Genesis 33:1-20
The Reconciliation Of Jacob And Esau

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. We've been reading the story of Jacob together. Today is the third time. Let's rehash the story so far.

2. Jacob was the younger twin brother to Esau, but he tricked his brother and his father Isaac and stole the birth right and the blessings of the first born son. Then, because of that, he offended Esau and his life became in jeopardy by him. Jacob fled his brother's intention to kill him, and came to live out his flight for twenty years in the far away land of Haran. At last then, the time had come for him to go back to his home town. That meant that he would have to meet with his brother face to face again. He spent the night in agony. The Bible expresses that situation as "At that time, someone wrestled with Jacob until dawn," (32:25). Someone - we should probably think of this as a messenger from God. The wrestling bout that Jacob experienced was, ultimately speaking, none other than a bout with God.

3. During that wrestling match, his hip joint was dislocated. Now he could only hang on and cling to God. He said, "I won't let go of you until you bless me." Thus, the night of troubles turned to dawn. The morning sun rose upon him. Jacob said, "Even though I have meet with God face to face and seen him, I am still alive," (32:31), and he named that place Peniel (the face of God). That night, for sure, was a night upon which Jacob had met God directly in a real sense. He greeted the morning as a man forgiven and blessed by God.

It Looked Like The Face Of God

4. With that let's get into today's passage of scripture. When Jacob lifted his face, on the horizon in the distance, it looked like Esau was coming bringing along with him four hundred men. Jacob had spent the night face to face with God and made preparations to meet face to face with man. His resolve was made up. He had turned it all over to God, and standing at the lead, he went forward. Until he arrived at Esau's position, he lowered himself down to the ground seven times. Then, Esau came running. Jacob couldn't run away or hide now. Since God struck the joint of his hip, he didn't have the option to run away. Right now, though, Jacob wasn't depending any more on his own power and strength. The only thing that mattered was that he had been forgiven and blessed by God. That's right, the rock that anybody can ultimately depend on is only the forgiveness and the blessing of God.

5. The brother running to him came up to him, and a surprising thing happened. What Jacob saw there was not the figure of a brother crazed with anger and brandishing a sword. Esau welcomed him with opened arms, he hugged him, held his head, and kissed him. Esau was weeping. Jacob wept with him. So, reconciliation took place in a manner which far exceeded Jacob's thoughts on it.

6. Soon after Esau lifted his face and looking around at the women and the children he asked, "Who are these people with you?" Jacob introduced afresh to Esau his family given to him during his life in flight. Then Esau asked some more questions. "Now, what are your intentions regarding the great deal of cattle that I've met?" It was the long line of many gifts that Jacob had sent up ahead that night of agony, when he had devised a plan of some kind to try to appease Esau's anger. Jacob gave an honest answer that "It was to obtain the favor of my master." Then Esau declined to accept [the gifts] and said, "My brother, I have enough things. You will please hold on to your own stuff."

7. However, Jacob persisted and urged Esau, "No, if I may please have your favor, please accept these gifts by all means. My brother's face looks to me like the face of God because you have welcomed me so warmly. Please accept these gifts that I have sent as offerings to you; for, as God has given his grace to me, I have whatever [I need]," (33:10-11).

8. It is an extreme expression to say that the face of a human "looks like the face of God." As a matter of fact, it doesn't just appear here in the Bible. It is clear that this phrase is being used in connection with the words of Jacob [before when] he said in chapter thirty-two at Peniel (the face of God) that "Even though I have seen God face to face, I am still alive."

9. In short, Esau's forgiveness was for Jacob but a reflection of God's forgiveness. Jacob saw in Esau's favor the grace of God. For Jacob, his being forgiven by Esau and his reconciliation having come to pass was also an event that happened between God and Jacob and not just something that happened between two people.

10. Though forgiven by someone and though a crisis is passed, lots of people just think, "Oh, it's fine. I survived it okay." As time passes, it is forgotten like nothing ever was there. No matter how big it was, nothing remains later, as one is unaccustomed to deep experiences in life in any real sense. But, for Jacob this event was not like that. Why was that? Because before he had met Esau he had met with God. Because he met in sincerity and gravity. Because he met so sincerely that he had wrestled with him.

To Succoth and To Shechem

11. Then, Esau said to Jacob, "Well now, let's leave together. Now I'll guide you," (33:12). But, Jacob turned his offer down in a roundabout way. He not only turned down [Esau's] offer to lead and guide him, but to have a number of his guards to escort him. In spite of saying, "I am proceeding slowly joining in with the walk of my children and the cattle that are here, and I'll go to my master in Seir," he did not go straight away to Esau in Seir.

12. Why was that? Many people will explain it was because Jacob did not trust Esau as truthful. But, perhaps that's not it either. Because there were no stories of any development of discord arising between Jacob and Esau again and this becoming an issue. When their father Isaac died, Jacob along with Esau buried their father without any problems, (35:29).

13. Instead, as we place our attention on the larger flow of the narrative, I think the truth comes clearer as to why Jacob turned down Esau's offer. In short, Jacob had no reason to go to Seir right away. -- Because he had another place that he was supposed to go to. It wasn't even Hebron, where his father's house was. What did God say when God appeared to Jacob and lead him to go back to his home town? Please look at Genesis chapter thirty-one and verse thirteen. God spoke as follows: "I am the God of Bethel. Didn't you once set up a memorial stone, pour oil on it, and make an oath to me? So now, leave this land right away and go back to your home town," (31:13).

14. Bethel means the place where God appeared to Jacob in a dream as he was sleeping and using a rock for his pillow while on his journey when he was going to Haran that time he was fleeing from his brother Esau, (28:10ff). It was the place where God let him see the stairwell extending from heaven to earth, and it was the place where he told him, "I will be with you. I have not forsaken you." The oath that he made there meant he regarded the rock that he set as a memorial stone as the house of God, he was offering up one tenth, of everything that God had given him, (28:22). Therefore, he was following in the opposite direction of the path that he had fled on, and as he returned home, he had to turn towards Bethel first and more than any thing else.

15. However, Jacob's going up to Bethel and constructing the altar there is actually in chapter thirty-five. What had he been doing up till then? The scripture has this in it: "Jacob went to Succoth, built his house, and constructed a hut for the cattle," (33:17). For some reason, the words found in the text say, "He built a house." They had passed a long period there, and he settled there. Perhaps in their view the land that was between the Jabbok and the Jordan Rivers looked rich and suited for raising cattle. But, how did it look in God's view?

16. Then, more to the story is told. The story is that they moved on to live in Shechem. That story goes all the way up to the whole thirty-fourth chapter. It turns out to be a very sorrowful story, in that his daughter Dinah is raped and his sons avenge her. After going through these things they first start heading to Bethel again.

17. As you recall, Jacob said in Bethel, "Even though I have meet with God face to face and seen him, I am still alive." Then, there as well, he was able to make reconciliation with Esau. But, Peniel was not the goal. It wasn't all over with that. Much rather, the main thing was where they will go from here.

18. It's the same for us, too. We have to be forgiven by God, we have to be reconciled to God, and we have to be reconciled with others. We have to be justified by faith. We have to be baptized. But, that's not the goal. The main thing is where we go and live from there.

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