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, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of 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 camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”
13 So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove.” 17 He instructed the first, “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?’ 18 then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.’ ” 19 He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him, 20 and 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 afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” 21 So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp. 
Jacob has every reason to be encouraged at the beginning of this passage. Laban has gone his way, beaten and openly humiliated. Laban’s parting words to Jacob – “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight” – was not a benediction but a hostile malediction, a covenant curse made between two people who disliked and distrusted one another. But it was music to Jacob’s ears. Never again would Jacob have to deal with his duplicitous, sleazy, manipulating father-in-law. Jacob was going home with twelve kids, four wives, and vast wealth.
Then, as he put the boundary marker behind him, he came upon a vast army of angels. “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” As Jacob went on his way, God sent angels to meet him. How many angels were there? When we see a plural word such as this, we are inclined to think of “two” or perhaps “three.” But word that the New International Version translates “camp” also means “host,” “army,” or “group of people.” It is incorporated in the word “Mahanaim” (32:2) and is used later of the two large groups into which Jacob divided his household (32:7–8). What God actually sent was an angelic army, perhaps the very “legions of angels” that Jesus later said were available to him if he should need them (Matt. 26:53). Even if God had sent just one angel, Jacob should have remembered that he was under God’s protection and would not be harmed by Esau. But God sent an army to quiet his conscience-stricken fears. Moses employs the number two throughout the scene: two camps, two families, two meetings—one with God and Esau—and two brothers. 
Twenty years prior, when he fled the Promised Land, he encountered the great angel army traveling up and down the stairway to heaven. His flight from Canaan was marked by angels and a stone pillar. His exodus from the East is now marked by a stone pillar behind him and a large army of angels camping alongside him. About 12 or 13 miles from the Jordan River, Jacob receives divine protection and comfort. God is camping with this patriarch of the Promised Seed.
The psalmist would later sing:
The angel of the Lord encamps /around those who fear him, and delivers them. 
For he will command his angels concerning you /to guard you in all your ways. / On their hands they will bear you up, /lest you strike your foot against a stone. 
The angelic army would clear the way for Jacob’s return to the Promised Land. The angels were God’s visual confirmation that the Jacob Family would continue to be the object of God’s loyalty love (in the same way the Lord’s Supper functions as our visible confirmation in this last age). God’s scandalous, intrusive, relentless, and transforming grace was at work in Jacob to conform the patriarch to the image of the Promised Seed. God’s grace fought for Jacob and with Jacob at every turn.
HEY, BRO (3-5)
Riding the buzz of God’s staying Laban’s murderous intent and that of God having sent out an army of angels to camp with him, Jacob sends his brother a message:
3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4 instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. 5 I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’”
Luther notes, “The form of greeting is according to Hebrew idiom and custom, by which a person calls himself the servant of another, superior person in order to declare one’s respect. …the words of Jacob’s greeting are not the words of a man who is afraid but words of respect and courtesy” (cf. 31:35, Rachel addresses Laban as “my lord.”).
What was Jacob’s blessing worth to Esau anyway? Esau had conquered the land of Edom. He has a large family and a great amount of land. Besides, how valuable could that stolen blessing have been since it resulted in Jacob living as an exile for the last 20 years? Esau abounded in wealth and power. He had no wants. His life as a warlord had been rewarding. So, Jacob feels confident in sending his brother a greeting. After all, God solved the Laban problem. Jacob is camping with the angels. Life is good. Jacob made a conscious decision to contact his brother and seek a resolution.
Jacob mentions his wealth to suggest he is capable of making reparations for his deceitful actions 20 years before. His decision was a spiritual one rather than a practical one. Esau was not blocking Jacob’s entrance into the land. Esau lived far to the south at Mt Seir in Edom. Derek Kidner notes, “spiritually, he could reach Beth-el no other way. God had promised him the land (28:13, 14), and its borders must march one day with Esau’s; besides, to meet God he must ‘first be reconciled’ with his brother. The sequence of chapters 32, 33, culminating in 35:1–15, acts out powerfully the principles of Matthew 5:23–25a:”
23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser…. 
WORRY MONSTER (6-9)
But Jacob receives unsettling news. “6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.’” Nothing could be more ominous than Esau’s silence and his rapid approach with an army. Four hundred was the standard size of an Early Bronze Age militia. Likely, this was the same fighting force Esau used to take over Edom. Jacob must be wondering if it was a smart move to mention his wealth to Esau because it appears his brother is coming to take it all, and perhaps all the Jacob Family’s lives as well.
Jacob’s immediate stress and fear are perfectly reasonable from a human standpoint. The last he had heard of Esau was 20 years ago when Esau was biding his time to kill Jacob (27:41). Couple that fact with Esau’s larger-than-the-outdoors personality and his having conquered the land of Edom. Add to that Jacob’s quiet shepherd personality and his much smaller band of women, children, and herdsmen. Jacob is not curiously expectant to see what Jesus does next!
Ironically, Jacob’s panicked response is to fearfully divide his people into two camps (Mahanaim). “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape” (v. 8) He was no longer thinking of the angels camping with him. He is only thinking of survival – and increasing the odds that at least half his camp might survive the coming onslaught. As R. Kent Hughes writes, “while the Bible does not minimize using your head in difficult circumstances, it is implicit throughout the account that Jacob’s actions would have proven futile apart from the ministries of God’s camp.”
Jacob was literally between a rock and a hard place. He cannot retreat past the boundary stones and pillar he and Laban set up. To do so would be an invasion of Laban’s territory (31:52). He had nowhere to go but forward. Contrast Jacob’s meeting with Laban to Jacob’s past relationship with Esau. Jacob met Laban boldly, confident in his innocence and his accusations of injustice. Yet, he is terrified of Esau while camping with the angels. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet declares, “conscience doth make cowards of us all.” Jacob was bold before Laban because he had lived an upright life before him. But he cowered before Esau because he remembered the evil he had done to his twin brother, and his conscience convicted him. He knew he rightly deserved death at Esau’s hand.
James Boice sums up the text this way:
From the point of the narrative, the most important word in Genesis 32 is “Esau,” which occurs nine times—at least once in every paragraph of our section except the first. The reason seems clear. When Jacob started out from Haran to return to his own country, he had been away for twenty years. His mind was on Laban and on the problem of extricating himself from Laban’s sphere of influence. Jacob was not thinking of Esau much at all. In those first days of the homeward journey, Esau must have been little more than a wisp of cloud far out in the sunny skies of his mind. …But the days went by, and with each day’s journey that tiny cloud became larger. Esau! Esau! Each time Jacob put his foot down in the direction of Esau’s country the name “Esau” must have sounded a little bit louder. Esau! Esau! By the time he reached Gilead, that small cloud had filled the sky and was dark and glowering. Esau! Esau! By the time he had parted from Laban and was about to cross the Jabbok [towards] Esau’s territory, the thunder must have been sounding in his ears.
Sin always has consequences. Jacob escaped his brother for 20 years, but he could not escape his sin’s consequences. Jacob has forgotten the angels camped with him. All he sees now is the consequences of his long-ago sin and his inadequacy to deal with it in any meaningful way. Many of us have been immobilized by past failures and we transfix on them. The accuser is always at hand to heap on the guilt. As the late great Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote:
Ask God to turn you inside out and deliver you from what you have excused as an inferiority complex. As though a child of God, destined to sit upon the throne of God, and to be like the Son of God, should be filled with anguish at the memory of some sin long thrust out of sight, which is not clamoring for recognition!” You should recognize that God has forgiven you for your sin and has even sent forth his angels as “ministering spirits … to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14).
Being stuck between a rock and a hard place, Jacob prays:
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, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of 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 camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’
Jacob’s prayer in verses 9-12 is his first recorded prayer and represents an advance in his spiritual growth. We have been following his life through seven chapters in Genesis; and although he may have prayed on other, unrecorded occasions, no mention is made of it. That doesn’t mean Jacob didn’t pray. It only means that those prayers were not ones the Spirit moved Moses to write down. His prayer actually reflects that this is clearly not the first time he has addressed YHWH.
His prayer has five important parts. First, he acknowledged the God of his grandfather Abraham and of his father Isaac as the true God, and he cited the command that this true God had given him (v. 9). In this introductory portion of the prayer, he used both God’s general name (Elohim) and God’s covenant name (YHWH, translated “Lord”). Second, he confessed his own unworthiness, which in the Hebrew has the sense: “I have been and still am unworthy.” This is the prayer of the publican: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). It is the only way any of us may come to God. Third, Jacob acknowledged God’s past faithfulness and its attendant blessing (v. 10). God had taken him when he had nothing but the staff in his hand and had prospered him so that he had now become two camps. Fourth, he presented his petition: “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” (v. 11). Fifth, he presented the basis for his request, namely, God’s earlier promise: “But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted’ ” (v. 12). If God were to fulfill that promise, he would have to deliver Jacob from the anticipated vengeance of Esau.
Jacob includes within this prayer elements of invocation, confession, and petition and references to God’s word at the beginning and end. His passionate confession of his unworthiness and lowliness – “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of 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 camps” (v. 10) – had not been characteristic of Jacob in his earlier years. His newfound humility, would now become the human ground for God’s blessing.
God meets us in our weakness and desperation, at the point where our human wisdom and fleshly thinking have failed us. As Paul wrote to the self-sufficient Corinthians:
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 
Jacob’s opening and closing references to God’s promises were also implicit statements of faith in God’s word. Notice that when Jacob concluded his prayer and engaged in further measures to control the situation, it was not Jacob’s desperate measures that succeeded but his prayer! His prayer was successful because God’s covenant loyalty love never runs out and never gives up. God orchestrated Esau’s coming. He orchestrated Jacob’s weakness. He will orchestrate a peaceful reunion. And he does it for Jacob’s good and his own glory – as he does all things.
Jacob’s desperate payoff plan had a certain brilliance to it:
13 So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove.”
Jacob assembled more than 550 animals that he arranged into five groups of goats, sheep, camels (and some calves), cattle, and donkeys. The size and composition of the gift was fit for a king. In 33:11 Jacob calls his gift “the blessing” (“present” [berāḵâ] in NIV). He is ready to restore the blessing and to recognize Esau as lord (see Prov. 25:21–22), trusting God to keep his covenant promises (see Gen. 13; 32:9–12). Jacob is stating that Esau holds the place of the older brother and would rightfully (humanly speaking) deserve the birthright and the patriarchal blessing. But he’s also turning a war party into a group of shepherds. Esau’s men must either fight or tend the herds. They can’t do both effectively.
And Jacob staged the gift for maximum impact, spacing the droves out so that Esau would have just enough time to admire the animals and interact with the servants before the next group arrived. Jacob instructed his servants to say with each drove, “They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us” (v. 18). Esau heard the spiel and the concluding words, “he is behind us” five times. “For the first time in Jacob’s life he wanted to be last! Jacob’s intention was forthright.” 
For he thought, ‘I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me’ (v. 20).
Jacob is not at the front of his camp as an important chieftain, but at the very rear. This is a statement of humility – a final attempt to turn aside his brother’s just and well-deserved wrath. And before his last, long dark night outside the Promised Land is over, he will encounter the only one who can truly turn aside God’s just and well-deserved wrath – the pre-incarnate Promised Seed, God the Son. It is he who will die the hellish, blood-shedding death Jacob’s sin and our sin deserves to turn aside God’s wrath. He will arise from the tomb for our justification and ascend to the glorious throne of heaven. Only Christ, the Promised Seed, is the true perfect gift to humbly appease his father’s hatred of our sin and reconcile us to God. Jacob will reconcile with his brother. But only Christ Jesus can reconcile us with the Father. Paul writes to the congregations of Rome:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 32:9–21.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 31:49.
 Boice, 2:809.
 Waltke and Fredricks, 441.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 34:7.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 91:11–12.
 Luther, 6:98.
 Kidner, 1:178.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 5:23–26.
 Hughes, 399. Kindle Edition.
 Shakespeare, Hamlet. Act 3; scene 1.
 Boice, 2:809.
 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Genesis, 2:114.
 Boice, 2:811–812.
 Hughes, 399. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 12:9–10.
 Waltke and Fredricks, 444.
 Hughes, 399. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 5:6–11.