Estranged Brothers and the Power of a Smile

Posted: January 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

Jacob has good reasons to suppose that Esau, his older twin brother, would not be happy to see him, and could even kill him. It has been over twenty years since he had seen Esau, and they had not parted on the best of terms. Perhaps Esau would remember the day that he came in from the field, famished, and he asked Jacob for some red stew. Jacob agreed to give him stew if Esau would give up his birthright to Jacob. Esau figuring that he would die without the stew agreed, and so he gave to Jacob his right to be recognized as the firstborn son, and being the head of the family. Not a good exchange, and certainly Esau hadn’t forgotten it.

Another time Jacob, with the help of Rebecca his mother, deceived Jacob and Esau’s father Isaac into giving Jacob his blessing and his inheritance. Esau, when he found out what had happened vowed to kill Jacob (Genesis 27:41). Soon after, Jacob fled for his life, and now here it is over 20 years since they had seen one another.

Jacob had reasons to fear. He had lied, deceived, cheated and there before him was his brother Esau, the recipient of Jacob’s deceptions. Jacob had sent men to tell Esau that he was coming and the men came back and said, “We met your brother Esau, and he is already on his way to meet you-with an army of 400 men!” Jacob was terrified at the news (Genesis 32:6,7). Jacob then sent gifts to hopefully appease Esau. Esau had twenty years to nurse a grudge, to stew over Jacob’s betrayal, to plan what he would do if he ever saw his scoundrel brother again. Would he kill Jacob and take his possessions and family? Would he kill them all? Jacob’s mind must have been swirling, and his stomach churning. He had probably run dozens of scenarios of how this could go down, and not one of them was good for him.   The tension must have been oppressive- Today will I die; today will my family be taken from me?

ejThen Jacob went on ahead. As he approached his brother, he bowed to the ground seven times before him. Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. And they both wept (Genesis 33:3, 4)

Who could have predicted such an encounter? Most would have said that Esau had every right to retribution, but that isn’t what he chooses. We read much about Jacob in scripture, but not so much about Esau.  Here in this meeting of the estranged brothers, Esau receives, forgives and embraces Jacob. We see no hint of him seeking revenge for past hurts.

There is one more thing that I want to mention and that is the smile. Jacob in Genesis 33:10 says to Esau, “And what a relief to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the face of God.” I’m thinking that every church greeter and usher should have this scripture firmly fixed in their hearts, on their hands, in their voices, in their eyes and, of course, on their faces. Esau didn’t just pretend. His happiness in seeing Jacob, after all these years, showed on his face. Our faces can reveal the meanings of the words that flow from our hearts. To Jacob, the smiling friendly face of Esau told him that Esau words and actions were genuine.

Jacob knew what he had done. While away for all those years, he was the one who was lied to, deceived and abused by his father-in-law. He knew what it was like and perhaps even thought that he deserved whatever punishment Esau had for him.

Esau, though, did not raise a sword, or spear, or an angry fist toward Jacob.  He met him with a hug, a kiss, tears and with a friendly smile. An example that still stands today.

Lord, illuminate our lives by Your Spirit and Word and reveal to us areas in which we are acting how we want and not how You want. Open our eyes that we may see times when we have treated others with harshness and not grace. Forgive us.  And Lord, help us to understand the power of a friendly smile.

John McHoul

Port au Prince, Haiti





  1. Julia says:

    A beautiful reminder. Thank you!

  2. Becky Huber says:

    I get so frustrated when I am at the grocery store with how unfriendly people have become. There’s no “excuse me” when we cut in front of one another, no friendly smile as we pass in the aisle and no friendly chit chat when we are both standing in the same area. Sometimes I get angry when these things happen and I am tempted to stop trying. This encourages me to keep smiling, even if they don’t smile back. To start up a light conversation with the lady I don’t know in the aisle. And to keep saying “excuse me” even when they don’t give me the time of day. I am a representative of God when I am out and about. I can’t stop smiling. Thanks, John.

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