You know he had to be thinking, “This was a mistake!” Sure, after 20 years it was time to return to the land of his fathers and get away from crazy uncle Laban– God said so (Gen. 31:3). So Jacob did so. But then oh, no! As they near their destination, Jacob’s messenger comes to him and says, “Your brother Esau is coming to meet you . . . along with 400 of his men” (33:6).
Doesn’t sound much like a welcoming party. Sounds more like an army. An army accompanying the brother he had extorted the birthright from, the brother he had swindled the blessing from, the brother who, 20 years earlier, had wanted to kill him. Yeah, that brother was coming to meet him . . . and he was bringing 400 of his friends. I chuckled out loud as I read the next verse: “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.” Ya’ think?!?
And while the one who had made a living as a schemer had no problem coming up with plans to try and appease wrath and hopefully mitigate risk, bottom line is that, at least on the inside, Jacob was a mess. His heart sunk. His feet became like clay. His mind fogged in with anxiety.
But there was no going back. Not to Laban. And there was no running in a different direction. You don’t outrun 400 fighting men when you have 4 wives, 12 kids, a whack of servants, and herds of camels, sheep, goats, and cattle. What’s more, you’re supposedly heading home, back to the promise land.
So what to do? Press on. Plan. Pray.
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,’ . . . 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. 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.'”
(Genesis 32:9-10, 12 ESV)
Chewing on the implication and power of those three words, “But You said.”
Three words that compel you to move forward even when difficulty seems certain. That steel your nerves in the light of potential danger. That assure you amidst increasing doubts. That renew your resolve even as your heart melts with fear. Three words you pray. Three words that help you remember the promise.
My estranged brother is coming, the one I deceived . . . but You said. He’s bringing an army with him . . . but You said. I could lose everything . . . but You said. Maybe even my life . . . but You said.
But You said return to your country. But You said You would bring good. But You said You would provide a land. But You said You would multiply my offspring. So, even though Easu & Co. are heading my way, I will continue to walk in the way You have laid before me. Because You said.
It’s why I need to read His word. Why I need to be reminded of His promises. That I might hear afresh what He has said. So that, because of what He has said, I might refuse the fear as I reflect on His faithfulness. And recalibrate the difficulty in light of the destination. And lean in to reengage when all my flesh wants to do is retreat.
Sure, there might be an Esau out there today. Or an army, for that matter. But You said . . .
By His grace. For His glory.