Jacob Meets Esau – Held on Sunday, November 10, 2013

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 11/10/13

  1. Previous Week’s [11/03/13] Review
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading
  4. Discussion

Previous Week’s [11/03/13] Review

As I read over how our discussion developed, I was struck by the fact that there are significant changes in how we as human beings view our world from the period of time in which the bible was both written and what was written about and our period, the United States in the 21st century, in Ohio, etc.  The world of the biblical persons was different in two extremely important ways: one could be thought of as objective and the other subjective.  It seems obvious that the biblical persons lived a very different world, objectively speaking; a world without running water, without electricity, without any of our modern technology, without our scientific understanding, etc. etc.  Although these differences are enormous, almost indescribably different, the more significant difference may very well have been the subjective side.  The biblical persons simply thought more compactly than we do; they didn’t have the resources to make as many distinctions we do nor did they think in that way.

I chose two words from the previous week’s reading to concretize this internal, subjective difference: “wrestle” and “dark.”  We know the difference between wrestling with another human being in a physical manner and wrestling with a problem, a decision, etc.  In this passage, there is no question that the story portrays Jacob as physically wrestling.  It is not at all clear that the wrestling was any more than that.  Yet the word is a symbol of both for the author and his audience.  It was compact; that is, the author meant both the physical act of wrestling, but he meant as well what we would talk about in terms of wrestling with emotional, moral, existential issues, life struggles.  The wrestling occurred at night; it was dark out.  That certainly is true in the passage; in fact, the coming of daybreak is a critical moment in the passage.  Again though, the author didn’t mean only the dark of the night time for “dark” was a symbol for him too.  And in his consciousness the darkness also meant the dark moments in our life; when we don’t know what to do, when we are overwhelmed emotionally, when life seems to be breaking down.  Once we realize that the biblical authors and audiences thought more compactly, God’s words open up to us a deeper, broader, richer world that can address us living thousands of years later.

Background to today’s our readings.

This passage is so rich that I learned, really from Annette, that taking it verse by verse proved to be what was helpful, enriching, thought provoking.  So rather than provide the  background at this point in the post, I will walk through the passage verse by verse, covering not all but enough that you, the web reader, can get a feel for the flavor of what was happening in our group.

We are reminded as we listen to / read the passages to wonder

  • Who are the characters in the story
  • What role do these characters play
  • What is the plot of the story, the author’s intent

Reading: Gen. 33: 01 – 11: Jacob meets Esau.  http://usccb.org/bible/genesis/33


The meeting with Esau really began with Jacob leaving Laban and heading back to THE LAND, to Canaan.  Jacob strategized on how best to meet his brother and God’s presence and prayer were an important part of the preparation for the meeting.  Now out of seemingly nowhere the author tells us of Jacob’s encounters in the dark and throughout the nigh a wrestling with one whom we discover at the end of the passage to be God; a God who wrestles with man, who leaves Jacob physically damaged, limping, and with that a new identity, Israel.

The meeting with Esau, then, occurs in light of that night of struggle and the changes that occurred in Jacob as a result.

V. 1 – As he knew, Jacob looks up to see Esau approaching with his 400 men.  [It is important to remember the strategy that Jacob had set in place in the earlier anticipation of meeting Esau with what follows.  See if you can identify the differences; that is what we did in our study session.]

V. 2 – Jacob divides his family into three groups:

  1. The maid servants and their children
  2. Leah and her children
  3. Rachel and Joseph.

This order has meaning and what follows is even more meaningful.

V. 3 – Jacob went ahead bowing down seven times as he approached Esau.

In the early strategy, Jacob wasn’t first, he was last.  Stepping out in front, even though it is Esau who wanted to kill him approaching with his 400 men reveals a change in Jacob.  Unless we who are the listeners / readers of the story are caught by that change, we literally miss an important factor in the story.

Bowing down seven times is another of these compact symbols.  We are inherently mathematicians, for us seven normally means seven, 1, 2, 3, etc.  But for our author and his audience seven meant more than the number seven.  Until “seven” means more and more approximating the more in the minds of the authors and his audience, we don’t really hear the word being read or listened to.

At this point Annette reminds us of the passage in Mt. 18:21

“Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?  Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

For the Hebrews seven meant fullness, perfection, completion. Peter and the earlier listeners to the story thought Peter was being unbelievably generous.  So Jesus’ words were mind boggling to his audience as it probably is to us if we take it seriously not only at a personal level, but socially, as we create our policies, design our prisons, etc.  But back to Jacob.

So Jacob bows down seven times.  What is the author telling his audience?  What is he saying to us?

Read now what Esau does, acts, lives – remember the brother [think of compactness – brother in this story has much the same meaning as the word “bro” in the black culture or even more challenging in the consciousness of Jesus who says “these the least of my brothers and sisters.”

V. 3 – Esau

  1. Ran [what does this gesture held in the word and all these other gestures  say from within Esau, the wronged brother; the author talking to his audience, God talking to us] THEN Esau
  2. Embraced him THEN Esau
  3. Flunk his arms around him THEN Esau
  4. Kissed him THEN Esau
  5. Wept with him in his arms.

Has this ever happened to you?  What could this event mean for Jacob?  For Roseann it was love, for Annette it was forgiveness.  What I want to do now is jump ahead to verse 10, not as it is translated by the version we use, the New American Bible which you can read in the link above, but as it is translated in the New International version.  There we read Jacob saying to his brother

“… for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God …”

“Face” is another one of those compact words, symbols.  The word we came up with that best expresses its meaning to me is presence.  Jacob’s experience of his brother was overwhelming, the only thing he could compare it to was experiencing the very presence of God that he had just experience in the previous episode.

Our author was telling his audience and is telling us, really anyone who has ears to hear, that to experience forgiveness is to experience the very presence of God.  So Jesus tells Pete, “No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” without limit always, each time.  Honestly this is impossible for us unless we have been forgiven first.  And so it was with Peter.  The crucified Christ asked Peter, the Peter who told the maid servant, “I don’t know the man” not once but three times which again means lots of times, Jesus asks him “Do you love me?” And who did Jesus select, chose Peter.  We are being told that God is forgiveness.  Our life is drowned in forgiveness that is the message, the meaning of Christ Crucified.  To have lived long enough is know the refreshing, relieving, longing experience that forgiveness is.  No relationship with any depth is possible without it.  And every relationship is incredibly deeper, richer with it.

Well there was much more but sufficient for today are the thoughts of today evoked in me by those who gathered, the believing community.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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