Genesis 32:1-32 “Jacob’s Brokenness & Israel’s Beginning, Part 1”

Posted on February 12, 2012. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 32

            Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

            And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in thelandofSeir, the country ofEdom, instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’”

            And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

            And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

            So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove.” He instructed the first, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.’” He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him, and you shall say, ‘Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.’” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.

            The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, butIsrael, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people ofIsraeldo not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.

(Genesis 32 ESV)


Introduction: Today we come to another of the very key passages in the history of the Patriarchs and ofIsrael. In fact, in this chapter we see the very nameIsrael for the first time. This chapter is the crescendo of what began in chapter 31 with Jacob’s personal spiritual growth for it is here that he must face his fear of meeting his brother again, and it is here that he wrestles with God face to face.

In this chapter we see that Jacob is brought by God to a point of desperate faith and brokenness. It is the place where every believer must find our hope in Christ alone and lay down all hope in man-centered strength and trust completely in Christ alone for our deliverance. This is the place thatIsraelin Moses’ day should be in their relationship with God.

This morning we will do the basics of Bible Study as we get an overview of the chapter, looking for the main ideas, key words, characters and actions.

Literary Analysis


Moses’ formal outline using the toledoths

  1. a.      Prologue, 1:1-2:3
  2. b.      The Generations of the Heavens and the Earth 2:3-4:26
  3. c.       The Generations of Adam 5:1-6:8
  4. d.      The Generations of Noah 6:9-9:29
  5. e.      The Generations of the Sons of Noah 10:1-11:9
  6. f.        The Generations of Shem 11:10-26
  7. g.      The Generations of Terah 11:27-25:11
  8. h.      The Generations of Ishmael 25:12-18
  9. i.        The Generations of Isaac 25:19-35:29 ***
  10. j.        The Generations of Esau 36:1-37:1
  11. k.      The Generations of Jacob 37:2-50:26


This Chiastic structure, slightly modified by me, comes from Waltke, p.352, 385.

A-Births and genealogy 25:19-24

  B-Digression: Rebekah in Foreign Palace, Foreigners 26:1-33

    C-Jacob steals Esau’s blessing 26:34-28:9

      D-Jacob receives the blessing but is in exile 28:10-32:32 (we are here!)

        1-Encounter with God at Bethel28:10-22

          2-Conflict with Laban inHaran29:1-30

            3-Birth of the 12 Tribes 29:31-30:24 (Moses’ main point!)

          2’-Jacob prospers but flees Laban 30:25-31:55

        1’-Encounters with God 32:1-32 (We are here!)

    C’-Reconciliation with Esau 33:1-17

  B’-Digression: Dinah in Foreign Palace, Foreigners 33:18-34:31

A’-Births and Deaths 35:1-29

Structure and Outline

Waltke (p.437) shows that chapters 32-33 can be seen to form a unit “Jacob Reconciled To Esau”.

A-    Angels of God meet Jacob at “Two Camps” (32:1-2)

B-    Jacob prepares to meet Esau in “Two Camps” (32:3-21)

A1- Angel of God meets Jacob at Peniel (32:22-32)

B1- Jacob meets Esau (33:1-17)

This demonstrates the overlapping, interwoven, outlines within outlines, structures that we see all throughout Genesis thus demonstrating the genius of Moses, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Providence of God in history and the impossibility of a committee writing Genesis over a long period of time.

As previously noted I have chosen to include 32:1-2 in with chapter 31 because it completes the idea began with god telling Jacob to leave in 31:3. But it also clearly belongs here! And it balances out the dream in ch.28.

Waltke presents a detailed outline of just ch.32 (p.438):

A-    Jacob sends messengers to Esau (32:3-6)

B-    Jacob divides family (32:7-8)

C-    Jacob prays on basis of God’s covenant promises (32:9-12)

A1- Jacob sends gifts to Esau (32:13-21)

B1- Jacob sends family across Jabbok (32:22-23)

C1- Jacob prays as he wrestles the God-man (32:24-32)

In this outline notice that the second section of the parallel structure escalates from the first section: Jacob sends messengers in vv.3-6 but sends gifts in vv.13-21; in vv.7-8 he only divides his family but in vv.22-23 he actually sends them across the Jabbok; in vv.9-12 he prays the longest prayer in Genesis but in vv.24-32 he wrestles with God.

Ross divides this chapter into two distinct units, verses 1-21 and then vv.22-32. The first unit focuses on Jacob’s attempt at appeasement of Esau with the unnecessary gifts. This unit is divided into the central prayer of vv. 9-12 which is preceded by the first embassy to Esau and followed by the second embassy to Esau with the gifts. Verses 1-2 serve as the introduction.

Mathews, pp.544-5, breaks chapter 32 down into 3 sections using “night” and “morning” as the dividing points. The first section is vv. 1-12 which happens during the first day. The next, vv.13-21, occur the next day (night in v.13) and focus on the gift he is sending to Esau. The final section, vv.22-32, occurs on the second night.

My Outline:

  1. Messengers of God Met Jacob, vv.1-2
  2. Jacob Sends Messengers to Esau, vv.3-8
  3. Jacob’s Prayer for Deliverance, vv.9-12
  4. Jacob Sends Gifts to Esau, vv.13-21
  5. Jacob Is Left Alone, vv.22-24a
  6. Jacob Wrestles with God, vv.24b-25
  7. Jacob BecomesIsrael, vv.26-29
  8. Peniel, vv.30-33


Genesis 31 was the turning point in Jacob’s life where we saw his faith finally develop as he hears from the LORD and begins his journey home. His faith is tested as Laban pursues him with his kindred and hired men in what is clearly an angry pursuit. But chapter 32 is the point at which God finally breaks Jacob and completes the turning point began in 31. While 29:31-30:24 may be Moses’ main point forIsraelabout defining where they came from, it is here in chap. 32 that the great patriarch Jacob struggles face to face with God and is broken in spirit and body both as he is almost home. This brokenness must occur prior to meeting his estranged brother Esau and his 400 men so that Jacob becomesIsraeland trusts in God alone.

Jacob is fearful of confronting his past sins and the LORD brackets this preparation to meet Esau with two angelic/divine encounters. Just as he had an angelic and divine encounter upon leaving Canaan at Bethel in ch.28 prior to meeting the difficult Laban, so, too, he has these angelic/divine encounters as he leaves Aram and prepares to meet his brother in ch.33.

In this chapter there seems to be two of everything. In verse 2 we have Mahanaim, meaning “two camps”. There are two angelic/divine encounters, vs. 1-2 and again in vv.22-30. There are two “two camps”, verse 2 and again in vss. 7-8 as he divides his family and flocks. There are essentially two prayers, vv.9-12 and in the wrestling match with God in vv.22-30. Jacob is struggling at two levels, the human with Esau and the divine with God and the angels. Jacob also receives a second name in this chapter,Israel.

The tension builds rapidly in this section to an even higher level than in chapter 31 with Laban. In many ways, this is THE biggest event in the story of Jacob.

Key Words

Mathews writes, p.538, “Complex literary devices of ambiguity, irony, and wordplays produce a multifarious text that conveys the profound theology of a man’s encounter with the living God.”

There is a word play throughout the chapter on Jacob’s name, the Jabbok, and wrestling that doesn’t quite make it into English but looks like this in Hebrew: YcKV/Jacob, YBK/Jabbok, and Y’BK/wrestling.

Another word play Moses uses is with Mahanaim/two camps (vss.2, 7), mahaneh/camp (v.8), and minha/gift (vss.13, 20, 21), which all sound very similar in Hebrew. Ross, p.537, writes, “The repetition and interchange of the words for ‘messengers’ (malakim), ‘camp’ (mahaneh), and ‘gift’ (minha)  show that these twenty-one verses form a unified narrative. The word plays indicate that Jacob in his desperation actually sullied the magnificence of the revelation he received.” Ross seems to take a much more negative view of this episode than does Waltke.

Messengers malake angels and messengers from Jacob malakim. 

Another key word seems to be “face” (panim) in vss. 20, 21, 30.

Probably the most important word that shows up is Jacob’s new name,Israel, in vs.28.


The two main characters that are talking or doing something are Jacob and God. Others are mentioned in passing, Esau, Jacob’s messengers go on an errand and bring back a report, and Jacob’s servants who drive the animal-gifts toward Esau. His wives and children are mentioned as he moves them across the Jabbok.

Jacob makes remarkable progress in this episode. His faith is tested severely and he resorts to prayer and trusting in God’s promises. He is shown to be a man of prayer AND action. The only question I have is his sending his family across the Jabbok with a supposedly angry Esau coming. In his fear of Esau and his wrestling with God Jacob is broken, and comes to be a lame cripple who must trust in God alone, not his own strength. Jacob’s gifts to his brother are a sign of a heart change, not just fear.

There is some mystery and ambiguity with this story in how God and the angels relate to Jacob. There is a threatening tone to his being met by the angels in vs.1 and clearly in the wrestling match it was not just two guys horsing around, God seems out to get him and in fact injures Jacob seriously. The identity of the “man” wrestling with Jacob is kept until the end, and even then, we are left wondering if it is an angel or the pre-incarnate Christ. Why does God attack Jacob, and how did He not pin Jacob in the first 5 seconds? This is one of the most dramatic theophanies in all of Scripture and must be the pre-incarnate Christ.


This story dramatically demonstrates God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Jacob. Laban, fromAram, has been defeated, humiliated and left behind and now God grants assurance that Esau/Edom will not harm Jacob. These two worrisome men represent for Moses and theIsraelof his day some major obstacles that God will overcome. Mathews writes, p.540, “At the national level, too, the event encouragesIsraelto remember the significance of its name, assuring the people that they will prevail over their adversaries in fulfillment of God’s blessing. Jacob’s entrance into the land…when he becameIsraelforecasted the nation’s occupation ofCanaan.”

We clearly see the concept of brokenness and humility for sinners who must cling to God in raw, courageous faith as they realize that they are hopeless and helpless without God. Sometimes God’s mercy is wounding, it is a severe mercy. Jacob cannot go back because of the boundary at Mizpah and the covenant with Laban, he faces his brother and 400 men to his front, so his only hope is God’s grace and provision.

This passage also gives us a strong doctrine of prayer, some of which is rather disconcerting in that Jacob must wrestle with God and he comes out successful, yet wounded by God. To an extent this may point us to Christ as the greater Jacob who prays in the Garden with sweat drops of blood, and ultimately is killed on the cross.


Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26. Broadman & Holman Publishers:Nashville, TN. 2005. (pp.536-561).

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic:Grand Rapids,MI 1998 (pp.536-559.)

Waltke, Bruce. Genesis: A Commentary, Zondervan:Grand Rapids, MI. 2001 (pp.437-450.)





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