Genesis 33:1–20: The Reconciliation of Jacob
Relationships are messy. Even under the best of circumstances, trying to navigate the desires and distrust of other people can be one of the most difficult things we do—especially if we are at fault for something that has hurt another person. With all of these challenges, are relationships really worth it? How hard should we work to restore broken relationships, and how important is relational reconciliation? If God has forgiven us through Jesus Christ, then do we really need to seek the forgiveness of human beings?
Our Lord Jesus taught that relational reconciliation is non-negotiable in his kingdom. Jesus went so far as to say that you should leave in the middle of worshiping God to reconcile with your brother if you suddenly remember that he has something against you (Matt. 5:23–24). This does not mean, however, that living at peace with others is merely a hoop to jump through before moving on to what’s really important in our relationship with God. Instead, this means that living at peace with others is both the prerequisite and the path of a right relationship with God. In the reunion of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 33, we see that God reconciles us to our brothers in order to restore us to himself.
1. How does Jacob lay aside his rights when he moves from remaining behind as the rearguard (Gen. 32:13–21) and instead begins to lead as the vanguard in this encounter with Esau (Gen. 33:3)? How did Jesus lay aside his rights in the form of God to take the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6–7)? What rights do you possess that are getting in the way of relational reconciliation?
2. How does Jacob’s blessing his brother contrast with Jacob’s actions in the past (Gen. 33:11; cf. Gen. 27)? How did Jesus seek to bless us in his actions? Beyond forfeiting your own rights, how might you bless someone you have hurt? Why should we do good to our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and bless those who curse us (Matt. 5:43–48; Luke 6:27–36)?
3. Why does God prevent Jacob from settling in Canaan until he reconciles with Esau? Why can we not love God without loving our brothers (1 John 4:20)? What relationships must you reconcile before God can reorient you to his mission? What kingdom value might you be forfeiting by allowing (so far as it depends on you; Rom. 12:18) a relationship to remain broken?
4. What is the ultimate goal after Jacob’s reconciliation with Esau (Gen. 33:18–20)? What is the new covenant equivalent of Jacob’s dwelling in the land of God’s inheritance? What is the new covenant equivalent of Jacob’s building an altar? How does God sanctify our hearts through relational reconciliation? What other good does relational reconciliation bring?