Genesis 33 is difficult for me. The division between Jacob and Esau was mighty and wide, starting before they were born and exacerbated by their parents. These were two men with true hate between them. Esau, at one point, plotted to murder his brother. That’s some serious division, worse than most of us will ever know. And then comes Genesis 33.
Genesis 33:3-4 (GW)–He went on ahead of them and bowed seven times with his face touching the ground as he came near his brother. Then Esau ran to meet Jacob. Esau hugged him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. They both cried.
What changed? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it changed. They were able to embrace, to love each other, to let the pass lie. Forgiveness happened somewhere in the intervening years, and they were restored. I love this verse, actually, simply because of the restoration that happens, the conclusion that could have been so bad becomes one that is so good. Forgiveness is beautiful.
But rather than go on with Esau and live close to him again, we find Jacob in verse 17 moving to Succoth instead. He chooses not to settle by Esau. Why? They’ve been restored to one another. They love each other again. There’s been healing. I used to wonder why Jacob seemed to accept and then reject his brother, but as I’ve grown older, I think I might get it now. Sometimes we can love someone with all of our hearts, even someone who has hurt us. Forgiveness can be full and complete, just like with Jacob and Esau.
And yet it’s wise to keep the relationship whole by keeping a bit of distance in it. Perhaps Jacob knew how far he had come with God and he feared sliding straight backward if he was around Esau too much. Perhaps Jacob knew there was still a temper in Esau and, though he forgave him, he felt the need to protect his family in case Esau’s flesh ever took over again. Perhaps he simply heard God say, “Settle here and not there.” I don’ t know. But the more I learn about Esau and about his descendants, the more I see Jacob was wise to keep his distance, even though the relationship had been restored. He loved his brother, and I imagine there were many family dinners and celebrations, but they didn’t live daily in one another’s homes, because that was the best for them.
I only wish we’d seen more of Jacob’s and Esau’s thoughts, more of the things they went through before and after they reconciled. Was there guilt in Jacob as he took a step away from his brother? Was there a sense that they both knew a little distance was better? Was Esau angry and resentful, even hurt when he found out Jacob went a different direction? These are things I’d like to know.
Does God know best? He knew Jacob needed some time away, and he provided it. And in that time, he created the kind of healing that is a miracle, the kind only God can bring. He’s pretty amazing like that. And the fact that Jacob and Esau were able to love again is amazing, incredible, and one of the most beautiful things in the Bible to me.