1 So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp.” And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
3 Then Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
4 And he commanded them, saying, “Speak thus to my lord Esau, ‘Thus your servant Jacob says: “I have dwelt with Laban and stayed there until now.
5 I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.” ’ ”
6 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.”
7 So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies.
8 And he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and [c]attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape.”
9 Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’:
10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies.
11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children.
12 For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ”
13 So he lodged there that same night, and took what came to his hand as a present for Esau his brother:
14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams,
15 thirty milk camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten foals.
16 Then he delivered them to the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass over before me, and put some distance between successive droves.”
17 And he commanded the first one, saying, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, saying, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going? Whose are these in front of you?’
18 then you shall say, ‘They are your servant Jacob’s. It is a present sent to my lord Esau; and behold, he also is behind us.’ ”
19 So he commanded the second, the third, and all who followed the droves, saying, “In this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him;
20 and also say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob is behind us.’ ” For he said, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.”
21 So the present went on over before him, but he himself lodged that night in the camp.
The second vision corresponds to that at Bethel in Genesis 28. Laban and his hostile host withdraw, and the angels of God appear to comfort Jacob and assure him of God’s overruling care for him. These, [may have been] the same angels that twenty years back had guarded him as he slept upon his stone pillow at Bethel. Then his possessions consisted of a staff, but now he has become a host; and he calls this place Mananaim, i.e., two camps—his feeble camp and the encircling camp of God’s mighty angels.
But although the angels visibly appear to him in order to convince him of the loving care which watched over him, yet he at once schemes how he may protect himself from his brother’s just anger. — Williams, page 34
Williams (above) and other commentators believe Jacob should have trusted God (especially in light of the appearance of the angels and what had just occurred with Laban) and therefore was wrong to split his group and send gifts ahead to Esau. Morris (below) gives Jacob the benefit of the doubt and says he did the right thing. Wechsler (bottom) gets deeper into the meaning of the words “afraid” and “distressed” and makes a convincing case that Jacob did lack faith and didn’t need to make his own plans.
Not knowing what to expect, Jacob decided it would be expedient to send a delegation ahead of him to interview Esau. He had learned that Esau lived in the region south of the Dead Sea, in the “land of Seir,” so named after a Horite chieftain who had apparently formerly inhabited the area (Genesis 36:20). it had also come to be known as the ‘field of Edom,” after Esau’s own nickname (Genesis 25:30).
Jacob [when he heard that Esau approached with 400 men] naturally jumped to the conclusion that Esau still intended to make good his threat to kill him, and he seems to have temporarily forgotten the encouragement he had received by the sight of the angels at Mahanaim. He knew his own small body of servants could not cope with four hundred men led by Esau. Following a custom often followed by endangered caravans, he divided his company into two divisions, hoping to give one a chance to escape while Esau’s army was busy subduing the other. He realized they would require God’s protection, and he fully intended to call on the Lord. but he also realized it was wise, as well as in keeping with God’s will, for him to take what natural precautions were open to him as quickly as possible, after which he could pray in good faith, knowing that he had done all he could and the Lord would have to take over the rest of the way. — Morris, pages 495-496.
Jacob, in his prayer, acknowledged God as both “Elohim” (the God of Power who had so marvelously blessed and protected Abraham and Isaac) and “Jehovah” (the Lord who is faithful in His covenant promises, the merciful, redeeming One). — Morris, pages 496.
The gift [Jacob] sent [to Esau] was very large, amounting to a total of 580 animals, a fact which in itself is a striking commentary on the degree to which God had blessed Jacob in material possessions. … He told his servants to keep a good distance between the [five] respective droves, so that in effect Esau would receive five separate gifts at different times. — Morris, page 497.