A Model of Reconciliation

Following up on Jacob’s prayer found in the 32nd chapter of Genesis, which we looked at earlier, we arrive at a remarkable encounter between God and Jacob that sheds further light upon that same prayer and helps us to put our fears in proper perspective. Recall that in his prayer, Jacob was wrestling, as it were, with the tension between God’s promises and his own fears, a tension as to how exactly things would play out, in other words how God would fulfill His promises. Jacob’s primary fear was that his brother Esau would kill him and his family upon their reunion. Even prior to his prayer, Jacob had devised a strategy for self-preservation to navigate the upcoming encounter with Esau (Genesis 32:7-8). But now, having recognized his fear of man, he is about to be confronted by the God with whom we all have to do (Hebrews 4:13; Matthew 10:28).

In Genesis 32:13ff, at the conclusion of his prayer, we find Jacob implementing the plan he had devised in in verses 7-8. After separating out the gift for Esau from his own possessions, he instructs his family on how they will proceed in their upcoming interaction with Esau, essentially dividing into three groups plus Jacob. Each, in their own order, will encounter Esau and inform him that Jacob is coming. Ever the schemer, it would appear upon first glance that Jacob has sent each group of flocks, women, and children before himself which would be at best a questionable decision of leadership and more inline with the old Jacob and at worst a lack of faith in God’s promise of deliverance (and fear of man). After sending the gift ahead, we read of the following summary
22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had.

Genesis 32:22-23
The execution of Jacob’s plan in sending the other groups ahead of himself has led to his own isolation which in turn leads to the encounter with the Man who wrestled with him until daybreak. This brief, but significant encounter, is captured for us in the following verses
24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Genesis 32:24-28

Most commentators agree, to some extent, that the ‘Man’ with whom Jacob wrestled is the pre-incarnate Christ. We aren’t really given any details on the nature of this man, although a corresponding passage in Hosea 12:4 indicates that Jacob wrestled with an angel. This may be a reference, as with some other Old Testament passages, to the Angel of the LORD, which itself is often a reference to the pre-incarnate Christ. Several clues in our passage above will help affirm this conclusion. First, we see the authority that this Man has in possessing the power to bless and then in the power to rename Jacob, which as we have seen elsewhere in Genesis is a genuine sign of God’s sovereignty tracing back to Creation and extending in a vice regency status to Adam. At the pronouncement of the name change we find another clue in the the justification associated with changing from Jacob to Israel in that he had striven ‘with God’ and with men and prevailed. Jacob’s life up to this point had been marked with strife, both with men and God, perhaps culminating to an extent with this physical encounter with the soon coming God-Man. With this, Jacob’s persistence remains evident as he then requests to know the Man’s name, which results in him receiving a blessing, whatever that may have entailed. In turn, Jacob names the place Peniel meaning face or vision of God, perhaps a final clue as to the identity of the Man.

The encounter with the Man is, in a sense, an answer to Jacob’s prayer though he may not yet realize it. Whereas the tension between God’s promises and his own fears had been confessed in his prayer, in this episode we find that God is exerting His control over Jacob and through the exercise of ‘fingertip’ power, as it were, re-instills in Jacob a fear of God that had been lacking. Furthermore, through renaming Jacob to Israel, reciting the basis as his prevailing through strife with both God and man, and the subsequent blessing, there is a renewed emphasis on the promises that God had given him. In this brief encounter, Jacob has effectively had a spiritual reset, though with a physical limp as a reminder to fear God and trust completely in His promises. This is effectively Jacob’s reconciliation with God. Jacob’s recognition of this fact is highlighted by the simply declaration, “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

In the next chapter of Genesis, we finally arrive at Jacob’s reunion with Esau, though rather than sending his family before him, he rightly (and finally) assumes his leadership position, bowing himself to the ground seven times as he approaches his brother. Jacob’s interaction with Esau is highlighted by recognition of the providential care of God (Gen. 33:5; 11) and humility (Gen. 33:10; 15). His plan to reconcile with his estranged brother is highlighted by the offering of a substantial gift, in effect, to right how he had personally wronged him in stealing his birthright and his blessing. Rather than immediately seeing it as an opportunity to accept reparations, Esau asserts confidently that he has enough, meaning that despite the wrongs which have happened to him through the deceptions at the hand of Jacob, he has not used it as a opportunity to complain or to seek revenge on Jacob. By all surficial appearances, Esau has not maintained the victim mentality that he had once expressed. Despite this fact, Esau reluctantly accepts the gift.

Jacob’s plan for his encounter with Esau is to appease him through reparations of the wrongs that he had committed through his lifetime of deception. Before heading into the land which God had promised him and after being reconciled to God, Jacob must be reconciled to his brother. In the New Testament, this principle is seen most clearly in Matthew 5:23-24,

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Matthew 5:23-24
The principle of reconciliation here in Genesis 32-33 is an order of operation, a right order for reconciliation: First, to be reconciled to God. In Gospel terms, this reconciliation can only come through the cross of Jesus Christ, repentance of sin (cleansed by His blood), and trusting in Him as Lord and Savior. Then, as a product of this reconciliation, the heart is changed to be reconciled to your brother. In our example here it is critically important to note that the relationship had been personal and the wrongs committed were done personally from one party to the other. The proper order of reconciliation is first vertical and then horizontal. Today, we are hearing a lot of talk about reconciliation, though unfortunately, we are not hearing of it according to Scripture, as first with God and then with man. This is how we may easily identify this reconciliation as a false gospel. It gets the cart before the horse, so to speak. It effectively promotes ‘sanctification’ before one has even been ‘justified’. Summarily, it’s a works-based religion that is as old as the world and a favorite promotion of the Evil One. Additionally, we hear rumblings of reparations, and will hear more, but those too fall outside the model of vertical->horizontal reconciliation. When this order is properly recognized, from God to man, the reparations are first service to God defined most clearly as love and obedience. Then, towards our fellow man the reparations are love, respect, honor, and most importantly mutual humility in serving one another. Brothers and sisters, may we ever be on guard against the rapid speed at which this false gospel is spreading and may we expose for the darkness and lie that it is!

Soli Deo Gloria!  For more on reparation and restitution, this article is thought-provoking:


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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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