The account continues with Jacob’s journey after he parted with Laban. Now Jacob was faced with a new threat, Esau and his four-hundred men were coming toward him. The narrative centralized on Jacob’s dilemma in using his strategies to divide his flocks, servants and families; while praying for God’s promise and protection. The dilemma of Jacob teaches us the meaning of faith in God during desperate moments.
Did You Know...?
- Mahanaim (32:2): In Hebrew, the word can be literally translated as “two camps.”
- Angels (32:1) are literally translated in Hebrew as “messengers.” The pronunciations of the words “angels” and “messengers” in Hebrew are similar.
- Israel (32:28): The name literally can be translated as “Let God contend” or “Let God persevere” in Hebrew.
- Peniel (32:30) can be translated literally in Hebrew as “the face of God.”
What happened when Jacob went on his way after making a covenant with Laban?
What was the significance of the place Mahanaim for Jacob?Hide Answer
For Jacob, Mahanaim was an important place. Mahanaim not only served as an evidence for God’s promise of protection (Gen 31:3), but Mahanaim also served as a support to strengthen Jacob’s faith in God. Apart from rebuking Laban in his night dream (Gen 31:24), God wanted to show Jacob that the angels were camping around him—protecting Jacob from Laban’s harm. Furthermore, for Jacob, Mahanaim would also foreshadow God’s protection and guidance from upcoming uncertainty of Esau’s revenge.
What can we learn from Mahanaim? See also Ps 34:7 and 91:11.Hide Answer
From the event in Mahanaim, we can learn how the Lord protects His people. The Psalmist writes that the angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him and delivers them (Ps 34:7). Moreover, the psalmist also writes that God shall give His angels charge over us, to keep us in all our ways (Ps 91:11). In our daily life, though we are facing challenges and difficulties, we are not alone in such a difficult journey. The Lord promises and even sends His angels to deliver us from evil.
Why did Jacob send messengers to Esau now after these twenty years (Gen 32:3)?Hide Answer
When Jacob departed from Esau, it was not on good terms. Before Jacob fled, Esau had said in his heart that he would kill his brother Jacob for robbing his blessing of the first-born (Gen 27:41-42). For twenty years Jacob never contacted or sent any message to his brother, Esau. Now, after the angels of God had met him and knowing that the angels were encamping around him (Gen 32;1-2), Jacob had the courage to send messengers to Esau to let him know about his well-being.
What was the purpose of sending the messengers to Esau in the land of Seir?
What could Esau learn about Jacob’s condition and intention from his message? “I have dwelt with Laban”;Hide Answer
After his escape, Jacob had been a sojourner and stayed with Laban for twenty years. He was away from his parents and family. And now, he was planning to return home to meet his family, to meet his brother with the hope of Esau’s acceptance.
“I have oxen, donkeys, flocks”;Hide Answer
Although Jacob was a sojourner, he now had oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female servants (Gen 32:5). Jacob happily shared with Esau that God’s blessing to him was indeed true. Before his departure, his father Isaac had given him the blessing of Abraham that the Lord would make him fruitful in the land in which he was a stranger (Gen 28:3-4). Now, Jacob was returning to his home country with these blessings.
“I may find favor in your sight”;Hide Answer
Jacob sent the messengers to address Esau as lord, while he addressed himself as Esau’s servant (Gen 32:4). Jacob’s message at this moment reflected his intent to fix the broken relationship and acted as an apology to Esau for stealing his birthright of the firstborn son (Gen 27:27-29). By positioning himself as a servant, Jacob admitted that he would be below Esau and his possessions—oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female servants—would be under Esau’s authority.
How did Esau respond to Jacob’s message? Why did Esau respond in such a way? Compare with Gen 14:14.Hide Answer
Esau responded to Jacob’s message by coming to meet him with four hundred men (Gen 32:6). The closest example of one bringing many men along with him was the example of Abram. In Gen 14:14, Abram brought his three hundred and eighteen trained servants to go in pursuit of the king of Elam who had taken Lot captive. By bringing along 400 men with him, Esau was clearly giving a sign of hostility and with the intent for an armed conflict with Jacob’s company. By bringing along 400 men with him, Esau was ready to perform his promise made twenty years ago, to kill Jacob his brother.
What were the reactions of Jacob in hearing of Esau’s coming along with 400 men?
What was the reason behind Jacob’s decision in Gen 32:7-8?
What can we learn from Jacob’s dilemma between his faith in God and in facing reality’s challenge?Hide Answer
Though Jacob had seen that the angels of God were encamping around him, Jacob’s fear took over when he was faced with reality’s challenges ahead of him. Thus, he took spontaneous acts and used his own wisdom to solve his problem. We too are no different than Jacob. Though we believe in God’s providence and protection, at times we overlook our faith when facing with difficult and pressing situations. Instead of asking for God’s guidance, we are depending more on our own wisdom and solution to ease the present problem.
How did Jacob’s prayer of supplication tell us about: Jacob’s relationship with God;Hide Answer
In Gen 32:9, it was the first time that Jacob actively interacted personally with God since He spoke to Him in Gen 28:15 and Gen 31:3. In his prayer, Jacob acknowledged Him as the God of his father Abraham and God of his father Isaac. In other words, his request of supplication showed that Jacob began to acknowledge the Lord as His personal God and marked the beginning of his own establishment of relationship with the Lord.
Jacob’s realization of his position;Hide Answer
In his prayer, Jacob also admitted to the Lord that he was not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which God had shown him (Gen 32:10). Knowing that it was the Lord who had first reached out to him and guided his journey in his ignorance, Jacob felt unworthy to receive His bountiful mercies and guidance. Moreover, Jacob emphasized his humbled position in his prayer. He crossed over the Jordan river with only his staff, but now he had become two companies. He realized without God’s help, it was impossible for him to have two companies consisting of families, servants and flocks.
Jacob’s need of help;Hide Answer
Jacob’s prayer of supplication reflected his desperation and need of God’s help to be delivered from the hand of Esau, his brother (Gen 32:11). This was the moment where Jacob truly experienced fear in his life of the evil which would befall upon his wives, children and himself. Jacob’s prayer showed how he surrendered himself to the Lord God of his father.
Jacob’s belief to the promise;Hide Answer
At the end of his prayer, Jacob recalled the promise of God which had been given earlier in Gen 28:14-15. Although Jacob had passed many years since the first appearance of the Lord, he still remembered His promise. Thus, in his time of distress, Jacob cried out to the Lord asking for His help that the given promise be fulfilled.
Compare Jacob’s phrase “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother” in Gen 32:11 with the Lord Jesus’ phrase “deliver us from the evil one” in Mt 6:13. What can we learn from the similarity between the two?Hide Answer
In time of distress, Jacob prayed to the Lord requesting for His deliverance from the evil which would befell him and his family. The writer of Psalms also showed us an example of a prayer of deliverance (Ps 7:1). He prayed putting his trust in the Lord God and asking for God’s deliverance from those who persecuted him. Likewise, in Mat 6:11 the Lord Jesus taught us to pray to the heavenly Father for deliverance from evil. This kind of prayer teaches us also about faith and obedience because deliverance from evil which will befall upon us involves the trust of the Lord’s help in a timely and faithful manner rather than just giving up to find an alternative solution by ourselves.
What did the present to Esau consist of? How did Jacob prepare them?Hide Answer
The present to Esau consisted of two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milk camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten foals (Gen 32:14, 15). Jacob divided the present into three parties, each was sent with a command from Jacob to say that it was a present sent to lord Esau and Jacob was behind the parties (Gen 32:17-20).
What was the purpose of the present?Hide Answer
Jacob prepared and sent the present into three droves for the purpose of appeasing Esau with the present that went before him. Thus, when Esau would see the face of Jacob, there would be a chance he would accept Jacob (Gen 32:20). In other words, the present was to ease Esau’s revenge of the past and the words “your servant Jacob” accompanied the present was to win Esau’s heart.
What happened in the night after the parties of the present were sent?
Why did Jacob stay alone at the ford of Jabbok?Hide Answer
Jacob’s decision to stay alone at the ford of Jabbok after he had sent over his wives and children indicated his great fear to meet his brother, Esau. The fear was caused not only by the messengers’ previous words that Esau was coming with four hundred men in Gen 32:6 but also was caused by his guilt of robbing Esau in the past of his rights (Gen 27:41-42).
What can we learn from Jacob’s dilemma that night at the ford of Jabbok?Hide Answer
Jacob still remained alone in that place because of his great distress and fear toward Esau’s coming. Although he had prayed and sent off his flocks, servants, families in different separate droves, Jacob stayed by himself that night. Jacob’s staying alone indicated his helplessness and desperation toward the situation that he was facing. Although he had strategically sent off different parties ahead of him to ease Esau’s anger, he knew the possibilities that all parties could be attacked by Esau and his four hundred men. Thus, that night Jacob had no other strategies or plans left to face the wrath of Esau and his men apart from relying completely on the mercy of the Lord.
From Jacob’s experience, we can learn that in the state of helplessness and desperation, we can turn and rely on God’s mercy. Sometimes in our desperation and great distress, it is easy to give up and lose hope or even lose our faith. But Jacob’s experience reminds us that clinging to our Lord is the only one hope that we have to face difficulties and desperation in life.
What happened when Jacob was alone and how did the night end?
What was Jacob’s new name and what was the reason behind the changing of Jacob’s name?
What was the significance of the phrase “struggle with God? See also Hos 12:2-3.Hide Answer
The phrase “struggle with God” in Gen 32:28 is explained further in the book of Hosea. The prophet Hosea narrated that with his strength, Jacob struggled with God (Hos 12:3). In other words, the wrestling of Jacob with God in Gen 32 showed his perseverance and persistence in beseeching for God’s blessing (Gen 32:26).
What lesson can we learn from the “struggle” of Jacob with God? See Luk 11:8.Hide Answer
Through Jacob’s struggle, he persevered in beseeching for God’s blessing. Likewise, the Lord Jesus teaches us through the parable of a persistent friend about the attitude of our prayer. The parable reminds us that one of the important element in our prayer is our perseverance in asking, seeking and finding our requests to the Lord.
What was the purpose of Jacob asking for the Man’s name?Hide Answer
After the Man had made Jacob’s hip-socket out of joint, the Man asked for Jacob’s name and then gave him a new one. There were several reasons of Jacob wanting to know the Man’s name. First, Jacob was interested to know the name of the Man whom he had wrestled all night till day break and who had made his hip-socket out of joint (Gen 32:24-25). Second, Jacob wanted to know the name of the Man from whom he wished to have His blessings (Gen 32:29). Third, Jacob felt that he wanted to know the name of the Man who had changed with authority not only his name but gave a new meaning to his new name (Gen 32:27-28).
How did the Man answer to Jacob’s question? See also Judg 13:17-18.Hide Answer
When Jacob implored the Man to give His name, the Man answered Jacob, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” (Gen 32:29). The Man did not fulfill Jacob’s request, instead He blessed him there. The Man’s response to Jacob was similar to that in the book of Judges. The writer of the book of Judges narrated how the Angel of the Lord also did not fulfill Manoah’s request when questioned about His name and He replied to Manoah, “Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?” (Judg 13:18).
What lesson can we learn about the Man’s reply to Jacob concerning His name? See also Ex 3:13-17.Hide Answer
Even though Jacob beseeched the Man to give him His name, the Man refused to give it to Jacob. Jacob wanted to know the name of the Man who authoritatively had changed his name to Israel. The Man did not give it, instead He blessed Jacob (Gen 32:29). The Man needed not to prove His authority over Jacob.
Likewise, in the book of Judges, when Manoah requested the name of the Angel of God for the purpose of honoring Him, the Angel did not give it to him (Judg 13:17-18). The Angel did not consider the honor of Manoah as a necessity in return for His prophecy and mercy over him.
Similarly, the book of Exodus once narrated how Moses implored the Lord to give His name in case the children of Israel asked His name (Ex 3:13) for legitimacy. But the Lord emphasized to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM,” (Ex 3:14) underlining that He Himself was the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob who had sent Moses to them (Ex 3:15). The emphasis was to show that God needed not to prove His legitimacy of lordship over the children of Israel. His faithful relationship with their forefathers, his omniscience to know their affliction in Egypt and his omnipotence to deliver them from the Egyptian bondage (Ex 3:16-17) would be sufficient for the children of Israel to know.
The several events of asking for God’s name serve as an important lesson. Sometimes in difficult situations, we ponder for God’s sign of protection and guidance whether He truly cares and will deliver us from difficulties. But the examples of Jacob, of Manoah and of Moses teach us that the Lord does not need to fulfill our demand for His sign in order to prove His power, love, mercy and even His providence over us.
What was the significance of the naming of Peniel?Hide Answer
Peniel or Penuel was the place called by Jacob where he had seen God face to face, and his life was preserved (Gen 32:30-31). Jacob was referring to the incident where he had wrestled the Man all night till day break, and the Man only made his hip-socket out of joint. Not only that Jacob’s life was preserved, but Jacob was also blessed by the Man at the end of their encounter (Gen 32:29). Thus, in Peniel, Jacob realized that the Man whom he had struggled with was the Lord and Jacob received His mercy and blessing in the midst of his desperation.
How did Peniel change Jacob physically and spiritually?Hide Answer
When Jacob crossed over Peniel, Jacob limped on his hip (Gen 32:31). Physically, now Jacob could not use his own strength and agility to escape from Esau and his four hundred men. But spiritually, the Lord had answered Jacob’s prayer and blessed him at Peniel. Although Jacob was limping, his belief in God’s protection was restored through God’s personal appearance and blessings to him. Thus, the limping Jacob was now depending entirely on his faith and God’s guidance to face the coming of Esau and his four hundred men.
What can we learn from the children of Israel’s remembrance for not eating the hip socket muscle?Hide Answer
After Jacob was reunited with his family, the children of Israel commemorated Jacob’s encounter with the Lord by not eating the muscle that shrank (Gen 32:32). They did so because the Lord had touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank. The commemoration serves as a lesson not to rely on our strength during our desperate times but rather depend and surrender entirely to God’s will and guidance. Jacob had once relied on his own strategies and strength to outwit the wrath of Esau, but at the end, the Lord taught him how to have faith in His guidance when he could no longer rely on his own strength.