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Deeper Commentary

Gen 32:1 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him- Jacob had promised the Angel that if he was kept on his way, then Yahweh would be his God. Hence the connection between the Angels and Jacob going on his way. The meeting of Jacob by Angels looked forward to the meeting with Esau; the angels could have rightfully slain Jacob as could have both Laban and Esau, but they did not, because God influenced them by grace not to. These Angels were representative of the forces of Esau who were coming to likewise 'meet' Jacob, and so his reconciliation by grace with the Angels was prophetic of his reconciliation with Esau.

Gen 32:2 When he saw them, Jacob said, This is God’s army. He called the name of that place Mahanaim- The idea of "camps" is developed throughout this section. Jacob and Laban had both camped in Mount Gilead, forming two camps. And the Angel had influenced Laban's camp not to harm Jacob, as explained on Gen. 31:25. But now Jacob perceives that the 'two camps' of Mahanaim had not so much been his and Laban's; but Laban's and this Angelic camp. And he is now to learn that likewise Esau's "camp" had an Angelic "camp" reflecting it in Heaven; and Jacob's camp was hopelessly set against the Angelic camp. See on :7.

Jacob actually saw the Angels. "This is God's host", he commented, with the implication that this sight further humbled him and led him towards the necessary contrition of mind for deliverance from Esau. If "the sign of the son of man" which appears over Israel and leads the tribes of Israel to mourn in repentance is a literal vision of the Angel-cherubim (Mt. 24:30), then this has a basis in Jacob seeing the Angelic vision in the time of his distress, the "time of Jacob's trouble".

Particularly in that watershed night of wrestling, Jacob was our example. The Lord taught that we must all first be reconciled with our brother before we meet with God (Mt. 5:24)- an obvious allusion to Jacob's reconciliation with Esau in his heart, and then meeting with God. We really must all go through that process, whether in one night or a longer period. The commentary on that night in Hos. 12 makes this point: "In his (spiritual) manhood (RVmg.) he had power with God... he wept, and made supplication unto him: he (God) found him (Jacob) in Bethel, and there He spake with us, even the (same) Lord God of Hosts [armies of Angels]... therefore turn thou to thy God" as Jacob made Yahweh his God and turned to Him (vv. 3-6). Jacob is our example. Jacob only truly turned to God that night of wrestling, at the age of 97, despite having been brought up in the ways of the true Gospel, and after having lived almost a century of half commitment to God. We can so easily slip into the same life of half-commitment and never, even for a century, turn to our God with all our heart. Ps. 34:3 promises that the Angel of the Lord will encamp / Mahanaim around all His servants, just as the Angel did at Mahanaim for Jacob. Jacob’s struggle at [or with] Peniel strikes a chord with each of us. Frank Lake has pointed out that each person struggles to find peace in their relationships with others and also with their God- whether or not they are conscious of those struggles (Frank Lake, Clinical Theology (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1966)). Jacob’s experience is clearly set up as representative of our own. 

Gen 32:3 Jacob sent messengers in front of him to Esau, his brother, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom- "Messengers" translates the same word malak just used in :1. If the record intended us to make a distinction between human and divine messengers, surely another Hebrew word would have been used at this point; for there were other words which carry the idea of 'messenger' or 'sent ones' which could have been employed. I suggest therefore that Jacob meets the Angels and then sends some of them to Esau. This impression of apparent command over Angels then sets the context for him then wrestling with one of them; and Hos. 12:4 comments that Jacob "had power over the angel and prevailed".

Through the whole incident with the wrestling Angel, Jacob was led to understand something of the meaning of the Gen. 28 vision of a ladder with Angels (mal'akim) ascending from him to Heaven and returning to him. He sends messengers (mal'akim) to Esau (Gen. 32:3)- and they return to him as it were as a mighty host of an angry army. Hence he named the place Mahanaim, two camps / hosts- for he perceived that Esau's host was indeed the host of God in His Angels. And thus he comments that he saw the face of the Angel / God as if it were the face of Esau (Gen. 33:10). And so God can masterfully arrange incidents in our lives too, which are somehow the summation of all our previous encounters and interactions with people... to teach us His way. This is why there is sometimes a sense of deja vu in our lives.

Jacob evidently forgot or resigned the promise that the elder would serve the younger when he sent messengers to Esau, describing himself as Esau's servant, and Esau as his Lord; yet just a few hours later he was pleading in almost unparalleled intensity to receive the promised blessings of forgiveness. Such oscillating faith and perception of the promises is tragically a characteristic of Israel after the Spirit too. 


Gen 32:4 He commanded them, saying, This is what you shall tell my lord, Esau: ‘This is what your servant, Jacob, says. I have lived as a foreigner with Laban, and stayed until now- Describing Esau as his lord and himself as Esau's servant is all a studied rejection of the blessing he had stolen, that he would be lord over his brothers and they would bow down to him (Gen. 27:29). The way Jacob bows to Esau and asks him to "take away" the blessing in Gen. 33:11 is all tantamount to saying that he was handing back the blessing of the firstborn, because he had experienced the Abrahamic blessing. Having the blessing of forgiveness and fellowship with God was all he needed.

 Jacob's desperate humility before Esau is remarkable: "My lord Esau... I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight... peradventure he will accept of me" (Gen. 32:4,5,20 AV). This was a far cry from his nonchalance and cold shouldering of Esau at the time of the theft of the birthright. Likewise the present Jewish attitude towards the Arabs will dramatically change. Jacob sending droves of presents to appease Esau will connect with Israel's frequent appeasement of their aggressive Arab neighbours in the last days, on the road to their final repentance in the time of Jacob's trouble.

Jacob says that he had lived as a foreigner with Laban- for either 20 or 40 years. This is so much the language of the patriarchs, living as passers through and not permanent residents; and that is the spirit of all the true seed. But he says he "stayed until now" with Laban. The Hebrew implies procrastination, as if he had stayed longer than he should have done. Significantly, it is the same word used by Eliezer when he had gone to Laban seeking Rebekah as Isaac's wife; he refused to be 'delayed' by Laban (Gen. 24:56 AV "hinder me not"). Jacob is recognizing that he had remained longer than he should with Laban because initially he had been obsessed with Rachel and had not taken Leah and returned home sooner; and latterly, he had remained longer with Laban as he built up his fantastic wealth with the myth of the rods, which was really Divine blessing. He recognized he had not been as his mother and father in spiritual terms, he had delayed with Laban, whereas Rebekah had followed the Spirit and not allowed Laban to delay her.

 

Gen 32:5 I have cattle, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favour in your sight’- This isn't Jacob boasting; he was hardly in the mood for that. Rather is he wishing to inform Esau that he has indeed received Divine and human blessing, and wishes to share this with Esau. If indeed the messengers were Angels (see on :3), then Jacob was sending them, relying upon God, in order to find grace before Esau.


Gen 32:6 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to your brother Esau. Not only that, but he comes to meet you, and four hundred men with him- As noted on :4, this is the going and returning of the Angels ["messengers"] upon Jacob which he had seen in the staircase vision of Gen. 28. I suggested on :3 that these messengers were in fact Angels, even if they appeared as men. This suggestion is confirmed by the way this verse seems to differentiate between the Angel-messengers 'coming to Esau' and also, separate to that, 'finding out' that he was coming to meet Jacob with 400 men with him. The Angels coming to meet Jacob in :1 were in a sense representative of Esau coming to meet Jacob. Just as Laban was out to kill Jacob but he was saved by Angelic grace, so Esau was out to kill him. Rebekah had been wrong in thinking that Esau would soon forget it all. Having 400 men with him was really evidence enough that he was out for conflict.


Gen 32:7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and was distressed- Jacob has just been "afraid" of Laban (Gen. 31:31), just as he now was of Esau (:11 s.w.). Yet he had learnt that God's Angels had saved him from what he feared; for the Angel appeared to Laban and warned him not to do evil to Jacob. We pass through one experience or test in order to prepare us for the next one; and we see this so clearly in the parallels between the meeting with Laban and now that with Esau.

 

He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks, and the herds, and the camels, into two companies- Literally, two camps- Mahanaim. These two camps of Jacob are stressed (:8,10,21).


Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed- This is the basis of "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7), the "time of trouble" from which Israel will be Angelically "delivered" (Dan. 12:1) after the pattern of Jacob. Yet this "time of trouble" is picked up by the Lord in Mt. 24:21 and applied to the time of great tribulation "such as was not" which will encompass all God's people, natural and spiritual. What this means is that the Jacob experience must be gone through by all of us, natural and spiritual Israel; and this will entail a desperate praying to God and an earnest repentance, recognizing that we have lived out our parental expectations for too long; and above all, a realization that "this God is our God", a personalizing of God, a grasping of the wondrous reality of those things which we have previously seen as only so much correct theology and logical theory.

 Gen 32:8 And he said, If Esau comes to the one company, and strikes it, then the company which is left will escape- "Company" is "camp"; Jacob should have perceived that there was a camp of Angels with him, that we was not alone, but his camp was but a reflection of the heavenly camp of Angels whom he had just "met" as a foretaste of how he would "meet" Esau's camp / company.


Gen 32:9 Jacob said, God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, Yahweh, who said to me, ‘Return to your country, and to your relatives, and I will do you good’- He came to see that 'God' was Yahweh (cp. notes on Gen. 28:20); he saw that there was only one 'God', and that the vague sense of 'God' which he had was in fact 'Yahweh'. But still he speaks of this Yahweh God as someone else's God. And the promise made was that he would be kept, blessed, and brought to his father's house in peace. Yet he admits that he 'fears' this will not be the case, and he and his family will be 'struck' by Esau (:11). He was being led to realize that he couldn't just plead a part of the promise, and doubt that the rest would be fulfilled too, questioning whether in fact it was God's plan to "do [him] good" and not evil. We likewise have this tendency. And Moses' primary audience, Israel in the wilderness, were likewise challenged to believe that indeed it was God's purpose to do them good and not evil in their latter end (Dt. 8:16). The story of Jacob was to be their encouragement.


Gen 32:10 I am not worthy- This is new language for Jacob, and we see that indeed as Dt. 8:16 teaches, he had to be humbled before being done good and not evil in his latter end. The same word for "worthy" is used by David when likewise faced with God's covenant promises (2 Sam. 7:19). David was humbled when he received the promises, just as we should be by realizing that we really are in covenant relationship with God. “Who am I…?” was his response (2 Sam. 7:18). Like Jacob, he felt himself unworthy of all the “mercy and truth” shown him in the promises. And we too should be humbled by these promises; for we are in the same new covenant. The word is also used of how Jacob was the "younger" son (Gen. 27:15,42). He surely alludes to that; he had so struggled to rise above being the younger son, but he now finally realizes that he is who he is before God. And once he realized that, the promise could come true- that the elder would serve the younger. And the little one, Jacob the small / not worthy / younger, would become a great multitude finally (Is. 60:22 s.w.).

Of the least of all- The LXX here is alluded to by Paul when he confesses that he is less than the least of all (Eph. 3:8). Jacob's path is indeed that of us all.

The loving kindnesses, and of all the truth, which You have shown to Your servant; for with just my staff I passed over this Jordan- Strong comments that the word for "staff" here suggests a magical, pagan stick associated with fertility, coming from a root meaning 'to germinate'.  Jacob and idolatry go together. The same word occurs when we read that Jacob put the animals before the "rods"; it seems this is an intensive plural for 'the great rod', i.e. his staff. Yet, fascinatingly enough, at the very point when Jacob leaves home to start his wilderness journey with only (in his eyes) his pagan staff to bring him good luck, God as it were takes a snapshot of him, and asks Israel to leave Egypt with a staff in their hands- a strange request, surely, unless it was intended to drive their minds back to Jacob, asking them to emulate his example. Again we see the relevance of the Genesis narrative to its primary audience, Israel in the wilderness.

Jacob saw material prosperity as an indicator of the fulfillment of the promises to him. Because he was physically blessed in his life, he came to feel that the promises had been fulfilled, and therefore he almost lost sight of the future aspect of our relationship with God. There are powerful lessons for us here. He saw the promises ("mercies... truth") as having been fulfilled to him already, and therefore he needed the night of wrestling to bring him to the realization that the blessing of forgiveness (Mic. 7:20), with its eternal, future implications, was what the promises are really all about. But now perhaps he was realizing this- that he had indeed been materially blessed, but what he needed far more than that was forgiveness for his sin against his brother Esau, both by Esau and God, and peace thereby with God and man. This dimension of the promises suddenly came into focus for him. We likewise can dwell too much upon the material aspect of the promises- resurrection of the body to receive eternal life in future. What we need even more essentially is the blessing of forgiveness and reconcilliation with God and man which will enable that to be so.

 

And now I have become two companies- Before the wrestling began, Jacob evidently felt that basically, the promises to him had been fulfilled in the material prosperity which he had; for "kindness and truth" is a common idiom for the promises.  


Gen 32:11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he come and strike me, and the mothers with the children- Because Jacob saw, for much of his life, that the fulfillment of God's promises depended on his effort, he so often doubted them; because, of course, men can never make enough effort. And as noted on :10, he had seen the promises as too much about material blessing rather than the blessing of forgiveness and reconcilliation with God and man which is the more essential part of them. Thus he asks God to deliver him from Esau, because if Esau killed him, the covenant would not be fulfilled. "I fear him, lest he come and strike me (first!) and the mothers with the children". The AV and Hebrew have "mother" singular- as if he was still fixated upon Rachel and her son, and those born to her maid. Whether he died or not that night would not have nullified God's promise that his seed would become a multitude (:12) and that God would return him to his father's home in peace and blessing (Gen. 28:20). Until now, Jacob had seen the promises as offering him personal, temporal blessing, rather than having a firm faith in their future and spiritual implications. His wrestling with the Angel was a cameo of this whole attitude; he thought that the promised blessing of God could be achieved through his wrestling and struggling. This is why, in the course of that night, he stopped wrestling with the Angel and clung on to him with tears, begging that through pure grace he might receive the spiritual blessing of forgiveness (Hos. 12:2-4).


There can be no doubt that the wrestling experience of our lives will result in our rejection of materialism, and wholehearted devotion to the more spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Jacob began that night by pleading: "Deliver me from Esau", and he concludes by marveling that his life is "preserved (s.w. "deliver") from God's wrath (Gen. 32:30). The camp of Esau coming to meet him was the camp of Angels he had met and in a way become superior to as noted on :1,3,4. His  concern with immediate physical problems became dwarfed by his awareness of his need for reconciliation with God. In essence, this is Paul's teaching concerning peace in the NT; if we have peace with God, the wonder of this will result in us having peace in any situation. This is easy to write, so easy. And yet it is still true. If we see the seriousness of sin, and the wonder of being in free fellowship with the Father and Son, we will have peace. The wholehearted repentance and clinging on to God of Jacob that night is used in Hosea 12 as an appeal to all Israel to repent as our father Jacob did, and rise to his level of maturity. 

If Jacob's prayer had not been heard, Esau would have smitten " the mother with the children". This will be done by the latter day Esau to those Jews who do not match Jacob's intensity of prayer and repentance (Zech. 14:2), as it happened at the time of the Babylonian invasion which prefigured the Arab attack of the last days (Lam. 5:11).

 

 

Gen 32:12 You said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your seed as the sand of the sea, which can’t be numbered because there are so many’- The promise to make Abraham's seed as the sand of the sea, he saw as implying that his children would not be physically harmed; yet the New Testament teaches that this promise fundamentally refers to Messiah, and those of all nations who would become "in him". At the end of his life, it seems that Jacob learnt this. We note that Jacob doesn't plead so much the promises made to him of personal preservation (Gen. 28:20), but those to Abraham (Gen. 22:17). He had spiritually grown to the point that he no longer viewed Abraham's God as somehow different to his God; he now believes that this God is his God, and the promises made to his ancestor are indeed to him personally, and have real implication for him in his personal crises. This growth is to be our pattern, as we move on from Sunday School Christianity, the faith of our fathers or of those who first taught us the Gospel, to the awesome personal reality- that this is all deeply true for little me.

The latter day “time of Jacob’s trouble” is based upon Jacob’s meeting with Esau at Jabbok. Jacob's reliance on his own strength and subsequent semi-faith in God's word of promise typifies the Jews of today; his time of trouble truly humbled him, and his wrestling in prayer brought out the great faith which he was potentially capable of, as the last days will do for the Jews. Jacob's prayer is peculiarly apt to a repentant Jewry: "O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac (going back to their roots), the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country (since 1948)... 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 (cp. the Atlantic, Mediterranean; the airways of Eastern Europe; through the immigrant ports of Haifa, Tel Aviv...); and now I am become two bands. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother (cp. the Arabs), from the hand of Esau: for I fear him... and Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea" (32:9-12 AV). The reference to the Jewish fathers will be the result of listening to the Elijah ministry, which will turn "the heart of the children to their fathers" (Mal. 4:6). And this message of ‘back to the promises, the Hope of Israel’ is exactly the message we can take to the Jews in our communities today. My dream is that world-wide, we will make this witness.


Gen 32:13 He lodged there that night, and took from that which he had with him, a present for Esau, his brother- Jacob is an example of the hurrying man beset with unvoiced inner conflicts trying to buy off his guilt. Struggling with an awful conscience, he sent huge gifts ahead of him to try to appease his offended brother Esau. But he wasn’t thereby freed from his bad conscience. He had to wrestle it out with God, with an Angel who at times appeared in the form of both Jacob’s father and brother, and come to know his own desperation and God’s utter grace and love towards him.

"Present" translates a word more commonly used for sacrifice or offering; if simply a "present" was in view, a different word would be used. Jacob came to see his meeting with Esau as his meeting with God; he met the Angels as if he met Esau (:1), and he makes the connection specific in Gen. 33:10. The presents to Esau were therefore his equivalent of a sacrifice to God, by which he sought reconciliation. He would be taught that the sacrifice was in a sense necessary- for it indeed pacified Esau; but essentially it was his clinging to the Angel in tears begging for grace which was the essential thing.


Gen 32:14 Two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams- All told, Jacob gave Esau 550 animals. His wealth in terms of herds was therefore immense; and he had acquired this by the relatively sudden Divine blessing upon his herds in the final part of his life with Laban.


Gen 32:15 Thirty milk camels and their colts, forty cows, ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten foals- Just one camel was considered very valuable; to give 30 plus their colts was a huge gift or sacrifice. I noted on :13 that "present" is better translated "sacrifice". As we learn from Noah's ark, there was a concept of clean and unclean animals, and yet unclean animals such as camels are here effectively offered as sacrifice; and were accepted, as the impure likewise was.


Gen 32:16 He delivered them into the hands of his servants, every herd by itself, and said to his servants, Pass over before me, and put a space between herd and herd- There were five different groups of animals: goats, sheep, camels, cows and donkeys. And then there was Leah and her children, and finally, as the seventh group, Jacob and Rachel. This would connect with Jacob bowing seven times to Esau (Gen. 33:3). "Before me" is literally 'before my face'; and the idea of faces / presence occurs often here in this incident. Jacob had feared the face of Laban and been preserved (Gen. 31:2,5). Now he was preparing for his face to come before the face of Esau, and again with Angelically provided Divine grace, he would see his face and be saved. All this leads up to the significance of the wrestling incident, where for an extended period, Jacob looks at close quarters into the face of an Angel as they wrestle, and due to Jacob's desperate tears of repentance he is preserved to see the face of Esau and finally that of God, by grace. So he comes to marvel that he has seen God face to face and was preserved (Gen. 32:30); and he saw in the Angel's face that of Esau (Gen. 33:10).


Gen 32:17 He commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau, my brother, meets you, and asks you, saying, ‘Whose are you? Where are you going? Whose are these before you?’- The question 'Who are you?' was exactly that which Isaac had asked Jacob, and he had lied (Gen. 27:18 s.w.). It was the question Jacob had asked the shepherds when he first came to Mesopotamia. Now all the wrestlings of his life, against Isaac, Laban and Esau, were coming together. They same questions were being asked, to take him back to previous failures.


Gen 32:18 Then you shall say, ‘They are your servant, Jacob’s. It is a present sent to my lord, Esau. Behold, he also is behind us’- Jacob was of course aware that "the elder shall serve the younger". But he wanted to give away the blessing of the firstborn to Esau (see on Gen. 33:11). He felt quite unworthy of the blessing that the elder should serve the younger and is as it were resigning it. Or it could be that he was driven to realize a future dimension to the fulfilment of the promises. In this life just as he was not to literally inherit the eretz for ever, so too, he would not be served by the elder. As Abraham bought land- his own eternal inheritance- in which to bury Sarah, so Jacob may have humbled himself as the younger before the elder, when he knew that in the scheme of eternal realities the opposite would be the case. 


Gen 32:19 He commanded also the second, and the third, and all that followed the herds, saying, This is how you shall speak to Esau, when you find him- I suggested on :16 that there were in fact five droves of animals sent. Jacob had rightly guessed the psychology of his brother. The droves of 'presents' or offerings did indeed appease Esau and turn away his wrath. But as Esau had come to slay him, so had the Angel who was to wrestle with him. And Moses' own account of how an Angel sought to slay him for his unfaithfulness to the covenant is surely based upon this. Moses recognized that the path of all the true seed, including himself, was to be based upon Jacob's.


Gen 32:20 You shall say, ‘Not only that, but behold, your servant, Jacob, is behind us’. For, he said, I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face. Perhaps he will accept me- The appeasing of Esau by sacrifice ["presents"] is not to be taken as meaning that God too was somehow appeased by sacrifice. For God is not an angry deity. Rather, God's anger turned away by Jacob's appeal to His grace with tears, and deep repentance. As noted on :16, Jacob's seeing of Esau's face represented how he saw the Angel's face and was preserved. In the end, the plan to appease Esau using presents / sacrifice wasn't used.

The approach of Esau in angry judgment reflected God's attitude to Jacob (Gen. 33:10). Jacob realized that he must "appease" (Heb. kaphar, normally translated 'to make atonement') Esau with gifts of animals. This is surely a confession of sin on his part. But when he offers them to Esau, Esau kindly responds that he “has all”. But all the same Jacob wants to make the sacrifice, to give up the material things... and in all this, too, we see an accurate reflection of God’s position with Jacob (and indeed all of us). 


Gen 32:21 So the present passed over before him, and he himself lodged that night in the camp- "The present" uses the Hebrew term usually and many times translated "offering"; and acceptable offerings come up before the face of Yahweh. That is stressed many times; and the offering here comes before the face; "before him" is added by the translators as the phrase as it stands seems strange. But so many times these words offering and "before [the face]" are used together about sacrifice coming acceptably before Yahweh. So there is the hint that this present / sacrifice, although it largely included unclean animals, was acceptable with God.


Gen 32:22 He rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two handmaids, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford of the Jabbok- There are clear similarities with how Jacob had fled from Laban and passed over a river, being again "two camps", and again being saved by God's grace articulated through Angels. Here again Jacob passes over a river. The primary audience of Genesis were Israel in the wilderness, who likewise "rose up in the night" with all they had, and passed over the Red Sea to salvation and the eretz. Constantly, Moses was seeking to encourage them from the historical precedents found in the story of the Abraham family. We note that the "two wives" are differentiated from the "two handmaids", even though the wives both gave their maids to Jacob 'to be his wife'. The inspired commentary clearly doesn't accept that, and thereby raises questions over the legitimacy and spirituality of what Jacob [and Abraham] did in this regard.


Gen 32:23 He took them, and sent them over the stream, and sent over that which he had- The language of taking and sending over is exactly that used of how he had crossed the Euphrates before meeting Laban (Gen. 31:21). Truly circumstances repeat; one situation is to strengthen us for the next. "That which he had" meant that Jacob was now stripped of everything. He wasn't even with Rachel; he had sent her over the Jabbok, and was totally alone. We wonder whether he was hatching some desperate plan to try to return alone toward Haran, or at least to cross the Euphrates back into the land of the east. He was in a similar situation to when 20 or 40 years previously, he had been left alone at Bethel and saw the staircase with Angels.


Gen 32:24 Jacob was left alone, and wrestled with a man there until the breaking of the day- Through this, Jacob learnt the real import of the promises. Like us and Elijah, he had to come to a point of being totally alone to perceive how they applied to himself personally (the same Hebrew phrase "left alone" is used in 1 Kings 18:22; 19:10,14). The tension of ideas is between being "left alone", and yet having "a man" with him- clearly an Angel, representing God's presence when a man is truly stripped of all else, just as Jacob had been earlier at Bethel. Jacob came to realize that all his life, he had been wrestling with God, his Angel, and he now came to beg his God for the blessing of forgiveness, implying he had repented. The Hebrew for "wrestle" can mean both to wrestle and also simply to cling on to. It seems he started wrestling, and ended up clinging on to the Angel, desperately begging for salvation and forgiveness. His great physical strength (remember how he alone moved the huge stone from the well, Gen. 29:2) was redirected into a spiritual clinging on to the promises of forgiveness and salvation. And this will be our pattern of growth too. It seems Jacob was familiar with the idea of wrestling with God as being related to prayer. Rachel speaks of how "with wrestlings of God have I wrestled... and I have prevailed" in obtaining a child (Gen. 30:8; AV "great" = Heb. 'elohim'). We know from Hos. 12 that Jacob became aware that he was wrestling with an Angel, not just a man. His wrestling is therefore to be understood as prayer and pleading, although doubtless it started as a physical struggle with an unknown stranger, who he later recognized as an Angel, and then perceived as God Himself. The Angel came to Jacob with the desire to kill him, as Esau (whom the Angel represented) approached him in the same spirit. It was by Jacob's desperate clinging on to God, his pleading, his intense prayer (Hos. 12:4) that he changed God's intention, after the pattern of Moses in later years. The sentence of death we received in Adam perhaps doesn't mean as much to us as it should. Our reversal of it will involve quite some struggle.

Jacob wrestled / struggled in prayer with the Angel. Consider the Biblical emphasis on the idea of struggle, quite apart from the fact that Jacob's night of wrestling is a cameo of the experience of all who would be counted among the Israel of God. Job felt that his prayers were a striving with God (Job 33:13). Christ's prayers in Gethsemane are described as a "striving" (Heb. 12:4); Paul asks the Romans to strive in prayer, so that he may be delivered from unbelievers (cp. Esau), and return to them with a blessing (Rom. 15:30). This is all allusion to Jacob. Likewise Epaphras 'strove' for the Colossians in his prayers (Col. 4:12 AVmg.). Our prayers are to give the Father no "rest" (Is. 62:7), no cessation from violent warfare (Strong).

The spiritual weakness of Jacob at the time of the wrestling incident can be inferred from the way Hosea speaks about Jacob in Hosea 12. Hosea paints Jacob as a hypocrite, one who prays to God and yet serves idols. Hosea is recognizing that the sins of the fathers tend to continue in subsequent generations; and yet those generations are still culpable for their sin [alcoholics who blame 'inherited genes' should bear this in mind]. But the point is, Hosea is reasoning upon the basis of the similarities between Jacob and the Israel of his day; and he's urging them not to be like Jacob, not to blame their weakness on the fact Jacob was their genetic ancestor; and perhaps urging them to go and make the conversion to true spirituality which Jacob eventually made.

Gen 32:25 When he saw that he didn’t prevail against him- God had taught Jacob this idea through Rachel saying that she had wrestled with God's wrestling in order to have a child (Gen. 30:8). Jacob however did not prevail in prayer, and neither did God as it were prevail against or upon him. It was a perfectly equal balance of power [or so it seemed to Jacob]. But then the Angel with a touch demonstrated that this apparent balance of power between God and man was [and is] utterly illusory. Jacob was being made to realize that this was how he had perceived things; but God's grace makes all such balance of power theory irrelevant. Hos. 12:4-6 presents the wrestling as Jacob begging the Angel for grace, and prevailing over God, as it were, by receiving this. So I suggest that the hours of wrestling to a perfectly balanced stalemate was not the time Hos. 12 refers to. Rather it was once Jacob had got to this point of apparent balance of power with God, that the Angel touches his thigh. And then after that, knowing he was utterly beaten, Jacob begs for grace and mercy and will not let the Angel go, looking right into his face, and it is in this sense that he 'prevails' as Hosea says.

He touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained, as he wrestled- The sign of circumcision was given as the confirmation that the promise regarding a son would be fulfilled. Abraham had to figuratively cut off part of his vital organ in order to be assured that God would provide a son for him. Accepting God's promises means that we too must give up our human strength and attempts to fulfil them. Likewise when Jacob was given the repeated covenant acceptance, he was wounded in his "thigh" and thereafter walked with a limp. "It is not impossible that the damage to the "thigh" means Jacob was assaulted in his vital organs. Thus, the "limp" refers to the mark left on his very manhood and future".

Gen 32:26 The man said, Let me go, for the day breaks. Jacob said, I won’t let You go, unless You bless me- Notice the chronology of events and the explanation give on :25. They wrestle but neither wins. They are apparently at perfect balance between Divine strength and Jacob's. Then the Angel touches Jacob, and after that Jacob knows he is humanly beaten. But he clings on to the Angel begging for mercy and in this way 'had power with God' as Hosea 12 says; he in that sense "had power over the Angel" and prevailed, refusing to let the otherwise victorious Angel go, unless he blesses him with forgiveness. There is a strong link between blessing and forgiveness; we think of Pharaoh asking to be blessed (Ex. 12:32), and David speaking of the blessedness of forgiveness (Rom. 4:6). Acts 3:25,26 makes explicit that the Abrahamic blessing was essentially of forgiveness.  Having been made powerless and beaten, Jacob clung on to the Angel [this is one possible understanding of the Hebrew translated 'wrestle']. And it was this which paradoxically gave Jacob the upper hand.


Gen 32:27 He said to him, What is your name? He said, Jacob- There is reason to think that the Angel also reminded Jacob of his father Isaac. The way Jacob begs the Angel to bless him recalls how he so earnestly wanted to obtain his father's blessing. Jacob's pleading for blessing with the Angel would have reminded him of Esau's desperate pleading for the blessing from Isaac. All these things were restimulated in Jacob's mind by the wrestling. The Angel asks him what his name is, in exactly the same way as Isaac had asked him 20 or 40 years before. At that time he had lied. But now he truthfully answers the Angel: "Jacob", the deceiver. And then he begs for the blessing of forgiveness. He had struggled with men, with Isaac and Isaac's influence of Jacob's spirituality, with his brother Esau, with Laban, and with himself. And the Angel said that in all these struggles with men, Jacob had ultimately won in that he had confessed he was a deceiver, a sinner.  

Gen 32:28 He said, Your name will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed- As explained on :25-27, after reaching a stalemate where Jacob did not prevail against God, the Angel touched his thigh and he became powerless. But he desperately clung to the Angel, peering into his face, and begged for the true Abrahamic blessing of forgiveness and fellowship with God. And this was granted. So the paradox was that by not prevailing in his own strength, he did prevail. This is why he was renamed "Israel". "Israel" effectively means something like 'God rules' (Gen. 32:22-28) (James Muilenburg, The Way Of Israel (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962) p. 45); His people of the new Israel are those over whom He rules. We therefore are under His Kingdom now, if we accept Christ as King over our lives. The name was a testament to the fact that in a way, God had prevailed; in another sense, Jacob had prevailed. We see here the endless mutuality between God and man, once we surrender. He wins, and we win. "With God and with men" confirms the idea often presented in this section, that the Angel represented men like Isaac, Laban and Esau with whom Jacob had wrestled.

The Hebrew idea of a name is connected with the idea of who a person essentially is. In Biblical Hebrew, one would enquire after a person's literal name by asking "Who (mi) are you?"- not, as was asked of Jacob, "What (mah) is your name?" (Gen. 32:28). This question to Jacob was therefore a request for him to ask himself who he really was. God's Name in this sense is to become part of ours- hence after God's declaration of His Name to Moses, the Israelites started to insert parts of the Yah / Jah name into their own.

Gen 32:29 Jacob asked him, Please tell me Your name. He said, Why is it that you ask what My name is? He blessed him there- Jacob knew the Yahweh Name, he knew the name El Shaddai (Ex. 6:3); surely he was asking for a deeper exposition of the Name. He realized his need to draw closer to God. But the Angel grants him the blessing of forgiveness, and says that Jacob doesn't need such an exposition, because he now knows the character of God: he has received such grace and forgiveness and future assurance. This is the Name / character of God revealed. Thus Jacob realized that he knew the theory of God, but not the practice. Latter day Jacob, natural and spiritual, are little better. In so many ways, so often, we know but don't believe; and it has been commonly observed that the problem with us is that we are right in doctrine but very weak in practice. This shouldn't surprise us. It was exactly the characteristic of our father Jacob. But the God of Bethel is our God too, and will bring us through to a deeper maturity. That night, Jacob reached "manhood", spiritual maturity (Hos. 12:3 RV).


Gen 32:30 Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for, he said, I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved- Jacob's comment at the end of the wrestling experience was that "my life is preserved"; and that Hebrew phrase is so often used by David (Ps. 7:2; 22:20; 25:20; 33:19; 56:13; 86:13; 97:10; 120:2). Likewise Jacob commented that the experience had shown him that God had been gracious unto him (Gen. 33:11); and that Hebrew phrase too is a catch phrase of David's (Ps. 4:1; 6:2; 9:13; 25:16; 26:11; 27:11; 30:8; 31:9 and many others). We too can make Jacob our hero, as David did. The Hebrew for "preserved" is that used in :11, where Jacob prays to be preserved from Esau. The wrestling with the Angel and obtaining blessing and victory through surrender... was understood as prophetic of Jacob's preservation from Esau, and final victory over him.

Gen 32:31 The sun rose on him as he passed over Peniel, and he limped because of his thigh- Paul may well allude to Jacob in speaking of how his "thorn in the flesh" humbled him. The same word for "limped" is used of how latter day repentant Israel will also limp, and yet likewise be saved by grace from their neighbouring enemies, whose ancestors were Laban and Esau (Mic. 4:6,7; Zeph. 3:19). Again we have a case of 'Bible television', of the text enabling us to envisage the situation, and focusing in upon an individual; and here the spotlight is upon Jacob limping, silhouetted against the dawn of a new day and worldview for him.


Gen 32:32 Therefore the children of Israel don’t eat the sinew of the hip, which is on the hollow of the thigh, to this day, because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip- This refers to the nerve tendon which extends from the thigh down the leg to the ankle. But I suggested above that the wound to the thigh may have been an equivalent to circumcision, and could refer to damage to Jacob's reproductive organ. The Hebrew for "thigh" is used in this way both specifically (Gen. 24:2; 47:29) and more figuratively when it is the same word often translated "loins" in the context of begettal of a child. As with us, it was the touch of Jacob at his most sensitive which humbled him, and made him give up his attempts to justify himself in his own strength. This is why we often fail, or made to realize our weakness, at what we may think of as our strongest point. The careful driver runs a red light, the capable craftsman makes a foolish mistake.