- We have here Jacob still upon his journey towards Canaan. Never did so many memorable things occur in any march, as in this in Jacob's little family. By the way he meets, I. With good tidings from his God, verse 1, 2.
- II. With bad tidings from his brother, to whom he sent a message to notify his return, verse 2-7.
- In his distress, 1. He divides his company, verse 8.
- 2. He makes his prayer to God, verse 9-12.
- 3. He sends a present to his brother, verse 13-23.
- 4. He wrestles with the angel, verse 24-32.
And the Angel of God met him - In a visible appearance; whether in a vision by day, or in a dream by night, as when he saw them upon the ladder, is uncertain. They met him to bid him welcome to Canaan again; a more honourable reception than ever any prince had that was met by the magistrates of a city. They met him to congratulate his arrival, and his escape from Laban. They had invisibly attended him all along, but now they appeared, because he had greater dangers before him. When God designs his people for extraordinary trials, he prepares them by extraordinary comforts.
This is God's house - A good man may, with an eye of faith, see the same that Jacob saw with his bodily eyes. What need we dispute whether he has a guardian angel, when we are sure he has a guard of angels about him? To preserve the remembrance of this favour, Jacob gave a name to the place from it, Mahanaim, two hosts, or two camps probably they appeared to him in two hosts, one on either side, or one in the front, and the other in the rear, to protect him from Laban behind, and Esau before, that they might be a compleat guard. Here was Jacob's family that made one army, representing the church militant and itinerant on earth; and the angels another army, representing the church triumphant, and at rest in heaven.
He calls Esau his lord, himself his servant, to intimate that he did not insist upon the prerogatives of the birth-right and blessing he had obtained for himself, but left it to God to fulfil his own purpose in his seed. He gives him a short account of himself, that he was not a fugitive and a vagabond, but though long absent had dwelt with his own relations. I have sojourned with Laban, and staid there till now: and that he was not a beggar, nor likely to be a charge to his relations; no, I have oxen and asses - This he knew would (if any thing) recommend him to Esau's good affection. And, he courts his favour; I have sent that I may find grace in thy sight - It is no disparagement to those that have the better cause to become petitioners for reconciliation, and to sue for peace as well as right.
He cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him - He is now weary of waiting for the days of mourning for his father, and before those come resolves to slay his brother. Out he marches with four hundred men, probably such as used to hunt with him, armed no doubt, ready to execute the word of command.
Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed - A lively apprehension of danger, may very well consist with a humble confidence in God's power and promise.
He addresseth himself to God as the God of his fathers: such was the sense he had of his own unworthiness, that he did not call God his own God, but a God in covenant with his ancestors. O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac. And this he could better plead, because the covenant was entailed upon him. Thou saidst unto me, Return unto thy country - He did not rashly leave his place with Laban, out of a foolish fondness for his native country; but in obedience to God's command.
I am not worthy - It is a surprising plea. One would think he should have pleaded that what was now in danger was his own against all the world, and that he had earned it dear enough; no, he pleads, Lord, I am not worthy of it. Of the least of all the mercies - Here is mercies in the plural number, an inexhaustible spring, and innumerable streams; mercies and truth, past mercies given according to the promise and farther mercies secured by the promise. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, much less am I worthy of so great a favour as this I am now suing for. Those are best prepared for the greatest mercies that see themselves unworthy of the least. For with my staff I passed over this Jordan - Poor and desolate, like a forlorn and despised pilgrim: He had no guides, no companions, no attendants. And now I am become two bands - Now I am surrounded with a numerous retinue of children and servants. Those whose latter end doth greatly increase, ought with humility and thankfulness to remember how small their beginning was.
Lord, deliver me from Esau, for I fear him - The fear that quickens prayer is itself pleadable. It was not a robber, but a murderer that he was afraid of: nor was it his own life only that lay at stake, but the mothers, and the childrens.
Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good - The best we can say to God in prayer is, what he hath said to us. God's promises as they are the surest guide of our desires in prayer, and furnish us with the best petitions, so they are the firmest ground of our hopes, and furnish us with the best pleas. Thou saidst, I will do thee good - Lord, do me good in this matter. He pleads also a particular promise, that of the multiplying of his seed. Lord, what will become of that promise, if they be all cut off?
Jacob having piously made God his friend by a prayer, is here prudently endeavouring to make Esau his friend by a present. He had prayed to God to deliver him from the hand of Esau - His prayer did not make him presume upon God's mercy, without the use of means.
He sent him also a very humble message, which he ordered his servants to deliver in the best manner. They must call Esau their lord, and Jacob his servant: they must tell him the cattle they had was a small present which Jacob had sent him. They must especially take care to tell him that Jacob was coming after, that he might not suspect him fled. A friendly confidence in mens goodness may help to prevent the mischief designed us by their badness.
Very early in the morning, a great while before day. Jacob had helped his wives and children over the river, and he desired to be private, and was left alone, that he might again spread his cares and fears before God in prayer. While Jacob was earnest in prayer, stirring up himself to take hold on God, an angel takes hold on him. Some think this was a created angel, one of those that always behold the face of our Father. Rather it was the angel of the covenant, who often appeared in a human shape, before he assumed the human nature. We are told by the prophet, Hosea 12:4, how Jacob wrestled, he wept and made supplication; prayers and tears were his weapons. It was not only a corporal, but a spiritual wrestling by vigorous faith and holy desire.
The angel prevailed not against him - That is, this discouragement did not shake his faith, nor silence his prayer. It was not in his own strength that he wrestled, nor by his own strength that he prevails; but by strength derived from heaven. That of Job illustrates this, Job 23:6. Will he plead against me with his great power? No; had the angel done so, Jacob had been crushed; but he would put strength in me: and by that strength Jacob had power over the angel, Hosea 12:3. The angel put out Jacob's thigh, to shew him what he could do, and that it was God he was wrestling with, for no man could disjoint his thigh with a touch. Some think that Jacob felt little or no pain from this hurt; it is probable be did not, for he did not so much as halt 'till the struggle was over, Genesis 32:31, and if so, that was an evidence of a divine touch indeed, which wounded and healed at the same time.
Let me go - The angel, by an admirable condescension, speaks Jacob fair to let him go, as God said to Moses, Exodus 32:10. Let me alone. Could not a mighty angel get clear of Jacob's grapples? He could; but thus he would put an honour upon Jacob's faith and prayer. The reason the angel gives why he would be gone is because the day breaks, and therefore he would not any longer detain Jacob, who had business to do, a journey to go, a family to look after. And he said, I will not let thee go except thou bless me - He resolves he will have a blessing, and rather shall all his bones be put out of joint, than he will go away without one. Those that would have the blessing of Christ must be in good earnest, and be importunate for it.
What is thy name? - Jacob (saith he) a supplanter, so Jacob signifies. Well, (faith the angel) be thou never so called any more: thou shalt be called Israel, a prince with God. He is a prince indeed, that is a prince with God; and those are truly honourable that are mighty, in prayer. Yet this was not all; having, power with God, he shall have power with men too; having prevailed for a blessing from heaven, he shall, no doubt, prevail for Esau's favour. Whatever enemies we have, if we can but make God our friend, we are well enough; they that by faith have power in heaven, have thereby as much power on earth as they have occasion for.
Wherefore dost thou ask after my name? - What good will it do thee to know that? The discovery of that was reserved for his death-bed, upon which he was taught to call him Shiloh. But instead of telling him his name, he gave him his blessing, which was the thing he wrestled for; he blessed him there, repeated and ratified the blessing formerly given him. See how wonderfully God condescends to countenance and crown importunate prayer? Those that resolve though God slay them, yet to trust in him, will at length be more than conquerors.
Peniel - That is, the face of God, because there he had seen the appearance of God, and obtained the favour of God.
He halted on his thigh - And some think he continued to do so to his dying day. If he did, he had no reason to complain, for the honour and comfort he obtained by his struggle was abundantly sufficient to countervail the damage, though he went limping to his grave.