Genesis 32:1-21; 33:1-4 February 8, 2015
Sermon Series: “Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families”
Today’s Message: “Reconciliation”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Matthew 5:21-25a “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…. 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.”
We cannot worship God rightly if we hold on to our anger, grudges and unforgiveness. Our vertical worship is acceptable to God only if we put God’s grace and forgiveness into practice in our horizontal relationships. Analogy: a child cannot truly please her parents if she is always provoking her siblings and hurting them, without repentance.
We see these truths worked out as Jacob heads back to Bethel, to “offer his gift at the altar.” Jacob knows that before he worships God there, he needs to be reconciled with his brother Esau. Twenty years ago Jacob had cheated Esau out of the family blessing, and Esau was so angry with his brother that he wanted to kill Jacob! So before Jacob travels to Bethel, his guilty conscience, and his fear of what Esau might do to him, compel Jacob to make reconciliation with his brother.
What we see in Gen. 32-33 is a mixed bag of the high cost of reconciliation; the good and the bad. We see signs of God’s grace and of man’s works in this process of reconciliation. We learn of Jacob’s fears and of his trust in God. And we observe some good, biblical strategies for dealing with conflict, as well as some foolish decisions. Let’s plunge in, to learn and apply seven short principles:
In seeking to reconcile…
1. The Lord Will Help You with Your Fears (32:1-2)
“Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!”
Note that when the Lord appears to Jacob, Jacob is usually afraid of someone and/or fleeing – from Esau, from Laban, or the people of Canaan, or fearful as he moves toward Egypt. See 28:10-22, 32:22-32, 35:1-15, and 46:1-4.
This was an encouraging beginning to what Jacob dreaded to face. It was when Jacob was “on his way” (i.e., moving toward reconciliation with Esau) that God’s host came to meet him.
Application: Seeking to reconcile with someone usually makes you feel vulnerable, because you have to let down your shields and lower the drawbridge to your heart. It can be a fearful process. But God meets us when we go down that road. He promises to be with you and help you. You will not be alone. In fact, God the Holy Spirit will give you strength and wisdom!
So don’t wait for the courage to begin to reconcile with another… for God will meet you as you go “on your way.”
In seeking to reconcile…
2. You Need to Take the Initiative (v. 3)
We read that Jacob took the initiative to reach out to Esau for reconciliation. v. 3 “Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.”
True, Jacob probably took this initiative because he was afraid of what Esau might do to him if he didn’t reach out to him, but that’s okay. It reminds us that often our good efforts at peacemaking are driven by mixed motives. Example: a husband or wife reach out to their spouse after a fight or bad time, in part because they want something from the other person or they are afraid of the consequences if they don’t make up.
We see here in Gen. 32 that Jacob went out of his way to reach out to Esau. Listen to what Derek Kidner writes:
“In Jacob’s pilgrimage, the way to the heights now led through a valley of humiliation which he made no attempt to skirt. Geographically, the call to Beth-El would take him nowhere near Esau (in the far south at Mt. Seir); (but) spiritually, he could reach Beth-El no other way. God had promised him the land (28:13-14), and its borders must meet up one day with Esau’s; besides, to meet God he must “first be reconciled: with his brother. The sequence of chapters 32-33 acts out powerfully the principles of Matthew 5:23-25a.”
Yet also realize that it was Esau who traveled about 100 miles to meet his brother, in response to Jacob’s messengers. (Jacob had traveled perhaps 400 miles from Paddan Aram to arrive here.)
When we take the initiative in seeking to be reconciled, God often moves the other person as well! He is at work in both of you! Therefore don’t wait for the other person to take the initiative. Besides, God may move them as you start the process!
In seeking to reconcile…
3. Get on Your Knees! (vv. 9-12)
When Jacob learns that Esau is coming with 400 men, he assumes the worst, and makes some immediate plans to deal with this possible crisis. But more important than Jacob’ plans are his prayers:
‘Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’
Sometimes when we begin the reconciliation process, things seem to get worse… which is good, if that drives us to our knees in prayer!
Here, Jacob gets on his knees, and his prayer has three main aspects that we would do well to imitate in a crisis:
a. He confesses his great need: “I am unworthy” “I am afraid”
b. He claims God’s promises: “O God of my father Abraham… who said to me, ‘Go back, and… I will make you prosper” and “But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’
c. He cries out for God’s help: “Save me, I pray”
So if things get worse as you are trying to move toward the reconciliation process, just remember that God might be using that to drive you to your knees in prayer!
As you attempt to move forward in the reconciliation process, remember that sometimes going “backward” is the best way to go forwards. Go back on your knees before you stand up and walk.
In seeking to reconcile…
4. Be Ready to Make Restitution. (vv. 13-15)
Listen to what Jacob sent on ahead to Esau, to try and placate him: “From what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.” Imagine the price tag on this gifts!
This is a very costly and elaborate array of flocks and herd to send ahead to Esau. And their strategic placement in waves only maximizes their overall impact.
Now it’s true that in this case, the costly gifts were meant to placate his brother’s anger.
But sometimes in our cases, God might be calling us to make a costly restitution as part of the reconciliation process. He calls us to accept the consequences of our sins. Please note that any cost we bear does not atone for our sins, nor is it supposed to be a bribe that changes the situation… as if we could buy our way into someone’s heart! Rather, such restitution or compensation for the loss or injury we caused the other person is the fruit of our true repentance; it demonstrates that God’s grace is really at work in us, and therefore we will freely give of our time, our possessions, and our selves.
Example: Think about Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. (v. 8) But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord,5 “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything,6 I will pay back four times the amount.”
Are you willing to make restitution, even costly restoration, in the pursuit of peace? When God convicts you of your sin against another, allow His grace to move you to let go of your rights and your claims, and be willing to fully compensate those you’ve hurt and taken from.7
In seeking to reconcile…
5. Expect God to Change You. (vv. 22-32)
Last Sunday we saw in this passage how the Lord Himself met Jacob and wrestled with him, getting Jacob to own up to his deceptive and self-centered ways, even giving him a permanent handicap, why? So that God could break down Jacob’s self-reliance and help Jacob to cast himself more fully on the Lord.
So when you begin working on changing the relationship you have with another person, don’t be surprised if the Lord first changes you! He will show you the “logs in your own eyes” and how self-centered you have been. (We see one of those changes in the next point.)
In seeking to reconcile…
6. Die to Yourself (33:3)
“He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.”
It is impossible to be reconciled to another if you have not died to your pride. Now perhaps Jacob is doing all this bowing down before his brother mainly to save his life, but the fact remains that all this kowtowing and stooping before Esau indicates that Jacob knew he had to come to Esau as a humble supplicant, a beggar in need of mercy. And he’s doing all that while he’s limping in pain! Jacob really may have felt that he was dying to self each time!
Application: How about your mindset? I find that as a man, it is difficult to humble myself as a husband and a father, and to die to my pride and my self-image, in seeking to be reconciled to Lynn or my sons or with others. I think I am right! I don’t think I should bow down to others and come to grips with the truth that I am wrong! But there is no other way to peace with God and peace with other people. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up!”
Will you eat humble pie and die to your sinful pride?
In seeking to reconcile…
7. Look for God’s Grace to Trump Everything! (33:4)
“But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”
I think this is the crucial part of the narrative. Why? Because what Esau does is so unexpected that it can only be the outworking of God’s Amazing Grace!
Think about it: Ever since Jacob heard that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men, Jacob was terrified that his brother was coming to get revenge. Jacob has sent costly gifts to appease Esau’s anger; he has divided his family into two groups so that if Esau slaughters one, the other group might escape; and he comes to his brother on hands and knees, calling him “my Lord” while calling himself, “your servant.” Jacob is expecting a harsh reunion.
And what happens instead? Esau runs to meet Jacob, and he embraced him; he throws his arms around Jacob’s neck and he kisses him. And they both start crying! How amazing!
Perhaps Jacob was hoping that his initiative at reconciling, his costly gifts, his heartfelt prayers, and his sincere humility might have softened Esau’s anger enough so that he and his family would be spared from death! Perhaps Jacob imagined that Esau would demand all his possessions for what Jacob had cheated him out of, 20 years ago.
But did Jacob in his wildest dreams ever imagine that Esau would run to him, hug him, kiss him and weep for joy with him? No way!
Friends, it is only the grace of God that could have done this. You can plan all you want; you utilize every resource you have; you can get down on your knees to pray to God and to beg for mercy from your enemy…. But God’s grace will trump everything you try and do!
Here’s another amazing aspect to God’s grace: I think that our Lord Jesus Christ picked up on this narrative in His parable of the prodigal son/ elder brother/ compassionate father, in Luke 15.
As Derek Kidner notes in his commentary: “Guilt and forgiveness are so eloquent in every movement of the mutual approach (of the two brothers), that our Lord could find no better model for the prodigal’s father at this point than Esau” (in the parable of the Prodigal Son; Luke 15).
In fact, Ken Bailey identifies 51 elements common to both stories, including direct parallels, similar elements, and radical reversals, between the narrative of Jacob returning to Esau and the prodigal son returning to his father. For example, look at these two verses:
Gen. 33:4 “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”
Luke 15:20 “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
These are the only two times in all of Scripture that these three things happen together: running, embracing, and kissing. Why? So that we would see the grace-filled tie-in between the Jacob/ Esau narrative and the Parable of the Compassionate Father.
But although there are similarities in the two passages, there are wonderful contrasts:
Jacob brings gifts to appease Esau, but the prodigal’s father lavishes gifts on the prodigal as a celebration of his return.
Jacob’s mother had stolen Esau’s best robe and placed it on him as act of deception to get the inheritance, but the prodigal receives his father’s robe as symbol of the father’s acceptance.
Jacob and Esau come to a truce but there is no lasting reconciliation or joy. By contrast, there is much joy over reconciliation at the end of all three parables in Luke 15.
But the most startling element that Jesus brings into the story in Luke 15 is the costly love of the father and the way it brings the prodigal to repentance.
So too, is the costly love of Jesus for us, in giving Himself on the cross, for us and our sins.
I’m not going to deal with the rest of Chapter 33, but let me leave you with this: Like Jacob, most of us will expend great effort in order to deal with our guilty conscience. The stream of gifts and the family procession give us some idea of the load on Jacob’s conscience. Jacob is desperate to find favor (grace) in his brother’s eyes (32:5; 33:8, 10, 15). And sometimes we are also striving to find favor in the eyes of a sibling or a parent, and this desire rules us!
If that is so, then we must allow God’s grace to triumph over us. There is no other way to true peace in our hearts and to being joyfully reconciled both to God and to others!