12 And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee. 13 And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die. 14 Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir. 15 And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me. And he said, What needeth it? let me find grace in the sight of my lord.
While reading this chapter I had continually wondered to myself “but why did Esau bring four hundred men in the first place?” That was an army, and Jacob’s assumption that they were being brought to destroy him seems a totally valid fear. Why would Esau have thought it was a good thing to bring them?
One possibility that occurred to me was that maybe Esau did intend to destroy his brother, but when he finally saw Jacob’s face felt his anger melt away. Or perhaps he knew he was going to forgive his brother, but he wanted to give him a good fright first. But if either of these possibilities were his true motivation, then it would surprise me that Esau then says absolutely nothing about the past offense. Instead, his behavior seems to me as though he had let go of his anger many years prior. Then I considered that he might have become something of a warlord, so accustomed to wandering around with a traveling army that he had forgotten how their appearance might frighten delicate farmers.
Reading today’s verses, though, I also realized that he might have simply brought all these men to help his brother during the last leg of the journey. It might have been meant entirely as a kindly gesture, just one that Jacob had misinterpreted. But when Esau suggests that he leave some of his men to protect the flocks, Jacob refuses. Jacob has seen for himself that he is guarded by his God, so he knows that all will be well.