Jacob the Patriarch (8)
Pope Shenouda III | 1 May 2011
The journey back & Jacob's fear of his brother Esau
After settling his family issues, whether the wrestling of his two wives, or the pursue of his uncle Laban, Jacob set on his way back to his father's house.
Terror from Esau:
He was afraid, or rather terrified and trembling, in spite of all God's promises and support.
Probably the words of Esau were still ringing in his ears, "I will kill my brother Jacob" (Gen 27: 41), or he remembered how he seized the opportunity of his brother's hunger and took his birthright, and made him swear (Gen 25: 31, 33). Maybe he recalled the deceit with which he took the birthright when he said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn", and how his father said to Esau, "Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing." (Gen 27: 19, 35)
Those sins continued pursuing and annoying him for twenty years.
Jacob's thoughts troubled him. Has the time come to give account of those sins? He was afraid of meeting with Esau in the desert, away from his father and mother, lest he take revenge from him. Undoubtedly, he was still guilty in his sight, and the years did not blot out the guilt. God is capable of forgiving sins, but would Esau forgive? He is a hunter, he knows how to dart arrows from far without shaking on seeing the prey bending of pain, would he then hunt him?
He was paying the wages of his sin in fear. Fear pursued him as he had supplanted Esau his brother (Gen 27: 36, 25: 26).
Fear was part of his nature, in addition to the feeling of guilt and the certainty of his brother's harshness and cruelty. Fear entered into the human nature only after the first sin, when our father Adam in fear hid among the trees (Gen 3: 8).
Jacob's fear made him forget God's promises. He could not find peace in them!
The first promise from God's mouth to Jacob was, "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you." (Gen 28: 15)
The second promise was, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you." (Gen 31: 13) The third was, "I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family." (Gen 31: 13) There was no need for fear then, for since it was God's command to him to return, He certainly was going to protect him on the way. God therefore intended to do something that would remove away fear from him.
On the way angels of God met Jacob, so he said, "This is God’s camp." (Gen 32: 1, 2) One angel was enough to make him peaceful, but Jacob's fear was so great that he needed a camp of angles!
Arrangements for the meeting:
Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother and commanded them, saying, "Speak thus to my lord Esau, 'Thus your servant Jacob says: 'I have dwelt with Laban and stayed there until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.'" (Gen 32: 3- 5)
We notice that Jacob, to appease Esau's heart, repeated the words "my lord", "your servant" many times. Actually, the blessing Jacob had received made him master over his brethren and made them bow down to him (Gen 27:29). When Esau asked his father for a blessing, Isaac said to him, "Indeed I have made him your master, and all his brethren I have given to him as servants …What shall I do now for you, my son?" (Gen 27: 37)
It was then as if Jacob was saying to Esau, 'If that blessing annoyed you, from now on, I will call you my master and I will be your servant. As for the blessing of having my brethren bow down to me, I will bow down to you many times so that you may calm down!' Jacob continued in such fear until the messengers returned to him saying, "He also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him." O God! Esau alone was fearful and terrifying, how about four hundred men with him! Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. In such fear and expectation of danger, he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, and he said, "If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape." (Gen 32: 7, 8) O Jacob, where is your faith in the many divine promises, or the impact of the angels' campaign who appeared to you? Fear has paralyzed his feelings!
Here Jacob made an impressive prayer, saying, "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you', I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, 'I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'" (Gen 32: 9- 12)
Jacob's weakness was clear in this prayer, and he admitted his weakness and fear before God, admitted God's benefits to him, and confessed that he was not worthy of all that. He reminded God of His promise to make his descendants as the sand of the sea, wondering how that would happen, if Esau came and attacked the mother with the children! So, he asked God to help and deliver him from the hand of his brother whom he feared.
How strange that one asks deliverance from the hands of one's brother!
It is the human nature, when evil finds its way through it, a brother may do harm to his brother! The Scripture provides various examples of this fact, from among which we recall how Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him (Gen 4: 8), how Esau said, "I will kill my brother Jacob" (Gen 27: 41), how Joseph's brothers conspired against him to kill him (Gen 37: 18) but for Judah who saved him by suggesting to his brothers to sell him to the Ishmaelites (Gen 37: 26, 28), and how Absalom commanded his servants to kill Amnon his brother (2 Sam 13: 28, 29).
As for our father Jacob and his fear from his brother Esau, he first sent him messengers to appease him with words like "my lord; your servant", and to get his permission to return. He told him about the great wealth he had of oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female servants, so that he might not be surprised of seeing all that suddenly. Then he tried to have favor in his sight by sending him a generous present: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milk camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten foals. He delivered them to the hand of his servants to pass over before me and put some distance between successive droves (Gen 32: 14- 16). He said, "I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me." (Gen 32: 20) Maybe God wanted to cleanse Jacob's property from what he had taken from his uncle Laban.
Strange indeed that Jacob did not conceal from anybody how far he revered and feared Esau as a lord!
He commanded the messengers he sent and the servants who carried the presents, saying to the first to say to Esau if he asked about the presents, "They are your servant Jacob’s. It is a present sent to my lord Esau; and behold, he also is behind us." He also commanded the second, the third, and all who followed the same (Gen 32: 17- 19).
God's blessing to Jacob:
He needed a strong blessing before going on the last stage of his journey. He crossed with his children, his two wives, and his two maids, and all his wealth, then he waited to see God's work. God wanted to cheer up that trembling man by showing him that he could wrestle and prevail! He appeared to him in the form of a Man and wrestled with him until the breaking of day. God treated him like a child, caressing, and showing him that he could prevail, that he might be happy! Finally, He touched the socket of his hip, and it was out of joint. God wanted him to rejoice at his victory, but not to be proud of it, and He changed his name into Israel, saying, "For you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed." Jacob therefore called the name of the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." (Gen 32: 22- 28) So many times did God appear to the weak Jacob to strengthen him and deliver him from fear!
A wonderful meeting between the brothers:
Neither the vision, which Jacob had seen nor the blessing he received did make him lose his humility.
When he saw his brother Esau approaching with the four hundred men, he divided his family three divisions so that each group bow down before Esau, the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children behind, and Rachel and Joseph last. Then he crossed over before them and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. A wonderful and unexpected thing happened, in which Jacob's humbleness prevailed over the Esau's cruelty. Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept (Gen 33: 3, 4)! Certainly Jacob had thousands of apprehensions and imagined fearful dangers, but that his brother receive him in such a way was something wonderful and surpassing all imagination, to do this to him who had taken away the blessing of birthright from him!
While Jacob was attempting to appease Esau by humbleness and bowing of all the family before him, God was working within the heart of Esau. When Esau asked him about those with him, Jacob said, "These are to find favor in the sight of my lord." When Esau tried to refuse the present, Jacob pleaded with him, saying, "No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me." (Gen 33: 10) Jacob insisted, and Esau accepted the present, for a soft answer turns away wrath (Prov 15: 1).
Jacob's words were indeed soft, and his actions showed his humility, whether by sending messengers with many presents, or by words like, "my lord, your servant", by bowing before him, seeking to find favor in his sight or by deeming seeing him as if he had seen the face of God. On the other hand, Esau did not show pride or return violence for violence, not reminding him that he was the real owner of the blessing and the divine promises!