Before you read: After 14 years of paying Laban for his two daughters, it took Jacob another six to outsmart his cheating uncle and accumulate enough wealth to break away and provide for his own family. Jacob is now travelling with wives, children, and masses of livestock back to his father’s home where, 20 years ago, his brother Esau had promised to kill him.
Read Genesis 32:1-21
Generous, generous, gifts, maybe they will appease Esau.
Jacob is rightly afraid when he hears that Esau is coming with 400 men. He knows that “men” means trained warriors so he does the only thing he can: try to buy forgiveness.
But first he prays.
I love this prayer because of how honest it is, “I am afraid [Esau] will come and attack me”. He doesn’t bluster or pretend. He is scared, so he comes like a child to the God who has comforted and helped him many times already.
He is scared, but he clings to the promise God gave him. Look at his boldness as he reminds God what he said. Isn’t he like a child with a parent, “You said…”? What confidence he has, both in the power of God to save, and in the heart of God to want to. And why wouldn’t he have such confidence? He has experienced the faithfulness of God firsthand, “I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps” (32:10).
He also has a new humility, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.” In this place of fear and neediness, Jacob fully understands his own weakness and inability to save himself or those he loves. Tricks won’t work here. All he can do is throw himself on the mercy of God.
I don’t know whether he’s thinking about his grandfather Abraham, but he’s being just like him, believing the promises of God against every contradicting circumstance.
After praying, he sleeps. The next day he does what he can to calm Esau. These three things together: praying, sleeping, and doing, are rooted in the certainty that God exists, and that he is willing and able to help. Jacob is probably still afraid, but he’s acting on what he knows is true about God.
He has become a man of faith.