Fired with wrath at losing so valuable a servant, Laban gathered up a company of men, and pursued after Jacob with haste.
In the mean time, Jacob, fearing that this would be the case, travelled on as fast as the state of his flocks would allow; and having crossed the Euphrates and a long desert that intervened, pitched his tents upon mount Gilead, on the east side of Jordan. Here we can imagine that he felt a degree of security in view of the supposed distance between himself and his unjust father-in-law. A magnificent landscape was spread out before him. There were lofty mountains in the distance, and undulating hills at the north, bearing "oaks of Bashan," such as Solomon used in the building of the temple. There too were deep valleys and flowing streams and luxuriant meadows, in which fed the fat "bulls of Bashan." This was the country where afterwards lived the giants, one of whom slept on a bedstead of iron which was more than thirteen feet long.
Jacob's rest upon this mountain was of short duration, for Laban and his company soon made their appearance, intending to carry him and his family back by force. But the protecting hand of the Lord was with him, according to the promise; and after an amicable adjustment of their difficulties, Laban left them with the kiss of peace.
Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, was at this time about six years old; and as he parted with his grandfather Laban, and turned again to his frolics with his brothers, his young heart had no foreshadowings of those sore trials which were to come upon him in the land to which they were going.
Rachel, his beloved mother, was by daily travel drawing nearer and still nearer to the city of Bethlehem, where her loving was to be chilled by death, and her beloved body hid in the grave. Happy for Rachel, happy for us, as we eagerly and joyfully press on to what seem cheering resting-places in the journey of life, that the impenetrable veil which hides the future from our eyes is not withdrawn.
It would be reasonable to suppose that, after such a signal interposition of God in turning away the wrath of Laban, Jacob's fears of future evils would have been greatly lessened. But no sooner had he escaped one danger, than we find him distressed to such a degree with forebodings of certain death by the hand of his brother Esau, that God condescended to open his eyes to see a host of angels encamped around him. This was done to strengthen his confidence in God's protecting power and constant watchfulness.
Yet Jacob did not neglect the means of safety which prudence dictated. Hearing that his brother was approaching with an army of four hundred men, and overwhelmed with fear, he prayed to God to fulfil his promise and protect him. He then called his servants, and with their help selected and dispatched to his brother as a present cattle and flocks of different kinds, in all five hundred and eighty. He then went to lodge with his family.
But as if all had not been done that could be, he arose in the night, and sent his family and all that he had over the brook Jabbok. This is a small river from the eat that empties into the river Jordan between the sea of Galilee and the Dead sea, and is so thickly bordered with oleander, wild olives, and wild almonds, and waving reeds ten or fifteen feet high, that in some places the water is entirely hidden from view. Yet the luxuriant border marks its course, and the musical murmur of its flow is heard. In some places the stream is not over ten yards wide, but it is nearly as rapid and deep as the Jordan itself.
In the dark hours of the night, when nature was hushed and at rest, Jacob labored untiringly in removing all those dear to him across the Jabbok to a place of greater safety. Then he remained alone in the solitude, and the Angel of the covenant came and wrestled with him till the breaking of the day. In this wrestling with the sinner's Friend he prevailed. He received the blessing which he sought, and the new name ISRAEL, which means "a princely prevailer with God."
Jacob's seeking to be alone, that he might spend the night in prayer, shows to what source he looked for help in the hour of fear and distress; and his success is a great encouragement to Christians at all times to follow his example.
Having sent forward hundreds of camels, kine, and other animals, as a costly present to assuage the wrath of Esau, the manner in which he arranged his family to meet him indicates where his deepest affection lay. The handmaids and their children went first, Leah and hers next, and his beloved Rachel and Joseph behind, that if the first should be slain, the wife and child of his bosom might escape.
When Esau had come in sight, Jacob walked forth to met him, and bowed himself seven times to the ground. This conciliatory course, with the blessing of God upon it, extracted the venom from Esau's heart. He ran to meet his twin brother Jacob, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him; and they wept together. They had commenced life together, and for many years they loved each other and were happy; but there came a quarrel, a family quarrel, bitter and hateful, and of thirty years' duration. This was their first meeting after it; and it is pleasant to see their anger giving place to tears of affection.
Esau returned to Edom, and Jacob removed to Succoth. Succoth was a little south of Gilead, on the same side of the river. Here he built a house for himself and booths for his cattle; but he soon after took his family, and crossing the Jordan, proceeded northerly, and came and pitched his tent in Shechem, a town about forty miles north of Jerusalem. Here he paid a hundred pieces of money for a parcel of ground, which he gave to Joseph; and here he digged that well at which our Saviour afterwards sat down, when he had the conversation with the woman of Samaria. And here also Joseph's bones were interred, after they had been brought out of Egypt.
When the land became Jacobs's, he built an altar upon it unto the Lord, and called it "El-Elohe-Israel"—"God the God of Israel."