Lately, a few friends and I have talked quite a bit about origin stories. Whether it’s fascination with how a musical group came together or what a music artist taps into for inspiration. Whether it’s a leading graphic designer in the industry and how they got their start. Whether it is a founder of a nonprofit and identifying that singular experience of authenticity that distinctly pulsed in their soul and inspired them to begin a social movement; these stories have fascinated us because they tell of a unique moment that changed the direction of their destiny.
That’s what Genesis 33-36 speaks to me when I read through these passages. Beginnings, history, roots - origins.
I see one of the first instances of reconciliation and forgiveness between men in Genesis 33. After more than 20 years of separation, Jacob still fears retribution from Esau for stealing his birthright and blessing. Jacob leads his tribe after an exhausting night and sees Esau with 400 men coming towards him. He is ready to offer Esau his servants, their children, his wives, and his children. He is ready to get what he deserves. But much like the parable of the Prodigal Son, instead we see a wronged brother run to his younger brother embracing, kissing, and weeping for joy with him. How unlikely, unexpected, and undeserved. In verse 10, Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.”
In the previous chapter, Jacob wrestled with God all night. Though we may relate to this in a metaphorical sense of our spirits, minds, and souls wrestling with God on any number of issues such as finances, obedience, purity, family, career, etc., I think that this is a beautiful example of a deep and constant relationship with the Lord. If we also have perseverance and guts to keep at it and not give up, we too, might see the face of God. Jacob saw the face of God that night as it tells us in Genesis 32:30 “…For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” And the following day, Jacob again receives the face of God in the form of forgiveness granted from God through Esau. Needless to say, I love this part. There is such profundity and grace in this interaction that I’m sure was not lost on the hundreds of people, family and servants, witnessing this reunion and seeing grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation in action perhaps for the first time in their lives.
After this reunion, God tells Jacob to go back to Bethel and make an altar there (Chapter 35). Roots. That was the place Jacob went to after fleeing from Esau. Now God called Jacob back there again to give him a blessing from the Almighty himself. Like how God changed Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah, God gave his blessing and changed Jacob’s name to Israel meaning “for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” When he was young, Jacob cunningly took his brother’s birthright and deceptively took his blessing. After more than 20 years struggling but growing in relationship, obedience, and faith in the Lord; Jacob sees grace, forgiveness, and fulfillment of blessing. Though we may fall and feel deserving of retribution; patience, perseverance, and pursuit of the God’s face can lead to fullness unexpected and undeserved. I have an appreciation for the meaning of Israel and feel that is my current season “striving/struggling with God and with men.” I pray and hope that this journey is one that prevails truly loving others and seeing the face of God someday. Roots of forgiveness. Origins of Israel. Fascinating stuff, no?