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William Shepard

The Meeting of Jacob and Esau

As Jacob was travelling homeward he was much disturbed in his mind, because he remembered the sin he had been guilty of towards his brother Esau, and he was afraid that Esau had not forgiven him. Being desirous, therefore, of knowing what his brother's intentions were, he sent some servants before him, who were charged to go to Esau with this message: "Thy brother Jacob is returning to his native land, and he hopes that during the many years that have expired the enmity between him and you has been laid at rest. He brings with him his wives and his children and all his possessions, and he will deem it his greatest happiness to share with his brother what God hath bestowed upon him."

And when they had delivered this message Esau was very glad, and went to meet his brother with four hundred men. But Jacob, hearing that he was coming with such a number of men, was greatly afraid, for he did not know how Esau felt towards him. However, he committed himself into the hands of God and awaited his brother's arrival. In case the men attacked him, he determined to defend himself and his family as well as he could. He therefore distributed his company into parts; some he sent before the rest, and the others he ordered to come close behind, so that if the first were overpowered, they might have those that followed as a refuge to fly to. And when he had put his company into this order, he sent some of them to carry presents to his brother; the presents consisted of cattle and other four-footed animals, some of which were very rare and very valuable. But he did not send all these together: he made several droves, or flocks, of them. Then when Esau met the first drove and asked whose cattle they were, the men were to answer that they belonged to Jacob, who was sending them as a present to his brother Esau. And when he met the second drove and asked the same question he was to be answered in the same way, and so with the other droves, until he had seen them all. Jacob did this in order that Esau might be softened in case he were still angry.

It took Jacob a whole day to make all these arrangements. Then, as night came on, he sent his company across a river which lay before them, and he himself remained behind. And there came an angel of God, who wrestled with him. Jacob did not know at first that he was an angel. All night long they wrestled, and when the morning light shone in the sky the angel had not prevailed against him. Then the angel informed him who he was, and told him to be pleased with his victory, for it meant that the race of which he was to be the founder would be great and victorious. The angel also told Jacob to take the name of Israel, which means in the Hebrew language, "One that hath fought with an angel," and he then disappeared.

During the struggle Jacob had hurt his thigh, and on this account he never afterwards ate that part of an animal, and his descendants have never eaten it either.

Full of peace and comfort, Jacob, or Israel, as he was now called, went to join his wives and his companions. And soon Esau and his men came in sight, and when he had approached so near that Jacob could see his face, he perceived that there was no anger in it. So Jacob ran forward to meet him, and bowed down before him. Esau raised him up and embraced him. And after the brothers had conversed together, Esau offered to go with Jacob to their father, Isaac. But Jacob thanked him, and said that his wives and children were tired with their long journey and needed rest. So Esau left him and returned to his own country.

Jacob went on in his journey a little way to a place called Succoth, where he stopped to rest. After a little while he went to Bethel, where he had seen the vision of the angels and the ladder, and he offered sacrifices there. And Jacob left Bethel and came near to Bethlehem, and God gave him another son, whose name was Benjamin. But Rachel, the boy's mother, died before they came to Bethlehem, and they buried her on the way.

At last he arrived at Hebron, in the land of Canaan, where his father, Isaac, was still dwelling, in extreme old age. He found that his mother, Rebekah, was dead. And only a few years after the return of Jacob Isaac himself died, at the age of one hundred and eighty-five. Esau and Jacob buried him by the side of Rebekah, in Hebron, in the cave where Abraham and Sarah were also buried.