They were twins. Daddy loved the oldest one, and mama had a special affection for the younger one. By conniving and deceiving, the younger of the twins got his brother’s birthright plus his special blessing from their father. As a result of losing that special blessing, big brother vowed to kill his deceiving younger brother.
These are some of the familiar facts that we associate with the biblical account of Esau and Jacob. Their rocky relationship is presented in Genesis chapters twenty-five and twenty-seven. As a result of Esau’s threat to kill Jacob (Genesis 27:41), Jacob went away to his uncle Laban’s, where he married Leah and Rachel. Jacob lived there for a total of twenty years (Genesis 31:41).
After the passing of those twenty years, God told Jacob to return to the land of his fathers (Genesis 31:3). However, before Jacob made it back to the land of Canaan, he first met Esau along the way. These twin brothers apparently had not seen each other since Jacob left home. When they met, would they finally get to “fight it out,” would they simply ignore one another, or would they somehow turn it into a happy family reunion?
Here is the Bible’s answer: “Then he [Jacob, rdc] crossed over before them and bowed 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” (Genesis 33:3,4). The reunion of these two brothers was a blissful moment! Knowing the hatred and resentment that existed between them in the past, who would have thought that they would come back together in such a wonderful manner? Let us look at some of the lessons that we can learn from this account.
First, sometimes things are not nearly as hopeless or bleak as they may appear to be. Sometimes we get ourselves all worked up over what we are afraid will happen, but in the end, it all turns out much better than we ever anticipated. Make no mistake about it, when Jacob knew that he was going to have to cross paths with Esau, “. . . Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:7). And we understand why! After all, twenty years earlier “Esau hated Jacob” and vowed to kill him (Genesis 27:41).
The message for Christians that is written all over Matthew 6:25-34 is “do not worry.” So often we “worry ourselves sick” over things that never come to pass. Worry shows a lack of trust in God, it shows us to be like unbelievers, and it does not accomplish anything positive. We must learn to put our lives in God’s hand and accept the trials that come to put our faith to the test (James 1:2,3; 1 Peter 1:7).
Second, sometimes people really do change for the better. Look at the change in Esau’s attitude toward his brother. After he felt like he had been cheated or “ripped off,” Esau hated Jacob. He even said that he would kill him. Hatred is a strong emotion, and a vow to murder someone is a serious matter. But, after the passing of much time, Esau’s attitude toward his brother was drastically different. Read it again: “But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”
People’s hearts can change. We see it in family relationships, we see it in the church, and we also see it in those to whom we make an effort to teach the gospel. Before their conversion, some in the first century had been “hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). But, they changed. Saul of Tarsus went from being a rejecter of the gospel to a receiver of it. In Bible terminology, he at first was like the wayside soil, then he became good soil (Luke 8:4-15). He obviously had a change of heart. Thinking back to Esau, we know that he made his mistakes. But, to his credit, he removed hatred from his heart.
Third, in the happy family reunion of Jacob and Esau we see the beauty of brotherly reconciliation. Rebekah, the twins’ mother, expressed her hope that one day Esau’s “fury” would subside (Genesis 27:44,45). It did. The picture of the peaceful and loving meeting of Esau and Jacob that we see in Genesis 33 is a thing of beauty – brotherly forgiveness, a willingness to bury the hatchet, a desire to make up and move on.
Personal conflicts between brethren (both biological and spiritual brothers and sisters) can cause such tensions that the individuals involved feel like their whole life is messed up. How true is the saying, “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city” (Proverbs 18:19).
As Christians, we must strive to work out any personal conflicts that exist between us. The Holy Spirit charges us, “Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:13). The time to get together for the purpose of ironing out personal problems that keep us separated is right now, while we still have the chance.
Let us all strive to learn and apply the lessons from Esau and Jacob’s happy reunion.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.