Genesis 32

Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau
Genesis 32
Genesis 32. In this chapter Jacob prepares to meet Esau. All the memories of what Jacob had done to his brother came before him, as well as the anger of Esau, and Jacob was terrified. He sends messengers, divides his company, and schemes to avoid being killed by Esau. He even prays to the Lord, and there we see a mixture of faith and human wisdom. Finally, just before he meets Esau (ch.33), Jehovah appears to Jacob in the form of an angel, and seeks to teach him the great lesson of our own weakness, and our need of dependence on God. Jacob makes a great deal of progress through this encounter, and he is given a new name. But Jacob is still not back in Bethel; the house of God.

Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau (32:1-23)

1 And Jacob went on his way; and the angels of God met him. 2 And when Jacob saw them he said, This is the camp of God. And he called the name of that place Mahanaim [‘two camps’]. vv.1-2 Two Camps. Jacob is graciously met by “the angels of God” when he comes back into the land of Canaan. What a welcome for Jacob to receive on entering the land! The angels had been caring for Jacob the whole time (Heb.1:13; Gen. 2:28). The “two camps” are Jacob’s own camp and God’s camp with His angels. Jacob is acknowledging that God is for him, with a camp. But he still views himself as a force to be reckoned with. It is really amazing that Jacob was still “greatly afraid” (v.7) after this. It is a matter of faith to lay hold of the things that are not seen. Think of Elisha praying the God would open the eyes of his fearful servant (2 Kings 6:17).
3 And Jacob sent messengers before his face to Esau his brother, into the land of Seir, the fields of Edom. 4 And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak to my lord, to Esau: Thy servant Jacob speaks thus — With Laban have I sojourned and tarried until now; 5 and I have oxen, and asses, sheep, and bondmen, and bondwomen; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favour in thine eyes. vv.4-5 Jacob’s Message to Esau. Jacob had not forgotten Esau’s promise to kill him for taking the blessing of Isaac. On returning from Haran, Jacob was coming close to the land of Seir where Esau lived. His scheme was to test the disposition of Esau through messengers, and also to gain Esau’s favor. Certainly, an apology was in order. But this was not the activity of faith. Jacob reverses what the Lord had told Rebecca; “the elder shall serve the younger”. Jacob calls Esau “my lord”.
6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother, to Esau; and he also is coming to meet thee, and four hundred men with him. 7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid, and was distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the sheep and the cattle and the camels, into two troops. 8 And he said, If Esau come to the one troop and smite it, then the other troop which is left shall escape. vv.6-8 Jacob’s Fear and Scheming. The report from the messengers was not what Jacob was hoping to hear; “he also is coming to meet thee, and four hundred men with him”. Esau sent no message other than the fact that he was coming. While Jacob had gained many herds, Esau had built a small army. Jacob was “greatly afraid”. It is interesting that fear is often linked to sin. The first mention of fear in scripture is Adam saying, “I was afraid because I was naked”. Jacob had a bad conscience about how he had treated Esau. His first response was to generate a plan to protect himself. The plan was simple; divide the convoy into two troops. By adding redundancy, the probability of survival was higher. This was human wisdom, and not faith. He he forgotten the camp of God’s angels? Jacob could have just gone to Bethel as the Lord had told him. He could have simply obeyed and left the matter of Esau with the Lord. But instead he took years getting to Bethel. It says in Ecc. 7:2 that “wisdom is a defence as money is a defence”. Here is an example of Jacob using wisdom (humanly speaking) for protection. In vv.13-23 we have an example of Jacob using money as a defense. But in Psalm 62 we find that the Lord is our only true defense; “He only is my rock and my salvation; my high fortress: I shall not be greatly moved”. God was going to allow circumstances in Jacob’s life whereby he would be forced to trust the Lord completely.
9 And Jacob said, God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, Jehovah, who saidst unto me: Return into thy country and to thy kindred, and I will do thee good, 10 — I am too small for all the loving-kindness and all the faithfulness that thou hast shewn unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two troops. 11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, and the mother with the children. 12 And thou saidst, I will certainly deal well with thee, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude. vv.9-12 Jacob’s Prayer. We find growth in Jacob; he feels a need for God. His prayer is an expression of faith, but it is mixed with human wisdom. Notice that Jacob plans, prays, and plans again. If we truly trusted the Lord, we would pray first, and seek His mind. Nevertheless, Jacob reminds God – “God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, Jehovah” – of His promise to do Jacob good if he returned to Canaan. He confesses his fear of Esau; this is a good thing to do in prayer. Jacob reminds God of His promises to multiply Jacob’s seed as the sand of the sea. How would this be fulfilled if Jacob’s family was slaughtered by Esau and his band of men? It is notable that the Lord never rebuked His people for reminding Him of His promises. We see this on several occasions (Exodus 32:13; Deut. 9:27). It is an expression of faith!
13 And he lodged there that night; and took of what came to his hand a gift 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 young asses. 16 And he delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself; and he said to his servants, Go on before me, and put a space between drove and drove. 17 And he commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau my brother meets thee, and asks thee, saying, Whose art thou, and where goest thou, and whose are these before thee? 18 — then thou shalt say, Thy servant Jacob’s: it is a gift sent to my lord, to Esau. And behold, he also is behind us. 19 And so commanded he the second, and the third, and all that followed the droves, saying, According to this word shall ye speak to Esau when ye find him. 20 And, moreover, ye shall say, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us. For he said, I will propitiate him with the gift that goes before me, and afterwards I will see his face: perhaps he will accept me. 21 And the gift went over before him; and he himself lodged that night in the camp. 22 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two maidservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford of the Jabbok; 23 and he took them and led them over the river, and led over what he had. vv.13-23 Jacob’s Gifts. Even though Jacob had prayed, he still wasn’t fully trusting the Lord, because he continued to scheme. He carefully prepared his gift for Esau; a massive offering of herd-animals arranges in successive waves. We know that Esau was no longer seeking to kill Jacob, and so these presents did nothing to change Esau. If anything they were an attempt to calm Jacob’s own fear! Jacob was crossing over the Jabbok river or creek, which is a tributary of the Jordan. He is still on the east side of Jordan.

God Wrestling with Jacob at Peniel (32:24-32)

Peniel. This event in Jacob’s life is a very difficult one to understand. In Hosea 12, the Lord recalled this lesson from the life of Jacob, and the way He applied it to Israel helps us to understand what happened historically. Both houses of Israel were turning to other supports; Egypt, etc. This is very similar to the way Jacob was trusting in his own plans to save his family from Esau. The Lord compares Jacob’s actions with the angel to what Israel ought to do; to turn to God. Hosea also reveals an added detail about Jacob; “he wept and made supplication”. When the angel touched Jacob’s thigh, he had no more strength. Yet he continued to hang on until the dawn. Even though Jacob had no more strength, he still clung to the angel, weeping and making supplication. Hosea explains that the prevailing was through weeping and supplication. A mere man such as Jacob could never overpower an angel. He didn’t “prevail” by overpowering the angel, but by clinging to him. It was God’s grace that gave Jacob the strength to hold on.1This is what Israel and Judah should have done, and what we should do as well, when the Lord “touches” us so as to make us realize our own weakness.

24 And Jacob remained alone; and a man wrestled with him until the rising of the dawn. v.24 The Lord has a controversy with Jacob after he prays, then plans again. The man wrestled with Jacob. It wasn’t Jacob wrestling God, but the other way around. It was God seeking to wrestle Jacob into a blessing. Those who take it the other way around would cast God in a false light, as if God must be wrestled into giving us a blessing. God wanted to show Jacob that “the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63). “When I am weak then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). This was the way God would speak to Jacob. How different was this wrestling from Abraham’s quiet communion! Hosea 12 shows that this man was “the angel” and that Jacob later found “him” (the angel) at Bethel, and this He was Jehovah of Hosts! This means that Jacob was actually wrestling with Jehovah in an angelic form!

And when he saw that he did not prevail against him, he touched the joint of his thigh; and the joint of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled with him.
v.25 The Angel saw that Jacob was not giving up, and that he was prepared to wrestle in his own strength until the sun arose. Jacob needed to feel his own weakness. So He touched the joint of Jacob’s thigh (probably the hip joint?), and the thigh bone was dislocated. Jacob was no match for the Angel before this anyways, but after his hip was dislocated, he would have felt his weakness in a marked way. The Lord will sometimes allow trials in our lives so that we will feel our own weakness, and need of His grace. In the case of Jacob, this physical handicap would remain with him for the rest of his life, as a continual reminder of his need.

And he said, Let me go, for the dawn ariseth. And he said, I will not let thee go except thou bless me.
v.26 Apparently, the Angel – who was really Jehovah in angelic form – did not want Jacob to see him in full daylight, because of some affect it would have on Jacob. He told Jacob to let him go, but Jacob refused; “I will not let thee go except thou bless me”. Jacob was at the point in his soul where he could not live without the blessing of the Lord. He wanted it badly. Jacob in this sense is the opposite of Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal of lentils. Jacob valued God’s blessing, and even more at this occasion, he clung to it; “he wept and made supplication” (Hosea 12:4). We need to come to this point in our own souls where we realize that live apart from God’s blessing (in a spiritual sense) is not worth living.

And he said to him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob [‘supplanter’]. 28 And he said, Thy name shall not henceforth be called Jacob, but Israel [‘prince with God’]; for thou hast wrestled with God, and with men, and hast prevailed.
vv.27-28 The Angel asked Jacob, “What is your name?”. Jacob had been asked this question before; by his father Isaac when he deceived him. What was Jacob going to say now? “And he said, Jacob”, which means ‘supplanter’. He recognized what he was by nature. It is then that God gives Jacob a new name; “Israel”, because he was to be a ‘prince with God’. It is a sign of dignity before God and men. We see this dignity especially in Jacob’s blessing of Pharaoh. Here was a poor Hebrew shepherd, limping into Pharaoh’s court, to stand before the highest reigning monarch in the world. Jacob, at that time, was so aware of the dignity that God had given him that he could bless Pharaoh, knowing that the less is blessed of the greater (Heb. 7:7)! As believers in Christ, we too have been brought into a special place of dignity; we are sons of God! In our spiritual growth, we cannot enjoy the privilege of sonship until we see our ruined condition, and realize the grace of God.

And Jacob asked and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, How is it that thou askest after my name? And he blessed him there. 30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [‘face of God’] — For I have seen God face to face, and my life has been preserved.
vv.29-30 The narrative does not immediately call Jacob by that name; not until he goes to Bethel (ch.35) and God reveals Himself as Almighty. In ch.32 God can reveal Jacob’s name, but not His own name. Jacob wanted to know His name, be there is more work to be done before that was possible. Here God appeared to Jacob, but it was not communion, as with Abraham in Genesis 17 and 18. Nevertheless, God blessed Jacob in that place, and he named it ‘face of God’. 

And as he passed over Peniel, the sun rose upon him; and he limped upon his hip. 32 Therefore the children of Israel do not eat of the sinew that is over the joint of the thigh, to this day; because he touched the joint of Jacob’s thigh — the sinew.
vv.31-32 As Jacob left Peniel, the sun rose over him. It symbolizes the brightening up of a new era. Yet Jacob carried with him a reminder of his encounter at Peniel; “he limped upon his hip”. This was something that his children remembered for many generations to come, such that “the children of Israel do not eat of the sinew that is over the joint of the thigh”. It was a sign of Jacob’s weakness, and but the children of Israel missed the point. If only they had learned the moral lesson which it represents! Instead they went about “to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). This verse is an illustration of 2 Cor. 3:13-14, which says that, until this day, when the Jews read the Old Testament, there is a veil on their hearts, not allowing them to see Christ. Sometimes when the Lord allows a trial in our lives to humble us, we can focus on the outward affliction and miss the lesson the Lord has for us. This is to miss the benefit of the trial. But as an application of not eating the sinew, we ought not to feed on that which has humbled our brethren.2 An example of this is Peninnah in 1 Samuel 1, who seemed to feed on Hannah’s barrenness.
  1. It was grace that gave him perseverance and to prevail, but in a way contrary to man’s thoughts; not in any degree Jacob’s goodness, wisdom, and power, but God’s faithful mercy. Hence He touched the hollow or socket of Jacob’s thigh, so that it became out of joint. This would render powerless the strongest; but it was not so here. His grace enabled Jacob to hold on. – Kelly, William. Jacob.
  2. An application shared by Bill Brockmeier.