January 31, 2014 by Chris French
Today we’re finishing up the story of Esau and Jacob in Genesis 32-33. There is more to their lives recorded in Scripture, but this is all we’ll deal with at this time.
Jacob jumped from the boiling pot into the kettle when he ran to Laban from Esau. It took about 20 years, but Jacob has over stayed his welcome in Laban’s house (Gen. 31.1-2, 38) so now it’s time to go. He leaves secretly and heads back to Canaan. You can read about his journey and Laban’s chase in Genesis 31. It’s pretty riveting.
Anyhow the last thing Jacob heard from Esau was how much he wanted to kill him so he’s taking measures to resolve the conflict between himself and Esau. There are some lessons for us to take away from these two chapters on conflict resolution too, both from Jacob, the one who did the offending, and Esau, the one who had been offended.
1. Be Humble
Notice the humility Jacob has as he’s trying to patch things up with his brother. In Genesis 32.4 he calls himself Esau’s servant and intimates that he doesn’t need or want the wealth he stole from Esau in the form of the blessing earlier because he’s got all kinds of livestock of his own now. He doesn’t need Isaac’s, Esau can keep them. Jacob has changed over these last 20 years. He’s not putting up a front for Esau now. He really is humble now. Notice that he calls Esau his lord to his servants when he’s telling them what to say. He didn’t have to do that. He did that because it’s the way he really feels now. As you try to make peace with someone you’ve hurt come humbly. Your pride was probably what caused the offense in the first place. Don’t put up a facade trying to trick them. Look at your life and notice the things you need to change, grow up, and change those things. Take responsibility for your actions. None of that necessarily has to come out verbally when you try to make peace with the person you’ve hurt, but if it’s true they’ll see it in the way you interact with them. True humility will endear you to the people you’ve hurt.
2. Be generous
Jacob gave an enormous amount of money (in the form of livestock) to his brother. Luckily he even tells us why he did it! He thought it would pacify Esau so when they reunited Esau would welcome him back (Gen. 32.20). You’re probably not going to be able to placate the person you offended with a flock of chickens, but you can still be generous. The point of sending so much livestock wasn’t to bulk up Esau’s herds, but to show Esau how sorry Jacob was. The person you hurt could still be very mad at you and wounded by what you did. When you take responsibility for what happened it helps. Be generous with your accountability. Take responsibility for what happened. Take a cue from Jacob and be free with the love too. These gifts to Esau showed how much Jacob now treasured their relationship. Generosity has a way of doing that. Like Jacob there may have been a time in your relationship when you didn’t value it like you should have. Let them know that now you’ve put a high price tag on your relationship with them. When you do that it serves as a mental reminder for you too that your bond with this person shouldn’t be broken over something silly. As you try to resolve a conflict be generous with your accountability and love.
Notice that Jacob didn’t send all the animals together in one group. He could have. It might have even been safer, but he chooses to split them up into five groups. Why? Because he understands this third concept of conflict resolution, at least from the offender’s side. The person you hurt might not forgive you the first time you ask for it. It might take them a while. Keep asking. If this relationship is important enough to try to fix it’s important enough to give it your best. Don’t give up after one failed attempt at making things right. Don’t be surprised if your attempts at resolution are met with anger or spite. That’s what wounded people do. They try to spread the pain. People that are hurting will try to hurt others, especially you who caused the initial pain. You’ve got an opportunity to not only repair the relationship you had with this person, but also to stop the cycle of pain. You hurt them so now they hurt someone else and on it goes. If Esau was mad after the first herd of livestock I’m betting he cooled off after the second, then the third and was liking Jacob quite a bit by the time the fifth herd comes his way. Don’t just try once to mend the fences with a broken relationship, continue at it.
Jacob took something from Esau. To make things right he needs to give it back. When he tricked Isaac into blessing him that meant that the majority of Isaac’s wealth would be passed down to Isaac now, instead of it’s rightful owner Esau. When Jacob returns some of the first words out of his mouth are that he doesn’t want the goods that blessing brought him. He’s got everything he needs, then he gives Esau over 550 gifts on the hoof. He’s trying to make restitution. I’m betting you didn’t take something physical from the person you hurt, unless you spent some time in prison for grand theft auto. More likely you’ve taken something immaterial like their reputation or their trust in you. Find a way to give that back to them. If you gossiped about them and hurt their reputation become their biggest fan and celebrate their achievements. As the one who did the offending you need to make restitution.