Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Time of Reckoning Is Here -- Genesis 33:3

But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

Esau is clearly within eyesight. Jacob’s families have been lined up in an order that protects Rachel and her children the most, followed by Leah and her children, and then their two maids and their children. Jacob stands behind them. He can no longer avoid his brother Esau. The moment he has both dreaded and wanted is at hand. Will he wait there as Esau and his 400 men approach Jacob’s company, perhaps harming or even killing some to get to him, or will he trust his life to God and be the man, husband, and father he was called to be?

Jacob comes through with flying colors. Perhaps with his recently acquired courage and assurance of success following his night of fighting with God, He passes ahead of his family to the frontline with nothing between himself and Esau and his men.

Once he got there he commenced to bow down to the ground and then move ahead, bow down and move ahead. He did this seven times until he was very near to his brother Esau. So far in Scripture, we have only come across the idea of bowing down once before in Genesis 18:2 when Abraham was sitting at his tent’s door in the heat of the day and three men appeared to him. He bowed himself to the earth in their honor. The phrase “seven times” also appears for the first time in this text. The Hebrew word for bowing down is “shachah” and it means to literally bow down and prostrate oneself before a superior in homage, before God in worship, before false gods, or before an angel. Jacob was clearly indicating over and over the superiority of his brother Esau in this situation.

You may wish to investigate the Tel Amarna Tablets that were found in 1887. The depict life around 1400 B.C. through a series of letters written by some prominent people of the times. These tablets relate that when greeting a king, one must bow to the earth seven times in approaching him. Jacob was doing just that for Esau had become a ruler over the area of Mount Seir known as Edom. Each bow brought the body parallel to the ground. After each, the subject took a few steps closer to the superior and repeated the process. By the seventh cycle, the subject was pretty close to the superior. Although we are not told in the text we’re studying that they did, the custom was for the subject’s family to do likewise. This would all seem quite in order, especially when you consider that in the east, as the older brother, Esau would be entitled to such respect from his younger sibling, Jacob.

Can you picture, though, the two different scenes on the stage that this meeting was to play itself out on? There was Jacob, his women, and children coming from one side and Esau and his 400 men from the other. What a contrast that was. Yet we cannot forget that it was Jacob who indeed had the birthright and God had made a covenant that many would be blessed through him.

The gifts that Jacob had sent on ahead earlier in the story with his servants simply indicated that he wanted nothing materially from Esau. The bowing down now indicated he was also willing to be socially submissive to him.

While Jacob feared what Esau might do to him if he submitted, he also wanted to do what was right. Peace can be attained if one does their duty to God and to those with whom the peace has been broken. Perhaps, even to the point of behaving towards them as if it had never been broken. If we continue to remember and rehash what happened or continue to hold grudges we will never be able to restore the peace. Humility is the greatest tool one has in attempting such restoration. It turns away wrath and can physically help preserve the godly. God wants us to take precautions, do our best, including in showing humility where it is appropriate, and then leaving the rest to Him.

As I once again was listening to a discussion on television about the Middle East issues, I wondered whether or not the only way to restore peace between Israel and Palestine would be to do just that. Submission and humility and treating each other as if the peace had never been broken, no matter what the memories, what the losses, what the costs.

As we leave this verse we note that Jacob was still “near to his brother” but not quite there yet. Was there something left for Esau to do? We’ll find out in the study of what follows.

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