Summary: God changes scheming, self-sufficient Jacob into praying, dependent Israel before bringing him back into the Promised Land.
Jacob has spent the last twenty years in exile from the Promised Land after tricking his brother and taking the birthright and the blessing. But God has called him to go home now which means he must face his brother and his past. He’s uncertain and fearful but he obeys:
And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
This was certainly a comfort for him; twenty years earlier God had promised to be with him and keep him and now that promise is confirmed. Mahanaim means “double camp.” God set up camp with Jacob. But there’s still the meeting with Esau and I want you to notice all the back and forth as we read. Jacob goes from confident to terrified repeatedly:
3And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4And 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: 5And 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.
Jacob sends these messengers in hopes of preparing Esau before actually having to face him.
6And 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.
He gets terrible news from his messengers. Esau isn’t waiting for him to get there. Esau will meet Jacob…with a small army.
7Then 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; 8And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.
Naturally he’s distressed and makes a plan. If Esau will attack then perhaps Jacob can save half of them by making two targets. Maybe the target that doesn’t get attacked can scatter into the wilderness and somehow survive.
9And 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: 10I 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. 11Deliver 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. 12And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.
Jacob recounts God’s promise and acknowledged he hasn’t been worthy to receive anything so far. When he arrived he had nothing but a stick, but now he’s got enough possessions to divide. If God has been faithful thus far, then perhaps He will continue despite Jacob’s fear and unworthiness.
13And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother; 14Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams, 15Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals. 16And 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. 17And 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? 18Then 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. 19And 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. 20And 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. 21So went the present over before him: and himself lodged that night in the company.
Right now Jacob’s biggest fear and obstacle is Esau. He thinks the answer to his problems is pleasing Esau so he sends gifts.
22And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. 23And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.