He [Jacob] himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near 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)
This is one of the most emotional moments in the Bible. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright. Esau had the brawn and the righteous indignation. Jacob had the blessing from God. Both had plenty to complain about and reason to point the finger with eternal bitterness. As you read the story, you don’t know how Esau will respond. The fact that Jacob moves forward “bowing himself to the ground seven times,” you know Jacob is fearing the worst.
Just when this story is at its bleakest, you feel like you can see the face of Esau. Esau looked at his wayward brother with love and affection that comes with forgiveness. Ironically, it is as if Jacob is so busy looking at the ground that he doesn’t see Esau until he feels him falling on him with familial kisses. One cannot imagine the sense of relief that must have washed over Jacob. First, there is the overwhelming relief in knowing that Esau is not going to kill Jacob and his family. Then, slowly the reality washes over him, that he just might have a brother again, after all these years. The joy must have been indescribable.
But how did it all happen, against all odds? Earlier in the story, both brothers had shown themselves to be angry, petty, and less than reasonable. But not this time. What made this moment different in their family history is that both brothers were willing to repent, and make that repentance public. Conniving Jacob decided, rightly, to make the first move to repent. He was the sinner who did the trickery. Esau, humbly accepted the repentance and showed his own humility by falling down with Jacob and kissing and weeping with his brother. Esau is the star of this story for forgiving after being so wronged.
It took Jacob’s initial repentance to make the reconciliation possible. Esau would have been unwilling to play the chump yet again, and would not become vulnerable if not for Jacob’s initial act of humble repentance. Esau got his brother back. Jacob got his life back. Jacob had been carrying this heavy burden for years and finally had the opportunity to get the burden removed. This is not a story of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” We witnessed a deep and abiding grace, where both parties were faithful. One cannot achieve reconciliation until both are willing to humble themselves.
Today, pray for the relationships in your life. It is especially important to pray for those relationships that are fractured. You cannot force reconciliation, or you have “cheap grace.” Pray for your humility and pray that the other person will also come around, so that a Jacob/Esau moment can happen to you as well. Remember, the same Spirit that brought reconciliation to those two brothers is at work in your life as well.