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A Journey through the book of Genesiswith Willow Creek Community Church

Read Genesis

Week 5/Day 1: Seeing the Face of God, Being the Face of God

Willow Creek Community Church

“No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.”

~ Genesis 33:10

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In Genesis 32, Jacob has a mysterious encounter with a man who appears out of nowhere, and it is not immediately clear who this mystery man is. As the story progresses, Jacob learns that this individual, while appearing to be a man, is actually God himself. This leads Jacob to name the location of this encounter “Peniel” which means “face of God,” because he “saw God face to face” and yet he lived.

Immediately after this mysterious encounter, Jacob has another significant encounter, this time with his brother Esau. To Jacob’s surprise, Esau doesn’t seek retribution for all the ways Jacob had deceived him. Instead, Esau runs toward Jacob, embraces him, and kisses his long lost brother. In response to these surprising actions, Jacob says to Esau, “[T]o see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Genesis 33:10.) 

Through his word choice, Jacob draws a comparison between God and Esau. Esau’s “face” was reminiscent of the “face of God” which he had just seen. One might conclude that Jacob is referring to the physical appearance of God. However, it is more likely that Jacob intends to convey the way Esau’s actions are reminiscent of how God treats repentant people. God doesn’t give repentant people the punishment they deserve. He is eager to forgive them. Millennia later, Jesus affirms this comparison in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Like Esau, the forgiving father runs out and welcomes the son who has finally returned home (Luke 15:20.) 

It is not always easy to forgive those who have wronged us, but when we relinquish our claim to retribution and choose to forgive, we show the world a picture of how God acts towards each of us.


Genesis 32–33

32

Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau

1 Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.

3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. 5 I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’ ”

6 When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

7 In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

9 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’ ”

13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”

17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’ ”

19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’ ” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.

Jacob Wrestles With God

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

33

Jacob Meets Esau

1 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. 2 He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. 3 He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. 5 Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.

Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”

6 Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. 7 Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.

8 Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”

“To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” he said.

9 But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”

10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.

12 Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.”

13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. 14 So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

15 Esau said, “Then let me leave some of my men with you.”

“But why do that?” Jacob asked. “Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord.”

16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. 17 Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Sukkoth.

18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. 19 For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. 20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.


Exploring the Text

1. In Genesis 32, Jacob is given a new name, Israel, in accordance with the new person he was becoming. What did his old name mean? What does Genesis 32:28 suggest his new name means? What does this name foreshadow about what his descendants, the Israelites, would be like?

Reflection Question

2. Scripture teaches us that forgiveness is always necessary, no matter how minor or severe the offense. We must seek forgiveness in our relationship with God as well. Our sin is a transgression against Him, and we are called to repent and seek His forgiveness. Despite our sinful human nature, we can have peace knowing that God will always forgive us when we apologize. Each day, we need to confess our anger, selfishness, and sinful actions to God. You can do that right now. What do you need to ask God for forgiveness for?

3. We can imagine the fear that Jacob had as he saw Esau coming towards him with his 400 men. Jacob was expecting the worst. Most likely he felt shame and guilt for what he had done to Esau, and he expected Esau’s anger to still be burning. Instead, Esau welcomed Jacob with love. This is how God welcomes us when we return to Him after going astray. Consider this in your own life. Do you believe that God will always welcome you back? Have you always welcomed back others who ask for forgiveness? What about forgiving others who haven’t asked for forgiveness? How do you know God loves you even when you don’t deserve it?