The last time Jacob and Esau were under one roof it was a VERY tense situation. Maybe that is putting it a little lightly. The last time the two brothers were together it was more than tense… Esau wanted to kill his brother.
Many years have passed and now is the big moment… Esau is coming with his 400 men to Jacob's camp. Jacob’s mind is racing. What is Esau going to do? Will God really protect him? Did he send enough gifts to appease Esau’s anger? Well, he is about to find out.
Vs 1: Jacob looked up and saw Esau and divides his family. Even after being assured by an angel and blessed by God he is still acting out of fear. He wanted to preserve his family (which was a noble thing but as we will see unnecessary).
Vs 2: He divides them with the servant women and their children in the front, Leah and her children and Rachel and Joseph last. We do know that Jacob favored Rachel so it is probably no surprise that he divides them up the way he does.
Vs 3: Jacob goes before all of them. This is not the Jacob we are familiar with. He is no longer the coward who is bent on deceiving, running and hiding. He is a humbled man who met and wrestled with God and won. He was blessed by God and his new life has made him a new man. Still he was a little skeptical.
- As he proceeds he bows to the ground 7 times. This is a proper act of respect in any situation but specifically for his brother.
- Gordon Wenham writes, “In bowing down before his brother, Jacob is doing more than acknowledging Esau’s Lordship, he is trying to undo the great act of deception where he cheated Esau of his blessing.” He may be trying to appease Esau by showing him proper respect and honor.
- If you recall Jacob gives an abundance of gifts to Esau prior to their meeting. In some ways he was trying to right a wrong by paying back what he took. He knew that his brother had murderous intentions for him and I think Jacob genuinely feels bad about how things ended.
- In his humility and gift giving He was essentially beating himself up by worrying, bowing and protecting that he never ever considered the other option… Forgiveness. He never thought Esau would show kindness and forgiveness. Sometimes I am like Jacob… I am harder on myself because of the wrong I have done to someone and when they respond in forgiveness I almost do not feel worthy of their forgiveness. I beat myself up and think there is no way someone would show forgiveness and I feel I need to give or do something to show how sorry I am or I owe some sort of compensation to the person I wronged when all along they have already forgiven me. Isn’t this the way we can be with God as well? We sin and once we are convicted and repent we may feel that confession and repentance is not enough. I have to DO something. I have to GIVE something. I need to pay God back for the undeserved forgiveness he has shown me. Well that's that not grace. God wants lavish me in his love and give me the forgiveness I so desire… No strings attached. This is grace.
Vs 4: Esau’s response was not what Jacob was expecting. Jacob was cautiously going to his brother in humility, reverence and fear. However Esau runs out and embraces and kisses him. They wept together and no words are spoken. Forgiveness happens first then they speak.
The response of Esau is much like the response of the father in the story of the Prodigal son...
- The unworthy son approaches the father in humility.
- He has sinned against his father and he knows that he does not deserve forgiveness.
- The father looks beyond all these things. He loves his son and he runs to welcome his son back into the family. He celebrates because the relationship is now restored once again.
Vs 5: Jacob’s humility and repentance is evident in the way he speaks to Esau. He refers to Esau as lord and himself as “your servant.” This is a changed man. Not only is Jacob a changed man but we see his brother is as well.
Vs 11: Jacob in a sense is saying, “I feel bad about what I have done to you so take back what I have taken from you. God has given to me abundantly.” He insists on giving it back to Esau because if he does accept it then he will know Esau has forgiven him.
Vs 12 – 15: Jacob does not go with Esau to Seir. This may show that Jacob still does not trust Esau or it shows that Jacob needs to be obedient and do what God told him to do and go back to Canaan. I think the latter makes the most sense.
Vs 18 – 20: Jacob goes to Shechem and buys some land from the sons of Hamor. He erects an altar there.
In this account I believe the key theme is forgiveness. It is a wonderful account of how two brothers once at war are now reconciled to each other. Esau gives forgiveness and Jacob seeks and receives it. I think giving and receiving forgiveness comes easy to some and for others with great difficulty. Giving and receiving forgiveness go hand in hand. For example, if someone has difficulty showing forgiveness to others he/she is most likely will have a hard time receiving forgiveness as well.
The Greek word for forgiveness is aphiemi (a fee ah mee) and means “to let go” or “to leave”. We can see how Jacob would be reluctant to receive forgiveness because only the night before he was doing everything but letting go of God. He was determined and clung to God with all he had. So in order for him to receive forgiveness he would have to let go (which some see as a sign of weakness) and this was not something that came naturally to Jacob. We also see something that may not have come naturally to Esau. He has a complete turnaround. Esau has a change of heart. His hard murderous heart was turned to a soft heart willing to forgive. He was willing to let go of the past wrong doings of his brother and his murderous heart has turned to compassion and forgiveness.
If you are a follower of Christ you know what it is like to receive forgiveness. You have received the ultimate pardon of sin through faith in Jesus Christ. Because of his sacrifice you have received forgiveness. This however does not make one perfect. We remain sinful individuals. There is a saying that goes like this, “Christians are not perfect… they are forgiven.” Since we are imperfect the end result is sin against God and we do hurt those around us. Thus there is a need for continual seeking of forgiveness. There are sins that can and will hinder our fellowship with God temporarily. This hindering and in some cases severing does not cause us to lose our salvation, it does however affect our relationship and fellowship with God which ultimately leads to being out of God’s will. Unfortunately as imperfect believers we still have the capability of hindering and severing relationships with those we love (with our words and even our actions); we have a “falling out” with someone, and we have the nature to do and say things that can bring discord. Yet all is not lost. Even though our sins can and do hinder our relationship with God and others we are reminded that in 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." According to the Bible Reader’s Companion, “Confessing sins is not 'saying you’re sorry.' It is agreeing with God that a particular act is sin—and thus taking sides with Him and against yourself. What happens if we confess our sins to God? Then God forgives our sins and continues the process of purification from unrighteousness the Spirit has begun in us. What happens if we make excuses, or refuse to acknowledge a particular act was sin? We put up a barrier between ourselves and God.”In Christ we can know that we are truly forgiven if we confess our sins to God and seek his forgiveness. If we ask for forgiveness we will receive forgiveness. What happens if we confess our wrong doings to others and seek forgiveness and they do not give it? That is not up to us to determine. We are commanded seek and receive forgiveness because God first forgave us.
Maybe forgiveness is really something you struggle with. Maybe there is someone in your life who has wronged you and you honestly feel like you cannot forgive. Or maybe you need to seek forgiveness from someone. May I give you some challenging words and encouragement? Before I do this I do acknowledge that I know showing forgiveness and asking for forgiveness is not always easy (trust me I know all too well). This is something that must be bathed in much prayer but it is possible.
- Luke 6:37 – Forgive and you will be forgiven. Jesus clearly taught that forgiveness is essential in any relationship. If we are willing and able to show forgiveness then God (and others) will show forgiveness to us.
- Col. 3:13 – Forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you. Understand, you can forgive others because God has shown forgiveness to you.
- Eph. 4:32 – Be kind, tenderhearted and forgive one another. Jesus also taught to treat others the way you want to be treated. Be kind, don’t hold grudges. Be compassionate with one another. Be slow to anger and quick to forgiveness.
- Rom. 5:8 – Understand we are undeserving of receiving anything good but because of grace we do. The best thing one can do is realize that when a person is showing forgiveness he/she (hopefully) is not doing it because they HAVE to but because God has changed their heart and they are responding to his call to show forgiveness.
Richards, L. O. (1991; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996). The Bible readers companion (electronic ed.) (892). Wheaton: Victor Books.