My wife loves to cook. And she is very good at it. Watching her prepare our family’s weekly Sunday lunch is like observing an artist at work. Only it’s better, because I know that we will soon dine on her culinary masterpieces. For an hour or two after church service on Sunday, the delicious spread she puts on the table brings my wife and me back together with our children, grandchildren, and occasionally some friends. Troubles and cares are put aside as we enjoy one another’s company and some real comfort food.
One thing I’ve noticed about my wife’s cooking prowess is her attention to detail regarding the right mix of ingredients. You can’t omit one or more essential ingredients from a casserole and expect it to be a success at the family lunch table. In a similar sense, the patriarch Jacob—who was known to cook a tasty pot of stew in his younger days—learned that genuine reconciliation with his brother Esau was possible only with the right mix of ingredients.
Genesis 33:1-15 highlights five ingredients of reconciliation. These are no less crucial ingredients for reconciliation efforts today than they were in Jacob’s day.
Trust—Jacob and Esau’s estrangement more than two decades earlier revealed a dark underbelly of distrust between the twin brothers. Esau admitted as much when he angrily complained to Isaac their father, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me twice now” (Gen. 27:36). Trust that took a long time to build can be lost in just a few moments. If a broken relationship is to be repaired, then trust must be built again. In Genesis 33:1-3, both Jacob and Esau took bold steps to start rebuilding trust by approaching each other.
Humility—In Genesis 33:3, Jacob took the additional act of bowing to the ground seven times as he approached Esau. Such an act demonstrated humility, a quality Esau had not previously seen in his brother. True reconciliation requires a humble attitude on the part of everyone in a broken relationship. All parties involved must be willing to humbly approach one another; only then can we avoid the tendency to erect defenses so as not to be hurt or tricked again.
Generosity—Generosity is the flip side of the coin of trust when people are seeking reconciliation. If I am willing to genuinely give of myself for the benefit of someone I’ve hurt in the past, then the act helps us to start rebuilding trust. Years earlier, Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright and blessing. As they reunited, he offered a generous gift to Esau in his effort to reconcile (Gen. 33:10-11).
Forgiveness—Jacob genuinely wanted his brother’s forgiveness (Gen 32:20). And it appears that Esau was not only willing to forgive Jacob but also to reconcile. When Jacob humbly approached his brother by bowing seven times, “Esau ran to meet him, hugged him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Then they wept” (Gen. 33:4). These are actions that give evidence of true forgiveness.
We should remember that while forgiveness is an essential ingredient of reconciliation, full reconciliation may not occur in this life even when forgiveness is offered. No clearer picture of this reality can be seen than what God did in Christ for all sinners. In Christ’s atoning death on the cross, God offered forgiveness to all who trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. Sadly, some people do not believe in Jesus. They do not embrace His forgiveness even though it is offered. Consequently, they are not reconciled to God but choose instead to remain lost and estranged from God. Their sad choice does not diminish God’s forgiveness for those who do believe and are reconciled.
Communication—In their reconciliation, Jacob and Esau talked to each other more than they ever did as younger brothers. Even after their tearful reunion and humble acceptance of each other, however, there were some issues they needed to talk through and find agreement on. Esau needed to understand what Jacob meant by sending a procession to meet him (Gen. 33:8). Jacob needed to tell Esau that God had been gracious to him and that his gift to Esau was sincere (Gen. 33:10-11). Both men needed to understand where each would live in the land and how they would treat each other going forward (Gen. 33:12-16). In the same way, those who seek and achieve reconciliation today continue to build trust and rebuild their relationships with honest, respectful communication.
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.