Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. . . Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. . . Jacob said, “truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God.” (Gen. 33:1-11)
Jacob had reason to fear his brother Esau. These twins once struggled within the womb, and their mother Rebekah despaired of life itself upon learning she carried in her body “two peoples who would be divided.” Trouble started early during their youth at Beersheba (in modern Israel). Esau rightfully expected privileges of the firstborn, including a double portion of blessing/inheritance. But Jacob, literally clinging to his brother’s heel at birth, was determined to look out for himself (Gen 25:22-26).
Father Isaac was fond of Esau; mom preferred Jacob. Sensing opportunity once when Esau came home from hunting famished, Jacob persuaded Esau to trade his birthright for a pot of lentil stew. When old Isaac sent Esau to hunt wild game for a feast at which Esau would formally receive the blessing/inheritance, Jacob made his move. Mother Rebekah prepared a dish of goat meat, and Jacob—disguised as Esau—served it to his nearly blind dad. The ruse worked, and Jacob received the irrevocable blessing that belonged to his brother.
Fearing Esau would kill, Jacob fled fifty miles north to Bethel (in modern West Bank). There, in a dream, he saw angels ascending and descending on a stairway to heaven. God promised Jacob and his descendants possession of the land around him, with this high standard: “All families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring” (Gen. 28:14). All families!
From Bethel Jacob continued another four hundred miles to relatives at Haran (in modern Syria). There he spent twenty years, married, and established a family. He learned what it is to be hoodwinked: uncle Laban switched brides on Jacob at his wedding, and took advantage of him in business dealings. Eventually Jacob decided to move with his wives and children back to the land of his birth.
Having alerted Esau in Seir (southern modern Jordan) that he was returning, Jacob wrestled with God and his own conscience as he anticipated rendezvous with his alienated twin. In what seemed like a show of force, Esau approached with four hundred men. Jacob dispersed his family and possessions to minimize losses in case of attack. Then he gave lavish gifts of animals to Esau, and the encounter was redemptive. So powerful was reconciliation for Jacob that seeing Esau’s face was “like seeing the face of God.”
Jacob and Esau both had real grievances and legitimate self-interests. They never became pals, and lived far apart after the reconciliation. But they reached a stage in life when nursing a grudge was more costly than reconciliation. They stopped hating, something which we humans apparently need to learn anew every generation.
When reconciliation happens between individuals or between nations divided, it is like seeing the very face of God.
Join me in 2015 for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land! See: Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015
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