Genesis 32:1-32 “Jacob’s Brokenness and Israel’s Beginning” Part 3

Posted on February 26, 2012. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 32:13-32

            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 32:13-32 ESV)


Introduction: In this passage we come to thehigh point of Jacob’s life, where he is touched by God, wounded, changed, blessed and renamed. Here is the core to the founding of the nation ofIsrael. This text challenges us with the gospel because it is only by allowing the grace of God to smite us and wound us that we can be changed by that grace. Have you seen God? Have you been changed by the power of God’s amazing grace?


  1. I.                   Messengers of God Met Jacob, vss.1-2
  2. II.                Jacob’s Fear of Esau, vss.3-8
  3. III.             Jacob’s Prayer for Deliverance, vss.9-12
  4. IV.              Jacob Sends Gifts to Esau, vss.13-21
    1. A.      They are a present sent to my lord Esau, vss. 13-21
      1. 1.        night/present-present/night vss.13, 21 structurally, the words night and present frame this part of the story, they are Moses’ bookends.
      2. 2.        vs.13 present- gift-minha– Waltke says that these are free gifts in a diplomatic effort to “pacify his offended brother….to compensate a wrong….” (p.444.) This shows not just Jacob’s fear, but a sincere effort to make amends with his brother. This is a sign of repentance when looked at in the best possible way.
      3. 3.        220 goats, 220 sheep, 60 camels, 50 head of cattle, and 30 donkeys. This was an extravagant gift and shows just how big of a blessing God had entrusted to Jacob and how big of a loss Laban experienced.
      4. 4.        Mathews, p.553, points out that the use of “gift or present” combined with brother in v.13 points us back to another time those words were used: Gen. 4 and the story of Cain and Abel. This points to the theme of potential fratricide. “This potential fratricide, however, is averted by Jacob’s humility before God and his brother…”  Mathews also says, “By Jacob extending this gift, he restores the benefits of the blessing once stolen (33:11), yet not disowning his chosen destiny.”
      5. 5.        Proverbs 25:21f- “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.”
      6. 6.        Matthew 5:23f- “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
      7. 7.        the droves- Jacob seems to have sent each group of animals forward in a separate drove so that his brother would be met by the animals and servants in sequence. The goats would be the least valuable of the animals, they are first, followed by the next step up- the sheep. Camels, cattle and donkeys follow.
      8. 8.        they belong to your servant Jacob…a present sent to my lord Esau- Waltke writes, p.444, “He is ready to restore the blessing and to recognize Esau as lord…trusting God to keep his covenant promises….” He recognizes that even though God has blessed him with the covenant, he sought the blessing in a sinful manner, not by faith, and now he is seeking to restore what he considers to be Esau’s, yet still trusting in God to keep his covenant made in Beth-el.
      9. 9.        But Allen Ross takes a different approach- (p.544) “Jacob did not really want to find grace in the sight of his brother {v.5}- he wanted to buy him off! ….Jacob was thus essentially willing to relinquish his blessing to Esau. In fact, Jacob actually said to Esau in 33:11, ‘Please take my blessing…referring to this gift….Not only was Jacob willing to return the blessing, he was ready to nullify his place of leadership in the family. Only fear and guilt could motivate such anxious efforts.”
      10. 10.    Ross concludes with, p.545, “The lesson could thus be stated: God’s people can pray with confidence for deliverance from their enemies because of his promises to them- and they need not seek to appease their enemies by giving away God’s blessing on them.”
      11. 11.    I think Ross is way out of line here. While it is true that as Moses recounts the stories of the patriarchs he avoids censuring them for their mistakes, he allows the results of their misbehaviour to be demonstrated as the story unfolds (cf. Abraham leaving the Promised Land to go to Egypt, getting kicked out by Pharaoh for lying about his wife, obtaining Hagar as a servant girl for Sarai). Jacob and his mother’s lack of faith and resorting to lies and deception to obtain the blessing are met with consequences. Jacob must flee for his life, he is a virtual slave to Laban for 20 years, and now, upon his return home, he must face his fear of Esau. Ross does not give a convincing argument that Jacob’s actions here are sinful. Yes, he is afraid, but the point of this whole chapter is the breaking of Jacob, so that God can change him into Israel. I believe that his actions towards Esau here are a sincere effort at setting things right.
      12. 12.    For he thought, ‘I may appease him’- appease-kipper-to make atonement or to reconcile- literally “cover his face”, from the Akkadian meaning to wipe the anger from his face (Waltke, p.444). This is the word from which we get the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement.
      13. 13.    and afterward I shall see his face- despite his fear, he is hopeful of seeing his brother again, in a restored relationship. Five times in vss.21-22 some form of the word for “face” appears. Hamilton writes, p.326, “This focus on face has a twofold effect. First, it highlights a Jacob who would rather die than face his brother. Second, it prepares us for the following incident (vv.23-33) at ‘Peniel’, which means ‘the face of God’.”
      14. 14.    Perhaps he will accept me- literally, “he will lift up my face,” connoting forgiveness. The physical imagery of this action is that Jacob would be either kneeling or bowing before his brother, eyes and face cast down in humility and shame and Esau would gently reach out with his hand and lift Jacob’s chin so that they could look eye to eye in a restored relationship. Don’t we, or our children when caught doing something wrong, look down as we/they confess rather than look the one in the eye whom we have offended? Avoiding eye contact is body language for guilt/shame. When we are in sin, isn’t it hard to approach God confidently, boldly, and with joy? No, our soul is downcast and we need “lifting up” and forgiveness. This is what Jacob seems to be seeking here.
      15. 15.    Calvin writes, p.193, “In endeavouring to appease his brother by presents, he does not act distrustfully, as if he doubted whether he should be safe under the protection of God. This, indeed, is a fault too common among men, that when they have prayed to God, they turn themselves hither and thither, and contrive vain subterfuges for themselves: whereas the principal advantage of prayer is, to wait for the Lord in silence and quietness. But the design of the holy man (Jacob) was not to busy and to vex himself, as one discontented with the sole help of God. For although he was certainly persuaded that to have God propitious to him would alone be sufficient, yet he did not omit the use of the means which were in his power, while leaving success in the hand of God. For though by prayer we cast our cares upon God, that we may have peaceful and tranquil minds; yet this security ought not to render us indolent.”
      16. 16.    Wenham, p.291, “How does this frenetic activity square with his very pious prayer? Does it show he has little faith in God’s power to save, or is it, as Calvin argues, a sign of his faith that Jacob did not sit back and do nothing….The narrative leaves the question unanswered, allowing the possibility that Jacob’s emotions were a mixture of faith, fear, and doubt.” Wenham concludes, p.292, “Clearly, for Jacob to make peace with his brother is to make peace with God (cf.Mat.5:24; 1John 4:20).”
      17. 17.    Apply- sometimes a simple asking for forgiveness is all we need to do and that is humbling enough. But what about restitution? Is that what we see Jacob doing here? There was a twenty year long grudge in this family and it seems that Jacob is intent on making things right. Families are messy things. Most families have some pretty difficult issues hidden away and sometimes, in order to make things right and give God the glory, we must make restitution. What it do to our worship and our testimony before the world if we would practice Prov. 25:21f and Matthew 5:23f?
      18. 18.    Apply- James tells us 2:14 “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?….faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” When God calls us to himself and we lay claim to His promises, obstacles and opposition will arise, including consequences of our sinful actions in the past or present. We should pray and trust God for solutions but we should be prudent and take what actions we know are right.


  1. V.                 Jacob Is Left Alone, vss.22-24a
    1. A.      He sent them across
      1. 1.        Timing- the situation gets a little confusing and we do not really know why Jacob acted in this manner. It seems as if he sent the gifts away at evening, or late afternoon and then he retired for the night. However, vs. 22 is saying that he arose in the night and sent his wives, servant wives, and all 11 children across the Jabbok-at night. We have no idea of how deep the water at the ford was, but the text does say this happened at night.
      2. 2.        Why did Jacob come back across the Jabbok? He took them across in v.22 and sent them across in v. 23. Vs. 24 indicates he was alone…but it is implied that he was on the opposite side of the Jabbok from his family, so that he is the last one of his group to cross the river. Is this an act of cowardice or is he simply wanting some time alone with God? Wenham writes, p292, “Two things are puzzling about this episode. Why did Jacob rise in the night and cross the river at night?…And why, having taken his wives and children over, did he apparently return to the other side, which seems to be implied by v.25…? It may be that his irrational actions represent his disturbed state of mind: he was too worried to sleep, so he just decided to press on.”Hamilton points out the apparent cowardice of Jacob, p.325, “Jacob hardly emerges in this event as the epitome of bravery. Always he is in the rear, behind something or somebody.” Hamilton calls this text, “famous, but enigmatic” (p.329) and says “One can read vv.23-24 in two ways…” that Jacob crossed the Jabbok and wrestled with the Man on the south side of the ford, or that he stayed on the north side and sent his family across and wrestled the Man on the north side. “Indeed, taken together, vv.23-24 might suggest that Jacob crisscrossed the Jabbok several times,” (p.329).
      3. 3.        his eleven children- how many children does Jacob have at this point? Dinah is left out of the equation because the focus is on the forming of the 12 Tribes of Israel.
      4. 4.        And Jacob was left alone- this is the key idea that sets up the overwhelming encounter with ‘the man’ in vss.24bff. Jacob is completely alone as he wrestles with God.
      5. 5.        Application- we can receive much advice, counsel, help, and encouragement from others in the faith, but ultimately, we must approach God as an individual, alone, with nothing and no one but Christ our advocate. Jacob could not rely on the encounters with God that his father and grandfather had; he must be dealt with by God alone.



  1. VI.              Jacob Wrestles with God, vss. 24b-26
    1. A.      Who is the “man”?
      1. 1.        Again, Moses uses ambiguity to tell this story- this is to heighten the tension in the story and to preserve the mystery that is inherent in a mortal encountering the Divine.
      2. 2.        the word play in Hebrew continues and even points to ch.33. The words for Jacob-yaqob, Jabbok-yabboq, and wrestled-ye-abaq all sound alike and so does the word for embrace-habaq in 33::4, thus giving us the image of God’s wrestling with Jacob enabled him to be embraced by his brother.
      3. 3.        Hosea 12:4 (vss2-6) depicts Jacob wrestling with an angel. But, the Angel of the LORD can be the pre-incarnate Christ.
      4. 4.        Exodus 4:24ff Moses is almost killed by God at night.
      5. 5.        the man did not prevail against Jacob- Jacob was very strong as seen back in 29:10 as he lifted the stone at the well that normally took several men; that being said, if God had wanted to pin Jacob, he would have.
      6. 6.        the ‘man’ put Jacob’s hip out of socket by a mere touch- clearly then, he could have won at any point. Nonetheless, for Jacob to wrestle “until the breaking of day” was a phenomenal feat of strength and endurance. The words for “hip socket” however, are kap yereko meaning hollow of the thigh. The kap goes right along with the word play involving Jacob’s name, the river’s name and the word for wrestle.Hamilton writes, p.331, that this term can be interpreted that the Man touched Jacob in the genitals because the term for “thigh” is used repeatedly as a euphemism for genitals. The significance of this play on words is that Jacob is, of course, the progenitor ofIsrael, and thus, God, by touching Jacob, caused pain yet also blessed Jacob’s progeny. The act of this touch combined with the name change in vs.28 gives the miraculous beginning toIsrael the nation.Hamilton writes, p.331, “Given the other references to ‘thigh’ in the patriarchal traditions, it is inconceivable that any later Israelite would have missed the national import of this verse. Jacob, the ancestor ofIsrael, had his thigh struck, and it was from that thigh thatIsrael came forth…”
      7. 7.        Jacob was crippled by a mere touch by God- this is the big miracle in Jacob’s life, THE turning point. This is a severe mercy by God that brought Jacob to the point of ultimate faith and dependence on God, but it was real pain with a resulting real limp. The same word for “touch” is used in Isa. 6:7 when the Seraphim touched Isaiah’s mouth with the burning coal, atoning his sin. The word is used again in Jer. 1:9 “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth”. Here is the gospel for us, we must be “touched” by God, wounded so that we can be changed.
      8. 8.        Oh, that all of God’s people would be similarly touched! Jacob is transformed into a person who must now walk by faith, and walk with a limp. Wounded in the ways of the world and of selfish sin, but strengthened in his soul. Certainly we should not expect God to show up and wrestle us, but we do have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit who is Eager to touch us. We see this imagery of being touched by God again in Mark 1:40-42 as Jesus was approached by a leper for healing and Jesus not only healed him, he reached out and touched him to heal him. That technically violated the laws of the Jews for the leper was unclean. But Jesus was not only NOT contaminated by touching the leper, but the leper was made clean by the healing touch of Jesus. We need that healing touch, that cleansing touch, of the Holy Spirit. And while Jacob was not seeking this encounter with God, we know enough to actively seek this touch! While salvation is a one time deal, a once for all kind of touch, sanctification is an ongoing work that requires we be touched by the Spirit applying the Word every day. All too often though, we get desensitized to the touch of the Spirit, we ignore the Word, and we spend our time wrestling our old nature on our own, wallowing around in the dirt and mud of sin (the noun related to the Heb. for wrestled is ‘dirt’).
      9. 9.        While initially Jacob’s assailant is simply identified as “a man”, Jacob himself identified him as God in vs.30 and the man may have identified himself as God in vs.28. Since we know that God is Spirit, John 4:24 and does not have a body, then in order for this ‘man’ to be God he must either be the Angel of the Lord as the Hosea text seems to say, or he is the pre-incarnate Christ. I believe it was Jesus.
      10. 10.    Let me go for the day has broken- what is the significance of daybreak for this wrestling match? While in the middle east the ancient stories of demons who would have to depart at sunrise were popular (Hamilton, p.332) that is not what is going on here, although the form might have been familiar, and therefore meaningful to Moses andIsrael. There is some symbolism here that perhaps God built in to the situation. Dawn is a half-light/half-dark time and the Jabbok is in the Trans-Jordan which would be settled b Israel even though it was technically outside the boundary, thus making it a territory that is both holy and unholy (Hamilton).  This in turn points to the ambiguity throughout this part of Jacob’s story and to Jacob’s character- fear/faith, strength to wrestle God all night but afraid to face his brother, godliness yet still a sinner. This encourages me because I, like Paul in Romans 7, find myself wanting to do right but doing wrong. The constant struggle of the saved human existence is the desire to be holy meeting the desires of our flesh. Sometimes the flesh wins, and sometimes the Spirit wins. It may be that the Man did not want the light of day to allow Jacob to clearly see his face…which brings to mind his wedding night.
      11. 11.    not unless you bless me- since it would be an inferior who seeks a blessing from a superior, it could be that Jacob is catching on to just who he has been wrestling. He clings to the man, though wounded, to seek a blessing.
  2. VII.           Jacob Becomes Israel, vss.27-29
    1. A.      What is your name?
      1. 1.        Instead of immediately blessing Jacob he asks for his name. This points us forward to Moses’ encounter at the burning bush where Moses tells God that his people may ask for God’s name (Ex.3:13). But does God not know Jacob’s name? Of course he does, but remember the play on Jacob’s name, it can mean grasping the heel (so as to trip), supplanter, deceiver. This is God asking Jacob to confess his name and all that has gone with it. Jacob must own up to his sinful nature.
      2. 2.        Israel- God gives him a new name,Israel, meaning El will rule, and he is given the name because he has struggled with God and man and prevailed.
      3. 3.        Up til now Jacob has ruled Jacob, but now God will rule, and this provides the metaphor for the nation Israel who is to be ruled by God, then a godly line of kings chosen by God, and ultimately by the Messiah.
      4. 4.        Apply- for the Christian we are obviously submitting ourselves to God in Christ and being adopted into His own family. Christians are the newIsrael, the people of God.
      5. 5.        And there he blessed him- finally, the full and complete blessing of God upon his life. That which he lied and plotted to get originally, is given to him by God’s grace alone.
      6. 6.        tell me your name- similar to Judges 13:17-18 and the story of Samson’s father, Manoah.
  3. VIII.        Peniel, vss. 30-32
    1. A.      I have seen God
      1. 1.        I have seen God face to face- points forward to his encounter with Esau in 33:10. But the match was done in the dark, in a river gorge, so in some ways, he did not get a clear, direct view of the man’s face. Ex.33:20 states that man shall not see God’s face and live, but here it is mediated by it being the Angel of the Lord and pre-incarnate Christ, at night. God did not reveal his full glory here.
      2. 2.        delivered-v.30 and v.11. He prayed for deliverance from Esau, and now he is thankful for being delivered from the hand of God.
      3. 3.        Peniel- the face of El.
      4. 4.        Apply- are we drawn to the beatific vision of seeing God? Do we long to know God, to wrestle with God, to seek the blessing of God? How are we doing that? Are we going through the motions of seeking God or are we seriously seeking him in the Word, prayer and through actively serving others? Obedience out of love is the strongest way of seeking God’s face.

Conclusion: Lord, may each one of us be touched by your saving grace, changed from Jacob’s toIsraels! May we be transformed by your holy touch, even if we must go about limping in our flesh, make us new! Thank you for your powerful gospel and the hope we have in Jesus Christ and the new life, the abundant life that is found only in him!


Calvin, John. The Geneva Series of Commentaries. Genesis. Translated and edited by John King, 1847. Banner of Truth Trust:Edinburgh,Scotland 1965, vol.2, pp.182-203. (originally published in Latin, 1554. 2 volumes in one, vol.1 584pp. and vol. 2 523pp.)

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company:Grand Rapids, MI.1995 (pp.316-339).

Keil, C.F. Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 1 The Pentateuch. Hendrickson Publishers:Peabody,Mass. 2006 (pp.193-197). Original English translation published by T&T Clark,Edinburgh, 1866-91.

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.)

Sailhamer, John H. “Genesis” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol.2, Frank E. Gaebelein, Editor. Regency Reference Library, Zondervan Publishing House:Grand Rapids,MI 1990 (pp.208-211).

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

Wenham, Gordon. Word Biblical Commentary vol.2 Genesis 16-50.Word Books:Dallas,TX. 1994 (pp.283-297).



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