Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
I heard recently of someone who made elaborate preparations for a proposal of marriage, involving a many-course with the request appearing between each course on the menu. (she accepted!) Jacob’s elaborate preparations to meet the brother he swindled out of birthright and blessing went in a similar way–but had a different motivation. The size of the gift indicated just how wealthy Jacob had become, but he misinterpreted what his messengers reported back of Esau and assumed he was coming in anger exact the retribution Jacob probably though he deserved, rather than the reconciliation he desired. Now doubt he hoped that repeated gifts and messages would soften Esau’s heart, calm him down and make Jacob acceptable to Esau once more, but his motivation was on of ‘great fear and distress’ for himself and his large extended family. However, having first put a divide-and-conquer strategy in motion, he turned to God and prayed with humility and recognition that his success was God’s doing, and asked for his protection. He put his plea for safety from Esau’s supposed violence in the centre of his prayer, surrounding and bolstering his request with God’s promises to him
Jacob could be accuse of hanging his bets and, but the generosity of his gifts, showing a lack of faith in God, but as an older commentary notes, ‘Scripture approves of strategy when it is a tool rather than a substitute for God’; referring also to examples from Joshua and Nehemiah. My mother would call this using divine common sense–or as has been said, ‘Pray as if everything depended on God, work as if everything depended on you’. Jacob-perhaps for the first time-is acting not just out of self-interest, but for the good of all with him and their future prospects; his prayers and plans go hand in hand.
Think about how you approach tricky situations. What comes first–prayer, or action? Does it necessarily matter?