Genesis 32:7
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;
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(7) Jacob was greatly afraid.—Jacob’s message to his brother had been very humble, for he calls Esau his lord, and himself a servant. He hopes also to “find grace in his sight,” and by enumerating his wealth shows that he required no aid, nor need claim even a share of Isaac’s property. But Esau had given no answer, being probably undecided as to the manner in which he would receive his brother. The “four hundred men with him” formed probably only a part of the little army with which he had invaded the Horite territory. Some would be left with the spoil which he had gathered, but he took so many with him as to place Jacob completely in his power. And Jacob’s extreme distress, in spite of the Divine encouragement repeatedly given him, shows that his faith was very feeble; but it was real, and therefore he sought refuge from his terror in prayer.

32:1-8 The angels of God appeared to Jacob, to encourage him with the assurance of the Divine protection. When God designs his people for great trials, he prepares them by great comforts. While Jacob, to whom the promise belonged, had been in hard service, Esau was become a prince. Jacob sent a message, showing that he did not insist upon the birth-right. Yielding pacifies great offences, Ec 10:4. We must not refuse to speak respectfully, even to those unjustly angry with us. Jacob received an account of Esau's warlike preparations against him, and was greatly afraid. A lively sense of danger, and quickening fear arising from it, may be found united with humble confidence in God's power and promise.Jacob now sends a message to Esau apprising him of his arrival. Unto the land of Seir. Arabia Petraea, with which Esau became connected by his marriage with a daughter of Ishmael. He was now married 56 years to his first two wives, and 20 to his last, and therefore, had a separate and extensive establishment of children and grandchildren. Jacob endeavors to make amends for the past by an humble and respectful approach to his older brother, in which he styles himself, "thy servant" and Esau, "my lord." He informs him of his wealth, to intimate that he did not expect anything from him. "Four hundred men with him." This was a formidable force. Esau had begun to live by the sword Genesis 27:40, and had surrounded himself with a numerous body of followers. Associated by marriage with the Hittites and the Ishmaelites, he had rapidly risen to the rank of a powerful chieftain. It is vain to conjecture with what intent Esau advanced at the head of so large a retinue. It is probable that he was accustomed to a strong escort, that he wished to make an imposing appearance before his brother, and that his mind was in that wavering state, when the slightest incident might soothe him into good-will, or arouse him to vengeance. Jacob, remembering his own former dealings with him, has good cause for alarm. He betakes himself to the means of deliverance. He disposes of his horde into two camps, that if one were attacked and captured, the other might meanwhile escape. He never neglects to take all the precautions in his power.6. The messengers returned to Jacob—Their report left Jacob in painful uncertainty as to what was his brother's views and feelings. Esau's studied reserve gave him reason to dread the worst. Jacob was naturally timid; but his conscience told him that there was much ground for apprehension, and his distress was all the more aggravated that he had to provide for the safety of a large and helpless family. Notwithstanding the renewed promise of God, and the late apparition of angels,

Jacob was greatly afraid; wherein he showed the weakness of his faith, to which God left him for his trial and exercise, and to quicken him to prayer, that so God might have more glory, and he more comfort in the mercy.

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed,.... Knowing what he had done to his brother in getting the birthright and blessing from him, and what an enmity he had conceived in his mind against him on that account, and remembering what he had said he would do to him; and therefore might fear that all his professions of respect to him were craftily and cunningly made to take him off of his guard, and that he might the more easily fall into his hands, and especially when he heard there were four hundred men with him; this struck a terror into him, and made him suspicious of an ill design against him; though herein Jacob betrayed much weakness and want of faith, when God has promised again and again that he would he with him, and keep him, and protect him, and return him safe to the land of Canaan; and when he had just had such an appearance of angels to be his helpers, guardians, and protectors:

and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and the herds, and the camels, into two bands: some of his servants and shepherds, with a part of the flocks and herds, in one band or company, and some with the rest of them, and the camels, and his wives, and his children, in the other.

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

(c) Though he was comforted by the angels, yet the infirmity of the flesh appears.

7. two companies] The word for “companies” is the same as that rendered “host” in Genesis 32:2, except that it occurs in the plural (mahanoth). This is evidently another explanation of the origin of the name Mahanaim. It is a pity that the same word, “camp,” has not been used here and in Genesis 32:2; Genesis 32:8; Genesis 32:10; Genesis 32:21, in order to bring out the two etymologies that were current.

Verses 7, 8. - Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: - literally, it was narrow to him; i.e. he was perplexed. Clearly the impression left on Jacob's mind by the report of his ambassadors was that he had nothing to expect but hostility - and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands; - according to Gerlach, caravans are frequently divided thus in the present day, and for the same reason as Jacob assigns - And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape. It is easy to blame Jacob for want of faith in not trusting to God instead of resorting to his own devices (Candlish), but his behavior in the circumstances evinced great self-possession, non ita expavefactum fuisse Jacob quin res suns eomponeret (Calvin), considerable prudence (Lange), if not exalted chivalry (Candlish), a peaceful disposition which did not wish vim armata repellere (Rosenmüller), and a truly-religious spirit ('Speaker's Commentary'), since in his terror he betakes himself to prayer. Genesis 32:7From this point Jacob sent messengers forward to his brother Esau, to make known his return in such a style of humility ("thy servant," "my lord") as was adapted to conciliate him. אחר (Genesis 32:5) is the first pers. imperf. Kal for אאחר, from אחר to delay, to pass a time; cf. Proverbs 8:17, and Ges. 68, 2. The statement that Esau was already in the land of Seir (Genesis 32:4), or, as it is afterwards called, the field of Edom, is not at variance with Genesis 36:6, and may be very naturally explained on the supposition, that with the increase of his family and possessions, he severed himself more and more from his father's house, becoming increasingly convinced, as time went on, that he could hope for no change in the blessings pronounced by his father upon Jacob and himself, which excluded him from the inheritance of the promise, viz., the future possession of Canaan. Now, even if his malicious feelings towards Jacob had gradually softened down, he had probably never said anything to his parents on the subject, so that Rebekah had been unable to fulfil her promise (Genesis 27:45); and Jacob, being quite uncertain as to his brother's state of mind, was thrown into the greatest alarm and anxiety by the report of the messengers, that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. The simplest explanation of the fact that Esau should have had so many men about him as a standing army, is that given by Delitzsch; namely, that he had to subjugate the Horite population in Seir, for which purpose he might easily have formed such an army, partly from the Canaanitish and Ishmaelitish relations of his wives, and partly from his own servants. His reason for going to meet Jacob with such a company may have been, either to show how mighty a prince he was, or with the intention of making his brother sensible of his superior power, and assuming a hostile attitude if the circumstances favoured it, even though the lapse of years had so far mitigated his anger, that he no longer seriously thought of executing the vengeance he had threatened twenty years before. For we are warranted in regarding Jacob's fear as no vain, subjective fancy, but as having an objective foundation, by the fact that God endowed him with courage and strength for his meeting with Esau, through the medium of the angelic host and the wrestling at the Jabbok; whilst, on the other hand, the brotherly affection and openness with which Esau met him, are to be attributed partly to Jacob's humble demeanour, and still more to the fact, that by the influence of God, the still remaining malice had been rooted out from his heart.
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