July 9, 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.6: Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau. (Genesis 32:7-12)     

 

 

 

Genesis 32:7-12 (KJV)

 

7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;

8 And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.

9 And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:

10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.

11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.

12 And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.

 

 

Introduction

 

In this passage there is twofold fear.  In verses 7 and 8, Jacob fears man; in verses 9-12 he fears God.  His prayer shows real but partial faith, and also true humility with intense earnestness.  Grace is at work throughout the course of his life, but his life is not yet clear of unworthy elements.

 

 

Commentary

 

7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;

8 And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.

 

THEN JACOB WAS GREATLY AFRAID AND DISTRESSED, for he was thinking, “It all depends on me!” That was Jacob!  It all depends on me” had been his motto throughout his life. But in the dangerous situation he currently faced the outcome did not depend on him.  Jacob is fearful of meeting Esau, and he has more than one good reason.  Esau is the guy who had more than one reason for wanting to kill him the last time they were together.  And he is coming to meet Jacob with 400 other guys.  They are nearing the river Jabbok, which flows east-west from the mountains east of the Jordon. There is a place there where the Jordon itself can easily be crossed and Jacob can get his people and possessions into the main part of the country.

 

AND HE DIVIDED THE PEOPLE THAT WAS WITH HIM, AND THE FLOCKS, AND HERDS, AND THE CAMELS, INTO TWO BANDS.  Jacob was still scheming, ignoring God, who was saying, “Trust me, Jacob.” Jacob was saying, “I do trust you, Lord, but—”

 

The story underlines the irony of the situation in several ways.  It looks as if God knew that Jacob will be somewhat apprehensive of meeting Esau, so He sends him some help.  Jacob gives the name “Mahanaim” (meaning “TWO BANDS”) to the place where this happens, and “BAND” commonly denotes a military encampment, which suggests that the help God sent were angels who are to provide supernatural protection and encourage Jacob, like the vision of the stairway to heaven with its similarities to the vision in 2 Kings 6.  One irony lies in the way Jacob sends off his heavenly protectors to meet Esau and divides his own family and “forces”— servants, slaves and paid workers—into TWO BANDS, so that if Esau attacks one, the other may escape.  The impression appears to be that he does not have much confidence in the supernatural.

 

AND [Jacob] SAID, IF ESAU COME TO THE ONE COMPANY, AND SMITE IT, THEN THE OTHER COMPANY WHICH IS LEFT SHALL ESCAPE.  He is a clever man.  He thinks that if his brother strikes one group, then the other one can escape.  Jacob is not showing much confidence in the supernatural band God has sent to aid him there.  And he is disregarding the lives of some of his followers he sent out ahead to take the brunt of the expected attacked.  This might enable others to escape.  It was a poor strategy against four hundred men, and Jacob would have been better off to maintain the original TWO BANDS—his company and God’s army of angels—and trust the Lord to see him through.  The order of travel was angels first, most of his servants, “FLOCKS, AND HERDS, AND THE CAMELS” second, and the third group was probably Jacob, his family, and a number of his servants.

 

Only after doing all that does Jacob start praying.  Genesis tells of no reply to the prayer, which consists of verses 9-12, though perhaps the meeting that will shortly happen counts as a response to it.

 

 

9 And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:

 

Jacob’s relationship to fear is a complex one.  In his confrontations with Laban he used a distinctive title for GOD.  Previously he had spoken of “the GOD of my father,” the GOD who was committed to his father and made promises to his father and who he knows is also committed to him, because he stands in the line to which GOD has made a commitment in connection with fulfilling His purpose to bless his family and to bless the nations.  Here he speaks of this GOD more specifically as the “Reverence of ISAAC,” the God whom ISAAC reveres.  But the Hebrew word for reverence is the same as the word for fear.  There is a positive fear that expresses itself in reverence, awe, commitment, and obedience, and a negative fear that means being “AFRAID.”  Jacob doesn’t mean that ISAAC is AFRAID or frightened of God.  Indeed, ironically, having a reverence and awe toward God means you increase in the confidence that can characterize your life in general. 

 

When negotiations broke down (32:3-6) JACOB thought he would try intercession (32:9-12).  The prayer he now offered to God was one of great boldness and beauty, and yet it was prayed by a man whose faith was very weak.  Every statement in this prayer indicates that Jacob had a profound knowledge of God’s ways and God’s character, and yet he was praying in desperation and not in confidence.  It was the prayer of a desperate man for deliverance, a man who suddenly realized that “it doesn’t all depend on me”; rather, it all depends on GOD.  He did not possess the pagan concept of many gods.  He identified this God with THE LORD who had given him commands and promises.  It was the same God who met with His servants at any time and at any place He chose.  He was the God who had the right and the power to say, “Go,” and, “Return”; he had the integrity and the power to fulfill His promise to be with Jacob and DEAL WELL with him.  He now cries out to Him on the basis that He is the“GOD OF HIS FATHER ABRAHAM AND THE GOD OF HIS FATHER ISAAC.”   The prayer is in four parts.  First, Jacob pleaded for the purposes of God“O GOD OF MY FATHER ABRAHAM, AND GOD OF MY FATHER ISAAC, THE LORD WHICH SAIDST UNTO ME, RETURN UNTO THY COUNTRY, AND TO THY KINDRED, AND I WILL DEAL WELL WITH THEE.” He said in effect, “If I had not been obedient to you, Lord, I would be hundreds of miles away from Esau right now!” It is a great thing to be able to come to God and say “Lord here I am in the very center of Thy will.  You know the circumstances that have arisen.  They are beyond me, but they are your responsibility because I am right where you want me to be, right now.”

 

Times of fear should be times of prayer; whatever frightens us, should drive us to our knees, to our God.  Jacob had recently seen his angel protectors, but in his current distressing situation, he sought help from God not from them.  He knew they were his fellow-servants—But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!” (Revelation 22:9).  And he didn’t consult Laban’s teraphim; it was enough for him that he had a God to go to.

 

GOD in his grace had called ABRAHAM and made a covenant with him (12:1-3), and that covenant was affirmed both to ISAAC and to Jacob.  It was on the basis of that covenant that Jacob asked GOD for the help he desperately needed.  God’s people today approached the throne of grace through Jesus Christ on the basis of the new covenant that he made through His own blood (Hebrews 8:6-13; 12: 22-24).

 

THE LORD WHICH SAIDST UNTO ME, RETURN UNTO THY COUNTRY, AND TO THY KINDRED, AND I WILL DEAL WELL WITH THEE.  Jacob certainly was happy to get out from under Laban’s control, but it was God’s idea that he leave Padan Aram and return to his own land (31:13).  Jacob forgot that God’s commandment always involves God’s enablement, for God will never lead us where the power of God can’t protect us and provide for us.  But Jacob’s imagination ran ahead of his theology, and he was sure Esau was coming to destroy him.

 

 

10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.

 

Then he pleaded the providence of God. I AM NOT WORTHY OF THE LEAST OF ALL THE MERCIES, AND OF ALL THE TRUTH, WHICH THOU HAST SHEWED UNTO THY SERVANT; FOR WITH MY STAFF I PASSED OVER THIS JORDAN; AND NOW I AM BECOME TWO BANDS.” Jacob was standing near the conjunction of the Jabbok and the Jordon.  There he reminded God of the wonderful way He had cared for him.  In every trial and burden that came to Jacob, God had been faithful and kind to care for him.  When Jacob arrived at Laban’s home, twenty years ago, all he owned was his Pilgrims staff, and now, by the blessing of God, he was a wealthy man—not because he deserved it. On the contrary, God had given him both enrichment and enlightenment far beyond anything he could have thought.  He was a new Jacob.  Why would God care for him for 20 years and then allow him to be murdered by his brother? 

 

I am beginning to detect a little change in Jacob’s life.  This is the first time I have ever heard him say, “I AM NOT WORTHY OF THE LEAST OF ALL THE MERCIES.” For the first time, he is acknowledging that he might be a sinner in God’s sight.  As long as we are in this life, we have that old nature that isn’t even fit to go to heaven.  And do you know that God is not going to let it go to heaven?  Tom Lowe cannot go there.  That is the reason God had to give me a new nature; the old one wasn’t even fit to repair.  This fellow Jacob is beginning now to say that he is not WORTHY (He is losing his self-righteous arrogance.) to receive divine mercies, i.e., deeds of kindness.  When any man begins to move toward God on that basis, he will find that God will communicate with him.

 

Jacob makes this very interesting statement: “FOR WITH MY STAFF I PASSED OVER THIS JORDAN; AND NOW I AM BECOME TWO BANDS.” When Jacob first left Canaan he was a lonely wayfarer with no companion but his STAFF; now, blessed by God, he returns with a large family and an abundance of possessions.

 

 

11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.

 

He pleaded for the protection of God: “DELIVER ME, I PRAY THEE, FROM THE HAND OF MY BROTHER, FROM THE HAND OF ESAU: FOR I FEAR HIM.” Now Jacob came to the point.  Esau had a reputation for cruelty.  “LEST HE WILL COME AND SMITE ME, AND THE MOTHER WITH THE CHILDREN,” Jacob cried. The literal rendering of his cry was “lest he smite . . . the mother upon the child.” The picture is of a hunter destroying a hen, even as it spreads its wings to protect its brood; a picture of unsparing determination, and an eye that knows no pity, of a hand that will not spare.  Jacob had visions of his camp turned into a carnage heap, strewn with dead.  He could see Rachel dead, Leah dead, the slave-wives dead, Judah dead, Joseph dead.  He pleaded for God’s protection from the violence of Esau. You see, Jacob wasn’t thinking only of himself, but he had his family and God’s great plan in mind as well.  Jacob’s sons would multiply and become the nation of Israel; and through Israel, God would bring blessing to all humankind.  The Savior would come from the tribe of Judea and die for the sins of the world, and Paul would come from the tribe of Benjamin and carry the Gospel to the Gentiles.  Was this eternal purpose destined to fail because of the anger of one man? 

 

There cannot be a better model for genuine prayer than what Jacob prayed on this occasion.  Here is a thankful acknowledgment of former unmerited favors; a humble confession of complete unworthiness; a genuine description of his fears and distress; an unreserved account of the whole affair to the Lord, renouncing all other dependence, and resting all his hopes on Him.  The best we can say to God in prayer is what he has said to us.

 

 

12 And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.

 

Finally he pleaded for the promises of God. AND THOU SAIDST, I WILL SURELY DO THEE GOOD, AND MAKE THY SEED AS THE SAND OF THE SEA.” That is always a potent argument with God.  Take Him boldly back to His promises.  Of course, God does not need to be reminded of His promises, and no arguments can make them any plainer to Him or convince Him to act sooner than He planned.  It is enough that He has the petitions of souls trusting in His intervention, appeals based upon His own Word and confirmed by His oath.

 

Jacob reminded the Lord of the promises He had made to him at Bethel (28:12-15), especially that He would do him good and multiply his descendants.  God told Jacob that he would be with him and bring him back to Bethel, and that He would accomplish His purposes in and through him.  If God allowed Esau and his men to kill Jacob and his family, none of those promises would be fulfilled.

 

While we don’t want to imitate Jacob’s fear, unbelief, scheming, and his proneness to jump to conclusions, we would do well to pray the way he prayed.  He claimed God’s promises, remembered God’s goodness, and rested completely on God’s character and covenant.  No matter what circumstances we may face or what fears may grip our hearts, we can trust God to be faithful to His character and His Word.

 

The aim of the prayer was to gain divine deliverance, for Jacob was gripped by fear.  His own death and the slaughter of his wives and children seemed imminent.  He closed his prayer by again pleading the validity of the divine promises and God’s faithfulness to fulfill them through preventive protection.  Note: God wants people to remind Him of His Word when they pray.  This is a motivation of our faith.

 

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