32 1 Laban got up early in the morning, kissed his sons and daughters, blessed them, and left to go back to his own place. 2 Jacob had gone on his way when God’s messengers drew near to him.
3 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp,” and he named that place Mahanaim/Twin-Camps.
4 Now Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau, in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 5 He commanded them: “Say this: To my lord Esau, thus says your servant Jacob: ‘I’ve sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. 6 Oxen, donkeys, flocks, male slaves and female slave have become mine. I send this message to my lord to find favor in your eyes.’”
7 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother, to Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”
8 Jacob was very afraid and distressed. He divided the people with him, and the sheep, cattle, and camels, into two camps. 9 He said to himself, “If Esau comes against the first camp and attacks it, the remaining camp will escape.”
10 Jacob said, “YHWH, God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, who said to me, ‘Return to your land and your kindred, and I will deal well with you,’ 11 I am too small for the kindness you have steadfastly shown your servant. I crossed the Jordan with only my staff, and now I have become two camps. 12 Save me from the hand of my brother Esau! I fear him that he will come and strike me down as well as mothers and their children. 13 But you have said, ‘I will deal well with you, and I will make your seed like the sand of the sea—much more than too much to count.’”
13 Jacob spent that night there…. From what he had acquired, he set aside a gift for his brother Esau:
Depending on the translation, 31:55 is 32:1. Does it complete the treaty (31:55) or belong with the subsequent leaving of the pact place with both Laban and Jacob going on their separate ways? I am choosing the latter. This can throw off the versification all the way through this chapter.
Laban and Jacob part, leaving a marker of a boundary between them. Jacob soon finds himself in the presence of angels. As his escape from Isaac and Esau over his capture of a first-born’s blessing began with angels going up and down a ramp, so it concludes with angels coming with a message. In response to the angelic messengers, Jacob sends messengers to Esau.
The remembrance of Jacob’s twin may be part of Jacob’s naming this parallel to Bethel, Mahanaim, ‘Twin Camps.’ Even though the story of Jacob seems to be more about an escape from Laban than a return to Esau, this marks the beginning of Jacob’s return to his land and people.
Esau was in his land of Edom (‘red’) named for ruddy Esau. Presumably, Isaac is at Hebron, where he will later die.
Jacob’s messengers find Esau and pass on to him about where Jacob has been for twenty years and that he is returning with property, wealth. Jacob does not mention any wife he was sent to bring back (a sore spot with Esau).
Upon their return, the messengers bring no word from Esau. Their only news is that Esau is on his way with four hundred men—the equivalent of a regiment or raiding party. Initially, this does not sound like the bringing of troops to protect Jacob and his wealth as Abraham had done for Lot.
With this news and the naming of this place as Mahanaim, Jacob divides his property into two camps. The hope is that one of them will survive any retribution that might be coming with Esau.
Having hedged his bet with these practical arrangements, Jacob turns to the God of Abraham and the Terror of Isaac and reminds G*D of a promise of protection.