June 27, 2015

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART: III HISTORY OF ISAAC AND JACOB (Gen. 25:19-36:43)

 

Topic #D:  JACOB'S RETURN TO CANAAN. (Gen. 31:1-33:17)                

 

 


Lesson III.D.5: A Friendly Message to Esau. (Genesis 32:3-6)     

 

 

 

Genesis 32:3-6 (KJV)

 

3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.

4 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:

5 And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and women servants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.

6 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.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Jacob leaves Laban and goes on to Canaan.  He does this in obedience to God’s command: “Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (31:3).  Genesis 32:3-6 describes Jacob’s preliminary preparations for meeting Esau.  At the news that Esau has 400 men with him, Jacob becomes afraid as he remembers Esau’s threats of years before and imagines that his brother was making plans to get his revenge. Esau may have had a large armed force because he had had to subjugate the Horite (Hurrian) population of Seir (32:6).  His soldiers probably consisted of his own servants, plus the Canaanite and Ishmaelite relations of his wives. 

Unbelief is deeply entrenched in the human heart.  Even with the vision of the angel escort still dancing before his eyes, Jacob began scheming and planning again as he tried to think of ways to circumvent Esau’s fiery rage, for it had dawned on him now.  Before he could hope to live in peace and prosperity in the Promised Land, he must do something about Esau.  The greater part of chapter 32 is concerned with all the expensive and unnecessary plans Jacob evolved for pacifying his brother.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.

 

THE LAND OF SEIR was a highland country on the east and south of the Dead Sea.  It was inhabited by the Horites, who were dispossessed by ESAU or his children (Deuteronomy 11:12).  When and under what circumstances he had immigrated there, whether the separation arose out of the unfaithful conduct and idolatrous habits of his wives, which had made them unwelcome in the tents of his parents, or whether his roaming disposition had sought for a country which suited his love of adventure and the chase, he was living in a state of power and affluence, and his settlement on the outer borders of Canaan, though made of his own free-well, was overruled by Providence to pave the way for Jacob’s return to the promised land.

 

During the twenty years that JACOB labored serving his uncle Laban, ESAU had become a prince with great authority. Mount SEIR was his territory, and later on it was called by his name. Mount SEIR is another name for EDOM. It was located far south of Jacob’s ultimate destination.  In New Testament times the people of EDOM were called Idumaeans.

 

JACOB knew he must now deal with ESAU, whom he had so grievously sinned against in time past, and who as far as he knew, still intended to do him harm.  But JACOB was willing to seek peace by making the first move to establish a new relationship.

 

4 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:

5 And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and women servants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.

 

Anticipating a difficult reunion with ESAU, JACOB took the wise approach; thinking to try negotiation he sent messengers southward toward the country of Edom to make contact with ESAU and present him with a flattering, fawning message and a request that he might find peace and kindness.  And he wanted to tell Esau that after living in Mesopotamia for 20 years he was now returning to his native land, and he did not need anything, because he had an abundance of pastoral wealth, but he could not pass without notifying his brother of his arrival and paying the homage of his respectful veneration.  Acts of civility tend to disarm opposition and soften hatred (Ecclesiastes 10:4).  In any event, he told his servants,  “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 WOMEN SERVANTS: AND I HAVE SENT TO TELL MY LORD, THAT I MAY FIND GRACE IN THY SIGHT.’” Bowing and scraping!  MY LORD this and MY LORD that! He calls ESAU his LORD and himself Esau’s SERVANT to infer that he did not insist upon the privileges of his birth-right and blessing he obtained by deceiving ESAU and his father, Isaac. If a soft answer can turn away wrath, Jacob was certainly going to give it every opportunity.

 

Jacob should have committed the whole matter to God, who had protected him from Laban, but instead he adopted a condescending attitude that wasn’t appropriate for the man God had chosen to carry on the Abrahamic covenant.  He was trying to impress his brother with his wealth, but that only goes to show that he wasn’t trusting God to care for him.

 

6 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.

 

Back came the MESSENGERS with the news that ESAU was headed north, apparently with evil intentions toward JACOB—“WE CAME TO THY BROTHER ESAU, AND ALSO HE COMETH TO MEET THEE, AND FOUR HUNDRED MEN WITH HIM”—that was Esau’s grim reply.  Not a word of greeting for JACOB, not a word about the past, not a word about his intentions, just an obvious warning of his ability to deal with JACOB now from strength, not weakness as before.  Their report left JACOB in painful uncertainty as to what was his brother’s mindset and feelings.  Esau’s deliberate aloofness gave him a reason to dread the worst.  JACOB was naturally timid; but his conscience told him that there was good reason for apprehension, and his distress was all the more aggravating because he had to provide for the safety of a large and helpless family.

 

We have reason to think that Esau’s resentment revived when he received Jacob’s message, and that he set out with malicious intentions, though God did not allow them to be fulfilled.  Now JACOB knew his brother had not forgotten Jacob’s double-dealing.  “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city!” (Proverbs 18:19). Already JACOB had forgotten the unseen host that marched with him in the spirit world.

 

The reaction of ESAU frightened poor Jacob so much that he didn’t know what to make of it.  ESAU did not indicate his intentions to the servants at all. Evidently, the MESSENGERS of JACOB had not talked to ESAU personally. I suppose that JACOB questioned them rather thoroughly and said something like this: “Did you detect any note of animosity or bitterness or hatred toward me?” And I suppose that one of the servants said, “No, he seemed to be glad to get the information that you were coming to meet him, and now he’s coming to meet you.” But the fact that ESAU appeared glad was no comfort to JACOB.  It could mean that ESAU would be glad for the opportunity of getting revenge.

 

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