It all began when Jacob leveraged a bowl of stew to gain his brother Esau’s birthright, but the birthright wasn’t enough. Jacob continued his scheming, even to the point of stealing Esau’s blessing from their father. Family tensions were palpable:
Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself…”I will kill my brother Jacob” (Genesis 27:41).
After fleeing for his life, Jacob lived up to his namesake by continuing his life of deception—but it was about to catch up with him:
And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him (Genesis 33:1).
The reports were true—Esau was coming and he was bringing reinforcements. Certain that Esau had come to deliver on his promise to kill his brother, Jacob split up his estate to avoid a total loss in the collateral damage.
Jacob made his way toward his brother, hindered by that nagging limp (Genesis 32:24-31). I imagine him rehearsing his plea with each step, hoping to somehow persuade Esau to spare his life. As Jacob looked up, he saw that Esau was now advancing quickly. It wouldn’t be long now. It’s conjecture, but it’s not unreasonable to think that Jacob’s life flashed before him—a life marked by sin and deception had finally caught up with him.
But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept (Genesis 33:4).
Yes, Jacob’s deception had indeed caught up with him—but rather than being met with Esau’s wrath, he was met with Esau’s kindness. And, in many ways, it was that kindness that led Jacob to repentance.
Having received such extravagant grace and mercy, Jacob limped away from the encounter a profoundly changed man—in fact, God would signify Jacob’s transformation with a new identity:
And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:10)
What a glimpse into the heart of the gospel. Though we have lived lives marked by lies, deception, and rebellion, in Christ we are met not with condemnation, but with kindness. And it is God’s kindness—his grace and mercy lavished on us—that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). In Christ, you have a new identity—no longer an enemy of the cross (Philippians 3:18), but instead an adopted son or daughter of your Heavenly Father (Galatians 4:4-5).