Genesis 32 - Jacob Prepares for Esau; then Wrestles with God
Genesis 32 – Jacob Prepares for Esau; then Wrestles with God
In great fear of Esau, Jacob divided his people into two groups and then he selected gifts for his brother. Jacob spends the night wrestling with God.
Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim. Genesis 32:1-2
After 20 years of working for his uncle Laban, God commanded Jacob to return to the Promised Land. Jacob hastily packed up all of his goods and left for home without informing Laban of his departure. In spite of a three day head start, Laban caught up with Jacob but was restrained by the LORD from bringing him back by either threat or enticement. After Jacob and Laban made a covenant and shared an evening meal, the next morning Laban returned home.
Jacob also went on his way and was met by God’s angels. So Jacob named that place Mahanaim which means two armies or camps in Hebrew – signifying his own company and the heavenly host that had encamped in that location. When Jacob had left his father and mother to travel to Laban’s house 20 years before, the LORD had promise that He would be with Jacob, would watch over him and would bring back to his homeland. The angels of God appeared to Jacob, to encourage him with the assurance of God’s promised protection.
Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’” Genesis 32:3-5
Jacob wanted Esau to know that he had amassed some wealth while he was away living with their uncle Laban. Being self-sufficient, Jacob wanted his brother to know that he had no need to ask for anything from him.
When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him. In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.” Genesis 32:6-8
Twenty years before, Jacob had deceived his father Isaac by pretending to be Esau. After Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, Esau was enraged and had said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” For twenty years Jacob lived with the memory of how he cheated his brother. For twenty years he wondered whether Esau still planned to kill him. For twenty years he had dreamed of going home, but each time his dream becomes a nightmare when he thinks of Esau. Now Jacob, having learned that Esau was coming with four hundred men to meet him, was in dire fear that Esau was planning to attack and kill him. Jacob divided his family and animals into two groups in an attempt to save one group if the other was attacked.
Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’” Genesis 32:9-12
Although Jacob had purchased the birthright from Esau and was entitled to a double-portion of his father’s inheritance, when Jacob fled from home to escape from his brother Esau, all he had were the clothes on his back and his staff in his hand. Now Jacob was returning to his homeland with great wealth and many children. The LORD indeed had been with Jacob and had been gracious to him.
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16b
First of all, Jacob had been obedient and returned to his country and relatives as the LORD had commanded. Considering that Jacob feared for his own life and the safety of his family, I am sure that Jacob prayed fervently to the LORD. Jacob prayed with humility stating that he was unworthy of God’s kindness and faithfulness towards him. Jacob prayed from a thankful heart for the blessings that God had bestowed upon him. Jacob prayed in faith believing that the LORD was capable of saving him. Finally, Jacob’s prayer incorporated the very words of God and the promises the LORD made to Jacob.
Jacob’s approach to prayer is a good model for any believer to emulate. First of all, we must be obedient to God’s commands. If not, then we must first repent and ask His forgiveness. We should pray fervently, in humility, with thanksgiving, and in faith believing that God is capable and faithful to perform His Word.
He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.” Genesis 32:13-16
According to mathematicians, two numbers are amicable or friendly if each of them is equal to the sum of the divisors of the other number. The first pair of Friendly Numbers is 220 and 284.
The divisors of 220 namely 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 20, 22, 44, 55 and 110 add up to 284.
The divisors of 284 namely 1, 2, 4, 71 and 142 add up to 220.
The first gift selected for Esau was a total of 220 goats, while the second gift selected for Esau was a total of 220 sheep. These two gifts were comprised of amicable or friendly numbers of animals.
The third gift selected for Esau was comprised of: 30 camels + 30 calves, 50 head of cattle and 30 donkeys which totaled 140 animals.
This quantity is the smaller half of what mathematician call a “semi-friendly” pair of numbers. Two numbers are semi-amicable if each of them is equal to the sum of the divisors of the other number. But unlike friendly numbers, the number 1 is not included in the sum of their divisors.
The divisors of 140 (not including 1) are 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 14, 20, 28, 35 and 70 add up to 195
The divisors of 195 (not including 1) are 3, 5, 13, 15, 39, and 65 add up to 140.
The third gift for Esau was comprised of a semi-friendly number of animals.
A triangular number or triangle number counts the objects that can form an equilateral triangle. The triangle number 10 is familiar to those who bowl: the ten bowling pins are arranged in a triangle. The triangle number 15 is familiar to those who shoot pool: at the break, the fifteen pool balls are arranged in a triangle.
Not only were the numbers of animals friendly and semi-friendly but they can be expressed as the sum of exactly 3 triangular numbers:
220 = 1 + 66 + 153
140 = 10 + 10 + 120
A triangle is a 3-in-1 geometric shape. Each side is co-equal in length and connects to the two other sides. With its 3 sides and 1 figure it represents the triune nature of God. Not only did Jacob send Esau three groups of animals before him, the numbers of animals that comprised each herd were friendly and semi-friendly numbers that can be expressed as the sum of 3 triangular numbers.
When the angels of God met Jacob on his way, they may have instructed Jacob on how many animals he should offer to his brother Esau.
He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”
He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp. Genesis 32:17-21
Jacob was hoping to quench the fire of Esau’s anger by sending s three waves of expensive gifts before him so that his brother would receive him without hostility.
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. Genesis 32:22-23
The Jabbok is a stream that is a tributary of the Jordan River. It intersects the mountain range of Gilead and falls into the Jordan on the east about midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Jacob sent his family, his servants and his possessions across the Jabbok but he stayed on the other side.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” Genesis 32:24-26
Wrestling is one of the most physically demanding activities that there is. Wrestling is personal, physically exhausting, and emotionally taxing. Although Jacob was 97 years old, he wrestled through the night. Even when he suffered excruciating pain from having his hip dislocated, he refused to let go of his opponent. With the coming of daylight, Jacob and this mysterious man might be seen by others. Since this significant encounter was to be highly personal, the man said that it was time for Jacob to let go.
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Genesis 32:27
Jacob understood that the man he wrestled with was no ordinary man. The hip is the body’s largest ball-and-socket joint. Surrounding the hip joint are many tough ligaments that prevent the dislocation of the joint. The strong muscles of the hip region also help to hold the hip joint together and prevent dislocation. This man just touched the socket of Jacob’s hip and it was wrenched out of place. This man was not only supernaturally powerful but Jacob understood that the man also had the spiritual authority to bless him.
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Genesis 32:27-28
Names of people in the Bible have great importance. A person’s name may reflect their character or have prophetic significance, while others reflect their faith and gratitude to God.
Jacob whose name means, “heel-grabber” or “usurper” had deceived his father and stolen his brother’s blessing. In spite of being deceived and cheated by Laban for twenty years, Jacob remained faithful to fulfill his end of their work agreement. Jacob’s struggles served to refine his character. His name change reflected his new nature. Israel means “prince of God" or “he who struggles with God.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. Genesis 32:29
Many years later, Manoah the father of Sampson asked the same question.
Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, "What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?" But the angel of the LORD said to him, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" Judges 13:17-18
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” Genesis 32:30
Both Jacob and Sampson’s parents had an encounter with the “Angel of the LORD.” Though Jacob wrestled with a figure that looked like a man, Jacob declared that he saw God face-to-face. Jacob saw the second person of the Godhead – the pre-incarnate Jesus.
Yeshua is the Word of God made flesh. Believers, who are willing to wrestle with the written “Word of God” – the Bible – even if it takes all night, will receive a blessing of revelation and understanding.
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon. Genesis 32:31-32
The problem with the notion that Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the hip is that there are no tendons attached to the hip socket. Although the hip contains ligaments (the fibrous tissues that connects bones to other bones), there are no tendons (the connective tissues which attaches muscle to bone). However, to clear up the matter, according to the rabbis this passage is actually prohibiting the consumption of the sciatic nerve which is contained in the muscles of the thigh and must be removed for the meat to be kosher.
But this passage is much more than about dietary laws. It is about relationship with God. Jacob’s walk was changed. He could no longer run away from troubling circumstances. Jacob could no longer walk ahead of the LORD as he did when he listened to his mother and deceived his father. Jacob’s name, character and walk were changed forever. Yes indeed, he was blessed.