In Genesis 31, Jacob flees from Laban his uncle with all his possessions and family. But first, he spoke to his wives about it to convince them of his “truth” and set their hearts against their father and for him. The daughters agreed with him – “Our father treats us like foreigners! So, everything he has is rightfully ours!” And they all set off secretly, while Rachel stole her father’s gods (so Laban is not a God follower then? Is Rachel? Is Jacob even?). Laban pursued them, caught them, and searched for his gods, which his daughter Rachel lied about and deceived him again. Then Jacob and Laban set up a marker to forever divide their lands and families.
In Genesis 32, Jacob must confront his brother Esau again. He sends a messenger in advance, who returns to tell him his brother is coming with 400 men (that’s an army bigger than Abraham’s when they rescued Lot in Genesis 11). So, Jacob is rightly scared (he’s not young any longer either – Esau married his first wives when he was 40, and Jacob is his twin – then Jacob had the whole deceptive blessing thing and working for his uncle for 20 years, so he has to be over 60 by now at least). He divides his family into two groups (lightly Leah’s group and Rachel’s group – because those two haven’t gotten along for 20 years) so that if Esau attack one, the other can escape. Next, he sends 3 groups of hundreds of animals to meet his brother – as “gifts.” And finally, he sends his whole family and everything across the river in front of him so that he’s alone. This is where he meets God personally, and wrestles with him.
In Genesis 33, Esau meets Jacob. Jacob divides his family, maidservants first, then Leah, then he and Rachel – just in case they are attacked, you know who will be killed first, who the important ones aren’t, and who will (hopefully) escape. But Esau embraces his brother (after all, he’d lived with him for 40 some years earlier in their father’s house before the whole “you-stole-my-blessing-I’m-gonna-kill-you-now” thing happened). Jacob is quite taken aback, and is just grateful that Esau didn’t kill him – so he insists that Esau keep his “gift.” Esau offers to help his brother continue their journey, but Jacob doesn’t trust him. So, he deceives him again by saying that he’ll follow just along behind his brother – and then he moves elsewhere.
Old habits die hard. Jacob is still deceptive and untrustworthy toward his brother. He divides his own family (as they’ve already divided themselves) and cowers behind them as his brother approaches. He does nothing to heal the old wounds of division between his family members, only reinforces them. Of all the people visible in this scene, Esau is the most Christ-like. He forgives his brother immediately, embraces him strongly (probably grinning from ear to ear as well), and offers to assist his brother in any way he can. But Jacob doesn’t trust him, and moves away from him.
The only redeeming instance for Jacob is when he’s left alone and meets God. Why God chose Jacob is still not obvious – Jacob is probably the least righteous of any of his forefathers. But he struggles with God and won’t let go until God blesses him – and he take trusts God’s word.
- Forgiveness (as Esau demonstrated) is a virtue, and Christ-like.
- Rather than furthering bad stereotypes, wounds, or division (as Jacob did), we should strive to mend wounds, and unite our families and communities in the Lord.
- We shouldn’t allow fear to divide us or our families (as Jacob did). If God has blessed us (he has), we should trust his Word and stand firm on that in the face of fear (Jacob didn’t – even though God blessed him the night before, he allowed fear to take over his actions the following morning).
- As Jacob learned, God often meets people when they are alone – in silence and solitude. How many of us get distracted by too much technology, too many obligations, and too many people (as Jacob was), to even notice when God is trying to talk to us? We need silence and solitude to hear God’s voice.