Genesis 32 – Jacob Wrestles with God

Jacob Fears Esau

Genesis 32 is a key turning point for Jacob.  He is finally headed home after 20 years of being away – and he had left out of fear that his brother Esau was going to take his life!  Now, he’s coming back to the very same place, and he is not at all confident that his brother won’t do just that (much less be happy to see him).  But the Lord has told him to return, and that is what he intends to do.  And when his messengers return to tell him that Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men, it must have been a bit frightening.  But when he left, he had only his staff (as he says in his remarkable prayer to God in verses 9-12). But now, the wealth he has accumulated makes it possible to split his livestock and people into “two camps.”  He does this after the “angels of God” have met him along the way (in v 1).  He named the place where that happened “Mahanaim” which means “two camps,” and that theme is repeated in the chapter.

Jacob decides to try to appease his brother by sending his servants ahead of him, along with large amounts of livestock as presents for Esau from “your servant Jacob.”  A bit ironic, since the Lord had said in Gen 25:23 that “the older shall serve the younger.”  So for safety, Jacob splits the caravan into droves, and his camp into two camps, so one could get away if necessary.

Jacob Wrestles with God

The unexpected wrestling event of verses 22 and following are a source of much confusion to readers.  Jacob realizes quickly that he is actually wrestling with God, but we know that scripture says no one looks on God in His true form and lives, so how do we explain this – or Moses and his later encounters?  God’s word has several examples of God appearing to His people in biblical times in human form for His own reasons.  Remember Abraham’s encounter in Genesis 18 before the Lord destroyed Sodom?  Also, Jesus was fully God, and took human form.  There is much that we do not know, but the important thing is the change that is to come over Jacob, along with the change of his name from Jacob (which means “trickster”) to his new name “Israel,” (which means “God fights”).

The other important thing to take away from this chapter is the above-mentioned prayer in v 9-12.  Read it again, and notice the reverence, the humbleness, and the thanksgiving that accompanies his petition to God.  Only Jesus gives us a better example for prayer.

(Side note: Here is an interesting article about the possible site of Mahanaim)

Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.


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