Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jacob Hears of the Dinah’s Rape -- Genesis 34:5


Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in.

I have two daughters and two granddaughters. I sit here at my desk as I study this verse and wonder just how I would react if the next door neighbor came over, while I was alone at home, and told me that one of my daughters was raped while shopping with her girlfriends downtown or that one of my granddaughters was forcibly violated in between her classes at her school. I must admit I am at a loss as to what I would do. Usually I am pretty good at predicting my actions and reactions, but not in this case. God has been pleased to spare me from that experience so far in my life. Jacob however was not as fortunate.

The Bible says he “kept silent” until his sons had come in from tending the livestock out in the fields. How long that was exactly is not clear. It could have been the rest of the day or it could have been several days or longer. Given Shechem’s demanding haste and the fact that the following verse (vs. 6) relates a meeting between Shechem’s father and Jacob, I do not imagine it was much more than one or two days at the most.

But why did he keep silent until his sons returned from the fields? Had he already made up his mind to take revenge? Did he need their physical backup? Did he need their solace and support, and if so, why would his wives, Leah and Rachel, not serve that purpose? What was really going through his mind? There are several possibilities here, some of which are shared by commentators on this verse.

One possibility is that Jacob was, by now, a run-down man who no longer had the fight in him to do what is right in regard to his family. We are not, however, so quick as to suggest that any of us would know exactly what the right thing to do in this case would be, given all the circumstances involved. But clearly, he seems to have abdicated the “family response” to his sons and Dinah’s brothers. As we shall see in our further study of this chapter, it is possible that Jacob’s lack of wise and godly action here may have been the reason for his sons’ ungodly action. This is a possibility we always need to remember as leaders of our homes and families.

Another possibility is that Jacob held his reactions back because he did not know what to do. He may have feared that he would have done the wrong thing and thus, in his mind, better not to act. There is something to be said about not reacting in anger and allowing a cooling off period to help one organize their thoughts and words for a later response.

A third possibility is that some time earlier he had relegated all the affairs of his business and household to his adult sons. Was he now at a point where either they would not allow him to do anything without their consent or he had mentally paralyzed himself into believing he could not act without their agreement? Suffice it to say that as parents, as long as we have our mental capacity in tact, we can never allow ourselves to get into that situation. As children, we should never put our parents into that position, assuming they still have their mental capacity. And the decision as to whether or not they do, is one not necessarily to be made always be our parents alone or by us alone. Ideally, both parent and children should have an agreed to understanding as to what may need to take place down the road. Alternatively, they could come to that decision together in an agreeable fashion. Sometimes it is necessary to request the help of expert third parties such as doctors, counselors, or lawyers, to help us make that decision. What is important is that we neither delegate away our rights as older individuals, nor should we as sons and daughters usurp that right from our parents. If we walk with God, setting our own wishes and comfort aside, He will guide us and make this necessary transition a smooth one.

Commentator Robert Jamieson suggests that Jacob, being a good father and man was likely very distressed by what had happened to Dinah. But he points out that he could do very little, primarily because this was a family involving the children of different wives. In some respects, the bond between a sister and her full-brothers was stronger and more direct than with a father who had several wives and many children from them. They were they ones that had to determine what they would do about their sister’s honor. You will remember that while God tolerated polygamy, it was not His chosen approach to the marriage arrangement that He had desired and recommended to Adam and Eve. Sometimes, God allows us to do many things with out free will, but doing so, is not always beneficial for us. Polygamy is only one of those.

As far as the story of Dinah goes, we can only say, “the plot thickens” and will unfold with great interest in the verses ahead.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Shechem Wants Dinah As A Wife -- Genesis 34:3-4


And he was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this young girl for a wife.”

From the verses preceding these two, we know that prince Shechem was either totally driven by his sexual desires or was instantly attracted to Dinah, or both. These verses seem to add the fact that Shechem was ‘deeply’ attracted to her. What exactly that means after one rapes a person, I am not totally sure. But somehow, I would question again the concept of sex, then love rather than the other way around. Certainly, this is an approach to marriage in great contrast to what we know of both Issac and Jacob’s experiences.

Perhaps there is some small redeeming fact for, although we should in no way condone his actions, a person who after raping someone can indeed believe he is really in love with them and speaks tenderly to her. Sometimes, the very wrong man can seem so very right, at least for the time being. This also brings to mind circumstances where men (or women) physically or mentally abuse their spouse or partner and then become all lovey-dovey apologizing for their earlier actions, promising never to repeat them again, until the next time. Indication number one that this relationship might not work.

Nevertheless, Shechem himself does believe he loves Dinah and certainly wants her for a wife. So he follows all the right channels and decides to use his father’s influence in getting her. Now I do not want to make a lot of the grammar here, but the text does say ‘for a wife’ and based on what is known of cultures in those days, we can assume Shechem had other wives already or if Dinah was the first, certainly she was not necessarily to be the last. Indication number two that this relationship might not work.

Finally, let me point out that Shechem did not ask his father to help him ask Dinah’s family for her hand, and to see if she was willing. No, indeed he asked for his help to “get her” for him. A very demanding son who expects to get whatever he wants without regard to the wishes and best interests of those involved. Indication number three that this relationship might not work.

In all three signals, personal selfishness was at play. The writing was on the wall as to what kind of husband and father this man would be.

Clearly, in all relationships prior to marriage there are indicators that can predict the success or failure of the intending union. Those of us involved in them have a tendency to only see and put forth the ‘rosy indicators’ and fail to even notice the ‘blue ones’. And that’s where family and friends, as well as the Word of God, come into the picture. May we all be aware of the signs in our relationships and may we all do our part, by being honest, to help others see the ‘blue’ signs in their relationships.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Rape of Jacob’s Daughter -- Genesis 34:2


And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her by force.

Dinah heads down to the town of Shechem, presumably alone, where the Hivites lived. Like any other young lady going out on the town, I am confident she made herself look as attractive as possible. I have not researched the kind of cosmetics that were available at the time, but I believe the clothing fashion craze was alive and well even then. Even knowing what happened to her as we do from this verse, we still have no basis to assume that she dressed provocatively. If she did, we could ask the question “Where were Leah or Jacob?” Did they see her dressing for her visit to town? Did they know she was going?

What follows, more so after this verse, is considered by some as one of the most shameful incidents in Israel’s history. But let’s stay with this scripture for a bit. The prince of the land and for whom the land was named, Shechem, simply sees Dinah, and goes wild. (Those that would argue she was provocatively dressed and sub-consciously looking for trouble use this fact as their evidence – he simply saw her and took her; and they argue she must have been dressed in a very seductive way.) I have never been a prude but I am still surprised at the attire of some very young teenagers waiting at bus-stops to head downtown on any given evening in our city. I am told that many actually change their clothes (discard a few layers is more like it) after they leave their houses, store them somewhere and pick them up and don them prior to returning home in the early hours of the morning.

And the taking of Dinah in this case did not just stop at flirting; the scripture says “he lay with her by force”. Yes, he was a free and powerful prince, but deep inside, he was just a slave to his own desires, or so his actions indicated.

We can ask the question, “Was no one around to stop this?” Yes, there probably were many around. First, the girls that Dinah went to see and secondly the prince’s friends and servants. But who would stop a prince in his sexual exploits then or even now? Today, even the fear of the press or media (including the paparazzi) reporting such an event does not seem to be able to prevent it. Secondly, this girl was not “one of them” – she was a foreigner or an alien. How many times still today do we hear of gang rapes (or even non-sexual physical beatings) of individuals who are of a different color, race, or creed than the perpetrators of the crime they suffer?

Indeed, the world has not changed much. So, what then is our responsibility today as we consider the upbringing of our children and grandchildren? I believe as parents (and sometimes grandparents) we need to be fully aware of what our children (long before they are teenagers) are up to and what they’re thinking and feeling. We need to know what they are reading, watching and listening to. We need to know a lot more about their friends and the families they come from than many of us do.

And we need to do all this with wisdom and love. The best way that I know how is to spend time with our children from day one; to be there for them; to be available to answer their questions; to be honest; to pray for them; and to listen to them. In short, they need to know not only that we love them, but what is more important to them is to know that we understand them. They need to trust us for answers, have sufficient freedom to make mistakes that have short-lived consequences on their own, and yet be a safety net for them when they venture off the guy-wire of life. Finally, they need to see that our relationship with Jesus Christ is real and makes a difference in how we think, feel, talk, give, and live. May God help us to do so.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dinah Goes Downtown -- Genesis 34:1


Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land.

You will remember that Jacob had at least one daughter that is mentioned in scriptures and that was Dinah, borne to him by Leah. Well, by this time Dinah is now either an teenager or in her very early twenties with no girlfriends. And as happens in the life of most youth, there comes a time when they need to explore the world beyond their father’s hold on them. Dinah was no exception.

Some of my readers may remember the song, Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town written by Mel Tillis and made famous by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition in 1969. It’s about a young woman, perhaps a wife, who lives with her paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who has no capability of meeting her physical needs, and so she “takes her love to town”. The man pleads her not to, and the song ends with the line, “Oh Ruby for God’s sake turn around.”

Dinah didn’t exactly “take her love to town” but she was indeed curious and perhaps enamored by what life would be like outside her father Jacob’s camp. So she, likely of her own initiative, took it upon herself to go to the “daughters of the land”. She wanted to see what other girls her own age were up to and likely having no sisters, she goes to visit her neighbors. You will remember that the inhabitants of the land were the Hivites and in particular the family of Shechem.

Just when all his ‘outside’ concerns and fears stemming mainly from his brother’s family seem to have been alleviated, Jacob is now about to face some serious domestic or ‘internal’ challenges. Dinah, as likely the only female child was no doubt very special to both Leah and Jacob. Perhaps she was over indulged, something that research tells us nine times out of ten will lead to difficulties later in life. She just may be the source of discredit and the taker of joy from the family in the days ahead. After all, her Hebrew name did mean ‘judgment’.

So Dinah pretends to want to check out the other girls. We have no record in the text if this was just an ordinary day or whether or not there was a special event going on in Shechem. We also have no record of whether this was her first trip to Shechem or whether she had had opportunities to become more and more familiar with her neighbors than we are led to believe. Was she interested in just the “daughters” are had she noticed the interest that some of the “sons of the land” may have had for her? For whatever reason, Shechem attracted her considerably.

I hope the study of this verse and those that follow causes us to consider very carefully how we raise our children and even how we help with the raising of our grandchildren. Much wisdom and discretion is indeed required. There is absolutely no way we can do that ourselves. To raise them up to be the men and women God’s wants them to be cannot be done without the very involvement of God Himself. Our only guaranteed course of action is for us to personally have a strong and sincere relationship with God and then to entrust both our children and our raising of our children to Him as we follow His guidance and directions for us. Oh, that your household will never have to say, “Oh daughter/son for God’s sake turn around.”

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jacob Goes to Shechem -- Genesis 33:18-20


Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city. And he bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent, from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel.

In verse 17 of this chapter we read about Jacob building a house and booths for his animals in Succoth. Then in verse 18 we learn he had arrived in the “city of Shechem”. There is no mention as to why he left Succoth, except to be heading ever closer to his original goal of returning to the land of his father and mother.

Paddan-aram, is also mentioned again in this text as the place from where he had originally started his journey home after living Laban, Rachel’s father. This was the location of Rachel’s family home. It was also the place where his mother, Isaac’s bride, Rebekah, who was also Laban’s sister, came from.

Here is what we know about Shechem. It was situated in a narrow valley, abounding with springs, between Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, having the former on the north, and the latter on the south. It is a distance of ten miles from Shiloh, and 34 from Jerusalem. It became the capital of Samaria, after the ruin of the city of that name. But who was the person “Shechem”? Searching the literature, I learned that he was the son of Hamor, the chieftain of the Hivites who lived in the city Shechem named after him, and were occupying it at the time of Jacob's arrival.

It was from the sons of Hamor, and the family of Shechem that he bought this property. One would assume that he had planned to stay there for some time. It is not specified what the actual unit of money used was, but we can assume it may have been gold or silver, certainly something weighed out in some manner.

The first thing that Jacob does after purchasing the land upon which he had erected his lodgings was to build an altar to God. And it is interesting that he assigns the name of El-elohe-Israel to either the altar he erected or the location where he erected the altar. Perhaps it was both. The actual word, El-elohe-Israel, is translated as “the mighty God of Israel”. Jacob was making it known to all who learned of the name, that he believes “personally” in the “mighty God” and that mighty God is his. Remember to this point, Israel was simply the new name that God had given Jacob. [In case there may be some confusion, this renaming is first told in Genesis 32 but is referred to again later in Genesis 35.] What a testimony Jacob had. Oh, that we would be so proud and open about our personal relationship with God. Can you image naming our cottages, homes, boats, cars, farms, businesses, acreage, whatever we owned or erected, “the mighty God of Ken” or “the mighty God of Sally”? What an impact that would make on our community, our city, our country, if we all did something like that? I believe the day is coming, and perhaps is already here, when more and more Christians will be sharing their own testimony of their personal relationship with God more openly. May it be so with each of us even today.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Esau And Jacob Part -- Genesis 33:16-17


So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. And Jacob journeyed to Succoth; and built for himself a house, and made booths for his livestock, therefore the place is named Succoth.

The reunion was a success. The brothers part on what appears to be very good terms. Esau, traveling south, commences his return to Seir. Jacob and his family, however, at a much slower pace, travel northwards and make their journey to Succoth.

If Jacob ever had sincere plans to go to Seir as he had indicated to his brother and if that visit ever did occur, there is no record of it.

The name Succoth simply means ‘booths’. It was so named after Jacob set up ‘booths’ there for his animals, as well as built a house there for himself and his family. It is very likely that they found some expanse of land that Jacob believed would be great to settle in, had all the needed resources nearby including water and was likely good for livestock grazing. Thus he settled.

So what became of his plan to go ‘home’ to where his parents lived? What became of his promise to Esau to meet him in Seir? We do not know the answer to those questions, but we know that people’s plans do change, just as our plans change. And we never quite make it to where we say we will. We never quite get to do what we promised we would do. Some of us are constantly bothered by our failure to deliver what we indicated we would, and others do not even give it a second’s thought. For some, the knowledge that they said they would do something, and either never have, or worse still, never intend to, is not significant enough to pause even momentarily on the surface of their conscience.

Perhaps we can use our study of this text as a reason for us to stop long enough and think about statements or indications we have given to others, and perhaps even to ourselves, as to what we would do, but never have. Perhaps we can think of what we may have said to our spouse, our children, our parents, our pastor, or our friends – and to this date we have not delivered. I believe God wants me to be credible. Over the years I have consulted large organizations, governments, and non-profits including churches, I have tried my very best to build my reputation on delivering what I have said I would do. And God has blessed that. Some may view my approach to this aspect of life as a bit of an obsession. If so, I think it is a God-honoring one. Unfortunately, my observation is that not many Christians see that as an important characteristic.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Esau Wants To Leave Jacob Some of His Men -- Genesis 33:15


And Esau said, “Please let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.”

Agreeing to Jacob’s request of not be required to travel as quickly as Esau had planned but rather to travel at a pace Jacob’s children and flocks could handle, Esau now offers to help his brother by leaving some of his men to provide whatever assistance Jacob’s company may need in their travels to Seir. Clearly Esau had noticed that Jacob had some personal servants and people to help with the herds, but insufficient human resources to make the trip as smooth and easy as possible. Jacob certainly was not traveling in the style of Esau and the latter thought his brother would want to do just that, if he could afford it.

But Jacob, as usual, has other ideas. This time he responds by rhetorically asking, “What need is there?” Not wanting to upset Esau by not accepting his kind offer, Jacob adds, “Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” That is, “don’t let my refusal of your generous offer take result in the absence of favor from you.”

One could easily title any commentary on this verse as The Art of Saying No, Thank You. What do we do when someone is offering us something we do not need or think it wise for us to have? Well, Jacob seems to have the right idea. First, he tries to share with the potential giver that there is no need of it. It is true that Jacob had enough assistance to complete his journey. Anyone else coming along would only be for the sake of luxury. “I have no need; God has provided enough,” is a phrase we do not hear, or perhaps say, too often these days. It is only when we come to compare our blessings with the needs of so many others that we might consider it. The secret for the Christian is to be content with what God has blessed him with; anything else is gravy or a bonus. In many times, we have a responsibility to direct the gravy or the bonus towards others with greater needs. If God wants us to have that bonus or gravy, He will see to it. Otherwise, we should live on the “I have enough” principle.

Having shared his feelings about having sufficient and there being no need for more, Jacob then turns his attention to the feelings of the giver, ensuring that he is not offended. The Bible does not record how Esau felt when he could be of no assistance to his brother. This is indeed a hard part of life – having an offer made in good will, rejected. Many of us have experienced that. The only bit of advice I can offer is that we all need to remember that while we have the right, and sometime the obligation, to offer whatever we can to others, they too have the right to refuse it for their own reasons. We need to respect that. Perhaps the only consolation, afterwards, is to know that we did our best to show our expression of love and caring, even though it was not accepted. Then, we need to actually show true love and caring by continuing to show ‘favor’ on the person. May God make it so in our lives.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Esau Wants Jacob To Go On With Him -- Genesis 33:12-14


Then Esau said, “Let us take our journey and go, and I will go before you.” But he said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die. Please let my lord pass on before his servant; and I will proceed at my leisure, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord at Seir.”

For some reason, the story seems to take a most interesting turn at this point. Having been reconciled to Jacob and having accepted his gifts, Esau now suggests that they travel to Seir together, he going in front of Jacob’s family. That suggestion, one would think, would make a lot of sense now that the ‘family’ was reunited. Esau was offering himself to Jacob as a guide and companion, as well as providing any necessary help that may be needed along the way through his own men. Jacob, on the other hand, seems to have had other plans. Either he still had some fear in him as to any tricks that Esau might be up to or he truly had the best interests of his children and flocks in mind when he suggested what he did. A third possibility is that he himself never intended to go on to Seir with Esau. His responsibility had been met and his fear of being killed eliminated. He was satisfied with the reconciliation and now wanted to get on with his own life apart from his brother, Esau. Which of these possibilities is more likely to have been the case may be discovered later in the text.

So Jacob appeals to Esau’s understanding that the children in Jacob’s company were tired and perhaps somewhat ill from all the travel and that he was concerned about his animals that were nursing their young, fearing that if they were driven too hard, the young ones might die. Clearly, some of Jacob’s children were indeed still young and it was likely the time of the year when cattle had just had calves. So perhaps Jacob was just being a good husband, father, and shepherd. And there is much to be said for that. We need to be very conscious of the needs of those God has put under our care as we live our lives. They must become and remain our first priority, even at the expense of our wishes or preferences. I believe this is also implies that we cannot let our ministry involvement be such as to jeopardize the welfare and needs of those in our care. Many have done so and expected to be blessed.

Jacob asks Esau to comply with his request to go on ahead of Jacob and promises to meet him in Seir. He indicated that he and his company would follow at his leisure and in accordance with the pace that first the animals, and then his own children, could handle. One interesting thought here is the fact that Jacob did not ask Esau to slow his travels down to accommodate his own needs. We cannot have those expectations of others who are wishing to move on ahead whether it be in travel, in business, or in ministry. We must encourage them to move forward as God directs them and we will, at some point, as God directs us, catch up.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Esau Accepts the Gifts -- Genesis 33:11


“Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have plenty.” Thus he urged him and he took it.

Jacob in essence is telling Esau, “I have explained to you why you should take the gift that I brought for you. Now please do so. It was brought for you and to you it shall be given.” The giving of the gift was, as most gift giving is, more about the feelings of the giver than about the feelings of the receiver. Jacob was doing this because of what God had done for him. We give because God gave. We love because He loved.

And Jacob goes on to return to the theme of “having plenty” which Esau tried to use for not accepting the gifts. Was it Jacob’s pride coming back to over-ride Esau’s possible expression of his pride earlier? Perhaps it was or perhaps not. The point is clear though; most of us can give because we can also indeed say as Jacob did, “I have plenty”. God sees to it that when we give there is plenty left over for us. In fact in most cases, He has blessed us with way more than we need and is just waiting for us, sometimes almost a lifetime, to give it all away.

The last sentence of the verse also speaks to us about how a gift that would otherwise not be easily accepted is to be given. In Jacob’s case, “he urged” Esau to take it. Being involved with a mission that ministers to some of Canada’s Aboriginal people, I am often very conscious of how our ‘ministry’ is indeed perceived. Do we force it on others? Do we see ourselves as the ‘rescuers’ of a lost person or people? Do we see the individuals we serve as poor and we’re the wealthy willing to give them what we do not need? God forbid. To win the hearts of those we are trying to build relationships with, we must be careful that anything we give them is accompanied by both the right attitude and the rationale for giving. There are two ways for our mission to give to others. We need to give out of pure love and as expression of our thanks to God for what He has given us. Or we need to give seeing the potential of the receiver and what he/she could do to reach that potential with anything we may give them. That takes thought and consideration not just about what we give, but how, and more importantly, how it will be perceived. I have come to realize that God, the greatest Giver, will honor our good and honorable motives for giving if we take the time to thoughtfully consider these things.

Finally, because of Jacob’s determination, motives, and his willingness to explain his rationale for giving, God sees to it that Esau accepts the gifts. The reunion was held and the gifts were accepted. The reconciliation was sealed. May it be so with us as we consider individuals that we need to be reunited with. How well this reconciliation played out in the years ahead remains to be seen as we continue our study of these Bible characters.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Esau Reacts to the Gifts -- Genesis 33:10


And Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably.”

It appears that Esau has appreciated Jacob’s intentions in giving him the gifts, but as he has plenty, he suggests that Jacob keep his possessions. Jacob, on the other hand, being a strong-willed and determined fellow, does not settle for that and he proceeds to try and convince Esau to keep the gifts. He does so with a very interesting question. He basically asks Esau, “Have I found favor in your sight or have I not?” The implication is “if I have (found favor) then you need to take my presents for nothing else makes sense”.

I think that’s a fair statement. If we indeed have reconciled with someone, there are certain behaviors and rules of etiquette that must be followed as they make sense. We cannot say one thing with our tongue and do another with our hands and feet.

Jacob even tells Esau “I know you have received me favorably.” And the reason for that is “I see your face as one sees the face of God.” What was that all about? Is it possible that just as God had spoke to Laban when he was chasing Jacob and said, "Don't touch him, don't do him harm, don't speak to him good or evil" that God also interfered and touched Esau in the same manner. So much so that the anger and the bitterness of what had happened many years before all dissipated. It was now time for a much needed and very beautiful reunion of two brothers. God has a wonderful way of doing that sometimes, even if it is just the angry feeling, “Oh, what’s the use of still being angry!”

Something else we should be mindful of with respect to the culture that Jacob and Esau lived in. One only accepts gifts from a friend and never from an enemy. Jacob could be feeling that if Esau did not accept the gifts he still really seeing him as an enemy and the whole reconciliation process was a big façade.

Whatever the thinking behind that phrase, we can assume that Jacob was indeed satisfied with his brother’s favor. I remember meeting friends of my dad’s after he had died that had desperately want to see him before his passing but could not. One of them said, “Seeing you is like seeing your dad. You have made us so happy in coming.” In a way, they were paying me a compliment implying that “Seeing you was as if we had seen your dad and you know how much we wanted to see him.” Jacob felt the same way. What Esau did by showing his younger brother favor, was, in Jacob’s mind, an act of kindness and love that could only be expressed by God. Jacob always yearned for God to be reconciled to both himself and to others in their lives. Reconciliation with Esau felt that good.

Finally, it is also possible that by saying, “I see your face as one sees the face of God” Jacob was acknowledging God’s part in what had just happened. And that really it was God’s favor to Jacob through Esau that was being recognized. This was God’s answer to Jacob’s prayers. It is always very important for us to remember the true source of all the favors we receive from men. We need to see them as evidence of our acceptance to God. And at the same time to rejoice whenever the favors of men include peace and affection, especially if there had been enmity in the past.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Esau Reacts to the Gifts -- Genesis 33:9


But Esau said, “I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own.”

Jacob tells Esau the truth as to the reason he was giving Esau all these presents and Esau replies in a typical eastern culture way. “No, no,” he says, “I have no need as I already have too much.”

There are several perspectives one can take on this reply. One is the idea of not wanting to be beholden to someone else for a kindness or deed done to one. While Jacob intended the gifts to be evidence that he would not be reliant on Esau for anything, Esau on the other hand may have felt that by receiving the gifts he would owe Jacob something in the future. This perspective is driven by the need to keep short accounts and not be weighed down by social obligations of any kind. You may know of people who live that way.

Another perspective one could take is the possibility that Esau wanted to drive home his superiority not only in age and status, but also in wealth. Esau didn’t want Jacob to feel that he could ever do anything for him, as Esau had no need, he had plenty. This perspective is driven by pride, especially with respect to members of one’s family. I have often seen this in my own distant family as members have come to North America from their villages in Europe and made a life for themselves here. Later, when they return home or more to the point, when they bring other relatives to North America for a visit, they do all in their power to exhibit a lifestyle that is way above their norm even here. It is all a matter of pride.

A third perspective is one that may be a characteristic of the culture, although I am not aware of any research to support it. That is, easterners may indeed feel a “lack of need” for certain things. Or better still, have a willingness to let others with a greater need have something that they themselves could have had. Still, I have recently read of a perfect example of this in David A. Livermore’s Serving with Eyes Wide Open about a young Indian who rode a bicycle to and from his church in Delhi. Some American friends visiting him were very concerned about the fact he did not have a car. When they realized how inexpensively they could purchase one for him, they wanted to do so. The last thing he wanted was a car. He had to find a tactful way of telling them that if they really wanted to invest in something, there were several members in his church who could use those same dollars to help set up a micro-enterprise development.

We have no clear indication as to which of the three perspectives above, or any other one for that matter, actually motivated Esau to give Jacob the reply he did regarding the gifts Jacob had brought for him. At one level, it reminds me of rich heads of state like presidents and royal figures exchanging gifts upon visiting each other’s country. What to get, what to get? Nine times out of ten, the recipient lacks absolutely nothing. I understand many of the Queen of England’s two hundred personal staff, get the Queen something for Christmas each year and she returns the favor. What does a butler get for his master or mistress? What does royalty get for her “lady in waiting” who has very little time of her own to enjoy anything? In fact, “What do we get our dad? He’s so difficult to buy for,” is an all too often heard refrain even in North America today.

So what indeed is the lesson from this verse? Although we have not yet studied the complete account of this transaction, which comes in the next two verses, for me, it is simply this: What is my reaction when someone gives me a gift? What perspective do I apply to any given situation? Do I stop long enough to consider who the giver is, why he/she may be giving me the gift, how dearly this may have cost them in money, effort, or personal sacrifice, and how can I best show the love of Jesus with respect to this gift I am being offered?

For any of you that have children or grandchildren, you know that the answers to the questions above may well be very different when one of them gives you a present from what they would be if a door-to-door salesperson knocks on your door and simply says, “I’d like you to have this set of knives as a gift from me.”

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Esau Enquires as to the Purpose of Jacob’s Gifts -- Genesis 33:8


And he said, “What do you mean by all this company which I have met?” And he said, "To find favor in the sight of my lord."

Jacob and Esau have reconciled, Jacob’s family has honored Esau, and now it is time for Esau to address the issue of all the gifts that Jacob had sent ahead to meet him. He simply asks Jacob, “What is the purpose of all this?” I do not for a moment believe that Esau did not know the answer to his question. Yet, he asked it. He wanted to hear the answer from Jacob’s own mouth and Jacob tells him the truth. “Esau, I wanted to find favor in your sight.”

Gifts are not always received or given as tokens of love or caring or admiration. Being Greek, I am familiar with the English expression that says, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” It simply means, “Do not trust your enemies” and it originated with the story of the Trojan horse. This you will remember was the very large wooden gift that the Greeks gave to their enemies the Trojans as a peace offering. The problem was that inside of it were hidden hundreds of Greek warriors that would attack Troy by surprise once the horse was brought into the city and past the wall that surrounded it.

Being a husband, I am also familiar with the response of either my wife or my daughters upon giving my spouse an unexpected gift. That usually comes in the form of “Okay, now what do you want?” or “Dad, are you in the dog house again?” I am sure some of you readers can identify with that.

But here is the key thought from this verse for me. There are times when we, as givers of gifts, need to simply tell the truth. “This gift to you is because I want to receive favor in your sight.” There’s nothing wrong with saying that. If that is indeed the truth we do not need to hide it. “Darling, I got you these flowers on this ordinary day because I want to receive your favor. I need you and I love you.”

And although we will discuss it at greater length below, let me say that there are times when we, as receivers of gifts, need to simply accept that truth. In the passage that follows we will learn of Esau’s response to Jacob’s honesty.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Jacob’s Family Gets Introduced to Esau -- Genesis 33:6-7


Then the maids came near with their children, and they bowed down. And Leah likewise came near with her children, and they bowed down; and afterward Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed down.

After Esau had learned about Jacob’s family, they each came forward and were introduced to him. Notice the specific order that was involved. It appears to be in the order of least importance to Jacob. First it was the two maids of Leah and Rachel along with the children they had borne to Jacob. Leah and her children followed that group. And the last group to be introduced was Rachel and the only child she had given Jacob to this point, Joseph. Each came near to Esau and they bowed down to him out of respect.

It is also interesting to note that the text says that “Joseph came near with Rachel” rather than “Rachel brought Joseph near”. Is it possible that Joseph, the youngest of the family at the time was indeed the most eager to see the reconciliation? Is it possible that he exhibited the desired attitude the most out of all of Jacob’s family? Did he best understand his father’s desire? God has an incredible way of showing us older ones what He expects of us through the lives and examples of our younger children. The other day I was sitting at a meal with a family where one member was definitely estranged to that family. One of the children, a six-year-old girl innocently said, “When will we ever see her? It’s been way too long.” How true. Perhaps Joseph’s eagerness to bow down to his uncle Esau was saying just that, “It’s been way too long.”

There is also another aspect to reconciliation that is not directly mentioned here but worth noting as we study this topic. Reconciliation is often a family matter just as feuds between two individuals often end up engulfing both the families involved. In my life, I have been personally aware of several family feuds where there is at least one individual that is a holdout. He or she does not want to have anything to do with reconciliation, even if he/she was not the injured party. This sometimes occurs because of that person’s love for the one that was injured. They just cannot understand why, or accept the fact that, the hurt individual has agreed to forgive and forget. As difficult as that may make it for the rest of the family, we all need to accept this individual’s decision and be careful not to further isolate him/her from the rest of the clan he/she does have a relationship with. With our patience and love, we may still win them over to the reconciliation.

Sometimes, we ourselves may be that individual who wants to hold back. If so, we need to examine our motivation and the implications of our decision on the parties being reconciled, on our own family, especially the model it presents to our children, and ultimately on ourselves. We need to ask God to help us change our attitude and accept the very thing that He desires for all mankind – to live in peace with each other, especially those in our own family.

Clearly, in the case of Jacob and Esau, all Jacob’s family members were at least willing to support him in his desire to be at peace with his brother.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Esau Enquires of Jacob’s Family -- Genesis 33:5


And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and said, “Who are these with you?” So he said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.”

The reconciliation successful, life now, in one sense, begins anew for Esau and Jacob. As they complete their embrace, Esau looks up and behind Jacob and sees the women of Jacob’s company and all their children. He asks Jacob, “Who are these with you?”

Note that there is nothing in the question to indicate that he was not inquiring about both the women and the children. Yet Jacob’s response makes reference only to the ‘children’. Today we would find this most strange and certainly the women present may well ask, “Well, what about us, are you not going to tell him who we are?” The verse provides still one more glimpse into the culture of the day, a culture that is still very much evident in the Middle East and parts of Europe today. To the men, it is all about men. And after the men, well, it is all about the children, and in particular the male children. Did Jacob not love his wives or value their maids? Of course he did as we had discovered in earlier chapters. It is just the culture that made him think or act or speak differently.

What is the lesson for us from this verse? Simply this: we need to assess people’s words or actions in the light of their own culture, especially as we live in a multi-cultural society, before we react in an inappropriate matter or feel offended. This was something that my darling “Canadian-with-English-background” wife had to learn when she first met my “old-school-Greek” family. Those of you who remember the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” will well understand what I mean.

Secondly, we cannot make some assumptions about people’s beliefs or feelings simply by taking their actions or words at face value as if done or spoken in our own culture. While we would say that “Jacob thought or cared very little about his wives” as indicated by his response, we would be wrong. To be successful in these approaches, we need to study and understand the culture we are dealing with.

But there are at least two more aspects of interest to this verse. First, Jacob’s response leaves no doubt that his children are gifts of God. They are his only by God’s grace. Today is the beginning of a new year. Later today my wife, my children and grandchildren who live in the same city will be sharing our first ‘family meal’ of 2010 together. In our own Greek tradition, January 1st is the “name day” of people called Vasilis, Vasilios in Greek, translated Basil in English. As my father’s name was Basil, my middle name is Basil, and my son’s first name is Basil, this day becomes our special “Greek name day” and we celebrate by getting together. When we do, I know I will be thanking God for his wonderful gift of spouse, children, and grandchildren to me. And at the same time, I will be realizing that they are indeed His and only on loan to me for as long as He wishes. My job is to be the best guardian and keeper I can be of His beloved children, both the adults and the younger ones.

Second, Jacob’s response clearly indicates that he sees himself as a servant to Esau whom he had previously wronged. Sometimes, we need to remember our responsibility to serve others once a relationship has been restored. The operative word here is “sometimes” because, I believe, there will always be times when people should reconcile but agree that it is best they not be involved in each other’s life. A good example may in the case of a person who has badly abused you and may even be spending time in prison for his/her actions. Or perhaps a situation where two people have had an adulterous affair, one comes to his/her senses, ends it and the other one gets hurt. The two may well reconcile and forgive each other for the wrong they did to each other and others, but then it would be prudent to totally stop seeing each other. But in most other cases, reconciliation involves a commitment to work with the other person, often in servitude, so that we can practice what we have preached in reuniting with them. In this particular case not only did Jacob recognize his role as Esau’s servant, but Esau also made an effort to get acquainted with his younger brother’s life. Reconciliation often, but not always, involves second chances and new opportunities to be the kind of person each of the parties really want to be. God has a way of affording us that privilege.

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