Genesis 32


1 “And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.”

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 (compare  Psalm 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 ch. 28:11, συνήντησαν αὐτῶ -

sunaentaesan auto - (Septuagint), 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 (compare ibid. v. 12; ch.31:10). Cajetan, approved by Pererius,

translating בּו "in him," makes it appear that the vision was purely subjective,

non fuisse visionem corporalem, sed internam: the clause interpolated by the

Septuagint, καὶ ἀναβλέψας εἰδε παρεμβολὴν θεοῦ παρμεβεβληκυῖαν – kai

anablepsas eide parembolaen Theou parmebeblaekuian - , 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).


2 “And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host: and he called the

name of that place Mahanaim.”  And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is

God's host: - Mahaneh Elohim; i.e. the army (compare ch. 50:9; Exodus 14:24)

or camp (I Samuel 14:15; Psalm 27:3) of God, as opposed to the Mahanoth, or

bands of Jacob himself (see vs. 7, 10) - and he called the name of that place

Mahanaim. - 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 Psalm 34:8 (Calvin, Bush, Gcrlach,

'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

(II Samuel 2:8; 17:24, 27; 19:32; I 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 (vide 'Robinson,'

vol. 3. App. 166; and cf. Tristram, 'The Land of Israel, p. 483); 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

(vide Kitto s 'Cyclopedia,' art. Mahanaim, and cf. 'Handbook for S. and

P.' 2. 311, seq.).



Divine Protection (vs. 1-2)


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, “encampeth round

about them that fear the Lord, and delivereth them,” (Psalm 34:7) and

“keepeth them in all their ways.”  ( ibid. ch.91:11)


3 “And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land

of Seir, the country of Edom.”  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, - see on ch.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;

II Chronicles 20:10), though as yet Esau had not withdrawn from Canaan

(ch. 36:5-8) - the country (literally, plain or level tract = Padan see Hosea

12:13) of Edom, as it was afterwards called.


4 “And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau;

Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there

until now:  5 And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and

womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in

thy sight.”  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

(ch. 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 - אֵחַרe future Kal. of אָחַר ocurring

only here, is a contraction for אֶךאחַר, like תֹּסֵק for תֹּאסֵק (Psalm 104:29; see

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: - compare ch. 12:16

(Abraham); 26:13-14 (Isaac) - and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find

grace in thy sight (compare ch. 33:8, 15; 39:4; and see ch. 6:8; 18:3).


6 “And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother

Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.”

And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau,

and also he cometh to meet thee (see ch. 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 (ch. 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 (Peele, 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).


7 “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people

that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands; 

8 And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other

company which is left shall escape.”  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.



Faith and Fellowship (vs. 3-8)


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



9 “And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac,

the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred,

and I will deal well with thee:  10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies,

and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff

I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.  11 Deliver me,

I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear

him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.

12 And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the

sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.”

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 (compare ch. 28:13;  31:3, 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 (compare Hosea 10:14). And thou

saidst, I will surely do thee good, - literally, doing good, I will do good to thee

(see ch. 28:13). Jacob here pleads the Divine promises at Bethel (ibid. vs. 13-15)

and at Haran (ch. 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 (ch. 13:16), the stars of heaven (ch. 15:5), and the sand

upon the sea-shore (ch. 22:17) - which cannot be numbered for multitude.




Jacob’s Prayer (vs. 9-12)


1. It was the prayer of humility.


2. Of faithfaith 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



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.”


13 “And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his

hand a present for Esau his brother;”  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, ὧν ἔφερεν -  hon

epheren (Septuagint), 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 ch. 4:3-5, as a

sacrifice to Jehovah, q.v.) for Esau his brother.


14 “Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty

rams,  15 Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty

she asses, and ten foals.”  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 bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals. The selection was in harmony with the

general possessions of nomads (compare Job 1:3; 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).


16 “And he delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by

themselves; and said unto his servants, Pass over before me, and put a space

betwixt drove and drove.”  And he delivered them into the Band of his servants,

every drove by themselves (literally, drove and drove separately); and said unto his

servants, Pass over (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 (cf. 'Land and Book,' p. 331).


17 “And he commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau my brother meeteth

thee, and asketh thee, saying, Whose art thou? and whither goest thou? and

whose are these before thee?  18 Then thou shalt say, They be thy servant

Jacob's; it is a present sent unto my lord Esau: and, behold, also he is behind us.

19 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.

20 And say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us. For he said,

I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will

see his face; peradventure he will accept of me.”  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 (compare ch. 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" ('Land and

Book,' p. 371).


21 "So went the present over before him: and himself lodged that night in the

company.  22 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two

womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.

23 And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had."

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 (see

v. 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 ('Land of Israel,' p. 558) 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 ('Land of Israel,' p. 558). 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 (v. 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).




Mahanaim, or Preparing for Esau  (vs. 1-23)




Ø      The time when it occurred.


o        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.


o        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.  (Hebrews 11:9-10)


Ø      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



Ø      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 (compare II Kings 6:17; Psalm 34:6;

Zechariah 9:8; Hebrews 1:14).




Ø      The dispatch of the messengers.


o        Their destination — to Mount Seir, to Esau;

o        their instructions — to inform Esau of Jacob’s prosperous estate

and immediate return;

o        their design — to deprecate the wrath of Esau, and find grace

for Jacob in his sight.


Ø      The return of the messengers.


o        Their alarming report — that Esau was on the way with 400 men;

o        the terror it produced — Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed;

o        the acts to which it led:

§         stratagem,

§         supplication,

§         conciliation.


  • THE SUDDEN STRATAGEM. Jacob divided the people that were

with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two bands.


Ø      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 (Psalm 27:1-3;

Romans 8:31).


Ø      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.


Ø      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.


Ø      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.


  • THE EARNEST PRAYER. Characterized by:


Ø      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,” 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.


Ø      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.


Ø      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.”


  • 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 reward in the bosom strong wrath” (ibid. 21:14).

The gift of Jacob to his brother was:


Ø      Handsomely prepared. It was munificently and generously selected

from the best of the flocks and herds in his possession.


Ø      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.


Ø      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.


Ø      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.




The Crisis at Hand (vs. 13-23)


Jacob understood the human heart.


  • 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.


  • 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-toface

pleading for God.


  • 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.



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).


  • 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.

24 "And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the

breaking of the day."  And Jacob was left alone (probably on the north bank of the

Jabbok; but see on v. 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 נֶךאבַק, 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 (see on v. 22) -

a man - called an angel by Hosea (Hosea 12:4), and God by Jacob (v. 30); but see

below - with him until the breaking of the day - literally, the ascending of the



25 "And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of

his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him."

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.


26 "And He said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee

go, except thou bless me."  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.


27 "And He said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob."

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, Jacob - i.e. Heel-catcher, or Supplanter (see ch. 25:26).


28 "And He said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as

a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed."

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 Authorized Version - for as a prince hast thou

power with God - literally, for thou hast contended with Elohim [Keil, Alford, &c.),

ὅτι ἐνισχυσας μετὰ θεου - hoti enischusas meta Theou - for you have fought with

God (Septuagint), 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 - kai meta anthropon dunatos esae - and with men and have prevailed

(Septuagint), quanto magis contra heroines prevalebis (Vulgate) is by some

preferred (Calvin, Rosenmüller).



A New Name (v. 28)


“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 was 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 the 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 (ch. 30:37; 31:20).

Returning home greatly enriched, he heard of Esau at hand. He feared his anger.

There was no help in man; God’s promise was his only refuge. Could

he trust to it? His wrestling. We cannot picture its outward form; but its

essence a spiritual struggle. His endurance was  tried by bodily infirmity

(compare Job 2:5) and by the apparent unwillingness of the Being with whom

he strove (compare Matthew 15:26). His answer showed determination

(compare II Kings 4:30). This prevailed; weak as he was, he received the

blessing (compare Hebrews 11:34). And the new name was the sign of his

victory (compare Matthew 21:22; I John 5:4).


  • THE STRUGGLE. Why thus protracted? It was not merely a prolonged

prayer, like Luke 6:12. There was some hindrance to be overcome (compare

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.

There was to be no peace while this remained (compare Isaiah 26:3). And the

lesson of that night was to trust God’s promise entirely (compare Psalm

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 was 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!  This 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.


  • THE NEW NAME (Compare Revelation 3:12). No more Jacob, the

crafty, but Israel, God’s prince (compare ibid. 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 (II

Corinthians 12:10). That name is offered to all. The means is 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.


29 "And Jacob asked Him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And He said,

Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And He blessed him there."

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; 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? Compare 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 learned 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.


30 "And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to

face, and my life is preserved."  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 (compare ch. 16:13; Exodus 24:11; 33:20; Judges 6:22; 13:22;

Isaiah 6:5).


31 "And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his

thigh."  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 (II Corinthians 12:7).


32 "Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which

is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow

of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.'  Therefore the children of Israel eat

not of the sinew which shrank, - the gid hannasheh, rendered by the Septuagint

τὸ νεῦρον ὅ ἐνάρκησεν - to neuron ho enarkaesen - the sinew of the hip, 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 tendo Achillis of the

Greeks) reaching from the spinal marrow to the ankle. The derivation of hannasheh

is unknown (Gesenius), though the Septuagint 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 (see

'Michaelis Suppl.', p. 303) - 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 (Suppl., p. 305), eo nemo omnino mortalium,

si vel nullo cogna-tionis 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.



Peniel, or the Mysterious Contest (vs. 24-32)




Ø      The scene. The north bank of Jabbok (see Exposition).


Ø      The time. Night; the most suitable season for soul exercises, such



o       self-examination (Psalm 4:4), meditation

o       (Psalm 63:6),

o       devotion (Luke 6:12).


Ø      The circumstances. Jacob was alone. In solitude the human soul

discovers most of itself, and enjoys most frequent interviews with God

(Psalm 77:6; Daniel 10:8; John 16:32).


Ø      The combatants.


o        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.


o        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 Mamre (ch. 18:1), and who subsequently, in the fullness

of the times, incarnated Himself as the Word made flesh (John 1:14).


Ø      The combat.


o        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 (compare John 3:8).


o        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).


o        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).


Ø      Its course. Four stages are discernible in this mysterious struggle.


o        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.


o        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.


o        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.


o        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.


o        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

(compare II Corinthians 12:7).


o        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.


  • 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.


Ø      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.


Ø      To read the passage as an allegory is both forced and unnatural, and

“little better than trifling with the sacred narrative” (Alford).


Ø      There is no insuperable objection to the idea of an ecstasy, provided it is

not intended to exclude the objective manifestation yet.


Ø      There does not seem sufficient reason for departing from the obvious

and literal sense of the passage, according to which there was a bona fide

corporeal contest between Jacob and the angel of Jehovah in human form;



o        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;

o        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;

o        the dislocation of Jacob’s thigh points to an actual physical contest;


o        the other events in the narrative appear to require that the historic

credibility of Jacob’s wrestling be maintained.


  • 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

( v. 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



Ø      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.


Ø      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.


Ø      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





Peniel. “The Face of God”  (vs. 24-32)


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 (embodying deity in a human

form; both divine and human) 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.”

(I Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4)  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 darkness 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 man 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:


Ø      mighty deliverance,

Ø      Divine blessedness,

Ø      rejoicing in personal salvation and

Ø      peaceful life.



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