On Genesis, Part 43: Trial and Trepidation


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Genesis 32:1-32

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On Genesis, Part 43: Trial and Trepidation

Before we commence on the next portion of our Genesis commentary, we should have a short digression to illustrate some of the challenges involved in writing a commentary. Discussing Genesis as it is found in the King James Version, it is certainly tedious to explain in detail every reading which differs from other versions, or even from the Septuagint alone. So minor differences in the text of Genesis chapter 31, such as in verses 13 and 24, had been purposely neglected when we discussed that chapter at length. This has probably been the case with many places in Genesis. So while there are others we shall discuss presently, here I will begin with brief examples of these two verses. In verse 13 where Jacob had given his wives the account of how he had gained such a great number of cattle from their father, Yahweh is recorded as having assured him that if he left to return to Beersheba, that “I will be with thee.” Those words are wanting in the Masoretic Text, but the assurance is given in other promises which Yahweh had made to Jacob. In verse 24 where Yahweh had warned Laban not to harm Jacob in a dream, He is recorded as having said to him “Take heed to thyself that thou speak not at any time to Jacob evil things.” In the Masoretic text it is “either good or evil” in that warning. These differences are immaterial in the greater context of the account.

Furthermore, the patterns of the cattle which Jacob had bred are sometimes interpreted differently, or even rather strangely in the Septuagint. For example, where there is a Hebrew word translated as ringstraked in the King James Version, in Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint in verse 35 of Genesis chapter 30 it is white, but it is apparently streaked in verse 39, and speckled in verse 40. Then in chapter 31 it is white again in verse 8, striped in verse 10 and speckled in verse 12. This does not reflect upon Brenton, as there are different Greek words in those places, which were evidently different interpretations of the meaning of the Hebrew word, unless the original manuscripts employed were themselves different – something at which we would not be startled. But since it does not change our interpretation of the meaning of the account, it is not worth the effort which it would require to map out every Hebrew and corresponding Greek word in order to explain in detail every little difference between the ancient texts.

Another particularly odd reading in the Septuagint is found in Genesis 31:41. Where in the King James Version, Jacob tells Laban of how he was mistreated and says “and thou hast changed my wages ten times”, where in the Septuagint we read “and thou didst falsely rate my wages for ten lambs.” There, in the context of the rest of the account, such as where Jacob had explained the same thing to his wives earlier in that chapter, it is evident that in this instance, at least, the Masoretic Text is apparently the better of the two readings. So earlier in that same chapter we read “7 And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me. 8 If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.” There, in verse 7, we did note the variation in the Septuagint, where it also says “for ten lambs” rather than “ten times”. However in the wider context of this account it becomes evident that there were many more than ten lambs at stake. Now where he is about to meet his brother Esau, Jacob prepares a gift for him which consists of “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.”

So with that, it should be evident that Jacob would not have been concerned with Laban for a mere ten lambs, nor did he only receive ten lambs. The Hebrew word מנה or moneh (# 4489) refers “properly [to] something weighed out” and then “figuratively [to] a portion of time, i.e. an instance”. Evidently the ancient Septuagint translators interpreted the term literally, and not figuratively as an instance of time, so Jacob having been a shepherd, they translated the term as lamb. But where Jacob explained the changes in wages in verse 8 of the chapter, it is evident that the King James Version is the better translation. Then where Jacob was able to prepare a gift for Esau which consisted of five hundred and fifty animals, his flocks must have been much much more numerous than that number, and the translation in the King James Version which has “ten times” rather than “ten lambs” is fully vindicated.

Critics of Scripture may exploit these relatively minute differences in order to discredit the text, which they actually do quite often. They also use the many anachronisms employed by Moses in order to discredit the text. They concoct elaborate schemes to account for them in some other way, which themselves are based on poor interpretations of why the text may have been written in the first place. We have already explained that Genesis was written by Moses under the inspiration of Yahweh, in order to facilitate the founding of a Godly Society organized under the laws of Yahweh. For this reason, as we are informed in chapter 19 of the Wisdom of Solomon: “6 For the whole creation within its own race was again perfectly formed from above, serving Your commandments in order that Your sons may be kept unharmed.” There, the “whole creation” is a clear reference to the body of the children of Israel. The truth is that the text is quite reliable, in spite of minor differences, since the vast majority of such differences do not change the actual meanings or intentions of Scripture, and therefore most of the differences are trivial, or even insignificant. The end result is that after nearly 3,500 years, the truth of Moses still shines, it is verified consistently in later Scripture and in history, and it is evident in the world today where it continues to be verified in Christ.

So returning to our Genesis narrative, after having departed from Haran rather surreptitiously, Jacob has already faced his first unexpected trial on the long journey back to Beersheba, where his father-in-law had pursued and accosted him at Gilead, on account of his missing household gods. As we have asserted, Jacob had left surreptitiously because Laban was a greedy man, and Jacob did not trust him to treat him fairly upon his departure. This is verified in the words of Jacob himself, where he had told Laban in Genesis chapter 31 that he left in such a manner “31 … Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.” The Wisdom of Solomon also validates this interpretation of Laban’s character. In chapter 10 of his Wisdom, Solomon gave a rather poetic summary of the key events in the lives of the most important figures of Genesis, without having mentioned any of their names. So he wrote of Jacob’s experience the following: “10 A fugitive from the wrath of his brother, she guided the just man on straight paths, exhibited to him the Kingdom of God and gave to him holy knowledge to prosper him in hardships and multiply the fruits of his labors. 11 In the covetousness of those overpowering him she stood by and enriched him.”

This describes Jacob, who had initially went to Haran to escape the wrath of Esau, as well as to find a wife. Where we read that he was given “holy knowledge” we see that he was able to do what he had done with the flocks through knowledge, and not on account of some miracle, as we have already explained. Then the last passage refers to Laban and his sons, who had also complained to their father of Jacob’s having accumulated wealth, which they wrongly perceived to have been at their father’s expense, in the opening verses of Genesis chapter 31.

Now, of the events which we are about to witness as we discuss Genesis chapter 32, the Wisdom of Solomon had written in that same place, speaking of the Wisdom which is of God, that “12 She protected him from enemies and made him secure from those setting ambush, and in a mighty struggle she decided for him, in order that he would know that piety is most powerful of all things.” This is Solomon’s view of the trials which Jacob shall face as he completes his journey from Mount Gilead to Beersheba.

As we described in our commentary on Genesis chapter 31, Mount Gilead was in the ancient land of Bashan east of the river Jordan, about eighteen miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee. But the route of Jacob’s journey after he departed from Mount Gilead is not entirely clear in many references, because Mount Seir, where Esau is said to have lived, is generally perceived to have been fifty miles south of the southernmost shoreline of the Dead Sea, which is how it is identified on modern maps. While we would prefer to identify Mount Seir with ancient Petra, even Petra is about forty miles south of the same shoreline. In subsequent chapters of Genesis, Jacob is seen passing into Shechem after his encounter with Esau, which is west of the river Jordan and north of the northernmost shore of the Dead Sea. So Jacob certainly could not have gone as far south as the peak which is perceived today to be Mount Seir in the ancient land of Edom, since it is about a hundred and sixty-five miles south of the site of ancient Gilead and far out of his way to travel even to Beersheba.

However it seems that the name “Mount Seir” had originally described not only a particular peak, but the entire range of mountains which extend along the eastern coast of the Dead Sea and into the southern desert as far as the Gulf of Aqaba. Later, this area would become known as the lands of both Moab and Edom. This would help to explain how the Amalekites, a tribe named for Amalek, who was a grandson of Esau, had lived much further north than the traditional location of Seir, which is evident in Numbers chapter 14, Judges chapters 6 and 7, and 1 Samuel chapter 15. The phrase Mount Seir appears in nineteen passages in Scripture. Interestingly, the first time it appears, in Genesis 14:6, the word for mount in Hebrew is the plural form, הררם or harrim, rather than the singular and shortened form הר or har (# 2042) which appears in every other occurrence of the phrase. So at least in that one place, it should have been translated as “mountains of Seir”, or, if we should translate the word Seir rather than reading it as a proper noun, while the word can describe a goat or something hairy, it can also mean rough and Strong’s defines שעיר or Seir (# 8165) as “rough; Seir, a mountain of Idumæa”. The Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon offers a very lengthy definition of the Hebrew word הרר or harar, which is commonly a mountain, and include examples where it also was used to describe a mountain range [1], and that is our contention here, that at this early time in Genesis, the term Mount Seir had a much wider meaning and was used to describe an entire range rather than a single peak.

Because of the path of Jacob’s journey here, where after he meets with Esau he is described as having gone west into Shechem and Bethel long before he is recorded as having seen his father Isaac in Beersheba, this circumstance precludes his having travelled to see Esau as far south as the historical Seir, or the more southern portion which had later become known as the land of Edom. Furthermore, considering the path of Jacob’s journey, if Esau had lived so far south as the historical land of Edom at this time, or the mountain which is now identified as Seir, then, as we shall read in verse 3 of this chapter, Jacob would have had to send his servants as many as a hundred and sixty miles through the mountains in order to have “sent messengers before him”, even if he was not going where Esau is imagined to have been, and that makes no sense. Jacob is not going to Seir and back in order to go west into Shechem from Mount Gilead, especially when Beersheba is only about 80 miles northwest of the mountain now known as Seir. Rather, from the context of this chapter, Esau would had to have been somewhere in the mountains east of the river Jordan and south of the river Jabbok, and not much further south than the point where the river Jabbok turns towards Jericho, which was a likely crossing point for Jacob. So with all of these circumstances, we would insist that the epithet “Mount Seir” was being used here of the entire range of mountains which runs east and south of the Dead Sea.

So with this, we shall commence with our commentary with the opening of Genesis chapter 32:

32:1 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.

Unfortunately, although fragments of verses 3, 4, 29 and 32 of this chapter were preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are evidently not any fragments of these opening verses. So, speaking of differences in the Septuagint, there is a much longer version of this verse, for which Brenton’s translation reads: “1 And Jacob departed for his journey; and having looked up, he saw the host of God encamped; and the angels of God met him.” The reading is quite faithful to the Greek text, which is obviously much longer than the corresponding Hebrew. But the Latin Vulgate agrees with the Masoretic Text, where it very closely corresponds to its shorter version.

While we are never informed of anything beyond the identification of these men as “angels of God”, there have been other angels in Genesis, such as the men who had been with Abraham in Hebron and who had departed for Sodom, precipitating the destruction of the cities of the plain. However we are not informed as to whether any of these angels are also the apparent angel with whom Jacob is compelled to wrestle in the closing verses of this chapter.

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

The Hebrew word for host here is מחנה or machaneh (# 4264), which is an encampment. The word for Mahanaim, מחנים or machanim (# 4266) is a masculine plural form of the word translated as host, interpreted as a dual form and defined as “double camp” in Strong’s original Concordance.

The account in these first two verses seems to be surreal. It is Jacob’s perception that “this is God’s host”, and the words of Moses as he begins the description in verse 1 certainly agrees. But perhaps the encounter also presents to Jacob the concept of what he himself had actually done leading up to his coming encounter with his brother Esau, which is to split his own people into two camps. So these angels may well have represented a vision used by Yahweh to relate a message to Jacob. The “angels of God” are a vision representing Jacob’s own people, and the two camps are what he now does with them. So here, we are not asserting that Jacob did not actually see these things, but that he saw them for a reason, that he would have an example from them.

So now we find that Jacob had planned to meet with his brother Esau:

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

The translation of the phrase “land of Seir” is quite literal, the Septuagint translation also agrees, and this account makes it evident that the “land of Seir” at this time must have extended much further north in the time of Jacob and Esau than what is generally perceived today.

At the time when Jacob had left Haran, we read in the closing verse of Genesis chapter 32 that: “43 … the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.” So these messengers were not the angels of the first verse of this chapter, which is the same Hebrew word מלאך or malak (# 4397), but rather, they must have been men whom Jacob had chosen from among his own servants for the purpose of performing this task.

As we have already suggested, the reference to the “country of Edom” is an anachronism at this time. Esau had only been married and having children for about fifty years at this point, as he began to take his wives at the age of forty, and now he is about ninety. So he could not yet have had so many descendants that they could occupy all of what was known as the “land of Seir”. However as we shall see in Genesis chapter 36, Esau and his descendants did incorporate at least many of the Hurrians, or Horites, of Mount Seir into their own family, so with all of his race-mixing, along with the customary polygamy, his numbers may have grown more rapidly than we may expect. In any event, here Moses first identifies this land as Seir, and that would have been its more familiar name in the time in which Jacob and Esau had actually lived. That familiar name in the time of which Moses had written here certainly may have had a much wider use than it did in later, more historical times.

Most modern Bible maps today assign all of the land east of the Dead Sea to the kingdom of Moab, excepting the northerly portion which was later taken by Israel. But at this time, Moab, the son of Lot with his own daughter, also must have been quite small, since he was approximately around the same age as Isaac, the father of Jacob and Esau. Later, in Genesis chapter 36, we read of a king of Edom who had been only a few generations removed from Esau, who was credited with having “smote Midian in the field of Moab” (36:35), where it is evident that Moab had not yet fully emerged as its own kingdom, and that the Edomites were not far off.

Where Moses wrote that “Jacob sent messengers before him”, he must have understood that Jacob had planned on going in the same direction to where he had sent the messengers, and since he was going to cross the Jordan north of the Dead Sea to enter into the area of Shechem, he had no need to travel any further south than the latitude of Jericho. So it seems that he hoped to meet Esau in that general area, and Esau had most likely lived in the mountains not too far south of there. In Genesis chapter 25, the Ishmaelites are described as having lived “from Havilah unto Shur” (25:18) and in 1 Samuel chapter 15, the Amalekites, who had descended from Esau, are described as having dwelt in that same place (15:7). They even must have once had a presence in the land of Ephraim, as there is a “mount of the Amalekites” mentioned in Ephraim, Judges chapter 12 (12:15). So the Edomites east of the Dead Sea dwelt in a much wider area than the later land of Edom, and where Moses had written “country of Edom” here, he certainly may have had that larger area in mind.

Now Jacob instructs his servants:

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.

Esau must have been close by where Jacob was planning to pass through to cross the river Jordan. That Jacob had just departed from Mount Gilead when he had done these things is evident below, in verse 22, where he crosses the river Jabbok. This river is mentioned later in Scripture, and in ancient times it was the border between Moab and Ammon, mentioned in Deuteronomy chapters 2 and 3 where it becomes part of the lands east of the Jordan which were taken by certain tribes of Israel. The next river south, which empties into the Dead Sea itself, is the river Arnon, which became the northern border of Moab after the conquests of Israel, and which is the modern Wadi Mujib in the language of the arab bastards who remain there today.

As we had discussed when Laban had pursued Jacob and found him in Mount Gilead about ten days after he had departed from Haran, Jacob was able to travel at least 350 miles in that time, and the route is longer by land so perhaps he travelled as many as 40 miles a day. From this point in the narrative, Jacob spent two days before he had crossed the river Jabbok, and his servants had already returned to him. From this point Jacob lodged two nights, but on the second night he arose and sent his family over the river Jabbok. Doing that, he had been ambushed by a man who was apparently an angel, and he wrestled with him until dawn. On the third day he encountered Esau after he himself had crossed the Jabbok.

The river Jabbok is only about 25 miles south of the location of Mount Gilead at the closest point at which Jacob may have crossed it travelling south. But if he took a more westerly route, as the river itself winds south and west, perhaps he crossed it at a point about 32 miles south of Gilead. Therefore, the point where Jacob had wrestled with the angel was no more than 32 miles from where he had departed from Gilead, and in the opening verses of chapter 33, he met Esau not far beyond that point. Therefore the portion of Seir in which Esau had dwelt could not have been far beyond that point, since Jacob’s messengers must have returned to him within a day or so, and Jacob had time to divide his cattle and his family during his journey from Gilead to the river Jabbok, which had taken about two days.

It must have been appropriate for Jacob, who passed through this land on his way to Canaan, to send to Esau and inform him of his presence. Such a large number of cattle passing through a strange land could not have gone unnoticed, and if Jacob were discovered by Esau, who must have lived within relative proximity of the land through which Jacob was going to travel, he would have invited his wrath if he had not sent to him. So it was only proper to send to him in advance, and hope to have his mercy and safe passage to Canaan. But if Esau had lived a hundred and fifty miles further south, Jacob would have had absolutely no reason to send that far, and if he had, his messengers would have had to take a considerably longer time to make such a journey and return, perhaps as long as a week rather than a mere day or so.

So now they are portrayed as having returned in a very brief time from when they had been sent:

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.

If Jacob stopped for long and waited for his messengers, he could not have stopped far from Gilead, and if he did not stop, then he himself could not have traveled far before they returned. Now he will lodge one night, and then divide a gift for Esau from his flock and send it on ahead of him. Then he will lodge a second night, and meet Esau the following morning. So Esau must have been very close to where he had planned on turning west for the land of Canaan, as he is now heading south to the river Jabbok.

But upon hearing the news from his servants, Jacob is filled with trepidation:

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.

Here Jacob became fearful only when he had heard how many men Esau would gather, or even could gather, to come to meet him, so it seems that his own servants could not have been nearly as numerous. Of course, Jacob must have remembered the vow which Esau had made after he himself had acquired the blessing from his father, where we read in Genesis chapter 27: “41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob. 42 And these words of Esau her elder son were told to Rebekah: and she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said unto him, Behold, thy brother Esau, as touching thee, doth comfort himself, purposing to kill thee.”

So after his initial trepidation, where he divided his people and his goods into two camps, he turns to Yahweh his God and prays, and once again expresses his fear:

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.

In that prayer, the reference to passing over the Jordan must be a description of Jacob’s journey to Haran at the start, and then the declaration that “now I am become two bands” is a recognition of the blessings which Yahweh God had already bestowed upon him. Then the prayer ends as Jacob invoked the promises which he had received from Yahweh, praying that Yahweh will remember and uphold those promises. Jacob’s prayer is a demonstration of his humility, as he does not deem himself to be worthy of mercy or of truth, but he had nevertheless invoked the promises hoping that he would be delivered on account of them, and not on account of any merit or deeds of his own.

This leaves another aspect of Jacob’s journey home which we have not yet discussed, but which we shall now mention in advance of things we shall encounter in Genesis chapters 33 and 34. Up to this point we have anticipated that Jacob is intent on returning to Beersheba, as even here he repeats what Yahweh had initially told him, to “Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred”, a command which was first given him by God in the opening of Genesis chapter 31. So since Isaac still lives in Beersheba, as far as we can know, and since he is the only true kindred which Jacob has in Canaan, which is his country, we must still assume that he is intent on returning to Beersheba. But in Genesis chapter 33 he enters into Shechem, far north of Beersheba, and he evidently tarries there for some years before Isaac is ever again mentioned. Then, for reasons which are never explained in Scripture, when Isaac is finally mentioned he is dwelling in Hebron, and not in Beersheba. So perhaps once Jacob settled in Shechem, there was intercourse between himself and his father, as his father had already moved north, but none of it is recorded in Scripture.

The nights here seem to be mentioned for a reason, and perhaps to indicate for us how far Esau had been from Mount Gilead and the river Jabbok, which Jacob had reached on a second night.

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.

In the message which Jacob had sent to Esau when he was first about to travel in this direction from Gilead, Jacob had called himself Esau’s servant, and had deferred to him as his lord, using the Hebrew word אדון, adon or adown (# 113), which is a title of respect meaning lord or master. This same language was used earlier by Abraham, in reference to himself and his own visitors, in the opening verses of Genesis chapter 18. So the words are only deferential expressions of respect which Jacob had extended to his older brother, even if he is only no more than a few minutes older.

Since it seems to have been customary for men to offer a tithe to those to whom they would offer such respect, as Abraham had tithed the king of Salem in Genesis chapter 14, we may imagine that this number of animals probably represents what Jacob had estimated to have been about a tenth of his flock, even if the concept is not expressed here explicitly.

Now Jacob instructed his servants concerning this gift for Esau:

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. 19 And so commanded he the second, and the third, and all that followed the droves, saying, On this manner shall ye speak unto Esau, when ye find him.

This manner of Jacob’s having offered these gifts to his brother was ostensibly a product of the trepidation which he had before meeting with him. But perhaps Jacob would have offered the gifts themselves regardless of any trepidation, or even if Esau had come with only a few men. So he explained his purpose to his servants accordingly:

20 And say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us. For he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept of me.

Here it is fully evident that Jacob was hoping to soften the heart of his brother with his offering. But when the two had actually met, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 33, it is evident that over time Esau’s wrath had greatly subsided, if he had remembered it at all.

Now a second night is mentioned:

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

Evidently the word “over” indicates that the servants who had the animals comprising the gift for Esau had forded the Jabbok river before Jacob lodged for the night. The Hebrew word עבר or abar (# 5674), which primarily means “to cross over”, as it is in Strong’s original Concordance, is “went … over” here and “passed over” in the verse which follows:

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.

The river Jabbok may be identified with the modern Zarqa River. In Numbers chapter 21 we read: “24 And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon: for the border of the children of Ammon was strong.” So the portion of the land of Moab which was taken from Sihon, the king of the Amorites by Israel had its southern border at the river Arnon, the modern Wadi Mujib, and its northern border at the river Jabbok, the modern Zarqa river, and that is the river which Jacob is about to cross here.

So here Jacob is in the land which would belong to Ammon, which would also come to belong to Israel. Traveling south from Gilead, the river Jabbok is to his east, but the river makes a sharp turn west, the portion which Jacob will cross over to get to Canaan, and it ends where it runs into the river Jordan. The stretch of the river Jabbok which runs towards the Jordan is about thirty-two miles south of the approximate site of the ancient Mount Gilead, but one part of it a little further east is only twenty-five miles south, as the river takes several turns. It runs into the river Jordan at a point about twenty four miles north of the northernmost shore of the Dead Sea, which is about thirty-five miles south of where Jacob had departed from Mount Gilead. While we do not know precisely where Jacob would cross the Jordan, it is south of the river Jabbok, and the closer he is to the site of ancient Jericho, the less mountainous the point of crossing becomes.

Why Jacob felt that he had to cross his family and the balance of his servants, goods and cattle over the river at night cannot be determined. They must have had some rest, so perhaps it is after midnight, or even a little later by the time he finishes. Now for some other unknown reason, he is by himself and is compelled to wrestle with another man for at least some hours:

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

As we have already cited from chapter 10 of the Wisdom of Solomon, this was characterized as an ambush of Jacob, where we read in Wisdom chapter 10 that “12 She protected him from enemies and made him secure from those setting ambush, and in a mighty struggle she decided for him, in order that he would know that piety is most powerful of all things.” This man with whom Jacob wrestles is apparently an angel, and not an enemy of God, but in this context the angel can be seen as having been Jacob’s enemy, as he is adversarial to him although in the end he justifies him.

Jacob persevered in the face of this enemy, even if he could not defeat him outright:

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

Often the Hebrew word for touch, נגע or naga (# 5060) has a much stronger connotation, such as to strike something violently, as Strong’s had also included in the definition of the word in his original Concordance. So the action of the man here, or the angel, is not necessarily supernatural, and may have been mere skill. Yet on the other hand, the man acts as if he is speaking for God, Jacob himself even perceives him to be God, or at least, a god, and therefore he is apparently an angel of God. Yet even after he injured Jacob, he had to plead with Jacob to let him go, so Jacob had demanded a blessing. Ostensibly, if the man blessed Jacob, that was an assurance that he would not cause him harm once Jacob had released him, because he had blessed him. So the angel answers:

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.

Here this angel considers himself to be a man, as the language implies, “thou hast power with God and with men”. But the phrase “hast power” is from a Hebrew word שרה or serah, which is the same word from which the name of Jacob’s grandmother Sarah was derived, and it means to prevail, according to Strong’s Concordance, but more fully, according to the Brown, Driver Briggs lexicon, it is to persist or persevere, citing this passage among others. So in their definition, they first cite Hosea 12:3 where we read, and where it is also speaking of Jacob: “3 He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: 4 Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us”. There they make a note of the phrase in which this same word appears, and is translated as power where it says “had power with God” in the King James Version, and they provide an alternative reading: “he persevered with God”, and cite this passage along with it. [2] So here we would translate the word in that same manner, “for as a prince hast thou persevered with God and with men”.

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.

The angel would not reveal his name, which may further persuade us that this was indeed an angel of Yahweh God, as it says in Hosea, sent forth to try Jacob at this point, and also to convey to him yet another lesson. The word for God in verse 28 is the plural form אלהים or elohim (# 430) in the form of a plural of majesty or majestic plural, which is the use of a plural form to describe a singular entity in order to magnify its honor. So the term certainly refers to Yahweh here and not to some other supposed god or idol of men.

Furthermore, the man must have been an angel of God, since he uttered a prophecy which remained and which was employed by Yahweh God, where he had changed Jacob’s name to Israel. The Hebrew word ישראל or Israel is a phrase which Strong’s defines as “he will rule as God”, but that is arguable. Brown, Driver, Briggs define it as “Let God persist” or “Let God contend”, using the term El rather than God, and those definitions are also arguable. But as Brown, Driver Briggs properly has it, the root of the name Israel is the same word, שרה or serah, which is to persist or prevail. [3] The letter yodh as a prefix means “he”, as it is in the name of Isaac which means “he laughs”. So we would define Israel as “he prevails with God”, or perhaps as “he persists with God”, which is how the angel that had first uttered it had defined it where he said, as we would translate the clause, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou prevailed with God and with men”. Defining the name, we would rather believe the man, or angel, who had first uttered it and gave it a meaning. The Word of God in Scripture, which the angel certainly represents in this instance, is a higher authority than the lexicons.

We are not given the substance of the blessing, and where Jacob responds, the angel is not necessarily present:

30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. 31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.

The two spellings here, Peniel and Penuel, are puzzling, since the words come from the same Hebrew term, פנואל or penuel (# 6439), which is literally face of God. The word Peniel is not seen again in Scripture in the King James Version, but Penuel is the name of a place, evidently this very place, which is also later mentioned in the account of Gideon in Judges chapter 8. But if the letter vav (ו) in Penuel is mistaken for a yodh (י), which it often is, then Peniel would be the resulting error.

Furthermore, the King James Version translators seem to have confused Penuel for the name of the river, rather than for the name of the place along the river where Jacob had wrestled with the angel. He is not passing over Penuel, but he is passing over the river Jabbok at Penuel, so a preposition would have been in order even if there is no preposition in the original. But here there is a preposition, as Penuel is prefixed with the Hebrew word את or eth (# 853) which is often not translatable, but which may indeed also serve as a preposition meaning with, or, according to Brown, Driver, Briggs, “of localities … describing a site …” it may mean near, by, towards or bedside. [4] So here we would insist that “he passed over at Penuel”, since Jacob must have passed over the river Jabbok near the place which he had named Penuel.

Now the injury to his thigh would be commemorated among his children:

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.

Rather than the hollow of the thigh, the Septuagint has “broad part of the thigh”, as Brenton translated the phrase. The Hebrew word translated as hollow, כף or kaph (# 3709) which is literally a hand or palm, but which has several other uses that seem ambiguous in this context, one of them being a hollow like a bowl. We may conjecture that this refers to the inside of the thigh near the groin, but it could also possibly refer to the outside of the thigh where it joins to the hip.

The word translated as “shrank” here is problematical, because some lexicons, including both Brown, Driver, Briggs [5], and Gesenius [6], translate it as hip, or define it as a nerve or vein in the thigh, which certainly seems to be incorrect. The Hebrew word נשה or nasheh (# 5384) is from a verb of the same spelling (# 5382) which Strong’s defines as “to forget; figuratively to neglect”, among other uses, and therefore he defines the adjective here as “from 5382, in the sense of failure; rheumatic or crippled”, citing this passage. This is the only place in Scripture in which this word occurs. To abstain from eating a vein, a sinew, or some other portion of a thigh which is not normally eaten is not a sacrifice in observance of this injury, and therefore it would not even be mentioned here. Rather, we must agree with Strong’s definition of the word, that this part of Jacob’s thigh, whichever part it is to which the text actually refers, had become crippled, and where the King James Version has shrank, we would prefer to read crippled.

Now we must make a summary observation. Consistently throughout his entire life, Jacob was a humble man who waited on God and never did anything of his own volition unless he was compelled to do it. So he suffered not being married until he was nearly eighty years old, and he suffered Laban until the day that Yahweh told him he should be delivered. Here he had fought with the angel, but only because the angel had evidently given him no other choice. A lesser man, a coward, may have run out on Laban, or perhaps would have turned with his family and cattle and gone to Canaan another way when he had heard that Esau was coming with four hundred men. A lesser man would have complained and begged the angel, but Jacob persisted and the angel was compelled to beg him instead. Surely the angel may have prevailed if he so desired, but the example was made and the trial was therefore sufficient. Jacob persisted, or prevailed, with Yahweh his God because he faced his trials and he did his best to overcome them without quitting or even without crying about them.

As the vision of the angels in the two camps had also seemed to have served as a suggestion to Jacob whereby he was compelled to split his own people into two camps on account of his trepidation over meeting Esau, the conclusion of this trial with the angel also seems to have served as a suggestion for something which Jacob would later say to Esau, where upon meeting him and having been treated kindly we read, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 33: “10 And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me.”

Esau may have been a worldly, sinful man, but he was a son of Abraham and made in the image of Yahweh. So there is a pattern here, where daily events in Jacob’s life would help to prepare him for whatever trial he would next face, and perhaps he should learn from those experiences that he should not have had any trepidation.

Footnotes:

1 The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, 2021, pp. 249-250.

2 ibid., p. 975.

3 ibid.

4 ibid., p. 86.

5 ibid., pp. 674-675.

6 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Baker Books, 1979, p. 570.

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