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2.25 Esau

Jacob had been spiritually prepared for his meeting with Esau, nevertheless the report that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men filled him with alarm (Gen 32:7-8).  There is no indication that Jacob was prepared to fight back.  However, despite the loss of his birthright and blessing, Esau's wealth had increased in the passing years.  He was a man who was satisfied with his lot ("I already have plenty" -- Gen 33:9).  More than just prospering financially, he had also recovered personally:  he was not harboring bitterness in his heart over being swindled long ago.

In chapter 33, we have a rare example of Biblical reconciliation.  Two estranged parties met together, not merely in tolerance or truce (such as Jacob and Laban's treaty), but in active welcome and generosity.  The contrast in Esau's attitude from 20 years previously is astounding:

          "I will kill my brother Jacob" (Gen 27:41).

          "Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept" (Gen 33:4).

Jacob bowed 7 times before his brother -- this is a sign of submission, not the behavior of one who usurped the place of pre-eminence in the family.  They did get into an argument about property, but this time it was over Jacob's lavish gifts. "Take it all,"  said Jacob.  "I have plenty, keep it," replied Esau.  "Your face is like seeing the face of God," responded Jacob (Gen 33:8-11).   This was more than just Oriental courtesy.

There was no explicit forgiveness for the sins of the past, nor was there a covenant of peace for the future. But Jacob three times stated he desired to "find favor" in Esau's eyes.  They laid a new foundation for their future relationship, indeed the way was open for Esau's re-inclusion in the Covenant, though this did not happen.  Esau must have adopted the Canaanite religion of his wives.  In this we see that sometimes ruptured relationships may be repaired without resulting in reunification.  After a meeting of reconciliation, it is sufficient for each party to go his own way.

There is a lot of wisdom here for racial peacemaking.  Too much of the time, each side dwells in the past, rehashing generations-old scores to settle, assessing damages.  Peacemaking is taken conditionally: "if my conditions are met, then we may reconcile."  This is a tepid approach that will rarely work.  In contrast, both Esau and Jacob embodied a relentless "will to peace,"  the attitude of "if it depends on me, there will be peace."  There was no talk of justice, or fairness, or computation of how much had been stolen.  Instead, there was a generous abundance, a peace offering.  And it was right for Esau to finally accept Jacob's gifts, for he had been wronged.  But the exact amount of the payment was irrelevant.  Furthermore, Jacob offered restoration in the very area Esau had been defrauded -- his original status as Isaac's heir.  Jacob's elaborate prostrations, and those he forced his wives and sons to make (Gen 33:6-7), were acts of penance and humility to atone for his youthful arrogance.

This sort of peace-making does not come cheap.  It is not the product of politicians and negotiators.  In this case, it was the fruit of twenty years of growing up, of laying aside the original provocations, and of finding again the basis of common unity, common identity:  we are both sons of Isaac.  There is no shortcut to true racial reconciliation, because peace must first be made within each heart before it can be made with the other person.

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