Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:31-32

31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. 

32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.

Jacob had wrestled with the Lord, and he had prevailed, but that didn’t mean he came off without injury. He moved on from the fight, but with a limp. At one point or another we all have to similarly wrestle with God in our path of spiritual growth. It might be because our sense of reality is challenged by the truth, or that God is removing barnacles from our heart that don’t want to let go. And when those wrestles happen, we will certainly find ourselves feeling worn and raw from the struggle.

To be sure, the outcome of these spiritual strivings is unquestionably good. We might have gained a truer view of the world, or a nobler perspective of our own self, or had our wounds dressed and healed. But alongside of those pleasant effects, we will also be exhausted. We will walk away joyfully, even if with a slight limp.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:29-30

29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. 

30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

After Jacob received his new name, he inquired to also know the name of his heavenly messenger. The divine being rebuked that request, and a few reasons why he might have occur to me.

For one, it might have been that the name of this person did not matter. This quite possibly was only an angel sent as a representative of God, and the identity of that emissary was not important. For another, it might have been meant to tell Jacob that he still had a life of spiritual searching ahead of him. “You’ve come closer to me than ever before, Jacob, but you’re going to have to go further if you want to know my name.” Years later, when Jacob blessed all of his sons, he would pronounce a name he had evidently learned for the God that would walk among men: Shiloh.

A third possibility for what the divine wrestler meant might be “don’t you already know who I am?” To me this answer resonates the best. It directly leads into Jacob’s statement in verse 30: “I have seen God face to face.” When Abraham had met his Lord, he immediately recognized Him and bowed himself to the earth, without requiring God to confirm it. Jacob was now being brought into the same close intimacy, and from here on out he would be expected to know his maker when he saw him.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:26-28

26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.

28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

Even after his thigh was dislocated Jacob did not give up the fight! We don’t know at what point of night this wrestling match began, but it seems to have continued for a very long while. Now the sun is rising, heralding the day in which Jacob must stand before his brother Esau, and he will not quit the fight until he receives some assurance that all will be well.

The messenger asks Jacob his name, and Jacob delivers the only one he has ever had, the one given of his father. Now, like his grandfather Abram, Jacob receives another from God. The name Israel is comprised of two parts, “isra” which means to fight or strive, and “el” which means God. Together they mean “God strives” or “God shall fight.” Jacob had prevailed with God, and now God would fight for Jacob’s cause.

The angel does not make any promises about the meeting with Esau, though. Jacob is going to have to face what follows, he won’t be let off the hook there, but he is being assured that God will prevail with him through whatever that meeting entails.

Interestingly, Jacob still continues to be referred to as “Jacob” throughout the rest of his biblical record and not “Israel.” This is different from Abram and Sarai, who are exclusively referred to as Abraham and Sarah after their new names are given. Some have pointed out that the bible seems to treat Jacob as the man, but Israel as his legacy, almost as though the persona that he exuded past mortality is the identity which is to be referred to as Israel. Or maybe it signifies that Jacob had trouble embracing the new identity God had called him to. Or maybe it’s just a clerical error. Or maybe it’s something else entirely, I don’t believe we have any definitive answer.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:21-25

21 So went the present over before him: and himself lodged that night in the company. 

22 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.

23 And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.

24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

The night before Jacob met with his brother he sent all the company over a brook, but he remained behind to wrestle with his feelings in solitude. And what a wrestle it became, going far beyond struggling in prayer, for a physical man appeared and literally strove with Jacob! Honestly, I think it might have done Jacob good to have a sparring partner that he could get out all his frustration and fear with. Fear and trauma do not only lodge themselves in the heart and in the mind, but also in the body, and sometimes physical exertion can be the best therapy for processing those deep emotions.

I also see in this story a clear representation of Jesus atoning for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane. There, too, he poured his heart out to his father, and also he began to strive in the flesh, bleeding from every pore, and also an angel appeared, though this one was to strengthen him in the struggle. And in both Jacob and Jesus’s case the result was triumph and salvation. In Jacob’s case for himself and his family, in Jesus’s case for all mankind.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:13-18

13 And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother; 

14 Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams,

15 Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals.

16 And he delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by themselves; and said unto his servants, Pass over before me, and put a space betwixt drove and drove.

17 And he commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau my brother meeteth thee, and asketh thee, saying, Whose art thou? and whither goest thou? and whose are these before thee?

18 Then thou shalt say, They be thy servant Jacob’s; it is a present sent unto my lord Esau: and, behold, also he is behind us.

Jacob had sent messengers to let Esau know that he came in humility and peace. Then he divided his camp into two parties, so that if Esau fell upon one the other could escape. He still wasn’t done, though, for now he put together an impressive gift of more than five hundred livestock, divided between goats, sheep, camels, cows, and donkeys. If Esau did not have flocks already, he certainly would now!

And that’s not all. Jacob showed a shrewd tactic by having the gift arrive in parts. First Esau would receive the sheep, and then a little later the goats would arrive, and then the camels, and so on. Depending on whether he divided the male and female of each species, Jacob sent the gift in five to nine different droves. This technique was likely calculated to flatter Esau multiple times over and excite him to see what good thing his brother was sending to him next.

But would it work? As we will see in the next verses, Jacob had done everything that he could think to assuage Esau’s anger, yet he remained terribly unsure what sort of greeting awaited him.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:9-12

9 And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: 

10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.

11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.

12 And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.

What a sincere and vulnerable prayer Jacob utters here. Right in verse ten he states that he isn’t “worthy of the least of the mercies” of God. He’s had his flaws and he’s made his mistakes, and he’s already been more cared for than he had any right to be. And yet, Jacob still has reason to hope that even more goodness awaits him, because God made a promise He would deal well with Jacob, and God is one who follows through on his promises.

And this is a very far cry from what most of the philosophies of the world tells us. The world tells us that we will prevail so far as we, ourselves, are great and worthy. The world tells us that karma only recompenses us for what we have earned. The world tells us that we get just what we deserve.

But Jacob sees something different. In these verses he is expressing a sentiment that has been echoing throughout Christendom for millennia since, an incredibly bold notion that we do not receive because we are worthy, but because He is. We do not prevail because of our own strength, but because of His. We are not blessed based on what we have earned, but on what our Savior has earned for us. The true believer knows that life isn’t fair…it is far, far better.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:6-8

6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.

7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;

8 And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.

Jacob received an update from his messengers, and it did not sound promising. Esau was coming with four hundred men, an army, more than enough to kill Jacob and his entire household. And this isn’t all. Apparently, Esau did not provide Jacob’s messengers with any response that might set his brother at ease. He set out with unspoken intent, leaving Jacob to assume the worst.

In this dire situation Jacob came to a most heart-wrenching solution. He would divide his camp in two, so that if Esau came with violence half of the camp could try to flee as the other was consumed. This would mean saving half of his home, but only at the sacrifice of the other. At least in that case he wouldn’t have to decide which would be the surviving half, chance would decide that for him.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:3-5

3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.

4 And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now:

5 And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.

It had been twenty years since Jacob had seen his brother. Twenty years is a lot of time for people to change. Certainly, Jacob was not returning as the same man as when he first left his father’s home.

Even so, Jacob had not forgotten the hostility that Esau held towards him when he left, and he thought it wise to send servants ahead with a flattering and humble message. Note that in his statement Jacob calls himself Esau’s servant, refers to Esau as “my lord,” and states that his desire is simply to find grace in his brother’s sight. When Jacob had stolen his father’s blessing Isaac had specifically promised that Esau’s descendants would serve Jacob’s, thus it was particularly prudent for Jacob to show that he did not consider himself as above his brother here and now.

Jacob also included in his message a description of the many animals and people in his entourage. Perhaps this was to alert Esau to the fact that there were many innocents who did not deserve to die for Jacob’s past transgressions, or perhaps to let Esau know that Jacob was independently wealthy, and thus wasn’t coming to take Esau’s living from him.

And now Jacob has only to wait and see what answer is brought back to him. He has knocked on the door of his own home, but he does not know if it is a sword or an embrace that waits upon the other side.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:1-2

1 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.

2 And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

We are about to read of Jacob’s reunion with Esau, and it will be abundantly clear how worrying this meeting was for him. He had made it safely away from Laban, but for all he knew he was going out of the frying pan and into the fire!

How comforting it must have been, then, to meet these angelic figures. We do not know what transpired between he and they, clearly the messengers did not remove the issue of meeting with Esau, but at least there would have been the comfort of knowing God was still watching over him in this, his greatest moment of need. Jacob would still have to continue into the lion’s den, but he would not have to go alone.