Jacob divided all that he had into two groups with his wives and children in the latter group. Should Esau attack one group, the other would escape. Jacob knew, assured by G-d's oath to Abraham and promise to Isaac, that not ALL of his posterity could be destroyed by Esau. Even if one camp fell, the other would certainly survive.
This, in fact, has been the history of the Jewish people. "Never has Esau's sword fallen upon us in one full swoop. When we bled on the Rhine, our brethren in the Slavic lands were safe, and vice versa..." By scattering us among the nations G-d has yet preserved Israel. Praise God!
And so Jacob became two camps --- yet one people, one name, led by One G-d.
Now these camps would meet the raging enemy - not unknown – but still faceless. The first camp of mixed Gentiles would go before the second camp of Jacob's children. Both camps contained the fruit of Jacob's labor, the blessings of G-d upon his toil. Truly, there are two camps of Jacob, two who belong to Israel: one consists of the descendants of his loins; the other of righteous Gentiles.
Esau, then, is their COMMON enemy.
JACOB PREPARES TO MEET HIS ENEMY
After taking his first precautionary steps Jacob prayed, aware that all his carefully calculated measures were useless if G-d was not with him in this battle. One action compliments the other. Preparation must always be preceded and accompanied by prayer, and vice versa. Faith without action is quite useless, and so are actions without faith.
Genesis 32:9 (RSV, easier to read): And
Jacob said, "O G-d of my father Abraham and G-d of my father Isaac, O L-RD
didst say to me, 'Return to your country and to your kindred, and I
will do you good,'
Jacob established a pattern of prayer followed by Israel ever since. First he addressed G-d by the names, "G-d of my father Abraham" and "G-d of my father Isaac," in reference to G-d's appearance to him at Bethel. By mentioning those names Jacob subtly reminded G-d of His promise, given when Jacob fled from Esau. Jacob also called upon G-d with His unutterable Name, which refers to G-d's particular attribute of Mercy, and which Name G-d spoke to Jacob when Jacob feared Laban. Now, once again fearful for his own life and the lives of his loved ones, Jacob appealed to G-d in all those names, which contain all of G-d's promises.
Next he reminded G-d of His own words and instructions to Jacob by reiterating them. By that Jacob implied that he and his two camps were now in dire straits because he had embarked on this journey in strict obedience to G-d's own command. What Jacob really said was: "Because I have obeyed you, I am facing mortal danger. According to your promise to me, please get me out of this mess. This is really YOUR battle now. For you promised to do ME good".
The first two points of Jacob's prayer placed "the ball" squarely in G-d's court. He followed this pattern also with point number three. All the while, however, Jacob maintained a meek and contrite spirit, acknowledging how greatly he had been humbled by the exceeding great kindness and faithfulness G-d had shown him even though he had tricked both father and brother. Jacob's awareness of how extremely undeserving he was of G-d's abundant goodness toward him, produced in him a deep sense of humility and meekness. In the Hebrew Jacob literally said: "I have become SMALL FROM all your kindnesses..." That in the presence of such great kindness his own merit became as nothing - worthless. Thus, in the Presence of the Holy One Jacob was "diminished" to meekness, and became "small" in his own eyes.
Once again Jacob recognized - Point # 3 - that it was ALL G-d's grace and mercy :
G-d promised, point #1; G-d commanded, point #2. G-d gave, point #3.
Point #4 is Jacob acknowledging what G-dDID. For when he fled from Esau Jacob crossed over this river [Jabbok] - at which he was now encamped - with just his staff in hand. Now, as he was returning in obedience to G-d's command, he was no longer alone but had become two companies, or camps. Once again Jacob confessed that this was NOT his doing but G-d’s alone Who had DONE what He had promised.
Only after these reminders of Who G-d was and His great promises, and Jacob's recognizing his own worthlessness and lowliness vis-a-vis G-d's great goodness and wonderful works, the petition follows.
Jacob's petition is point #5: It establishes a pattern of prayer. It is specific and concise, and not an uncertain ' IF it be Thy will, Lord.' He goes straight to the heart of the matter, point after point:
"Rescue me, please...!"
Asking merely to be rescued is an ambiguous request. So Jacob continued:
"...from the hand of my brother..."
Which brother? In Hebrew the word achi - my brother can also mean my kinsman in general. So which one?
"...from the hand of my brother... Esau..."
Now, this details more specifically from whom Jacob desired to be rescued. But --- he did not state yet WHY he desired G-d to rescue him from Esau. He needed to specify the reason of the need:
"...for I fear him..."
That was a good reason. But what kind of a fear? And why did he fear Esau? Was Jacob's fear reasonable?
"...I fear him lest he come and strike me down..."
That's a pretty reasonable fear. Still, its only for self, or is it?
"...lest he come and strike me down, mother upon children..."
This prayer is an excellent example of what Paul the apostle referred to in Philippians 4:6, when he instructed not to be anxious about anything, but in EVERYTHING, by prayer, supplication and petition, with thanksgiving, to make our specific requests known unto G-d.
Having made this very explicit request, Jacob concludes with two more reminders. Both promises were not made to him personally, but to his grandfather Abraham. For Jacob did not say, "and you had said to me...," but "and you had said...":
"I will surely bless you, and do you good and I will make your offspring as numerous as the sand of the seashore..." The place of this promise was Mt. Moriah where Abraham had been ready to offer up Isaac to G-d. It is G-d's irrevocable promise and oath - point #6 and #7 - to Abraham that Jacob is referring to in the conclusion of his prayer. I.e., G-d was literally BOUND to rescue Jacob, for reason of this oath. He might not even consider rescuing Jacob for a promise made to him. But G-d could not go against His own oath, made to His friend Abraham. And it was not Esau, but Jacob who was the established heir of Abraham.
Or was he?