Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 2: Genesis, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
1. Postea Iahacob abiit in viam suam, et occurrerunt ei Angeli Dei.
2. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
2. Et dixit Iahacob, quando vidit eos, Castra Dei sunt haec: et vocavit nomen loci illius Mahanaim.
3. And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
3. Misit autem Iahacob nuntios ante se ad Esau fratrem suum ad terram Sehir in regionem 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:
4. Et praecepit eis dicendo, Sic dicentis domino meo Esau, Sic dixit servus tuus Iahacob, Cum Laban havitavi et moratus sum huc usque.
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.
5. Et sunt mihi boves et asini, pecudes et servi, et ancillae, et misi ut nuntiarem domino meo, ut invenirem gratiam in oculis tuis.
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.
6. Reversi autem sunt nuntii ad Iahacob, dicendo, Venimus ad fratrem tuum, ad Essau, et etiam pergit in occursum tuum, et quadringenti viri cum eo.
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;
7. Et timuit Iahacob valde, et angustiis affectus est; et divisit populum, qui erat secum, et pecudes, et boves, et camelos in duas turmas.
8. And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.
8. Dixit enim, Si veniret Essau ad turmam unam, et percusserit eam, turma, quae remanserit, evadet.
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:
9. Et dixit Iahacob, Deus patris mei Abraham, et Deus patris mei Ishac, Domine, qui dixisti ad me, Revertere ad terram tuam et cognationem tuam, et benefaciam tibi.
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.
10. Minor sum cunctis misericordiis, et omni veritate, quam fecisti cum servo tuo: quai in baculo meo transivi Iordanem hunc, et nunc factus sum in duas turmas.
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.
11. Erue me nunc de manu fratris mei, de manu Esau: timeo enim eum, ne ferte veniat, et percutiat me, matremque cum filiis.
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.
12. Et tu dixisti, Benefaciendo benefaciam tibi, et ponam semen tuum sicut arenam maris, quae non numeratur prae multitudine.
13. And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother;
13. Et pernoctavit ibi nocte ipsa, et accepit ex iis, quae occurrebant ad manum suam, manus mittendum ad Esau fratrem suum.
14. Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams,
14. Capras ducentas et hircos viginti, oves ducentas et arietes viginti:
15. Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals.
15. Camelos lactantes, et pullos earum triginta: vaccas quadraginta, et juvencos decem: asinas viginti, et pullos decem.
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.
16. Et dedit in manum servorum suorum, singulos greges seorsum: dixitque ad servos suos, Transite ante me, et interstitium ponetis inter gregem et gregem.
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?
17. Et praecepit primo, dicendo, Si occurrerrit tibi Esau frater meus, et interrogaverit to, dicendo, Cujus es, et quo pergis, et cujus sunt ista ante to?
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.
18. Dices, Servi tui Iahacob munus est, missum ad dominum meum Esau: et ecce etiam ipse est post nos.
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.
19. Praecepit etiam secundo, etiam tertio, etiam cunctis pergentibus post greges, dicendo, Secundum verbum hoc loquemini ad Esau, quando invenietis eum.
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.
20. Et dicetis etiam, Ecce servus tuus Iahacob est post nos: dixit enim, Placabo faciem ejus munere, quod vadit ante me, et postea videbo faciem ejus, si forte suscipiat faciem meam.
21. So went the present over before him: and himself lodged that night in the company.
21. Transivit itaque munus ante eum: et ipse pernoctavit nocte ipsa cum turma.
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.
22. Et surrexit nocte ipsa, et accepit duas uxores suas, et duas ancillas suas, et undecim liberos suos, et transivit vadum Jaboc.
23. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.
23. Et accepit eos, et transire fecit eos torrentem, transire, inquam, fecit omnia quae erant sibi.
24. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
24. Porro remansit Iahacob solus ipse: et luctatus est vir cum eo, donec ascendit aurora.
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.
25. Et vidit quod non praevaleret ei, et tetigit palam femoris ejus, et movit se pala femoris Iahacob, luctante illo cum eo.
26. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
26. Tunc dixit, Dimitte me, quia ascendit aurora. Cui respondit, Non dimittam to, nisi benedixeris mihi.
27. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
27. Et dixit ad eum, Quod est nomen tuum? Et ait, Iahacob.
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.
28. Tunc dixit, Non Iahacob dicetur ultra nomen tuum, sed Israel: quia princeps fuisti cum Deo, et hominibus praevalebis.
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.
29. Et interrogavit Iahacob, et dixit, Indica, quaeso, nomen tuum. Et dixit, Utquid interrogas de nomine meo? et benedixit ei illic.
30. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
30. Vocavit ergo Iahacob nomen loci, Peniel: quia vidi Deum facie ad faciem, et evasit anima mea.
31. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
31. Et ortus est ei sol, quando transivit Penuel, et claudicabat in femore suo.
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.
32. Idciro non comedunt filii Israel nervum contractionis, qui est in pala femoris, usque ad diem hanc: quia tetigit palam femoris Iahacob in nervo contractionis.
1. And Jacob went on his way. After Jacob has escaped from the hands of his father-in-law, that is, from present death, he meets with his brother, whose cruelty was as much, or still more, to be dreaded; for by the threats of this brother he had been driven from his country; and now no better prospect lies before him. He therefore proceeds with trepidation, as one who goes to the slaughter. Seeing, however, it was scarcely possible but that he should sink oppressed by grief, the Lord affords him timely succor; and prepares him for this conflict, as well as for others, in such a manner that he should stand forth a brave and invincible champion in them all. Therefore, that he may know himself to be defended by the guardianship of God, angels go forth to meet him, arranged in ranks on both sides. Hebrew interpreters think that the camp of the enemy had been placed on one side; and that the angels, or rather God, stood on the other. But it is much more probable, that angels were distributed in two camps on different sides of Jacob, that he might perceive himself to be everywhere surrounded and fortified by celestial troops; as in Ps 34:7, it is declared that angels, to preserve the worshippers of God, pitch their tents around them. Yet I am not dissatisfied with the opinion of those who take the dual number simply for the plural; understanding that Jacob was entirely surrounded with an army of angels. Now the use of this vision was twofold; for, first, since the holy man was very anxious about the future, the Lord designed early to remove this cause of terror from him; or, at least, to afford him some alleviation, lest he should sink under temptation. Secondly, God designed, when Jacob should have been delivered from his brother, so to fix the memory of the past benefit in his mind, that it should never be lost. We know how prone men are to forget the benefits of God. Even while God is stretching out his hand to help them, scarcely one out of a hundred raises his eyes towards heaven. Therefore it was necessary that the visible protection of God should be placed before the eyes of the holy man; so that, as in a splendid theater, he might perceive that he had been lately delivered, not by chance, out of the hand of Laban; but that he had the angels of God fighting for him; and might certainly hope, that their help would be ready for him against the attempts of his brother; and finally, that, when the danger was surmounted, he might remember the protection he had received from them. This doctrine is of use to us all, that we may learn to mark the invisible presence of God in his manifested favors. Chiefly, however, it was necessary that the holy man should be furnished with new weapons to endure the approaching contest. He did not know whether his brother Esau had been changed for the better or the worse. But he would rather incline to the suspicion that the sanguinary man would devise nothing but what was hostile. Therefore the angels appear for the purpose of confirming his faith in future, not less than for that of calling past favors to his remembrance. The number of these angels also encourages him not a little: for although a single angel would suffice as a guardian for us, yet the Lord acts more liberally towards us. Therefore they who think that each of us is defended by one angel only, wickedly depreciate the kindness of God. And there is no doubt that the devil, by this crafty device, has endeavored, in some measure, to diminish our faith. The gratitude of the holy man is noted by Moses, in the fact that he assigns to the place a name, (Galeed,) as a token of perpetual remembrance.
3. And Jacob sent messengers. It now happened, by the providence of God, that Esau, having left his father, had gone to Mount Seir of his own accord; and had thus departed from the land of promise, by which means the possession of it would remain void for the posterity of Jacob, without slaughter among brethren. For it was not to be believed that he had changed his habitation, either because he was compelled by his father’s command, or because he was willing to be accounted inferior to his brother. I rather conjecture that he had become greatly enriched, and that this induced him to leave his father’s house. For we know that profane persons and men of this world so vehemently pant for present advantages, that when anything offers itself in accordance with their desire, they are hurried towards it with a brutish impetuosity. Esau was imperious and ferocious; he was incensed against his mother; had shaken off all reverence for his father, and knew that he was himself also obnoxious to them both: his wives were engaged in incessant contentions; it seemed to him hard and troublesome, to be in the condition of a child in the family, when he was now advancing to old age; for proud men do not regard themselves as free, so long as any one has the preeminence over them. Therefore, in order to pass his life free from the authority of others, he chose to live in a state of separation from his father; and, allured by this attraction, he disregarded the promised inheritance, and left the place for his brother. I have said that this was done by the divine will: for God himself declares by Malachi, that it was by a species of banishment that Esau was led to Mount Seir. (Mal 1:3) 101 For although he departed voluntarily, yet, by the secret counsel of God was he deprived of that land which he had earnestly desired. But, attracted by the present lust of dominion, he was blinded in his choice; since the land of Seir was mountainous and rugged, destitute of fertility and pleasantness. Moreover, he would appear to himself a great man, in giving his own name to the country. Nevertheless, it is probable that Moses called that country the land of Edom by the figure prolepsis, because it afterwards began to be so called. The question now occurs, Whence did Jacob know that his brother dwelt in that region? Though I assert nothing as certain; yet the conjecture is probable, that he had been informed of it by his mother; for, in the great number of her servants, a faithful messenger would not be wanting. And it is easily gathered from the words of Moses, that Jacob, before he had entered the land, knew the fact respecting the new residence of his brother. And we know that many things of this kind were omitted by Moses, which may easily suggest themselves to the mind of the reader.
4. Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau. Moses here relates the anxiety of Jacob to appease his brother. For this suppliant deprecation was extorted only by great and severe torture of mind. It seems, however, to be an absurd submission, whereby he cedes to his brother that dominion for which he had contended at the hazard of his life. For if Esau has the primogeniture, what does Jacob reserve for himself? For what end did he bring upon himself such hatred, expose himself to such dangers, and at length endure twenty years of banishment, if he does not refuse to be in subjection to his brother? I answer, that though he gives up the temporal dominion, he yields nothing of his right to the secret benediction. He knows that the effect of the divine promise is still suspended: and therefore, being content with the hope of the future inheritance, he does not hesitate, at present, to prefer his brother in honor to himself, and to profess himself his brother’s servant. Nor was there anything feigned in these words; because he was willing to bear his brother on his shoulders; so that he might not lose his own future right, which was as yet concealed.
5. I have oxen. Jacob does not proclaim his riches for the sake of boasting, but that by this method Esau might be inclined to humanity. For it would have been exceedingly disgraceful, cruelly to drive away one who had been enriched, by the favor of God, in a distant land. Besides, he cuts off occasion of future emulation: for if he had come empty and famishing, Esau might conceive fresh indignation against him, through fear of the expense which might be entailed on himself. Therefore Jacob declares, that he does not come for the purpose of consuming his father’s substance, nor of being made rich by his brother’s ruin: as if he had said, “Let thy earthly inheritance be secure; thy claim shall not be injured by me; only suffer me to live.” By this example we are taught in what way we are to cultivate peace with the wicked. The Lord does not indeed forbid us to defend our own right, so far as our adversaries allow; but we must rather recede from that right, than originate contention by our own fault.
6. And the messengers returned. Esau advances to meet his brother with a feeling of benevolence: but Jacob, reflecting on his cruel ferocity, inflated spirits, and savage threats, expects no humanity from him. And the Lord willed that the mind of his servant should be oppressed by this anxiety for a time, although without any real cause, in order the more to excite the fervor of his prayer. For we know what coldness, on this point, security engenders. Therefore, lest our faith, being stirred up by no stimulants, should become torpid, God often suffers us to fear things which are not terrible in themselves. For although he anticipates our wishes, and opposes our evils, he yet conceals his remedies until he has exercised our faith. Meanwhile it is to be noted, that the sons of God are never endued with a constancy so steadfast, that the infirmity of the flesh does not betray itself in them. For they who fancy that faith is exempt from all fear, have had no experience of the true nature of faith. For God does not promise that he will be present with us for the purpose of removing the sense of our dangers, but in order that fear may not prevail, and overwhelm us in despair. Moreover our faith is never so firm at every point, as to repel wicked doubts and sinful fears, in the way that might be wished.
7. And he divided the people. Moses relates that Jacob formed his plans according to the existing state of affairs. He divides his family into two parts, 102 and puts his maids in the foremost place, that they may bear the first assault, if necessary; but he places his free wives further from the danger. Hence indeed we gather, that Jacob was not so overcome with fear as to be unable to arrange his plans. We know that when a panic seizes the mind, it is deprived of discretion; and they who ought to look after their own concerns, become stupid and inanimate. Therefore it proceeded from the spirit of faith that Jacob interposed a certain space between the two parts of his family, in order that if any destruction approached, the whole seed of the Church might not perish. For by this scheme, he offered the half of his family to the slaughter, that, at length, the promised inheritance might come to the remainder who survived.
9. O God of my father Abraham. Having arranged his affairs as the necessity of the occasion suggested, he now retakes himself to prayer. And this prayer is evidence that the holy man was not so oppressed with fear as to prevent faith from proving victorious. For he does not, in a hesitating manner, commend himself and his family to God; but trusting both to God’s promises and to the benefits already received, he casts his cares and his troubles into his heavenly Father’s bosom. We have declared before, what is the point aimed at in assigning these titles to God; in calling God the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac, and what the terms mean; namely, that since men are so far removed from God, that they cannot, by their own power, ascend to his throne, he himself comes down to the faithful. God in thus calling himself the God of Abraham and Isaac, graciously invites their son Jacob to himself: for, access to the God of his fathers was not difficult to the holy man. Again, since the whole world had sunk under superstition, God would have himself to be distinguished from all idols, in order that he might retain an elect people in his own covenant. Jacob, therefore, in expressly addressing God as the God of his fathers, places fully before himself the promises given to him in their person, that he may not pray with a doubtful mind, but may securely rely on this stay, that the heir of the promised blessing will have God propitious towards him. And indeed we must seek the true rule of prayer in the word of God, that we may not rashly break through to Him, but may approach him in the manner in which he has revealed himself to us. This appears more clearly from the adjoining context, where Jacob, recalling the command and promise of God to memory, is supported as by two pillars. Certainly the legitimate method of praying is, that the faithful should answer to God who calls them; and thus there is such a mutual agreement between his word and their vows, that no sweeter and more harmonious symphony can be imagined. “O Lord,” he says, “I return at thy command: thou also didst promise protection to me returning; it is therefore right that thou shouldest become the guide of my journey.” This is a holy boldness, when, having discharged our duty according to God’s calling, we familiarly ask of him whatsoever he has promised; since he, by binding himself gratuitously to us, becomes in a sense voluntarily our debtor. But whoever, relying on no command or promise of God, offers his prayers, does nothing but cast vain and empty words into the air. This passage gives stronger confirmation to what has been said before, that Jacob did not falsely pretend to his wives, that God had commanded him to return. For if he had then spoken falsely, no ground of hope would now be left to him. But he does not scruple to approach the heavenly tribunal with this confidence, that he shall be protected by the hand of God, under whose auspices he had ventured to return to the land of Canaan.
10. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies 103 Although this expression sounds harsh to Latin ears, the sense is not obscure. Jacob confesses, that greater mercies of God had been heaped upon him than he had dared to hope for: and therefore, far be it from him that he should plead anything of dignity or merit, for the purpose of obtaining what he asks. He therefore says, that he is less than God’s favors; because he felt himself to be unworthy of those excellent gifts which the Lord had so liberally bestowed upon him. Moreover, that the design of the holy patriarch may more clearly appear, the craft of Satan is to be observed: for, in order to deter us from praying, through a sense of our unworthiness, he would suggest to us this thought, “Who art thou that thou shouldst dare to enter into the presence of God?” Jacob early anticipates this objection, in declaring beforehand that he is unworthy of God’s former gifts, and at the same time acknowledges that God is not like men, in ever becoming weary to continue and increase his acts of kindness. Meanwhile, Jacob collects materials for confidence from the fact, that he has so often found God benignant towards him. Therefore, he had a double end in view; first, because he wished to counteract the distrust which might steal upon him in consequence of the magnitude of God’s gifts; and then, he turns those gifts to a different purpose, to assure himself that God would be the same to him that he had hitherto been. He uses two words, mercies and truth, to show that God is inclined by his mere goodness to benefit us; and in this way proves his own faithfulness. This combination of mercy with truth frequently occurs in the Scriptures, to teach us that all good things flow to us through the gratuitous favor of God; but that we are made capable of receiving them, when by faith we embrace his promises.
For with my staff 104 Jacob does not enumerate separately the mercies of God, but under one species comprises the rest; namely, that whereas he had passed over Jordan, a poor and solitary traveler, he now returns rich, and replenished with abundance. The antithesis between a staff and two troops is to be noticed; in which he compares his former solitude and poverty with his present affluence.
11. Deliver me. After he has declared himself to be bound by so many of God’s benefits that he cannot boast of his own merits, and thus raised his mind to higher expectation, he now mentions his own necessity, as if he would say, “O Lord, unless thou choosest to reduce so many excellent gifts to nothing, now is the time for thee to succor one, and to avert the destruction which, through my brother, is suspended over me.” But having thus expressed his fear, he adds a clause concerning the blessing promised him, that he may confirm himself in the promises made to him. To slay the mother with the children, I suppose to have been a proverbial saying among the Jews, which means to leave nothing remaining. It is a metaphor taken from birds, when hawks seize the young with their dams, and empty the whole nest. 105
13. And took of that which came to his hand. In endeavoring to appease his brother by presents, he does not act distrustfully, as if he doubted whether he should be safe under the protection of God. This, indeed, is a fault too common among men, that when they have prayed to God, they turn themselves hither and thither, and contrive vain subterfuges for themselves: whereas the principal advantage of prayer is, to wait for the Lord in silence and quietness. But the design of the holy man was not to busy and to vex himself, as one discontented with the sole help of God. For although he was certainly persuaded that to have God propitious to him would alone be sufficient, yet he did not omit the use of the means which were in his power, while leaving success in the hand of God. For though by prayer we cast our cares upon God, that we may have peaceful and tranquil minds; yet this security ought not to render us indolent. For the Lord will have all the aids which he affords us applied to use. But the diligence of the pious differs greatly from the restless activity of the world; because the world, relying on its own industry, independently of the blessing of God, does not consider what is right or lawful; moreover it is always in trepidation, and by its bustling, increases more and more its own disquietude. The pious, however, hoping for the success of their labor, only from the mercy of God, apply their minds in seeking out means, for this sole reason, that they may not bury the gifts of God by their own torpor. When they have discharged their duty, they still depend on the same grace of God; and when nothing remains which they can attempt, they nevertheless are at rest.
14. Two hundred she-goats. Hence we perceive the value which Jacob set upon the promise given to him, seeing he does not refuse to make so great a sacrifice of his property. We know that those things which are obtained with great toil and trouble are the more highly esteemed. So that generally they who are enriched by their own labor are proportionally sparing and tenacious. It was, however, no trivial diminution even of great wealth, to give forty cows, thirty camels with their young, twenty bulls, and as many asses with their foals, two hundred she-goats, and as many sheep, with twenty rams, and the same number of he-goats. But Jacob freely lays upon himself this tax, that he may obtains a safe return to his own country. Certainly it would not have been difficult to find some nook where he might live with his property entire: and an equally commodious habitations might have been found elsewhere. But, that he might not lose the benefit of the promise, he purchases, at so great a price, from his brother, a peaceable abode in the land of Canaan. Therefore should we be ashamed of our effeminacy and tardiness, who wickedly turn aside from the duty of our calling, as soon as any loss is to be sustained. With a clear and loud voice the Lord commands us to do what he pleases; but some, because they find it troublesome to take up their burdens, lie in idleness; pleasures also keep back some; riches or honors impede others; finally, few follow God, because scarcely one in a hundred will bear to be losers. In putting a space between the messengers, and in sending them at different times from each other, he does it to mitigate by degrees the ferocity of his brother: Whence we infer again, that he was not so seized with fear, as to be unable prudently to order his affairs.
22. And he rose up that night. After he has prayed to the Lord, and arranged his plans, he now takes confidence and meets the danger. By which example the faithful are taught, that whenever any danger approaches, this order of proceeding is to be observed; first, to resort directly to the Lord; secondly, to apply to immediate use whatever means of help may offer themselves; and thirdly, as persons prepared for any event, to proceed with intrepidity whithersoever the Lord commands. So Jacob, that he might not fail in this particular, does not dread the passage which he perceives to be full of hazard, but, as with closed eyes, pursues his course. Therefore, after his example, we must overcome anxiety in intricate affairs, lest we should be hindered or retarded in our duty. He remains alone, — having sent forward his wives and children, 106 — not that he might himself escape if he heard of their destruction, but because solitude was more suitable for prayer. And there is no doubt that, fearing the extremity of his peril, he was completely carried away with the ardor of supplication to God.
24. There wrestled a man with him 107 Although this vision was particularly useful to Jacob himself, to teach him beforehand that many conflicts awaited him, and that he might certainly conclude that he should be the conqueror in them all; there is yet not the least doubt that the Lord exhibited, in his person, a specimen of the temptations — common to all his people — which await them, and must be constantly submitted to, in this transitory life. Wherefore it is right to keep in view this designs of the vision, which is to represent all the servants of God in this world as wrestlers; because the Lord exercises them with various kinds of conflicts. Moreover, it is not said that Satan, or any mortal man, wrestled with Jacob, but God himself: to teach us that our faith is tried by him; and whenever we are tempted, our business is truly with him, not only because we fight under his auspices, but because he, as an antagonist, descends into the arena to try our strength. This, though at first sight it seems absurd, experience and reason teaches us to be true. For as all prosperity flows from his goodness, so adversity is either the rod with which he corrects our sins, or the test of our faith and patience. And since there is no kind of temptations by which God does not try his faithful people, the similitude is very suitable, which represents him as coming, hand to hand, to combat with them. Therefore, what was once exhibited under a visible form to our father Jacob, is daily fulfilled in the individual members of the Church; namely, that, in their temptations, it is necessary for them to wrestle with God. He is said, indeed, to tempt us in a different manner from Satan; but because he alone is the Author of our crosses and afflictions, and he alone creates light and darkness, (as is declared in Isaiah,) he is said to tempt us when he makes a trial of our faith. But the question now occurs, Who is able to stand against an Antagonist, at whose breath alone all flesh perishes and vanishes away, at whose look the mountains melt, at whose word or beck the whole world is shaken to pieces, and therefore to attempt the least contest with him would be insane temerity? But it is easy to untie the knot. For we do not fight against him, except by his own power, and with his own weapons; for he, having challenged us to this contest, at the same time furnishes us with means of resistance, so that he both fights against us and for us. In short, such is his apportioning of it is conflict, that, while he assails us with one hand, he defends us with the other; yea, inasmuch as he supplies us with more strength to resist than he employs in opposing us, we may truly and properly say, that he fights against us with his left hand, and for us with his right hand. For while he lightly opposes us, he supplies invincible strength whereby we overcome. It is true he remains at perfect unity with himself: but the double method in which he deals with us cannot be otherwise expressed, than that in striking us with a human rod, he does not put forth his full strength in the temptation; but that in granting the victory to our faith, he becomes in us stronger than the power by which he opposes us. And although these forms of expression are harsh, yet their harshness will be easily mitigated in practice. For if temptations are contests, (and we know that they are not accidental, but are divinely appointed for us,) it follows hence, that God acts in the character of an antagonist, and on this the rest depends; namely, that in the temptation itself he appears to be weak against us, that he may conquer in us. Some restrict this to one kind of temptation only, where God openly and avowedly manifests himself as our adversary, as if armed for our destruction. And truly, I confess, that this differs from common conflicts, and requires, beyond all others, a rare, and even heroic strength. Yet I include willingly every kind of conflict in which God exercises the faithful: since in all they have God for an antagonist, although he may not openly proclaim himself hostile unto them. That Moses here calls him a man whom a little after he declares to have been God, is a sufficiently usual form of speech. For since God appeared under the form of a man, the name is thence assumed; just as, because of the visible symbol, the Spirit is called a dove; and, in turn, the name of the Spirit is transferred to the dove. That this disclosure was not sooner made to the holy man, I understand to be for this reason, because God had resolved to call him, as a soldier, robust and skillful in war, to more severe contests. For as raw recruits are spared, and young oxen are not immediately yoked to the plough; so the Lord more gently exercises his own people, until, having gathered strength, they become more inured to toil. Jacob, therefore, having been accustomed to bear sufferings, is now led forth to real war. Perhaps also, the Lord had reference to the conflict which was then approaching. But I think Jacob was admonished, at his very entrance on the promised land, that he was not there to expect a tranquil life for himself. For his return to his own country might seem to be a kind of release; and thus Jacob, like a soldier who had kept his term of service, would have given himself up to repose. Wherefore it was highly necessary for him to be taught what his future conditions should be. We, also, are to learn from him, that we must fight during the whole course of our life; lest any one, promising himself rest, should wilfully deceive himself. And this admonition is very needful for us; for we see how prone we are to sloth. Whence it arises, that we shall not only be thinking of a truce in perpetual war; but also of peace in the heat of the conflict, unless the Lord rouse us.
25. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him. Here is described to us the victory of Jacob, which, however, was not gained without a wound. In saying that the wrestling angel, or God, wished to retire from the contest, because he saw he should not prevail, Moses speaks after the manner of men. For we know that God, when he descends from his majesty to us, is wont to transfer the properties of human nature to himself. The Lord knew with certainty the event of the contest, before he came down to engage in it; he had even already determined what he would do: but his knowledge is here put for the experience of the thing itself.
He touched the hollow of his thigh. Though Jacob gains the victory; yet the angel strikes him on the thigh, from which cause he was lame even to the end of his life. And although the vision was by night, yet the Lord designed this mark of it to continue through all his days, that it might thence appear not to have been a vain dream. Moreover, by this sign it is made manifest to all the faithful, that they can come forth conquerors in their temptations, only by being injured and wounded in the conflict. For we know that the strength of God is made perfect in our weakness, in order that our exaltation may be joined with humility; for if our own strength remained entire, and there were no injury or dislocation produced, immediately the flesh would become haughty, and we should forget that we had conquered by the help of God. But the wound received, and the weakness which follows it, compel us to be modest.
26. Let me go. God concedes the praise of victory to his servant, and is ready to depart, as if unequal to him in strength: not because a truce was needed by him, to whom it belongs to grant a truce or peace whenever he pleases; but that Jacob might rejoice over the grace afforded to him. A wonderful method of triumphing; where the Lord, to whose power all praise is entirely due, yet chooses that feeble man shall excel as a conqueror, and thus raises him on high with special eulogy. At the same time he commends the invincible perseverance of Jacob, who, having endured a long and severe conflict, still strenuously maintains his ground. And certainly we adopt a proper mode of contending, when we never grow weary, till the Lord recedes of his own accord. We are, indeed, permitted to ask him to consider our infirmity, and, according to his paternal indulgence, to spare the tender and the weak: we may even groan under our burden, and desire the termination of our contests; nevertheless, in the meantime, we must beware lest our minds should become relaxed or faint; and rather endeavor, with collected mind and strength, to persist unwearied in the conflict. The reason which the angel assigns, namely, that the day breaketh, is to this effect, that Jacob may now that he has been divinely taught by the nocturnal vision. 108
I will not let thee go, except. Hence it appears, that at length the holy man knew his antagonist; for this prayer, in which he asks to be blessed, is no common prayer. The inferior is blessed by the greater; and therefore it is the property of God alone to bless us. Truly the father of Jacob did not otherwise bless him, than by divine command, as one who represented the person of God. A similar office also was imposed on the priests under the law, that, as ministers and expositors of divine grace, they might bless the people. Jacob knew, then, that the combatant with whom he had wrestled was God; because he desires a blessing from him, which it was not lawful simply to ask from mortal man. So, in my judgment, ought the place in Hosea (Ho 12:3) to be understood, Jacob prevailed over the angel, and was strengthened; he wept, and made supplication to him. For the Prophet means, that after Jacob had come off conqueror, he was yet a suppliant before God, and prayed with tears. Moreover, this passage teaches us always to expect the blessing of God, although we may have experienced his presence to be harsh and grievous, even to the disjointing of our members. For it is far better for the sons of God to be blessed, though mutilated and half destroyed, than to desire that peace in which they shall fall asleep, or than they should withdraw themselves from the presence of God, so as to turn away from his command, that they may riot with the wicked.
28. Thy name shall be called no more Jacob. Jacob, as we have seen, received his name from his mother’s womb, because he had seized the heel of his brother’s foot, and had attempted to hold him back. God now gives him a new and more honorable name; not that he may entirely abolish the other, which was a token of memorable grace, but that he may testify a still higher progress of his grace. Therefore, of the two names the second is preferred to the former, as being more honorable. The name is derived from הרש (sarah) or רוש (sur,) which signifies to rule, as if he were called a Prince of God: for I have said, a little before, that God had transferred the praise of his own strength to Jacob, for the purpose of triumphing in his person. The explanation of the name which is immediately annexed, is thus given literally by Moses, “Because thou hast ruled with, or, towards God and towards man, and shalt prevail.” Yet the sense seems to be faithfully rendered by Jerome: 109 but if Jacob acted thus heroically with God, much more should he prove superior to men; for certainly it was the purpose of God to send forth his servant to various combats, inspired with the confidence resulting from so great a victory, lest he should afterwards become vacillating. For he does not merely impose a name, as risen are accustomed to do, but with the name he gives the thing itself which the name implies, that the event may correspond with it.
29. Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. This seems opposed to what is declared above; for I have lately said, that when Jacob sought a blessing, it was a token of his submission. Why, therefore, as if he were of doubtful mind, does he now inquire the name of him whom he had before acknowledged to be God? But the solution of the question is easy; for, though Jacob does acknowledge God, yet, not content will an obscure and slight knowledge, he wishes to ascend higher. And it is not to be wondered at, that the holy man, to whom God had manifested himself under so many veils and coverings, that he had not yet obtained any clear knowledge of him, should break forth in this wish; nay, it is certain that all the saints, under the law, were inflamed with this desire. Such a prayer also of Manoah, is read in Jud 13:18, to which the answer from God is added, except that there, the Lord pronounces his name to be wonderful and secret, in order that Manoah may not proceed further. The sum therefore is this, that though Jacob’s wish was pious, the Lord does not grant it, because the time of full revelation was not yet completed: for the fathers, in the beginning, were required to walk in the twilight of morning; and the Lord manifested himself to them, by degrees, until, at length, Christ the Sun of Righteousness arose, in whom perfect brightness shines forth. This is the reason why he rendered himself more conspicuous to Moses, who nevertheless was only permitted to behold his glory from behind: yet because he occupied an intermediate place between patriarchs and apostles, he is said, in comparison with them, to have seen, face to face, the God Who had been hidden from the fathers. But now, since God has approached more nearly unto us, our ingratitude is most impious and detestable, if we do not run to meet with ardent desire to obtain such great grace; as also Peter admonishes us in the first chapter of his first epistle. (1 Pet. 1:12, 13.) It is to be observed, that although Jacob piously desires to know God more fully, yet, because he is carried beyond the bounds prescribed to the age in which he lived, he suffers a repulse: for the Lord, cutting short his wish, commands him to rest contented with his own blessing. But if that measure of illumination which we have received, was denied to the holy man, how intolerable will be our curiosity, if it breaks forth beyond the contended limit now prescribed by God.
30. And Jacob called the name of the place 110 The gratitude of our father Jacob is again commended, because he took diligent care that the memory of God’s grace should never perish. He therefore leaves a monument to posterity, from which they might know that God had appeared there; for this was not a private vision, but had reference to the whole Church. Moreover, Jacob not only declares that he has seen the face of God, but also gives thanks that he has been snatched from death. This language frequently occurs in the Scriptures, and was common among the ancient people; and not without reason; for, if the earth trembles at the presence of God, if the mountains melt, if darkness overspreads the heavens, what must happen to miserable men! Nay, since the immense majesty of God cannot be comprehended even by angels, but rather absorbs them; were his glory to shine on us it would destroy us, and reduce us to nothing, unless he sustained and protected us. So long as we do not perceive God to be present, we proudly please ourselves; and this is the imaginary life which the flesh foolishly arrogates to itself when it inclines towards the earth. But the faithful, when God reveals himself to them, feel themselves to be more evanescent than any smoke. Finally; would we bring down the pride of the flesh, we must draw near to God. So Jacob confesses that, by the special indulgence of God, he had been rescued from destruction when he saw God. It may however be asked, “Why, when he had obtained so slight a taste only of God’s glory, he should boast that he had seen him, face to face?” I answer, it is in no way absurd that Jacob highly celebrates this vision above all others, in which the Lord had not so plainly appeared unto him; and yet, if it be compared with the splendor of the gospel, or even of the law, it will appear like sparks, or obscure rays. The simple meaning then is, that he saw God in an unwonted and extraordinary manner. Now, if Jacob so greatly exults and congratulates himself in that slender measure of knowledge; what ought we to do at this day, to whom Christ, the living image of God, is evidently set before our eyes in the mirror of the gospel! Let us therefore learn to open our eyes, lest we be blind at noonday, as Paul exhorts us in 2Co 3:1-4:1.
31. And he halted upon his thigh. It is probable, and it may be gathered even from the words of Moses, that this halting was without the sense of pain, in order that the miracle might be the more evident. For God, in the flesh of his servant, has exhibited a spectacle to all ages, from which the faithful may perceive that no one is such a powerful combatant as not to carry away some wound after a spiritual convict, for infirmity ever cleaves to all, that no one may be pleased with himself above measure. Whereas Moses relates that the Jews abstained from the shrunken sinew, or that part of the thigh in which it was placed: this was not done out of superstition. 111 For that age, as we know, was the infancy of the Church; wherefore the Lord retained the faithful, who then lived, under the teaching of the schoolmaster. And now, though, since the coming of Christ, our condition is more free; the memory of the fact ought to be retained among us, that God disciplined his people of old by external ceremonies.
“I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” — English Translation.
“Into two bands,” more literally, “into two camps or encampments;” תונחמ ינשל, (leshenai machanoth). The word here used is the same in which the host of God is described in the second verse, and from which the name of the city Mahanaim is derived. — Ed
Minor sum cunctis misericordiis: “I am less than all the mercies.” — Margin of English Translation.
That is, “poor, naked, and weak.” — Rivet. in Gen., p. 676.
Perhaps Calvin’s interpretation would appear more striking, had the original been more literally rendered, “the mother upon the children,” (םינב לע,) which would represent the hawk as pouncing upon the parent bird when seated on her young, or protecting them beneath her feathers. — Ed
“Over the brook Jabbok.” קבי is the proper name of a stream near Mount Gilead, on the northern border of the Ammonites, flowing into Jordan on the east, now called Wady Zurka, i.e., blue river. The name is alluded to in verse 25, as if it were from the root קבא, (Abak,) which in Niphal means to wrestle. — See Gesenius’ Lexicon. The name is, therefore, here given proleptically. — Ed
קבאי, yebek, from קבא, dust, because in wrestling the dust is raised. — Gesenius.
There might be other reasons why the angel should say, “Let me go, for the day breaketh.” The vision was intended for Jacob alone; had the struggle been continued till daylight, others would have witnessed it, and a vain curiosity would have been excited, which God did not design to gratify. The break of day, also, would be the time when Jacob himself must set about the work of conducting his family; and, therefore, on his account, it was important that no farther delay should take place. — Ed.
Quoniam si contra Deum fortis fuisti, quanto magis contra homines praevalebis? If thou hast been so strong against God, how much more shalt thou prevail against men? — Vulgate.
לאינפ, (Peniel,) the face of God.
The sinew which shrank; “that sinew or tendon which fastens the hip-bone in its socket, which comprehends the flesh of that muscle which is connected to it. He that ate of this was to be beaten, as the Jewish masters tell us.” — Patrick. See also Ainsworth on this passage. Professor Bush says, “At present the Jews do not know what sinew this was, nor even which thigh it was in; and the effect of this uncertainty is, that they judge it necessary to abstain from both the hind quarters, lest they should inadvertently eat the interdicted sinew. They sell those parts to Christians.” — Ed.