The Bible says much about the subject of reconciliation. Through the blood of Christ, God forgave our sins and reconciled us to Him. But what happens when someone does wrong to us? We can gain insight through the story of Jacob and Esau.
Long ago, there were twin brothers born to parents who knew the true God. One brother was bound for a long-lasting destiny — for him and his children. The other would be popular with many people as well, but in a limited region.
How their lives turned out is due to the choices they and their parents made over time. Their mother favored one son, while the father favored the other. This led to mistrust, jealousy, envy, and favoritism, climaxing in one brother wanting to kill the other over a series of events. The victimized brother moved far away, at the urging of his parents, to live with his mother’s relatives.
This is a capsule of the early lives of Jacob and Esau, described in Genesis 25-28. The two brothers had no idea how God would work in them individually and bring both of them to ultimate reconciliation.
Leaving Canaan, Jacob settled with his Uncle Laban in Haran. He would live there for the next twenty years, marrying two of his cousins. Because of his uncle’s deception, he married Leah first. Jacob worked another seven years to marry Rachel, the one he actually wanted.
Over the next several years, Jacob became wealthy. He orchestrated a plan to earn his wages by asking his father-in-law to pay him with the rare spotted and speckled goats and sheep.
Laban agreed to this. Over time, Yahweh God multiplied these spotted and speckled animals so much that Jacob’s flocks outnumbered his father-in-law’s. This led to jealousy, mistrust, and ultimately, a rift between Jacob’s herdsmen and Laban’s (Genesis 29-30).
The Word says your sins will find you out and that you reap what you sow — the law of the harvest. That was true of Jacob.
After twenty years, the animosity came to a head, so Jacob made plans to go back home to Canaan. God wanted Jacob back in the land He promised his father, Isaac, his grandfather, Abraham, and him. Through the rift between Jacob and his father-in-law, he went back to the home where he belonged. As he would find out, God had arranged a homecoming he could not have imagined (Genesis 31-33).
During his journey back to Canaan, Jacob wondered about Esau and if he was alive, so he sent a few messengers ahead to inquire. After several days, these messengers came back and told Jacob that his brother was coming to meet him, along with four hundred of his men.
Jacob panicked. He devised a plan to separate his families into two groups and put some distance between them. That way, if Esau and his band of men attacked one group, the other could get away. Jacob remembered that his brother wanted to kill him when he left home. Would Esau carry out his threat?
Jacob had no need to fear; God had prepared the way before him. When he saw Esau, he bowed before him seven times, and Esau hugged and kissed him. The two brothers welcomed each other’s families. We don’t know what Esau experienced during those twenty years of separation that moved him to forgive his brother. Perhaps his relationship with his wives, children, and others reminded him of the good times he and Jacob shared as children. Or perhaps his relationships had their own ups and downs, and he learned that reconciliation is necessary for healthy outcomes.
We can learn several things from the story of Jacob and Esau.
In our lives — in our marriages, parenting, extended families, neighbors, co-workers, and even congregations — disagreements are inevitable because of original sin. Even after years of being born-again Christians, we can slip up in our human nature — what the Bible refers to as our “flesh.” People can do or say things to make us angry through personality differences or ethics that conflict with ours.
If we’re not careful, things can escalate from a disagreement to a battle . Both parties can assume that the other owes them an apology, and as time goes by, neither party moves toward reconciliation. If left unchecked, this can build resentment, dislike, and even hatred. An apparent molehill becomes a mountain we cannot penetrate.
As Christians, we are called to a higher standard: to reconcile with others who may have wronged us or those whom we have wronged. Sometimes we must confront — what we don’t want to do.
To confront, we must take the initiative and go to the other person. This may not be easy for most people, but it is necessary because forgiveness is necessary. Whether by phone, text, or in person, we must make contact with the offending person.
This can bring up all kinds of emotions, like fear, dread, or worry. It can also cause irrational thoughts: What if they hang up the phone? What if they yell at me or say something mean?
Regardless of our misgivings, we can’t procrastinate. Reconciliation is the right thing to do, and putting it off is irresponsible and lacking in justice and mercy. If we wronged someone, we need to apologize. Asking for forgiveness is the ultimate step in reunification. It is mercy in the sense we are putting ourselves at the mercy of the other person.
What if someone offended us but hasn’t made an attempt to apologize? In this case, we should forgive the person anyway. This may seem hard for us to do. But did Jacob deserve forgiveness from his brother Esau? Was he expecting it?
Why is reconciliation so important? For one thing, it makes us right with God. We have fellowship with Him when we’re right with others. In addition, we experience emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual healing. We have relief from stress, anxiety, worry, insomnia, and depression that have plagued us for years.
God started reconciliation through His Son. For His sake, let’s practice it with others.