems to be from J, Genesis 32:13 b - Genesis 32:21 from E. Genesis 32:9-12 may be an expansion. According to J, Jacob divides his company into two camps, so that one may escape if Esau attacks. E represents Jacob as making up a very valuable present to win Esau's favour. This consists of goats, sheep, camels, cattle, and asses. He hits on the plan of arranging them in separate droves, with a space between each. Each drover is to say that it is a present for Esau, and that Jacob is behind. Thus Esau, when he expects to see Jacob, is to be again and again surprised with a fresh present; so it is hoped that his anger will have vanished by the time he meets his brother.

Genesis 32:7. two companies: the word is the same as that rendered "host" in Genesis 32:2; it is a second explanation of the name Mahanaim, the writer taking the word as a dual; probably it is not really such, though it has a dual termination.

Genesis 32:9-12. A beautiful prayer, but the absence of any confession of sin is remarkable, considering the root of Jacob's well-grounded fear.


Verses 22-32

Genesis 32:22-32. The Wrestling of Jacob.—The narrative, for which Hosea 12:3-5 should be compared. is distributed between J and E by recent critics. Gunkel attributes Genesis 32:23-24 a, Genesis 32:25 a, Genesis 32:26-28, Genesis 32:31 a to E Genesis 32:22; Genesis 32:24, Genesis 32:25 b, Genesis 32:29 f., Genesis 32:31 b to J. The older critics treated the section as a unity, generally attributing it to J. So much uncertainty hangs over the analysis, that it is best to take the story as it stands. It has been so filled with deep, spiritual significance (Charles Wesley's "Come, O Thou traveller unknown" is a classic example) that it is difficult for the modern reader to think himself back into its original meaning. Like the story of the angel marriages (Genesis 6:1-4), it belongs to a most antique stage of religious belief. It is no wrestling in prayer with God for His blessing, nor in the primitive form of the story was Yahweh the superhuman antagonist. It is a literal physical wrestling, in which one of the wrestlers puts the thigh bone of the other out of joint, in which the human combatant holds his adversary in so firm a grip that he fears the day will dawn before he is gone. It is a local deity, whether a god of the border who seeks to prevent entrance to the land, or of the Jabbok ("wrestled," in Genesis 32:24 is ye'abek) who, like other river gods, as Frazer has pointed out, resisted the crossing and sought to kill those who attempted it. The two are not unequally matched, the wrestling continues long; in Genesis 32:26 a Jacob's thigh is dislocated by a stroke of the foe, in Genesis 32:26 b by the efforts he makes himself. We have no reason to suppose that Jacob guessed the supernatural character of his opponent till he begged to be released since dawn was at hand. It is a widespread, primitive belief that gods or spirits must disappear at daybreak. Jacob therefore, had him at a disadvantage, and lamed and in agony though he was, he nerved himself to hold on just a little longer, to wring from him the blessing which, as a superhuman being, he was able to bestow. He learns Jacob's name (apparently up to that point he was unaware of it), and changes it to Israel in token that he had persevered (so Driver renders) with God. (Perhaps LXX, Vulg. should be accepted here, mg.) So Jacob asks his adversary for his name (Genesis 32:29). The name is, to primitive thought, an essential part of the personality: to know it is to get its bearer into one's power. Hence great precautions are taken that it shall not be known, and it is not uncommon for savages to pass under an assumed name, the true name being hidden. This applies to gods as well as men. Great pains are taken in prayer to secure that right names shall be employed, not simply that the deity intended shall be reached, but that pressure may be brought upon him by the efficacy of their use. This crude conception gave place to ideas more refined, but after the name was no longer used as a spell to coerce the deity, the old thought of the wonder-working power inherent in it still lingered. It was attached in Judaism to the Ineffable Name, and similar thoughts naturally gathered about the name of Jesus. The invocation of His name, or the prayer offered in His name, carried with them His power, so that demons were cast out, diseases healed, baptism administered, and discipline exercised (1 Corinthians 5:3-5*) in His name. The terminology still survives, especially in hymns. But as to Manoah (Judges 13:17 f.) so to Jacob, at least in the present form of the story, the name is not disclosed; yet he receives the blessing. The origin of the name Peniel is explained; Jacob has seen God face to face, yet the sight has not been fatal; he bears the mark of the struggle, but his life has not paid the forfeit. The story also accounts for the abstinence of the Israelites from the sinew of the thigh socket, i.e. probably the sciatic nerve, a taboo which curiously, is not mentioned elsewhere in the OT. It is known among other peoples.

Genesis 32:22. Jabbok: the Zerka (p. 32), a tributary which discharges into the Jordan about 25 miles N. of the Dead Sea. The ford is probably 3 miles to the E. of this point.

Genesis 32:28. Israel: strictly "God" is the subject; cf. mg2.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 32:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/genesis-32.html. 1919.

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