The Sweetness of Reconciliation

By Mark D. Roberts

January 5, 2016

But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”

Genesis 33:4

Painting by Raffaellino Bottalla, "Meeting between Esau and JacobBroken relationships are sour. Alienation within families can be among the bitterest of all things in life. Conversely, reconciliation is sweet, with reconciliation in families even sweeter.

We see this truth in Genesis 33. As you may recall, two brothers, Jacob and Esau, were completely estranged from each other. Esau hated Jacob because of how Jacob had taken his privileges as the firstborn brother. Jacob was afraid of Esau, fearing that his brother would kill him and his family. For years, the two brothers lived far apart with no interaction between them.

But Jacob, following God’s direction and his own desires, knew it was time to move home, back to the land where Esau lived. On his way there, Jacob heard that Esau was approaching with four hundred men, a fact that made Jacob “greatly afraid” (32:7). He gathered together a large collection of his finest animals to present to Esau as a gift, in the hope that this might stay Esau’s hand. As Jacob moved ever closer to a meeting with his brother, he prayed, at one point wrestling with God all night.

Genesis 33 portrays the momentous meeting between the brothers. When Jacob saw Esau approaching with his four hundred men, he put his wives and children at the front of his entourage, with Jacob himself at the front of the line (33:1-2). As Esau drew near, Jacob bowed to the ground seven times (33:3). Here’s what happened next: “But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (33:4). Surely, that is one of the sweetest verses in Scripture. It portrays not just a business meeting or a family reunion but an instance of profound reconciliation between the formerly estranged brothers. Esau had let go of his anger towards Jacob, welcoming him home with open arms and an open heart. For Jacob, seeing Esau’s pleased and peaceful face was “like seeing the face of God” (33:10).

Yes, it was indeed like seeing the face of God. There is truth here beyond what Jacob conveys. This scene of reconciliation foreshadows a parable told by Jesus, the parable we know as the Prodigal Son. In this story, an estranged son comes home to the father whom he had dishonored and rejected. The son is understandably fearful of what might happen with his father. But, Jesus tells us, when the son was still a long ways off, “his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Jesus told this story precisely to show us the face of God, the forgiving, reconciling, yearning, rejoicing, loving face of God.

Thus, the reunion of Jacob and Esau not only warms our hearts but also reminds us of the reunion we have with God. God has run to us in his grace, reconciling us to himself through Jesus Christ. Truly, nothing could be sweeter than this.


How do you respond to the story of the reunion of Jacob and Esau? What do you think about it? How do you feel?

Have you ever experienced anything like this in your life?

What is your experience of reconciliation with God?


Gracious God, thank you for this wonderful scene of reconciliation. It warms our hearts to read it.

Lord, if we are experiencing estrangement in our relationships, we ask for the gift of reconciliation. Help us to know what our role in this should be. Help us to forgive where forgiveness is needed. Help us to admit our mistakes if that is needed. Open our hearts to the healing that comes from your Spirit.

Thank you, above all, for reconciling us to yourself through Christ. How grateful we are to “see your face” in the face of Jesus and to know that you welcome us home. Amen.


Image Credit: “Raffaellino Bottalla – Meeting between Esau and Jacob – Google Art Project” by Giovanni Maria Bottalla – PgEnU9pjokCdww at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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