Understanding Genesis 33: The Miracle of Forgiveness
Read the entire chapter 33 of Genesis on your own. You can read a variety of versions, from contemporary English to literal translations. You can download bible apps, websites (blueletterbible.org or biblegateway.com) or buy one from your local bookstore. I will use King James Version because some of the nuances are missing from other translations. When you read the chapter, don’t just read it—study it with questions and try to make sense of it.
Choosing to Forgive
And he [Jacob] passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. Genesis 33:3,4
After sending everyone ahead of him, Jacob prays all night, and finally finds peace after being assured by God of forgiveness for his past sins. Jacob leaves to meet his brother, and he quickly passes his family in order to greet his brother.
As he gets closer to Esau and his 400 men, there must have been some fear; but ultimately peace reigns in his heart. For he trusted that God would answer his prayer regarding Esau and God would appease Esau’s anger—Jacob finally believes that God had truly blessed him.
As he bows seven times, he clings to God’s blessing. He has faith that God would take care of this situation. And there is acceptance that if Esau were to kill him, Jacob still choose to trust in God. That is what faith does—it chooses to love God and trust Him, even when there is no light in the darkness. "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." Daniel 3:16-18
If Esau would choose to slaughter Jacob and his family, God cannot force back the sword of Esau. It is Esau’s stubborn, evil heart that refuses to listen to the voice of God: talking to him and pleading with him to forgive and love Jacob. Just as Jacob had free will to deceive his father, Esau has free will to kill his brother. God would ask these brothers to choose to love, rather than to hate.
As Esau passes the animals, and sees Jacob bow to him, Esau is appeased. He sees that Jacob has great wealth and a large household. Esau, in his heart, only wanted the wealth that he would inherit. His heart had ever been for material wealth, rather than the spiritual blessing promised by God. As he nears Jacob, he listens to the Holy Spirit and repents of his anger toward Jacob. No longer angry, Esau can only feel regret for the years passed and cries for Jacob.
Listening to the Voice of God
So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir. Genesis 33:16
Intent on killing his brother, Esau had left home with 400 men. But after listening to the voice of God, Esau is repentant and returns to his home.
This is the power of God. His insistent voice can turn an angry man, into a weeping brother. In front of his soldiers, Esau had no pride but could only show his vulnerability as an emotional person, who would have peace. Esau chose to listen and obey God’s voice, urging him to forgive.
We must all listen to this voice to love, rather than to hate. "And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." Matthew 12:31 God is omnipotent in all things, but He can never force someone to do His will. We must choose to listen and obey Him. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:" John 10:27
Claiming My God
And he erected there an altar, and called it Elelohe-Israel. Genesis 33:20
After Esau leaves with his gifts, Jacob still has a large household and livestock and his journey is slow. He chooses to settle down in Shalem before following Esau home.
Just like his grandfather, Jacob builds an altar and worships God. He claims God as his own, and calls him the “mighty God of Israel.” God is no longer just a god of his grandfather or his father, but God is Jacob’s God; and Jacob is no longer deceiver, but an overcomer. Jacob proclaims to everyone with this name that God is the God of someone who overcomes.
We must also claim God as our own. We must trust him and worship him daily. Not in flattering words or praise, but in our hearts by loving Him and others. "And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." Luke 9:23 Being a follower of Christ, is not something that happens after baptism; we must choose everyday, to listen and obey God’s voice.
- Understanding Genesis 34: Love Your Enemies
A Bible study of Genesis 34.