Learning How to Reconcile from Jacob (Genesis 32)

Many of you know the story of Jacob and Esau. Esau was the oldest and favored by his father since he was a hunter. Jacob was the “younger” twin who was favored by his mother. Jacob’s delivery into this world attached to Esau’s heel was a foreshadowing of the trouble to come.

When Esau came home famished after an apparently unsuccessful hunting expedition, he encountered chef Jacob cooking up some stew. With a combination of hunger, weariness and the delicious aroma filling his nostrils, Esau’s brain wasn’t operating on all cylinders and he agreed to a terrible exchange. In one minute, Esau’s birthright was gone and a hot, steamy stew was in his hands.

As Isaac, their father, got quite old, he desired to bless the boys. Before he did, he wanted Esau to go out hunting and to bring him back some savory fresh meat to enjoy. So, Esau departed. Little did he or Isaac know that Rebekah, Jacob and Esau’s mom and Isaac’s wife, overheard this. Misusing her position as his mother, Rebekah urged Jacob to deceive his father and, disguised as Esau, take his blessing from Esau. She prepared some food and prepared Jacob’s appearance so that he would feel more like Esau to their blind father. The trick worked, and Jacob, who had manipulated his brother out of his birthright, stole his blessing too.

The result of this treachery was that Esau planned to have Jacob killed once their father was dead. Upon hearing this, Rebekah arranged for Jacob’s departure to her brother Laban in Padan Aram. Not realizing the true reason for the trip, Isaac agreed to let Jacob go there to find a wife.

A story for another time is Jacob receiving his own medicine at the hands of Laban. Returning from there some twenty years later, Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel, two servant wives and lots of animals. He was well to do but his mind was fully aware how he left and the unfinished business he had with Esau.

In Genesis 32, we read this prayer from Jacob:

“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” Genesis 32:9-12 (NKJV)

Jacob did a couple of things right here. One, he sought reconciliation. Instead of staying away from his brother, he sought to make amends. He even had a plan to compensate Esau for what he had lost at his hands. You and I should seek to make amends whenever and wherever possible. The only reason not to do so is if in doing so you risk bringing more pain to the other party (ex: a rapist, murderer, etc., should most definitely repent but should stay away from his victims and/or their families).

He went to the Lord about the situation. Even though he had his own way of dealing with it, and a further reading of the passage can get into those details, he asked for God’s help. I want to take a minute and dwell on those details.

1. He acknowledged that God was the God of his forefathers.

This is important because it also acknowledges his dealings with them. With their histories, came stories of promises made, deliverances, blessings and so much more. To invoke the God of his fathers was also in distinction from other gods that he could have approached.

2. He reminded God that he was acting upon God’s direction

He heard the Lord tell him to go back to his homeland. In obedience to this, he went. Now, he reminded God that in doing so, he was forced to confront Esau and make up for what he had done to him. You and I would do well to obey God’s commands and when we find ourselves in difficulty as we do so, to remind God of this as we ask for His help.

3. He spoke of his unworthiness for God’s mercy

Jacob admitted that he fell short of God’s holiness and didn’t deserve what he was asking. His brother Esau had every right to be mad and to deal with him severely. Not kill him, of course, but Esau had cause to be angry and Jacob had every reason to believe that this may not go well. It will only be by the mercy of God that he would have a happy reconciliation with his brother. As we approach God, we need this same attitude.

4. He asked specifically for deliverance from Esau

It wasn’t something to be hidden. He was direct with the Lord. I want and need deliverance from Esau. We should spell out what we need from the Lord when we pray to Him.

5. He admitted that he was afraid

Fear doesn’t always mean a lack of faith. It is natural to fear what is ahead and especially the unknown. However when we are full of faith, believing that if God is for us, who can be against us, then we can get past fear to do what needs to be done. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is moving out despite fear to do what needs to be done. It’s okay to tell God that we are afraid and why we are afraid. Yet, let’s not let fear paralyze us but may it instead take us to the throne of grace.

6. He reminded God of His promises
Jacob reminded God what He has promised him. If Jacob were dead, God’s promises would be broken. The Lord’s reputation was at stake. We should always pray with God’s glory in mind. In a sense, Jacob was saying that a successful reconciliation would bring glory to God but if things went seriously wrong, then God’s reputation would be negatively impacted. You and I need to pray and then move out with God’s glory as our intention. It’s not about my victory lap but God’s.

As you read ahead in Genesis 33 and beyond, you see that God answered Jacob’s prayer. Reconciliation is hard. It is a scary proposition, especially when you were the one who had done the wrong. Yet it is the right thing to do.

Here is a prayer that I offer up to God for you, if you need to reconcile with someone:

Father God, I want to pray on behalf of those who need to reconcile with another. I trust that they know You as Savior and seek to follow You as Lord. It would make sense that this is the reason that they seek reconciliation with another. Your Holy Spirit has convicted and convinced them to make this step. It is scary. I am sure that they are afraid. Lord, give your servants peace and direction. Fulfill Your promises to always be with Your children in this life. Remind them of Your willingness to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with them, if need be. They may feel unworthy of this grace, that you go with them and even prepare the way ahead of them. Let them know that You hear them, that You are with them and that You will see them through it. Lord, it may not be well received. There is no guarantee that the other person will forgive but their obedience will allow them to move on in peace. Whatever the result, Lord, remind them that we don’t trust in outcomes but in a Person. Let them trust you toward this attempt at reconciliation and in the results that come. I pray that they will get the results desired but if not that they can be at peace finally. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen. 

Scripture references from The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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