A Family Reunion

Genesis 33

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
September 2015

Our text today is a very short chapter but it is an exciting chapter in Genesis.  It contains a reunion of two brothers.  Last week, we looked at Genesis 32.  In Genesis 32, Jacob met God.  In this chapter, he meets Esau.  He meets his brother.  His thirteen kids meet Uncle Esau.  It is a homecoming.  Jacob goes home.  He has been in Haran and now he is going home and he meets his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years.

He has a homecoming. Jacob and Esau have a reunion.  We like family reunions.  We get to see people that we have not seen in a long time.  This is a family reunion of biblical proportions.

This reunion was EMOTIONAL.  When they meet, they both cry and hug each other.  This reunion was PERMANENT.  They part separate ways at the end of the chapter but they leave as friends, not enemies.  This reunion was also SCARY on Jacob’s part.  He thought he was going to die.  He is heading home because God spoke to him and told him to go home. He should be happy.  Instead, he is very uneasy. He is scared and for good reason.

Jacob and Esau at one time were very close.  They were not only brothers.  They were twin brothers.  They were born holding on to each other. Then they became bitter rivals.  Jacob took both his blessing and birthright.  He cheated him.

He lied and deceived his blind father to get it.  Proverbs  18:19 says “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city” (NLT).  That is interesting because it is very easy to offend someone.  It is easy to offend a brother.  It is easy to offend a spouse.  You do not have to be mean.  Sometimes it happens because of a misunderstanding or because someone is overly sensitive or only heard one side of a story.

Proverbs says that it is very hard to win that offending brother back.  The person offended puts up walls, like a fortified city.  They put up high walls.  It is hard to get through those walls.  That is a problem for Jacob.  He offended his brother.  In fact, he offended him more than once.

Esau vowed to kill him.  Esau was a violent man.  He was a hunter.  He was good with a bow and arrow.  Let’s hear Esau in his own words. Genesis 27:41-42 says, “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.” But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you” (NIV).

Jacob fled to get away from him for his own safety.  He not only left home, he left the country and moved to Haran in modern-day Turkey to live with his mom’s brother Laban.  Laban lived five hundred miles away.  Jacob stayed with him for twenty years.

Before he left, his mother said that as soon as Esau calmed down, she would send word to him so he could come back home.  Rebekah says to Jacob, “Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran  and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away— until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?” (27:43-45 ESV).

Twenty years went by but Rebekah did not send any word to Jacob.  Jacob did receive a post card or a letter.  He heard nothing from her.  Now he is heading back home and as the chapter begins, we read these ominous words, “And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him” (33:1 ESV).

This was not good news.  Esau was a man of war and he is heading in Jacob’s direction with four hundred men.  That is the size of a personal army and these four hundred men were armed.  In his mind, Jacob is thinking of that he is doomed. Esau is going to get his revenge.  Jacob is bracing for the worst.

He is thinking of the Cain and Abel story.  Cain killed Abel in Genesis 4.  Jacob thinks the next chapter in the book will read, “and Esau killed Jacob”.  Jacob was “terrified at the news” (32:7 NLT).  His great fear is that Esau was not going to get his revenge and not only kill him but his whole family.  In the very last chapter, he prayed, “Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, FOR I FEAR HIM, that he may come AND ATTACK ME, THE MOTHERS WITH THE CHILDREN” (32:11).

We all have a fear of something.  Jacob is forced to confront his fear.  So what did he do?  Jacob had a plan.  The plan had three parts.  He gave Esau a gift (32:13-15).  He did two other things mentioned in this chapter.  Genesis 33:1-2 says, “so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear” (NIV).

Second, he divided everyone into two group (division of forces).  Why did he do that?  Genesis 32:7-8 says why.  ‘In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape” (NIV).

Third, he did something else.  He put certain people in the front and certain people in the back.  The wives and children that he loved the most he put in the back of the line.  The ones that he did not love as much, he put in the front closer to danger.  If anyone has to be killed, it would be the handmaids and their children.

The ones in the back might be able to escape.  That seems to make Jacob a complete jerk.  He did show some favoritism in the order but then we read the next verse. “He himself went on BEFORE THEM” (33:3).  Jacob takes a position of leadership.  He went first.  Apparently, wrestling with God gave him some courage to face Esau.  It gave him some courage that he did not have before.  The chapter has a surprise ending.

As it turns out, Jacob was not in any danger at all. God said that he would be with him.  A whole company of invisible angels followed him home.  Esau might have had four hundred men with him but he had angels with him.  Have you ever done that?  How many of our troubles are imaginary, like kids who are afraid of the dark?  Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1). Sean Hannity says this all of the time but he got it from Jesus.  He also said, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34).  Jacob spent all of this time worrying about something that never happened.

Esau was no longer angry.  He wanted to meet his brother and wept when he saw him.  Jacob never imagined this would happen.  Esau asks Jacob two questions.  He looks behind Jacob and sees sixteen people.  He asks his first question.  He says, “Who are all of these people?” (33:5). Jacob gives God the credit.  “He gave them all to me.  He gave me the wives.  He gave me the kids”

Then he asks his second question.  He also sees hundreds of animals.  He says, “What is the meaning of all these flock and herds?” (33:8). Jacob says that it is a gift.  Esau did not need the gift.  He said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself” (33:9).  The text says that Esau accepted the gift because Jacob insisted on it (33:12).  He did not want to insult him.

Jacob and Esau have a few things in common.  They have the same background.  They came from the same dysfunctional family.  They are both old by now.  They are both grey-haired.  They both have a lot of wives. Jacob has multiple wives and so does Esau.  They both have a lot of kids.  Jacob has twelve sons and so does Esau has six sons (36:4-5). They are both very wealthy.  They were both blessed by God and they were both conent.  Esau said “I have enough” (33:9).  Jacob said “I have enough” as well (33:11). Esau is clearly very different from what he was a like twenty years ago.  He has changed dramatically.

A New Esau

1. Esau used to HATE his brother. Now he LOVES him.

He ran up to him and gave him a big hug. He is not cold but friendly, warm and affectionate. He is weeping. After Jacob cheated him out of the blessing, Esau was devastated. Genesis says that he let out a loud and bitter cry (27:34, 38). This time he does not shed tears of sadness but tears of joy (33:4). Jacob is crying too but he is crying tears of relief.

2. Esau used to want to KILL his brother. When he sees him, he runs up to him and KISSES him.

He fell on his neck not to kill him but to kiss him. In American culture, men do not kiss other men, except the ones celebrating the new marriage laws but straight men in this culture do not kiss other men. In other cultures (e.g., Arab culture), it is a sign of affection. It is not always romantic. Esau acts like the father does in the Prodigal son story (Luke 15:20). The father looks us and sees his son coming back, only Jacob here is not the prodigal son. Here is the prodigal brother.

3. Esau used to want to HURT his brother. Now he wants to HELP him. He offered him a place to stay and armed guards to protect his caravan (33:15).

4. Esau used to be BITTER. Now, he is BENEVOLENT.

Jacob did wrong to him, not once but twice. He took both his birthright and his blessing. Esau had reason to be angry but Esau did not bring up the past. He didn’t say, “Remember what you did to me twenty years ago. That really messed me up”. What happened in the past is all forgotten. He has forgiven his brother.

Esau forgave Jacob what he did to him and as far as we know he was not even a believer. He responded better than some Christians do today. Esau was not the only one who changed. Jacob changed as well. This Jacob is very different from the old Jacob.

He is very different from the man he used to be. In the last chapter, he wrestled with God all night and was a changed man in the end. He even was given a new name. Now, he is not perfect. We see a little bit of the old Jacob, as well as the new Jacob, even in this chapter.

He is a completely different person than he was twenty years ago when he was living in Canaan. Remember the kind of person Jacob was in Genesis 27. Let’s see how much he has changed.

A New Jacob

1. Jacob used to try to TAKE things from people (swindling and cheating them). Now he is GIVING things to people.

He is giving Esau almost six hundred animals. He does not just give a little gift. This was a huge gift. It was a lavish gift. He also gave this enormous gift gradually, which made it look even bigger. He gave him five different herds of animals at five different times. If you give someone a hundred dollars for five consecutive days, it seems more than if you gave them the whole amount all at once.

Jacob gives Esau gift after gift after gift. Why is he doing it? He said that he did it to appease Esau (32:20) like a husband who tries to make amends with his wife with flowers or chocolate. Proverbs 21:14 says, “Privately given gifts pacify wrath, and payments made secretly appease great anger” (ISV). There is another reason. This was Jacob’s way of saying that he was sorry for what he did. It was his confession of sin. He didn’t say the words “I am sorry” but he showed it. He demonstrated. He paid Esau restitution. Jacob is trying to pay Esau back for what he stole twenty years earlier.

2. Jacob used to be ARROGANT. Now he is HUMBLE.

Jacob used to be very ambitious. He was into power. He wanted to be number one. He wanted the birthright AND the blessing OVER his brother. God said that they would be his. He said that “the older would rule over the younger” (25:23) but Jacob becomes like Jesus here. He becomes very humble. He does not insist on his rights. He regards other people as more important than himself.

He showed this in two ways. First, he bowed down seven times in typical Middle Eastern fashion (which was probably hard to do with a hip out of joint). That is the way you would greet a king. He treated Esau like a king. Second, he called Esau his lord five times in this chapter. He said that Esau was his superior. He said that he was the servant of Esau.

This was a complete role reversal. Jacob could have demanded that Esau bow down to him seven times. He could have said, “God put me on top and you on the bottom. You need to recognizer my authority as the head of the family”. Jacob was no longer into power. Many people today are into power.

3. Jacob used to LEAD FROM BEHIND (which is not leading at all). Now he is LEADING FROM THE FRONT.

In the last chapter, he sent his family ahead of him and he stayed behind. Now as they get close to Esau, he goes up ahead of them. What does that tell us about Jacob? He shows incredible courage here. He is not afraid to go out in front. After wrestling with God, he is not afraid to be out in front and be a leader. He doesn’t put his family on the front line. He puts himself on the front line.

4. He used to see Esau as an ENEMY. Now he sees him as a FRIEND.

He sees the face of God in him. “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably” (33:10 NIV). What does that mean? How was Esau’s face like the face of God? What did Jacob mean by this? Jacob looked at Esau and saw the face of God by the way he treated him.

Esau showed mercy on him. He did not give him what he deserved. He deserved Esau’s wrath but did not get it. When Esau accepted him, he felt like God had accepted him. When he was reconciled to Esau, he was also reconciled to God. Jacob knew what it was like to see the face of God. He just wrestled God face-to-face all night. This raises an important question. Would people see the face of God in us?

Lesson for Today

What does this story say to us today?  What is the application that we should take away from this chapter?  This is a classic passage in the Bible on reconciliation.  This passage does not just describe a REUNION of two brothers.  It describes a RECONCILIATION of two brothers.  Two estranged brothers are brought together after being apart for twenty years.

This is something that many of us can relate to.  Many of us know what it is like to be estranged with a family member.  Perhaps there is someone in the family you have not spoken to in years.  Something happens in the family.  There is a conflict of some kind.  Sometimes it is your fault and sometimes it is someone else’s fault.  You have had no contact with that person in years.  It may not even be someone inside your family.  It may be someone inside the church.

This passage has something to say about that problem. What we learn in this passage is that reconciliation in God’s will.  It is God’s will for people to be reconciled to God.  Jacob is not doing this because he wanted to.  He is doing it because God told him to.  God told him to go back home and he could not go back home without facing his brother.  It was inevitable.

Reconciliation is God’s will.  He wants people to be reconciled to other people.  He wants people to be reconciled to God.  God is a God of reconciliation.  He loves to take two people that used to be close and now can’t stand each other.  He loves to restore and heal broken relationships.

Just before this chapter, Jacob had a big conflict with Laban who cheated him many times in twenty years.  Jacob reconciled with his father-in-law and uncle.  They made a treaty or non-aggression pact and now he reconciles with his twin brother.  They go their separate ways at the end of the chapter but they leave as friends, not enemies.

Jacob was the once who sinned and also the one who brought the gift to Esau.  With us it is the exact opposite.  We were the ones who sinned and yet it was God who gave the gift to us.  He was the one who made the sacrifice.  Romans 5:10 says, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (KJV).

Jesus spoke about reconciliation.  He said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:22-23 ESV).  That says that reconciliation is VERY important.  It is more important that going to church.

It is more important than worship.  Reconciliation comes before worship.  It is also more important than giving.  Jesus says if you are at the altar in church and you came to offer a gift but realize that someone is mad at you.  What do you do?  Leave church, leave the altar and be reconciled first.

It is God’s will for people to be reconciled to each other.  We are to be at peace with God and with man.  God is a God of reconciliation.  He loves to take two people that used to be close and now can’t stand each other.  He loves to restore and heal broken relationships.

It is also NOT always successful.  Reconciliation is a two-way street.  It takes both sides to agree to do it.  Paul says, “IF IT IS POSSIBLE, AS MUCH AS LIES WITHIN YOU, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:19).  Paul was realistic.  He knows that it is not always possible.  I have an older sister who has cut herself off from the family.  There are six kids in the family.

She was not mad at me.  I have made attempts to bring her back into the family but have not been successful but reconciliation is rewarding.  It is rewarding because you are doing something which pleases God.  A huge weight was lifted off of Jacob when this happened.  He is now at peace with Laban and with Esau.



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