(8) Preparations for Meeting Esau (31:55-32:32)
This caption may at first glance seem somewhat inapt for the chapter, but further reflection will indicate that in v. Genesis 32:1-3 (Hebrew) God is preparing Jacob to meet Esau. Then Jacob's preparations by the sending of messengers, by the division of his caravan train, and by prayer are recorded. Jacob's further preparations by the conciliatory gift which is tendered Esau are next related (v. Genesis 32:13-21) The rest of the chapter describes his spiritual preparation in which God again takes a hand and in which indeed broader issues are involved than mere preparations to encounter Esau, though the latter still stand in the forefront.
31:55-32:2. And Laban arose early in the morning and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Thereupon Laban went and returned to his place; whereas Jacob continued along his route. And angels of God met him; and Jacob said, when he saw them: This is God's host. And he called the name of that place Mahanaim (double host or camp).
We group these three verses together as the Hebrew text does (Genesis 32:1,3), apparently because the first events of the day after the treaty are here recorded, though certainly the first verse could serve as a conclusion of the matters recorded in chapter 31 (So A. V. and Luther). As Genesis 31:28 reported, Laban's ground for complaint was that he had not been allowed to take affectionate leave of his kin, young and old. For all his faults toward Jacob, Laban may not have been deficient in love for Jacob's family. The grandfather kisses the grandchildren first. Following patriarchal custom, Laban bestows a blessing. Then he returns to his place. Jacob, however, goes on along the route that he had been following (literally, "according to his way"). The accusative 'ethhem has a masculine suffix for the feminine (K. S.13).
He may now be considered as crossing the borders of the land of promise, when suddenly he beholds "angels of God": they "met him." This does not necessarily imply that they came toward him but simply that they encountered him. They may for the brief time that they were seen have been accompanying Jacob's train. They may merely have been discovered as present. In any case, it is quite appropriate that here at the borders of the land of promise they put in their appearance. Their object was, without a doubt, to afford Jacob reassurance at a time when he was about to need it sorely. For scarcely had he gotten rid of the danger that threatened from Laban, when a new danger and a grievous one had to be reckoned with—Esau's attitude. As angels had reassured Jacob at Bethel (ch.23), so here; but now especially because Jacob was following a course prescribed by God.
2. Luther delights in pointing out in this connection how a certain exultation of faith was roused in Jacob by the sight of the angels, and so, to mark the place of this experience, Jacob designates it by the name "Mahanaim." The singular may mean "camp" or by metonomy "host." Here, since machanßyim is a dual, the name must signify a "double camp or host," depending on whether the Lord's army was seen encamped or moving along. The latter seems more likely since (v.1) they "met him." The most likely meaning intended by "double host" would then be to designate the angels' host as well as Jacob's. Jacob would no longer feel unprotected. Though Mahanaim is repeatedly mentioned in the Scriptures, we cannot be sure of its exact location. It must have lain somewhere east of Jordan near the confluence of the Jordan and the Jabbok. The present site Machneh often mentioned in this connection seems too far to the north.
But how did Jacob "see" this host? Nothing suggests a dream of the night. Whether the inner eye beheld it or the physical eye may be almost impossible to determine. Jacob, as spiritually the most mature, seems to have been the only one to see the angels.
3-5. And Jacob sent messengers on in advance to Esau, his brother, to the land of Seir, the region of Edom. And he gave them orders saying: Thus shall ye say to my master, to Esau: Thus saith thy servant \Jacob: I was staying with Laban and was detained till now. And I have ox and ass and flock and servant and handmaid, and I am sending to inform my master that I may meet with his favour.
Jacob's first object in dealing with Esau is to conciliate him. Rebekah has not sent for Jacob, as she was to do when Esau's wrath relented. Jacob has no indication that Esau's intentions are kindly. A delegation, acknowledging Esau as one entitled to receive reports about one who is about to enter the land such a delegation may produce goodwill on the part of the man thus honoured. So Jacob sends messengers "in advance," i. e. lephanaw —"before his face." The region where Jacob anticipated that Esau could be met is "the land of Seir" south of the Dead Sea. "Seir" means "shaggy," i. e. "wooded." The apposition adds to the name one more readily understood, "the region of Edom."
4. Jacob prescribes the exact message that is to be delivered. With good diplomacy Esau is to be addressed as the "master." Jacob describes himself as the "servant" of Esau. Nor is this diplomacy insincere. Jacob, well aware of his pre-eminence as rooted in God's blessing, is ready to concede to Esau every outward advantage and honour. He makes no secret where he has been; he was with Laban. He indicates further that his stay was temporary, for garti from gûr signifies "to stay as a stranger," "to sojourn," and therefore implies: temporarily. But echar (contracted from 'e'echar, G. K.68 f) adds "I was detained" (K. C., musste bis jetzt zurueckbleiben), suggesting that his stay had become more protracted than he had at first intended that it should be.
5. Nor should Esau get the impression that an impecunious beggar dependant on Esau's charity is coming back as a suppliant. So the messengers enumerate all that Jacob brings with him. Yet here again a modest statement of the case is made so as not to arouse Esau's jealousy. The enumeration of Jacob's possessions is made in collective singulars: "ox, ass," etc., as our translation indicates. Yet it should be noted that similar enumerations in the Scriptures are regularly found in the singular. The concluding statement of the report sounds like a humble request for permission to enter the land —"I am sending to inform my master that I may meet with his favour." In wa'eshlekhah the converted imperfect has the added syllable ah, (yaqtul gravatum) rather common for such a form in some books (see G. K.49 e; K. S.200).
Here again, in the interest of tracing down sources more or less out of harmony with one another, critics assert that these verses (v.3-5) assume Isaac's death and Esau's occupation of the land which he in reality only took in hand somewhat later, according to Genesis 36:6, which is ascribed to P. Isaac, with his non-aggressive temperament, may have allowed the far more active Esau to take the disposition of matters in hand. So Jacob may well have been justified in dealing with Esau as "master." This is all quite plausible even if Isaac had not died. Furthermore, in speaking of "the land of Seir, the region of Edom" Jacob may only imply that Esau had begun to take possession of the land which was afterward to become his and of whose definite and final occupation 36:6 speaks. In any case, "master," used in reference to Esau, only describes Jacob's conception of their new relation. Jacob did not need to enter into negotiations with Isaac, his father, in approaching the land. His welcome was assured at his father's hand. But the previous misunderstanding called for an adjustment with Esau. At the same time our explanation accounts for Esau's 400 men: they are an army that he has gathered while engaged upon his task of subduing Seir, the old domain of the Horites. Skinner's further objection: "how he was ready to strike so far north of his territory is a difficulty," is thus also disposed of.
6. And the messengers returned to Jacob say, ing: We came to thy brother, to Esau, and he is already coming to meet thee, and there are four hundred men with him.
What is recorded in v. Genesis 32:4-14 apparently takes place within one day. The messengers are anticipating a journey of several days to the land of Edom and meet Esau the selfsame day. News is known to travel with incredible swiftness in these lands, as travellers have reported in many instances. So Esau has been apprised of Jacob's return and is already on the way several days. He receives Jacob's messengers. He sends no reply. He seems desirous of informing himself in person exactly as to how things stand. His intentions were, without a doubt, none too clearly defined in his own mind. He must first see for himself just what Jacob intends to do and what his personal attitude is. For the present Esau's following may serve to impress Jacob, and should it have seemed desirable, Esau may actually not have been averse to employing his martial escort to harm Jacob. Esau seems to have been about as uncertain in his own mind as to his plans and purposes as Jacob was in reference to these same plans and purposes. The very uncertainty of the report of Jacob's messengers makes it all the more alarming.
7, 8. And Jacob was very much afraid and distressed, and he divided the people that were with him and the flocks and the herds and the camels into two camps; and he said: If Esau come against the one camp and smite it, then the remaining camp may have a chance to escape.
The courage engendered by the vision of angels is dissipated. The exaltation of faith gives way to the agony of despair as soon as the stern reality of Esau's coming with 400 men is encountered. No one knew better than Jacob how deeply Esau's grudge had taken root. The failure of Esau to give an answer to Jacob's messengers seemed ominous. Jacob's fear is very great; he finds himself "distressed" (yétser —from tsarrar, "to be tightly pressed"). A quick precautionary measure is taken—his entire train is divided into two sections. We have translated machaneh "camp" to remind of the similarity of the "camps" or "hosts" of v. Genesis 32:2. "Sections" would have been a better rendering. Half the men and half the beasts go into each section.
8. The explanation that he gives while making the division is that if Esau should attack and smite the one section, "then the remaining camp (section) shall be for escape," plainly meaning "may have a chance to escape." The we before hayah introduces the apodosis. This seems to have been a stratagem resorted to with caravans in the East from days of old, Procksch charges Jacob with smooth trickery (Schlaukopf) on account of this stratagem, whereas Jacob is employing nothing other than justifiable prudence. Nor can the same writer prove "camels" to be a gloss merely by the absence of the sign of the accusative. No writer is perfectly consistent in such matters.
9-12. And Jacob said: O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Yahweh, Thou who didst say unto me, Return to thy land and to thy relation and I will do thee good, I am unworthy of all the acts of kindness and of all the faithfulness which thou hast bestowed upon thy servant; for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and smite me—both mothers and children. Yet thou didst say unto me, I will do only good to thee, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea which is too plentiful to count.
Now Jacob betakes himself to prayer. He should not be sharply criticized for taking precautionary measures first and praying afterward. Many a man in the face of extreme danger has lost his sense of proportion. Besides, there are emergencies that call for action first and prayer afterward. "God of my father" does not imply: not my God, but does ask: As Thou wast faithful to them be faithful to me. Yahweh specifically implies the idea of God faithful in performing His merciful promises. The special promise under consideration is the command to return to his own land with the prospect of receiving good at God's hand. Jacob can therefore plead that he was not following his own devices but God's orders. It is almost unbelievable that Tuch should have been scandalized because Jacob reminds God of His promises. But is not that the approach of all true prayer, taking one's stand firmly on divine promises? Equally deplorable is Procksch's estimate who terms the whole prayer "a specific creation of J." Was ever a prayer truer to life? There are few prayers from which we can learn more. It loses all its worth if it is to be regarded as a clever fiction which a fictitious J put upon Jacob's lips.
10. "I am unworthy" is qatónti —"I am little." The perfect implies: I always have been too little and still am (K. S.127) —too little, of course, to deserve them, not to repay them. Chasadhim, "mercies," or "kindnesses," means acts of kindness, freely bestowed. 'E'meth is "truth" in the sense of "faithfulness." The measure of these gracious gifts at God's hands is best illustrated by the contrast between what Jacob was when he first crossed the Jordan and what he now has upon his return to Jordan. The be before maqlî is the be of accompaniment. The adjective idea in qatonti used with min results in a comparative (K. S.308 b) "With my staff" means, as Luther translates, "with only this staff."
It is hard to understand how men can claim that "the element of confession is significantly absent" in Jacob's prayer. True, a specific confession of sin is not made in these words. But what does, "I am unworthy," imply? Why is he unworthy? There is only one thing that renders us unworthy of God's mercies and that is our sin. Must this simple piece of insight be denied Jacob? It is so elementary in itself as to be among the rudiments of spiritual insight. Let men also remember that lengthy confessions of sin may be made where there is no sense of repentance whatsoever. And again, men may be most sincerely penitent and yet may say little about their sin. If ever a prayer implied a deep sense of guilt it is Jacob's. Behind the critics' claim that "confession is absent" from this prayer lies the purpose to thrust an evolutionistic development into religious experiences, a development which is "significantly absent." It was not first "in later supplications" that this element became "so prominent." It was just that in this earlier age the experience of sin and guilt particularly impressed God's saints as rendering them unworthy of God's mercies (cf. also Genesis 18:27 in Abraham's case). Maqqel is the shepherd's or the wanderer's staff. A rare specimen of misinterpretation is that of A. Jeremias who refers to a traditional belief that three stars of the constellation Orion are still regarded as Jacob's staff—a very questionable tradition—and so give evidence that a mythological motive—some astral myth —underlies this story. Are such farfetched vagaries deserving of refutation?
11. From profession of unworthiness or confession the prayer turns to petition: "Deliver me" (hatstasiléni, from nasal). "From the hand" may be construed to mean "from the power," for in reality Jacob is at Esau's mercy. The eagerness of the petition is reflected in such a repetition as "from the hand of my brother" followed by "from the hand of Esau." The critic rejects the one or the other for metrical reasons, in spite of the fact that it is even very dubious whether there is any poetical meter in these parts of Genesis. Jacob admits freely to God that he is afraid that Esau may "come and smite" him. Naturally, Jacob will not suffer alone. The attack will centre on him, but should it come, mothers and children will suffer as well. Jacob says literally: "mother upon children," apparently using a proverbial expression, 'em, singular, because usually there is one "mother," and 'al banim, "upon children," because in case of attack the mother would bend over her children in an effort to shield them with her own body. The whole expression is one of those, like "root and branch," which covers the entire range of a concept (cf. Genesis 31:24), as K. S. defines, 92; and so this means: "me and all mine."
12. The only ground upon which godly men can take their stand in times of distress is God's Word. It alone is sure, as Luther so beautifully argues in connection with this passage. Jacob remembers exactly what form God's promise took: "doing good I will do thee good," meaning either: "I will surely do thee good," or "I will do thee only good." Then, too, God had said (Genesis 22:17) to Abraham that his seed was to be "as the sand of the sea, which is too plentiful to count." But when Jacob had become the bearer of the Messianic promise (Genesis 28:13, 14), all the things spoken to Abraham in that connection became applicable to Jacob as well. Jacob has a correct estimate of the situation from this point of view. Naturally there is a certain boldness about holding God's promises before Him and taking one's stand on the ground of them; but such an attitude distinctly belongs to faith. Imperfects like yissapher convey a modality of thought like "it cannot be counted." (K. S.186 b.)
13-16. And he spent that night there; and he took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau, his brother: two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty she-asses and ten foals; and entrusted them to the care of his servants, each herd for itself, and he said to his servants: Pass along ahead of me, and leave intervals between the herds.
The night is spent at that place, which later is found to be at the ford of the river Jabbok (v. Genesis 32:22). Though the major work is accomplished, for Jacob committed all the issues into God's hands in the prayer recorded above, yet prudence and foresight are to find their place in the course followed by Jacob. Prayer does not necessarily result in inaction. Luther states the case quite strongly when he says, "men should not tempt God but should employ every device and means that is available." The device Jacob employed was to send a substantial gift on before to his brother Esau as a token of good will. A check-up will reveal that the total count of the beasts sent is 580, not an inconsiderable number. Jacob must have been enormously wealthy to be able to afford such a present. Certainly it was good psychology on Jacob's part to prepare so substantial a gift. Goats and sheep predominated among the possessions of Jacob. Cows and asses have not been mentioned heretofore, but that need not surprise us, for they were proportionately few in number. But, surely, asses and camels were essential for the oversight of so large a semi-nomadic establishment. Besides, camels' milk was a regular article of diet. Each type of stock constituted a separate "herd" or drove. The ratio of male and female is that which is usually maintained by those who breed stock, according to the old rule cited by the Latin writer Varro.
In v.13 the expression "that which came to his hand" means, whatever he was able to assemble as it came along. It does not mean, of what he owned, because such a statement is quite unmotivated; what else could he give? It does not imply that he made a careful selection: Vulgate: separavit. We must remember that it was night and that the gift had to be gotten ready in great haste, for Esau was near. Besides, the separate droves had to be arranged. All Jacob could do was to assemble quickly whatever he could lay hands on. In v.15 gemalîm, though masculine in form, is construed as a feminine as the Hifil participle meniqôth indicates. In benehem the masculine suffix is used for the less common feminine, as in Genesis 31:9. In v.16 the repetition 'edher edher gives a distributive sense, "by droves" or "each herd for itself" (G. K.123 d; K. S.85).
The shrewd forethought displayed by Jacob is most clearly revealed by his arrangement of the gifts. First comes a drove of 220, then an interval; then another drove of 220, again an interval; now a drove of sixty, then a drove of fifty, and the last of thirty, The effect is cumulative. Yet Jacob, the giver, the brother who left twenty years before had not appeared, for all these "passed along ahead" ('abhar) of Jacob.
17-21. And he gave orders to the first one saying: If Esau, my brother, meet thee and ask thee: To whom dost thou belong, and whither art thou going, and whose are these animals before thee? then thou shalt say: They belong to thy servant, to Jacob, and are a present sent to my master, to Esau, and, see, he himself is coming along after us. And he gave the same orders to the second fellow, and to the third, and to all that followed their herds, telling them: Speak exactly these words to Esau when ye meet him, and ye shall say: And see, thy servant Jacob is right behind us. For, he thought, I will conciliate him by the gift that goes on before me; afterwards I can see by his face whether he will receive me kindly. So the present passed on ahead of him, and he spent that night in the encampment.
Jacob does not depend on the ingenuity of the shepherds to whom he entrusts the separate droves. Their message is given to them practically verbatim: they are to make sure that they ascribe all these herds to Jacob but describe Jacob as Esau's "servant" ('ébhedh, a strong term implying even "bond-servant" but here definitely describing Esau as his superior). At the same time Esau is to be addressed as Jacob's "master." Jacob is actually ready to accord to Esau any external advantage of position and any honour that he may desire, if only peace and concord be preserved. Then they are to inform Esau that all this is a gift from Jacob. The words to be used are repeated for each shepherd separately. Ri'shon is here used for the more common 'echchadh.
19. Note that the shepherds are described as "following" their herds. In the Orient the shepherd usually goes before his herd. In this case perhaps the herd was to impress its ultimate recipient before the shepherd could deliver his message. Kaddabhar hazzeh, "according to this word," is like our "exactly these words." Bemotsa'akhem is the infinitive of matsa'.
20. Each man is to conclude his message: "And, see, thy servant Jacob is right behind us." 'Amar here very likely means "thought" rather than "said." Jacob's purpose is to "conciliate" his brother. The Hebrew idiom for this idea is rather unusual; it says: "I will cover his face." The gift "covers" and, as it were prevents the wronged person from seeing the wrong that has been done him, As a result he becomes "conciliated" or reconciled. This procedure by no means involves anything unworthy or improper. The gift is not a bribe but a token of goodwill. When Jacob then finally comes up himself, he will be able to read from Esau's countenance whether a kindly reception awaits him. However, perhaps after all the current translation should be preferred to ours for the second half of this verse. As A. V. has it: "afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept me." For "accept me" the original has the idiom "receive my face."
21. "The present passed on ahead of him"; otherwise it would have failed entirely of its effect. It must meet Esau part by part on the following morning, and Jacob himself must be the climax of the procession. So Jacob stays behind in the encampment, at least it is his purpose at first just to spend the night where he is. As the next verse indicates, this purpose is somewhat modified. In a sense, however, Jacob stays with the camp through the night.
Now follows the story of the mysterious prayerstruggle that marked this night as well as the climax of Jacob's spiritual development. To a degree, at least, this experience is for Jacob what the offering of Isaac on Moriah was to Abraham. Here Jacob is brought to the point where human devices and carnal ingenuity are no longer equal to the need that has arisen. His own cleverness on which he has so largely leaned in the past proves inadequate. Jacob has only the Lord left in this extremity and learns in faith, though it costs him a hard struggle, to cast himself wholly and resolutely upon God's mercy alone. But to do so involves an agony of prayer that leaves its mark upon the man.
22-24. And he arose in the course of that night and took his two wives and his two handmaids and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them, namely, and brought them over the brook and brought over all that he had. And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until dawn arose.
Danger threatens. At first it seems very surprising that Jacob should lead his entire train directly into the face of danger. Some see behind this act a return of the spirit of courage and resolution on Jacob's part. They describe him as the same old, confident, resourceful Jacob that he always was, trusting even now that in some way or other his ingenuity will not fail him in these emergencies as he clashes with his more slow-witted brother. But nothing really indicates that the great fear that in part prompted the above prayer (v. Genesis 32:8-11) has subsided. That fear was very real, and nothing had happened to allay it. Yes, a certain measure of boldness is displayed in the course followed by Jacob. He had not cast off utterly his confidence in the word of the Lord, which had bid him to be on his way. Furthermore, he saw that to retreat and to flee would invite attack. So the only course left was to proceed confidently and so to create the impression of courage and confidence. However, it would hardly have been wise to allow himself to be caught in the midst of the somewhat disorderly business of fording the stream. The need of having this work of crossing out of the way occurs to Jacob as soon as the gift has been dispatched. He promptly arises and takes stops to have the business of fording disposed of at once. The Jabbok is the Wady-ez-Zerka, as almost all commentators agree —ez-Zerka signifying "the blue" i. e. the clear mountain stream. "Jabbok" means "Wrestler," reminding of Jacob's experience. Jacob is still on the north side of the Jabbok. Now when Jacob remains behind after the others have crossed, that could hardly be called exposing them to undue danger inasmuch as the Jabbok is perhaps thirty feet wide and at most about hip-deep. Jacob could cross over and be on the other side in a minute's time. The wives, handmaids, and sons are brought over first. Only the sons are mentioned, as the one daughter Dinah was not as important for later history as the sons were. The seeming repetitions are to be accounted for by the style of Hebrew narrative which first gives a summary statement that gives the final result ("he crossed," v.22) then follows with details which in this case continue until v. Genesis 32:32 where the final crossing occurs. The expression "that night" somewhat irregularly omits the article before the demonstrative.
23. In addition to his family there was all the cattle as well as all other possessions that had to be brought across ("all that he had"). Though fording may present difficulties, especially by night, there are several attendant circumstances that may well have aided Jacob on this occasion. There may have been moonlight. The water may not have been at its greatest depth. Again, in those days when bridges were unknown Jacob's men may have negotiated many a fording and have known how to go about it.
24. The natural thing for the master of the entire establishment to do is to stay behind to check whether all have really crossed or whether some stragglers of this great host still need directions. In the solitude of the night as Jacob is "left alone," his thoughts naturally turn to prayer again, for he is a godly man. However, here the unusual statement of the case describes his prayer thus: "a man wrestled with him until dawn arose," Rightly Luther says: "Every man holds that this text is one of the most obscure in the Old Testament." There is no commentator who can so expound this experience as to clear up perfectly every difficulty involved. This much, however, is relatively clear: Jacob was praying; the terms used to describe the prayer make us aware of the fact that the prayer described involved a struggle of the entire man, body and soul; the struggle was not imaginary; Jacob must have sensed from the outset that his opponent was none other than God; this conviction became fully established before his opponent finally departed. The verb 'abhaq is correctly translated "wrestled," as just about all translators agree. It matters little whether it be derived from the noun 'abhaq, which means "dust" and so the verb is construed to mean "roll in the dust," or "to become dusty" or "to raise the dust"; or whether the root chabhaq is compared, which means "to clasp," as wrestlers do.
The Biblical commentary on the passage is Hosea 12:4: "Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed; he wept and made supplication unto Him." The antagonist is here described as an "angel." But since the theophanies of the Old Testament regularly involve the Angel of the Lord, we need not be surprised that He who usually assumed angelic guise here assumes, as later in the Incarnation, human form. Again, by way of commentary, "wrestling" is defined as "he wept and made supplication unto Him." That certainly is a description of agonizing prayer. However, when Hosea 12:3 is compared, we learn that this struggle in Jacob's manhood was the culmination of the tendency displayed before birth, when by seizing his brother's heel he displayed how eager he was to obtain the spiritual blessings God was ready to bestow. This experience and this trend in Jacob's character is held up before his descendants of a later day that they may seek to emulate it.
We mention certain modern interpretations of this experience of Jacob's as instances of how far explanations may veer from the truth and become entirely misleading. It has been described as a "nightmare" (Roscher). Some have thought that Jacob engaged in conflict with the tutelary deity of the stream which Jacob was endeavouring to cross (Frazer), and so this might be regarded as a symbolical portrayal of the difficulties of the crossing. But the stream has already been crossed by this time. One interpreter considers the wrestling as a symbol of "the victory of the invading Israelites over the inhabitants of North Gilead," (Steuernagel), but that is a misconstruction of history: the conquest began much later. Some call the experience a dream; others an allegory. The most common device of our day is to regard it as a legend, "originating," as some say, "on a low level of religion." All such approaches are a slap in the face for the inspired word of Hosea who treats it as a historical event recording the highest development of Jacob's faith-life. For there can be no doubt about it that the motivating power behind Jacob's struggle is faith and the desire to receive God's justifying grace; and the means employed is earnest prayer. Why it pleased the Lord to appear in human guise to elicit the most earnest endeavours on Jacob's part, that we cannot answer.
25-28. When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was dislocated in his wrestling with him, And he said: Let me go for dawn is arising. But he said: I will not let thee go except thou bless me. And He said to him: What is thy name? And he said: Jacob. And he said: Not Jacob shall thy name be called from now on, but Israel, for thou hast striven with God and men and hast prevailed.
There is nothing ambiguous about the subject of the verbs found in v.25, as critics would have us believe. God saw that he could not prevail against this adversary. This statement does not impugn God's omnipotence, but it does effectively portray the power of prayer. God does allow the prayer of men to be mighty in His sight. At the same time there is a certain measure of truth to the idea that God is the opponent of believing men as they pray. God is not pretending. But God must oppose because the sinful will of those that pray often is not yet reduced to full accord with the divine will. As the will of man learns ever more perfectly to submit to God's will, God can no longer "prevail" against such a one. Yet in this case the struggle for submission involved so much for Jacob that he actually needed a memento of his victory as a warning against relapse. The memento consisted in a physical disability which marked the physical being of him who had so long put undue confidence in carnal devices. He is to be reminded that in his own person there had hitherto been a seriously crippled state which had much impeded his progress. God secures this disabling of Jacob by a mere touch. The words used do not suggest that something in the nature of a wrestler's trick was used. "The hollow of the thigh" seems to have been the ball-and-socket joint. This joint "was dislocated," teqa' from yaqa' meaning "to fall or slip out." We are not informed whether this infirmity was permanent or only for a few days or weeks. Speculation on this point is quite futile.
26. The struggle continued through the night to the early hours of the morning. Some admire "the powerful imagination" of the author who here creates a story of "a silent wrestling in a pitch-black night." This is however no creative genius; the author merely writes a historically accurate account. As dawn rises, the divine Opponent asks that He be let go. There is a simple and a sound Biblical reason for this. Exodus 33:20 teaches us that man shall not "see God and live." The frailty of sinful man could not have endured the sight of this Pre-incarnate One. Not for His own sake but for Jacob's He asks that Jacob let him go. Just a little too prosy in the explanation which says: since daytime is the season for a man's labours and duties this Divine One was asking Jacob to let Him go and be about his daily duties. Entirely off-key is the explanation which parallels this noble account with fairy tales, which insist that fairies and all spirits of the night must return to their confinement at dawn of day. He who has so little spiritual discernment as to be unable to recognize this fact cannot be convinced even by sound argument. But Jacob has recognized the divine character of his opponent and has persistently sought a blessing. He will not yield except he receive this blessing. All true faith, having taken its stand on God's promises, must have something of this persistence. How and when Jacob became aware of the character of the "Man" with whom he wrestled, we are quite unable to say. Jacob must from the outset have been most distinctly aware that this was not a struggle merely between man and man in physical opposition.
27. This question is addressed to Jacob not for information's sake but to centre Jacob's attention upon what was about to come and upon the thought which his name connoted. "Jacob," "the supplanter" (Genesis 27:36), was to recall how heretofore he had primarily displayed the characteristics of one who would in emergencies resort to stealth and stratagem.
28. Speaking as one who possesses authority, He says: "Not Jacob" (the negative immediately before the word affected) shall thy name be called from now on but Israel. He adds a reason: "Thou hast striven with God and men and hast prevailed." Sarah means "to strive" or "fight" — 'el is "God." Yisra'el, according to this explanation, is "The fighter with God," i. e. the one who fought with God, of course, in a good and honourable sense. "Persist" (B D B) for sarah is hardly a strong enough term to cover the experience of this night, which had previously been described as a "wrestling." Buhl and K. W. both offer the meaning "to fight," kaempfen. This meaning fits better with the second object, "men," as well. Apparently Jacob encountered much opposition on the part of men, as his clashes with Esau and Laban illustrate. But there, too, Jacob had fought through his contests until he had prevailed. In maturity (Hosea 12:4) this would seem to be the characteristic that best described the man. It is true, in Genesis the name "Israel" is not used from this time on to the exclusion of all others. Apparently, then, since it represents a personal achievement rather than a divine destiny, as by way of contrast "Abraham" does, it is used interchangeably with Jacob, according as the older or the newer type of character predominates. In this respect the use of the name Peter in the Gospels is a close parallel. With the explanation of the text as the final verdict as to the meaning of the name, we hold the case of the meaning of the name to be closed. Attempts to make it mean 'ish rachel, "the husband of Rachel" (Steuernagel) are untenable, as well as grammatical impossibilities. So, too, are the efforts to get nearer the original meaning of the word by comparing Egyptian or Assyrian transliterations; for transliterations are often surprisingly far removed from the original.
29-31. And Jacob asked and said: Reveal thy name, I pray? And He said: Why then dost thou ask for My name? And He blessed him there And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel (The Face of God). For I have seen God face to face and my soul is preserved. And the sun rose upon him as he passed by Penuel, and he was limping because of his thigh.
The partly unsolved problem for Jacob is the identity of the Wrestler who opposed him. Though relatively sure, as his request for a blessing indicates, he wants full confirmation. The thing that suggested to him to ask at this time was the fact that he had just been asked his own name. But the question: "Reveal thy name, I pray?" implies, according to the Hebrew idiom, that the name is the index of the character or personality. We should have said: "Reveal thy identity." The reply is in part the same as that of the Angel who was asked the same question by Manoah (Jud 13:18), only here the continuation of the answer is omitted—"seeing it is wonderful." Several reasons for the somewhat evasive reply may be discerned. The one that presents itself first is that the question in reply practically means: "Why ask to know My identity, seeing you already know it?" Add to this the fact that, as Luther indicates, the failure to reply leaves the name as well as the whole experience shrouded in mystery, and mysteries invite further reflection. In spiritual experiences there is and must be the challenge of the mysterious. A spiritual experience so lucid that a man sees through and is able to analyze every part of it must be rather shallow. And lastly, the blessing about to be imparted is a further revelation of His name and being, that carries Jacob as far as he needs to be brought. "Asked" and "said" are also in Hebrew two verbs coinciding in one act and expressed by waw conversives (K. S.369 o). Zeh is not a demonstrative but an emphatic particle.
The blessing spoken of is an added blessing. For the entire experience may also well be regarded as a blessing. The substance of this added blessing we do not know. Luther's supposition is as much to the point as any when he remarks that it may have been the great patriarchal blessing concerning the coming Messiah through whom as Jacob's "seed" all the families of the earth were to be blessed.
On the question of learning the name, they who put Scripture record and legend on the same level can rise no higher than the supposition that he who has gotten possession of the name of a deity (the nametaboo, as it were) has control of that deity. This, they say, was Jacob's purpose in asking for the name. Do such shallow misinterpretations deserve serious refutation?
30. Divine manifestations deserve to be commemorated in every possible way. Jacob marks this one for himself and for his descendants by giving a distinctive name to the place where it occurred. Though "Peniel" like "Mahanaim" has not been deftnitely located, it may be a still used ford of the Jabbok near Jordan and is mentioned Jud 8; 1 Kings 12:25. This name should not be said to be "derived from an incidental feature of the experience." That would be the equivalent of saying: Jacob was unhappy in his choice of a name for this memorable spot. Of course, his experience was a purifying one that was to break self-trust and cast him wholly upon God's mercy. But this experience centred in a personal encounter with God, a direct meeting of God, a seeing of Him, though not with the eye of the body. Does not the whole experience, then, sum itself up as a seeing of God and living to tell of it, though sinful nature should perish at so holy a contact? The name touches upon the essence of Jacob's experience. For Peni'el means "face of God." The explanation really says more than "my life, or soul, was spared." For natsal means "delivered" or "preserved." God did more than let no harm come nigh Jacob; He again restored him, who otherwise would surely have perished. Luther gathers up this idea in "recovered" (genesen). Panim has no article, being a customary phrase (K. S.294 f).
With an adequate and a historically accurate account of the origin of the name "Peniel" before us, we may well wonder at those who under such circumstances go far afield and try to account for its origin by comparing the Phoenician promontory of which Strabo speaks, which was called ueou proswpon ("face of God"). Those who have lost their respect for God's Word no longer hear what it says and make fools of themselves in their wisdom by inventing fanciful explanations for that which has been supplied with an authentic explanation.
31. The details of the memorable event stayed with Jacob. He distinctly recalled when in later years he told of this experience how as "he passed by Penuel, the sun rose upon him," (Penu'el has an old case ending û for the construct in place of the other old case ending î in Peni'el). However, the propriety of this symbolic sunrise is what chiefly prompts this statement: a new day of light and of hope was dawning for Jacob after the night of gloom and despair. Analogous by way of contrast is the remark made in connection with Judas Iscariot's departure on the night of betrayal, where after he went out the evangelist remarks: "and it was night" (John 13:30). What men observed as they saw him approaching was that "he was limping because of his thigh" (tsoléa', durative participle, yet saying nothing as to whether the infirmity continued long thereafter). The expression 'al yerekho may mean "upon his thigh" (A. V.) or perhaps a little more exactly "because of his thigh" (Meek).
32. Therefore the children of Israel are not in the habit of eating even to this day the sinew of the hip muscle which is upon the socket joint of the hip, because that He touched the socket joint of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the hip muscle.
God did not demand this ritual observance in the Mosaic law, but the descendants of Israel of their own accord instituted the practice because they recognized how extremely important this experience of Jacob was for him and for themselves. Some interpret this gidh hannasheh to be the sciatic nerve. Delitzsch tells us that Jewish practice defines it as the inner vein on the hindquarter together with the outer vein plus the ramifications of both. The imperfect yo'khelu expresses what is habitual: "are not in the habit of eating."
Generally speaking, critics assign the most of verse Genesis 32:10-13 to J, and verse Genesis 32:14 b Genesis 32:15-22 to E; Genesis 32:23 ff. is hard to analyze. Procksch, as usual, makes a very intricate analysis on very flimsy grounds. We do wonder that v. Genesis 32:30 (English) Jacob says: "I have seen God," 'Elohim, where surely it was Yahweh. But his choice of the divine name is motivated by the idea of the contrast between a creature encountering the Creator-God, i. e. 'Elohim.
The central portion of this chapter, v. Genesis 32:13-21, is, indeed, an example of fine prudence, but there are not many that would feel inclined to use it as a text. However, the initial section, v. Genesis 32:3-12, or also v. Genesis 32:1-12, is rather suggestive from several points of view. One angle of approach would be to consider primarily the latter part of the section and treat of Pleading God's Promises. Looking at the central part of the section, suggests The Extreme Danger of a Saint of God. Looking at v. Genesis 32:1-2, one might incline to set down as a theme God's Rich Assurances, or The Strong Protection of God's Holy Angels. Of necessity, the entirely different types of approach would lead to a very different type of treatment of the various elements in the text. The portion v. Genesis 32:22-32 would be treated adequately under a theme such as The Crowning Victory of Jacob's Faith-Life. If Jacob himself sums up his experience in the designation that he coins for the place—"Peniel" —no one could question the propriety of this name as a theme. For that matter, the new name given to Jacob—"Israel" —is the embodiment of the whole experience and therefore most suitable as a theme. In the case of these last two proper names, nothing would be more essential by way of introduction then an immediate simple definition of the words.