Genesis Chapter 32 Analysis Essay

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Then Jacob asked him and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there.

The Biblical Illustrator

Genesis 32:29

Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name

The great question

This is the question of all questions.
For the name of God denotes His nature and His essence, the sum of all His properties and attributes.

I. It is a question worth the asking. There is a despair of religious knowledge in the world, as though in God’s rich universe, theology, which is the science of God Himself, were the one field in which no harvest could be reaped, no service of sacred knowledge gained.

II. The knowledge of God is the one thing needful. He who seeks to do the work of a Paley in presenting Christian evidences in a sense conformable to the intellectual state of thoughtful men, as the shadows are folding themselves about this wearied century--above all, he who cultivates and disciplines his spirituality until it has become the central fact of his being--it is he who offers in a right and reverent spirit the prayer of Jacob at Penuel, “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.”

III. It is necessary not only to ask the great question of the Divine nature, but to ask it in a right spirit. Jacob acted as though there were no other way of asking the question aright than by prayer; he must also ask it at the cost of personal suffering.

IV. What is the answer when it comes? Jacob’s question was asked, but was not answered; or, rather, it was answered not directly and in so many words, but effectually: “He blessed him there.” It is not knowledge that God gives to striving souls, but blessing. He stills your doubtings; He helps you to trust Him. You go forth no longer as Jacob, the supplanter, mean, earthly, temporal, but in the power of a Divine enthusiasm, as an Israel, a prince with God. (J. E. C. Welldon, M. A.)

Inquiry and reply

The Lord had asked Jacob how he was called, not as if He did not know it, but in order to give him a name more in accordance with his present state of grace. Jacob, meanwhile, feels emboldened to ask his antagonist His name. It may be that he was desirous of knowing how the Lord ought properly to be called. He was usually called “Elohim”--the Most High. God Himself had said to Abraham, “I am the El Shaddai, the Almighty or All-sufficient God.” He was also called simply El, the Strong One. But these appellations no longer satisfied the patriarch after his recent experience. They all expressed something of the Divine glory, but none of them the whole of it. There was probably an ardour in his soul, which would gladly have poured itself out in hymns of praise, but for which he could not find words. But Jacob doubtless was not anxious merely about the name when he said, “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.” I think he meant to say by it, “Lord, how shall I call Thee? I know not what to think, much less to say. Such a condescension as that which Thou hast shown to me, who am but dust, is more than my heart could have remotely anticipated. I know and confess that Thou, O Lord! art wonderful and gracious. It was Thou who madest me competent to all this, and yet commendest me, as if I, a poor timid creature, had done it of myself. Thou, who art the Holy One, sufferest Thyself to be embraced by my unholy arms; Thou, who art Almighty, to be overcome by one so weak as I! This is too much, this is too wonderful and too lofty; I cannot comprehend it. Tell me, what is Thy name? What shall I say of Thee? for I know not. Who, indeed, can know how he ought to bless, praise, exalt, and extol Thee as he ought, when he learns and is conscious of what Thou doest to Thy children? “If it had been said to Jacob, thus filled with God,” This that the Lord hath now done unto thee is something very trifling compared with that which He is willing to do for thee. He has, in this instance, assumed the human form only for a short time; but in the fulness of time He will really be born of a woman, and not spend merely a few hours, but three-and-thirty years, upon earth; suffer in body and soul the most extreme anguish; and even die for Israel that they may live. And the people will not meet Him, as thou hast done, with prayers and tears, but with great wrath and bitter fury will they do Him all conceivable injury; whilst He, from love, will bear it as a lamb.” If the patriarch could then have been told these things--which were not fitted, however, for that period--“Oh,” he would have exclaimed, by God’s grace, “I can believe it! I can believe it! What can be too much for Him to perform?” Had he been told that He would be called Love, he would have exclaimed, “That is His true name!”’ And who can say what an insight Jacob may have obtained into the mystery of salvation during this event, and of which he uttered many things in his parting blessing? At least, Jesus says of Abraham, “He saw my day, and was glad.” But “tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name. Reveal Thyself more intimately to my soul.” Such a desire is very laudable. Christ declares that “this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” Paul found so much comprised in the knowledge of Jesus Christ that he regarded everything else in comparison with it as loss and dung. Moses also once experienced such a strong desire that he prayed, saying, “If I have now found grace in Thy sight, I beseech Thee show me Thy glory.” And the Lord really granted him his request, as far as was possible. Who would not tong for such an acquaintance, and pray, “Make Thyself known to me; cause Thy face to shine upon me; make me acquainted with Thee!” especially since we have the promise, “Thou shalt know the Lord”? Certainly this is a pearl worthy of the whole of our poor property; a treasure for the sake of which we may well sell everything in order to obtain it. But it is only in the light of God that we see light. Blessed are the eyes which see what ye see. “Flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.” The Lord does all things well in due time, in general, as well as in particular--He only knows also the proper manner; and hence we must be content to be told, “my hour is not yet come.” Jacob’s question was also fully answered; eternity, however, is destined for its further elucidation. Israel thought he might then become acquainted with the whole mystery of redemption; but a couple of centuries must elapse ere it was fully made known. Israel was obliged to learn to wait--to see the promises afar off, and to be satisfied with it. He was satisfied, and held his peace. (D. C. Krumreacher.)

The search after God

In this experience there seem to be three things--a request, a denial, and a compensation.

I. THE REQUEST here, as Jacob urges it, is this: “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.”

1. The manner is bold and abrupt. It appears strange, sometimes, as we note the real prayers on record in the Bible, to find them so short, so sharp, so resolute in utterance. “Master, carest Thou not that we perish!”--“Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom!” . . . Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!”--“Lord, save me, I perish!” It is an old Reformer’s saying: “Prayer is the Christian’s gun-shot. As then the bullet out of a gun, so prayers out of the mouth, can go no further than they are carried. If they be put out faintly, they cannot fly far. If they be hollow-hearted, then they will not pierce much. Only the fervent, active devotion hits the mark, and pierceth the walls of heaven, though, like those of Gaza, made of brass and iron.”

2. But what does this request of Jacob’s mean? Indeed, it seems quite fair to retort the question of the angel. Jacob asked to know the name of the Being he had been wrestling with. Most surely, we are not left to imagine he still remained in ignorance who his antagonist was. You have already learned, from the change in Jacob’s own name, that names in those days meant character--indicated personality. And when this wearied man girds up his remaining force for a new petition, he is simply pressing the old answerless question of the human soul: Who is God--and What is God?

3. The order of experience in this heart-history is of special value, and must be noted also. It follows success and not failure. It best becomes, therefore, the symbol of prayer founded on encouragement. It suggests to us a rewarded soul standing on the vantage-ground of a previous welcome, and stretching out its hand for a yet more advanced disclosure of love.

II. THE DENIAL. It seems to be the settled determination of the Divine will to hold in a holy and unbroken reserve the heights and depths of His character and being. Enough only is revealed for us to be sure He is our friend and our well-wisher. It cannot be called an unwholesome question, this in our text, even though it never meets an earthly answer. It stimulates the soul. Even a reverent curiosity about God is better than a dead apathy.

III. THE COMPENSATION. “And He blessed him there.” There is something surpassingly beautiful in this quiet statement. The mystery remains unrelieved, but the affection pays for it. Just as a loving mother grants every wish of her little one, until a serious mistake is pressed as a petition. Then she declines with a smile, and compensates with a kiss, so that the child is glad to be disappointed. And that is exactly the delicate figure of the Scripture: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you,” saith the Lord. But now you press the inquiry--Is there any answer to the old question--does not this same Being, who is to judge us at the last, as He made us in the beginning, elude our every search--oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat--has He no word to speak to me? Yes--I answer; there are two disclosures at least in this experience of compensation that give relief. They are always made. They are here, as elsewhere, in the story of Jacob. One of these is a clear revelation of the right of human petition. The other is a new repetition of Divine confidence. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The secret revealed to wrestling Jacob


1. The contrast observable between this and a former revelation made to Jacob’s soul. Twenty years before he had seen in vision a ladder reared against the sky, and angels ascending and descending on it. Exceedingly remarkable. Immediately after his transgression, when leaving his father’s home, a banished man, to be a wanderer for many years, this first meeting took place. Fresh from his sin, God met him in tenderness and forgiveness. After twenty years God met him again; but this second intercourse was of a very different character. It was no longer God the Forgiver, God the Protector, God the covenanting Love, that met Jacob; but God the Awful, the Unnameable, whose breath blasts, at whose touch the flesh of the mortal shrinks and shrivels up.

2. Again I remark, that the end and aim of Jacob’s struggle was to know the name of God. “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.” In the Hebrew history are discernible three periods distinctly marked, in which names and words bore very different characters. These three, it has been observed by acute philologists, correspond to the periods in which the nation bore the three different appellations of Hebrews, Israelites, Jews. In the first of these periods, names meant truths, and words were the symbols of realities. The characteristics of the names given then were simplicity and sincerity. They were drawn from a few simple sources: either from some characteristic of the individual, as Jacob, the supplanter, or Moses, drawn from the water; or from the idea of family, as Benjamin, the son of my right hand; or from the conception of the tribe or nation, then gradually consolidating itself; or, lastly, from the religious idea of God. But in this case not the highest notion of God--not Jah or Jehovah, but simply the safer and simpler idea of Deity. The second period begins about the time of the departure from Egypt, and it is characterized by unabated simplicity, with the addition of sublimer thought and feeling more intensely religious. The heart of the nation was big with mighty and new religious truth--and the feelings with which the national heart was swelling found vent in the names which were given abundantly. God, under His name Jah, the noblest assemblage of spiritual truths yet conceived, became the adjunct to names of places and persons. Oshea’s name is changed into Jehoshua. The third period was at its zenith in the time of Christ--words had lost their meaning, and shared the hollow unreal state of all things. A man’s name might be Judas, and still he might be a traitor. Yet in this period, exactly in proportion as the solemnity of the idea was gone, reverence was scrupulously paid to the corpse-like word which remained and had once enclosed it. In that hollow, artificial age, the Jew would wipe his pen before he ventured to write the Name--he would leave out the vowels of the sacred Jehovah, and substitute those of the less sacred Elohim. In that kind of age, too, men bow to the name of Jesus, often just in that proportion in which they have ceased to recognize His true grandeur and majesty of character. In such an age it would be indeed preposterous to spend the strength upon an inquiry such as this--“Tell me Thy name?” Jehovah, Jove, or Lord what matter? But Jacob did not live in this third period, when names meant nothing; nor did he live in the second, when words contained the deepest truth the nation is ever destined to receive. But he lived in the first age, when men are sincere, and truthful, and earnest, and names exhibit character. To tell Jacob the name of God was to reveal to him what God is and who.

3. This desire of Jacob was not the one we should naturally have expected on such an occasion. He is alone--his past fault is coming retributively on a guilty conscience--he dreads the meeting with his brother. His soul is agonized with that, and that we naturally expect will be the subject and the burden of his prayer. No such thing l Not a word about Esau--not a word about personal danger at all. All that is banished completely for the time, and deeper thoughts are grappling with his soul. To get safe through to-morrow? No, no, no! To be blessed by God--to know Him, and what He is--that is the battle of Jacob’s soul from sunset till the dawn of day. And this is our struggle--the struggle.


1. It was revealed by awe. Very significantly are we told that the Divine antagonist seemed as it were anxious to depart as the day was about to dawn; and that Jacob held Him more convulsively fast, as if aware that the daylight was likely to rob him of his anticipated blessing; in which there seems concealed a very deep truth. God is approached more nearly in that which is indefinite than in that which is definite and distinct. He is felt in awe, and Wonder and worship, rather than in clear conceptions.

2. Again, this revelation was made in an unsyllabled blessing. Jacob requested two things. He asked for a blessing--and he prayed to know the name of God. God gave him the blessing. “He blessed him there,” but refused to tell His name. “Wherefore dost thou ask after My name?” In this, too, seems to lie a most important truth. Names have a power, a strange power, of hiding God. Speech has been bitterly defined as the art of hiding thought. Well, that sarcastic definition has in it a truth. The Eternal Word is the revealer of God’s thought; and every true word of man is originally the expression of a thought; but by degrees the word hides the thought. Language is valuable for the things of this life; but for the things of the other world, it is an encumbrance almost as much as an assistance. Lastly, the effect of this revelation was to change Jacob’s character. His name was changed from Jacob to Israel, because himself was an altered man. Hitherto there had been something subtle in his character--a certain cunning and craft--a want of breadth, as if he had no firm footing upon reality. The forgiveness of God twenty years before had not altered this. He remained Jacob, the subtle supplanter still. For, indeed, a man whose religion is chiefly the sense of forgiveness, does not thereby rise into integrity or firmness of character--a certain tenderness of character may very easily go along with a great deal of subtlety. Jacob was tender and devout, and grateful for God’s pardon, and only half honest still. But this half-insincere man is brought into contact with the awful God, and his subtlety falls from him. He becomes real at once. Every insincere habit of mind shrivels in the face of God. One clear, true glance into the depths of Being, and the whole man is altered. The name changes because the character has changed, No longer Jacob the supplanter, but Israel the Prince of God--the champion of the Lord, who had fought with God and conquered; and who, henceforth, will fight for God and be His true loyal soldier: a larger, more unselfish name--a larger and more unselfish man--honest and true at last. No man becomes honest till he has got face toface with God. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after My name?--

God’s revelation of Himself to Jacob

This answer of the Being--“Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after My name?”--what does it mean? So far as I can judge, it is the same reply that was given long afterward to the wise and learned Moses--“When I speak to the people, who shall I say hath sent me? What is Thy name? . . . I am that I am. This shalt thou say, I AM hath sent me unto you”; that is, as I think, “I am, the nameless One, the One who refuses to be named, whose being transcends all description.” The highest revelation of God must consist of two sides--the apprehensible, the inapprehensible. God must be the apprehensible and inapprehensible God. Throughout the Bible He is introduced generally with the definition and distinction of a high man; He talks, acts, feels before us as plainly as any character in the history, and we have the satisfaction of the clearest knowledge. But were this all, it would not have been God, and would have ended in the rankest idolatry. So in this singular tale of Jacob--so far back--for the first time, I think, is there a revelation of theinfinite, unspeakable God, manifested so simply in the fact that He refuses to be or cannot be revealed. “Wherefore?” “I am.” (A. G. Mercer, D. D.)

He blessed him there

Blessing from God

God blessed Jacob at Penuel because he asked to be blessed, and his desire for it constituted at once his worthiness and his capacity. He began the blessing by the agony of prayer, and he completed it with the discipline of sorrow.

1. Life being itself a blessing, and to one who believes in God and hopes from Him the greatest of all blessings, God makes it a yet greater blessing by ordaining for it a fixed plan.

2. God does not expect perfect characters to fulfil His purposes. He chooses the fittest instruments He can find for His purest purpose, and trains them and bears with them until their work is done.

3. God uses circumstances as His angels and voices to us, and He has special epochs and crises in which He visits our souls and lives.

4. The perfection of youth is eagerness without impetuosity; the perfection of old age is wisdom without cynicism, and a faith in the purpose of God which deepens and widens with the years. (Bishop Thorold.)

Fulness of blessing

1.Evil conduct will, sooner or later, bring trouble to those guilty of it.

2. We may meet with trouble in the way God bids us go.

3. The memory of former wrong-doing robs us of comfort and hope under new trials.

4. God will help us if we repent, confess, seek pardon, and call for His aid.

I. THERE IS A FULNESS OF BLESSING IN GOD TO MEET OUR NEEDS BEYOND ALL WE HAVE EVER REALIZED. We can have blessings spiritual, moral, mental, physical, secular, personal, family, national.


1. The nature of God. “God is love.”

2. The promises.

3. Past dealings.

III. THE MEANS BY WHICH THE BLESSING BECOMES OURS IS EARNEST, FERVENT PRAYER. This the key that opens the treasure, the channel that conducts the water to my soul, the hand that grasps the blessing. (J. Marsden, B. A.)

Blessed by God


1. He was saved from a great peril--Esau’s attack.

2. He was forgiven a great wrong--supplanting.

3. He was able to feel that a great breach was healed (Genesis 33:4).

4. He had won a new name and rank (Genesis 32:28). He was knighted on the spot, made a prince on the field.

5. He was now under a fresh anointing: he was a superior man ever after. “The angel redeemed him from all evil” (Genesis 48:16).

II. WHAT WAS THE PLACE? “He blessed him there.”

1. A place of great trial (Genesis 32:6-7).

2. A place of humble confession. “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed to Thy servant” (Genesis 32:10).

3. A place of pleading (Genesis 32:11-12). “There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24).

4. A place of communion. “I have seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:30).

5. A place of conscious weakness. “As he passed over Penuel, the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.”


1. Before the earth was created the Lord blessed His chosen people in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-4).

2. At the Cross the tomb, and the throne of Jesus.

3. In the heavenly places.

4. At conversion (Psalms 32:1-2).

5. In times of stripping, humbling, chastening, pleading, &c. James 1:12).

6. In times of prompt obedience (Psalms 1:1).

7. At the ordinances (Acts 8:39; Luke 24:30-31).

IV. IS THIS SUCH A PLACE? Yes, if you are--

1. Willing to give up sin.

2. Willing to have Jesus for your all in all.

3. Willing to resign yourself to the Father’s will.

4. Willing to serve God in His own way. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


1. God’s blessing on His saints unites their hearts unto Him to seek His praise.

2. Saints ascribe all their blessings to the face or favour of God.

3. Gracious souls desire that exaltations of God be monumental and perpetual.

4. God’s face-discoveries have been in measure to sight towards His saints of old.

5. God’s sensible discoveries of Himself have been dangerous to the life of His saints (Daniel 8:27).

6. God’s appearance, visible in grace, hath been to the preservation of humbled souls (Genesis 32:30).

7. God giveth a pass to His servants in their way after He hath tried them. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Jacob’s blessing

This blessing wherewith Christ here blessed Jacob was a Divine blessing containing all other blessings within its bowels. It was that blessing of the throne which comprehended in it the blessings of the footstool. Jacob had got already a great store of footstool mercies--much wealth, wives and children, &c. These worldly blessings would not (and indeed could not) content him. He tugs hard still, and must have some better mercy than these, even the throne mercy, to wit, peace with God; well knowing that this would bring peace with his brother, and all other good things; as Job saith, “Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee” (Job 22:21). He knew that his power to prevail with Emmanuel Himself would fill him with power to prevail with Esau. (Christopher Ness.)

Blessing sought and found

It was with a young man a day of seeking, and he entered a little sanctuary and heard a sermon from “Look unto Me, and be ye saved.” He obeyed the Lord’s command, and “He blessed him there.” Soon after he made a profession of his faith before many witnesses, declaring his consecration to the Lord, and “He blessed him there.” Anon he began to labour for the Lord in little rooms, among a few people, and “ He blessed him there.” His opportunities enlarged, and by faith he ventured upon daring things for the Lord’s sake, and “He blessed him there.” A household grew about him, and together with his loving wife he tried to train his children in the fear of the Lord, and “He blessed him there.” Then came sharp and frequent trial, and he was in pain and anguish, but the Lord “blessed him there.” This is that man’s experience all along, from the day of his conversion to this hour: up hill and down dale his path has been a varied one, but every part of his pilgrimage he can praise the Lord, for “He blessed him there.”

Blessed by God

I have here (said Mr. Fuller) two religious characters, who were intimately acquainted in early life. Providence favoured one of them with a tide of prosperity. The other, fearing for his friend, lest his heart should be overcharged with the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches, one day asked him if he did not find prosperity a snare to him. He paused and answered, “I am not conscious that I do, for I enjoy God in all things.” Some years afterwards his affairs took another turn; he lost, if not the whole, yet the far greater part of what he had once gained, and by this disaster was greatly reduced. His old friend, being one day in his company, renewed his question, whether he did not find what had lately befallen him to be too much for him. Again he paused and answered,” I am not conscious that I do, for now I enjoy all things in God.” This was truly a life of faith. To him it was as true as to Jacob--“He blessed him there.” (Arvine’s Anecdotes.)

The present blessing

It is a common temptation to men to think that if their circumstances were different they could become religious, put forth all its fruits, enjoy all its blessings; but with things as they are they can hope for little. By this miserable temptation thousands are deluded, life is wasted, souls are lest. What I wish to show is that the realization of salvation and the maintenance of a holy life are possible to us anywhere, everywhere, if we have the true disposition of heart. Goodness is never a question of the outer world; it is always a question of the inner world. Now, in nature climate determines everything respecting the animals which live, the flowers which grow; the character of the climate, not the nature of the soil, or the conformation of the ground. It is from difference of climate that tropical life differs so much from arctic, and both these from the life of temperate regions. It is climate, and climate alone, that causes the orange and vine to blossom, and the olive to flourish in the south, but denies them to the north of Europe. It is climate, and climate alone, that enables the forest tree to grow on the plain, but not on the mountain top; that causes wheat and barley to flourish on the mainland of Scotland, but not on the steppes of Siberia. Not the quality of the ground, or the form of the ground, but the climate; the products of the landscape are determined not by the soil itself, or by what is below the soil, but by what is outside it, above it, beyond it. But human character is not governed by circumstance as the landscape is determined by climate. The supreme distinction of man, the characteristic that marks him out from the mere physical universe, is that there is in him a self-energy, an inner freedom, a fundamental liberty and strength of soul, by which he triumphs over the unfriendliest conditions in pursuit of his ideal. How Demosthenes, in spite of his stammering, became an orator; how Huber, in his love of science, triumphed over his blindness; how Beethoven created splendid music despite his deafness! It is the same in the moral life of man; victory is from within, no matter what may be the state of things without. The patriarch struggling with the angel until he overcame is the picture of man’s ability to overcome all difficulties in the way of the highest life, to realize purity and peace and uttermost salvation. And so we constantly see men getting goodness and exemplifying goodness in circumstances which seem altogether to forbid moral excellence. We see here how mistaken men are in fancying that they cannot give themselves to God and live for Him just where they find themselves. And yet that is a common mistake. Thousands to-day are waiting for the propitious hour, the fitting place, the convenient season.

1. “I cannot serve God in this home,” says one. If their parents and friends had been religious, if their training had been otherwise, it would have been otherwise with them. Now, believe it, God can bless and keep you there. There was “ some good thing in the house of Jeroboam,” the most unlikely house in Israel. Abijah was there, a God-fearing and a God-favoured youth. Some little while ago I noticed in a field quite a vast growth of fungi--yellow, purple, black, spotted, no end of toadstools and devil’s snuff-boxes--and right in the middle of the ghastly, pestilent, poisonous growth there was a single mushroom, white and fragrant, a veritable pearl of the field. So Abijah stood in the house of Jeroboam.

2. “I cannot serve God in this neighbourhood,” says another. Ours is a bad neighbourhood, say they, and nobody can live in it and be what they ought to be. Have you never thought how wonderfully God preserved the primitive Christians in such cities as Rome and Ephesus and Corinth, full of atheism, idolatry, sensuality, as they were?

3. “I cannot serve God in this calling,” says another. They feel their business is unfriendly to religious life, that their business relations are so. The tailor says, We are a loose set; the shoemaker feels as if all his comrades were infidels; the horse-dealer wants to know how he is going to keep a conscience; the collier, the soldier, the sailor, feel how difficult it is with their vocation to serve God. Do not spend your life sighing for another and more helpful calling; God can bless you where you are; He can give you grace to resist the special temptations of your lot; m slippery places He can make you to stand, in dark places He can make you to shine.

4. “I cannot serve God in this situation,” says another. The domestic servant feels this sometimes. She lives where there is not a thought of religion, and it seems incredible that she could keep her soul alive there. Seek God’s blessing now. That was a strange place where Jacob wrestled with the angel, on the wild heath beneath the stars; but he was resolute for the blessing, and he got it. Are you earnest for the blessing as he was? (W. L.Watkinson.)

Deliverance from affliction

Be not earnest, in time of affliction, to use inordinate means to speed deliverance. Jacob was too nimble in bending his knees for his father’s blessing. It cost him twenty years’ exile and a shrunk sinew before he obtained it fully from the angel. Stay God’s time, and mercy will ripen more kindly. It is no wisdom to break prison unadvisedly; our troubles will end more auspiciously when angels are sent from heaven to open the iron gate, as they did to Peter, and led him to the house of prayer. When God intends a salvation, the shackles will fall off easily, and the gates will fly open at night; and you shall be like them that dream, when God turns your captivity like streams in the south. (J. Lee.)

Power of wrestling prayer

“There’s nae gude dune, John, till ye get to the close grips.” So said “Jeems,” the doorkeeper of Broughton Place Church, Edinburgh, to the immortal Dr. John Brown, the author of “Rab and His Friends.” Old Jeems got into a marvellous nearness with God in prayer, and conversed with Him as he would with his “ain father.” (Dr. Cuyler.)

The name of that place Peniel


This world possesses many uncommonly glorious places. The natural man finds those the most remarkable where Nature manifests herself in peculiar splendour and majesty, where lofty mountains yield delightful prospects, and smiling plains exhibit the blessings of heaven; where majestic rivers roll along, or the wide ocean expands itself like an eternity before the eye which seeks in vain its limit. The scientific man lingers with pleasure on the monuments of ancient and modern art; he gazes with admiration at the enormous dome which ancient times reared heavenwards, or is ravished with the productions of the painter or the statuary, which animate, as it were, the lifeless canvas and the solid marble. He admires the magnificence and beauty of princely palaces, and lingers astonished at the works of art. The historian loses himself in reflection when visiting the scene of former important events, when coming in sight of ancient Rome with all its reminiscences; or when upon a field where memorable battles have been fought. Who at this present period does not think with admiration of Wittenberg and its royal chapel, of the Wartburg, of Zurich and Geneva, and of the names of Luther, Zuinglius, and Calvin, because they remind us of a multiplicity of events connected with them? The Christian has also his memorable spots and places in the world; Bethlehem, Capernaum, Jerusalem, Calvary, and the Mount of Olives, are these remarkable spots. Formerly they were personally visited by the piously superstitious pilgrim, whilst his heart, perhaps, was far from God. His bodily eye saw the remarkable places, whilst the eye of his spirit remained closed against the wonders which there took place for the salvation of sinners. His feet wandered in what is called the Holy Land, where Abraham once sojourned; which the Son of God touched with His sacred feet, and even with His face; which He bedewed with His tears, His bloody sweat, and His atoning blood; in which His lifeless body slumbered three days, and where He again rose to heaven from whence He had come down. There the foot of many a pilgrim wanders, whilst it is not given him to walk in the steps of faithful Abraham, and to know the way of peace--nay, whilst rejecting the Son of God, by thinking to render his own works effectual as an atonement for his sins. These places are Peniels to believers, revelations of the glory of God, since His faith and love find the pastures of eternal life in that which there took place. And has not every Christian his particular Peniels in which God revealed Himself to him in an especial manner?--his closet, a sermon, a book, a company, a solitary hour, and the like, which continue ever memorable to him. Jacob called this remarkable place Peniel--not as a memorial of himself, nor of that which he had there performed and accomplished; but of that which he had apprehended and experienced of God, and of the gracious benefit bestowed upon him. (D. C. Krummacher.)

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 32:29". The Biblical Illustrator. https: 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

And Jacob asked him, and said, tell me, I pray thee, thy name,.... Being asked his own name, and told it, and having another given him more significative and expressive, he is emboldened to ask the person that wrestled with him what was his name; Exodus 3:13; for Jacob knew that he was God, as appears by his earnest desire to be blessed by him; and he knew it by the declaration just made, that he had power with God as a prince; but he hoped to have some name, taken by him from the place or circumstance of things in which he was, whereby he might the better remember this affair; as he was pleased to call himself the God of Bethel, from his appearance to Jacob there, Genesis 31:13; therefore since he did not choose to give him his name, Jacob himself imposed one on the place afterwards, as a memorial of God being seen by him there:

and he said, wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? which is both a reproof of his curiosity, and a denial of his request; signifying that he had no need to put that question, it was enough for him that he had got the blessing, and which he confirms:

and he blessed him there; in the same place, as the Vulgate Latin version, where he had been wrestling with him, as he was taking his leave of him; for this was a farewell blessing, and a confirmation of that he had received, through the name of Israel being given him.

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Gill, John. "Commentary on Genesis 32:29". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https: 1999.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

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.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 32:29". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https: 1871-8.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

Judges 13:17-18.

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Genesis 32:29". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https: 1828.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Wherefore dost thou ask after my name? - What good will it do thee to know that? The discovery of that was reserved for his death - bed, upon which he was taught to call him Shiloh. But instead of telling him his name, he gave him his blessing, which was the thing he wrestled for; he blessed him there, repeated and ratified the blessing formerly given him. See how wonderfully God condescends to countenance and crown importunate prayer? Those that resolve though God slay them, yet to trust in him, will at length be more than conquerors.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Genesis 32:29". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https: 1765.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

29.Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. This seems opposed to what is declared above; for I have lately said, that when Jacob sought a blessing, it was a token of his submission. Why, therefore, as if he were of doubtful mind, does he now inquire the name of him whom he had before acknowledged to be God? But the solution of the question is easy; for, though Jacob does acknowledge God, yet, not content will an obscure and slight knowledge, he wishes to ascend higher. And it is not to be wondered at, that the holy man, to whom God had manifested himself under so many veils and coverings, that he had not yet obtained any clear knowledge of him, should break forth in this wish; nay, it is certain that all the saints, under the law, were inflamed with this desire. Such a prayer also of Manoah, is read in Jude 13:18, to which the answer from God is added, except that there, the Lord pronounces his name to be wonderful and secret, in order that Manoah may not proceed further. The sum therefore is this, that though Jacob’s wish was pious, the Lord does not grant it, because the time of full revelation was not yet completed: for the fathers, in the beginning, were required to walk in the twilight of morning; and the Lord manifested himself to them, by degrees, until, at length, Christ the Sun of Righteousness arose, in whom perfect brightness shines forth. This is the reason why he rendered himself more conspicuous to Moses, who nevertheless was only permitted to behold his glory from behind: yet because he occupied an intermediate place between patriarchs and apostles, he is said, in comparison with them, to have seen, face to face, the God Who had been hidden from the fathers. But now, since God has approached more nearly unto us, our ingratitude is most impious and detestable, if we do not run to meet with ardent desire to obtain such great grace; as also Peter admonishes us in the first chapter of his first epistle. (1 Peter 1:12.) It is to be observed, that although Jacob piously desires to know God more fully, yet, because he is carried beyond the bounds prescribed to the age in which he lived, he suffers a repulse: for the Lord, cutting short his wish, commands him to rest contented with his own blessing. But if that measure of illumination which we have received, was denied to the holy man, how intolerable will be our curiosity, if it breaks forth beyond the contended limit now prescribed by God.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Genesis 32:29". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https: 1840-57.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Genesis 32:29 And Jacob asked [him], and said, Tell [me], I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore [is] it [that] thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.

Ver. 29. And he blessed him there.] That was a better thing to Jacob than to answer his curious request of knowing the angel’s name. So when the disciples asked our Saviour, [Acts 1:6] "Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" "It is not for you to know the times," saith he, "but ye shall receive the Holy Ghost"; that is better for you, &c. [Acts 1:8] God sometimes doth not only "grant a man’s prayer," but "fulfil his counsel." [Psalms 20:4] This if he do not, because we sometimes ask we know not what, yet some better thing we shall be sure of. "I will strengthen the house of Judah, and they shall be as if I had not cast them off l and I will hear them." [Zechariah 10:6]

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Genesis 32:29". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https: 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

Genesis 32:29

This is the question of all questions. For the name of God denotes His nature and His essence, the sum of all His properties and attributes.

I. It is a question worth the asking. There is a despair of religious knowledge in the world, as though in God's rich universe, Theology, which is the science of God Himself, were the one field in which no harvest could be reaped, no service of sacred knowledge gained.

II. The knowledge of God is the one thing needful. He who seeks to do the work of a Paley in presenting Christian evidences in a sense conformable to the intellectual state of thoughtful men, as the shadows are folding themselves about this wearied century—above all, he who cultivates and disciplines his spirituality until it has become the central fact of his being—it is he who offers in a right and reverent spirit the prayer of Jacob at Peniel, "Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name."

III. It is necessary not only to ask the great question of the Divine nature, but to ask it in a right spirit. Jacob acted as though there were no other way of asking the question aright than by prayer; he must also ask it at the cost of personal suffering.

IV. What is the answer when it comes? Jacob's question was asked, but was not answered; or, rather, it was answered not directly and in so many words, but effectually: "He blessed him there." It is not knowledge that God gives to striving souls, but blessing. He stills your doubtings; He helps you to trust Him. You go forth no longer as Jacob, the supplanter, mean, earthly, temporal, but in the power of a Divine enthusiasm, as an Israel, a prince with God.

J. E. C. Welldon, The Anglican Pulpit of To-day, p. 428.

Reference: A. Fletcher, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 413.

God blessed Jacob at Peniel because he asked to be blessed, and his desire for it constituted at once his worthiness and his capacity. He began the blessing by the agony of prayer, and he completed it with the discipline of sorrow.

I. Life being itself a blessing, and to one who believes in God and hopes for Him the greatest of all blessings, God makes it a yet greater blessing by ordaining for it a fixed plan.

II. God does not expect perfect characters to fulfil His purpose. He chooses the fittest instruments He can find for His purest purposes, and trains them and bears with them until their work is done.

III. God uses circumstances as His angels and voices to us, and He has special epochs and crises in which He visits our souls and lives.

IV. The perfection of youth is eagerness without impetuosity; the perfection of old age is wisdom without cynicism, and a faith in the purpose of God which deepens and widens with the years.

Bishop Thorold, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 145.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Genesis 32:29". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https:

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Genesis 32:29. And Jacob said,—Tell me, I pray thee, thy name— i.e.. That I may do thee honour, and pay thee worship, under that peculiar attribute and title which suits this condescension and revelation of thyself to me. The Divine Person replies, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? as much as to say, Can'st thou be ignorant who I am, or how I have regarded thee and thy family? I who am the God of Beth-el, &c. But, fully to satisfy thee, Iwill bless thee; that is, most probably, renew to thee the Abrahamic blessing. For we find that Jacob doubted no longer: he gave the place the name of Penuel, or Peniel, immediately; and he adds, because I have seen God face to face, i.e.. have had an immediate and direct revelation of God to me. See ch. Genesis 35:9. and note on ch. Genesis 16:13.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 32:29". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https: 1801-1803.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Tell me, I pray thee, thy name, that I may give thee the honour due to it. Art thou a created angel, or art thou the ever-blessed God?

Wherefore dost thou ask after my name? A question which carries in it both a denial of his request, as Jude 13:17,18, and a reproof of his curiosity.

He blessed him there, in an eminent and peculiar manner, which was a real answer to Jacob’s question, and gave him to understand both his name and nature.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Genesis 32:29". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https: 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

29.Tell me… thy name — In the loftiest attainments of soul-struggle with God this is the profoundest prayer that can be uttered. It is a rising above human desires, a ceasing even to ask for blessings, and a yearning to know the sacred name. It is equivalent to, Reveal to me thy nature; or, as in Exodus 33:18, “Show me thy glory.” Such was Manoah’s prayer.

Dr. James Dobson tells an amusing story which illustrates a common tendency. A certain medical student felt that he could simplistically and single-handedly take on a mental patient who had certain delusions by logically setting everything straight in his mind. You see, this patient thought that he was dead. The aspiring doctor believed that all he needed to do was rationally prove to this man that he could not be dead. Sitting down beside this man, the intern asked him if dead people could bleed. The patient said that he was certain they could not. The intern then pricked the finger of the patient and triumphantly asked him what he thought now that blood appeared. “Well, I’ll be!” he responded, “Dead people can bleed after all.”

Preconceived ideas are very difficult to shed, even in the light of undeniable facts. I was rather distressed to realize that I am like the mental patient when I come to Genesis 32. I am unwilling to admit that verse 28 could be true:

And he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

Having a certain theological predisposition, I could not accept these words at face value. How could God possibly imply, much worse clearly state, that Jacob had contended with Him and won? How can man prevail over God? And how can it be said that Jacob contended with men and won? Had not all of his previous striving been in the power of the flesh? Had it not brought about only negative results? Had God not clearly indicated in the record of these events that such conduct cannot be condoned, nor should it be imitated? Why, then, does verse 28 say that Jacob has contended with God and men and won?

I, like the insane man, had it in my mind that my presupposition was correct, and thus no facts could ever successfully contradict it. Men cannot prevail with God, I reasoned, no matter what Moses wrote in verse 28. But I was wrong. Much of Jacob’s striving was wrong. Indeed, all of his efforts at self-help were wrong until we come to Genesis 32. But just because Jacob’s previous striving was sinful does not mean that all striving is such. There is a striving which God commends and to which He even surrenders, so to speak. It is that kind of striving which I would like us to look for as we come to this chapter in the life of Jacob.

Genesis 32 is the pivotal chapter so far as Jacob’s life is concerned. He is a vastly different man here from the person we have come to know in previous chapters. The preoccupation which obsesses Jacob is the necessity of facing his brother Esau, from whom he has deceptively obtained the birthright and the blessing of his father. While the results were consistent with the revealed will of God, the means employed were not pleasing to Him. The result was a “brother offended” (cf. Proverbs 18:19).

When Jacob had left Canaan for Paddan-aram, his mother had told him that he would only need to be gone for “a few days” (27:44), and then, when Esau’s anger had cooled, she would send for him (27:45). Twenty years had passed and, so far as we are told, he had never heard from his mother. That must have led Jacob to conclude that Esau still harbored a grudge against him. Jacob thus had good reason to fear a confrontation with his brother.

From a divine point of view chapter 32 was the turning point of Jacob’s spiritual life. Jacob had been a bargainer, even with God, up to this time. In Genesis 28 after the vision of the heavenly ladder Jacob made a vow, but it was much more of a bargain with God than a surrender to Him:

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house; and of all that Thou dost give me I will surely give a tenth to Thee” (Genesis 28:20-22).

To me, this was a bargain with God. In return for God’s presence, protection, and provision, Jacob would let God be his God. Of all that God gave to him in the form of wealth, Jacob would return ten percent. In effect, Jacob has made God his agent and offered Him the normal fee. What a far cry from what a man’s response to the living God should be!

All of Jacob’s deceitful practices which we have seen over the years of his life are the result of a fundamental misconception. Jacob felt that spiritual blessings were to be secured by carnal methods and means. Jacob rightly believed that God had promised to make him, not Esau, the heir of promise with the rights of the first-born. He valued this blessing while Esau despised it. What he did not yet know was that he did not have to connive and scheme in order to obtain the promised blessings of God. The encounter which Jacob will have with the Angel of Jehovah will correct this error and will instruct Jacob as to how and why spiritual blessings must be obtained through spiritual means.

An Angelic Reception

Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. And Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim (Genesis 32:1-2).

The appearance of the angels in verses 1 and 2 sets the tone for the entire chapter. In his first personal encounter with God at Bethel, angels had played a part in the heavenly vision of Jacob:

And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it (Genesis 28:12).

In that dramatic revelation Jacob came to realize that he was in a holy place, a place where heaven and earth met. In fact, it was a place of access between heaven and earth; it was “the gate of heaven” (28:17).

In chapter 28 it was the presence of God that was stressed. While God promised to be with Jacob, to provide and protect him in the land of Laban, nevertheless God was present in a special way in the land of Canaan. Jacob must someday return. Now as Jacob is returning to the land of Canaan, God sent His angels to meet him in a special way. This was intended, I believe, to underscore the power of God. This is very significant to Jacob at this point in his life.

In chapter 28 Jacob was leaving the land of Canaan. God wanted him to realize the special significance of this land so that he would always look forward to the time of his return. Now, however, Jacob is returning to the land. The fact most prominent in Jacob’s mind is the hostility of his brother Esau. If Laban had been angry and intended to do harm to him, how much more was Esau to be expected to be hostile? What more assuring experience could come to Jacob than to be met by a host of angels, reminding him of God’s infinite power to protect him from Esau’s fury just as He had done in the case of Laban (cf. 31:24). Jacob saw that where he camped there was another camp, normally unseen (cf. II Kings 6:16-17). It was the angelic host of God, who would protect him regardless of what dangers lay ahead.

Jacob concluded that God’s camp was there where the angels met him. What better place for him to make camp than alongside the angelic campsite? Where could a man be any safer? And so the name of the place was called Mahanaim, “two camps.” From such a point of security Jacob would send ahead messengers, who would seek to soften the anger of Esau in preparation for the arrival of Jacob and his household. It would seem that the events of the rest of the chapter take place at this camp.

An Alarming Report

Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; and I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.’” And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him” (Genesis 32:3-6).

Jacob felt compelled to contact his brother Esau. To some extent he wished to bring about a reconciliation. He wished to inform his brother of his approach and, even more, to assure him of his kind intentions. The substance of his message to Esau was that he had returned a wealthy man. In this case he was not coming back in order to place a claim on his father’s wealth. Jacob sought to assure Esau that his return was a friendly and non-threatening one. All that he sought was Esau’s favor.

Jacob seems to have a keen sensitivity here toward the feelings of his brother. Perhaps he had gained an appreciation of Esau’s feelings by being the victim himself of one more cunning and deceitful than he. Undoubtedly Jacob’s very recent brush with danger was still fresh in his mind. Jacob is on his way to becoming a different kind of person, and this message is the first indication of it.

The messengers’ report of Esau’s response to Jacob’s message was frightening: Esau was on his way to meet Jacob, accompanied by 400 men. Who could have imagined any intent other than one that was hostile? Esau’s men, like Laban’s relatives (31:24), were not just coming along for the ride. Jacob had little reason for optimism, and any of us would have responded similarly to such a report. Verses 7-12 record for us Jacob’s two-fold response to the word he had received that Esau and company were rapidly approaching:

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.” And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who didst say to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which Thou hast shown to Thy servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me, mother with children. For thou didst say, ‘I will surely prosper you, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude’” (Genesis 32:7-12).

Assuming the very worst, Jacob divided his company into two divisions. His thought was that while one group might be attacked, the other had a chance to escape (verse 8). Since the group was divided into two camps and the word for camp is the same as that of verse 2, it is possible that Jacob somehow concluded that his encounter with the angels was intended to provide him with a pattern for this decision to divide into two companies. While it was an act stemming from fear and not faith, there was nothing particularly wrong with the division in and of itself.

The prayer of Jacob is the first recorded in Genesis (28:20-22 seems to be only a shadow of a prayer to me). It, too, reveals a decided change in his outlook. Some commentators have criticized it, pointing out certain theological omissions or weaknesses. This, to me, is like a boat full of theologians observing the prayer of Peter, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30), and then criticizing its brevity or the fact that Peter did not say, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” This was a desperate moment, and Jacob prayed fearing that Esau was to be upon him momentarily.

Needless to say, the prayer was uttered with the tone of urgency. Jacob’s plight was a desperate one. This was a foxhole variety prayer. Beyond this, the prayer evidences a new humility in Jacob. “I am not worthy …” (verse 10) is now Jacob’s confession. The smug self-confidence is gone, and so is the bargaining mentality. Jacob has no way to manipulate God as he has done others. God’s promises are the only basis upon which he can make his petition, and so he concluded his prayer, “For thou didst say …” (verse 12).

An Appeasing Response

So he spent the night there. Then he selected from what he had with him 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 colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. And he delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on before me, and put a space between droves.” And he commanded the one in front, saying, “When my brother Esau meets you and asks you saying, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and to whom do these animals in front of you belong?’ then you shall say, ‘These belong to your servant Jacob; it is a present sent to my lord Esau. And behold, he also is behind us.’” Then he commanded also the second and the third, and all those who followed the droves, saying, “After this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; and you shall say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.’” For he said, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp (Genesis 32:13-21).

Vital faith need not be idle faith. Faith without works, James reminds us (James 2:14ff.), is dead. Thus we ought not be too quick to condemn the actions of Jacob described in these verses. There is certainly a clever strategy behind Jacob’s efforts, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong in what he does. Remember that for many years Esau had observed the cunning character of his brother Jacob. The reception of one large gift would not necessarily be convincing enough to Esau that Jacob had changed his ways. Instead, Jacob sends wave upon wave of gifts to Esau, stressing the new nature he has which makes him want to give rather than to receive and to serve rather than to supplant.

Consequently, Jacob divided the gift of livestock into separate droves, each tended by servants who followed their flocks. First there were goats, next sheep, then camels, cows, and finally, donkeys. Usually the females were accompanied by a smaller number of males, which would serve as breeding stock to make the herds of Esau larger and larger as time went on. It was a gift which would make Esau prosperous.

As Esau approached nearer to Jacob he must pass by each drove of livestock. Those who tended these animals were carefully instructed how to answer Esau’s inquiry as to whose livestock these were and where they were heading. Each was to inform Esau that these were Jacob’s livestock, a gift to Esau, and that Jacob would be found further back. The cumulative effect was hoped to appease Esau’s wrath and soften his anger (verse 20). Again, Jacob and his family spent the night in the camp.

An Angelic Wrestler

Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. And he took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. And when he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip (Genesis 32:22-32).

For some undisclosed reason Jacob was compelled to break camp in the middle of the night. He first saw to it that his wives and maids crossed the Jabbok, along with their children. Then the rest of the goods were transported to the other side as well. It would appear that while Jacob was making his last trip to the original campsite before joining his family on the other side of the Jabbok he was confronted by a “man” who would oppose his crossing over to the other side and who would threaten to keep Jacob from entering the land of Canaan.

As biblical scholars have observed over the centuries, there is much in this episode that is cloaked in mystery. However, we can make several observations with considerable certainty. First, we know that this “man” (verse 24) was an angel:

In the womb he took his brother by the heel, And in his maturity he contended with God. Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed; He wept and sought His favor. He found Him at Bethel, And there He spoke with us (Hosea 12:3-4).

More than just an angel, this person was the Angel of Jehovah, the pre-incarnate Son of God, Who appeared in human flesh. This is certain in the light of Jacob’s words: “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (32:30).

The struggle was not a dream or a nightmare. Never has a man awakened from such a “dream” with a limp! And it was a struggle which God Himself initiated: “Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak” (32:24).

Jacob was mistaken if he reasoned that Esau was the barrier to his entrance into Canaan and the blessings of God. In this wrestling match it was not Esau who opposed Jacob, but it was God Himself. We must marvel at Moses’ report that the angel had not prevailed against Jacob, a man now almost 100 years old. How could it be that God did not prevail over Jacob?

It must be pointed out that Moses did not tell us that God could not overcome Jacob, only that he did not. At this point the Angel disabled Jacob by dislocating his hip. This would be devastating to a wrestler. It would be like breaking the arm of a quarterback or the leg of a running back. Jacob was now unable to wage an offensive battle. He was helpless. All he could do now was to cling defensively in desperation. And this he did.

Jacob, at the very point of being incapacitated, seemed to gain the upper hand. The Angel plead with him to be let go, for the dawn was breaking. It looks as though the Angel did not wish to be seen in the daylight. The Angel implied to Jacob that he now had the winning edge (contrary to the reality of the dislocated hip). Jacob was tested by being encouraged to make a request of the Angel which He was in no position to refuse. For Jacob, the bargainer, this was a tempting situation. Unlike his previous actions, Jacob asked only for a blessing (verse 26). Finally, Jacob had come to realize that the only important thing in life is to be blessed of God. In the words of Proverbs, “It is the blessing of the LORD that makes rich, And he adds no sorrow to it” (Proverbs 10:22).

Esau could neither provide nor prevent the blessing of God. It was not Esau that stood in the way of Jacob’s blessing in the land of Canaan. On the one hand, it was God Who opposed him. On the other, it was Jacob himself, who by means of his trickery and treachery, his cunning and deceit attempted to produce spiritual blessings through carnal means. The blessing of God must be obtained from God himself, and this must be done by clinging to Him in helpless dependence, not by trying to manipulate Him. That is the picture which is conveyed by this struggle in the night hours between Jacob and his God. A realization of this fact brought about a dramatic change in the character and conduct of Jacob, and thus his name was changed to reflect this transformation.

The Angel of the Lord asked his name, and he had to reply, “Jacob,” which meant “the supplanter.” This must have been as uncomfortable for Jacob as it was for childless Abraham to refer to himself by his name, which meant “father of a multitude.” No longer should Jacob be known as a supplanter, for now he was a man who prospered because of his faith in the purposes and power of his God, and so the name Israel was given him.

No expression is more puzzling than that of verse 28:

And he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

How could God possibly make such a statement? Does this not indicate that somehow God was blessing Jacob because of his previous trickery and deception? Is God commending Jacob for the way he overcame men in the past? The key to understanding this statement is to recognize that it is not a historical statement but a prophetic announcement. God did not refer to Jacob’s past acts here but spoke of his future confrontations, particularly the one which he would have with Esau shortly.

Jacob did prevail with God in his wrestling match, although in many ways he did not really overcome God, for he had been immobilized by the dislocation of his hip. His only act was to cling tenaciously to the Angel of Jehovah and, in the words of Hosea, “He wept and sought His favor” (12:4). In this sense, and this alone, God was “overcome” by Jacob. In this same way we who are His children and the heirs of His blessings can prevail with God.

Having prevailed with God, Jacob was assured of victory no matter what opposition men might offer. This certainly and specifically included Esau. In the words of the apostle Paul: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Prayerfully prevailing with God assures us of prevailing with men. If God is on our side, we cannot be overcome. This is what verse 28 was intended to convey to Jacob. In learning how to prevail with God, Jacob had also found God’s means of prevailing with men.


The lesson which Jacob learned here is one that is vital to every Christian. It is a transforming truth, for it explains the reason why God’s blessings can only be obtained by godly means. It revealed to Jacob the reason why all of his previous “victories” were really disasters, resulting in discord, hatred, and hostility.

Genesis 32 emphatically instructed Jacob that the Christian life is a spiritual warfare. That is why we see so much emphasis upon angels. Angels met him when he entered the land. An Angel opposed him when he attempted to cross the Jabbok. The blessings which God promised Jacob were spiritual blessings, and spiritual blessings cannot be obtained through fleshly means. If Jacob’s life in Canaan were to receive God’s blessings, Jacob must learn to wage spiritual warfare. He must realize that his major obstacle is not his brother, but his God. Once God is with us, victory is certain. Since our God is a sovereign God, no one can resist His will—not Esau, not Pharaoh, not Assyria, Babylon nor Rome.

All of Jacob’s life up until chapter 32 had been characterized by carnal striving to secure divine blessing. Now Jacob has learned the folly and futility of such self-effort. Entrance into a life of blessing will be achieved only on the same basis as Jacob secured the blessing of the Angel of Jehovah, by clinging to God to fulfill His promises and by depending upon Him to provide and protect when we are opposed.

This does not imply that man should therefore be inactive and passive. Jacob was hardly passive in his struggle with the Angel. But our activity should be rightly directed and motivated. We must first be assured that we are seeking that which God has promised. We must begin by striving with God for His blessing. Only then should we engage in activities other than this, and these must be consistent with a genuine faith in God. Just as our goals are to be godly, so must our means.

What a lesson this chapter provided the Israelites. Here is the origin of their name as a nation. Will their blessing as a nation come from any means other than those which Jacob has learned from his struggle with God? I think not. This is what Moses sought to convey to the Israelites as they (like Jacob) sought to enter the land of Canaan and secure God’s blessings. Ultimately it was not the Canaanites, the Hittites, nor the Perizzites who would keep the nation Israel from God’s blessings; it was God Himself Who would oppose them if they failed to hope and trust in Him. And it was God Who would defeat the Canaanites for them if they trusted in him.

Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. But if you will truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them. You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them, and break their sacred pillars in pieces. But you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst. There shall be no one miscarrying or barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets ahead of you, that they may drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and Hittites before you (Exodus 23:20-28).

The lesson for us is the same. Our warfare is a spiritual one, and it cannot be won by carnal means:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:12-20).

It is not by accident that the word “struggle” (Greek, ) is virtually the same as the translators of the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament) employed for Jacob’s “wrestling” (Greek, epalaein) in Genesis 32. Because spiritual victory can only be obtained by spiritual means, Paul outlined the spiritual weapons which all Christians must employ.

There is a very significant illustration of the use of spiritual weapons in the book of II Corinthians:

Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, —I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! —I ask that when I am present I may not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses (II Corinthians 10:1-4).

Paul’s authority was being challenged by some of those in Corinth. What a time for most of us to get our egos caught up in a contest for supremacy. What an opportunity for us to exert our power and influence and to defend our authority. What a time to use every kind of political and strong-arm tactic. But what did Paul do? He employed the meekness and gentleness of Christ (verse 1). He shunned the use of bravado and fleshly authority. This was a spiritual conflict and spiritual methods must be employed.

“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts (Zechariah 4:6).

The great tragedy in Christian circles today is that much of what we do is by carnal means. We employ these means because that is what we, by our old nature, are inclined to do. Also, it appears to work; and surely, we think, the ends justify the means. And so when we disagree with one another, we seek to align the key power forces on our side. We do not pray and let God change men’s hearts (cf. Philippians 3:15); we try to politically outmaneuver the opposition. The blessings of God are spiritual, and they cannot, they will not, be obtained through methods which are carnal.

Since God is sovereign, all men must do is to prevail with Him. If He is for us, we have the victory. Neither human nor demonic opposition can thwart the purposes of the sovereign God (Romans 8:31-39), and since God has purposed to bless men as they prevail with Him, we must devote ourselves to this task. But how do we prevail with God? Our text suggests several ingredients. First, we must come to the place of recognizing our own inadequacy and helplessness. We must come to the end of ourselves and recognize the futility of our own carnal devices. Jacob, I believe, came to this realization in Genesis 32. He could not resist Esau, nor could he even defeat the “man” who opposed him. He was helpless because of his dislocated hip. Second, we must trust in that which God has promised to do. Jacob did not prevail with God in some new and uncharted path. He prevailed with God in a matter about which God had repeatedly spoken—the blessings which He would pour out on Jacob as the recipient of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. The word of God was the only claim which Jacob had upon God. Finally, Jacob clung tenaciously to God to accomplish what He promised to do, even when it seemed humanly impossible.

That is the way in which men have always prevailed with God— by recognizing their own inadequacy, by trusting in the revealed Word of God and His promises, and by clinging to God alone to do what He has promised (cf. I John 5:14-15).

The first step, my friend, is to trust God for the blessing of salvation. We are unworthy of this gift, and yet God has offered it to all men (cf. Romans 10:13). We deserve only the eternal wrath of God (Romans 6:23). God has promised to save men on the basis of faith in the work of Jesus Christ, Who died for our sins and Whose righteousness will save any who calls upon His name (John 1:12; Acts 4:12, 16:31; II Corinthians 5:21). Have you made this first step? By clinging to God and trusting Him to do what He has promised, you can have the blessing of eternal life. And all subsequent blessings will come in the same way: by self-distrust and faith in God to accomplish what He has promised.

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him (Colossians 2:6).

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