Genesis 32 • Struggling with Man and God


A teaching that crops up now and again throughout Scripture, and is especially prevalent in the book of Revelation, is that things often first happen in heaven before they’re transferred down to earth. In the case of Jacob, we find that this isn’t just true of events but of man as well. Before the activities and relationships of this earthly life can be resolved, one’s spiritual differences need to be resolved first in order to apply spiritual solutions. Just as Cain carried his struggle with God for having his sacrifice rejected to Abel, we often carry our spiritual struggles into the arena of our struggles with others. Therefore we need to learn and apply as quic

Read verses 1-2

Q: What does God do before Jacob has a chance to do himself?

A: Sends His messengers. Jacob is about to send messengers to Esau, but God first sends His messengers to Jacob.

Q: What is the meaning and significance of Jacob’s naming that place “Mahanaim”?

A: It means “Two Camps” or “Two Companies”. It signifies that Jacob was not only accompanied by an earth “camp” or “company” but also by an additional heavenly one.

Read verses 3-8

Q: Does the fact that Esau is coming to meet Jacob with 400 men have only one interpretation?

A: It could mean that Esau is coming out with an armed force to attack Jacob, but it could also mean that Esau is coming out to protect Jacob.

Q: Why do you suppose that Jacob instantly assumes the worst?

A: Because Jacob has never reconciled his past sins against Esau of stealing his birthright and blessing. Although 20 years have past, the last thing Jacob knew of Esau’s opinion about him was, “I will kill my brother Jacob”. (Genesis 27:41-43) This was affirmed by his mother Rebekah who instructed Jacob to flee to Laban’s in the first place to avoid Esau. Jacob has no information that anything has changed.

Q: What is Jacob’s initial action? How does it parallel his spiritual short-sightedness?

A: Jacob splits his people into two companies. Whereas he named this place “Two Companies” after the fact that God had reinforced Jacob’s company with a company from God, now Jacob divides his forces, a parallel to the fact that he is rendering spiritual strength ineffective by dividing from it as well.

Q: Why do you believe that Jacob defers to being fearful of man rather than relying on his fear of God?

A: Jacob has come face-to-face with unresolved sin in his life. It might not be so much that he doubts God as much as he knows that he has done things deserving of punishment.

Application: Do you have—or have you ever had—unresolved issues with anyone? How did you handle being in that person’s presence or how do you think you will handle it? How does God’s grace play a role in such situations?

Read verses 9-12

Q: How would you characterize Jacob’s prayer? What is his attitude?

A: Jacob is extremely honest as to how he feels about and perceives the situation before him. Essentially his question concerns how God will reconcile the promises for the future made to Jacob with the fact that Jacob’s past is looming large to destroy the future. “I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown” indicates that Jacob knows that he is worthy of punishment for his past sins and that they can only be overcome by God’s grace.

Q: Why does Jacob express only fear for himself, his wives, and children? Why isn’t he concerned about all the wealth that accompanies them?

A: Because it goes directly to God’s promise as pointed out by Jacob to “make your descendants as the sand of the sea”. This cannot come about if they are all killed. It reveals a deep concern by Jacob for God’s will, and that it might be in conflict with Jacob’s past life.

Read verses 13-23

Q: Jacob prays to God, but what is the first thing that he does after? How might this be different from other spiritual examples in Scripture?

A: Jacob makes his own preparations to deal with the situation. It appears to be different from many other scriptural examples in that he seems to be taking courses of action before getting a reply from God to his inquiry.

Q: What is the goal of Jacob’s strategy?

A: To appease Esau enough to get a chance to talk to him face to face. With a force of 400, it’s likely that if they’re hostile they’ll just attack without any regard or stopping.

Q: What is the final thing that Jacob separates from the rest?

A: First he separated and sent ahead the presents, then he separated his wives and children and sent them across the stream, and finally he has separated himself. It’s a conscious or subconscious separation of the innocent from the guilty, Jacob knowing that he alone is responsible.

Read verses 24-32

Q: How do we know that this is God?

A: Beside the fact that Jacob will ask for a blessing, from a reference to this event in Hosea:

Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed;

He wept and sought His favor.

He found Him at Bethel

And there He spoke with us,

Even the Lord, the God of hosts,

The Lord is His name.

— Hosea 12:4-5

Q: What is the irony here about Jacob’s statement, “I have seen God face to face”?

A: His own plans were designed to meet Esau face to face, but God’s plan was to do so Himself first.

Q: What is the irony here about Jacob wrestling? What are the similarities to this in his life?

Point: Jacob has been wrestling with man his entire life. But only by wrestling with God and coming to terms with spiritual issues could Jacob come to terms with human issues.

Q: When Abram and Sarai are renamed, their old names are never used again in Scripture. Why do you suppose that this is not true for Jacob who is referred to by both names?

A: It represents the tension of someone still earth-bound in their struggle (Jacob) versus someone having achieved reconciliation with God (Israel).

Overall Application


Consider the following points regarding Jacob’s life and make application to your own: