It had been 20 years since Jacob left Canaan, in part to find a wife but also to escape his brother’s wrath. At the time Esau wanted to kill Jacob for “stealing” his blessing. Rebekah urged her husband Isaac to send Jacob away to Haran primarily because she wanted to protect him from harm. Now, after all this time, Jacob was returning home. Would Esau be waiting for him? Would he still be angry?
They say that “time heals all wounds”. I’m not sure if that’s always true, as some pain never goes completely away. But time can make our hurts feel less tender. In this case, would Esau still be harboring a grudge? Had he forgiven Jacob for the sorrow he’d caused? Had Esau’s pain diminished or was it still fresh? In today’s sermon, we will discover what happened when Jacob and Esau were reunited after their long separation.
I. PREPARING TO MEET (Genesis 32:1-21)
Following his uncle Laban’s departure, Jacob camped near the Jabbok River. The Jabbok is a tributary located east of Canaan that follows into the Jordan River. He named the site Mehamaim because the angels of God met with him there. Apparently Jacob had learned where his brother Esau was living, and decided to take the first step by making an offering of peace. He dispatched messengers to go find Esau in the mountainous region of Seir and to seek his favor. When these messengers returned, they informed Jacob that Esau and 400 of his men were coming to meet him. Jacob feared the worst, and felt terribly afraid and deeply distressed.
Expecting his brother to be bitterly angry and possibly even hostile, Jacob took preemptive action. First, he separated his people and possessions into 2 companies. This would ensure that if one was attacked, the other would escape and survive. Second, Jacob prayed and asked the LORD to protect him and his family from Esau. Third, Jacob sent 3 droves of animals ahead as a gift in hopes of appeasing Esau’s anger. Esau would receive these generous presents 1 at a time in short succession before reaching Jacob’s camp, and perhaps his fury would be quelled.
Jacob had no way of knowing how his reunion with Esau would go. Perhaps everything would be fine, water under the bridge so to speak - but maybe not. That said, the day of their encounter was fast approaching. The Bible teaches us to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Though we trust in God for the victory, we should still ready ourselves for the battle (Proverbs 21:31). Jacob wisely took this approach as he prepared to meet his brother Esau.
II. WRESTLING WITH GOD (Genesis 32:22-32)
That night Jacob sent his wives, children, and possessions across the Jabbok River. Facing uncertainty and fear, he wanted some “alone time” on the opposite shore. A mysterious man appeared and wrestled with Jacob all night long. Some commentators believe that this man was an angel of God while others surmise that he was actually God in human form (perhaps a preincarnate appearance of Jesus). As daybreak approached, the divine man had not yet prevailed so he touched Jacob’s hip instantly causing it to become dislocated.
Though he was badly injured, Jacob still refused to let the man go without a blessing. Before he departed, the heavenly man gave Jacob a new name - Israel - because he had striven boldly with God and man. Israel means “one who contends with or struggles with God”. This would prove to be a fitting name for the nation that would arise from Jacob’s posterity as well. So Jacob named the place where he wrestled with the LORD Peniel, which means “face of God”, and it became known as Penuel. That morning as he crossed over the Jabbok to rejoin his family, Jacob walked with a limp that many believe persisted for the rest of his life.
This encounter with God forever changed Jacob’s life. His clash with the LORD that night is similar in some ways to Saul’s experience on the Damascus road. Just as Saul legally fought to oppress and imprison God’s people, so also Jacob physically fought against the LORD. Just as Saul’s name was changed to Paul, so also Jacob’s name became Israel. Just as Paul was left with an impairment that is believed to have resulted from his encounter (ie, poor eyesight), so also Jacob came away with a limp. These physical limitations were certainly burdens to both men, but also served as a constant reminder of God’s transformational power and grace.
III. REUNITING WITH ESAU (Genesis 33:1-20)
Not long thereafter, Jacob looked and saw Esau and his men coming in the distance. Still frightened, Jacob put the maids (Bilhah and Zilpah) and their children in the front, Leah and her children in the middle, and Rachel and Joseph in the back. Then he went on ahead of them all, bowing down 7 times as he approached Esau. To Jacob’s surprise, when they drew near to each other Esau ran to embrace him. It was a warm and joyful reunion. Relieved, Jacob introduced his family to Esau who was delighted to meet them. Esau told Jacob that all of the gifts he’d sent were appreciated but unnecessary, but Jacob insisted that he keep them.
Esau then invited Jacob to follow him to his home in Seir, but Jacob politely declined. He stated that he would come to visit Esau at a later time, but it is uncertain if he ever actually did (the Bible doesn’t say). Esau offered to leave some men with Jacob perhaps as a guard or a guide, and again Jacob kindly declined. So Esau and his men returned southward to the land of Seir, while Jacob and his family journeyed westward toward Succoth. From there he crossed the Jordan River into Canaan and came to the city of Shechem. Jacob purchased some property from the locals, built an altar, and settled there.
Finally Jacob was safely home again in the land of Canaan. His overbearing father-in-law Laban was no longer lording over him and his once estranged brother Esau didn’t want to kill him any more. Things were definitely looking up! God had kept the promises that He’d made many years earlier at Bethel to protect and bless Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22). The LORD’s covenant people would come from the line of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.
As we wrap-up today’s message, I want to apply Jacob’s experience to our lives in 2 ways.
First, if we are honest, most of us have spent a portion of our lives fighting with God - some more than others. Perhaps we’ve stubbornly doubted or even denied His existence. Maybe we’ve rebelliously refused to follow His commandments or do His will. We’ve foolishly rejected His love, compassion, and forgiveness. Why? Because we lack the humility to admit that He is greater than us and that we need Him. Beloved, we will never outsmart, outdo, or outlast God. And our pride will be our downfall...
Second, many people are afraid to come to the LORD because they expect Him to be angry. They look at the sins they’ve committed in the past and doubt that God could ever love or forgive them. As such, they spend their lives on the run, in a foreign country, and/or without any hope of restoration. But the truth is that God loves sinners, He misses those who have strayed, and He desperately wants to be reunited with them. Lost person, the LORD isn’t mad at you, so come and meet Him today!