************ Sermon on Genesis 33 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 23, 2014
"Jacob Meets Esau"
I read earlier this morning from Matthew 5; Jesus tells us to be reconciled to our brothers before we worship (Mt 5:23-24). And, says Paul, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Rom 12:18). But what do you do when the offended party will not give the forgiveness you have sought with humility and honesty?
I Jacob's Need for Reconciliation
A Jacob was in this kind of situation. Don't forget what happened in the past. Jacob took advantage of a hungry Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen 25:31). Jacob used deceit to get his father's blessing (Gen 27). Esau was angry and plotted revenge; he announced he was going to kill his brother (Gen 27:41). Jacob ended up fleeing for his life (Gen 27:43; 28:5). And, he stayed away for twenty years.
Twenty years is a long time. During that time God's Word and Spirit has been at work in Jacob. During that time Jacob has come to realize he wronged his brother. During that time Jacob has come to an awareness of his sin. Proud, arrogant Jacob has been humbled. So, Jacob wants to set things right with his brother. Jacob wants forgiveness and reconciliation. Do you see what God has done? God has taken Jacob down the path to repentance.
B So what does Jacob do? We looked at this last week. Jacob sends messengers to Esau: "Hey, big brother, I am coming home" (cf Gen 32:4-5). Jacob uses language that indicates to Esau he wants to set things straight. Now, remember, Jacob schemed and plotted and lied to have the rights of the older brother; but in a completely reversal of this he refers to Esau as "my lord" and himself as "your servant" (Gen 32:4-5; cf Gen 32:17,20). He is setting Esau over himself. He is being very polite, very humble, and acknowledging Esau's proper place as the older brother.
It is hardly a coincidence that Jacob proclaims himself to be Esau's servant on the same day he proclaims himself to be God's servant (Gen 32:10). Jacob finally realizes that God's program requires a servant nature. As Jesus put it, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mk 9:35). Greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven is a gift God gives to the humble, not a prize to be grasped by the proud.
As I said, Jacob sends messengers to Esau. But when the messengers return to Jacob they said, "Esau is coming and four hundred men are with him" (Gen 32:6). It doesn't sound like time has softened Esau's heart or taken away his anger. It doesn't sound like Esau is coming to welcome his brother home with hugs and kisses. Instead, he is coming at Jacob with an army.
When Jacob hears this he is filled with "great fear" (Gen 32:7). The Hebrew word for "fear" was used by Adam when he heard the sound of God in the Garden after the fall into sin (Gen 3:10) – he, a sinner, was afraid of God, God's holiness, God's judgment, and God's presence. Fear was Jacob's response when he had the vision of the angels at Bethel (Gen 28:17). Fear was the response of Israel to the giants and walled cities of the Promised Land (Deut 7:19).
Jacob's response is not only fear but also "distress" (Gen 32:7). The Hebrew word for "distress" is found more than once in the book of Judges. Because of covenant disobedience God allowed enemy after enemy to raid and plunder the nation of Israel. They were unable to resist these enemies and were defeated time after time. Says Judges, "they were in great distress" (Judges 2:15; cf 10:9).
Jacob is "in great fear and distress." But Jacob doesn't give up because God has been working in him and with him.
C So, notice what Jacob does next to make things right with his brother: he sends Esau a gift, a huge gift of hundreds of animals. As I said last week, in the Ancient Near East people gave presents to a great man before visiting him. If visiting a great man was all that Jacob was doing, then Jacob's gift was quite excessive. Was something else going on? Was Jacob, perhaps, making restitution for stealing Esau's blessing? Of course he was. He was making amends for his wrong and selfish behavior twenty years before.
Jacob was giving back to Esau the blessing that he stole. Jacob was recognizing publicly that the riches of heaven and earth properly belonged to Esau. Instead of stealing from Esau and taking advantage of Esau, he was giving to Esau. He was showing true repentance. So, in our Scripture reading, Jacob insists that Esau accept his gifts even though Esau has plenty and even though Esau told Jacob to keep his gifts (Gen 33:10-11). Jacob was making amends with the offended party.
Isn't restitution the hardest part of true biblical repentance? So often when we have done wrong we want to get by with merely saying sorry, rather than putting things right. But biblical repentance means more than saying sorry. It also involves confession and restitution. True repentance challenges our pride, calls us to humble ourselves, forces us to admit our sin, and makes us deal responsibly with the consequences of our actions. Repentance involves a costly obedience.
II Jacob's Experience of Reconciliation
A As you know, in his early years Jacob relied on himself, his wits, his strength, his cunning. When lesser men would have surrendered, Jacob's inner strength and confidence enabled him to press on toward his goals despite the odds. Nothing wrong with that. Yet this same self-reliance also led Jacob to take advantage of a hungry Esau; and, it led to the sin of deceit in securing his father's blessing.
I want you to notice that the Jacob of Genesis 32 and following is a changed man. Jacob did want to confess the evil of his ways and somehow return his blessing to Esau. As we learned last week, Jacob finally leans on God alone for the blessing (Gen 32:26). His new name, Israel, and the limp God gave him remind him forever that his efforts are empty if he does not rely on God's grace.
B We see the new Jacob in our Scripture reading. Compare the Jacob before being touched by God with the Jacob after being touched by God. The early Jacob fearfully remained behind when his gift was sent to Esau. When Esau arrives, the later Jacob is the picture of courage; he marches ahead of his family, confidently trusting the Lord, even though he does not know how he will be received. If it comes to it, Jacob willingly offers himself as a victim; he becomes a type of Christ.
But old habits die hard. So Jacob first took care that his favorites, Rachel and Joseph, were safely tucked away at the back of the procession where their chances of escape would be best if everything went horribly wrong (Gen 33:2). Salvation does not mean instant transformation in any of us. The patterns Jacob learned from his parents – who each had a favorite child – continued with his own family. It comes to a head in a few years with Joseph and his fancy coat of many colors.
C Now, remember again the setting. Esau had sworn to kill Jacob. Esau is coming with a small army. Jacob is filled with fear and distress. So Jacob bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother (Gen 33:3). He was showing complete submission and deference. So what happened?
(Gen 33:4) ... Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.The two brothers forgave one another. They reconciled to one another. They kissed and made up; in our culture they hugged or shook hands and made up.
Doesn't this sound like the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15)? Remember how the prodigal's father received his son?
(Lk 15:20) 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.
What is the message here? Repentance, though painful and costly, bears fruit.
In this life and in this world so many of our relationships end in brokenness. Siblings have bitter feuds. Husbands and wives separate. Friends stop talking to each other. Brothers become enemies.
Through Jacob God shows us this morning how to stop the cycle, how to restore broken relationships. Let me lay out the seven steps taken by a repentant Jacob:
1. He recognized he wronged his brother.
2. He reached out to his brother.
3. He admitted his wrong to his brother.
4. He humbled himself before his brother.
5. He made restitution to his brother.
6. He accepted his brother's forgiveness.
7. He was reconciled to his brother.
I am not saying we need to go through six steps or seven steps or twelve steps. But if we want to restore broken relationships we need to follow the same path Jacob did – the path of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration.
Jesus said that all people would know His disciples by their love for one another (Jn 13:35). The most tangible expression of this love is our forgiveness of others. Unfortunately, we Christians are often guilty of not forgiving other believers for even the most minor of offenses. Our hearts, you see, are so stubborn and so proud and so hard.
Always keep in mind, congregation, the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." The Catechism explains it this way:
Because of Christ's blood, So I urge you, congregation, forgive today just as the Lord has forgiven you.
do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are,
any of the sins we do
or the evil that constantly clings to us.
Forgive us just as we are fully determined,
as evidence of your grace in us,
to forgive our neighbors.
(Q & A 126)
III God's Surprising Grace
A Is there anything in our Bible reading that surprises you? Some of you might be surprised by the change in Jacob. After all, in our study of Genesis we have come to know him as sneaky, conniving, manipulative, deceitful, as someone who lives up to the name Jacob (which means grasping, and deceitful). People are surprised that someone like him can become a new man. But such is the power of God's Word, God's Spirit, and God's grace. God is more than able to take the worst of sinners and make them a new creation. He did this with Paul who persecuted Him. He did this with Peter who denied Him. He did this with Thomas who doubted Him. And, he can do the same with anyone here. Grace changes sinners. God's grace in Christ – amazing grace, beautiful grace, sovereign grace – changes the hardest and most stubborn of hearts.
B Is there anything else in our Bible reading that surprises you? I am surprised by the behavior of Esau.
As we consider this I want to ask a question about Esau. I said, earlier, that Jacob was a changed man. But what about Esau? Has Esau changed?
Esau has changed his mind about revenge. He was no longer out to kill Jacob, as he had been the last time we saw him (Gen 27:41).
But what about his character? What about his spirit or soul? Is he born-again? As a child he was born and raised in the covenant. As an adult is he a covenant-keeper or a covenant-breaker? Does he take steps to place himself under the covenant blessings that God promised to Jacob?
Esau remains a pagan. Esau has put himself outside of the covenant. To use the language of election, Esau is not one of God's chosen ones. As both Malachi and Paul put it, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Mal 1:2-3; Rom 9:13).
Esau's paganism becomes evident as we look at his exchange with Jacob in our Bible reading. Jacob mentioned God three times in their conversation, while Esau didn't mention Him once. For instance, Jacob said, "God has been gracious to me and I have all I need" (Gen 33:11). By way of contrast, Esau said, "I already have plenty" (Gen 33:9). Jacob gives the credit to God; Esau makes it sound like God and His blessing doesn't matter all that much. God was not important to Esau whereas God has become the central reality of Jacob's life.
The difference in perspective between Jacob and Esau makes a big difference in how you approach life, doesn't it? If God is the central reality of your life, then obeying and pleasing God is most important to you. However, if God is not the central reality of your life, then something else will take control of the center of your being. It may be possessions, wealth, health, a relationship. It may be a noble cause or a degenerate vice. Either way, your life will be like Esau's.
So, notice what happens after the two brothers kiss and make up. Esau went to Seir, a place in the land of Edom (Gen 33:16). Esau went outside of the Promised Land. Meaning what? Meaning he was wilfully rejecting the Lord's promises. As for Jacob, he refused to go away from Canaan, even though Esau wanted him to (Gen 33:17).
Esau was outside of the covenant land and outside of the covenant promises. He remained married to three pagan women. He was pagan through and through.
Yet – and this is important – Esau the pagan met Jacob with unexpected benevolence and kindness. If pagans like Esau can forgive, our readiness to pardon others and be restored to fellowship should be all the more evident. Again, to quote the Catechism,
Forgive us just as we are fully determined,
as evidence of your grace in us,
to forgive our neighbors.
A pagan like Esau responded the way he did because Jacob followed the route of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. By the grace and favor of God, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration brought the scheming shepherd and his bitter brother back into fellowship.
My prayer, my cry, my hope is that all who are estranged from each other will follow this same route so that brothers and sisters will live together in unity. For, this is what pleases the Lord (Ps 133). The God Who, in Christ, reconciles us to Himself also reconciles us to one another.
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