Genesis 32


Jacob, proceeding on his Journey, is met by the angels of God, 1, 2.

Sends messengers before him to his brother Esau, requesting

to be favourably received, 3-5.

The messengers return without an answer, but with the intelligence

that Esau, with four hundred men, was coming to meet Jacob, 6.

He is greatly alarmed, and adopts prudent means for the safety of

himself and family, 7, 8.

His affecting prayer to God, 9-12.

Prepares a present of five droves of different cattle for his

brother, 13-15.

Sends them forward before him, at a certain distance from each

other, and instructs the drivers what to say when met by Esau,


Sends his wives, servants, children and baggage, over the brook

Jabbok, by night, 21-23.

Himself stays behind, and wrestles with an angel until the break

of day, 24.

He prevails and gets a new name, 25-29.

Calls the name of the place Peniel, 30.

Is lame in his thigh in consequence of his wrestling with the

angel, 31, 32.


Verse 1. The angels of God met him.] Our word angel comes from

the Greek αγγελος aggelos, which literally signifies a messenger;

or, as translated in some of our old Bibles, a tidings-bringer.

The Hebrew word malach, from laach, to send, minister

to, employ, is nearly of the same import; and hence we may see the

propriety of St. Augustine's remark: Nomen non naturae sed

officii, "It is a name, not of nature, but of office;" and hence

it is applied indifferently to a human agent or messenger,

2Sa 2:5; to a

prophet, Hag 1:13; to a

priest, Mal 2:7; to

celestial spirits, Ps 103:19,20,22; 104:4. "We often," says Mr.

Parkhurst, "read of the malach Yehovah, or

malakey Elohim, the angel of Jehovah, or the angels of God, that

is, his agent, personator, mean of visibility or action, what was

employed by God to render himself visible and approachable by

flesh and blood." This angel was evidently a human form,

surrounded or accompanied by light or glory, with or in which

Jehovah was present; see Ge 19:1,12,16; Jud 13:6,21; Ex 3:2,6.

"By this vision," says Mr. Ainsworth, "God confirmed Jacob's faith

in him who commanded his angels to keep his people in all their

ways, Ps 91:11. Angels are here called God's

host, camp, or army, as in wars; for angels are God's soldiers,

Lu 2:13;

horses and chariots of fire, 2Ki 2:11; fighting for God's

people against their enemies, Da 10:20; of them there are

thousand thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand,

Da 7:10; and they are all sent forth to minister for them that

shall be heirs of salvation, Heb 1:14; and they pitch a camp

about them that fear God, Ps 34:7." One of the oldest of the

Greek poets had a tolerably correct notion of the angelic





HESIOD. Op. & Dies, l. i., ver. 120.

When in the grave this race of men was laid,

Soon was a world of holy demons made,

Aerial spirits, by great Jove design'd

To be on earth the guardians of mankind.

Invisible to mortal eyes they go,

And mark our actions good or bad below;

The immortal spies with watchful care preside,

And thrice ten thousand round their charges glide:

They can reward with glory or with gold,

A power they by Divine permission hold. COOKE.

Verse 2. Mahanaim.] The two hosts, if read by the points, the

angels forming one, and Jacob and his company forming another; or

simply hosts or camps in the plural. There was a city built

afterwards here, and inhabited by the priests of God, Jos 21:38.

For what purpose the angels of God met Jacob, does not appear from

the text; probably it was intended to show him that he and his

company were under the care of an especial providence, and

consequently to confirm his trust and confidence in God.

The doctrine of the ministration of angels has been much abused,

not only among the heathens, but also among Jews and Christians,

and perhaps most among the latter. Angels with feigned names,

titles, and influences, have been and still are invoked and

worshipped by a certain class of men; because they have found that

God has been pleased to employ them to minister to mankind; and

hence they have made supplications to them to extend their

protection, to shield, defend, instruct, &c. This is perfectly

absurd. 1. They are God's instruments, not self-determining

agents. 2. They can only do what they are appointed to perform,

for there is no evidence that they have any discretionary power.

3. God helps man by ten thousand means and instruments; some

intellectual, as angels; some rational, as men; some irrational,

as brutes; and some merely material, as the sun, wind, rain, food,

raiment, and the various productions of the earth. He therefore

helps by whom he will help, and to him alone belongs all the

glory; for should he be determined to destroy, all these

instruments collectively could not save. Instead therefore of

worshipping them, we should take their own advice: See thou do it

not-Worship God.

Verse 3. Jacob sent messengers] malachim, the same

word which is before translated angels. It is very likely that

these messengers had been sent some time before he had this vision

at Mahanaim, for they appear to have returned while Jacob encamped

at the brook Jabbok, where he had the vision of angels; see

Ge 32:6, 23.

The land of Seir, the country of Edom.] This land, which was,

according to Dr. Wells, situated on the south of the Dead Sea,

extending from thence to the Arabian Gulf, 1Ki 9:26, was formerly

possessed by the Horites, Ge 14:6; but Esau with his children

drove them out, destroyed them, and dwelt in their stead,

De 2:22; and thither Esau went from the face of his brother

Jacob, Ge 36:6,7. Thus we find he verified the prediction,

By thy sword shalt thou live, Ge 27:40.

Verse 4. Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau] Jacob

acknowledges the superiority of his brother; for the time was not

yet come in which it could be said, The elder shall serve the


Verse 6. Esau-cometh-and four hundred men with him.] Jacob,

conscious that he had injured his brother, was now apprehensive

that he was coming with hostile intentions, and that he had every

evil to fear from his displeasure. Conscience is a terrible

accuser. It was a fine saying of a heathen,--

_____Hic murus aheneus esto,

Nil conscire sibi, nulla pallescere culpa.

HOR. Ep., l. i., E. i., v. 60.

Be this thy brazen bulwark of defence,

Still to preserve thy conscious innocence,

Nor e'er turn pale with guilt. FRANCIS.

In other words, He that has a good conscience has a brazen wall

for his defence; for a guilty conscience needs no accuser; sooner

or later it will tell the truth, and not only make the man turn

pale who has it, but also cause him to tremble even while his

guilt is known only to himself and God.

It does not appear that Esau in this meeting had any hostile

intention, but was really coming with a part of his servants or

tribe to do his brother honour. If he had had any contrary

intention, God had removed it; and the angelic host which Jacob

met with before might have inspired him with sufficient confidence

in God's protection. But we find that when he needed faith most,

he appears to have derived but little benefit from its influence,

partly from the sense he had of the injury he had done to his

brother, and partly from not attending sufficiently to the

assurance which God had given him of his gracious protection.

Verse 7. He divided the people, &c.] His prudence and cunning

were now turned into a right channel, for he took the most

effectual method to appease his brother, had he been irritated,

and save at least a part of his family. This dividing and

arranging of his flocks, family, and domestics, has something in

it highly characteristic. To such a man as Jacob such expedients

would naturally present themselves.

Verse 9. O God of my father Abraham, &c.] This prayer is

remarkable for its simplicity and energy; and it is a model too

for prayer, of which it contains the essential constituents:-

1. Deep self-abasement.

2. Magnification of God's mercy.

3. Deprecation of the evil to which he was exposed.

4. Pleading the promises that God had made to him.

And, 5. Taking encouragement from what God had already wrought.

Verse 10. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies] The

marginal reading is more consistent with the original:

katonti miccol hachasadim umiccol haemeth, I am

less than all the compassions, and than all the faithfulness,

which thou hast showed unto thy servant. Probably St Paul had his

eye on this passage when he wrote, Unto me, who am less than the

least of all saints. A man who sees himself in the light of God

will ever feel that he has no good but what he has received, and

that he deserves nothing of all that he has. The archangels of God

cannot use a different language, and even the spirits of just men

consummated in their plenitude of bliss, cannot make a higher


For with my staff] i.e., myself alone, without any attendants,

as the Chaldee has properly rendered it.

Verse 11. And the mother with the children.] He must have had an

awful opinion of his brother when he used this expression, which

implies the utmost cruelty, proceeding in the work of slaughter to

total extermination. See Ho 10:14.

Verse 12. Make thy seed as the sand] Having come to the promise

by which the covenant was ratified both to Abraham and Isaac, he

ceased, his faith having gained strong confirmation in a promise

which he knew could not fail, and which he found was made over to

him, as it had been to his father and grandfather.

Verse 13. And took of that which came to his hand]

habba beyado, which came under his hand, i.e., what, in the

course of God's providence, came under his power.

Verse 14. Two hundred she-goats, &c.] This was a princely

present, and such as was sufficient to have compensated Esau for

any kind of temporal loss he might have sustained in being

deprived of his birthright and blessing. The thirty milch camels

were particularly valuable, for milch camels among the Arabs

constitute a principal part of their riches, the creature being

every way so serviceable that the providence of God appears

peculiarly kind and wise in providing such a beast for those

countries where no other animal could be of equal service. "The

she-camel gives milk continually, not ceasing till great with

young; the milk of which," as Pliny has remarked, "when mixed with

three parts of water, affords the most pleasant and wholesome

beverage." Cameli lac habent, donec iterum gravescant,

suavissimumque hoc existimatur, ad unam mensuram tribus aquae

additis.-Hist. Nat., lib. xi., chap. 41.

Verse 15. Ten bulls] The Syriac and Vulgate have twenty; but

ten is a sufficient proportion to the forty kine. By all this

we see that Jacob was led to make restitution for the injury he

had done to his brother. Restitution for injuries done to man is

essentially requisite if in our power. He who can and will not

make restitution for the wrongs he has done, can have no claim

even on the mercy of God.

Verse 22. Passed over the ford Jabbok.] This brook or rivulet

rises in the mountains of Galaad, and falls into the Jordan at the

south extremity of the lake of Gennesaret.

Verse 24. And there wrestled a man with him] This was doubtless

the Lord Jesus Christ, who, among the patriarchs, assumed that

human form, which in the fulness of time he really took of a

woman, and in which he dwelt thirty-three years among men. He is

here styled an angel, because he was μεγαληςβουληςαγγελος, (see

the Septuagint, Isa 9:7,)

the Messenger of the great counsel or design to redeem fallen

man from death, and bring him to eternal glory; see Ge 16:7.

But it may be asked, Had he here a real human body, or only its

form? The latter, doubtless. How then could he wrestle with

Jacob? It need not be supposed that this angel must have assumed

a human body, or something analagous to it, in order to render

himself tangible by Jacob; for as the soul operates on the body by

the order of God, so could an angel operate on the body of Jacob

during a whole night, and produce in his imagination, by the

effect of his power, every requisite idea of corporeity, and in

his nerves every sensation of substance, and yet no substantiality

be in the case.

If angels, in appearing to men, borrow human bodies, as is

thought, how can it be supposed that with such gross substances

they can disappear in a moment? Certainly they do not take these

bodies into the invisible world with them, and the established

laws of matter and motion require a gradual disappearing,

however swiftly it may be effected. But this is not allowed to be

the case, and yet they are reported to vanish instantaneously.

Then they must render themselves invisible by a cloud, and this

must be of a very dense nature in order to hide a human body. But

this very expedient would make their departure still more evident,

as the cloud must be more dense and apparent than the body in

order to hide it. This does not remove the difficulty. But if

they assume a quantity of air or vapour so condensed as to become

visible, and modified into the appearance of a human body, they

can in a moment dilate and rarefy it, and so disappear; for when

the vehicle is rarefied beyond the power of natural vision, as

their own substance is invisible they can instantly vanish.

From Ho 12:4, we may learn that the wrestling of Jacob,

mentioned in this place, was not merely a corporeal exercise, but

also a spiritual one; He wept and made supplication unto him. See

the notes there. See Clarke on Ho 12:4.

Verse 25. The hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint] What

this implies is difficult to find out; it is not likely that it

was complete luxation of the thigh bone. It may mean no more than

he received a stroke on the groin, not a touch; for the Hebrew

word naga often signifies to smite with violence, which

stroke, even if comparatively slight, would effectually disable

him for a time, and cause him to halt for many hours, if not for

several days. I might add that in this place-the groin, a blow

might be of fatal consequence; but as the angel gave it only as a

proof of his power, and to show that he could not prevail because

he would not, hence the blow was only disabling, without being

dangerous; and he was probably cured by the time the sun arose.

Verse 26. Let me go, for the day breaketh] Probably meaning,

that as it was now morning, Jacob must rejoin his wives and

children, and proceed on their journey. Though phantoms are

supposed to disappear when the sun rises, that could be no reason

in this case. Most of the angelic appearances mentioned in the

Old and New Testaments took place in open day, which put their

reality out of question.

Verse 28. Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel]

Yisrael, from sar, a prince, or sarah,

he ruled as a prince, and el, God; or rather from ish,

a man, (the aleph being dropped,) and raah, he saw,

el, God; and this corresponds with the name which Jacob imposed on

the place, calling it peniel, the faces of God, or of

Elohim, which faces being manifested to him caused him to say,

Ge 32:30,

raithi Elohim panim el panim, i.e., "I have seen the Elohim faces

to faces, (i.e., fully and completely, without any medium,)

vattinnatsel napshi, and my soul is redeemed."

We may learn from this that the redemption of the soul will be

the blessed consequence of wrestling by prayer and supplication

with God: "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the

violent take it by force." From this time Jacob became a new man;

but it was not till after a severe struggle that he got his name,

his heart, and his character changed. After this he was no more

Jacob the supplanter, but Israel-the man who prevails with

God, and sees him face to face.

And hast prevailed.] More literally, Thou hast had power with

God, and with man thou shalt also prevail. Im Elohim,

with the strong God; im anashim, with weak, feeble

man. There is a beautiful opposition here between the two words:

Seeing thou hast been powerful with the Almighty, surely thou

shalt prevail over perishing mortals; as thou hast prevailed with

God, thou shalt also prevail with men: God calling the things that

were not as though they had already taken place, because the

prevalency of this people, the Israelites, by means of the

Messiah, who should proceed from them, was already determined

in the Divine counsel. He has never said to the seed of Jacob,

Seek ye my face in vain. He who wrestles must prevail.

Verse 29. Tell me, I pray thee, thy name.] It is very likely

that Jacob wished to know the name of this angel, that he might

invoke him in his necessities: but this might have led him into

idolatry, for the doctrine of the incarnation could be but little

understood at this time; hence, he refuses to give himself any

name, yet shows himself to be the true God, and so Jacob

understood him; (see Ge 32:28;) but he wished to have heard from

his own lips that name by which he desired to be invoked and


Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?] Canst thou

be ignorant who I am? And he blessed him there-gave him the new

heart and the new nature which God alone can give to fallen man,

and by the change he wrought in him, sufficiently showed who he

was. After this clause the Aldine edition of the Septuagint, and

several MSS., add δεστιθαυμαστον, or καιτουτοεστιθαυμαστον,

which is wonderful; but this addition seems to have been taken

from Jud 13:18.

Verse 31. The sun rose upon him] Did the Prophet Malachi refer

to this, Mal 4:2:

Unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise

with healing in his wings? Possibly with the rising of the sun,

which may here be understood as emblematical of the Sun of

righteousness-the Lord Jesus, the pain and weakness of his thigh

passed away, and he felt both in soul and body that he was healed

of his plagues.

Verse 32. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew]

What this sinew was neither Jew nor Christian can tell; and it

can add nothing either to science, or to a true understanding of

the text, to multiply conjectures. I have already supposed that

the part which the angel touched or struck was the groin; and if

this be right, the sinew, nerve, or muscle that shrank, must be

sought for in that place.

THE serious reader must meet with much instruction in this


1. After his reconciliation with Laban, Jacob proceeds on his

way to Canaan; and as God, who was continually watching for his

welfare, saw the trials to which he would shortly be exposed,

therefore he provided for him the instructive vision of angels,

that he might see that those who were for him were more than those

who could be against him. A proper consideration of God's

omniscience is of the utmost advantage to every genuine Christian.

He knows whereof we are made, he remembers that we are but dust,

he sees our trials and difficulties, and his eye affects his

heart. Hence he is ever devising means that his banished-be not

expelled from him.

2. Jacob's recollection of his unkindness and injustice to his

brother, when he hears that he is coming to meet him, fills his

soul with fear, and obliges him to betake himself to God by prayer

and supplication. How important is the office of conscience! And

how necessary are times of trial and difficulty when its voice is

loudest, and the heart is best prepared to receive its reproofs!

In how many cases has conscience slumbered till it pleased God to

send some trial by which it has been powerfully awakened, and the

salvation of the sinner was the result! Before I was afflicted I

went astray.

3. Though salvation be the free gift of God, yet he gives it not

to any who do not earnestly seek it. The deeper the conviction of

guilt and helplessness is, the more earnest the application to God

for mercy is likely to be. They whose salvation costs them strong

crying and tears, are not likely (humanly speaking) to part with

it lightly; they remember the vinegar and the gall, and they watch

and pray that they enter not into temptation.

4. In the strife and agony requisite to enter in at the strait

gate, it is highly necessary that we should know that the grace

and salvation of God are not purchased by our tears, &c.; for

those things which are only proofs and arguments that we have

sinned, can never remove the iniquity of our transgressions. A

sensible and pious man observes on this subject, "That prayer and

wrestling with God should be made as though no other means were to

be practised, and then the best means be adopted as though no

prayer or wrestling had been used." God marks even this strife,

though highly pleasing in his sight, with such proofs of its own

utter insufficiency, that we may carry about with us the memorial

of our own weakness, worthlessness, and slowness of heart to

believe. God smote the thigh of Jacob, 1. That he might know he

had not prevailed by his own strength, but by the power and mercy

of his God. 2. That he might, have the most sensible evidence of

the reality of the Divine interposition in his behalf. 3. That he

might see God's displeasure against his unbelief. And 4. That men

in general might be taught that those who will be the disciples of

Christ must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and

mortify their members which are upon the earth. Those who have

not cut off a right hand or foot, or plucked out a right eye, for

the kingdom of heaven's sake, are never likely to see God. The

religion that costs us nothing, is to us worth nothing.

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