This blog provides a mditation on the Episcopal daily readings
Jacob Sends Presents to Appease Esau
3 Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4instructing them, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; 5and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favour in your sight.” ’
6 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’ 7Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, 8thinking, ‘If Esau comes to one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.’
9 And Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good”, 10I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. 11Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. 12Yet you have said, “I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.” ’
13 So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16These he delivered into the hand of his servants, each drove by itself, and said to his servants, ‘Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.’ 17He instructed the foremost, ‘When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, “To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?” 18then you shall say, “They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.” ’ 19He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, ‘You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him, 20and you shall say, “Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.” ’ For he thought, ‘I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’ 21So the present passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the camp.
This is typical Jacob- a mixture of self-interest, fear, boldness, cunning and piety. As usual he prays for God’s protection but he also makes his own arrangements. “God helps those who help themselves” is wrongly considered by millions of Americans to be in the Bible. It isn’t, but it comes close to expressing Jacob’s faith. Yet there is something deeper: a trust in the adventures he undertakes with God’s company. Although they may seem dangerous, he trusts what they bring him.
Here too we can see God’s cunning: he has trapped Jacob in the web of his own ambition and brought him back to the land of the promise and to the brother he has wronged. Soon the reader will discover the depth of God’s commitment to Jacob and of Jacob’s response to God.
I identify with Jacob because my favourite sins are the same as his. The story of his relationship with God helps me understand God’s dealings with me: God is of course more loving than me, more holy, more creative, but above all he’s smarter than me, and is always a step ahead of my plans for my life.