Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reconciliation and Distrust

Gen. 33

Jacob and Esau are finally reunited, but I'm not convinced it was the "forgive and forget" moment my Biblical commentary seems to think it is. 

Esau is coming with 400 men, Jacob divides his household into three parts, the maidservants and their children first, Leah and her children second, with Rachel and Joseph bringing up the rear.  (In another show of his favoritism, Jacob has ensured that, if Esau attacks, Rachel and Joseph have the best chance of fleeing to safety.)

When Esau and Jacob finally meet, there is a lot of embracing and weeping.  So far so good.  Then there's the gifts which Esau refuses but Jacob insists saying God has blessed him abundandly.  Esau offers to have his men ride with Jacob as protection, an offer Jacob refuses saying he has plenty of men.  Esau wants to ride together, but Jacob makes a point about needing to travel slowly with newborn animals and children.  Finally, Esau departs for Seir urging Jacob to follow, but Jacob goes to Succoth before continuing to Shechem instead.  The two places are many miles apart with the Jordan river in between.

To me, this looks more like two male bulls circling each other in preparation for a fight.  They are sizing each other up and measuring their chances for victory.  Jacob's insistence that Esau take the gifts is a show of wealth.  The refusal of Esau's protection is a show of strength.  And his need to travel at the pace he knows his impatient brother would not want to keep is probably a deceipt to keep the two parties separate and allow Jacob to go a different direction. 

In other words, Jacob may believe Esau has forgiven him for stealing his birthright and blessing,  and Jacob has forgiven Esau for intending to murder him,  but Jacob is certainly not going to put his household in Esau's power.  Forgive,, no.

There is much forgiveness IS, but today I want to focus on one thing it is NOT.  Forgiveness is not putting ourselves in a position where another person can harm us again.  A wife who has been beaten by her husband does not stay in the home to show her forgiveness.  A husband who's best friend slept with his wife doesn't need to play golf or confide in that friend ever again.  A rape victim never needs to be alone in a room with her attacker.  And children should never have to be subject to a parent who has abused them.  Forgiveness means we will not hold the wrong done to us inside where it festers and poisons us.  We forgive as Christ has forgiven us by recognizing our own sins have made us death row convicts, and Jesus died in our place.  But it doesn't mean we "forget" by giving someone our trust again.  It's like the famous Ronald Reagan quote when discussing nuclear disarmament with the Soviets:  "Trust but verify."

Forgive, yes.  But trust is only built when the offending party proves, over time, the change neccessary to earn it back.  In the meantime, you go to Shechem and let your Esau go to Seir with your forgiveness and best wishes.

Until next time,

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