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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