Please turn with me in your Bible to Genesis chapter 33. Genesis chapter 33; it begins on page 27 in the church Bible in front of you.
And before we jump in and read, just something to consider. I recently heard a story in a sermon about a man named Dick Kaufmann who was a former all-American football player and Harvard MBA and now he is a pastor in San Diego. And he told the story that when he was younger, he would get so overwhelmed with anxiety and it would be so heavy for him, especially when he was driving home from work, as he thought about all that had to be done and how he could not finish it all. And he said the only thing that could quiet him – I love this – he said the only thing that could quiet him was thinking about his little boy. And he said, “I think about him at preschool. His teacher said he plays well with other children. And I liked that. His teacher said he shares his stuff. And I liked that too.” But Dick Kaufmann said the thing that made him happiest, the thing that quieted him the most, was knowing that he was going home, that he would play with his boy, that he would get him ready for bed, he would read to him. And the thing that quieted him the most was knowing that his son would rest. And so more than anything that his son did – plays well with other children – more than anything that his son did – shares his stuff – he said the thing that he loved most, the thing that quieted him the most is watching his son sleep. And then Dick Kaufmann, this all-American football player, Harvard MBA, he broke down in tears and he said, “If I, who am evil, if I who am evil know how to give good gifts to my son, how much more my heavenly Father?”
You know I’ve told the story before about Marshall when I put him down to bed sometimes. We play this game where I ask him these questions. And I say, “Does Daddy love you?” And Marshall says, “Yes, Daddy.” And I say, “Does Daddy love you because you’re good at ball?” And he’ll say, “No, Daddy.” “Does Daddy love you because you’re kind to your Mama, you’re kind to your sister?” And he’ll say, “No, Daddy.” “Does Dad love you because you know everything about Paw Patrol or Wild Kratts or Octonauts?” This is gibberish to some of you! And he’ll laugh and he’ll say, “No, Daddy!” And I’ll say, “Why does Daddy love you?” And before I can finish, he always says, “Because I’m your boy!”
Tonight we’re going to be looking again at the Jacob narrative. We have looked from time to time when I’ve been in the pulpit at the Jacob story, and that’s because Jacob is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. I think Jacob is familiar to us. I think that we often see Jacob, at least I often see Jacob, when I look in the mirror. And it should be a comfort to you if you know your own heart that Jacob is here in Scripture. And I tell you that Dick Kaufmann story, I tell you that bedtime story about me and Marshall to remind you that the theme of Jacob’s life is not that he’s attractive, it’s not that he’s productive, it’s not that he’s faithful. The theme of his life is the Lord’s faithfulness to him. The Lord knows him, the Lord loves him, the Lord delights in him, and that’s because Jacob belongs to the Lord. So let’s pray before we jump in and read. Let’s pray.
Father, we look at the outward appearance but You look at the heart. And it could be that we see people around us tonight who are cheerful and who are happy to be here, but it could be that what You know and what You see very clearly is our sadness and our stress and our cynicism and maybe even our desire to be anywhere but here. And so Father, as we actually are, would You help us? Would You speak to us? Would You speak comfort and speak good news and heal us? We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Genesis chapter 33. This is God’s Word:
“And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, ‘Who are these with you?’ Jacob said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company that I met?’ Jacob answered, ‘To find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’ Jacob said, ‘No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.’ Thus he urged him, and he took it.
Then Esau said, ‘Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you. But Jacob said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die. Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.’
So Esau said, ‘Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.’ But he said, ‘What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.’ So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.
And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.”
This is God’s Word.
Ernest Hemingway, in his famous short story, The Capital of the World, began it with these lines: “Madrid is full of boys named Paco, which is the diminutive of the name Francisco, and there is a Madrid joke about a father who came to Madrid and inserted an advertisement in the personal columns of El Liberal which said: ‘PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA’ and how a squadron of city police had to be called out to disperse the eight hundred young men, the eight hundred young men who answered the advertisement.” And of course, the joke is not about the ubiquity of the name, “Paco,” but about the ubiquity of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a subject which touches all of us. All of us need to forgive. All of us need to be forgiven. All of us, to varying degrees, have strained and broken relationships. And I think even if there’s not one person in your mind, that one person in your mind tonight, forgiveness should still be of great interest to you because it’s impossible to love and it’s impossible to be loved without learning forgiveness.
And so tonight we’re going to talk about forgiveness. We’re going to talk about reconciliation. Derek Kidner, the Genesis commentator, says this meeting, in Genesis 33, “this is a classic of reconciliation.” And so we’re going to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. We’re going to talk about repentance. There’s repentance here. We’re going to talk about the healing of your past. And we’re going to talk about how to live as a changed man or a changed woman. How do you live out of this new life, how do you live out of this new life that’s given to you by God? And we’ll see that that is so difficult for Jacob here, and that is so difficult for us as well. And so Genesis chapter 33, one of the most beautiful scenes in Scripture, and also one of the saddest. And those are our two points tonight. Genesis chapter 33 is one of the most beautiful scenes in Scripture and it’s also one of the saddest.
One of the Most Beautiful Scenes
And so first, this is one of the most beautiful scenes in Scripture. Why do I say that? Genesis chapter 33 comes after Genesis chapter 32 – the night that Jacob was changed. And what a night that was for him. We looked at Genesis chapter 32 back in July where Jacob met with God, Jacob wrestled with God; and aren’t we all at some point wrestling with God? And you remember that Jacob grabs him and he says that he will not let him go. This is Genesis 32 verse 26, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And the Lord wounds Jacob. His hip is put out of joint by God. And that’s because the way to his heart was by the dislocation of something that makes him strong. That’s what Sinclair Ferguson says. And isn’t that true of us? That often the way to our heart is by the dislocation of something that makes us strong. That’s what happened to Jacob. And so God blesses him and God gives him a new name, Israel, and a new identity, a new limp. And he’s changed. This is a new Jacob. And so what a day that was for Jacob! What a day that was for him!
But even in our most indelible and memorable days, the some comes up the next morning. The sun comes up the next morning. I still remember in 1990, I was in first grade, and one of the most memorable and indelible days of my life is when my dad got let go as the coach at Mississippi State. And it was one of the most memorable, one of the most indelible days of my life. But the sun came up. The sun came up the next day. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go? And I’ll never forget my dad loading the Volvo station wagon and he took us to Disney World. He got fired and took us to Disney World! Even in our most indelible and memorable days, the sun comes up the next day. Jacob doesn’t have Disney World in front of him. He’s about to be face to face with a man who hates his soul. He’s about to be face to face with Esau and his four hundred men.
And I want you to see the beauty of this change in Jacob. He really is a changed man. You know the word that’s on his lips most of all in this chapter? It’s the word “grace” or “favor.” It’s the same word. You find it in verse 5, verse 8, verse 10, and verse 11. Jacob has been transformed by grace. He now knows his need of grace and the clearest index that he knows this is that he gets that the vertical and the horizontal relationships in his life go together. They are inseparable. And so we see that Jacob is changed by God’s grace and with that change he is limping. And I think we see this in a couple of ways.
Change in Courage
First, you see a change in Jacob’s courage. Remember in Jacob’s life when he’s younger and he’s scheming with his mother about how to steal the blessing, and through that whole deceit he’s hiding; he’s hiding behind his mother. And remember in chapter 32, when Jacob learns that Esau is coming at him with four hundred men, you remember he sends present after present after present in front of him to Esau. And the message that they’re supposed to send, the refrain, is Jacob is coming behind us. I want you to see this change in Jacob. Look at verses 1 to 3. Jacob divides his family, and where would old Jacob have gone? Old Jacob would have gone to the comfort, to the safety of the back of the line. But this time, this new Jacob, verse 3, “he himself went on before them.” You see, this new Jacob has a courage. He’s willing to be held accountable. He’s willing to stand between potential danger and his family, yes, but he’s willing to look Esau in the eye and say, “I am willing to be held accountable by you.” This is a new courage.
Change in Humility
Second, you see a change in Jacob’s humility. Look at verse 3. “Jacob himself went before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times until he came near his brother.” Why is that important? It’s important because the language of the blessing that Jacob stole in Genesis 27. The blessing that Jacob stole from Esau is the blessing in which he was promised. Jacob was promised that others would come and bow before him. Genesis chapter 27 verse 29, “Let peoples serve you and nations bow down to you, be lord over your brothers and may your mother's sons bow down to you.” And so could it be that blessing, those words, they’re echoing in Jacob’s ears. And he decided to act it out. He decided to give it back to his brother, to reverse the blessing.
And notice also that Esau refers to Jacob, verse 9, as “my brother,” but Jacob calls Esau in verses 8, 13, 14, and 15, “my lord.” And the way in which he refers to himself – listen to this – at the end of verse 5, he is his brother’s “servant.” And so this is a sign of his limp. He is humbled; he is beautifully changed. He’s bowing himself before his brother and he’s humbled. This is a new Jacob.
Change in Repentance
Third, you see a change in Jacob’s repentance. You see, Jacob’s courage to be held accountable and his humility, his humility to bow before his brother, to be a servant, that’s part of his repentance, but I want you to see here that Jacob is living a new life that’s marked, his repentance is marked by repairing. He’s repairing any damage that he can do, any damage that he has done from his past. Real repentance involves not only inward sorrow; real repentance involves not only courage to be held accountable. Real repentance involves the humility to be a servant, but not only that, real repentance involves also outward restitution. And so you see, former sins have to be dealt with before we can make a new beginning. And so Jacob demonstrates his repentance through the gifts that he gave to Esau. We saw this in chapter 32, in the previous chapter. We saw how Jacob sends all of these presents, the flocks and goats, and herds, and notice what he says in verse 10. He says, "No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, please accept my present." Those two words, "accept" and "present," that's language used in Leviticus in the midst of the instructions of the sacrifices where God accepts or He receives a present or a sacrifice, and so forgives. And so this is reconciliation language.
And notice the elephant in the room. Verse 11, Jacob deliberately uses a very specific word. He says, “Esau, please accept” – what’s the word? He says, “accept my blessing. Accept my blessing.” And so he’s saying to Esau, “I took what did not belong to me. I’m giving it back. I’m giving it back through these presents. I’m giving it back through bowing before you. I’m giving that which belongs to you. Please accept this blessing.” And so notice that Jacob doesn’t simply say, “I’m sorry,” and leave it at that. But he’s desperately doing what he can to make things right. He’s seeking to reverse the blessing. And so you see this change in Jacob. You see this limp, this courage, this humility, this repentance that can only come from a man who knows that he has been reconciled with God and because he has been reconciled with God he’s now seeking to be reconciled to his brother.
But the only thing more beautiful in the change in Jacob, I think the only thing that shines brighter than the change in Jacob here, is just the totally unexpected and totally undeserved forgiveness in verse 4. Look at verse 4. Verse 4, “But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him and they wept.” This movement of verbs – ran, embraced, kissed. Ran, embraced, kissed. Ran, embraced, kissed. It appears one other time in the Bible. Where do you see those verbs, that movement of verbs later in Scripture? It’s in Jesus’ most beloved story that He ever told. Luke 15 – the parable of the prodigal son. Listen to the climactic line of the father’s prodigal grace. In Luke 15 verse 20, “He arose and came to his father, but while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion and he ran and embraced and kissed him.”
This past week, my wife, Lauren, finished a novel that we have both heard about. We both heard about it in another book. But it’s a novel entitled, Old School, and it’s by Tobias Wolff who teaches writing at Stanford, and it’s the story of a young writer learning what it takes to be a writer. But the final line of that novel reads, “He couldn’t help thinking of these words, surely the most beautiful words ever written or said: ‘His father, when he saw him coming, ran to meet him.’” The most beautiful words ever written or said. “He ran and embraced and kissed him.” You see, that’s the beauty of this reconciliation. It’s the magnitude of this reconciliation. Esau is the picture. Esau is the picture that Jesus draws on to illustrate for us what God’s heart is like, to show us the prodigal love of God’s heart. Genesis chapter 33 verse 4 – Do you not know? Have you not heard? Who loves like this? This looks like God.
And that’s exactly what Jacob says as you keep reading in the story in verse 10. He says to Esau, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. So you've not just forgiven me, but you've run and embraced and kissed me." And Jacob says, "This is the face of God." See, this is one of the most beautiful scenes in Scripture. Jacob is face to face with his lifelong enemy who ran, embraced, and kissed him. Jacob is changed, and they're weeping together. And this completely unexpected, completely undeserved forgiveness, this looks like God.
And this picture, I think, is one of our deepest longings. We all long for healed relationships, reconciled relationships, restored relationships. And so I have to ask, “Is there someone, is there someone for you that you need to run and embrace and kiss?” You’ve been holding onto some coldness, you’ve been holding onto the past; maybe a grudge. Surely the most beautiful words ever written or said, “He ran and embraced and kissed him.” Or maybe I should ask, “Is there anyone in your life who has something against you?” You’re the Jacob in this story. “Is there anyone in your life who has something against you?” And if so, the clear teaching of Jesus in Matthew chapter 5 is that you should leave your gift at the altar and go and first be reconciled to your brother. That reconciliation, this picture, it takes precedence even over our worship. The most beautiful words ever written or said, “He ran, and embraced, and kissed him.” It’s one of the most beautiful scenes in Scripture.
One of the Saddest Scenes
And I wish, I wish this were the end of the story. But it’s not. Genesis 33 is one of the most beautiful scenes in Scripture but it’s also one of the saddest. Here’s why it’s one of the saddest. James Montgomery Boice points this out – in Genesis chapter 32, God changed Jacob’s name. It’s one of the most confusing things. God changed Jacob’s name. There’s this powerful, there’s this undeniable transformation in Jacob’s life. He’s given this new name. “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel.” And then the very same writer, for the rest of the book, goes back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and sometimes he’s Jacob and sometimes he’s Israel. Two-thirds of the time after Genesis 32 he’s Jacob and a third of the time after Genesis 32 he’s Israel. Boice says that when Abraham’s name was changed from Abram to Abraham, he’s consistently referred to thereafter as Abraham. But Jacob is given this grand and glorious new name. “You shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel.” Jacob is given this grand and glorious new name, but he’s still living like Jacob. And see his life is profoundly changed. We looked at this. He has this new limp, this new courage, this new humility, this new repentance. His life was profoundly changed, and yet there remains a kind of contradiction in who he is because he’s still living like the old Jacob.
And I think that we see that in a couple of ways. Here’s the first. Seer is that way and Succoth is that way. And so you think about Jacob after Genesis chapter 32. He had this life-altering encounter with God, he’s blessed, he’s wounded in his strength, he’s given a new identity, a new name, a new limp, and this is Jacob after Genesis 33 where his enemy, his lifelong enemy runs and embraces and kisses him and they wept together after all this change. And you’d think that the rest of the story would be that they rode off into the sunset happily ever after. Instead, Esau went that way to Seer, and if you look in verse 14, Jacob says, “Esau, I’m right behind you.” And as soon as Esau is out of sight, not even a full day after his encounter with the Lord, Jacob deceived his brother again and he turned around and he went the opposite direction. And this is the last time that he saw his brother until Isaac’s funeral.
I think it should be said that some commentators point out that it was wise for Jacob to not go with Esau, that Esau lived outside of the Promised Land, and so Jacob was following the Lord. But I think that’s the other sad thing, is that Jacob doesn’t follow the Lord. You see this because the Lord summoned him to Bethel. But look in verse 18. Shechem, about a day’s journey short of it, is where Jacob settled and where he bought land and where he pitched his tent. And so what we see is that Jacob, after all that he’s been through, he still doesn’t trust the Lord. His life was profoundly changed, he was profoundly healed, he was profoundly forgiven, but he still doesn’t trust the Lord.
Irreconcilable War Within Us
I read this and I think, “Jacob, what is wrong with you? What is wrong with you, Jacob?” This breaks your heart. This is the saddest thing. But I think we get it. I think we feel this deeply. I think we can read Genesis chapter 33 and we can say, “Me too, Jacob. I just don’t understand the way that I am. I just don’t understand the way that I live. I don’t understand the things I do, the things I feel.” I think we get it. After all that we have seen, after all that the Lord has done in His kindness and in His grace to demonstrate His Fatherly care for us – that we’re engraved on His heart, we’re unsnatchable from His hand, we’re known by Him, we’re kept by Him, we’re beloved by Him, we’re betrothed to Him, we’re guiltfree in Christ, there’s no condemnation for those in Christ, our hairs are numbered, our citizenship is in heaven – after all that He has done to prove that His posture towards us is not to condemn us, it’s not to abandon us, it’s not to forsake us, after all that He has done to prove that His posture is to run and embrace and kiss us – why is that so hard? Why is that so hard to get deep down into your heart? Why do we still have the marks of the old man? Why do we still have the disease marks that remain? Why do we let old patterns govern us and default back to who we once were? I think we get it. Our confession says that there is an irreconcilable war that takes place in us. You see, I think we get this contradiction that we see in Jacob’s life and in Jacob’s heart. I think we know this all too deeply. That’s why this is one of the saddest scenes in Scripture.
Let me close with this. One of the most read books of the last few years is Unbroken. It’s a story of Louis Zamperini who was a former Olympic track star and in 1943 he survived a plane crash in the Pacific Theatre. He spent forty-seven days drifting on a raft where he is shot at while on this raft by Japanese aircraft. He sees his friends die before him, he has sharks encircling around him. And after forty-seven days, he is captured by the Japanese. He then spends two years as a POW in Tokyo where he is tortured to within an inch of his life. After over two years, he is finally rescued and he returns home. So Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini’s survival and resilience, hence the title of the book, Unbroken. The book was so popular that a lot of people missed the irony of the book’s title because that’s not how the story ends. After he returns home, he gets married where that same resolve takes a sinister turn and he is mostly to blame. After all of this, after all that he had been through, after all that he had received from the Lord, the Lord’s sustaining grace, after all of it just like Jacob. Unbroken may be the book’s title, but the book is quite clear, the author is quite clear that his life is not saved until he is broken. And forty-seven days on a raft in the Pacific Theatre couldn’t do it. Two years as a POW couldn’t do it. It was a failed married and drinking alcohol that did it. Only when he’s broken is his life redeemed. And it’s then that Zamperini goes to a Billy Graham crusade. He hears the Gospel and God’s love for him envelopes him and the Spirit enlightens his mind and heart in the knowledge of Christ and he embraces Jesus. He becomes a Christian. That’s how the book ends.
If we want to live this new life, this new life, if we want to live this new life in which we have no consciousness of our deep brokenness and our deep sinfulness, forget about it. Scripture does not recognize that plateau. And so what’s the good news for Jacob and what’s the good news for strugglers like us? If you are in Christ, the Gospel has taught you to say Romans chapter 7 verse 20, “Sin dwells within me. Sin dwells within me.” And that struggle with the old man, when he makes you feel the hidden evils of your heart, your awareness of those disease marks are actually a demonstration that God is at work in you and if you are in Christ, the Gospel has also taught you to say, “The Lord of glory dwells in me. The Lord of glory dwells in me.” And the man or woman who has been down into the darkness of their soul, who knows the contradiction of their own heart, the man or woman who has been down into the darkness of their soul and has been illumined by the beauty and by the brightness of Jesus, that man or woman, that person can taste and see and know the most beautiful words ever written or said. That his Father, when he saw him coming, He ran to meet him. Amen. Let me pray for us.
Father, what a contradiction we are. We pray that You would surprise us with good news tonight. We pray that You would meet us in the midst of our failure and show us that change is possible because of Your grace. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
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