I used to perform artistic sign language at church a lot when I was younger. It was like praise dancing, only the movements that I and the rest of the group executed were (grammatically incorrect) American Sign Language that (should have) reflected the words of a gospel song. I remember how sometimes we would get up front even when we hadn’t practiced enough and we didn’t know the signs very well. Welp, I would think as we clambered on stage. Let’s see how this goes. I wasn’t really nervous, but I hadn’t thrown in the towel either. I just knew that I’d done all I could do and left the rest up to chance.
I think Jacob was in a similar state as this chapter opens. He is limping along, heading to face his brother Esau. Esau hasn’t come alone – he has four hundred men rolling with him, and they more than likely were not the welcoming committee. Jacob has spent the past few hours fighting with himself and His God. He has won. And so he approaches Esau, without fear and without despair. Jacob has done everything possible to appease his brother and protect his family. Now all he can do is wait and see how God will move.
Jacob and his family get closer and closer to Esau. Soon they can see him and his 400 men approaching like a wall of intimidation. Closer still. Closer. The two parties are now within earshot of each other. Then, all of a sudden, Jacob moves in an unexpected way. Clearly within view of his approaching brother, Jacob steps out in front of his family. They stop. He stops. And then he bows to the ground. Perhaps Esau and his camp slow, confused. Jacob bows again. And again. And again. After the seventh bow, Esau has had enough.
But it’s not a weapon that Esau extends, it is his arms. He runs to his brother and embraces him. Esau and Jacob, brothers separated for twenty years by jealousy, deception and greed, are finally together again. They both begin to cry.
All thoughts of war or revenge or death are gone. Esau meets Jacob’s huge family, Jacob urges extravagant gifts on his reluctant brother, and then the twins do a little catching up on what God has done in their lives. Soon and probably too soon for Jacob and Esau, the time has come to keep moving. Esau is heading towards Seir and wants Jacob to come with him. Jacob declines, citing his young children and many animals – he can’t move as fast as four hundred men can. Esau then offers to leave protection for his younger brother, but Jacob refuses that as well. God will take care of him.
Reluctantly, with perhaps more tears and hugs, the brother separate again, this time in love. Jacob travels all the way to Shechem, a city in Canaan. He buys land and builds an altar to praise God for saving his life, the life of his family, and his relationship with his brother. Jacob, his four wives, and his twelve children settle down in Canaan, no doubt enjoying the peace. How long will it last?
The Treasures Within:
The Ending We All Wanted
God. Came. Through! He came right on through for Jacob. Not only did Jacob come out of what he feared was certain death with his life, his family, and his wealth intact, but he gained something in the process – a renewed relationship with his brother. God worked in a mighty way for Jacob. It was an amazing turn around from the paralyzing fear Jacob had faced mere hours before.
Yes, this was a true reversal, a comeback, the last-minute ex-machina that arrives at the turning point of the story and pulls it all together. As powerful as this was, though, you might not expect to see a movie end this way. It was a bit anti-climatic for a climax. No battle, no drama, not even a war of words like Jacob’s last showdown with Laban. Just a hug. Some tears. And a friendly wave goodbye.
God has blessed Jacob tremendously and graciously, but not with a lot of fanfare. Is this disappointing? When I imagine the future and the answers I want God to give me to my prayers, I dream big. I imagine making plenty of money, enough to donate liberally and also spend liberally. I imagine marrying a wonderful, handsome guy, raising great kids, and moving forward in a healthy career. Most of all, I imagine people taking notice. People who bullied me when I was younger, people who ignored me when I tried to get closer to them, people who had the last word in arguments, and even just ordinary people who I generally like – all of them will see and acknowledge the blessings that God will bestow upon me.
Needless to say, this is a bit shallow. My dreams do more for my ego than for the glory of God. It’s embarrassing to acknowledge, but it’s normal. It’s human. We want glory with our blessings. We want to impress people. We want to pat ourselves on the back. We want to celebrate our success.
These thoughts keep us going through difficult times, perhaps distracting us from the very point of those times. God does not realize with a start that we’re in trouble and then decide to flood us with good to make up for the bad. He is sovereign and constantly in control. This means that any struggles we endure are ones He allowed us to go through. Which means He has a purpose and a plan for those hard times.
See, God’s goal is not to make things smooth-sailing for us here on earth. He wants to transform us. He wants to change our lives. He wants to perform heart surgery on us, replacing our black, sinful, selfish, prideful heart with a completely new, fresh, loving, humble one. He wants to perform a complete 180 on our lives, so that we are almost unrecognizable once He’s finished with us. The people we are when we’ve allowed God to change us are not ones that congratulate themselves or revel in praise and glory or stunt on all the haters. No, instead we will be humble like Jacob when he bowed seven times before his hater. We will be generous like Jacob when he heaped blessings on others. But most of all, we will be dependent on God like Jacob was. He knew where his blessings came from. He knew who would protect him as he continued on his journey. The glory in this chapter did not go to Jacob, but to God.
God’s Message To Us:
“I am preparing you for greater”. Not necessarily greater money or greater jobs or greater circumstances, but rather a place greater than this earth. God is preparing us to leave this earth and live forever and ever with Him. Things won’t work the same in heaven as they do on earth. This world’s twisted values and goals and dreams ain’t got nothing on the plans He has for us. When we give ourselves to God, we mustn’t fool ourselves thinking that things are going to stay the same. Everything about us will change in ways we never thought possible. It will be wonderful. But it isn’t for the faint of heart. Are you ready?
There Are Always Questions:
- I noticed that in verse 14 Jacob said that he was going to follow Esau to Seir and live near him there. Yet in verse 17 it says that Jacob essentially changed his mind and decided to move to Succoth instead. I used to think that it was because Jacob was afraid of Esau changing his mind and deciding again to kill him. There could have been another reason, though. Maybe he didn’t want himself or his family to be exposed to Esau’s lifestyle? Or maybe he just liked Succoth better?
What do you think? How did the reunion in this chapter make you feel and what do you think about how each brother behaved? What message is God trying to get across to you through this chapter of the Bible?