32 Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.
3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. 5 I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’”
6 When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”
7 In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”
9 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps.11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”
17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”
19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.
(Genesis 32:1-21 NIV)
In our last time together, Jacob parted ways with Laban and headed back to his homeland. Jacob sought peace and reconciliation with Laban before he left, throwing a farewell dinner for the family. Jacob was being obedient to the Lord and had learned a few hard life lessons in the twenty years he spent with Laban.
As we step into today’s text, Laban and Jacob had parted ways, and Jacob resumes his journey back to his homeland. The first thing that happens is an unexpected meeting with God’s angels. Scholars are not sure whether the meeting was in a dream, a vision, or in person. Regardless of how they met, the angels’ presence was impactful. Jacob named the place “Mahanaim” (translated, meaning “two camps” or “two companies”).
While there is no record of any words being exchanged between the angels and Jacob, their presence symbolized God’s protection from his past (any further retribution from his father-in-law Laban) and into his future (his anticipated meeting with his brother Esau). God’s angels were there to welcome, encourage, and strengthen Jacob on his journey back home.
As Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau, we see that Jacob had learned some hard lessons during the twenty years with Laban. Listen to the tone of Jacob’s words as he specifically instructs his servants on what to say to Esau when they meet him:
- Jacob addresses his brother Esau as “lord”, showing honor and respect to him as the older brother
- Jacob refers to himself as “your servant” to Esau, taking the birth-order position as the younger brother and not claiming the birthright and blessing he had taken from Esau so many years earlier.
- Jacob said he “remained” with Laban (“sojourned” in the NASB) – he was not claiming refuge or any further ties with Laban. Jacob exposed his vulnerability before his brother – an act of humility and desire for reconciliation that would hopefully trigger mercy and grace in the heart of Esau.
The messengers did in fact return and told Jacob that they had found his brother Esau. Esau was, in fact, heading toward Jacob to meet him, and he was bringing 400 men with him for that meeting!
If you were in Jacob’s shoes at that moment, what would you be feeling? Jacob immediately feared the worst. The text says Jacob experienced “great fear and distress”. Esau’s last recorded words in Jacob’s mind were likely resurfacing – “he is going to kill me for the wrong I did to him so many years ago – he is going to get his revenge!”.
Jacob responded to the fear in three ways:
- He took actions of self-protection and preservation, dividing his family and possessions into two groups, hoping that one group would survive
- He prayed earnestly to the Lord, humbly throwing himself on God’s undeserved mercy and claiming God’s promises of protection, provision, and blessing through future generations from many years before
- He sent a huge gift of animals in three separate herds ahead of him to Esau, along with a specific message, in order to soften his brother’s heart in hopes that the gift would result in Esau showing favor and acceptance to his brother
Jacob promised to meet his brother Esau but sent the gifts ahead of him as a symbol of his desire to reconcile with him.
When the Lord brings people with whom we have wronged or have differences back into our lives, may we remember to seek the Lord in prayer as Jacob did, humbly confessing that we don’t deserve God’s favor.
May we also remember to claim God’s promises to us in His Word, that He is bigger than our problems, that we can rest in the confidence of His sovereignty, and we can leave our fears at the foot of the Cross where Jesus conquered all, even death.
May we turn down the volume of our inner thoughts and turn up the volume of God’s Word and wrap ourselves in His love and truths.