Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
I. In regard to THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH JACOB WAS PLACED, we may observe that he was surrounded by a numerous family, to whom he was strongly attached, and some of whom were of a very tender age; and that he saw the whole of them, with himself, liable, in the course of a few transitory hours, to be cut off by the sword of an enraged brother.
I. HE TOOK THOSE MEASURES DICTATED BY HUMAN PRUDENCE.
And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother.I. We will consider, in the first place, THE PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES WHICH JACOB ADOPTED. In the first instance, as soon as he heard of the evil which apparently awaited him, he immediately divided" the people that were with him into two bands," in the hope that if one company was suddenly surprised and smitten, the other might in the interim escape.
II. But in the second place, let us notice WHAT WAS JACOB'S CHIEF RESOURCE IN THIS PRESSING EXIGENCY. It was the throne of grace. Prayer is, in fact, the peculiar privilege and the natural habit of a truly pious mind. Prayer also is a very powerful proof of the state of the heart. If we see men, who profess and call themselves Christians, struggling and contending in their own strength, with second causes, as the source of their sorrows, in the hope of overcoming them, and not affectionately, earnestly, spontaneously spreading their case before the Lord, we have reason to doubt the sincerity of their religious profession.
III. But, with these prefatory remarks, let us now examine THE NATURE OF JACOB'S PRAYER. It is a very beautiful example of real prayer. It is simple, full, and energetic. We will glance briefly at its leading topics.
1. There is, first, a simple and vindicatory statement of the circumstances in which Jacob was placed. He had not brought himself thoughtlessly or wilfully into this difficulty. "Thou saidest unto me, return unto thy country and thy kindred." "I am here, in obedience to Thy command." There is a very wide distinction between those trials and sufferings into which a man is brought by wilfulness and sin, and those which come upon him independently of his own control, and in respect to which, his mind must necessarily be free from guilt.
2. But, secondly, though in this instance Jacob was free to appeal to the knowledge of God for his acquittal from any wilful trangression in those steps which had led him into danger, yet he did not hesitate, in other respects, to take at once the only ground upon which a human creature can consistently stand before God; and, consequently, we find the justification of his conduct in his present circumstances, immediately followed by an humble acknowledgment of his utter unworthiness before God. "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, that Thou hast showed unto Thy servant." How different is this from the proud feeling of independence with which men generally regard their property in this life I The language of a prosperous man among his fellows, as well as in his heart, is too frequently, "My power, and the might of my hand, have gotten me this wealth."
3. But, thirdly, in the midst of humiliating confession, Jacob did not forget His mercies. He thankfully records them. He extols the mercy and the faithfulness of God. "With my staff I passed over this Jordan, and lo, I am become two bands." If we would secure the continuance of our blessings, we should be free to remember them. But once more we notice, that Jacob continues his prayer by an affectionate enunciation of God's promises. "I fear lest Esau come and smite me, and the mother with the children; 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." We are always safe when we can grasp the promises of God, and convert them into prayers. "Thou hast said, a new heart will I give thee, and a new spirit will I put within thee. O Lord, create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me."
4. Lastly, Jacob evidently showed that he placed an unfeigned and implicit confidence in the covenant, the promises, and the mercies of God. All the language of his prayer, tends to call up before him an animating view of the character of Him whom he addressed. This is precisely the spirit in which the Christian is now encouraged to approach the Lord. He has purer light, and greater knowledge.
1. He sends messengers of peace.
2. He divides his company into two bands.
3. He sends a present.
II. HE TOOK THOSE MEASURES DICTATED BY RELIGION. Prayer.
1. He appeals to God as the Covenant God and Father (ver. 9).
2. He pleads God's gracious promise to himself. "The Lord which saidst unto me, "Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee."
3. He confesses his own unworthiness, and God's goodness and faithfulness (ver. 10).
4. He presents his special petition expressing his present want (ver. 11). He prays to be delivered from his brother's anger, the possible consequences of which were fearful to contemplate.
5. He cleaves to God's word of promise (ver. 12). God had promised to do him good, and to make his seed as the sand of the sea for multitude. And Jacob pleads as if he said, how could this promise be fulfilled if himself and his family were slain? This prayer shows the kind husband, the tender father, the man of faith and piety.
(T. H. Leale.)
II. THE CONDUCT WHICH JACOB ADOPTED UPON THIS OCCASION IS FULL OF INTEREST AND INSTRUCTION. It was equally removed from presumption and despair; and presents one of the most edifying examples of sanctified affliction.
1. He did everything in his power to avert his brother's wrath, and conciliate his favour.
2. He made an arrangement in regard to his family, which was calculated at least to save some of them.
3. He had recourse to earnest prayer.(1) It was addressed to the God of his fathers. Jacob had descended from ancestors distinguished by their piety; and he avails himself of that circumstance to raise his drooping faith.(2) In Jacob's prayer we observe an humble acknowledgment of his absolute demerit before God.(3) When asking of God the favour of protection, Jacob gratefully acknowledges the blessings he had already received.(4) The prayer which is now under our consideration contains an encouraging reference to the Divine direction, which Jacob was then in the very act of obeying.(5) In this most impressive prayer the patriarch pleads the promise of God in regard to his posterity. The facts which have now occupied our attention contain many practical lessons of general application. They remind us, in a very impressive manner —
1. Of the established connection between sin and punishment.
2. The history of Jacob suggests the immense importance of genuine piety.
3. The example of Jacob, on the occasion described in the text, teaches the important lesson, that to obtain from God the blessing we desire, it is our duty to use the requisite means, and at the same time to place an absolute reliance upon His mercy.
2. Messages of peace are delivered to wicked men from saints sometimes without answerable return.
3. Faithful messengers will perform their charge whatever the issue be (Proverbs 25:13).
4. Wicked men though intreated, may show themselves in their power and terror to the saints (ver. 6).
5. Creature-terrors are apt to stir up fears vehemently in the hearts of God's dearest ones.
6. Fears in saints are not so violent, but that they rationally provide for their safety under them.
7. It is good prudence to save part from ruin when the whole is in danger.
8. Military order in setting troops in place, is not unbeseeming saints (ver. 7; Genesis 14:15).
9. God's armies do not quiet saints sometimes, when sense worketh on outward danger.
10. Smitings of some by enemies are reasonable warnings for others to escape (ver. 8).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)1. Faith in prayer to God is the saints' immediate help against fear in the hour of temptation.
2. The saints' providence for themselves is but in order to their refuge in God.
3. God in gracious relations to poor souls is the proper object of prayer.
4. Saints may be bold to fly to God for help in the execution of His commands.
5. God in the promise of grace to His people is the special object of their faith and prayer.
6. Special faith evidencing and applying promises is very necessary to effectual prayer in temptation (ver. 9).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)I. JACOB'S PLAN.
1. How it originated.(1) In the report he heard of Esau's approach at the head of four hundred men (ver. 6).(2) His fear lest Esau might intend to carry out his old purpose of revenge (ver. 7; 27:42).(3) His perplexity. Not having strength to resist such a force (ver. 7).(4) His desire to save, if possible, the half of his property (ver. 8).
2. In what it consisted. In the division of his flocks and herds, &c., into two companies. It must have been a huge company at the first, for him to think, after the message he sent (vers. 4, 5), that his brother would imagine the half was all he had. He thought that one half, hearing the attack upon the other, might in the confusion escape while Esau was driving off his plunder.
3. The plan was well contrived. A little of the old Jacob is here planning and scheming.
4. How he wronged his brother by his unjust suspicions.
5. How he wronged God, by not in the first place seeking His guidance and help. His old method of taking the plan into his own hands. Still relying too much on human sagacity.
II. JACOB'S PRAYER.
1. Having made his plans, according to his own wisdom, then he asked God to bless him; and in the end found that his plans were all needless. Prayer at the first would have saved him much perplexity and fear.
2. When he did pray he displayed great humility of soul and dependence upon God.(1) He approached God in His covenant relation as the God of Abraham.(2) He reminds his Divine friend of his own obedience in obeying His call to return.(3) He mentions the promise, "I will deal well with thee."(4) He protests his own great unworthiness.(5) He gratefully acknowledges the good hand of God in so increasing his substance.(6) He supplicates present help in his time of need.(7) He reminds God of the covenant promise. Having presented this his prayer, he proceeds to select a present for his brother.
III. JACOB'S CONDUCT. All being ready, his company divided, the present prepared, Jacob sent the present forward in divisions, each drove with servants, and each servant with a message; one part of the message being that Jacob was himself about to follow the gift. The spirit of the gift conciliatory. Conciliation his avowed purpose (ver. 20). The present was designed to break down every feeling of revenge and anger supposed still to exist in the mind of Esau. Jacob himself would remain that night, which at one time he feared would be his last, with his company. Growing more confident as the night advanced, he arose and sent over his wives and children. Thus committed to the care of God all that he had. Learn:
1. That the fruit of past sins is sure to spring up in our way. Jacob cannot forget the evil he had done; nor return, after this long absence from home, without confronting its results.
2. That, prayer is the best means of meeting great difficulties. Our best plans ineffective without that blessing which prayer secures. Prayer puts the heart into the best condition for enduring trial.
(J. C. Gray.)
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