Jacob was returning home after twenty years. His hasty departure and long absence is explained, in part, by his brother’s oath to kill him. Esau was upset at Jacob for stealing his birthright. It is understandable, then, that Jacob’s eventual return would be marked by fear and apprehension. How would Esau react to his return? Would he carry out his threat to kill him? Jacob prepared for the worst. He placed his wives and children in an order which reflected his favorites and divided his flocks and herds in hopes that some might be saved in the event of conflict. Then, he sent servants to Esau with overtures of peace along with gifts, hoping to soften Esau’s attitude toward him. The gifts were not accepted and his servants returned warning him that Esau was on his way with 400 men. It would be an understatement to say that the situation was tense.
Having done the best he could to protect his family, Jacob prayed to God for protection. He reminded God of His promise that He would make of his seed a great nation. That night, in an event unparalleled in human history, God appeared in human form and Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night. Following the struggle, God provided assurance to Jacob, changing his name to Israel, meaning “prince of God” (Gen. 32:28).
As Esau approached the next morning, Jacob left his family behind and went out to meet his brother, bowing seven times before him. Esau ran to meet his brother, fell upon his neck kissing him, and they both wept. Jacob expressed his gratitude, saying, “I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably” (Gen. 33:10). There was no hint of the bitterness which had characterized their previous time together. All had been forgiven.
Centuries later, another situation arose—a situation intense beyond comparison. Jesus faced the men who nailed Him to the cross, the soldiers who cast lots for His clothing, and the Jews who had condemned, ridiculed, and mocked Him. These angry, hardened souls might have expected words of condemnation, anathema, and cursing as was common place among those being crucifixion. Instead, they heard words of love for His mother, cries of anguish to His Father, and words of mercy for His tormentors. How could He do it? How could He forgive those who had treated Him so badly? Paul answers the question, saying, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm. 5:8). In light of the fact that our sins put Jesus on the cross, it is remarkable that He should be so utterly selfless in His sacrifice. Since He was so gracious in preparing the way for our forgiveness through the blood of the cross, how earnest ought we to be in extending mercy to those who sin against us?