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The Face of Esau and the Face of God - Jacob, Part 3

The Face of Esau and the Face of God - Jacob, Part 3

When studying the Bible, one of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is to look at a passage in different versions. A number of years ago I began changing the version I used for my personal devotions each year. This keeps my reading fresh. Sometimes it even causes me to think about a translation issue when I remember the wording in a different version.

This lesson was brought home to me recently as I was preparing to teach on Jacob’s reunion with his brother Esau (Gen. 32-33).  (Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on Jacob).

The Importance of the Word “Face”

After wrestling with God, Jacob emerged a changed man.

As I read about Jacob wrestling with God (Gen. 32:24-32), I was struck by Jacob’s comment after that encounter. He said, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (ESV Gen. 32:30). Before his meeting with God, Jacob had been afraid of Esau (ESV Gen. 32:7). In his fear, he called out to God in prayer and sent gifts of appeasement to his brother. After wrestling with God, Jacob emerged a changed man. When he saw Esau coming toward him with 400 men, he put his family behind him and forged ahead of them to meet Esau.

Where did Jacob’s courage come from?

Curious about this change in Jacob’s behavior, I compared translations. I had been preparing my teaching using the NIV, which translates Jacob’s words in Genesis 32:20 as follows: “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.”

When I read the chapter again in the ESV, I was immediately struck by its translation of verse 20. “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.”

The word “face” jumped out at me. In addition, the ESV has a note which indicates that a more literal translation of “he will accept me” is “he will lift my face.” There was that word “face” again. The biblical author used the word “face” to describe Jacob’s anticipated meeting with Esau and his encounter with God, linking the two events together by repeating that word.

Once Jacob saw God “face to face” and lived, he knew he was fully accepted by God. And that acceptance gave him the confidence to confront his brother. 

Suddenly, the connection between Jacob’s meeting with Esau and his meeting with God was clear to me. Jacob desperately wanted Esau’s acceptance. He hoped that his gift would do the job. But the acceptance Jacob really needed was acceptance from God. Once Jacob saw God “face to face” and lived, he knew he was fully accepted by God. And that acceptance gave him the confidence to confront his brother. 

When the brothers did, at last, meet, Esau fully forgave Jacob. But it wasn’t Jacob’s gifts that bought Esau’s favor. Clearly, God had gone ahead of Jacob and changed Esau’s heart. Jacob had been reconciled to God and could only then be fully reconciled to Esau. In Genesis 33:10, Jacob summarized this reconciliation, again using the word “face;” he said, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.”

Accepted by God

In this case, the ESV communicated the truths of the text more powerfully than did the NIV. In the next instance, it might be the NIV or even the HCSB that wins the day. This is why I look at a variety of translations.

While I have not wrestled with God all night, I have met God, and he has accepted me. This is a truth I need to remember. Too often, I live my life looking for the acceptance of others. Either my spirits are buoyed because I have been accepted, or I’m despondent because I’ve been rejected.

I need to orient myself upward rather than outward. God should be the audience for whom I’m living.

This passage reminds me that I need to orient myself upward rather than outward. God should be the audience for whom I’m living. Practically, I can do this by spending time confessing my sins every day. This reminds me that the most important person to be reconciled to is God. I can then enjoy his acceptance as I claim Christ’s death for the forgiveness of my sins. Aware of my acceptance by the God of the universe, I am confident as I face those in my day who may or may not accept me.

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