“I won’t let you go, unless you bless me.”
Genesis 32:26, World English Version.
(1) FLEEING from his father’s home, Jacob traveled a distance of nearly five hundred miles to Chaldea, the original home of his grandfather Abraham, where his uncle Laban still lived. His esteem for the promise of God had made him a pilgrim and a stranger, a wanderer from home, just as Abraham’s faithfulness to the call had taken him from home in the opposite direction. In the promise Yahweh makes to Jacob, he reiterates the promise as give to Abraham, that by his seed all families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 28:14) As we learn in the NT, the seed of promise consists of Jesus and the spirit-begotten sons of God. (Galatians 3:16,25,29) In order to prove Jacob’s worthiness of the blessings — in order to test his faith in God’s promises, he was permitted to pass through various trying experiences and disappointments. One of these was a love affair with Rachel, his cousin, for whom he served his uncle in all fourteen years, seven before he got her as a wife, and seven years afterward; his uncle taking a dishonest advantage of him in the arrangement. (Genesis 29:10-28) Nevertheless, we see Jacob’s patience and persistency, and note with pleasure that he never for a moment seems to have doubted the promises of God that he should be blessed as the inheritor of the Abrahamic promise.
(2) “Not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving” Yahweh; (Romans 12:11) would seem to apply well to Jacob’s career. So energetic was he in Laban’s service, so successful in all that he undertook, so persevering, that his uncle soon considered his service indispensable, and was glad to make favorable terms with him to have him remain and take chief charge of his property. Shrewdly Jacob bargained for an interest in the increase of the flocks and herds, etc., as his salary, and practically became a partner. There was nothing dishonest in his making a bargain with Laban that all the brown sheep and streaked and speckled goats should be his; nor was there anything wrong in his scientifically increasing the proportionate numbers of these colored and speckled animals. (Genesis 30:26-43) Laban became aware, before long, that he had a very capable and shrewd son-in-law, and, moreover, that Yahweh’s blessing was with him. (Genesis 24:50; 30:27) Laban heard the words of his sons, and became displeased with Jacob. Through a message from angel, Jacob was told to return to the land of his birth. (Genesis 31) He surmised, however, not without good cause, that his uncle would use force to restrain him from leaving, or to take from him some of the cattle, etc., which were properly his under the contract, and hence he chose an opportunity for leaving when Laban was absent.
(3) Laban was evidently a powerful sheik, having many servants, and indeed Jacob had become so by this time, as the narrative shows that he was able, shortly after, to give away as a present to his brother Esau, 220 goats, 220 sheep, 30 camels, 50 head of cattle and 20 donkeys. (Genesis 32:13-15) But when Laban pursued, with the full intention of bringing back Jacob, his family and servants and flocks and herds, God interfered, warning Laban in a dream, saying, “Take heed to thyself from speaking with Jacob from good unto evil.” (Genesis 31:29, Young’s Literal Translation, see also KJV margin). In consequence of this dream, and Jacob’s subsequent fair statement of his side of the case, showing clearly that he had not wronged Laban, but that Laban had repeatedly dealt badly with him, he was let go on his way in peace.
(4) The scriptures reveal the peaceable disposition of Abraham, and also of Isaac, and now we note that Jacob not only left home and abandoned his share in the father’s house, and family property belonging to the birthright he had purchased, rather than quarrel with his brother, but that similarly in dealing with his uncle he refused to quarrel; he submitted himself; he trusted Yahweh to bring out the results rather than to his own strength for a conflict, either mental or physical. Yahweh apparently would have the spiritual Israelites learn this lesson: “Seek peace and pursue it;” (Psalm 34:14; 1 Peter 3:11) “Wait for Yahweh, and he will save you.” (Proverbs 20:22) It is not of God’s arrangement that the spiritual Israelites should contend with weapons of the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:4); but rather that they should submit themselves to the powers that be (Romans 13:1), learning the lessons which accompany such submission (Romans 5:3); and have developed in them the faith, the trust, the hope in God, necessary to a maintenance of their relationship to him, and growth in his grace. — 1 Peter 3:18.
(5) The journey of Jacob back to the land of his nativity and to the presence of a presumably hostile brother, now wealthy and powerful, and from whose face he had fled for his life some forty years previous (Genesis 27:41-28:5), was another evidence of his faith in God and of his respect for, and valuation of, the promises of God, whose fulfilment could be expected only in a far distant future. Like Abraham, he looked for a city whose builder and maker is God — the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God on earth. He knew that Abraham had died in faith not having realized the promises, and he was willing to likewise patiently wait. — Hebrews 11:10.
Genesis 32:1,2: Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When he saw them, Jacob said, “This is God’s host.” He called the name of that place Mahanaim”
(6) Jacob refers to the angels (messengers) who met him as “God’s host,” or, host of ELOHIM. How the angels met Jacob and appeared to him is not stated in the scriptures. Regardless, the point is that their appearance did give Jacob encouragement in his journey back to Canaan, and Jacob acknowledges these angels as the host of God.
(7) The word Mahanaim means “two camps”, or “double camp”. It is possible that by using this term Jacob referred to two camps: one visible, that is, Jacob and his hosts, and another invisible, that is, God’s angels who were being made visible to Jacob in some manner. Regardless, the thought appears to be that Jacob recognized that the mighty host of angels were with him, which gave him courage.
(8) Genesis 32:3,4: Jacob sent messengers in front of him to Esau, his brother, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom. He commanded them, saying, “This is what you shall tell my lord, Esau: ‘This is what your servant, Jacob, says. I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now.'”
(9) By this statement, Jacob shows that this return from Padan-aram to the land of Canaan, the land of promise, can by no means be considered the fulfilment of the promise of possession of the land, the whole land of Canaan, for himself and his posterity for an everlasting possession, as some teach. To such a claim the Apostle Paul gives most emphatic denial, and shows that this promise never was fulfilled to them; nor has it even yet been fulfilled to their posterity, though it most assuredly will be, both to them, and to their posterity, at the time appointed. Paul says “By faith, Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out to the place which he was to receive for an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he went. By faith, he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents [temporary, movable dwellings], with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked for the city [an established kingdom] which has the foundations [permanence], whose builder and maker is God… These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and embraced them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth [upon the land (Greek, Ge, Strong’s #1093) they were dwelling in]. — Hebrews 11:9,10,13; see also Genesis 23:4; 47:9; Psalm 119:19.
(10) After forty years’ absence from home, Jacob was ready at Yahweh’s command (Genesis 28:15,20,21; 32:9) to return. Experience had taught him confidence in God and lack of confidence in his uncle Laban. Jacob was now ninety-seven years old, and rich in flocks and herds; and with his wives and twelve sons he started on the then long journey of four hundred and fifty miles, humanly fearful of the consequences, yet, notwithstanding his fears, boldly walking out on the promises of God.
(11) Genesis 32:9-11: Jacob said, “God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, Yahweh, who said to me, ‘Return to your country, and to your relatives, and I will do you good.’ I am not worthy of the least of all the lovingkindnesses, and of all the truth, which you have shown to your servant; for with just my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he come and strike me, and the mothers with the children.
(12) This is acclaimed as the first recorded prayer in the Bible (at least, it is the first recorded as what we might refer to as a “formal” prayer), and it is beautifully humble, simple and trustful, and was acceptable to God. Verse 9 is a reverent and trustful address to Yahweh, the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac, recalling the divine command and promise of protection. (Genesis 31:3,11-13) Verse 10 disclaims any personal worthiness of this divine favor, not only of present protection and care, but also of “the truth,” the precious promises granted unto him. Then he thankfully acknowledges the blessings already received. While with his staff only he had passed over the Jordan, now he had become two bands. This much is fulfilment of the promise of a numerous posterity — ” as the sand which is on the seashore.” — Genesis 22:17.
(13) In verses 11,12 Jacob tells Yahweh of his fears of his brother, and asks for the promised protection. Thus with childlike simplicity he comes to God as to a loving father.
(14) Genesis 32:24-28: Jacob was left alone, and wrestled with a “man” there until the breaking of the day. When he saw that he didn’t prevail against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained, as he wrestled. The man said, “Let me go, for the day breaks.” Jacob said, “I won’t let you go, unless you bless me.” He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name will no longer be called ‘Jacob,’ but, ‘Israel,’ for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
(15) In answer to Jacob’s fervent, trustful prayer God sent an angel, evidently to comfort and direct him. [The angel is referred to as a “man”, not because he was actually a man, but because he made his appearance as such. We know that this “man” was actually angel because of what we read in Hosea 12:4.] But Jacob was anxious for more than comfort and direction in mere temporal things, and all night therefore he pleaded with the angel for some special evidence of divine favor beyond temporal things. The angel, too, had a blessing in store for him, but delayed its bestowal until the break of day, that Jacob might have a chance of proving the strength of his desire and appreciation of the divine favor. Thus God would have all his children “strive to enter in” to the blessings promised, and to “fight the good fight of faith,” and so lay hold on eternal life. (Luke 13:24; 1 Timothy 6:12) We may not listlessly drift into the divine favor. We must greatly appreciate and earnestly seek for it. (Proverbs 8:17; Luke 15:8; Hebrews 11:6) As another test of Jacob’s faith and earnestness, instead of the desired blessing came a severe affliction — probably what is now known as sciatica, a very painful affliction of the sciatic nerve. But even this affliction did not in the least dissuade Jacob from his desire and determination to have, if possible, some special evidence of divine favor. Still he plead with the angel of Yahweh.
(16) The man said, “Let me go, for the day breaks.” Jacob said, “I won’t let you go, unless you bless me.” Then came the blessing, a blessing worthy of the night’s striving, and one which doubtless made his affliction seem comparatively light. (Genesis 32:26) Like Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7), the affliction became but a reminder of the promise and favor of God, and served doubtless to keep him from being unduly elated.
He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name will no longer be called ‘Jacob,’ but, ‘Israel,’ for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed.” — Genesis 32:27,28.
(17) The angel tells Jacob that his name is being changed to Israel, which means “a prince with God”. In these words was couched the future glory and exaltation of Jacob as a prince in the earthly, visible phase of the Kingdom of God. “You [will] see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:28; Matthew 8:11. See also Psalm 45:16) Jacob then asks for the name of this angel of Yahweh, that he might hold him in lasting and grateful remembrance.
(18) Some trinitarians point to verse 27 and say that Jacob actually fought with God Almighty who supposedly was the second person of the trinity (Jesus) who appeared to Jacob here. It is then assumed that Jacob actually wrestled here with God Almighty, since the trinity holds that Jesus is God Almighty. Young’s Literal Translation of Genesis 22:28 reads: “And he saith, `Thy name is no more called Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast been a prince with God and with men, and dost prevail.'” We are not to think that Jacob had power of himself to prevail against God Almighty, as it might seem from some translations. The proper thought is that Jacob obtained power from God to prevail against the angel. While Matthew Henry seems to think that Jacob actually wrestled with God Almighty, he does state: “It was not in his own strength that he wrestled, nor by his own strength that he prevailed, but in and by strength derived from Heaven. That of Job illustrates this (Job 23:6), Will he plead against me with his great power? No (had the angel done so, Jacob had been crushed), but he will put strength in me; and by that strength Jacob had power over the angel, Hosea 12:4.”*
*Henry, Matthew. “Commentary on Genesis 32”. “Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible”.
(19) “Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ He said, ‘Why is it that you ask what my name is?’ He blessed him there.” (Genesis 32:29) The angel of Yahweh wished Jacob to understand that the blessing was from Yahweh God, whose messenger he was, and therefore he did not tell his name. The case is parallel to that of Manoah and the angel that visited him: “And Manoah said unto the angel of the Lord, What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass I may do thee honor? And the angel of [Yahweh] said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?” (Judges 13:17,18, King James Version) Thus the true messengers of God always seek to give the highest honor to God, and decline it for themselves. — See Revelation 19:10; John 14:28; Acts 3:12.
Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for, he said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” – Genesis 32:30.
(20) How did Jacob “see” God face to face? We are not think that Yahweh actually has a face as a man, and Jacob literally looked upon the face of God Almighty, for Yahweh says: “Man may not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) “No one [amongst mankind] has seen God at any time.” (John 1:18) Therefore we reason that Jacob did not actually see the form of God face to face. What he did see was God as represented in the angel of God. “And Jacob said unto Joseph, God almighty appeared unto me at Luz.” (Genesis 48:3, KJV) Hosea 12:4 tells the means by which he “appeared”: “He [Jacob] had power over the angel, and prevailed; He wept, and made supplication to him.” Thus the one with whom Jacob actually dealt with was an angel of Yahweh, not Yahweh himself.
(21) The word translated God in verse 30 is the Hebrew “elohim”, which has as a basic meaning, “power, strength, might”, and used here it would mean a superior might, power. This word is applied to angels in Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7. Thus it is also possble that by using the word “elohim”, Jacob was referring to the angel, one of superior might, whom he thought surely had more power than him, thus we wonders that he is still alive. And as we have pointed out, Hosea 12:4 agrees that it was angel.
(22) Many of our trinitarian neighbors like to “see” in this verse trinity, claiming that the “angel of Yahweh” is actually Yahweh, that is, Jesus, whom they suppose is actually Yahweh himself. Actually, anything about a trinity has to be read into the verse, for there is certainly nothing there about three persons in one God.
See our study: “The Angel of Yahweh“.
(23) Thus Jacob was blessed again as at Bethel. The darkest seasons of his life were the special occasions for the manifestation of divine favor. And so the children of God ever find it when in their fears and perplexities they come to God for rest and consolation.
“E’en sorrow, touched by heaven, grows bright
With more than rapture’s ray,
As darkness shows us worlds of light
We never saw by day.”