In this passage, Jacob continues his return to the land of Canaan according to the Lord’s instructions. In so doing, he’s reunited with his estranged brother, Esau. Their encounter helps us understand how to resolve family differences.
When Jacob approaches the land of Edom, he sends his messengers to notify Esau. When they come back, they inform him that Esau is on his way–with 400 armed men.
Jacob, fearful for the well-being of his family, decides to be proactive in gaining favor with his older brother.
Jacob Pleads with the Lord and Seeks Revelation
The first thing Jacob does (after strategically dividing his people’s into two companies in case of attack) is turn to God in prayer.
9 And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:
10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.
11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.
12 And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.
(Genesis 32: 9-12)
Jacob expresses humility before the Lord, remembers His promises, and asks for his divine assistance.
Jacob Gives Abundantly
After praying for protection and guidance, Jacob is inspired to take of his abundant herds and and offer them as gifts to Esau. He separates the animals in groups and tells his servants to present these to his brother one-by-one. In other words, Jacob showers Esau with presents.
When Esau finally arrives, the reunion is moving.
4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.
5 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant.
(Genesis 33: 4-5)
These two hadn’t seen each other or spoken to one another in 20 years. When they parted, Esau had been planning to kill Jacob. Now he runs to him, hugs and kisses him, and weeps.
Time has a way of healing wounds. I think that eventually Esau saw the error of his ways and simply missed his brother. Remember, these two are fraternal twins. For the first 40 or so years of their lives since the womb, they did everything together. Despite their rivalry, they had always loved each other.
Of course, Jacob’s actions helped to soften his brother’s heart. It isn’t really about the gifts. Esau rejects them initially and only accepts them upon Jacob’s insistence. It’s about Jacob showing his love and giving of himself. Notice that he refers to himself as “thy servant,” indicating his benevolence and respect for his older brother (even if Esau no longer had the birthright or its accompanying blessings).
Family conflicts are heart-breaking. They can take years to fully heal. But we can take action to resolve those differences by acting like Jacob. It doesn’t matter if we were right and the other person is wrong.
Pray to God to soften the heart of estranged loved ones. And ask for inspiration for handling the situation. Then, the Lord will guide you like He did Jacob. If you express humility and shower your loved one with sincere affection, that will greatly speed up the healing process.
Remember how much you mean to each other. A disagreement isn’t worth destroying the most valuable relationships with which God has blessed us. Let’s put the past behind us and enjoy our families here in the present.