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 womenservants: 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. 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.
Jacob and company are about to meet even another group, but this one does not comfort or put Jacob in awe but terrifies him. Jacob knows that he did his brother wrong twenty years ago. He has to pass through Esau’s territory.
Genesis 25:30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
Genesis 36:8 Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom.
Notice the following as the Hebrews travel to the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy 2:1 ¶ Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days. 2 And the LORD spake unto me, saying, 3 Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward. 4 And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore: 5 Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession. 6 Ye shall buy meat of them for money, that ye may eat; and ye shall also buy water of them for money, that ye may drink.
Clearly, Jacob has kept informed about his brother’s doings. He appears to be making an offering to Esau, to hopefully buy off his desire for revenge. Jacob’s servants, which he sent as scouts to see what Esau’s mind was about, tell him that Esau is coming his way with four hundred men. It does not look good for Jacob, his family, his servants, and his wealth, if not his life.
Dividing his group into two Jacob hopes that if Esau attacks one the other will escape. Notice two things here. God made provision for Esau even though Esau, perhaps, did not do right by our view. He was a carnal, a man dominated by his flesh. But God took care of him. He was not part of the ministry to reconcile man to God except in this part with his relationship with Jacob. But God put his territory in the path of God’s man so that God’s man would have to pass through it.
There are a lot of potential sermons in this passage, for instance, how you as a Christian, a type of Jacob, may have to pass through an Esau’s territory to get where God wants you to go. Or, how you may have to face an unsaved person or a brother in Christ whom you’ve wronged in the past. How your fears may blow things all out of proportion to what God has planned. Many sermon possibilities, many examples of the Christian’s real life experiences.
Another thing to consider is how fearful Jacob is even though God told him to go back to his own place. He lacked the courage of his faith to believe God would continue to bless and protect him. Here we see in the Bible an understanding of our weaknesses. Even in the face of our greatest spiritual triumph, even doing God’s perfect will, we sometimes have fear and uncertainty, doubts and concerns. It is not unusual, does not show you are denying God’s will, just that you are human and weak.