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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

June 1, 2016

Genesis 33:1:20

  1. Verses 1-3. Jacob lifts up his eyes in fear because he sees Esau marching toward him with 400 men. His guilty conscience can only assume the worst. Like Jacob, we often lift our eyes only high enough to see our problems but not high enough to see God, who has the power to solve our every problem. Jacob should have said, as Jehoshaphat did, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron 20:12, ESV; cf. Ps 121:1-2). But instead, the old Jacob takes over. “So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids and their children in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last” (33:1b-2). Jacob has a family-value, depth chart. He divides his children and wives, putting the least favorite in the front so that the more favored can possibly escape the massacre he still fears. Jacob continues to rely on his own wits to get him out of another tight situation. The fact that Jacob made preparation for his encounter with Esau wasn't necessarily wicked. In fact, the Lord will often lead us to do very practical things when we follow Him. But we must take action only after prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit. This demonstrates our trust in the Lord. Sadly, valuing some family members over other family members is not something that is new to the family of the patriarchs. Jacob's tendency to favor Rachel and Joseph over his other wives and children was an ungodly pattern, passed on by his own parents. It was a significant factor in the dysfunction of his own family life. This kind of ranking-according to favoritism-no doubt fed the jealousy over Joseph that later becomes an important element in the narrative. Fortunately, in 33:3, Jacob shows some indication of spiritual maturity. Moses writes, “But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.” By going ahead of his family to meet Esau, Jacob shows the new Israel overcoming the fear that had formerly dominated the old Jacob. A remarkable and important transition is taking place here. Jacob-the self-serving, greedy, self-promoting, self-protective heel-catcher is being transformed by his relationship with God. He is beginning to take responsibility for the consequences of his own sinful past. After all, it wasn't his wives or children who had cheated Esau out of his birthright and inheritance. It was Jacob. If anyone was going to suffer for sin, Jacob didn't want it to be his family. He himself would suffer first and die if necessary that his family might be spared. As he neared Esau, the once proud Jacob “bowed down to the ground seven times.” Bowing to the ground expresses great humility. This was ancient, court protocol whenever subjects approached a lord or king. Jacob was definitely putting himself in a subservient role. He was attempting to demonstrate a healthy respect for Esau. it seems to me that Jacob is a changed man. Jacob decides to face Esau, man to man. Whenever a problem arises, you always have two options: You can run from it or you can face it head-on. Most of us are tempted to run but we must recognize that the problem never goes away.

  2. Verse 4. As Jacob is bowing, Esau runs towards him. Can you imagine what Jacob must have been thinking when he saw Esau running at full speed toward him? He must have thought, “This is it! My number is up!” Instead, even as God had been working in Jacob's life for the past 20 years, God had been working in Esau. To Jacob’s astonishment, Esau wasn't running to kill him, but to reconcile with him and to bless him. He came as a forgiving friend and brother rather than as a foe. In Esau's culture, men walk they don't run. Esau is breaking the cultural norms and humbling himself. After running to his brother, Esau raised Jacob up from the bowing down position and embraced him. Esau's response to Jacob is remarkably similar to the father of the prodigal son at his return (see Luke l5:20). The account of Jacob and Esau and the story of the prodigal son are recorded for us to show us what God's heart is like toward us who have sinned against Him. We were all, at one time, like Jacob-scoundrels, self-centered, abusive, selfish people deserving death. Our own conscience condemned us and we had an appropriate sense of anxiety that God was going to punish us. But as we made our way toward Him in our sincere effort at reconciliation, He came running toward us, not to harm us, but to embrace us and kiss us. This is the heart of God. It is the heart of the cross. It is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  3. Verses 5-7. When Esau saw the women and children, he asked who they were. Jacob responded by stating these are what God has given me. Jacob gave God the glory for giving him his family; he confessed that his family was a gift from God. This echoes James’ words that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above” (Jas 1:17). This attitude is evidence of a basic change in Jacob's approach to life. He is becoming a humble and content man. All three divisions of Jacob's caravan bowed before Esau. This is the ultimate in humble submission. Jacob desperately wants to ensure that reconciliation occurred. When we attempt to make things right with someone that we have offended, we must be willing to do the same. Sometimes restoration requires a grand gesture of humility.

  4. Verses 8-9. In an attempt to reconcile with his brother, Jacob offers him a gift of 550 of his animals (cf. 32:14-15). He wants to find “favor” or grace with Esau. Yet, Esau surprises us with his response. He tells Jacob he has plenty and urges him to keep his animals. God had blessed Esau as well. These words must have pierced Jacob’s soul! Jacob has spent his entire life scheming to get ahead. He has kicked, scratched, and clawed his way to the top, only to find that he has alienated himself from everyone he ever loved. What a devastating and sobering reality. Esau serves as a convicting example to Jacob of a man that is content. (I Timothy 6:6-10)

  5. In 33:10, Jacob responds to Esau by saying, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably.” Either this is a blatant example of flattery and overstatement, or a recognition of God's character of grace in the life of his brother, Esau. It would seem that the latter is the case. What an amazing turn of events. Jacob is referring back to his previous encounter with God (32:24-32) and saying that Esau’s response to him is evidence of the grace of God.

  6. Verse 11. Jacob is compelled to make restitution. The word translated “gift” (berakah) is the word “blessing.” Jacob had stolen Esau’s blessing and birthright (27:35) and he understood that for reconciliation to take place, he would need to make restitution for his theft. Esau didn't want or need the animals; he wanted his brother. But Jacob needed to feel he could restore himself; he needed to feel restitution. Finally, Jacob convinced Esau to accept the gift. Esau took it to allow his brother the opportunity to feel forgiven. When we receive a person back and they sense the need to restore our relationship, we can allow the person to perform restitution, not as a precondition for coming back, but as a result of coming back. This is an important step in the process of reconciliation. The restitution is not needed for Esau it is needed for Jacob conscious.

  7. Verses 12-17. At almost every point in this story, Esau emerges as the more appealing, more humane, and more virtuous of the two brothers. He is literally bending over backwards for Jacob. Nevertheless, Jacob turns down Esau’s gracious offers. To make matters even worse, he deceives his brother again, for old time's sake. Think about that. Even after forgiveness...and after reconciliation...after the gift has been accepted...and the hugs and the tears...even after all the stories have been swapped...after all of that, and with the best of motives, Jacob still can't quite believe that everything is okay between him and his brother. So he tells one final lie, and goes his own way. Jacob tells Esau he will come to him in Seir (33:14), but then he immediately goes and builds a house for himself in Succoth. Now Succoth was not to the south and east, but to the north and the west! In other words, it was in the exact opposite direction from Esau. Thus, the flowery words and the tender solicitation of them were a cover-up for a lie. Succoth was a backward step, spiritually as well as geographically. God had first appeared to Jacob at Bethel, and it was there that Jacob vowed to someday return to build an altar and give a tenth to God (28:20-22). When God instructed Jacob to return to Canaan, He identified Himself as the “God of Bethel” (31:13). Jacob was instructed to return “to the land of your fathers and to your relatives” (31:3). Succoth was in the opposite direction of Seir, where Jacob had told Esau he was coming.

  8. Verses 18-20. After splitting off from Esau, Jacob crossed the Jordan River and moved his family into the land of Canaan. He chose “Shechem” (“peaceful”) as his home. Although purchasing the land and erecting an altar were acts of faith, Jacob errs in settling into the land of Shechem. He made a vow to worship the Lord at Bethel when he returned to the Promised Land (28:20-22), but it takes him at least ten years to fulfill this vow. Why did Jacob choose Shechem when he was told by God to settle in Bethel (35:1)? Verse 18 states, “Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem.” Jacob may have felt safe there, but feared returning to the southern part of Canaan, where his father was, because of continuing fears of Esau, who frequented that region. In spite of Esau’s warm greeting, Jacob probably didn't trust him. Those who are treacherous, like Jacob, often think others will be treacherous. But while Jacob was afraid of Esau, he wasn't afraid of staying in Succoth, outside the land, or of buying property in Shechem, where his family would be morally polluted. He was afraid of the wrong things! God had promised to protect Jacob if he obeyed; but Jacob felt he was safer in a place of partial obedience than to risk trusting the Lord by obeying completely.

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