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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