Genesis 33:1-20 – HOW TO HANDLE THE GREATEST CONFLICT OF ALL
Instructions in Diplomatic Integrity – Part 16
Jacob is leading the way concerning this potentially volatile situation with his brother Esau. What happens next is all part of the puzzle of this remarkable story.
“So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and his two servant wives. He put the servant wives and their children at the front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last” (Genesis 33:2 NLT).
Jacob puts those he loves most at the back, so if they have to run, then they’ll have a better chance, perhaps.
I am amazed at how many commentators say Jacob goes back to scheming at this point. He’s not simply going to offer those he loves to front up with Esau first! He has to put his wives and children somewhere. The Bible tells us where. Does that mean he is scheming and not trusting in God? Give him a break. He has more obvious flaws than this.
Objectivity not favouritism © Ross Cochrane
- REMAIN OBJECTIVE (Genesis 33:3).
It’s not scheming that is the problem here. It is favouritism. Jacob has a favourite wife and a favourite son. It is fairly obvious to everyone that he is distancing the most loved from danger.
Later, Joseph’s brothers show their dislike for this favouritism and Jacob once more will learn the hard way. He is preparing the ground for a day of discontent. Showing favouritism and a lack of objectivity will inevitably lead to further conflict.
That changes nothing of the fact that Jacob has come a long way concerning his faith. He is going to go meet Esau and 400 men. That’s not exactly a lack of faith. He has obeyed God and has prepared well to get this far.
Respect © Ross Cochrane
- RESPECT YOUR RIVAL
“Then Jacob went on ahead. As he approached his brother, he bowed to the ground seven times before him” (Genesis 33:3 NLT).
I like this. Jacob doesn’t try to hide behind his family. He goes on ahead of them to meet Esau and his 400.
Why does he bow down seven times? Is this extreme respect? Custom? This is an ancient protocol for meeting a king. Jacob, God’s diplomat, bows down. Apart from showing cultural respect for Esau whose territory he was entering, it is almost worship. I’m sure that as Jacob bowed, he was madly praying that God would stop Esau from killing him. Perhaps it was God he was connecting himself with. Stay with this thought until later because I believe here, we have a hint at what Jacob has probably been doing all along.
Nevertheless, it is confusing. According to the prophetic blessing, Esau, the elder, was meant to serve Jacob, the younger. (Genesis 27:29). His time has obviously not yet come.
Philippians 2:3-4 (NLT) adds some light by saying, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” But this is not the full story. There is something more at stake here.
Reconciliation © Ross Cochrane
- MAKE CHOICES TOWARDS RECONCILIATION
“Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. And they both wept.”
Hate had obviously dissipated in Esau through the years. The fight with God the previous night was the only fight that Jacob would face that day. It seems it became a substitute for the fight he expected with Esau. Both men have changed.
So here is a culmination unexpected to say the least. Jacob bows in respect rather than deceitful arrogance and Esau embraces him with love rather than expected anger.
What a relief. This story shows that bitterness and feelings of revenge are a choice, not a given. Forgiveness and reconciliation, integrity and generosity are also choices we can make.
No doubt commentators will read this as a sign of weakness in both men. Some, like the famous reformist, John Calvin, suggest that God has forced Esau to be kind towards Jacob, but it is not necessary to take away a person’s will for Esau to respond well to Jacob. A change has taken place in Esau. Even without faith, Esau’s anger had time to dissipate over the years. He is ready to move on.
But it is what is said next that gives us a further hint as to what Jacob has been doing with this encounter all along. What is it? Find out by reading the Epilogue of this Story – Part 17.