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.