Parting from Laban, Jacob gathered his family together. It was time to go home. Time to face his brother Esau, the twin he’d swindled out of the family birthright and blessing of inheritance. Sending servants ahead, he let Esau know he was coming, that he was arriving with abundant provision, and that he desired Esau’s favor upon their reunion. Surely, if Esau knew he was self-sustaining, he’d find his presence less bothersome. The servants returned with a counter message: Esau was coming to meet Jacob, and he was accompanied by 400 men. Genesis 32 says, “Jacob was greatly distressed…And…said, ‘O God…the Lord which sadist unto me, “Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee”…I am not worthy of the least of the mercies and of all the truth, which thou has shewed…Deliver me, I pray from the hand of my brother… for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me and the mother with the children…’”
On the morrow, Jacob sent droves of livestock to Esau. Each was an offering he hoped would soften the heart of his angry twin, and perhaps showcase his own might and generosity. At nightfall, Jacob divided his household into two sections, then directed his family and remaining livestock across the river. He himself stayed behind.
Earlier, Jacob had been met by a host of angles. Perhaps encouraged by their presence, he’d sent the servants to Esau with his first message. Now, driven by desperation, he sought an encounter with the divine to help him escape the wrath of his brother. Jacob’s inner struggle took on physical proportions as he wrestled with an angel of God. All night Jacob grappled for a blessing, contending for the supernatural help that Jacob felt certain the heavenly wrestler could bestow. Surrendering short of divine intervention wasn’t an option, not even when the angel through Jacob’s hip out of joint. As a result, Jacob came away with a name change and a blessing. No longer was he Jacob; he was Israel, “for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” In commemoration, Jacob called the location, Penuel, meaning “for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Jacob had received grace.
This grace granted Jacob blessings, but he didn’t fully receive them because of his present fear. His name change indicated he would prevail, reiterating God’s promise to bring him into his homeland. As a “prevailer” over man, was guaranteed victory over Esau. Through grace, Jacob had been given a beautiful truth, but that truth couldn’t quite cover the fear he felt. Instead of seeing the truth of his future, he saw the truth of his past. His guilt. Esau’s anger. Jacob’s life had been defined by those realities. He’d harvested a crop of deceit from his father-in-law, and in the process grown to understand what he’d cost his older brother. On the receiving end of deception, Jacob had felt the anger, had experienced the bitterness, and had come to realize Esau’s right to raw, festering emotions. The knowledge shackled the grace he’d been given.
As Jacob joined his family on the other side of the river, his insignificance was more apparent than ever. His best, herds of animals, couldn’t mend a damaged past. How much less could he, a cripple, limp into the favor of a brother he’d wronged? His name change felt too small in the face of an angry Esau and his 400 cohorts because Jacob had yet to understand the fullness of the gift God had given him. Generous gifts, hearty physical stamina, and human manipulation couldn’t accomplish what God was able to do.
Approaching the band of men, Jacob bowed in the manner of honoring kings. Suddenly, a rugged, red-haired man broke away from the crowd and ran to meet him. It was Esau. “And Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him, and they wept,” a response created by God’s grace, not what Jacob had earned through gifts, and planning, and strength.
“What meanest thou by all this drove which I met?” Esau asked.
Jacob answered, “These are to find grace in the sight of my lord.”
“Keep that thou hast unto thyself.” The gift was irrelevant to the work of God, but Jacob insisted on giving the gift.
“If I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God…”
Finally! The shift occurred. Jacob looked beyond his efforts, and beheld the face of God in his brother, the miracle before him reflecting the power of his God. The God who’d extended grace instead of death. The God whose divine power had enabled him to achieve what flesh could never do. The God who’d chosen him before birth. Because God had been at work in Esau, the past could be buried. Because God had been at work, Jacob could see God even in the face of what was once the enemy. Because God had been at work, Jacob could love and be loved by his brother. When Jacob received the grace he’d been given, it changed the face of what he faced.
God’s grace works similarly on our behalf. It’s freely given, and no amount of our finagling will earn it. Our best efforts aren’t enough to withdraw from God’s pocket of blessing what He doesn’t already want to bequeath. It’s His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12:32). When we fully receive the truth of His immeasurable grace, then we are loosed from shackles of the past. We can see God where the enemy once had dominion. We can love our brother and receive love from the same.
Like Jacob, we face fears that drive us to wrestle with ourselves and with God. We pray for deliverance from the source of our anxieties, when God wants so much more for us than avoidance of our problem. In the struggle, the magnitude of God’s ability enhances our frailties, until we are humbled. We see we’ve been permitted life instead of the death that we deserved. Flesh crippled in the God-encounter, we come away with a life change, receiving the unexpected. We’ve been altered and given a new identity. At first, we don’t recognize the significance. We don’t appreciate the gift we’ve been given or the power it wields on our behalf. We are still “us,” with our history and our unknowns. We still feel the need to do things ourselves even as we comprehend the futility of doing so. But when we come face to face with the old man of our past and the fears that have had us on the run and see them in the light of what God has already done, then we can we behold the full measure of grace we’ve been given. With our efforts rendered powerless, we can accept all God has bestowed…simply because we’re His and His love is lavish. Our buttering up is not needed.
Tip/Tidbit: Let God’s beautiful grace touch every part of your past and your present…then behold what unfolds in your future.