Jacob’s Offering (verses 1-11)
With no time to relax or recover, Jacob limps across the river to join his family, only to find Esau and 400 men coming his way. Old habits die hard for Jacob, who places the favorites in the rear to decrease the chances of them being harmed. Of course, he learned this sort of behavior from his parents, who played favorites with their own sons. When Jacob meets Esau, he immediately begins making restitution by showing deference, humility, and submission. Jacob was quite consciously giving back the blessings he had stolen and was demonstrating by his deeds that he was repentant.
Esau doesn’t even wait for Jacob to begin his conciliatory speech, but rather runs, embraces, hugs, and kisses his brother Jacob. This is far different than the hostility and discord demonstrated in Genesis 25:34. That former hostility is now replaced with forgiveness, love, and acceptance. However, this event is about more than Esau no longer planning to kill Jacob. It is about the protective presence of God in Jacob’s life and the keeping of the covenant to make Jacob’s offspring numerous.
- Saying “sorry” is one thing, but putting things right is more difficult. We often prefer to simply confess to God rather than acknowledge our wrong face-to-face. Repentance is not just reciting certain words, it is an altered direction of life. What does your repentance look like? Have you acknowledged your wrongs not just to God, but to those against whom you have sinned?
Esau’s Offer (verses 12-17)
Jacob is right not to go back to Seir with Esau. He is a child of the promise and he belongs to the promised land, to which he vowed to return when he left 20 years ago (Gen 28:20-21). Not only has he promised to return, but he also has the responsibility to keep the promised line separated from the rejected line of Esau. While Esau is kindly offering protection, Jacob has the protection of God. Unfortunately, Jacob is still Jacob, and rather than speaking straight with Esau, he instead makes irrelevant excuses about not going with him.
- The major difference between Jacob and Esau is the major issue with each of us—Jacob was committed to making God the center of his life, while Esau was uninterested. Is God the central reality in your life? If He is central and primary, everything becomes an opportunity to serve, please, and honor Him.
Almost Obedient (verses 18-20)
The vow that Jacob had made in Genesis 28:20-21 was to return to Bethel. Unfortunately, he stops short! He only goes as far as Shechem—just one day’s travel from Bethel. Stopping in Shechem is a step backward spiritually for Jacob. There he buys land and builds barns for himself and his cattle, rather than seeking the Lord’s house in Bethel.
Jacob built an altar for worship and gave it a name. Never before had he referred to God as his God, but always as “God of my father(s).” But now, he refers to Him as, “God, the God of Israel.” The altar Jacob erects here, barely within the bounds of the promised land—yet not where he was called to go—highlights the need for a sacrifice for sin.
- Reading ahead, we can see the kinds of problems that result from Jacob failing to fully obey (c.f. Genes 34). God commands us to live a certain way and He always has our best interests in mind in all that He commands. Are you trusting God’s goodness in the things He has commanded? Are you walking in full obedience to His word, rather than settling for partial obedience? What areas in your life require repentance for partial obedience and grace to begin walking worthy of the Lord?
- Often, the trying circumstances that we find ourselves in are kindly arranged by a Sovereign God in order to reveal the lack of full and immediate obedience. Our response must be to press on to know Christ more. How are you responding to difficult circumstances? Are you using them as an opportunity to turn away from false comforts and hopes and to invest all of your hope and trust in the living Christ?