Jacob had fled from his father and mother and Esau, spending 20 years with Laban. The aninosty between Jacob and Esau was great when Jacob left. So much so that Esau wanted to kill Jacob because he had gotten the birthright and the blessing from Isaac.
Jacob had 20 years of blessings while away. And yet, he probably reflected much on the separation between himself and his brother. It’s amazing when families are apart, the concern, the fear, the hurts can grow in the mind and heart of a person. Accordingly when Jacob returns to his home land, he has to face the reality of Esau, his anger, and his desire to kill Jacob.
As Jacob draws close he offers gifts through his servants. Not just a tidy little gift-wrapped box, but animals and wealth. Somehow Jacob wanted to be right with his brother, and he was truly humbled in having to face the one he deceived. Surprisingly (from Jaocob’s perspective), Esau welcomes Jacob, receives him as a long lost brother.
God can restore the most strained and broken of relationships.
As we see families disinterate in our own time, we realize how great the gulf can be. Sometimes they never are restored. I had two great uncles who lived that. Something happened in the 1930s and they never spoke to one another. They lived three miles apart, drove tractors on the same road, had sons in the same schools, and not once would they even look at one another. Their sons never talked to each other. The great uncles died in early 1980s; they never did speak the entire 50 years.
But the extent of that separation was even greater. When we visited in the 1950s and 1960s the great uncles would watch the other’s farm to see how much time we spent with the other great uncle. Then they would complain that my father was favoring one uncle over the other. We went to a wedding of my father’s cousin, and the brothers couldn’t even look at one another.
Finally in the 1990s, the sons (now in their 60s) met and began to get to know one another after a lifetime of never speaking. They discovered they had many similar interests, and they developed a bond that grew until they both died about 8-10 years ago. They both commented how much they missed growing up and not knowing each other.
Living in a sinful world, we shouldn’t be surprised, but we are. We see the affects of broken relationships. We know how difficult it is to bridge the gap of years of hurts, sadness, misunderstanding, and maybe even aching for broken relationships. I’m sure Jacob and Esau both regretted the distance, and now that is restored. It is wonderful when brothers are reconnected and the bond established. We have seen that in the last few months with the restoration of our older son, and just last week the restoration of sons to one another.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)
Jacob and God
While Jacob rightly worried about his brother Esau, he was even more surprised by his encounter with God (Gen. 32:24-32). God reveals himself in a rather unusual way. In the process, it appears as if Jacob might prevail. In reality it is like father who wrestles with his young son on the kitchen floor. They playfully tumble around and the father lets the little son finally jump on top as if he is the victor. But everyone knows the father let him win.
We catch some of that when Jacob wants to know the name of this “stranger.” Knowing the name of someone was a form of ownership, or lordship over someone. But the stranger never tells him. Instead, the stranger blesses Jacob, indicating who is really in charge. And Jacob recognizes that the stranger was God and what really happened, evidenced by his naming the place.
So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” (Gen. 32:30)
But Jacob’s troubles, past sinful actions, and words now spread to his sons. While Shechem had violated their sister, Dinah, the sons of Jacob exacted revenge on his entire family and city. They used deception (where did they learn that??) and Simeon and Levi (2nd and 3rd oldest sons) slaughtered them all. Jacob chastises them,
Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.” (Gen. 34:30)
Even Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, sins:
It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it. (Gen. 35:22)
What Hope Is There?
Left to Jacob and his sons, the problems escalate, and we are left with thinking that nothing good can come of this. Through it all, however, God continues to reaffirm his promises, specifically in 35:16-22. God uses sinful humans to carry out his plans, even in their imperfection. But His desire and plan is never left entirely in the hands of sinful humans to satisfy and fulfill.
Ultimately God will fulfill His plan through His own Son, who lived in a sin-stained world, yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 5:17) and overcame the weaknesses, failures, and wretched sins of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all human. And he did so for them… and for us!