Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jacob Tries To Connect with Esau -- Genesis 32:3-5

Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; and I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.”’”

As Jacob approaches Canaan, he decides to send messengers on ahead to contact his brother Esau who is now living in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. We first came across the name Seir in Genesis 14:6 where we read about the battle of first the nine kings, and then later another group of four kings. The text spoke of ‘Mount Seir’ as being the home of one of these, namely the kingdom of the Horites. The mountain was named after the patriarch of the Horites, Seir. And the word actually means “hairy or shaggy”. (You will remember that Esau was referred to as a hairy man and that is why Rebekah had to cover Jacob’s arms with animal pelts when he went to Isaac to be blessed in Esau’s place.) The Horites were the inhabitants of Edom before all of Esau’s descendants came on the scene and became known as the Edomites. Edom itself is south of the Dead Sea. The mountain range of which Mount Seir was a part extends southward from there as well.

We first heard of the word ‘Edom’ which means, “I will praise him” in Genesis 25:3. Esau was named that, probably by his brother Jacob, when Esau, being famished, asked for a “swallow of that red (stew)” that Jacob had made. Esau had indicated he would praise Jacob for giving him the stew. With that background, we now find Esau and his people residing near Seir in the land of Edom.

Some commentators state that Seir was not directly on route to Canaan, but off to the side of where Jacob otherwise would have traveled to get to his father Isaac’s place. Yet, he wanted to pay respect and try to be reconciled with his brother Esau. So Jacob gave instructions to his messengers to give his ‘lord’ Esau a very specific message. For the message was to be a direct quote from “your servant Jacob”. The Hebrew word used for ‘lord’ is ’adown and when it refers to man rather than God, it is simply implies or refers to a superintendent of a household, a master, or a king. Here Jacob was recognizing his brother’s leadership of his own household. The word used for ‘servant’ is ’ebed and is translated servant, slave, and subject. Jacob realizes that he will now be in a place where his brother is indeed lord, and he just a subject. His very long absence and the conditions under which he had left had brought this about. You will remember Esau wanted to kill Jacob twenty years earlier, so now Jacob has to humble himself before Esau.

It is also possible that by using the ‘lord and servant’ image here, Jacob is trying to give Esau the message that he personally will not demand the rights of one who had received the blessing that was rightfully Esau’s. There is also the possibility that Jacob wanted to reconnect with his brother and with his family. So what exactly does one have his servants say to his brother after all that has happened knowing full well that the success of his leaving Laban and returning to Canaan pivots around whether or not his brother Esau is prepared to welcome him back or still wants to kill him?

The basic message to Esau that Jacob’s servants were to pass on was this: All these years he had lived with Laban and had become very wealthy in possessions. He wanted Esau to know that in order that he would view him with favor rather than as a prodigal son returning empty-handed to his father’s home. He wanted to make sure that Esau would not see him as someone who had to be supported by him in order to live. He wanted to be acceptable to Esau.

In the last little while, I have reached out and tried to reconnect with some relatives that we have lost touch with and was received most pleasantly. Life is indeed too short to not do so. Furthermore, one cannot do the work of God well when he or she has not first obeyed the word of God in being reconciled with others.

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