And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children to Leah…
Now think, brethren, what a revulsion of feeling there would be in Jacob's heart. He would think, "Have I been all these years vexing myself for this!" Here was the thing, so happy and pleasant and kindly when it came, that had many a time broken his night's rest at Haran just to think of it; that had been a dull gnawing at his heart, making him uneasy and restless in cheerful company; that had been the drop of gall in every cup he tasted — all these years! And one thing we may be almost sure of: that in all his picturing out of this dreaded meeting, thinking of it as coming in twenty sad ways, if there was one thing he never pictured out, it would be just the meeting as it actually came! The thing you expect is, in this world, the last thing that is likely to befall you.
1. How needless are our fears! In how many cases we conjure up things to vex and alarm us! For one-and-twenty years Jacob had kept himself unhappy through the fear of a meeting which, when it came, proved one of the happiest things that ever befell him in all his life. Now, have not you many a time looked forward with great anxiety to something that was coming, and then, when it came, found that all your anxiety had been perfectly needless? We all have it in our power to make ourselves miserable if we look far into the years before us and calculate their probabilities of evil, and steadily anticipate the worst. It is not expedient to calculate too far ahead. Oh that we had all more faith, Christian friends, in God's sure promise made to every true Christian, that as the day, so shall the strength be! We have all known the anticipated ills of life — the danger that looked so big, the duty that looked so arduous, the entanglement that we could not see our way through prove to have been nothing more than spectres on the horizon; and when at length we reached them, all their difficulty had vanished into air, leaving us to think how foolish we had been for having so needlessly set up phantoms to disturb our quiet. I remember well how a good and able man, who died not long ago, told me many times of his fears as to what he would do in a certain contingency which both he and I thought was quite sure to come sooner or later. I know that the anticipation of it cost him some of the most anxious hours of a very anxious, though useful, life. But his fears proved just as vain as Jacob's in the prospect of meeting Esau. He was taken from this world before what he dreaded had cast its most distant shadow. God, in His own way, delivered that man from the event he had feared. Some people are of an anxious, despondent temperament, ready rather to anticipate evil than to look for good. But all of us, brethren, need more faith in God. How comprehensive a prayer that is, asking so much for time and for eternity, "Lord, increase our faith!" We bear a far heavier burden than we need bear. If we had the faith which we ought to have, and which the Holy Spirit is ready to work in us, we should cast all our care on God, who careth for us.
2. In those seasons of anxiety and foreboding which, through our weak faith and our remaining sinfulness, will come to us all, we should remember what Jacob did, and where Jacob found relief. He turned to God in prayer. He went and told God all his fear, and asked deliverance from God. And not once, but many times; through a long night of terrible alarm and apprehension he wrestled in urgent prayer. And see what he got by it. He got relief of heart, certainly: of that we are sure. Perhaps he got more. We cannot say how far those prayers went to turn Esau's heart, and to make him meet Jacob in that kindly spirit. When we are overwhelmed, fearful, perplexed, anxious, let us go to God, and humbly and earnestly tell Him all we are thinking and fearing, and ask Him to deliver us and comfort us. "Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." If ever there were words confirmed by the experience of Christian people, you have them here. Perhaps our prayer may cause the trouble we bear or we dread to go away. Perhaps the stroke that seemed sure to fall may be withheld; perhaps the hope that seemed sure to be blighted may be fulfilled after all: perhaps the blessing that seemed sure to be taken away from us may be spared us yet. Perhaps, through our prayer, it may be with us as it was with Jacob: when we come up to the time, the trial, the duty, we feared, we may find that there is nothing about it to be afraid of. But our prayer may be answered in a way that is better and happier still. It may please God to allow all that we feared to befall us. It may please Him to disappoint the hope, to frustrate the work, to continue the long disease, to bring the beloved one down to the grave; but with all that to resign our heart, to make us humble and content, to sanctify the trial to work in us a patience, a faith, a humility, a charity, a sympathy, that are worth, a thousand times over, all worldly happiness and success. Oh what an attainment it is, which Christians sometimes reach, to feel, if only for a little while, that our whole heart's wish is that our blessed Saviour's will be done and His glory be advanced; and that, as for us, we are content to go where He leads us, and to do and bear what He sends, sure that the way by which He leads us is the right way, and that it will bring us to our home at last! And prayer will bring us to this, if anything will. Do not, with the gnawing anxiety at your heart, sit sullenly and try to bear your burden alone. Go with a lowly heart and roll your burden on the strong arm of God Almighty! Oh how it will lighten your heart to tell Him, simply, all your fears! You will come back, like Jacob, from your Saviour's footstool, calmed and cheered. And even if the stroke should fall, even if we come out of our trial somewhat stricken and subdued, not quite the people we were — as Jacob came lamed from that long night of prevailing prayer — we shall be thankful and content if the stroke be sanctified to us: as he (we may be sure) would never murmur as he halted on through life. One word to prevent misapprehension. All this peace and hope is spoken only to Christian people. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked," or to any who have no part in Christ. We can speak no comfort to such in their fears. There is too good reason for that dull foreboding of evil they bear through life. Their fears are not needless.
(A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.