Genesis 33:1-111 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. 2 He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. 3 He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. 4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. 5 Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked. Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.” 6 Then the maidservants and their children approached and bowed down. 7 Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down. 8 Esau asked, “What do you mean by all these droves I met?” “To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” he said. 9 But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.” 10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.
Sometimes things get messy in families. Twin brothers were torn apart by conflict. Jacob had cunningly seized an opportunity for his benefit that would lead to his brother’s demise. Instead of having his brother’s back, he sought to steal his brother’s future. Esau should have been more serious and cautious about something as significant as his future, but long story short, he sold his birthright to Jacob, his brother, for a pot of stew in Genesis 25. The birthright was what would legally belong to the oldest son. It was a double portion of the inheritance that also came with the authority to preside over the entire family someday. Esau didn’t seem to be too upset at the time. He enjoyed his soup. Perhaps he never thought anything could come of what had transpired. He never dreamed any contract made as kids could have any long-lasting consequences. After all, they were just kids at the time. Esau didn’t really think his position or status in life could change over a pot of soup.
Fast forward several years. Jacob and his mom got together to pull a trick on the patriarch of the family, Isaac. Jacob disguised himself as his brother, Esau, and went in to see his father, Isaac, at the time in which Isaac had decided to give his spiritual blessing to Esau, his first-born. Because he was old and didn’t see well, Isaac thought he was blessing Esau, when in fact it was Jacob who was standing in front of him. Swindled out of his birthright and now literally cheated out of his father’s blessing (a big deal in OT times), Esau realized just how serious his losses were and he made up his mind to kill his brother.
Have you ever been so mad that you wanted to kill someone? I don’t need a show of hands. That’s where Esau found himself. Well, hearing Esau wanted to kill him, at the advice of his mom, he decided to put some distance between himself and Esau. He went to live with his mom’s brother in Haran. It was quite a distance between Beersheba and Haran, so he knew he would be a safe distance from his brother.
Going to Haran meant going back the way his grandfather, Abraham had come so many years before. Abraham had started in Haran and then traveled to the Promised Land. Because of this conflict, regardless of how it happened, the conflict caused Jacob to go backwards, if you will, as he retraced the steps of his grandfather. He left the Land of Promise because of unresolved conflict. Listen, an unwillingness to work out conflicts will always take you backwards and not forwards. And it most often will take you from a good place to a worse place or even a bad one. For our purposes today think of it this way: Forgiveness will move you forward. Unresolved conflict will take you back.
Jacob’s whole life changed because of the conflict. He left his childhood home and all of his family. He had especially loved his mother dearly. Jacob’s life wasn’t the only life that changed. Scripture says in Genesis 27:41 that Esau held a grudge against Jacob and that grudge developed into anger with the intent to kill. When you get to the point where something someone has done to you leads to the kind of energy that would make you want to kill someone, you are no longer the same person. Esau had become enslaved by his anger. His priority became the death of his brother. No longer was he focused on the future he had dreamt about. He was consumed with killing Jacob. Every day would be different not just because of the conflict, not just because of the loss of the birthright and the blessing, but because of the grudge he carried with him from that moment on. Besides all of that, both boys lost out on the relationship brothers are supposed to have. Family is supposed to be our first place for love and support. The conflict made that impossible.
Too many people, many in this room no doubt, have had to alter their lives because of unresolved conflict. Many of you won’t go to a family function if the other party is going to be there. You won’t attend the funeral of a loved one because there has been a breech in the past. People change churches and schools because of unresolved conflict. People leave their jobs because of unresolved conflict. People work their weekly trip to the grocery store around the goal of not running in to the other person. Conflict is a part of life. Unresolved conflict doesn’t have to be.
Christians, we are to be conflict resolvers. If anyone should get a PHD in peacemaking it should be Christians. As far as it depends on us we should make “every effort (Romans 12:18) to live at peace with everyone.” Jesus said conflict resolution should be such a priority that it should even come before the worship of God! Matthew 5:23-24 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” That is how serious unresolved conflict is. You shouldn’t even attempt to worship God if there is unresolved conflict in your life.
So, how does a person deal with unresolved conflict? It depends on which side of the conflict you are on. While it takes two for there to be a conflict, most often there is one instigator. Things don’t usually just “happen.” One person starts something and the way the other person responds determines if there will be a lasting conflict.
The two brothers met in Genesis 33 and had two different approaches to the meeting. I believe both had the same end in mind, however, which was reconciliation. Listen. If your main goal in meeting with someone to discuss a conflict isn’t reconciliation, you’re better off not meeting until you have prayed to the point where reconciliation is your main goal. Yes, you can have the goal of recognition where someone recognizes they have hurt you. Yes, you can have the goal of reassurance that the offense won’t happen again. Yes, you can even have a goal that restitution will take place at some point if it is appropriate, but reconciliation better be at the top of your list or it won’t work.
Let’s look first at the behavior of the offender, Jacob. After 20 years of living in Mesopotamia, he was coming back home. Jacob had to leave where he was. His father-in-law had changed his opinion about Jacob and hadn’t been treating him well. Read chapter 31 where you learn that Jacob had become afraid of his father-in-law and his brothers-in-law as well. In fact, the heading in that chapter says, “Jacob Flees from Laban.” It was a crisis of sorts that put Jacob in the position that he had to deal with the unresolved conflict. Jacob was coming home.
Could he come home and live peaceably in the land of his brother, the brother who wanted to kill him at one time? You know, life has a way of taking us full circle. We can try to run away from conflict, but God has a way of orchestrating the events of our lives to force us to deal with situations one way or another. Too often it is only at the death of a loved one or during a serious surgery that family members will finally humble themselves to come together. Often during those life crises, God does His best work because we are at our most willing and vulnerable points.
Jacob willingly made the first move. Listen, if you know you have hurt someone even if it was unintentional, if you know it and you claim to be a Christian, the responsibility is on you to make the first move. I think even my atheist friends would agree to that concept. The one who is responsible for the initial offense should assume responsibility for the first step towards reconciliation. This sermon couldn’t be more practical this morning! If you are sitting in Jacob’s seat, it is time to move your feet and make a move toward the person you have hurt.
Now Jacob didn’t just come ready to offer an apology. He was prepared to go to great lengths to let Esau know how sorry he truly was. Time is a great teacher. He had had time to think. No doubt during those years that had passed there were times he wished he had a brother to help him out, times he wished he had a brother to talk to, times like the birth of his children that he wished their uncle knew them.
You see, Jacob had also suffered some losses as he had been outsmarted by his Father-in-law. His father-in-law tricked him into marrying his ugly daughter (I’m just preaching the Word, people. It’s in there.) before making Jacob work seven more years to get to marry Rachel, the prettier one! Jacob found out what it felt like to be deceived.
Being on the receiving end of life’s difficulties is also a good teacher.
Esau didn’t just show up and say, “Sorry.” He didn’t show up to the meeting and try to teach his brother a lesson about not letting his hunger get the best of him if he really valued his birthright. He didn’t defend the stealing of his brother’s blessing by saying their mom had talked him into it. He did everything he could do to communicate how deeply sorry he was for HIS part in what had taken place. Let’s look at his strategy:
In Genesis 32 even the heading in the Bible emphasizes that Jacob didn’t just show up to meet Esau and hope for the best. No. He got prepared. Listen, if you truly want reconciliation
1. You need to prepare the way for it.
Jacob had his work cut out for him. Like Proverbs 18:19 says, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.”
Reconciliation is work! And the deeper the offense and the longer the passage of time between the offense and the apology the bigger the apology needs to be because every day that passes adds weight to the offense. Jacob knew that.
So, he sent a message ahead to Esau telling him he wanted to meet. He also told him what his intentions were for the meeting. Look at verse 5 of Genesis 32: “I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.'” That was the message he sent to Esau. In that message he said two things very strategically to him.
a. I’m not coming to you because I need something from you. I am not looking for your money. I have plenty of cattle and sheep and servants. I am coming home, but I’m not coming with my hand out. I can support myself. I don’t have an ulterior motive for reaching out to you right now.
b. I am looking for reconciliation. I want to find favor with you again. I want to be reunited with you. I want to be at peace with you in my hometown.
If you know you are an offender in a situation, why not prepare for reconciliation? Start praying about it. Ask God to show you what you could say or do that would truly communicate that you are truly sorry. Send a note ahead of any reconciliation meeting and just share that you miss the relationship, that you’re very sorry for what you have done and would like an opportunity to apologize in person, and that you hope as they read your note that you will have favor with them and that they will extend the grace to you for a meeting. And then give a couple of days, for them to respond.
2. In addition to preparing the way for reconciliation, Jacob positioned himself to create it.
When you are going to someone to apologize, how you go about doing it, will communicate a whole lot. Going with a list of excuses for why you did what you did or going with the thought of trying to minimize the hurt you created with a short and sweet apology isn’t what the other person needs. The other person needs to see genuine emotion. They need to see humility. They need to know that you get that your words or actions have caused them hurt.
Genesis 32 tells us Jacob sent gifts ahead of Esau. You could say he was trying to “butter him up,” but the truth was, he had taken a lot from Esau. Restitution was appropriate. In addition, when they finally meet in Genesis 33 before he totally reached Esau, he bowed down seven times in front of him as if to say, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Seven times being the number of completion in Bible references, Jacob was demonstrating how much he had thought things through, how much he was owning what he had done, and how much he realized he was in need of his brother’s forgiveness. Jacob even referred to himself as Esau’s servant in Genesis 33:5. Perhaps he was ready to be a slave in his brother’s house. His humble words were similar to the Prodigal Son’s, who when he came home told his father he wasn’t worthy to be more than a slave to his father.
The point is, when you apologize, go all out. Admit what you’ve done and the extent to which you have done it. If repayment is needed, make it and go beyond. Be humble and accept responsibility for creating the mess you are in.
Jacob was afraid of dealing with the conflict. Chapter 32 says he was in great fear and distress just thinking about seeing his brother again. He didn’t know where it would lead. It could make things better. It could make them worse. It could make him dead. But he chose to face it and was better for it.
Now let’s turn our attention towards Esau. The fact that he came to the meeting with Jacob with 400 men is a bit unsettling. Was he planning on exacting revenge? Did he still want to kill Jacob after all of these years? Was he afraid Jacob would do him harm since Jacob was known for his deception and trickery? Did Esau think he was walking in to a trap and that he needed to be prepared for battle? Did Esau want to bring a lot of men for show to show Jacob he had been successful after all even though Jacob had stolen his birthright and blessing? We don’t know for sure.
However, his actions when he saw his brother indicated he never intended to harm him.
I love reunion stories where people are reunited with one another after many years of having been apart. It’s always so moving and dramatic. The reunion in Genesis 33 is just that, very moving.
Look at Esau’s reaction to seeing Jacob: Genesis 33:4 “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”
There was a whole lot taking place in this verse. Without saying a word, Esau communicated his brother was forgiven and Jacob had the weight of the world taken off of his shoulders. Again, like the Prodigal Son story where the Father ran toward the son who was returning home after he had wronged his dad, likewise, Esau ran toward Jacob and embraced him. It was very emotional.
What a gift Esau gave Jacob! By letting him know he was glad to see him, Jacob could relax in his presence. They could enjoy being reunited. The atmosphere became joyful rather than tense all because of the way Esau, though he had been the one offended, received his offender.
What about that grudge Esau had carried? Somehow it was gone. He had forgiven Jacob in his heart before Jacob had even asked. How else could he have run towards him and embraced him? Why else would he have told Jacob gifts weren’t necessary? A person with a grudge would demand something from the other person.
I was reminded of something at our small group on Friday. While reconciliation involves two people, “Forgiveness only requires one person.” Esau could choose to forgive whether Jacob was sorry or not and whether he asked him to forgive him or not. Can you and I make the same choice?
Now we either believe Philippians 4:13 or we don’t. We either believe we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength or we think God is lying. It is possible to treat those who have hurt us with grace. It is possible to forgive people who don’t ask.
If you are a Christian one of your goals for all of your relationships should be that they glorify God, that God would use you to help others achieve their highest good, and that He would use you to be an agent of His grace to all. You can’t glorify God in a relationship where there is unresolved conflict. You can’t help others achieve their highest good when you can’t support them because of unresolved conflict.
When Jacob knew Esau had forgiven him, he said that seeing Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God (vs 10). What a statement! You and I have the potential as we give grace to those who have offended us to show them the face of God!
Grace givers won’t stay focused on the problem, but will look to God for solutions.
Grace givers won’t stay focused on the offense, but will look for ways to create a different future for the relationship.
Grace givers won’t write people off, but will help people up.
In those respects, grace givers act a whole lot like Jesus, don’t you think?
Jacob was going to Esau to ask for forgiveness. Esau was coming to the meeting to offer it. What about you? Like Jacob, do you need to initiate a discussion? Or, like Esau, do you need to offer some grace? Are you coming or going this morning? Will you decide to let this message matter in your life and act on what you know you need to do?