We recently enjoyed a visit with a high school friend and her husband. This friend was very quiet when we were in school, while Roy and I were quite out-going. Della was a timid girl but very cute. She was a part of the dance team in high school; however, she seldom interacted much in social circles. Roy was the typical star athlete – football quarterback, basketball scoring guard and ornery to the core. I was active in lots of clubs and activities and joined the dance team my senior year. Della and I grew to be good friends our freshman year of college, when we were roommates at the University of Dayton, but we lost touch after she was a bridesmaid in our wedding.
After twenty years, Della found me on the internet in 2005, and we've kept in touch since. During our recent visit, we talked about how each of us has changed. She's now the effervescent, bubbly, life of the party; while Roy and I would rather sit in a corner at a party. Life changes us. Age changes us. God changes us…
Gen. 33:1-3 – "Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother." (emphasis added)
- The number seven is oftentimes used as a symbol of completeness in Scripture. Jacob bows seven times to signify his complete submission to Esau after all these years. Parading his wives showed his complete vulnerability, and the extravagant offerings of gifts displayed his complete commitment to repentance. Humble, vulnerable, repentant – this seemed to be a different Jacob than the man who stole Esau's blessing from their blind father twenty years ago. But would time prove the changes that fear began?
- Not only did we see big changes in Jacob, but now Esau shows some MAJOR softening during the past twenty years. He ran to Jacob, welcoming him with hugs, kisses and tears – a far cry from threatening to kill Jacob, which was the reason Jacob fled to Uncle Laban in Haran. Can people really change so drastically in twenty years? Did Jacob gauge Esau's honesty according to his own? We must walk a fine line between shrewdness and cynicism as we are exposed to more disappointment in our lives.
'To find favor in your eyes, my lord,' he said.
But Esau said, 'I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.'
'No, please!' said Jacob. 'If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.'
And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it." (emphasis added)
- Jacob says seeing Esau's face is like Peniel – the face of God. He's remembering his wrestling match as he stands in the safety of his brother's presence and God's shadow. This, too, is a change in Jacob – to praise God's presence and power in the midst of the circumstance – not taking credit himself or ascribing success to an old wives' tale (as he did with the striped wood shavings in the water troughs).
But Jacob said to him, 'My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the droves before me and that of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.'
Esau said, 'Then let me leave some of my men with you.'
'But why do that?' Jacob asked. 'Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord.'
So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. Jacob, however, went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Succoth." (emphasis added)
- Jacob said he planned to go to Seir, but the excuses he offered Esau and the shelters he built in Succoth testify against his empty promises. If Jacob intended to follow God's command, he had to go to Canaan, not Seir; but how could he tell his brother Esau (and the army of 400 men) that he wasn't going to Seir? Well, it's called trusting God to work out the plan He has ordained for your life… But Jacob, the deceiver, had evidently NOT changed as much as his groveling, gifts and gushing might have suggested.
- Though Jacob lied to his brother, he has obeyed God and arrived in the land of Canaan, purchasing the first of his inheritance. Displaying some positive change, Jacob builds yet another altar and reveals a little of his heart in its name – El Elohe Israel – "Mighty is the God of Israel" or "Mighty is the God of he who struggles with God." I love the name of this altar because it depicts so well Jacob's inner battle.