Jacob Meets Esau
Open Your Bible
Genesis 33:1-20, Genesis 34:1-31, Hebrews 11:20-22
Text: Genesis 33:1-20, Genesis 34:1-31, Hebrews 11:20-22
You know when you’re walking down a city street and all of a sudden, through a crack in the pavement, you see a flower that has somehow managed to grow? Some may call these plants weeds, but I call them beautiful and resilient. I’m always amazed when a plant manages to thrive in the concrete desert—something lovely growing in the most unlikely of places.
It reminds me of the beautiful reconciliation scene we see in Genesis 33 between grudge-holding Esau and running-for-his-life Jacob. Esau swore to have revenge on his brother (Genesis 27:41). And really, who can really blame him? Jacob lied, cheated, and stole his brother’s birthright and inheritance. That’s shady business, especially between brothers.
But at some point, in their years apart, Esau’s heart had softened toward his brother. When he finally laid eyes on Jacob again, he “ran to meet him, hugged him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Then they wept” (Genesis 33:4). Jacob’s past sins make Esau’s forgiveness that much sweeter and their reunion that much more miraculous.
Only one chapter later, we find ourselves in the midst of a story with a very different tone.
Genesis 34 is one of more difficult passages I’ve read in Scripture. Its content is heavy and, because of this, we may be tempted to brush past it. But the Bible is a real book about real people and the real world they lived in—a world where tragedy and the darkest of sins was their reality as much as it is ours today.
I’m probably not alone in saying that, when I read about what’s done to Dinah, I want vengeance for her too. I want bad things to happen to Hamor’s son Shechem. I want him to get what he deserves. I think we can empathize with the way Dinah’s brothers reacted. We understand where they’re coming from. But the actions of Jacob’s sons against Hamor and his people were deceitful (v. 13). They defiled the covenant of circumcision (v. 14), they killed, and they plundered (vs. 25-27). Because of their retaliation, Jacob’s family was in danger of being attacked.
This pendulum swing—from brothers reconciling, forgiving, and showing mercy, to brothers taking vengeance into their own hands and doing what feels justifiable to the human heart—highlights our inability as humans to walk the road of forgiveness and reconciliation perfectly. That road, as many of you well know, is messy and difficult and would be entirely impossible without a Savior.
When Jesus came on the scene, He created a new path for justice, reconciliation, mercy, and forgiveness. He satisfied God’s wrath toward sin through His sacrifice. He took it all upon Himself and said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And now, where forgiveness is least deserved, we have it as a free gift, forever.
Dinah’s story reminds us of the freeing truth that the burden of vengeance and rightful punishment is no longer ours to bear. Jacob and Esau’s embrace reminds us of the possibility of reconciliation where it’s least expected and deserved.
Underneath these accounts of brotherly reconciliation and conflict, of sin and tragedy, is the beautiful narrative of Jesus, His sacrifice, and our reconciliation with the Father. Though we are unlikely soil, Christ made us worthy, and because of Him, we now find ourselves embraced by our Father, just as Esau embraced Jacob: unexpectedly, undeservedly, and with deep, unfathomable love. It is a love that makes us, too, weep with joy and assurance.