Genesis 32:1-2 – As an indication of God’s approval and blessing upon Jacob he sends his angels to appear to him. When Jacob was fleeing Esau, God sent these angels to appear to him at Bethel (Gen. 28:12). God does this for Jacob to remind him that He is his protector and shield and to reassure him as he is crossing back into the land of his father, and his brother Esau. Jacob declares that he has seen God’s Machana, which is a term most often used in Scripture to refer to armies and their camps. So he names the place Machanaim, which is the plural referring to the Lord’s army and his small band. It is interesting to note that it appears that Jacob is the only one to see these angels. It may have been a further evidence of God’s blessing upon Jacob that He “opened Jacob’s eyes to see” and is reminiscent of the time when Elisha’s servant’s “eyes” were opened by the Lord in 2 King 6:16-17. Angels today also serve the heirs of salvation Heb. 1:14.
Genesis 32:3-5 – In order to prepare Esau for his return Jacob feels compelled to contact him. The sight of the angels must have given him courage to face him. Remember the last time he saw Esau it was in the context of his fleeing from his anger when he received the birth right from Isaac. Esau consoled himself in the loss of the birthright and the blessing with the idea of killing his brother. 20 years have passed but Jacob still fears the anger of his twin brother. Jacob had learned that Esau was living in the land of Edom called “Seir,” (Gen 32:3; 36:8) and is the name of the country lying south of the ancient kingdom of Judah and extending from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba and is now located in the country of Jordan. It includes the ruins of Petra and is bounded on the north by Moab. Edom has a remarkable prominence in the prophetic Word (together with Moab) Ps 137:7; Isa 34:1-8; 63:1-6; Jer. 49:17-22; Ezek 25:12-14; Obad 1:21. Esau when he was born was red all over (Gen 25:25) and settled in a land whose rocks were reddish. Jacob told his servants to treat Esau with respect and dignity instructing them to refer to him as Jacob’s lord. Esau believed Jacob wanted his birthright for worldly power and gain, but the instructions he gives to his servants is to convey that as far as the things of this world are concerned Esau is Jacob’s master. Moreover, by telling Esau that he had many possessions he was likely conveying the idea that he was in need of nothing. Since Rebekah had never called for Jacob to return, Jacob can only assume that Esau’s wrath still remained high. Sending emissaries denotes humility on Jacob’s part and honor for Esau. The representatives also give the idea that Jacob is seeking permission a further act of humility and submission on Jacob’s part to Esau.
Genesis 32:6-8 – Esau must have learned that Jacob was on his way and left before Jacob’s messengers arrived. Perhaps he thought that Jacob was coming to claim his land and in case there was going to be trouble he brings 400 men with him. It was these men who had helped him take the land that he was living in. When Jacob learns of Esau’s approach with 400 men on horseback his immediate conclusion is that Esau is still angry. He determines to divide his company up into two parties hoping that if one is wiped out the other will survive.
Genesis 32:9-12 – Having done all he could do humanly to protect his family, he now comes before the Lord in prayer for what he believes is a hopeless situation. In His prayer Jacob reminds God of His promises to him and thanks Him for His provision throughout his life. He acknowledges his own unworthiness. The word in V 10 is ‘little’ and spoken in the perfect tense which denotes, I have been too little and still am. The word translated kindness or mercies is “hesed” which acknowledges kindnesses freely given. The word faithfulness is “emet” or truth and acknowledges God’s truthfulness or faithfulness to His Word, and commits himself to the Lord for His protection. In V 9 Jacob uses two names of God, Elohim and Jehovah. Elohim is the Name associated with the Power of God as creator and sustainer while Jehovah is the Name associated with His covenant promises. Orthodox Jews in reverence for the Holiness of God will never utter the Name Jehovah but instead use the Hebrew HaShem which means “The Name”. Jacob’s prayer is not one of pride but of humility. He prays with the understanding and realization that the promises made by God’s Word are to his grandfather, father and himself. These promises are bound in his children and cannot be realized if Esau wipes them out.
Genesis 32:13-16 – After Jacob prays, he is led by the Spirit to send a substantial gift to Esau. This was essentially a peace offering. This gift was very large consisting of 580 animals. This is an indication of how prosperous Jacob had become. These animals consisted of goats, sheep, cows, bulls, donkeys, and milking camels. He divided the animals into droves and told his servants to keep a good distance between the droves. This would slow Esau down as well as overwhelm with the generosity of his brother. There were 5 separate droves and would be like receiving 5 gifts. Jacob hoped that these gifts would soften the anger of his brother.
Genesis 32:17-23 – The words appease or pacify depending on your translation means literally to cover. It’s the same word for atonement. The idea here is that these gifts will be like a covering over of the wrongs that were done. The result is that he will be reconciled with his brother. Then when he comes before Jacob, he will see his face and determine if he has been reconciled with his brother. These gifts go ahead of Jacob and are designed to prepare the way while he remains in the camp and prays. It is in this night prayer that God deals with Jacob in a way that He has never dealt with him before. He is now totally reliant on the Lord as all of his devices have been played out, and he is left to God’s mercy alone. After sending his servants, Jacob remains behind with his family and the rest of his company to spend the night by the brook Jabbok. They were coming from the North while Esau was coming from the south. During the night he decided to move his company across the brook to the south side of the Jabbok. This is an indication that he was not trying to avoid Esau or retreat from him. Having done all that he could, Jacob spends the night in prayer alone.
Genesis 32:24-30 – The name Jabbok comes from one of two Hebrew roots either “dust” or “to clasp” the first an allusion to rolling in the dust, the second clasping as wrestlers do. Jacob’s name has the same root, and means wrestler as well. That Jacob literally wrestled with an angel is born witness by Hosea 12:4-5. This passage further clarifies that this “angel” was The Angel of the Lord, who is Jesus in His pre-incarnate form. We have similar encounters in Gen 16:7, 18:2, as well as in Josh 5:13-15, when Joshua is given his marching orders. This event was one of the most significant turning points in history. If Esau prevails in the upcoming encounter then the promised seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not come. Both Esau and Jacob had to be dealt with in order for God to accomplish His preordained plan. Jacob and his children needed to know and understand that God was all sufficient, and that Jacob had been called to accomplish His will. In order to be what God wanted not only did he need to know his own strengths he also needed to know his own weaknesses. He also needed to know that God had all power and the right to claim and exercise that power in Jacob’s life and in the life of his children. As Jacob prayed, he encountered in his soul a resistance to his request for strength and deliverance; perhaps because Jacob was more concerned with his physical confrontation with Esau rather than the spiritual one. What began as a spiritual battle became a physical one with God Himself. Jacob was to be the father of a nation that would be an everlasting testimony to the faithfulness of God. He would be the father of a people who like himself were endowed with great gifts and power. His children would have to learn, as Jacob would, that those gifts must be subject to one yielded to the Lordship of God in their lives. Further, that God wanted Jacob and his children to seek God and His kingdom first and that the things of the Spirit are more significant than the physical battles we face.
As Jacob dealt with this spiritual conflict, God’s presence became more and more real until suddenly He was real! He was physically wrestling with God Himself. Jacob felt that if he let go that God would leave him and his prayers would be unanswered. He knew that his destiny was wrapped up in this encounter. He clung tenaciously not willing to let go until he knew he had received the blessing. God allowed Jacob to cling knowing that his faith and understanding was growing as he held on. As dawn was breaking the Lord had to end Jacobs wrestling, for no man can see God and live. According to Hosea this wrestling involved genuine weeping and grappling with the Lord. Hosea compared this tenacity with the grabbing of his brother Esau’s heel at their birth. To Hosea it was a picture of Jacob’s desire for the blessing and the responsibilities of being the first born. This desire is never admonished by the Lord, but continually blessed and dealt with by all who seek to be like Jacob. God delighted in Jacob’s persistence (Luke 18:1,7). As a constant reminder of this life changing encounter God gave to Jacob a physical wound in the socket of his thigh. It was a mark that was much like the one Paul received (2 Cor 12:7). God then changes Jacob’s name to Israel. No longer the wrestler or heel grabber, striving in the flesh for God’s blessing but Israel “a prince with God given power”. This was not only his name, but the name given to his descendants to this very day. The idea of this is that wrestling with God in prayer leads to blessing and provision from God with a changed nature. The Lord then blessed Jacob reconfirming the promises He had made with him, his fathers, and his children. Jacob named the place Peniel which means “God’s face”.
Genesis 32:31-32 Jacob named the place “Peniel”, meaning “The Face of God”. Jacob was amazed that he been allowed to see and touch God, and that he survived. This would not have been possible if God had not veiled Himself in human form (Ex 33:20; 1 Tim 6:16). Nowhere in Scripture has God commanded the Jewish people to refrain from eating the hind quarters of clean animals. To not eat the sinew of the thigh might refer to the sciatic muscle/tendon. The observation that up to Moses’ time (“to this day”) the nation of Israel did not eat this part of a hindquarter as we have said is not mentioned elsewhere in the OT, nor in the Mosaic law. It is mentioned in the Talmud as a law.