Genesis Chapter 32: Jacob goes to Meet Esau, Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

Jan 8th, 2010 | By | Category: Genesis, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Genesis Chapter 32: Jacob goes to Meet Esau, Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

Gen. 32:1 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.

Jacob continued on his way to his home country, and en route angels met him.

Gen. 32:2 And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

When Jacob saw the angels, he said, “This is God’s host [army],” and he named the place “Mahanaim,” for a multitude of angels met him. The King James margin has “two hosts or camps.” The purpose of the visit of this host was to show Jacob that God’s angels were protecting him in harmony with the promise made to him that if he left Padan-aram and returned to his home country, God would be with him (Gen. 31:3).

Gen. 32:3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.

Jacob sent messengers ahead to Esau in Edom (Seir), which was south of the Dead Sea and thus still a good distance away.

Gen. 32:4 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:

Gen. 32:5 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.

Jacob told the messengers to say, “Your servant Jacob says, ‘I have sojourned with Laban until now, and I have many flocks and servants. I have sent word to you, Esau, my lord, so that I will find grace in your sight.’” Jacob told of his flocks and servants lest Esau think that he was coming to sponge and take or ask for possessions. Esau would remember that Jacob had fled 20 years earlier with virtually nothing. At that time, Esau had been very hostile, saying he would murder Jacob for taking the birthright.

Notice Jacob’s careful choice of words: he was Esau’s servant, and Esau was Jacob’s lord. Not only was this humble attitude a good strategy, but it was permissible. In the birthright and spiritual promises, Jacob was the superior, but in temporal matters, Jacob could acknowledge Esau as the superior. Jacob was humble by nature and also a strategist. Through the messengers, Jacob was indicating that he had a present for Esau (flocks and servants) and also a sufficiency for himself. Jacob hoped that the reunion would be friendly.

Gen. 32:6 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.

It took time for the messengers to go to Esau and return. Meanwhile, Jacob was in the vicinity of Succoth, but he still had to cross the Jabbok River. The messengers reported that Esau was coming to meet Jacob with 400 men.

Gen. 32:7 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;

The report caused fear in Jacob, for why would Esau bring 400 men? There were several possible reasons, as follows:

1. Because Esau distrusted Jacob, he brought 400 men for protection against Jacob’s supposed ulterior motives.

2. The 400 men indicated hostile intentions on Esau’s part; that is, he wanted to kill Jacob.

3. Esau wanted to show Jacob how powerful he was with 400 men under him.  The King James margin has “two hosts” or “two camps” for the meaning of Mahanaim in verse

2. The translators may have been trying to associate that verse with the two bands of verse 7, into which Jacob divided his flocks and servants.

In regard to Jacob’s “fear,” Esau was aggressive by nature. He had intended to murder Jacob and would have done so years earlier had Jacob not fled. Jacob was also mighty, but being a peaceful man by nature, he could not enter into battle with Esau, his brother, and kill him. Thus, realizing his own nature, Jacob was fearful, for if Esau had hostile intentions, he could not kill his brother. Therefore, Jacob devised a way to spare at least some of the family, for he surely thought Esau wanted to kill him. Many think of Jacob as shrewd and tactical, but he had good points, as seen here.

Gen. 32:8 And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.

Jacob had a clever strategy. If Esau smote one company, the other company would be left and could escape.

Gen. 32:9 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:

Jacob began his prayer. His God was the God of Isaac (his father) and of Abraham (his grandfather). Jacob felt the superiority of Abraham especially and also of Isaac, and thus he honored them. Jacob further identified God as the One who had told him to return to his home country.

Comment: Verses 9-12 are the first recorded prayer in Scripture, and as a perfect prayer, it contained (1) adoration, (2) an expression of humility, (3) a request for help, and (4) a reiteration of a previous promise (see Reprint No. 3969, “A New Name—God-Given”).

Gen. 32:10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shown unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.

Jacob continued to pray, “I am not worthy of all thy mercies and truth, for with my staff [only], I fled, and now I have two bands of flocks and servants.” Jacob had fled with just his staff and a little oil that he subsequently poured out as an offering (Gen. 28:18). At this point, Jacob was at the Jabbok River, a tributary of the Jordan.

Gen. 32:11 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.

The word “mother” is correctly translated “mothers” (plural) in the Revised Standard Version, for Jacob was referring to both Leah and Rachel. Jacob prayed for deliverance from Esau for himself, his wives, and his children.

Gen. 32:12 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.

Jacob repeated part of the Abrahamic promise.

Gen. 32:13 And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother;

Gen. 32:14 Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams,

Gen. 32:15 Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals.

Gen. 32:16 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.

Gen. 32:17 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?

Gen. 32:18 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.

Gen. 32:19 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.

Gen. 32:20 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.

Here Jacob used good strategy again. He divided the present for Esau (200 female goats and 20 male goats, 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 milk camels and babies, 40 cows and 10 bulls, 20 donkeys and 10 foals) into separate droves, each followed by a servant driving them to meet Esau. To better understand what was happening, we should try to put ourselves in Esau’s place. He saw 220 goats on the horizon. As they approached and passed, Esau asked the servant, “Who are you? Where are you going? Whose goats are these?” In turn, each servant would say, “Your servant Jacob is behind us. He wants to appease you with this present so that perhaps you will accept him.” Drove after drove (about five in all) followed. What a present! What a strategy!

Gen. 32:21 So went the present over before him: and himself lodged that night in the company.

Gen. 32:22 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.

Gen. 32:23 And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.

Gen. 32:24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

Jacob sent his two wives, two maidservants, and 11 sons over the river Jabbok, and he stayed behind, alone. Perhaps he wanted to pray again.

Evidently, two documents were pieced together here, but that is not a problem. (Although pieced documents do cause some repetition, the narrative is not negated.) Jacob did cross the Jabbok but not until he had wrestled with the angel. Apparently, only one document mentioned the wrestling match.

The “man” Jacob met was an angel (Hos. 12:4). Something must have happened to make Jacob think this personage was a messenger of God. Since God did use human prophets to deliver messages, Jacob did not realize he was speaking to a materialized angel until later. The conversation must have been so inspiring that Jacob did not want the messenger to depart without giving a blessing. Hence Jacob began to wrestle with him for the blessing.

Gen. 32:25 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.

When the angel saw that he prevailed not against Jacob, he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, causing it to go out of joint as the wrestling continued. This contest was contrived, for no human being is a match for an angel. The point is that in proportion to the intensity that Jacob wrestled, the angel resisted him.

Jacob’s perseverance is impressive—in fact, astounding! A wrestling match is very taxing. It is not like a boxing match where one can back up and get a breathing space. To wrestle all night would be exhausting, and Jacob wrestled until dawn. The angel was careful not to humiliate Jacob but to draw out his desire to a perfect conclusion. Jacob’s attitude was much like the importunate widow, who pleaded and pleaded with the judge, who finally gave in to her desires.

Jacob was left with a reminder so that he would realize he had been wrestling with an angel— he became lame. Something electrical or powerful must have happened where he could sense that the angel had been accommodating him in the wrestling match. By causing Jacob’s thigh to go out of joint, the angel showed that he had superior power if he had decided to use it.

Gen. 32:26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

Verse 26 shows Jacob’s drive to get a blessing. He was left halt. We are reminded of Paul’s “Peniel”; namely, he was left with partial blindness or an astigmatism for the rest of his life (Gen. 32:30). Sometimes a Christian is left with a “scar” from an experience, but that scar can be very helpful.

Imagine the reaction when Jacob returned to his family, limping! And he limped until his death. His desired blessing was related to the Abrahamic Covenant.

Q: What is the significance of wrestling until daybreak?

A: Down through history, there has been the mythological thought that we get experiences at night, but when dawn comes, the trouble disappears. Therefore, dawn is the time of blessing.

Daybreak is like a conclusion of one thing and the beginning of something new.

Gen. 32:27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.

Gen. 32:28 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.

Jacob did get a great blessing: a new name. “Jacob” was changed to “Israel” (a prince of God) as a result of the wrestling match. Jacob is the father of Israel, and his children are the children of Israel.

Gen. 32:29 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.

Gen. 32:30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

Jacob called the place Peniel, for he had “seen [a representative of] God face to face.” Pen means “face”; el means “God.” Although Jacob realized that the angel was superhuman and that the wrestling match had been a sham, the drawing out was valuable, and so it is with us and our prayers. Sometimes the “daybreak” is death. This incident seems to indicate that, spiritually speaking, Jacob was of the tribe of Naphtali, which means “wrestling.”

Gen. 32:31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.

Gen. 32:32 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.

The sinew “shrank”; that is, it was drawn short. The ultra-Orthodox Jews may observe this dietary restriction today.

(1987–1989 Study)

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