The Captain Headknowledge Biblical and Theological Journal: The Prodigal and the Patriarch

Genesis 33:1-4

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. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

Jacob returns, fearing an envious, hateful brother. The prodigal son returned to his father in humiliation and poverty and his brother envied his gracious reception by their father. The attitude of Esau anticipated by Jacob is similar to the attitude exhibited by the prodigal’s brother who stayed among the father’s household, neither seeking nor desiring his grace.

However, in the narrative featuring Jacob and Esau, the roles are reversed. The recipient of the covenant blessings is the one who left home and prospered, and now he returns in prodigal-like humility to Isaac’s hairy prodigal son who stayed home and only troubled his father’s house.

Esau surprised Jacob, as the father surprised the prodigal. But, more accurately, the prodigal receives the patriarch as he ought. Jesus’ parable was a story told to point out the hypocrisy of the religious who resent God’s gracious reconciliation with sinners. Moses’ account of Esau’s reconciliation with Jacob thus parallels the parable, for Jacob equated his acceptance by Esau with his acceptance by God whom he not only saw face to face, but prevailed in wrestling with for his blessing.

Although Esau was passed over in God’s election of his younger brother, he is the better of the reprobates of Jesus’ day who received the Lord’s rebuke for their envy of God’s grace toward sinners. Esau may have initially envied Jacob, but time moved Esau to relent and acknowledge God’s will for the patriarch Jacob.

God graciously receives sinners who come to him, regardless how distasteful those sinners may seem to the present residents of God’s covenantal community. As we have been forgiven, may we rejoice at others who receive God’s grace though everything about them tempts us to treat them as second-class citizens. God doesn’t need the consent of sinners he’s previously received to justify the wicked who come to him in faith and repentance, receiveing the signs of the covenant alongside them. If they don’t deserve God’s grace, neither do we.

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2 responses

  1. Thank you for this, I so wish everyone at SGBC could read this and understand that we are no better than the newest repentant child, in God’s eyes we are all the same and believe me we should see others as God see’s them not as society see’s them.

  2. Thank you for your response. The way to get others to read the blog is to email them and recommend they look at it, identifying it by title and date posted!

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