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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 13–23
Verses 13–23

Jacob, having piously made God his friend by a prayer, is here prudently endeavouring to make Esau his friend by a present. He had prayed to God to deliver him from the hand of Esau, for he feared him; but neither did his fear sink into such a despair as dispirits for the use of means, nor did his prayer make him presume upon God’s mercy, without the use of means. Note, When we have prayed to God for any mercy, we must second our prayers with our endeavours; else, instead of trusting god, we tempt him; we must so depend upon God’s providence as to make use of our own prudence. “Help thyself, and God will help thee;” God answers our prayers by teaching us to order our affairs with discretion. To pacify Esau,

I. Jacob sent him a very noble present, not of jewels or fine garments (he had them not), but of cattle, to the number of 580 in all, Gen. 32:13-15. Now, 1. It was an evidence of the great increase with which God had blessed Jacob that he could spare such a number of cattle out of his stock. 2. It was an evidence of his wisdom that he would willingly part with some, to secure the rest; some men’s covetousness loses them more than ever it gained them, and, by grudging a little expense, they expose themselves to great damage; skin for skin, and all that a man has, if he be a wise man, he will give for his life. 3. It was a present that he thought would be acceptable to Esau, who had traded so much in hunting wild beasts that perhaps he was but ill furnished with tame cattle with which to stock his new conquests. And we may suppose that the mixed colours of Jacob’s cattle, ring-straked, speckled, and spotted, would please Esau’s fancy. 4. He promised himself that by this present he should gain Esau’s favour; for a gift commonly prospers, which way soever it turns (Prov. 17:8), and makes room for a man (Prov. 18:16); nay, it pacifies anger and strong wrath, Prov. 21:14. Note, [1.] We must not despair of reconciling ourselves even to those that have been most exasperated against us; we ought not to judge men unappeasable, till we have tried to appease them. [2.] Peace and love, though purchased dearly, will prove a good bargain to the purchaser. Many a morose ill-natured man would have said, in Jacob’s case, “Esau has vowed my death without cause, and he shall never be a farthing the better for me; I will see him far enough before I will send him a present:” but Jacob forgives and forgets.

II. He sent him a very humble message, which he ordered his servants to deliver in the best manner, Gen. 32:17, 18. They must call Esau their lord, and Jacob his servant; they must tell him the cattle they had was a small present which Jacob had sent him, as a specimen of his acquisitions while he was abroad. The cattle he sent were to be disposed of in several droves, and the servants that attended each drove were to deliver the same message, that the present might appear the more valuable, and his submission, so often repeated, might be the more likely to influence Esau. They must especially take care to tell him that Jacob was coming after (Gen. 32:18-20), that he might not suspect he had fled through fear. Note, A friendly confidence in men’s goodness may help to prevent the mischief designed us by their badness: if Jacob will seem not to be afraid of Esau, Esau, it may be hoped, will not be a terror to Jacob.