Hi. Welcome to Redeem the Commute. I’m Ryan, your host of the daily challenges. Today is Tuesday, the day we study the Bible together. This week we’re going to study the story of Jacob and Esau, two brothers in the Old Testament part of the Bible, who’ve been estranged for about 20 years.
They’d had a history of conflict and so it was no surprise they parted on bad terms as men. The bad blood between Jacob and Esau went all the way back to their birth. They were twins, although they were quite different from one another. Esau was known as being hairy and rugged and outdoorsy. Jacob was known for being a bit of a cheater.
When they were born, Esau was the firstborn, which is very important in their society. Knowing who the firstborn son was, because he had all these special rights. It was clear it was him who came out first. He was the hairy one, but then Jacob came out grasping Esau’s heal, hanging on tight like he was maybe trying to pull his brother back in, so Jacob could get out first and be the firstborn.
This set the tone for the rest of their lives, where Jacob was always seen as the one trying to cheat, trying to get ahead at his bro’s expense. It’s just what he became known for, and in fact, even that idea of grasping the heal, was a saying in their culture for being a cheater. There’s a connection to Jacob’s name there, too, so it all fits together, his personality, his name, his birth, even.
This continued later on in their lives. When it came time for their father, Isaac, to give a special blessing to the firstborn son, in some ways to transfer headship of the family to Esau. Jacob snuck in there. His father was blind at this point. Jacob snuck in there, impersonated his brother, tried to put something on his arms so his father would think he was he hairy brother, and convinced his father to give him the blessing, to bless him like he was the firstborn son, completing that cycle, fulfilling the prophecy in the way he was born.
He was grabbing his brother’s heal, trying to be the firstborn instead of Esau. It comes all full circle as we see him finally stealing his brother’s birthright, his brother’s role as the firstborn son. No wonder there’s bad blood between these guys.
Well, today we’re going to hear the story of their reconciliation. It follows what we studied last week, where we studied a story of Jacob wrestling with God. That was actually when he knew that he was about to see his brother again, and he was scared.
He was trying to protect his family and their servants and livestock by keeping them on one side of the river. He was making all kinds of plans to protect them. He prepared all kinds of gifts to send them to Esau, hoping that if Esau was approaching Jacob with murderous rage and looking to kill him or attack him with all of his camp, that Jacob could divide up his children and his wives and keep them safe by dividing them up, so one could run if the other one was attacked. He’s clearly very scared.
Today, we see what happens after that wrestling match with God, when God shows him some mercy. We see what happens when he encounters Esau for the first time in about 20 years.
But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it. (Genesis 33:1-11 ESV)
There we had Jacob preparing for the worst, thinking his brother was probably going to try to kill him, and kill everybody that Jacob cared about. Esau has 400 men with him and Jacob doesn’t have that many. He figures he’s done for. So, he’s done everything he can to prepare, sending gifts ahead. He’s dividing up his family to protect them. He’s bowing over and over again to Esau. He’s using all kinds of superlatives, ‘my Lord, I’m your servant.’ He’s clearly going out of his way to show his brother that he’s a changed man.
One of the most obvious signs of this is that Jacob goes first to see Esau. If Jacob is out to get his brother, then Jacob will present himself first, so Esau can get the job done and maybe spare his family. He goes first and he bows down seven times, what the Bible considers a perfect, godly number.
He bows down seven times showing overwhelming respect for Esau as the older brother, as a more powerful man than him with more wealth. He shows him finally the respect that Esau has always deserved from him, but that Jacob was never willing to give him in the past before some of the challenges and trials he’s been through, and before, the wrestling match he had with God that we studied last week. The biggest sign that he’s a changed man is that he goes first, he’s willing to sacrifice himself, and he shows the respect that Esau has always deserved.
Amazingly Esau forgives. He accepts his brother’s contrition. He runs to his brother, hugs him, kisses him, weeps for him. There’s this counterpart. You’ve got the over-the-top contrition from Jacob and then Esau goes over-the-top in his love and care for this estranged brother who he’s finally getting to see again.
He doesn’t have to do it. He is the more powerful man. He could slaughter Jacob and his family if he wanted if he was still angry about this. He doesn’t owe anything to Jacob. He has been hurt by Jacob enough times that we might not blame him if he did refuse to forgive his brother, but Esau doesn’t. He even tries to get Jacob to keep his gifts. Jacob sent all these extravagant gifts ahead of him and his family.
Esau even asked, ‘what is all this stuff? Why did all this stuff come my way before you did?’ Jacob says, ‘it’s a gift. It’s a show of respect and honor,’ and he insists that his brother takes it, even though his brother has enough, but he wants to make it clear that he is sorry, that he’s a changed man, and that he respects and honors his brother for who he is.
Jacob still doesn’t seem to quite trust Esau even though he’s giving all these signs of forgiveness. Being a trickster himself, Jacob probably thinks Esau could be up to something. If Esau is anything like Jacob used to be, then Esau would probably be setting a trap. Jacob is still a little worried. We hear it in his voice as he uses all that deferential language, even after Esau has hugged him and wept with him.
Jacob is still a bit concerned and he still makes all these overtures about giving the gifts, and being Esau’s servant, and calling Esau ‘Lord.’ Saying that seeing his brother’s face was like seeing the face of God is a really interesting statement. I wonder if you can connect that back to the story that we studied last week of Jacob wrestling with God? See if you can.
That’s actually your question for today.
Question: Can you find a connection to last week’s story? Read the story carefully, read last week’s story carefully and see if you can find some parallel words, statements, ideas, or otherwise.
Hopefully you can discuss that with some friends. Our challenges are meant to be done as a team, not alone, so find some people you can share them with. Watch the videos together or apart, then whenever you are together, take some time to discuss what you’ve been learning, like this question today. Have a good one. I’ll see you tomorrow.