Some of life’s most significant moments happen unexpectedly. But others arrive with the predictability of high noon—climactic moments when the unfinished business from our yesterdays finally returns and knocks on the door. When that moment comes for Jacob, the writer artistically labels it that night (vv. 13, 21). Jacob, whose very name means “twister” or “thief,” must finally square things with Esau, the brother he wickedly mistreated two decades before. His anxiety is so great that the writer mentions it twice (vv. 7, 11). But instructively, Jacob does not permit his fear to rule him.
Foremost, Jacob faces that night with prayer. He knows that his cunning is insufficient for this meeting. So he recalls God’s past blessings and pleads to be delivered from the danger that now looms over him. (It’s worth noting that this is the longest prayer in the entire book of Genesis.) Jacob is not playing pious. He is desperate—and honest.
But Jacob also does what he can do. He sends messengers bearing gifts to Esau to inform him tactfully of his return to their homeland. He instructs each of them to declare that these presents are from your servant Jacob…to my lord Esau (v. 18). Yes, he hopes all this will appease Esau (v. 20), but the remarkable fact is that Scripture does not belittle his deeds but notes and numbers each gift.
Is this not a wise way to approach every momentous night we face? With sincere prayer and sensible action? Some moments of life are bright with promise; others are dark with danger. But Jacob’s pairing of prayer and sensible action is commendable for either time. It’s always both-and, not either-or.
When have you seen prayer and planning prove fruitful?
God, when fear would capture me, help me to both trust you and to do what I can. Amen.