After many years of surviving the wiles of Laban, Jacob has gained two wives and two significant others, several children and many oxen, asses, sheep and offspring. He departed while Laban was absent, only to be followed by Laban and his men. After several days chase, Laban caught up and demanded a search of their camp. "For why?" demanded Jacob. "Look at all the years I worked. My wives had no dowry. Your flocks multiplied and yet I was not paid. Every contract we made, you broke." The negotiations were not friendly. "You took my household gods," insisted Laban. After searching the camp, they made a contract, drawing a line for boundaries that Laban would not pass. Laban returned to his people and Jacob faced the future, hoping to return to the land of his father.
Instead he heard the rumors of Esau approaching with four hundred men. It boded not well with him. He could not return with Laban behind him, and his brother was coming with four hundered men to attack him. "So many years had passed, couldn't he forget a childish trick he once played on him?" The thought gnawed at Jacob's conscience. He made a plan, splitting his camp in two. If one part was attacked, the other might escape and survive. Leah on one side and Rachel on the other. He called his herdsment together for the contigency plan; perhaps he could smooth over the anger of his brother with a small gift—say a peace-offering of 200 she-goats, 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 milch camels and their colts, 40 kine and 10 bulls; and 20 she asses and 10 foals. "Relatively good compensation for stealing a birthright," he thought, "probably more than Esau ever had." Not only that, but sufficient animls culled so with good care, they would multiply, bringing additional dividends. Jacob ordered the herdsmen bring the best for inspection, and he himself, spent the day, carefully examining them, checking to see that they were in excellent health. And when satisfied, the herdsmen practiced presenting them in a stately parade, if that is possible with livestock. The effect was impressive as the dust swirled and children ran alongside, keeping the animals together.
When the day came to an end, he saw that all had forded the river successfully. He was left to confront his brother alone, like an envoy bearing the white flag between two battling armies.
The night passed uneasily, for in his dreams he wrestled mightily, sweating profusely with an unknown stranger. When he awoke, a voice echoed, "you have striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed." He resorted to seeing both his plans through. His men stood on the other side of the river in defensive positions, the livestock ready for the grand parade. He put his families behind the defensive line, Leah and her children behind the herdsmen families and Rachel with Joseph to the very hindmost. He wanted their survival. If he were killed, there were sons to survive the onslaught. Perhaps his brother could be pacified. Oil the palm to make the words smooth. Surely he could buy his way out.
Esau arrived with his clatter of men. Dusty from the journey, he descended and he ran to greet Jacob, embracing and kissing him. Suspicious of his brother's intentions, Jacob ordered the rehearsed parade, offering the animals to his brother.
"What's this about?" asked the astonished Esau.
Unwilling to reply, Jacob ordered the next dazzling event for the parade of oxen, bellowing lustily as they trampled the ground, swishing their tails to keep off the gadflies.
"No, I don't need them," Esau protested. "I have enough of my own."
But Jacob was not persuaded, because he had plans of his own, and so the millieu of sheep began with the ewes scattering about and the noise of bleating filling the heavens, followed by the shrill of rams and braying of asses.
"Cease and desist," cried Esau. "Enough's enough,I daresay." And finally Jacob heard when the orderly stampede was ended. They stood there, two opposites, facing each other. Esau offered his company and Jacob refused. Each went his own way, until their father's death.
And so it is with us: we plot and scheme, thinking the worst and making contingency plans; when the good comes, we often reject it, because blinded by our own designs. We cannot see the good until death brings us to the final reconciliation.