It had been twenty years since Jacob had deceived his father and received the blessing Isaac had intended to give Esau. It had been twenty years since Jacob fled for his life from a furious brother intent on killing him (Gen. 27:41). Now, as he is about to return to the land of his fathers, Jacob is fearful of the reprisals his brother might have in store for him. Esau has had twenty years to let bitterness fester and hatred grow in his heart. Jacob knows this. He has not forgotten, so he sends messengers ahead to gain information about Esau (32:3–5). When the messengers return, they bring word that Esau is coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men (32:6). Jacob is terrified, wondering what his brother will do to him (32:7–8).
Imagine Jacob’s surprise when upon their meeting, rather than attacking him, Esau runs to him, embraces him, kisses him, and weeps with joy (33:4). Rather than letting bitterness and hatred consume him, Esau has forgiven his brother. Rather than a bloody conflict, the meeting of Jacob and Esau becomes a story of reconciliation. It is not the only time we read such a story in Scripture. In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus tells of a man with two sons (Luke 15:11–32). One of the sons leaves home and squanders his inheritance. When he has finally reached the depths of despair, he decides to return to his father’s house. He expects his father to treat him like a hired servant if he accepts him back at all. Instead, when the father sees his son coming, he runs to him, embraces him, and kisses him (Luke 15:20). The one who was lost is found, and there is joy and celebration. Jesus uses this parable to illustrate the love of God for His people, and He appears to allude to the story of Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation.
By his act of forgiveness, Esau became an example to the world of mercy. How much more, then, must we as Christians, as those whose sins were atoned through the death of Jesus on the cross, as those who have been freely justified by faith and forgiven of so much, be an example of such forgiveness? Because of Esau’s forgiveness, Jacob was able to say to him, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me” (Gen. 33:10). When people look at our actions, what do they see? Do they see grace, mercy, and forgiveness? Do they see the face of God?