Genesis 32:13-21: The schemer – again!

“13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.” 17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’” 19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.” NIV

I remember how painful a time it was when I fell out with my best friend, John, at junior school. It was no doubt a ridiculous quarrel. I can’t remember the details now, but I do know that the distance between us hurt. I seem to recall lying in my bed, dreaming up ways I might reconcile with him. I think, in the end that all proved unnecessary, for we quickly shook hands and made peace!

Prayer does not rule out the need for action, but the best kind of activity is that which is born in prayer, whereby you are doing something because you sense God is leading you that way. Here it seems like Jacob is still the schemer; that he concocted this ingenious plan to ‘’pacify’’ his brother. The idea was to send ahead of him carefully spaced groups of different animals as gifts for Esau. It seems he intended that his estranged sibling would encounter these groups one by one and gradually be won over. As we will see in the next chapter, it wasn’t Jacob’s plan that won Esau over; it was rather that God changed his heart, in response to Jacob’s prayer.

‘One minute Jacob prayed for God’s help, and the next minute he devised some new way to appease his angry brother. He reminded God of His great promises and then acted as though God had never spoken. This is the conduct of a believer who needed to be broken before God. He prayed to be delivered from Esau (v.11), but his greatest need was to be delivered from himself.’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.38.

‘’I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me’’ (20b).

Many people seem to treat God this way. They try to win Him over, to get into his good books, by the ‘’gifts’’ they send ahead: the gift of their church attendance; the gift of their charitable deeds, and so on. But God cannot be bought off in that way. He simply calls us to trust in the Saviour, Jesus, and His work on our behalf at the cross.