Jacob’s Fervent Prayer
Where we left Jacob: In Genesis 31 we saw that Jacob was told by God in a dream to leave his uncle Laban, and return to his former home in Canaan. So without telling Laban, Jacob gathered his household and fled. However after three days, Laban found out and pursued Jacob, eventually chasing him down. Laban and Jacob had a heated verbal encounter that included Laban accusing Jacob of stealing his idols, and criticizing Jacob for leaving without offering Laban a chance to say good-bye. Ultimately, Jacob and Laban agreed to a treaty between the two households, and Laban went on his way. (see previous post Genesis 31:22-55 — Jacob was angry and took Laban to task)
So shortly after Laban leaves, Jacob leaves also. He resumes his journey back to his former home in the land of Canaan, and on his way the angels of God meet him. When Jacob saw them, he said, This is the camp of God! And he named the place where he encountered the angels Mahanaim, which means two camps. The Bible says that the angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Psalm 34:7) We see this played out here on Jacob’s journey. While we don’t learn much about exactly how they made themselves known to Jacob, it had to have been an amazing experience. Perhaps these were those who would minister to him invisibly, but for a moment, the LORD allows Jacob the privilege of enjoying the visible manifestation of their presence. (Hebrews 1:14) (Psalm 91:11)
As Jacob progresses on his journey, a few troubling thoughts are probably progressing through his mind. His recollection of his manipulations to maneuver Esau out of his birthright and blessing, as well as his remembrance of Esau’s threat to kill him for revenge, are most likely moving to the forefront of his mind in correlation to how close he is to his encounter with Esau, in the country of Edom where Esau lives.
So he sends messengers ahead of him, to his brother Esau. He tells them, This is what you say to my lord Esau: Your servant Jacob says, I’ve been staying with Laban up until now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants, I’m doing well. Now I’m sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.
That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? In a very humble and deferential manner, he calls Esau his lord, perhaps to ease any concern on Esau’s part that he’s come to claim lordship over Esau, though it was given to him in the blessing. Jacob tells him where he’s been all this time. He also shares with him of his prosperity, perhaps to lay aside Esau’s concern that Jacob is returning to claim his birthright. Finally, Jacob very directly asks for Esau’s favor. Maybe with such a communication as this the two can reconcile.
But when the messengers return they say, We went to meet Esau, and now he’s coming to meet you — with four hundred men.
Jacob became afraid. The kind of sick to your stomach afraid that most of us have experienced at one time or another in our lives. In his fear and distress he divides his people and livestock into two groups in the hope that if Esau attacks one group, the other group might be able to escape.
So he employs a little strategy, which is OK, but then he makes a move that’s more than OK, he prays: O God of my father Abraham, he prays. God of my father Isaac, LORD, remember when you said to me, Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper? Well… I don’t deserve the kindness and faithfulness you’ve shown me, I know. When I came to Laban, all I had was my staff and the clothes on my back, but now you’ve blessed me so abundantly that I have two camps. Save me LORD, I pray, from my brother Esau. I’m afraid he’ll come and attack me, and my wives, and my children. But, you said, I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.
Jacob prayed, and he prayed fervently.
He spends the night there, and from his great wealth he chooses gifts for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put a servant in charge of each herd and instructed them, Go ahead of me and keep some space between the herds.
Then he says to the one in the lead, When Esau meets you and asks, Who do you belong to, where are you going, and who owns all these animals with you? Then you say, They belong to your servant Jacob. They’re a gift sent to you, my lord Esau, and he, Jacob, is behind us, he’s on his way.
And Jacob tells the second, third, and all the other servants who followed, Say the same thing to Esau. And be sure to say, Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.
Jacob’s thinking, I’ll pacify him with these gifts I’m sending ahead, after he’s received these gifts, by the time I get there, maybe he’ll receive me.
So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in camp.
Responding to Adversity:
Perhaps the best thing to point out concerning Jacob’s response to his adversity is what he didn’t do.
I can’t tell you how much I admire what Jacob didn’t do in response to his situation here. How many of us, when we heard that Esau was coming with four hundred men, would have said to God, Hey! What’s happening here? You said back in Genesis 31, and I quote, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” Is this your idea of being with me? Esau’s coming with four hundred men. What am I supposed to do about that? I can’t defend myself or my family against four hundred men. Did you forget that Esau said he was going to murder me?
You, or I, or Jacob second guessing God’s decisions for our lives is like a junior high school kid, who once built a bird house in shop class, questioning the guy who built the Golden Gate Bridge — times infinity. When you think it through, second guessing the God who created the earth and all that’s in it, the sun, the solar system, the galaxies, the universe — it’s ridiculous. It’s beyond any semblance of reason to second guess someone who’s demonstrated a capability that’s clearly beyond even the beginnings of our comprehension.
Jacob doesn’t do that. Jacob doesn’t point his finger at God. Instead he demonstrates six ways that you and I can successfully respond to adversity.
1) Provide for protection
The very first thing Jacob does is to provide for his family’s practical protection as best he can. Rather than focusing on what he can’t do, he focuses on what he can do. He can’t battle against four hundred men but he can divide his company into two groups. He does this hoping that if one group is attacked, then the other might escape the hand of Esau. Jacob took action out of love and concern for his family, for his servants, and for all that God had given him to be responsible for.
I feel sorry for my own family, who has to put up with my own enthusiastic approach to this area. In my career I’ve seen houses burn down, cars crash, and heart attacks happen on a regular basis. So whenever I see a family member place something that will burn next to an ignition source, for instance, I’m right on top of it. Seat belts are non-negotiable in my family. I advocate a healthy lifestyle to avoid heart attacks. I sometimes get the eye roll when I insist upon these things but hey, I love my family. I know you do too so provide for their protection, as best you can.
2) Run to the right place
He runs to the right place in his time of need. Jacob recognizes that The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9) When you’re in trouble, the very first place to turn is to your God. Those who know Him trust Him, for He never forsakes those who seek Him. (Psalm 9:10) Jacob didn’t run to Laban’s gods (with a small ‘g’) that Rachel had stolen. He didn’t pray to the angels whom he had just encountered shortly before. He ran to His God. Why run anywhere else for help when the King Himself desires to make Himself available to you?
Though Jacob may have done even better to put his prayer to God before his provision for protection discussed in point number one, he may have had the perception that he didn’t have time to do so. Whenever possible pray first, act second, however, it’s unavoidable that we’ll encounter instances where action is required because there’s no time for prayer. Here we see Jacob seeking out God at what he probably believes to be his earliest opportunity.
3) Point out God’s promises
Jacob begins his prayer with a reminder from God’s word given earlier in Genesis 32: Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper. Then he closes his prayer in the same way, summing up God’s word from Genesis 28:13-15: I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.
Jacob illustrates here a very powerful way to pray. I don’t pretend to understand why, but in my own life and in the lives of others, I’ve observed that God tends to move on our behalf when we “remind” Him of His words. One of the great benefits of reading your Bible is that as you come across promises and proclamations made by God, you can “remind” Him of His words as they apply to your own situation. (obviously he doesn’t actually need to be reminded, He’s God) Try it. Try praying in this way and then watch and wait, and you’ll see. You’ll see Him do things — good things.
4) Approach in humility
After reminding God of His word, Jacob humbles himself before the LORD, he says, I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. (Genesis 32:10)
Jesus praised the faith of those who came to Him in humility. The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:8,10)
The Gentile woman who pleaded with Jesus to save her daughter said, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matthew 15:27-28)
Recognizing and accepting your own faults and flaws, your own shortcomings and weaknesses, your own humble state, is an important key to approaching God. Jacob demonstrates that beautifully, here in this part of our story.
“Those are best prepared for the greatest mercies that see themselves unworthy of the least.” (Matthew Henry)
5) Approach with thanksgiving
Jacob thanks God for all that he’s given him. He acknowledges that when he first came to Laban, all he had was his staff, but because of God’s grace, he now has grown exceedingly prosperous and has come to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys. He gives thanks.
6) Share your heart
Jacob speaks from the heart when he says, Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. (Genesis 32:11) Jacob was honest with God. He told Him exactly what He was feeling. He might as well be, because everything is open and naked before God. Any attempt to hide anything from Him is folly. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)
God wants to hear what’s on your heart. He’s paying attention. He’s paying close attention. He even knows how many hairs are on your head. (Luke 12:6-7) He desires relationship with you. His scriptures are His way of speaking to you, and your prayers are His way of hearing from you. He wants you to spend time with Him. It breaks His heart to see you walk through life apart from Him. He’s for your success and He knows that living a life apart from Him isn’t in your best interest. He’s far more concerned with your relationship with Him, which is eternal, than He is with your current comfort, which is temporal. Your life here on earth is like grass, like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone. (Psalm 103:15-16) But your life with Him is eternal. Invest in that eternal relationship with Him. (Matthew 6:20)
Regarding God’s will for your life in the context of adversity: The worst thing that can happen isn’t that the LORD will impose upon you a direction that you disagree with. The worst thing isn’t even that you miss what God has in mind for you to do. The worst thing that can happen is for you to miss out on drawing closer to Christ in the process. Overcoming adversity together builds relationship. Just ask any firefighter or soldier.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
Jesus Christ is your friend.
He’s your brother.
Draw close to Him
Blue Letter Bible