It had been several decades since Jacob had last seen his twin brother Esau. They hadn’t left on the best of terms, unless you think fleeing your twin because you think they are going to murder you is good. Jacob is returning home and knows he is going to have to go through Esau to get there. He divides his possessions in two just in case Esau and his band of 400 men attack at least one group might escape. Then he prays. He reminds God of the potential inconsistency of his own demise with God’s covenant promises,
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.’” – Gen 32:9-12
After wrestling with an angel and getting a new name (more on that later) Jacob makes another plan…send Esau so many gifts that either his heart will be softened and he will take Jacob back or else he will have so many animals in his possession that his 400 men will be too busy tending the sheep to fight. When Esau finally arrives and Jacob is face to face with him the encounter is not at all what Jacob expected. They are reunited peacefully, even in tears. Then the greatest irony of all, Esau offers to protect Jacob and his family! (33:15)
There are a couple of things I find helpful in this story. The first is that things rarely turn out as badly as we think. Next, God really does keep His promises. Third, we depend on God but we also take initiative. This doesn’t mean we think things will turn out well because of our power and ability but I also don’t think God wants us to sit on our hands and do nothing. You can do your best and still realize it all depends on God. Fourth and probably most significant, it is amazing how when life gets beyond our control it drives us to God in completely and total dependence. Rarely are the times our faith grows the most times of ease and comfort and yet we somehow think those are the times that are best for us. That is a hard lesson to learn and it is not that I pray for difficulty…but it is helpful to know that God is at work in the tough times and that in those times our character is formed to be more in line with God’s will for our lives (if we let Him 🙂
PS – After reading in a commentary that Jacob and Esau were about 97 years old at the time of this meeting, I really can’t read the story the same ever again…no wonder Jacob’s camp moved so slowly. It kind of makes the potential clash between brothers a strange sight. Jacob tries to his Esau with his walker…Esau blocks it with his cane. Kind of funny to think about.