Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau was the first born of the two, yet his brother, Jacob, tricked him out of rights as first born and out of his blessing, as well. Jacob, then, had the greater share of the inheritance and the place of preeminence among his people. Esau was gullible and foolish for allowing himself to be deceived, and yet…he swore vengeance upon his brother for deceiving him. Jacob fled from the land of his family and was on his own for many years…but, God was with him. God worked on his heart and he would grow to become a leader of God’s people, as Israel.
In Genesis 33:1-17, Jacob has emerged from wrestling with God a better person with a mission from God, but to him, it may not matter as Esau and 400 men are coming to meet him. Jacob goes out first to meet him and arranges his family so that the best loved ones are in the rear for protection. Jacob, who had taken Esau’s birthright and blessing twenty years before did not know what to expect, but he prepared for the worst. Jacob approaches his brother with several tokens of submission and humility. He bows before him several times, refers to himself as Esau’s servant and to Esau as lord and master, and says that to see his face is like seeing God’s! Esau’s response is not altogether expected…like the father of the prodigal son, he “runs to meet” Jacob and “embraces him.” Esau lovingly addresses him as “my brother” and accepts his gifts only under protest. This meeting is a wonderful reconciliation.
All of the gifts and grace on Jacob’s part reveal the load that has been on Jacob’s conscience, as well as the sheer grace of Esau’s reply. For all of the difficulties and lost opportunities that Esau faced in his life, at least at this point in his life, his heart is made of gold. His love for Jacob is true evidence of God working in and through him. Esau suggests that he and his men escort Jacob and his household to Esau’s homeland of Seir. Even though he is unable to follow Esau back to his land, he is gracious in his refusal and in his need to strike out on his own. Like a bone that has been broken and then reset well, their relationship is able to be stronger than ever. Jacob is careful to cultivate the friendship so that in parting there would be no fear of mistrust. Even though Jacob struggles with his inner self, he has learned from his experience with his brother. He is father not only of his family, but over all the people of God. Esau leaves for Seir…Jacob brings his family to Succoth, to a place where he believes he needs to rest for some time, and he ends up staying there for a few years.
During the Revolutionary War, there lived in Pennsylvania a preacher named Peter Miller. Although Miller was greatly loved by everyone in the community, there was one man who lived near the church who persecuted him continually. This man was not only a hater of the church, but it also turned out that he was a traitor to his country. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. The trial was conducted in Philadelphia and no sooner did Peter Miller hear of it, then he set out on foot to visit General Washington and interceded for the man’s life. But Washington told him, “I’m sorry that I cannot grant your request for your friend.” “Friend?” said Miller “That man is the worst enemy I have.” “What?” said the General, “You have walked 60 miles to save the life of an enemy?” This puts the matter in a different light in my judgment…I will grant him a pardon for your sake.” The pardon was made out and signed by Washington and Miller proceeded at once on foot to a place 15 miles distant where the execution was scheduled to take place that afternoon. He arrived just as the man was being carried to the scaffold in order to be hanged. When he saw Peter Miller hurrying toward the place, he remarked, “There is old Peter Miller, come all the way here to have his revenge gratified.” Scarcely had he spoken the words when Miller pushed his way through to the condemned man and handed him the pardon that saved his life.
We all need reconciliation and forgiveness…with God and with one another. As the Word says, “How can a believer say he loves God and hate his brother?” It is not possible. Some people have the attitude that, “I will forgive them if they come apologize and ask for forgiveness.” This is to miss the point of forgiveness. Sometimes these elements just are not going to be there…some may not be as gracious as Jacob in seeking reconciliation, while others certainly not be as gracious as Esau in offering it! It is so often the little things -- like resentments -- that finally divide people. And the solution, of course, is to let them go. There is really nothing particularly profound about it. But for fulfilling and lasting relationships, letting them go is a must. If we refuse to carry around bitterness, we may be surprised at how much energy we have left for building bonds with those we love. If our speech and actions can approach the grace and love that Esau had to share and which Esau and Jacob shared with each other, then opportunity for restoration and growth is possible. If we humbly seek what is right in our relationships, they will be stronger and better than ever. This is love’s cover…the life of forgiveness.