Genesis 33 (focal: vv10-11)
Genesis 33 records the conclusion of the Jacob-Esau cycle, a story that began with Jacob’s flight and now ends with his return. Since the occasion for the flight was Jacob’s deception (Gen 27), before there can be any end to the cycle, there must be a reconciliation. This chapter also marks the close of the patriarch’s wandering, not only did he return to the land and find reconciliation with his brother, he also built a house for himself and set up an altar to the God of Bethel.
The long-expected reconciliation with Esau finally came about, and it was marvelous. God had so turned Esau’s heart that he was eager to be reconciled with his brother. God, who had worked in Jacob’s life, had apparently worked in the life of Esau, and the meeting Jacob feared actually turned into a tender reunion. James Boice, the late pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, helps us understand how this working of God’s common grace just might look with an historical picture from the life of Alexander the Great.
“As Alexander the Great, the famous Greek king and empire-builder, proceeded down the coast of the eastern Mediterranean Sea on the campaign that would eventually take him to the Indus River – where he would weep, having ‘no more worlds to conquer’ – he paused for seven months at Tyre. Tyre was a city which Alexander could not afford to leave behind unconquered. So he besieged it and eventually destroyed it thoroughly. During this campaign he sent to Jerusalem for assistance in arms and supplies. But when Jaddus, the high priest, received Alexander’s command, he replied that he could not assist him, having already sworn an oath of allegiance to Alexander’s opponent, King Darius of Persia. Alexander was furious, and everyone expected him to attack and destroy Jerusalem when the campaign along the coast was wrapped up.
“Jaddus was terrified. Knowing he could not resist the brilliant young military strategist, he thought that Jerusalem would be devastated. One night (as related by Josephu in his Antiquities) God spoke to Jaddus in a dream and told him not to fear Alexander but rather to go out to meet him, accompanied by the people of the city. All were to be dressed in white, and the priests were to be decked out in their full ceremonial robes.
“When Alexander approached, Jaddus opened the gates of Jerusalem to welcome the Greek warrior. Moreover, he led the people forward as the dream had indicated. All the Greeks expected swift revenge and reprisals. But when Alexander saw the high priest, he bowed down before him – instead of cruelly slaughtering the Jewish people. Parmenion, his next in command, asked why he, the world’s conqueror, should bow to a Jewish priest. Alexander explained that before he had begun his campaign, when he was still in Macedonia, a man, dressed as the high priest, had appeared to him in a dream to prophesy that he would eventually conquer Asia. He had received this as a blessing from the true God, and now, seeing the true God’s priest, he worshiped God by bowing to his earthly representative. God had prepared Alexander for the meeting that the Jewish priest feared.” (James Boice, Genesis Vol. 2 A New Beginning, pp 821-22)
Boice then notes that something similar happened prior to the meeting of Esau and Jacob, recorded in Genesis 33. Twenty years before, when Jacob had cheated his twin brother out of their father’s blessing, Esau had vowed to kill Jacob, and Jacob had lived under the threat of that vow for two decades. He was returning in the general direction of Esau’s territory because he had nowhere else to go. But he feared Esau and actually quaked in terror the night before their meeting. The morning of the dreaded meeting dawned. But God, who had worked in Jacob’s life the night before, had obviously gone before Jacob and prepared the heart of Esau for a moving reconciliation.
This meeting should be an encouragement for any who have suffered strained relations with someone else. The riff may be deep. But as Boice exhorts us, ‘the God who is at work in your heart can also work in him or her – in fact, can be expected to do so. Our duty is to see that our hearts are right.’
I eagerly anticipate seeing you this Lord’s Day. Invite someone to come along with you to hear the good news of reconciliation as we learn some invaluable lessons from the life of Jacob. Grace and peace to you.
Soli Deo Gloria,
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