Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau


VERSES 1-5  “And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
“And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
“And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
“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:
“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.”

Leaving Mount Gilead, Jacob and his company continued their journey toward Canaan, ‘and the angels of God met him’, the record states. ‘This is God’s host’, the patriarch said. He then named the place of meeting, ‘Mahanaim’ which means ‘two hosts’, or ‘two camps’. In Joshua 5:14 we read about the Lord’s host, and the successor of Moses sees them as an army which the Lord had sent to fight for Israel. This may well be the meaning which Joshua attached to this appearance of heavenly messengers.

The record gives us no information as to the message, if any, that the angels of God delivered to Jacob. The fact that seemingly he at once dispatched messengers to confer with Esau, and to let his brother know of the rich manner in which the Lord had blessed him since he fled from home, might indicate that the Lord’s hosts had given him instructions as to the proper method of seeking a reconciliation with his brother.

It had been twenty years since Jacob had fled from the wrath of Esau, yet he had no way of knowing whether or not his brother now felt any differently toward him. Some might reason that Esau’s jealousy would be stirred the more upon learning that Jacob had become rich in material things. Either Jacob did not reason this way, or else he was following a strategy given to him by the angels. In any case, later events proved that it was the proper course. It was evidently very reassuring to Esau to learn that Jacob had all the possessions he needed, and that he was not returning to seize his wealth based on the claim that he had purchased the birthright.

VERSES 6-8  “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.
“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;
“And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.”

The messengers brought back rather an ambiguous report concerning Esau. They had apparently met him and he had told them that he would come and meet Jacob and that he would bring four hundred men with him. As the report was given to Jacob, he had no way of determining whether these men were to be used against him or whether it was Esau’s idea of a royal welcome, so he was frightened.

As we have previously noted, Jacob was a timid man. Few of God’s servants throughout all the ages have had more evidences of God’s favor and protection than were given to him, yet when the least uncertainty arose he usually became fearful. Only a little while before, he had been fearful of Laban. He had just witnessed the wonderful manner in which the Lord rescued him from a precarious situation into which his fears had led him, yet now, although he had just communed with the angels of the Lord, he again became fearful.

Prompted by fear, and thinking to save at least a part of his possessions, he divided the people who were with him, and his flocks, into two companies; the idea being that if Esau attacked one of these, the other group could escape. There were apparently two companies of angels which appeared to Jacob, and they possibly suggested the idea of dividing his own strength in the manner noted.

VERSES 9-12  “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:
“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.
“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.
“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.”

Jacob prayed earnestly to God, admitting that he feared his brother. His mind doubtless went back to the time when he had to flee from Esau to save his life. The Lord had cooperated with him in this; and in that wonderful ladder dream, assured Jacob that he would go with him and bless him. That promise had been faithfully kept. Now the Lord had indicated to Jacob that he wanted him to return to Canaan and to his brother, but all the intervening years of Divine protection and blessing were not sufficient to assure Jacob that the Lord would be with him in returning even as he had been with him in his flight.

We should not, however, chide Jacob in this. He did trust in the Lord, and this is why he prayed to him so earnestly. Perhaps his fear is impressed upon us simply because the Scriptures openly reveal it. A certain kind of fear is quite proper on the part of all the Lord’s people. We should tremble when we think of self, and perhaps Jacob’s trembling was of this nature. It is when the Lord’s people look to the Lord and depend upon his strength that they are strong, and certainly Jacob earnestly looked to the Lord for guidance and strength.

Prayer, among other things, is the claiming of God’s promises and this is what Jacob did. God had directed Jacob to return to his own country and to his own people and had promised that in doing this all would be well with him. And now the patriarch reminded the Lord of this, and laid claim to the promise. He recognized that he was not worthy of being so richly blessed by God, that everything which the Lord had done for him represented Divine mercy and grace, and he told the Lord so. This reveals a proper attitude of heart, and when a servant of God goes to the throne of grace in this attitude, and asks for the fulfillment of the promises God has made to him, he is certain to be heard.

The Lord had said to Jacob, ‘I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude’. (vs. 12) This was a promise which Jacob especially appreciated, for it had to do not only with his personal safety, but also with the eternal purpose of God as centered in his covenant with Abraham. This was the main feature of the birthright which Jacob had purchased from Esau, and it was for the protection of his rights under that purchase that he was seeking Divine help.

VERSES 13-23  “And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother;
“Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams,
“Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals.
“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.
“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?
“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.
“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.
“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.
“So went the present over before him: and himself lodged that night in the company.
“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.
“And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.”

Jacob’s sending of presents ahead in order to appease his brother need not be construed as a lack of faith that God would hear and answer his prayer for protection. All of the Lord’s people should work as well as pray. If we pray for heavenly wisdom, we should search the Scriptures to find it. If we pray for opportunities of service, we should look around us to see what there is that we can do. Jacob had asked the Lord to deliver him from the hand of his brother, so he used the best judgment he possessed in preparing the way for that deliverance.

VERSES 24-32  “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
“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.
“And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
“And he said unto him, What is thy name? and he said, Jacob.
“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.
“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.
“And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
“And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
“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.”

After making what he considered proper arrangements for appeasing his brother, Jacob, when alone for the night, resumed his communion with the Lord. The account says that a man wrestled with him. This same personality is referred to in Hosea 12:3,4 as an ‘angel’. We are to assume then that an angel materialized and appeared to Jacob as a man, a man whom he recognized as being a direct representative of the Lord. This viewpoint was so real to Jacob that he declares he had seen the Lord ‘face to face’.—vs. 30

The story of Jacob’s wrestling all night with the Lord in prayer is a familiar one, and many false conclusions have been drawn from it as to the purpose and power of prayer. Prayer is the claiming of God’s promises, and this is all that Jacob was doing. He was not trying to secure from the Lord something which had not been promised. Prayer is not designed to change the will of God concerning his people.

God had promised to deliver Jacob from the hand of Esau and to see that all went well with him in returning to his own country. Now he was simply seeking an assurance that it would be so. The Lord withheld this assurance from Jacob for a time in order that he might come to appreciate it more keenly when it was given.

Finally the much sought for blessing was given. The angel told Jacob that his name would be changed to Israel, meaning a ‘prince with God’, or one who had prevailed with God. Jacob understood this to mean that God had honored his request, and that he would be cared for when he went forth to meet Esau. There are other instances in the Scriptures when the names of individuals have been changed to denote special Divine favor upon them. Simon’s name was changed to Peter; and Saul’s to Paul.—Mark 3:16; Acts 13:9

The angel that served as the Lord’s mouthpiece in connection with Jacob’s prayer manifested his humility in not divulging his name when requested by the patriarch. It was better that Jacob remember the experience as one in which he talked with the Lord, and to have learned the name of the angel whom the Lord used could have detracted from this viewpoint. While the Lord uses servants to speak for him, it is always best that they keep themselves out of sight as far as possible so that those served will have their minds and hearts fixed more closely upon the Lord rather than upon those whom he uses.

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