Genesis (Part 143)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 32: 1-5

32 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’”


Jacob finally leaves Laban and immediately we run into a pretty strange verse to begin Chapter 32. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 32:1

And Jacob (after Laban’s departure) went on his way (from Galeed and Mizpah, in a southerly direction towards the Jabbok), and the angels of God—literally, the messengers of Elohim, not chance travelers who informed him of Esau’s being in the vicinity (Abarbanel), but angels (cf. Psalms 104:4)—met him. Not necessarily came in an opposite direction, fuerunt ei obviam (Vulgate), but simply fell in with him, lighted on him as in Genesis 28:11, συνήντησαν αὐτῶ (LXX.), forgathered with him (Scottish); but whether this was in a waking vision (Kurtz, Keil, Inglis) or a midnight dream (Hengstenberg) is uncertain, though-the two former visions enjoyed by Jacob were at night (cf. Genesis 28:12Genesis 31:10). Cajetan, approved by Pererius, translating בּוֹ “in him,” makes it appear that the vision was purely subjective, non fuisse visionem corporalem, sed internam: the clause interpolated by the LXX; καὶ ἀναβλέψας εἰδε παρεμβολὴν θεοῦ παρμεβεβληκυῖαν, seems rather to point to an objective manifestation. The appearance of this invisible host may have been designed to celebrate Jacob’s triumph over Laban, as after Christ’s victory over Satan in the wilderness angels came and ministered unto him (Rupertus, Wordsworth), or to remind him that he owed his deliverance to Divine interposition (Calvin, Bush, Lange), but was more probably intended to assure him of protection in his approaching interview with Esau (Josephus, Chrysostom, Rosenmüller, Keil, Murphy, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’), and perhaps also to give him welcome in returning home again to Canaan (Kurtz), if not in addition to suggest that his descendants would require to fight for their inheritance (Kalisch).

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary says the following about the same verse:

(1) Jacob went on his way.—The meeting of Jacob and Laban had been on the dividing line between the Aramean and the Canaanite lands, and consequently at a spot where Laban would have found no allies in the natives, but rather the contrary. Delivered thus from danger from behind, Jacob now takes his journey through the country that was to be the heritage of his seed, and doubtless he was harassed by many anxious thoughts; for Esau might prove a fiercer foe than Laban. It was fit therefore that he should receive encouragement, and so after some days, probably after about a week’s journey southward, he has a vision of “angels of God.”

Angels of God.—Numberless conjectures have been hazarded as to who were these “messengers of Elohim,” and how they were seen by Jacob. Some, taking the word in its lower sense, think they were prophets; others, that it was a caravan, which gave Jacob timely information about Esau’s presence in Seir; others, that it was a body of men sent by Rebekah to aid Jacob in repelling Esau. More probably, as Jacob on his road to Padan-aram had been assured of God’s watchful care of him by the vision of the angels ascending and descending the stairs, so now also in a dream he sees the angels encamped on each side of him, to assure him of protection against his brother.

In verse 2, the name of this place is given as Mahanaim:

Mahanaim (Hebrew: מַחֲניִם meaning two camps in Hebrew) is a place mentioned a number of times by the Bible said to be near Jabbok, beyond the Jordan River. Although two possible sites have been identified, the precise location of Mahanaim is very uncertain. The most widely accepted of the proposed sites lies about 10 mi (16 km) east of the Jordan River. Tell edh-Dhahab el-Gharbi, the western one of the twin Tulul adh-Dhahabtells, is a possible location. Mahanaim was said to be in the same general area as Jabesh-gilead.

In the Biblical narrative, the first mentioned of Mahanaim occurs in the Book of Genesis as the place where Jacob, returning from Padan-aram to southern Canaan, had a vision of angels (Genesis 32:2). Believing it to be “God’s camp”, Jacob names the place Mahanaim (Hebrew for “Two Camps”, or “Two Companies”) to memorialize the occasion of his own company sharing the place with God’s. Later in the story, Jacob is moved by fear at the approach of his brother Esau (whom he has reason to fear) and as a result divided his retinue into two hosts (two companies), hence the town built on the site took two hosts as its name.

According to the Book of Joshua and 1 Chronicles it became a Levitical city (Joshua 13:26–30Joshua 21:38; cf. 1 Chronicles 6:80), having been located at the southern boundary of Bashan until the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites (Joshua 13:26–30).

In the Biblical narrative, around the start of the United Monarchy, the city was a stronghold that had been adapted to serve as a sanctuary for important fugitives (2 Samuel 18:2); the narrative states that after King Saul died, Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, established Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, in Mahanaim as king of Israel (2 Samuel 2:8).

Mahanaim is the location to which David is described as fleeing while at war with his son Absalom; having arrived at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24), David is described as having sheltered with a man named Barzillai, and having mustered forces there to combat Absalom‘s army. It is also the location that the Bible states was the place where David was informed about his victory over Absalom, and the death of his son.

The dance of Mahanaim is mentioned in Song of Songs 6:13.

According to Gaston Maspero (The Struggle of the Nations, p. 773), Mahanaim was among the cities plundered by Shishak during his invasion (1 Kings 14:25) of Israelitish territory, also ChampollionRosellini and Budge share his view identifying Ma’hanema’ with Mahanaim.[1][2] There is no subsequent reference to the city in the annals, and it is not improbable that a vigorous resistance to Shishak or to some other invader brought about its utter demolition.

The Pulpit Commentaries add this to the discussion of the place name:

Genesis 32:2

And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host:—Mahaneh Elohimi.e. the army (cf. Genesis 1:9Exodus 14:24) or camp (1 Samuel 14:15Psalms 27:3) of God, as opposed to the Mahanoth, or bands of Jacob himself (vide Genesis 32:7Genesis 32:10)—and he called the name of that place Manahan.i.e. Two armies or camps, from the root חָנַה decline or bend, and hence to fix oneself down or encamp; meaning either a multitudinous host, reading the dual for a plural (Malvenda), or two bands of angels, one before, welcoming him to Canaan, and another behind, conducting him from Mesopotamia (Jarchi and others), or one on either side to typify the completeness of his protection, as in Psalms 34:8 (Calvin, Bush, Gerlach, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’), or, as the best expositors interpret, his own company and the heavenly host (Abort Ezra, Clericus, Dathe, Keil, Lange, Rosenmüller, Kalisch, Murphy). Mahanaim, afterwards a distinguished city in the territory of Gad (Joshua 13:26), and frequently referred to in subsequent Scripture (2 Samuel 2:82 Samuel 17:24; 27; 2 Samuel 19:321 Kings 4:14), as well as mentioned by Josephus (‘Ant.’ 7. 9, 8), as a strong and beautiful city, has been identified with Mahneh, a deserted ruin six or seven miles north-west by north of Ajlun (Mount Gilead), and about twenty miles from the Jabbok; but the narrative appears to say that Mahanaim lay not north of Ga-leed, but between that place and Jabbok. Hence Porter suggests Gerasa, the most splendid ruin east of the Jordan, and bordering on the Jabbok, as occupying the site of Mahanaim.

In verse 3, we are reminded of Esau. Jacob fled twenty (or forty) years earlier to avoid the wrath of his twin brother. Now he must confront him and he chooses to reach out in a friendly manner. From Ellicott:

(3) Jacob sent messengers.—As Jacob travelled homewards to Hebron the news somehow reached him that Esau, at the head of a large body of retainers, was engaged in an expedition against the Horites. These, as we have seen on Genesis 14:6, were a miserable race of cave-men, utterly unable to cope with Esau and his trained servants. We learn from Genesis 36:6 that Esau’s home was still with Isaac at Hebron, and probably this was a mere marauding expedition, like that against the people of Gath, which a century later cost Ephraim the lives of so many of his sons (1 Chronicles 7:21); but it revealed to Esau the weakness of the in habitants, and also that the land was admirably adapted for his favourite pursuit of hunting. He seems also to have taken a Horite wife (Genesis 36:5), and being thus connected with the country, upon Isaac’s death he willingly removed into it, and it then became “the country,” Heb. the field of Edom. Its other name, Seir, i.e. rough, hairy, shows that it was then covered with forests, and the term field that it was an uncultivated region. It was entirely in the spirit of the adventurous Esau to make this expedition, and on his father’s death to prefer this wild land to the peaceful pastures at Hebron, where he was surrounded by powerful tribes of Amorites and Hittites. The land of Seir was a hundred miles distant from Mahanaim, but Esau apparently had been moving up through what were afterwards the countries of Moab and Ammon, and was probably, when Jacob sent his messengers, at no very great distance. At all events, Jacob remained at Mahanaim till his brother was near, when he crossed the brook Jabbok, and went to meet him.

The note brings up the Horites, “a miserable race of cave men,” though the text does not mention them explicitly.

From The Encyclopedia of the Bible:

HORITE hôr’ īt; HORIM hō’ rem (חֹרִימ׃֮; LXX χορραῖοι). The LXX transcription consistently distinguishes the velar fricative of “Hittite” and “Horite” from the laryngeal spirant of “Hivite.” The former it writes as ch (χ, G5896), the latter with no separate consonant but a coloring of the adjacent vowel (e.g., Euaios for חִוִּ֖י). This distinction is an apt reflection of the evidence from both alphabetic (Ugaritic) and syllabic cuneiform texts (Akkadian and Hittites). Phonetically, “Horite” is the OT Heb. equivalent of extra-Biblical “Hurrian.” Many OT references to “Horites” do not seem to fit Hurrians. The personal names of the “Horites” in Genesis 36:20-30 do not conform to Hurrian patterns, but seem rather to be Semitic. It is claimed that no archeological evidence exists for Hurrian settlements in Edom or Trans-Jordan in general, whereas the OT reports “Horites” living there (Gen 14:6Deut 2:1222). These E Horites, the predecessors of the Edomites, were apparently not Hurrians. On the contrary, it is maintained that the name “Horite(s)” originally stood in the Heb. text of Genesis 34:2 and Joshua 9:7, and the LXX still retained it, whereas in Isaiah 17:9, both MT and LXX have replaced it with secondary forms. These Horites are called W Horites, because the passages cited indicate for them a residence in the region to the W of the Jordan. They are to be kept distinct from the E Horites, the predecessors of the Edomites. The W Horites, it is claimed, are non-Semites related to the peoples called Hurrians in extra-Biblical texts of the 2nd millennium b.c. The etymology of the name of the E Horites may be the Sem. noun for “cave,” identifying the pre-Edomites of Seir as “cave-dwellers,” whereas the etymology of the name of the W Horites is obscure, being involved with the obscure origins and relationships of the poorly understood Hurrian language.

Bibliography E. Meyer, Die Israeliten und deren Nachbarstämme (1906); E. A. Speiser, AASOR, XIII (1933), 26-31; I. J. Gelb, Hurrians and Subarians (1944); Speiser, JAOS, LXVIII (1948), 1-13; H. G. Guterbock, Journal of World History, II (1954), 383-394; Speiser in IDB (E-J) s.v. Horite.

We encountered Horites previously when discussing “The Battle of Nine Kings” in Genesis 14.

Returning to The Pulpit Commentaries for verses 4 and 5:

Genesis 32:4Genesis 32:5

And he commanded themsaying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus;—the expression “my lord “may have been designed to intimate to Esau that he (Jacob) did not intend to assert that superiority or precedency which had been assigned him by Isaac’s blessing (Genesis 27:29), at least so far as to claim a share in Isaac’s wealth (Calvin, Bush, Gerlach), but was probably due chiefly to the extreme courtesy of the East (Gerlach), or to a desire to conciliate his brother (Keil), or to a feeling of personal contrition for his misbehavior towards Esau (Kalisch), and perhaps also to a secret apprehension of danger from Esau’s approach (Alford, Inglis)—I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed—אֵחַרthe fut. Kal. of אָחַרoccurring only here, is a contraction for אֶאֱחַר, like תֹּסֵק for תֹּאסֵק (Psalms 104:29vide Gesenius, § 68, 2)—there until now: and I have (literally, there are to me, so that I stand in need of no further wealth from either thee or Isaac) oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and women servants:—cf. Genesis 12:16 (Abraham); Genesis 26:13Genesis 26:14 (Isaac)—and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight (cf. Genesis 33:8Genesis 33:15Genesis 39:4; and vide Genesis 6:8Genesis 18:3).

Shortly after encountering an encampment of angels, Jacob is fearful of his brother Esau. Just imagine how fearful he might have been without that encouragement.

In the next section, we will revisit the theme established in this section of “two camps.”