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
addition to suggest that his descendants would require to fight for their
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)
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
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
Mahneh, a deserted ruin six or seven miles north-west by north of Ajlun
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
(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
of Seir, the
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;
20:10), though as yet Esau had not withdrawn from
(ch. 36:5-8) - the country (literally, plain or level tract = Padan see Hosea
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
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
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
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
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
a tributary of the
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
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
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
to the dust upon the ground, as Abraham's seed had previously been compared
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 faith — faith in a covenant God, faith in Him who had already
revealed Himself, faith in promises made to the individual as well as to
God’s people generally, faith founded on experience of the past, faith
which has been mingled with obedience, and therefore lays hold of Divine
righteousness. He has commanded me to return; I am in the way of His
commandments. Faith in the great purpose of God and His kingdom: “I will
make thy seed as the sand of the sea,” &c. So Luther, in his sense of
personal weakness in a troubled world, cried, “The Lord must save his own
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, 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
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,
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
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
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,
Shechem, and midway between the Lake Tiberias
rapid, and often completely hidden by the dense mass of oleander which fringes its
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:
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;
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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).
this world threatening the
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
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
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, &c.).
A New Name (v. 28)
“Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but
Jacob learned at
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).
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.
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
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
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
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
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
blessing he had formerly received at
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
by authoritatively changing that name to
of El, in token of his victory — an outward symbol of the completed
spiritual renovation which had taken place in Jacob since God first
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 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
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.
had arisen in Jacob’s history is universally admitted. He was now returning
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
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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