Jacob’s reaction to Esau’s forgiveness makes me think of how some people react to God’s forgiveness in their lives.
Here is Jacob, trying his best to buy off his brother’s anger, when he finds out that God had already taken care of the problem. Instead of facing an angry, murderous brother, Jacob finds Esau racing toward him, tears running down his face, and arms stretched out to embrace him.
But when Esau says, “Hey come back with me to my place. Let me introduce you to my family,” Jacob declines, and says, “That’s okay. It’s kind of hard to move everyone quickly, so you go on ahead, and I’ll see you there later.” When Esau suggests leaving an escort for them, Jacob again declines, saying, “Oh you don’t need to do that. We’ll be okay.” And so Esau goes off, but instead of following after Esau, Jacob goes somewhere else.
Why? Esau had forgiven him. There was no need to fear anymore. Jacob knew that, but perhaps in the back of his mind, there was still a seed of doubt. “Has Esau really forgiven me? After all I did, has he really forgiven me? It doesn’t seem possible. He was really angry before. He wanted to kill me. He couldn’t really have forgiven me, could he?” And so he kept his distance from his brother.
How often do we do the same with God? We try to buy off God’s anger by giving money, going to church, and doing lots of good things, not realizing that Jesus has already taken care of the problem by taking the punishment for our sin. And so we approach God in fear. But when we look up, instead of seeing an angry, judgmental God, we see him racing toward us, with tears running down his face, and arms stretched out to embrace us.
But even after we realize God has forgiven us, there’s sometimes still a seed of doubt in our hearts. “Has God really forgiven me? I’ve done so many awful things. And I still struggle with sin in my life. How could he really forgive me?”
And so instead of drawing near to him, we kind of keep our distance from him, just waiting for him to blast us for any mistake that we might make. But that’s not how God is. In Romans 8:1, it says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Later on it says,
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (NIV)
Paul asks here, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It’s not God. He’s the one who justifies you. Who is going to condemn you? It’s not Jesus. He went to the cross so that your sins could be forgiven, and he now interceding for you.” And so if Jesus is your lawyer pleading for you, and God is the judge who is saying concerning you, “Not guilty,” why are we so afraid?
So let us not live in fear of God, but learn to love him. For as I John 4:18-19 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” (NIV)
May you truly know God’s love and forgiveness in your life.