Genesis 32


‘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. 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 favour in your eyes.’ 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 32:1-8

Jacob’s faith in God continues to get stronger, after dealing with Laban and his sons, he now has to face his brother Esau. The last time Esau saw Jacob he told him if he saw him again, he would kill him, Genesis 27:41. And Jacob, be very aware of his brother’s threat went on his way, but he’s met by the angels of God, Hebrews 1:14.

The word ‘Mahanaim’ means two camps, Jacob’s camp which is his family and God’s camp which is the angels surrounding him for protection. In other words, he wasn’t to be afraid of meeting Esau because God was with him and He sent His angels to protect him and his family.

Jacob wants to reconcile with Esau and sends a messenger to tell Esau that he doesn’t want anything from him. Remember that Jacob’s mother told him to stay away from Esau until it was safe to return, Genesis 27:45, but it seems that Jacob never received that message. Jacob is scared and had forgotten about God.

It seems Jacob is honest enough with himself to recognise that he needed to explain his past sins to his brother and so, the offering he makes to Esau is basically an offering seeking forgiveness and to demonstrate his repentance.

Notice that Jacob is greatly afraid and distressed, this is because of what he had done to his brother in the past and so, he must have thought that the 400 men were sent to him as some kind of punishment. His favourite people were at the back so that if anything happened, they could maybe escape.

‘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

Jacob realising that he needs God, prays to God and quotes what God had told him earlier. He obviously knows he and his family couldn’t our run 400 men and so, he turns to the Lord for help and places his trust in Him.

God told him that He would prosper and make his descendants like the sand of the sea, uncountable. Jacob wasn’t worthy to have God do what he did but relied on God to do it for him. As Christians, we too, need to claim God’s promises not because we deserve them but because God promised them.

Jacob’s prayer is answered but his real enemy was his own worldly nature not Esau.

‘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.’ 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 32:13-21

Jacob sends many gifts to Esau and it’s evident that he’s doing everything he can to try and appease what he thought was the coming onslaught from his brother.

He did everything he could to seek forgiveness from his brother so that their relationship could be mended and the two of them can be reconciled.

‘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. 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.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ 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 humans and have overcome.’ Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there. So, Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’ 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 32:22-32

This is surely one of the most amazing and yet very complex text within the Scriptures. This is Jacob’s last night on his own on this side of the place but notice that Jacob wrestled with a man until daybreak.

Who is this man?

Some believe it was God in human form, the Son of God, and others believe it was an angel. Let’s break the text down and look at these two possibilities and then you can make up your own mind.

An Angel

Notice that although Jacob asked for name, the man didn’t give him one. It seems that Jacob came to the conclusion that the man he wrestled with was actually God because, this man knew everything about his past and because he damaged his hip joint with a single touch.

‘In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favour. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there— the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is his name!’ Hosea 12:3-5

Now notice the parallel’s here, Jacob struggled with God, but he struggled with the angel. The way to understand this passage is possible by reminding ourselves, that the word ‘angel’ means a messenger. As an angel he is a representative of God, which would mean that Jacob wrestled with God’s representative and therefore he wrestled with God.

God in the flesh, the Son of God

When we go back to the Genesis account, we see that Jacob wanted a blessing from the man and wanted to know the man’s name. He received the blessing, but not the name. However, Hosea said that Jacob received the blessing, but found the name of his benefactor in Bethel and it was there it was revealed that the blessing came from the Lord God of hosts, Genesis 35:9-15 / Hosea 12:3-5.

It’s because of these parallels that many people believe that Jacob wrestled with the being known as ‘the angel of the Lord.’ It’s certainly possible that this is God the Son who interacted with men in the form of an angel. Notice again, Hosea says he was an angel, Hosea 12:4, and He was God, Hosea 12:3.

It’s possible that Hosea 12:5 is a later answer to Jacob’s question, the Lord is His name. So, it’s reasonably possible to believe that Jacob wrestled with God, in the form of a man.


This is one of those areas where we may never come to a definite answer, in the grand scale of things it doesn’t really matter who this person was who was wrestling with Jacob.

Let’s get back to the text, notice that when Jacob was wrestling with the man, his hip was dislocated, this was to be a permanent reminder to him of this occasion. Kind of like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.

Despite having a dislocated hip, Jacob doesn’t give up and continues to wrestle with the very person he wanted a blessing form Jacob is determined not to let go of the man, he openly admits his name is Jacob which means deceiver and because he wouldn’t give up his name was changed to Israel which means, ‘he struggles with God’.

A name change usually signifies a change of identity and character. When his name is mentioned as Jacob from now on, this is an indication that he’s returning to his old self. When his name is mentioned as Israel from now on, this is an indication that his mind is set on God.

I’m sure we’ve all had times when we struggle in prayer with God to bless us or others around us. Jacob didn’t know exactly who he was struggling with, whether it an angel of God in the flesh but he does name the place, ‘Peniel,’ which means ‘face of God’. He possibly named it this because he didn’t know the man’s name.

This is the first memory from God to Jacob. Not only was his hip dislocated in order for him to remember the occasion, it is dislocated to remind him that this whole wrestling match was real and not some kind of dream of vision.

Notice that Jacob now had a limp, this is the second constant reminder from God, the tendon would not be touched.

This is the turning point of Jacob’s life, he wanted a blessing because he knew now that he needed God. The blessing was the passing of his old life and the coming of his new life. Before any of us can face our enemies, we must first of all, face God.

Go To Genesis 33

Genesis 32  


"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."

Ephesians 2:8