“And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. … He himself went on before him, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother” (Genesis 33:1, 3 ESV).
When we have been separated from someone for a long time, it is never certain what kind of reception we will confront when we are reunited. Jacob left Esau at a time of stress and enmity. His older brother had actually threatened to kill him. Jacob fled to the country of their ancestors.
Now, twenty years later it is time to return and Jacob is apprehensive, to say the least. He sent lavish gifts to appease Esau. He isolated his wives and children so that perhaps they would not be caught up in his brother’s vengeance, if indeed that was Esau’s continued intention. He bowed extravagantly to show his humility and submission as they drew near to one another.
Imagine Jacob’s joy and relief when he was greeted by his older brother with hugs, a kiss, and tears of joy (Genesis 33:4). That’s the way reunions are supposed to go. Unfortunately, they don’t always follow the script. Sometimes grudges are nursed and anger increased. Sometimes years of absence produces indifference and robs our memories of shared pleasures.
I had not visited the Dulabari congregation in East Nepal or the family of D.B. Mulla (see the picture above) for a number of years. Our last meeting had been tense and included difficult discussions. No one there had attended any of my classes or seminars during those years, and no invitation to visit had been extended, until this past fall.
In spite of the invitation it was with much apprehension that I traveled to the village and entered their home. But the reception could not have been warmer or more joyful. No mention of past offenses was made by either party. We had a wonderful visit, devotional study, and worship together. Our brief stop ended with an invitation from them and commitment by me to visit again on my next trip and conduct at least a full day of Bible study and worship. I look forward to that trip with great anticipation.
Joyful reunions are bilateral occasions (that is, it takes two to accomplish them). One cannot guarantee their occurrence alone. One person may have happy memories and peaceful intentions, but the other may not. That is why Paul exhorted us, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
What we can do to enable pleasant meetings is to ensure that our attitude is positive, forgive any past transgressions on the part of others, and make retribution for all offenses we have committed. Accepting those things and pardoning our wrongs is the responsibility of the other people, but at least we can remove as many obstacles to their acceptance as is possible. That was Jacob’s plan. Thankfully, it was enough.