Jacob Wrestles at Peniel
1 So Jacob went on his way and the angels of God#sn The phrase angels of God occurs only here and in Gen 28:12 in the OT. Jacob saw a vision of angels just before he left the promised land. Now he encounters angels as he prepares to return to it. The text does not give the details of the encounter, but Jacob’s response suggests it was amicable. This location was a spot where heaven made contact with earth, and where God made his presence known to the patriarch. See C. Houtman, “Jacob at Mahanaim: Some Remarks on Genesis XXXII 2-3,” VT 28 (1978): 37-44. met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he exclaimed,#tn Heb “and Jacob said when he saw them.” “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.#sn The name Mahanaim apparently means “two camps.” Perhaps the two camps were those of God and of Jacob.
3 Jacob sent messengers on ahead#tn Heb “before him.” to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the region#tn Heb “field.” of Edom. 4 He commanded them, “This is what you must say to my lord Esau: ‘This is what your servant#sn Your servant. The narrative recounts Jacob’s groveling in fear before Esau as he calls his brother his “lord,” as if to minimize what had been done twenty years ago. Jacob says: I have been staying with Laban until now. 5 I have oxen, donkeys, sheep, and male and female servants. I have sent#tn Or “I am sending.” The form is a preterite with the vav consecutive; it could be rendered as an English present tense – as the Hebrew perfect/preterite allows – much like an epistolary aorist in Greek. The form assumes the temporal perspective of the one who reads the message. this message#tn The words “this message” are not in the Hebrew text, but have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. to inform my lord, so that I may find favor in your sight.’”
6 The messengers returned to Jacob and said, “We went to your brother Esau. He is coming to meet you and has four hundred men with him.” 7 Jacob was very afraid and upset. So he divided the people who were with him into two camps, as well as the flocks, herds, and camels. 8 “If Esau attacks one camp,”#tn Heb “If Esau comes to one camp and attacks it.” he thought,#tn Heb “and he said, ‘If Esau comes to one camp and attacks it.” The Hebrew verb אָמַר (’amar) here represents Jacob’s thought or reasoning, and is therefore translated “he thought.” The order of the introductory clause and the direct discourse has been rearranged in the translation for stylistic reasons. “then the other camp will be able to escape.”#tn Heb “the surviving camp will be for escape.” The word “escape” is a feminine noun. The term most often refers to refugees from war.
9 Then Jacob prayed,#tn Heb “said.” “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, you said#tn Heb “the one who said.” to me, ‘Return to your land and to your relatives and I will make you prosper.’#tn Heb “I will cause good” or “I will treat well [or “favorably”].” The idea includes more than prosperity, though that is its essential meaning. Here the form is subordinated to the preceding imperative and indicates purpose or result. Jacob is reminding God of his promise in the hope that God will honor his word. 10 I am not worthy of all the faithful love#tn Heb “the loving deeds and faithfulness” (see 24:27, 49). you have shown#tn Heb “you have done with.” your servant. With only my walking stick#tn Heb “for with my staff.” The Hebrew word מַקֵל (maqel), traditionally translated “staff,” has been rendered as “walking stick” because a “staff” in contemporary English refers typically to the support personnel in an organization. I crossed the Jordan,#tn Heb “this Jordan.” but now I have become two camps. 11 Rescue me,#tn The imperative has the force of a prayer here, not a command. I pray, from the hand#tn The “hand” here is a metonymy for “power.” of my brother Esau,#tn Heb “from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau.” for I am afraid he will come#tn Heb “for I am afraid of him, lest he come.” and attack me, as well as the mothers with their children.#sn Heb “me, [the] mother upon [the] sons.” The first person pronoun “me” probably means here “me and mine,” as the following clause suggests. 12 But you#tn Heb “But you, you said.” One of the occurrences of the pronoun “you” has been left untranslated for stylistic reasons.sn Some commentators have thought this final verse of the prayer redundant, but it actually follows the predominant form of a lament in which God is motivated to act. The primary motivation Jacob can offer to God is God’s promise, and so he falls back on that at the end of the prayer. said, ‘I will certainly make you prosper#tn Or “will certainly deal well with you.” The infinitive absolute appears before the imperfect, underscoring God’s promise to bless. The statement is more emphatic than in v. 9. and will make#tn The form is the perfect tense with a vav (ו) consecutive, carrying the nuance of the preceding verb forward. your descendants like the sand on the seashore, too numerous to count.’”#tn Heb “which cannot be counted because of abundance.” The imperfect verbal form indicates potential here.
13 Jacob#tn Heb “and he”; the referent (Jacob) has been specified in the translation for clarity. stayed there that night. Then he sent#tn Heb “and he took from that which was going into his hand,” meaning that he took some of what belonged to him. as a gift#sn The Hebrew noun translated gift can in some contexts refer to the tribute paid by a subject to his lord. Such a nuance is possible here, because Jacob refers to Esau as his lord and to himself as Esau’s servant (v. 4). to his brother Esau 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He entrusted them to#tn Heb “and he put them in the hand of.” his servants, who divided them into herds.#tn Heb “a herd, a herd, by itself,” or “each herd by itself.” The distributive sense is expressed by repetition. He told his servants, “Pass over before me, and keep some distance between one herd and the next.” 17 He instructed the servant leading the first herd,#tn Heb “the first”; this has been specified as “the servant leading the first herd” in the translation for clarity. “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘To whom do you belong?#tn Heb “to whom are you?” Where are you going? Whose herds are you driving?’#tn Heb “and to whom are these before you?” 18 then you must say,#tn The form is the perfect tense with the vav (ו) consecutive; it has the nuance of an imperfect of instruction. ‘They belong#tn The words “they belong” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. to your servant Jacob.#tn Heb “to your servant, to Jacob.” They have been sent as a gift to my lord Esau.#tn Heb “to my lord, to Esau.” In fact Jacob himself is behind us.’”#tn Heb “and look, also he [is] behind us.” The referent of the pronoun “he” (Jacob) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
19 He also gave these instructions to the second and third servants, as well as all those who were following the herds, saying, “You must say the same thing to Esau when you meet him.#tn Heb “And he commanded also the second, also the third, also all the ones going after the herds, saying: ‘According to this word you will speak when you find him.’” 20 You must also say, ‘In fact your servant Jacob is behind us.’”#tn Heb “and look, your servant Jacob [is] behind us.” Jacob thought,#tn Heb “for he said.” The referent (Jacob) has been specified in the translation for clarity. The Hebrew word מַקֵל (maqel), traditionally represents Jacob’s thought or reasoning, and is therefore translated “thought.” “I will first appease him#tn Heb “I will appease his face.” The cohortative here expresses Jacob’s resolve. In the Book of Leviticus the Hebrew verb translated “appease” has the idea of removing anger due to sin or guilt, a nuance that fits this passage very well. Jacob wanted to buy Esau off with a gift of more than five hundred and fifty animals. by sending a gift ahead of me.#tn Heb “with a gift going before me.” After that I will meet him.#tn Heb “I will see his face.” Perhaps he will accept me.”#tn Heb “Perhaps he will lift up my face.” In this context the idiom refers to acceptance. 21 So the gifts were sent on ahead of him#tn Heb “and the gift passed over upon his face.” while he spent that night in the camp.#tn The disjunctive clause is circumstantial/temporal.
22 During the night Jacob quickly took#tn Heb “and he arose in that night and he took.” The first verb is adverbial, indicating that he carried out the crossing right away. his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons#tn The Hebrew term used here is יֶלֶד (yeled) which typically describes male offspring. Some translations render the term “children” but this is a problem because by this time Jacob had twelve children in all, including one daughter, Dinah, born to Leah (Gen 30:21). Benjamin, his twelfth son and thirteenth child, was not born until later (Gen 35:16-19). and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.#sn Hebrew narrative style often includes a summary statement of the whole passage followed by a more detailed report of the event. Here v. 22 is the summary statement, while v. 23 begins the detailed account. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream along with all his possessions.#tn Heb “and he sent across what he had.” 24 So Jacob was left alone. Then a man#sn Reflecting Jacob’s perspective at the beginning of the encounter, the narrator calls the opponent simply “a man.” Not until later in the struggle does Jacob realize his true identity. wrestled#sn The verb translated “wrestled” (וַיֵּאָבֵק, vayye’aveq) sounds in Hebrew like the names “Jacob” (יַעֲקֹב, ya’aqov) and “Jabbok” (יַבֹּק, yabboq). In this way the narrator links the setting, the main action, and the main participant together in the mind of the reader or hearer. with him until daybreak.#tn Heb “until the rising of the dawn.” 25 When the man#tn Heb “he”; the referent (the man) has been specified in the translation for clarity. saw that he could not defeat Jacob,#tn Heb “him”; the referent (Jacob) has been specified in the translation for clarity. he struck#tn Or “injured”; traditionally “touched.” The Hebrew verb translated “struck” has the primary meanings “to touch; to reach; to strike.” It can, however, carry the connotation “to harm; to molest; to injure.” God’s “touch” cripples Jacob – it would be comparable to a devastating blow. the socket of his hip so the socket of Jacob’s hip was dislocated while he wrestled with him.
26 Then the man#tn Heb “he”; the referent (the man) has been specified in the translation for clarity. said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.”#tn Heb “dawn has arisen.” “I will not let you go,” Jacob replied,#tn Heb “and he said, ‘I will not let you go.’” The referent of the pronoun “he” (Jacob) has been specified for clarity, and the order of the introductory clause and the direct discourse has been rearranged in the translation for stylistic reasons. “unless you bless me.”#sn Jacob wrestled with a man thinking him to be a mere man, and on that basis was equal to the task. But when it had gone on long enough, the night visitor touched Jacob and crippled him. Jacob’s request for a blessing can only mean that he now knew that his opponent was supernatural. Contrary to many allegorical interpretations of the passage that make fighting equivalent to prayer, this passage shows that Jacob stopped fighting, and then asked for a blessing. 27 The man asked him,#tn Heb “and he said to him.” The referent of the pronoun “he” (the man who wrestled with Jacob) has been specified in the translation for clarity. “What is your name?”#sn What is your name? The question is rhetorical, since the Lord obviously knew Jacob’s identity. But since the Lord is going to change Jacob’s name, this question is designed to bring focus Jacob’s attention on all that his name had come to signify. He answered, “Jacob.” 28 “No longer will your name be Jacob,” the man told him,#tn Heb “and he said.” The referent of the pronoun “he” (the man who wrestled with Jacob) has been specified for clarity, and the order of the introductory clause and the direct discourse has been rearranged in the translation for stylistic reasons. “but Israel,#sn The name Israel is a common construction, using a verb with a theophoric element (אֵל, ’el) that usually indicates the subject of the verb. Here it means “God fights.” This name will replace the name Jacob; it will be both a promise and a call for faith. In essence, the Lord was saying that Jacob would have victory and receive the promises because God would fight for him. because you have fought#sn You have fought. The explanation of the name Israel includes a sound play. In Hebrew the verb translated “you have fought” (שָׂרִיתָ, sarita) sounds like the name “Israel” (יִשְׂרָאֵל, yisra’el ), meaning “God fights” (although some interpret the meaning as “he fights [with] God”). The name would evoke the memory of the fight and what it meant. A. Dillmann says that ever after this the name would tell the Israelites that, when Jacob contended successfully with God, he won the battle with man (Genesis, 2:279). To be successful with God meant that he had to be crippled in his own self-sufficiency (A. P. Ross, “Jacob at the Jabboq, Israel at Peniel,” BSac 142 : 51-62). with God and with men and have prevailed.”
29 Then Jacob asked, “Please tell me your name.”#sn Tell me your name. In primitive thought to know the name of a deity or supernatural being would enable one to use it for magical manipulation or power (A. S. Herbert, Genesis 12-50 [TBC], 108). For a thorough structural analysis of the passage discussing the plays on the names and the request of Jacob, see R. Barthes, “The Struggle with the Angel: Textual Analysis of Genesis 32:23-33,” Structural Analysis and Biblical Exegesis (PTMS), 21-33. “Why#tn The question uses the enclitic pronoun “this” to emphasize the import of the question. do you ask my name?” the man replied.#tn Heb “and he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’” The referent of the pronoun “he” (the man who wrestled with Jacob) has been specified for clarity, and the order of the introductory clause and the direct discourse has been rearranged in the translation for stylistic reasons. Then he blessed#tn The verb here means that the Lord endowed Jacob with success; he would be successful in everything he did, including meeting Esau. Jacob#tn Heb “him”; the referent (Jacob) has been specified in the translation for clarity. there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel,#sn The name Peniel means “face of God.” Since Jacob saw God face to face here, the name is appropriate. explaining,#tn The word “explaining” is supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. “Certainly#tn Or “because.” I have seen God face to face#sn I have seen God face to face. See the note on the name “Peniel” earlier in the verse. and have survived.”#tn Heb “and my soul [= life] has been preserved.”sn I have survived. It was commonly understood that no one could see God and live (Gen 48:16; Exod 19:21, 24:10; and Judg 6:11, 22). On the surface Jacob seems to be saying that he saw God and survived. But the statement may have a double meaning, in light of his prayer for deliverance in v. 11. Jacob recognizes that he has survived his encounter with God and that his safety has now been guaranteed.
31 The sun rose#tn Heb “shone.” over him as he crossed over Penuel,#sn The name is spelled Penuel here, apparently a variant spelling of Peniel (see v. 30). but#tn The disjunctive clause draws attention to an important fact: He may have crossed the stream, but he was limping. he was limping because of his hip. 32 That is why to this day#sn On the use of the expression to this day, see B. S. Childs, “A Study of the Formula ‘Until This Day’,” JBL 82 (1963): 279-92. the Israelites do not eat the sinew which is attached to the socket of the hip, because he struck#tn Or “because the socket of Jacob’s hip was struck.” Some translations render this as an impersonal passive. On the translation of the word “struck” see the note on this term in v. 25. the socket of Jacob’s hip near the attached sinew.