Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
Ge 32:1, 2.
1. angels of God met him--It is not said whether this angelic
manifestation was made in a vision by day, or a dream by night. There
is an evident allusion, however, to the appearance upon the ladder
and this occurring to Jacob on his return to Canaan, was an encouraging
pledge of the continued presence and protection of God
2. Mahanaim--"two hosts," or "camps." The place was situated
between mount Gilead and the Jabbok, near the banks of that brook.
3. Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau--that is, "had sent."
It was a prudent precaution to ascertain the present temper of Esau, as
the road, on approaching the eastern confines of Canaan, lay near the
wild district where his brother was now established.
land of Seir--a highland country on the east and south of the Dead
Sea, inhabited by the Horites, who were dispossessed by Esau or his
When and in what circumstances he had emigrated thither, whether the
separation arose out of the undutiful conduct and idolatrous habits of
his wives, which had made them unwelcome in the tent of his parents, or
whether his roving disposition had sought a country from his love of
adventure and the chase, he was living in a state of power and
affluence, and this settlement on the outer borders of Canaan, though
made of his own free will, was overruled by Providence to pave the way
for Jacob's return to the promised land.
4. Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau--The purport of the
message was that, after a residence of twenty years in Mesopotamia, he
was now returning to his native land, that he did not need any thing,
for he had abundance of pastoral wealth, but that he could not pass
without notifying his arrival to his brother and paying the homage of
his respectful obeisance. Acts of civility tend to disarm opposition
and soften hatred
Thy servant Jacob--He had been made lord over his brethren
But it is probable he thought this referred to a spiritual superiority;
or if to temporal, that it was to be realized only to his posterity. At
all events, leaving it to God to fulfil that purpose, he deemed it
prudent to assume the most kind and respectful bearing.
6. The messengers returned to Jacob--Their report left Jacob in
painful uncertainty as to what was his brother's views and feelings.
Esau's studied reserve gave him reason to dread the worst. Jacob was
naturally timid; but his conscience told him that there was much ground
for apprehension, and his distress was all the more aggravated that he
had to provide for the safety of a large and helpless family.
9-12. Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham--In this great
emergency, he had recourse to prayer. This is the first recorded
example of prayer in the Bible. It is short, earnest, and bearing
directly on the occasion. The appeal is made to God, as standing in a
covenant relation to his family, just as we ought to put our hopes of
acceptance with God in Christ. It pleads the special promise made to
him of a safe return; and after a most humble and affecting confession
of unworthiness, it breathes an earnest desire for deliverance from the
impending danger. It was the prayer of a kind husband, an affectionate
father, a firm believer in the promises.
13-23. took . . . a present for Esau--Jacob combined
active exertions with earnest prayer; and this teaches us that we must
not depend upon the aid and interposition of God in such a way as to
supersede the exercise of prudence and foresight. Superiors are always
approached with presents, and the respect expressed is estimated by the
quality and amount of the gift. The present of Jacob consisted of five
hundred fifty head of cattle, of different kinds, such as would be most
prized by Esau. It was a most magnificent present, skilfully arranged
and proportioned. The milch camels alone were of immense value; for the
she camels form the principal part of Arab wealth; their milk is a
chief article of diet; and in many other respects they are of the
16. every drove by themselves--There was great prudence in this
arrangement; for the present would thus have a more imposing
appearance; Esau's passion would have time to cool as he passed each
successive company; and if the first was refused, the others would
hasten back to convey a timely warning.
17. he commanded the foremost--The messengers were strictly
commanded to say the same words
[Ge 32:18, 20],
that Esau might be more impressed and that the uniformity of the
address might appear more clearly to have come from Jacob himself.
21. himself lodged--not the whole night, but only a part of
22. ford Jabbok--now the Zerka--a stream that rises among
the mountains of Gilead, and running from east to west, enters the
Jordan, about forty miles south of the Sea of Tiberias. At the ford it
is ten yards wide. It is sometimes forded with difficulty; but in
summer it is very shallow.
he rose up and took--Unable to sleep, Jacob waded the ford in
the night time by himself; and having ascertained its safety, he
returned to the north bank and sent over his family and attendants,
remaining behind, to seek anew, in silent prayer, the divine blessing
on the means he had set in motion.
24, 25. There wrestled a man with him--This mysterious person is
called an angel
(Ge 32:28, 30;
and the opinion that is most supported is that he was "the angel of the
covenant," who, in a visible form, appeared to animate the mind and
sympathize with the distress of his pious servant. It has been a
subject of much discussion whether the incident described was an actual
conflict or a visionary scene. Many think that as the narrative makes
no mention in express terms either of sleep, or dream, or vision, it
was a real transaction; while others, considering the bodily exhaustion
of Jacob, his great mental anxiety, the kind of aid he supplicated, as
well as the analogy of former manifestations with which he was
favored--such as the ladder--have concluded that it was a vision
[CALVIN, HESSENBERG, HENGSTENBERG]. The moral design of it was to revive the
sinking spirit of the patriarch and to arm him with confidence in God,
while anticipating the dreaded scenes of the morrow. To us it is
highly instructive; showing that, to encourage us valiantly to meet the
trials to which we are subjected, God allows us to ascribe to the
efficacy of our faith and prayers, the victories which His grace alone
enables us to make.
26. I will not let thee go, except thou bless me--It is evident
that Jacob was aware of the character of Him with whom he wrestled;
and, believing that His power, though by far superior to human, was yet
limited by His promise to do him good, he determined not to lose the
golden opportunity of securing a blessing. And nothing gives God
greater pleasure than to see the hearts of His people firmly adhering
28. Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel--The old
name was not to be abandoned; but, referring as it did to a
dishonorable part of the patriarch's history, it was to be associated
with another descriptive of his now sanctified and eminently devout
29. Jacob asked, Tell me . . . thy name--The request
was denied that he might not be too elated with his conquest nor
suppose that he had obtained such advantage over the angel as to make
him do what he pleased.
31. halted upon his thigh--As Paul had a thorn in the flesh
given to humble him, lest he should be too elevated by the abundant
revelations granted him
so Jacob's lameness was to keep him mindful of this mysterious scene,
and that it was in gracious condescension the victory was yielded to
him. In the greatest of these spiritual victories which, through faith,
any of God's people obtain, there is always something to humble
32. the sinew which shrank--the nerve that fastens the thigh
bone in its socket. The practice of the Jews in abstaining from eating
this in the flesh of animals, is not founded on the law of Moses, but
is merely a traditional usage. The sinew is carefully extracted; and
where there are no persons skilled enough for that operation, they do
not make use of the hind legs at all.