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Meeting Esau

December 6, 2006

In Genesis 32, God sends Jacob out from his iniquitous father-in-law’s place to his own country. This took him through Edom, the land of his estranged brother. Laban had tried Jacob for 20 years, but he left with wealth, two wives, and 12 children. And although Jacob acknowledged God’s tending provision toward him that spared him the worst of what he could have endured at Laban’s hands, he had a mortal dread of Esau.

Jacob feared Esau would destroy what was most precious to him:

Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children. Genesis 32:11

And God provided, in Calvin’s words, “timely succor” in Jacob’s time of dread.

Jacob arranged his servants, his cattle, his wives, and his children in the order that would protect the dearest the most. Rachel and Joseph brought up the rear. Leah must have, as usual, felt terrific. Reuben evidently acted out his anger against his father later (Genesis 35:22).

Esau was given to a volatile temperament, and he’d threatened to kill Jacob when he lost the blessing of his father to his brother’s deceit. But that was long ago, and God had since prospered Esau. Jacob he loved and Esau he hated, but both he blessed with earthly fortune. This likely prevented Esau’s motives of aggression toward Jacob. God uses the world to bless his church, and he blesses the world through his church as well.

God brought about a peaceful meeting and full reconciliation between the estranged sons of Isaac, who would eventually close their father’s eyes together. Their wealth kept them from dwelling too close for comfort. Old family tensions and resentments would otherwise have been bound to emerge from time to time. God alone gave Esau grace where none had been evident, and he greeted his estranged brother with a kiss of peace.

Some of us have ridden out to meet Esau in the scrub of Seir. We’ve dreaded encounters that turned out to be surprisingly pleasant; sometimes they’ve turned out pretty much as dreaded. And it is still hard to believe God: to believe in his good will toward us as a prevailing theme in our lives. One trek across Seir after another, we betray faith with angst and wonder whether we will be received or rejected.

Calvin points out that Esau sets out to meet Jacob with a benevolent heart, while God has willed Jacob to “be oppressed by this anxiety for a time, although without any real cause, in order the more to excite the fervour of his prayer” (Commentaries, Baker House, p. 189). I strive to remember that all outcomes are of God and thus are good. I often wish I had prayed for the outcome that I desired and received, just as I also wish I had prayed for an outcome that I desired and did not receive. God wants us to pray for the outcomes he has determined to give us.

It isn’t strange at all.

Calvin offers this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that since we are here exposed to so many evils, which suddenly arise like violent tempests, O, grant, that with hearts raised up to heaven, we may yet acquiesce in thy hidden providence and be so tossed here and there, even though we are so tossed here and there according to the judgment of our flesh, yet to remain fixed in this truth, that thou wouldst have us believe, that all things are governed by thee
and that nothing takes place except through thy will, so that in the greatest confusions we may always clearly see thy hand and that thy counsel is altogether right and perfectly and singularly wise and just; and may we
ever call upon thee and flee to this port, that we are tossed here and there in order that thou mayest nevertheless always sustain us by thine hand until we shall at length be received into that blessed rest which has been procured for us by the blood of thine only begotten Son. Amen.


Victorbravo said…
A timely post for me as I trudge on through (and I hope beyond)another Seir.Calvin’s prayer is beautiful. I think I’ll print it out.
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