Attention!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Genesis 32

Verses 1-2

An Army of God

Jacob is on a journey back to his land. Then the past comes to his mind. The fear of seeing Esau comes back. But before he has that meeting, he has another meeting. He meets angels of God. These messengers were sent by God as an encouragement to Jacob. He may know that God is protecting him. Jacob sees them in reality. His eyes open for a look into the invisible world (cf. 2 Kings 6:17).

God searches Jacob again and again, while Jacob asks so little of Him. God has protected Jacob from Laban, when he came after him with evil intentions. Now there is a new danger and again there is God’s protection. This appearance of angels on his return to the land recalls the ladder with angels he has seen on leaving the land. Also then the vision was an encouragement to him. God then told him that he would keep him wherever he went and that he would certainly bring him back to the land (Genesis 28:15).

“Mahanaim” means “two camps” or “two companies”. Jacob sees a company of angels in front of him and a company of angels behind him or he sees a company of angels to his left and to his right. In any case, he is surrounded by God’s protection and he does not have to be afraid.

Verses 3-5

Messengers to Esau

Jacob doesn’t have Laban behind him anymore, but he still has Esau in front of him. To justify himself for and to test the attitude of Esau, Jacob sends messengers to Esau. They must tell him that Jacob was not a vagabond, but that he has lived with uncle Laban all the time he was absent. He also says that he has become rich, so that he does not have to ask for Esau’s favor. He does not come home as a ‘lost son’.

Verses 6-8

Jacob’s Tactics

Despite the encouragement of God, we see how little trust there is with Jacob. When the messengers come back with the message that Esau is coming with four hundred men, he becomes very scared. His conscience speaks for he has tried his brother and he knows that Esau wants to kill him. The message from the approach of Esau seems to say that Esau has not changed his view of Jacob. Jacob takes his own measures again. He calculates his chances and attunes his strategy to them.

There is nothing against taking measures, as long as they are taken at the instigation of a command from God and not out of fear of what might happen. In the latter case, it is self-willed action, on which one relies more than on God. Faith does not plan plans, but trusts.

Verses 9-12

Jacob’s Prayer

Jacob uses God as a kind of emergency aid. He prays when need is high, but only after his own initiatives to avert evil. In the appeal he makes to God as the One Who has instructed him to go back to his country and his family, something of a reproach may lie to God. It may seem that it is God’s guilt that he is in this situation.

His attitude in Genesis 32:10 is beautiful by the way. In it he acknowledges the favor and faithfulness of God in his life so far. He left as a lonely man and now he has become so rich that he has become two armies. He alludes to the two armies of angels he has seen in Genesis 32:1-Exodus :. For the expansion of his family and possessions, he gives God the honor.

In his fear of Esau, he called to God to save him. He told God what Esau was planning, that is, what he thought Esau would do. He foresees a ruthless slaughter among his family, in which the mothers and their children are not spared. The conscience of a person who does not fully trust God also sees the death in threats.

Verses 13-21

A Gift for Esau

Even after his prayer Jacob continues to take precautions. This shows that he doesn’t really trust that the LORD is able to protect him. Jacob and also the people must learn that salvation from danger is done by faith in God and not by giving a gift to an enemy to appease him.

The attitude he adopts towards Esau is that of a backstabber. This is the result of an impure conscience. He calls himself “your servant” before Esau (Genesis 32:4; Genesis 32:18Genesis 32:20). If there had been fellowship with God, he would not have to be afraid. But for that to happen, there must be a Penuel in his life.

Verses 22-32

Jacob Wrestles with God

After all his preparations to escape from a (supposed) disaster, for which he fears at the meeting with Esau, Jacob remains alone. That is the moment for God to act with him personally. Jacob must learn that not Esau, but God is his real opponent. There occurs a wrestling (Psalms 18:27). God – in the form of an angel – cannot win from him because Jacob does not want to bow. Until he dislocates the socket of Jacob’s thigh. In the socket of the thigh is the power to walk.

In Hosea 12 we read how Jacob won: by weeping and seeking God’s favor (Hosea 12:4-Deuteronomy :). A person only does this when he is at the end of his strengths. And that is the way God allows Himself to be overcome. It is like with the man we see in Romans 7. He also does everything in his own power, until he exclaims: “Wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24). Then comes the victory: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). The wrestling is over as soon as someone sees that God has long since prepared liberation, for it was brought about by Jesus Christ. Whoever sees this will immediately thank God for it.

God meets Jacob in the dark. When God comes to Abraham, it is during the day (Genesis 18:1). That is not to wrestle, but to have fellowship with him. It is not Jacob’s wrestling with God, but God’s wrestling with Jacob. After God has touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip (Genesis 32:32), Jacob’s wrestling with God turns into a clinging to Him. Jacob does not want to let Him go, but to receive a blessing from Him. Jacob later remains the limping Jacob. That’s how he goes to Esau, that’s how he stands before Pharaoh. It is a constant reminder of his absolute dependency on the blessing of God.

In asking for a blessing, Jacob acknowledges his Superior in the Wrestler. The wrestling lasts until the dawn. When God’s wrestling with us approaches its end, when we have finished our resisting, and when we are overcome by weeping and searching His favor, the dawn in our lives begins. Then we have found our “Penuel”, like Jacob here. Penuel means ‘face of God’.

Not only has the dawn come, but the sun rises upon Jacob’s life – compare his departure from the land, where the sun has set (Genesis 28:10-1 Kings :). As the awareness of one’s own weakness increases, so does the awareness of God’s greatness. That is the wonderful result of Penuel. It is to be desired that this is or becomes the experience of every child of God.

At Penuel Jacob is given a new name, “Israel”, which means ‘prince of God’ or ‘warrior of God’. After this the names Jacob and Israel are used alternately in his history. If the name Jacob is used, it generally looks at the weak Jacob who arranges things himself. If the name Israel is used, we see him acting in the power of faith, depending on God. This is not the case with Abraham. After Abram got his new name Abraham, there is no longer any mention of Abram.

When using the name Jacob, God reminds us that the believer needs His discipline as long as he lives on earth because he still has the flesh with him. His discipline can be corrective, but also preventive. In any case, His discipline is a proof of His grace.

The effect of God’s wrestling with Jacob on his posterity is that they are impressed by the event at the Jabbok and therefore do not eat the sinew of the hip. However, they haven’t learned the real lesson. The people of Israel as a whole still accounts entirely on their own – intellectual and military – strength. In this way we can also be impressed by a truth of God and show it in an outward attitude, without it really touching us from within and affecting our whole lives.

Copyright Statement
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.
Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Genesis 32". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/genesis-32.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.