Please note: Part One will be a devotion from scripture. Part Two will be a journal entry based on that scripture.
And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, "We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.”
Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.
On the day it happened, Jacob was standing at the River Jabbok again. This river, descending some fifty miles down “deep cut canyons”, fed straight into the Jordan. 1 It was his highway home to the land God had promised his grandfather Abraham, then his father Isaac, and now to him and his children forever.
Still, it would take time to get there. He had slow moving flocks stretching across the land for as far as the eye could see. It was lambing season with nursing ewes and newborns that could not be driven hard (33:13). How different than the last time he stood at this river. Back then, he crossed the ford of the Jabbok alone, as he often said, “with only my staff” (32:10). But now, he was a man with family, abundant flocks, and great wealth. His years of slavery under his tormented uncle Laban were finally over.
Of all days, this one should have filled his heart with joy.
But no, instead, one thing captured his mind -- the one story written deep into the fabric of his soul that dates back even to his time in his mother’s womb. The two of them. Twins. Wrestling even there.
It had been 20 years since he’d seen him. In those days, his father made it sound like he was sending Jacob to Mesopotamia, back to his mother’s family, to find a wife (28:1-2). Truth be told, he was running from Esau and his fury (27:43-45; 35:1).
Was Esau different now? Had his anger subsided?
Jacob had to find out. He crafts a carefully worded message announcing his return (32:4-5). He sends messengers -- were they trusted farmhands? – to get a read on Esau. He’s got to know how he’ll react. Will he extend favor and kindness? Will he be indifferent? Or worse, will he somehow oppose him, threaten him?
Soon enough, the messengers returned.
But their report was more than confusing. “We came to your brother Esau,” they said. But they had no letter from him. They had no words, no message. No sense of how Esau received them or how he reacted when the news first hit his ears. All they said was this: “He is coming to meet you.” And again: “Four hundred men are with him.”
At the sound of these words, fear entered Jacob’s soul.
The Message records it this way: “Jacob was scared. Very scared. Panicked…” (32:7). It was, in every way, a declaration of war. An army was coming against him. All Jacob had were farmhands. He had eleven sons and a daughter all under the age of thirteen. No doubt he had only the weaponry needed to fight off wild beasts and looters. Not this. Not an army of 400. Not under the command of Esau and old, bitter rage.
Here at the Jabbok, Jacob “was greatly afraid and distressed.”
1 Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1995. p. 328.