Shalom All, Welcome to this week’s Torah / Bible study section. “And Jacob sent [vayishlach וַיִּשְׁלַח] messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.” (Genesis 32:4).
In last week’s study, Jacob left his unjust father-in-law, Laban, while he was off shearing his sheep. Fearing that Laban would keep his daughters, Leah and Rachel, Jacob stole away with all he had: his sons, his wives, and all of his livestock, heading for the mountains of Gilead. This group are the forerunners of those who entered Egypt and came out as the nation of Israel. Note they consist of the household of Jacob, Gentile servants and wives included. So from the outset God’s “my people” was and remain a composition of Jew and Gentile who live by His commandments. No colour nor nation of birth differentiation; but a “mixed multitude” of obedient believers as would be in the promised new heaven and earth.
After 22 years in Haran (a place in Mesopotamia), it was likely difficult for Jacob to free himself from Laban’s wicked manipulation and control, but he did succeed. We can imagine that he was anticipating with great joy his return to his ancestral homeland of Canaan; however, in order to do so, he had to first pass through Edom, the territory of Esau, his estranged brother [Gen 36:1 Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom. Gen 36:2 Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite; Gen 36:43 … these be the dukes of Edom, according to their habitations in the land of their possession: he is Esau the father of the Edomites].
Jacob’s Family Becomes a Nation.
“Then the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:6–7).
The time had come for Jacob to confront his past. More than two decades had passed since Jacob had posed as his brother Esau and received the first-born blessing from their father. The last time Jacob had seen Esau, he was filled with murderous rage, vowing to kill him; therefore, it is no wonder that Jacob felt anxiety at the prospect of seeing his brother again, especially upon learning that Esau was headed his way with 400 men! Had Esau held a grudge against Jacob all these years? Or had time eased the pain of betrayal and brought forgiveness? Could the generous gifts of livestock sent ahead to Esau somehow appease his anger? Jacob was about to find out. Jacob was a man of strategy: he divided his family and the people with him, along with his flock, herds and camels, into two camps. That way, if Esau attacked one camp, the other would survive (Genesis 32:8).
The Bible does not simply call these camps family. This is the first time that the Torah refers to those who are with Jacob as a nation (ha’am הָעָם). “Jacob divided the people [ha’am, הָעָם] who were with him into two groups.” (Genesis 32:7) This is why (rightly or wrongly as some may argue) the Jewish people, even today, are called the house of Jacob.