Yesterday, we left Jacob and Esau having reconciled their differences. Or did we?
Jacob discovered that he was unnecessarily worried about his brother’s reaction: Esau wanted to hug and kiss him, not murder him. Esau lovingly embraces his brother, and Jacob rejoices that “you have accepted me” (v. 10). Esau has reluctantly accepted Jacob’s gift and it seems like all is forgiven. If this were a fairytale, we would expect that they would ride off into the sunset together and live happily ever after. But this isn’t a fairytale, and that’s not what happens. Esau has forgiven Jacob, but they aren't reconciled.
Please read Genesis 33:12-20.
God had called Jacob to go back home (31:13), but Jacob never makes it there. Isaac had settled in Gerar (26:6), where Jacob grew up with his brother. That was his home. But, instead of going directly there, Jacob sets up camp near Shechem. In today’s passage, we find out why: Jacob was still afraid of Esau.
Unfortunately, as open and welcoming as Esau appeared to be, Jacob still feared his brother. This deceiver will never fully trust someone else. Jacob will always wonder if Esau really forgave him or if he is still harboring some anger that will erupt one day in a murderous rage against Jacob and his children.
Jacob is forgiven by Esau, but they aren’t really reconciled. So Jacob again lies to his brother in order to get away from him, and the two of them never truly reconnect.
This episode highlights the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. While these two are closely linked, there is a distinction. I can forgive someone completely for what they’ve done, but still be wary that they may do it again. Their actions may have hurt me so deeply that we can never fully reconcile: we can never have the kind of relationship that we had before because it has been fractured.
Imagine for a minute that your relationship is like a piece of paper: when you hurt the other person, you rip the paper in two. The other person can forgive you and tape the paper back together, but it’s not the same as it was before.
Jacob and Esau will never be as close as they were as young children because Jacob has ripped the paper too many times. Esau keeps trying to tape it up with forgiveness, but there will always be a rift between them, because they have never truly reconciled.
God not only forgives us; He makes reconciliation possible. We have torn our paper with God more times than we can count. God’s forgiveness keeps taping the paper back up, but it’s gotten to the point that it’s now more tape than paper. What Jesus Christ did, in His sacrificial death on the cross, was to give us a brand new sheet of paper altogether. God sees us as a pure sheet with no tears at all. God sees us with all the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Through Christ, we are not only forgiven of our sin—we are truly reconciled with God.
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