Genesis 32:1−32

October 4th, 2016| Topic: aBeLOG, Genesis | 4

Genesis 32:1−32

Remembering that God fights for him/her, the child of God lives life with confidence and fearlessness.

Jacob’s encounter with the angels of God and the “camp of God” (Gen 32:1–2) reminds him (and the readers) of the continued presence of God and the protection of God, as he moves with his caravan closer to a rendezvous with Esau, who, when we last heard of him, had been harboring homicidal inclinations towards his heel-grabbing younger brother (27:41). Jacob, no doubt, was concerned about the danger to self and family, but instead of another explicit divine declaration of presence and protection, the patriarch is granted the vision of two companies of angels in God’s camp! Altogether, divine presence is with Jacob, every step of his way.

Jacob, however, resorts to his old tricks. The rest of the first episode of this chapter describes the efforts of Jacob at mollification of the brother he had cheated. Afraid and distressed (32:7, 11), he sends messengers with news about gifts (32:3–6), and divides his people into two camps (32:7–8), attempting to escape from the consequences of his deception of his brother two decades ago.

Jacob commences with extravagant obsequiousness in his instructions to his messengers: they are to declare that Esau is his “lord,” and that he is Esau’s “servant” (32:4, also 32:5, 18, 20; 33:5, 14)! Quite in contrast, when Jacob later prays to God about his predicament, Esau is simply “my brother” (32:11), perhaps pointing to a deceptive approach with regard to his sibling. And after Jacob had just labeled himself a “servant” of Esau (32:4), in his prayer he labels himself a “servant” of God; later he is again a “servant” of Esau (32:18, 20). One suspects that this is all just toadying to guarantee the safety of his own skin. He is willing to be the “servant” of whoever will keep him from harm, whether it be God or Esau. Jacob is willing to manipulate man and God, if it will work out well for him in the end.

But flattery with the promise of cattle did not seem to have accomplished anything (32:3–6). So Jacob tries God next (32:9–12). But there is no response from Yahweh! So Jacob’s on his own, he thinks. Now he engages in some frenetic activity, sending three droves of animals—550 animals in all!—ahead of himself, to his brother Esau (32:13–21). All of Jacob’s feverish activities are literarily depicted as futile, for the entire event is shrouded in darkness: the transactions begin and end at “night” (32:13, 21).

Jacob is now at his wits’ end. That’s when he gets into a wrestling match with none other than God (32:24, 30).
Realizing who it was that he was tangling with, Jacob asks to be blessed. Indeed, he refuses to let go until he has been blessed (32:26). In this closing stage of his story, we see in Jacob a man who has been thoroughly chastened. All these many decades, he had been trying to secure one blessing or another by his own wheeling and dealing, by heel-grabbing and back-stabbing, by manipulating, conniving, cheating, and deceiving. Now he has realized the true source of blessing: God. And rightly, he clings on to God till he is blessed.

God responds to Jacob’s request with a name-change, from “Jacob” to “Israel” (32:27–28): “El (God) fights”—i.e., God fights for you, so you do not need to fight for yourself. And finally—finally!—the man who has been chasing blessing all his days is blessed! What began at night (32:22), ends with daybreak (32:31). A new era had begun.


  1. rodney October 12, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    In a community group recently, the leader suggested that Jacob thought he was wrestling Esau. Jacob is obviously consumed with his brother and no doubt keeping an eye out for him. Did he think Esau slipped past his forward camps and was getting revenge by his own hand?

    • Abe Kuruvilla October 15, 2016 at 8:53 pm

      The text is clear that it was God. Remember the important interpretive dictum: Privilege the text and what it is doing. Don’t pay attention to things behind the text that the text is not interested in. Of course, you could always check out my commentary on Genesis! 🙂

  2. Sam Chacko October 4, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    I think again it all comes back to reliance on God, not on self.


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