Jacob has had quite a night. Messengers have told Jacob that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 of his men. Jacob believes that Esau is coming to take vengeance. He has split his traveling party into two groups in preparation for his attack. Jacob has prayed for God to rescue him from his brother. God’s answer to Jacob’s prayer has been to wrestling with him all night, putting one of his hips out of joint. But the wrestling with God had a message. You have struggled with God and with people and have prevailed. In short, you have struggled with people your whole life and have overcome because God has been with you. In fact, no longer will you be called “swindler/cheater” (Jacob). Now you will be called “struggles with God” (Israel). Now it is morning and Jacob is limping from the struggle. He looks up and he sees Esau coming with his 400 men. God has confirmed that he is with Jacob. But here comes Esau. What is going to happen? What is this encounter with Esau going to teach God’s people for all time? Open your copies of God’s word to Genesis 33.
Humility in Reconciliation (33:1-7)
Jacob separates his children between his wives and female servants. He puts his servants with their children in front of them. But rather than remaining in the back, Jacob goes to the front of them and begins limping toward Esau and his 400 men who are riding up. But as Jacob is limping toward Esau, he is bowing as he approaches. Jacob bowed down seven times until he finally came near Esau. Esau runs to meet Jacob. Esau throws his arms around Jacob’s neck, hugs him, kisses him, and then they both just cried. What a wonderful moment! Then Esau sees the women and children and asks Jacob who these are. I want us to think about what Jacob says in verse 5. Jacob does not say that he has really made a lot of his life and is really doing well now. Jacob is not going to gloat, glorify himself, or rub it in. Jacob says that these are the children that God has graciously given your servant. Notice that Jacob calls himself Esau’s servant, not his superior. Further, the servants, the children, and the wives all come forward and bow down before Esau.
One of the important keys to reconciliation is to show humility. If we want to be peacemakers like Jesus commands us and we want to make every effort to live peaceably with all as the apostle Paul taught, then humility is required. It is this humility that is needed to go to the person that we have injured. Probably one of the biggest reasons that reconciliation does not happen is due to a lack of humility. We only can admit that we are wrong when we are humble. We only can say we are sorry when we are humble. We can only try to make things right when we are humble enough to admit that we did something wrong. Humility is the first step to restoration.
Insisting on Restitution (33:8-11)
So after the hugging and crying, Esau asks Jacob what he was doing with this whole entourage that greeted him as he approached (33:8). Jacob responds that he is seeking his favor. In essence, Jacob is trying to make things right. Jacob is offering restitution. Jacob is trying to make things right as much as he is able. To Esau’s credit, he keeps refusing what Jacob offers. Esau says that he has enough and is doing well (33:9). But Jacob insists. In verse 10 Jacob explains why it is so important to him to have Esau accept this gift. Jacob says that seeing Esau’s face is like seeing God’s face. What does Jacob mean by this? Jacob is relating what has happened to the wrestling he had with God last night. Remember in Genesis 32:30 that Jacob says after struggling and prevailing, “For I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been delivered.” Jacob had wrestled with God and survived. Jacob has now encountered Esau and has survived again. Jacob understands what he is done and fully expected death. But Esau has given him life because the Lord has proven himself to be with him. Jacob says that he has seen Esau’s face and Esau has accepted him.
But I want us to notice what else Jacob says in verse 11. “Please accept my blessing that is brought to you….” It is the same Hebrew word in Genesis 27:35-36. Jacob is in essence trying to give the blessing back to Esau that he stole from him about 20 years earlier. Unfortunately, a number of translations read “present” or “gift” in verse 11. But the Hebrew word primarily means “blessing” and Jacob wants to give the blessing back, in a manner of speaking. Why does Jacob want to give the blessing back? We are already seeing a heart of restitution in Jacob. Further, Jacob says that God has been gracious to him and he has everything he needs. So Jacob urges Esau to take this blessing until he took it. Jacob is saying that he took the blessing before. But now he wants Esau to take the blessing.
Friends, this is another important step to restitution and reconciliation. True sorrow and true repentance wants to restore. True reconciliation wants to right the wrong as much as possible. Now obviously Jacob cannot fully restore Esau or fully right this wrong. But that did not keep Jacob from trying. Jacob is not dismissive about what he did. Jacob does not say that it should be water under the bridge because this happened 20 years ago. Jacob does not say that life happens and its a bummer. Jacob does everything he can to correct the error he made. Jacob cannot truly return the blessing. But he can give Esau the benefits of the blessing. All of this is in an effort to seek Esau’s favor.
Separating in Peace (33:12-20)
Esau now welcomes Jacob and his family to come back with him to Seir. But Jacob tells him that his children are frail and his herds cannot be driven hard for a day’s journey to get there (33:13). Jacob tells Esau to go on and he will slowly make his way until he comes to Seir. Esau offers to leave some people with him to help them make the journey (33:15). But Jacob declines. I believe Jacob declines in such a way to indicate that he is grateful for the offer. So Esau and Jacob part ways. Esau returns to Seir and Jacob makes his way to Succoth and then to Shechem in Canaan (33:18). Rather than a fight, these brothers are able to reconcile. Rather than death, they are able to go their separate ways in peace.
Sometimes we can forget that reconciliation does not mean we have to be the best of friends. Reconciliation does mean that the problem has been solved and the relationship as been restored. Jacob has humbled himself and brought about a reconciliation with his brother so that he can continue his journey back to the promised land.
It is important to notice that this is another turning point in the life of Jacob. Verse 20 tells us that when Jacob comes to Shechem, he buys a plot of land and sets up an altar. The name of the altar is El-Elohe-Israel. Now this is easy to quickly pass over since it is just a transliterated Hebrew word. The meaning of this name is very telling. The name means God is the God of Israel. Up to this point, we have heard Jacob speak about the God of his father Abraham and his father Isaac. But Jacob has not called the Lord his God. But now Jacob accepts the name change. He calls himself Israel and says that God is his God. God is the God of Israel. God has worked in Jacob’s life to move him to see God’s hand and become his follower.
Let It Go
There are three considerations that I want use to see from this chapter. First, I want us to see how Jacob was able to work toward restoration and reconciliation with his brother. God has led Jacob to met his scorned brother. But Jacob has made the most of the situation by humbling himself and looking to make peace with his brother.
Second, I want us to look at Esau’s response to Jacob. Esau is the wronged person who has been able to stew on this injustice for 20 years. But look again at what Esau says in verse 9. He tells Jacob that he has enough and for Jacob to keep what he has. Even though he has been wronged, he is able to see that he has been blessed and is doing well. I will speak more about this in the third point.
Third, God has worked in both of their lives. God has been working in Jacob and in Esau. Esau is now doing well in spite of all he suffered. Jacob is now doing well in spite of all he suffered. Friends, this is so important when wronged and when suffering. Please look for God’s hand. Esau could have told Jacob how the last 20 years had ruined his life because of what Jacob did. But Esau moved forward. Esau moved on and by moving on he was able to see that he is doing well but was able to decline Jacob’s offer because he had still be richly blessed. In the same way, God had worked so strongly in Jacob’s life that he could see God’s hand and desired to not only reconcile but bless the person he had wronged.
This is what led Jacob to build an altar to the Lord. Back in Genesis 28:20-21 Jacob said that if God will be with him, then the Lord will be his God. Now Jacob is responding to the goodness and faithfulness of God. God has been with him and Jacob now worships the Lord as his God. We can let it go when we see God’s good hand in our lives. We can let it go when we see all the blessings God has worked in our lives in spite of all the hurts and losses we have experienced. We can let it go when we humble ourselves and remember that we have made the same mistakes, hurting others just as others have hurt us. All of us need God’s grace and all of us need to see God’s grace so that we can simply let our hurts go.