Genesis 33:1-17 – Reconciled

Meeting Between Jacob and Esau by Italian painter Bottalla Raffaellino (1613-1644)

Later that day Jacob met Esau coming with his four hundred men. So, Jacob had his children walk with their mothers. The two servant women, Zilpah and Bilhah, together with their children went first, followed by Leah and her children, then by Rachel and Joseph. Jacob himself walked in front of them all, bowing to the ground seven times as he came near his brother.

But Esau ran toward Jacob and hugged and kissed him. Then the two brothers started crying.

When Esau noticed the women and children he asked, “Whose children are these?”

Jacob answered, “These are the ones the Lord has been kind enough to give to me, your servant.”

Then the two servant women and their children came and bowed down to Esau. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down; finally, Joseph and Rachel also came and bowed down.

Esau asked Jacob, “What did you mean by these herds I met along the road?”

“Master,” Jacob answered, “I sent them so that you would be friendly to me.”

“But, brother, I already have plenty,” Esau replied. “Keep them for yourself.”

“No!” Jacob said. “Please accept these gifts as a sign of your friendship for me. When you welcomed me and I saw your face, it was like seeing the face of God. Please accept these gifts I brought to you. God has been good to me, and I have everything I need.” Jacob kept insisting until Esau accepted the gifts.

“Let’s get ready to travel,” Esau said. “I’ll go along with you.”

But Jacob answered, “Master, you know traveling is hard on children, and I have to look after the sheep and goats that are nursing their young. If my animals travel too much in one day, they will all die. Why don’t you go on ahead and let me travel along slowly with the children, the herds, and the flocks. We can meet again in the country of Edom.”

Esau replied, “Let me leave some of my men with you.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Jacob answered. “I am happy, simply knowing that you are friendly to me.”

So, Esau left for Edom. But Jacob went to Succoth, where he built a house for himself and set up shelters for his animals. That’s why the place is called Succoth. (Contemporary English Version)

Repentance includes more than saying sorry. It also involves admitting wrong and making things right. Turning from erroneous thinking and forsaking past hurtful actions, lays the groundwork for an earnest attempt at reconciliation. 

For example, the Christian does more than a simple acceptance and acquiescence of Jesus, as if merely adding a bit of Christ to life will dash it up and make it better. Rather, we are invited into the very life of Christ. This life turns us upside-down and inside-out in a new and radical allegiance.

Repentance and reconciliation are a way of life. They are necessary skills requiring development through continual practice and use.

Broken relationships are the stuff of life. So, we need gracious approaches to deal with them so that bitterness does not take root in our souls. Connection and peace between two people are a beautiful thing. They bring emotional health, spiritual wholeness, and life enrichment.

From the get-go, twin brothers Jacob and Esau in the Old Testament book of Genesis had a contentious relationship. Their relations became so bad that Esau had homicidal ideation toward his brother. Neither Esau nor Jacob handled things well. Jacob ended up leaving, finding a wife, growing a family, and becoming wealthy.

Twenty years passed before they came together again.

Jacob, knowing he was about to meet his brother, had an encounter with God. It changed his identity from the old deceiver to the new Israel (Genesis 32:22-31).  In a demonstration of his new identity as Israel, Jacob worked at making amends for his old cheating ways. He sought to give the blessing he had stolen from his brother.

Jacob understandably had some dread in meeting Esau. He had connived and manipulated to take the family birthright and blessing from his brother. Fresh from wrestling with God, Jacob demonstrated a newfound courage and humility. He offered Esau respect, gifts, and honor – reversing his past pattern of disrespect, stealing, and dishonor.

True repentance is making things right. Merely having feelings of remorse is not repentance. To repent involves genuine sorrow; an earnestness to make restitution and reconciliation; an indignation over what happened; and, perhaps most importantly, a deep concern for the person(s) harmed by our wrongdoing (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).

The reconciliation between the brothers was a surprise. Jacob was not expecting Esau’s response. It seems Jacob was bracing for the worse, which explains his high anxiety before the encounter.

Esau’s gracious response was an answer to Jacob’s prayer.  For Jacob, seeing Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God. In fact, he saw both faces and lived! Jacob likely would not have seen his brother’s face until he had first seen God’s. His divine experience prepared the way for the human encounter.

We all experience times when relationships unravel and need to be mended. Jacob procrastinated for twenty years before working at reconciliation with his brother. What made the difference for Jacob was trusting God, who always works out divine promises, despite our human foibles. 

May you know and experience the God who reconciles and restores, and in so doing, extend that same earnestness to others.

Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you and against others through my own fault by thought, word and deed in things done and left undone. Especially I confess that I have _____.  I therefore repent; for these and all my sins I am terribly sorry and pray for forgiveness. I firmly intend to make amends and seek for help. I ask for strength to serve you in newness of life through Jesus Christ, my Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Nehemiah 5:1-13 – Real Problem-Solving

Orthodox icon of Nehemiah

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”

Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”

Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”

When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So, I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet because they could find nothing to say.

So, I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.”

“We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”

Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!”

At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised. (New International Version)

There is nothing pleasant about poverty – especially the circumstances and events which create it. Probably worse than being poor is feeling locked into poverty with no way out.

Nehemiah was a faithful follower of God. He was taken into exile, along with many of his fellow countrymen, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and Judah. Yet, through his prayerful initiative, Nehemiah laid plans for a return to his homeland and rebuild the broken down wall which surrounded the city of Jerusalem. 

Once Nehemiah arrived and arranged for work teams to busy themselves on the wall, he discovered there was a whole lot more to rebuild than just a physical wall. A wall of separation existed between fellow Jews based on economics. There were some very real class differences. The poor were being taken advantage of. Their fellow Jews were exacting usury from them.

The response of Nehemiah to such a sticky situation is instructive for us. Notice how he handled it:

  • Nehemiah did not ignore the people problems and only focus on the physical wall. He firmly and squarely addressed what was happening and was downright angry about the circumstance of Jewish families essentially living in a state of slavery. 
  • Nehemiah was clear, concise, and direct about the nature of the problem. He threw himself into being part of the solution instead of only complaining about what was happening.
  • Nehemiah did not over-involve others in the process of handling the conflict but handled the issue by taking counsel with himself. 
  • Nehemiah attacked the problem without alienating others, while holding people accountable for their actions and their promises.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is something of a leadership case study in how to engage significant problems and conflict. So, it’s a lesson for us not to quickly skim over but to ponder, examine, and absorb Nehemiah’s dealing with the situation. 

We all need some guidance and direction when it comes to confronting the problems which surround us. Let this story serve us well in approaching issues with wisdom and sagacity.

Holy God, you have a special concern for those who are poor and needy. Enable us to live and speak wisely into the crucial needs which exist around us, so that justice is done, mercy is demonstrated, and humility is practiced, through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.