The Beauty of Reconciliation
Sometimes people don’t get along.
And yes, there are in fact greater understatements. In any case, for those of us with siblings, we probably learned fairly early just how easily conflict can arise. From disputes over toys to room intrusions, to wars waged over the coveted shotgun seat, it seems there is no shortage of reasons for children to bicker. I can only imagine, then, that two boys as different as Jacob and Esau could have found plenty of reasons to quarrel without the particular instances of conflict that so complicated their relationship.
If we can make any certain judgments about his character from the little we know of him, Esau did not seem to be the most prudent of young men. We can see that his tendency was anything but careful consideration of the consequences of his actions. Honestly, few sons (and grandsons) of incredibly wealthy men have been known to trade their inheritances for a bowl of anything, especially soup. Not only was his decision incredibly unwise and shortsighted, the Hebrews writer even calls it “unholy” (Hebrews 11:16 ESV). Dramatically exaggerating his hunger, Esau counted a higher blessing as common and worthless, willing to exchange his birthright for a quick meal.
Lest we be too disproportionately critical of Esau, we should consider his brother’s manipulative treachery. What kind of brother withholds food from his hungry sibling? Not only was Jacob severely lacking in the category of brotherly love, he also seemed far too comfortable with the notion of lying. The disturbing scene of his mother’s scheming becomes even more unsettling when Jacob’s only concern seems to be getting caught by his old, blind father whom he is trying to deceive. (Genesis 27:12). There is a painfully obvious reason that the years of Jacob’s life would henceforth seem “few and evil” (Genesis 47:9 ESV). The consequences of his deceit wreaked havoc on his already somewhat dysfunctional family unit:
“As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.” (Genesis 27:34–38 ESV)
Can you picture this strong, young hunter sobbing profusely on the ground in front of his father? I cannot help but wonder what was going through the minds of Rebekah and Jacob as Esau’s presumably loud cries rang from his father’s tent. Did their hearts sink? Did they feel sick? Did they realize what they had done? Did they still think it was worth it? One thing that definitely got Jacob’s attention was his brother’s attitude toward him after this incident:
“Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”” (Genesis 27:41 ESV)
Fearing for his life, Jacob fled from Esau’s presence and traveled to the land of his relatives to live in a sort of exile apart from his family. It would be more than twenty years before Jacob saw his brother again.
In the time of Jacob’s exile, he faced hard labor under a master (who was also his uncle and father-in-law) who had a tendency to cheat and deceive as thoroughly as Jacob had. He watched his family turn chaotic as his four consistently pregnant wives relatively quickly expanded his family by twelve. He tried to sneak away from Laban after God prospered him with the overwhelming majority of Laban’s flock, only to face a harsh confrontation with his angry father-in-law. His journey had thus far been a trying one, but nothing seemed to compare to facing his brother again.
While traveling down the typical route of the king’s highway from Haran to Bethel, Jacob knew he would have to cut through Edom, Esau’s country. To perceive the degree of Jacob’s uneasiness we need only consider the small fortune he sent to try to appease his brother. His fear and distress only increased, however, as he received the news that his brother was coming to meet him with a small army! We see a significant, characteristic difference as Jacob turns to God in humble prayer, voicing his love and concern for the welfare of his family. Although arguably not fully, Jacob is a changed man.
Our heart hammers with Jacob’s as he wrestles all night long and then prepares to meet his brother. We can imagine his sweaty palms, his shaky voice, the distinct limp reminding him of how helpless he feels at the thought of Esau’s notable military advantage. We sympathize with Jacob as he divides his group into two parties, that he might at least preserve one of them. And we watch him make the walk that seems to last forever as he approaches Esau, bowing to his brother seven times. What is Esau going to say?
“But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” (Genesis 33:4 ESV)
There are few more beautiful scenes preserved in the pages of Scripture. More importantly, it shows us the tangible reality of a repaired relationship. Images such as this also echo through stories like Joseph forgiving his brothers and Jesus’ parable of the lost son. Without graphic displays of concepts like this, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to wrap our minds around the nature of our relationship with our Creator and Father. Jacob draws the parallel, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me…because God has dealt graciously with me.” (Genesis 33:10–11 ESV)”
We can relate to these stories because they are our story: we all were in the throws of deception, enduring its painful consequences, complicating our own lives and perhaps even ruining the lives of our families and friends. We all were under the heavy hand of a cruel cheating master as slaves of sin. Nevertheless, God’s patience allowed us to see ourselves for what we were and learn the hard lessons that helped us turn back to Him. He met us and brought us into His fold, replacing our fear and apprehension with tearful relief and joy. As much as we may strive for the faith of Abraham or Joseph, we will always be able to identify with Jacob’s painful exile and sweet reconciliation.
BJ Young (2019-02-24)