“Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. 2 He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. 3 He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” NIV
‘’He himself went on ahead…’’ (3a)
For a number of years I was part of a creative writing group in the village where I live. One principle I learned was: ‘Show, don’t tell.’ For example if, in penning a story, you paint a vivid picture of Mr. So and So, we, the readers, will see his anger. You don’t necessarily have to say, ‘He got angry.’ If you use your writing ‘brushes’ with sufficient skill we’ll get the picture. We’ll see the steam coming out of his ears, and, if it’s exceptional writing, we may even find ourselves hiding behind the sofa!
What does verse 2 ‘show’ in terms of who Jacob loved the most?! (I was thinking, however, that in the end Jacob couldn’t protect Joseph. For years he thought he was dead. He wasn’t, of course. But he was in a lot of trouble. Nevertheless, the Lord was with him – even in prison – and did more for him than Jacob ever could. There is a limit to how far we can go in protecting those we love, but they are always under God’s ever-watchful eye).
Regardless of how Jacob positioned his servants and family members, he himself went out in front (3a). That’s what leaders do. If he was afraid, he wasn’t a coward. He put himself in the firing line. Leadership is self-sacrificial.
Notice also the respect he showed Esau (3b) – even though he had every reason to believe his brother regarded him as an enemy. There is a form of courtesy we owe to all people, no matter what they believe or how they regard or treat us. Let us learn to honour all those made in the image of God.
Anyway, ‘Nothing to see here’!!(4). Nothing, that is, apart from an emotional family reunion. All Esau’s fears failed to materialise, and we can feel the relief. Verse 4 is reminiscent of the return of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20). In this case it was the prodigal brother.
‘Many things, like this meeting with Esau, are worse in anticipation than in actuality.’ F.B.Meyer: ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.27.
Tom Hale (like Meyer) sees the change of atmosphere as being definitely due to answered prayer (32:11)