By Mike Baird
Faculty, College of Theology
The Jacob Journal is a reflection on the life and times of the biblical character of Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah.
The Esau Encounter
Pilgrimages are funny things. You set out to find something in life – something that will give you the peace of mind and inner strength you need to survive. Somewhere along the way, you realize that peace and security is found only in God, so your journey takes a new direction, a search for peace with God.
Then, you come to your Bethel, the crisis point, where God finds you and calls you out. You might think that you have finally arrived at the end of the journey, but then you meet your Labans and begin to wonder if there really is peace and security to be found.
The problem is that you think a Bethel experience along the way is enough. Just give God a nod and you can go on your way. So you finally decide to get serious with the Almighty. Again, He finds you and confronts you, somewhere out in the darkness and desert of your life. This time you know you need Him and will not let Him go until He blesses you with His grace and power. You surrender to His goodness and His will.
You’re at the mountain top, right? You have arrived?
As the sun rose on my all night fight and the angel of the Lord was walking away, on the road ahead I saw…
Confronting My Past
I knew I would never arrive at the end of the journey until I faced my estranged brother. There would be no peace and security until I made peace with him.
After all, he had 400 men with him. That sends a message.
As strange as it may sound, when you have found peace with God, you may not have found God’s peace quite yet. The same cord that binds us to God also binds us to others – the significant people in our lives.
To put it in terms of my own pilgrimage, if the cord between my brother and me is broken, there is still something missing in my relationship with God. I cannot have perfect reconciliation with God if I have not sought reconciliation with my brother.
There is a very ancient legend that Isaac passed down to me about two brothers, Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. They didn’t get along, either. Cain got jealous of Abel for some reason (does it matter?) and killed his brother. I used to think that was pretty radical until my brother came after me.
You need to know: I was no Abel.
Anyway, the cord between Cain and Abel was broken, to say the least. But who got onto Cain’s case? God. God banished Cain from his family, sent him wandering into the world on his own little pilgrimage. When Cain hurt Abel, he also hurt God. There’s the simple truth.
Reconciling the Past
So where did that leave me? On the morning after my greatest and most profound, long-lasting spiritual victory, I was still looking for peace. God was telling me there was still a long journey ahead. My pilgrimage now brought me face to face with Esau, and I knew I had to be reconciled with him.
As I look back over the whole sequence of events in this part of my life, I can see that reconciliation with my family was both essential and inevitable. It was essential because I could not openly claim God and MY God if I had a brother who was so deeply offended.
Up to that point in my life, I could not bring myself to truly feel that God was close to me, to call him “the God of Israel,” to call him my God. That time did come for me, but only after I made peace with Esau.
You see, God’s work in your heart is not completely “in the closet,” in the inner mind and heart. It must be done there, but it is not completed there, at least not for me. For whatever reason, God has made us in such a way that we need one another just like we need Him. God works in and through my brother.
If you look closely at the record, you know that for me looking at Esau was like looking at the face of God.
I said to Esau, “To see you face to face is like seeing the face of God.”
Why? Because he received me favorably. Just like the night before God had shown me His forgiveness and blessing, so now Esau was hugging me and kissing me and offering me his help and guidance. No wonder I felt the presence of God – this was His work for me through Esau. God uses the sacrament of brotherhood and friendship to bestow His blessings on us.
Esau’s blessing was the blessing of God.
Finding God in Others
Let me put this matter in terms of the vow. I have already shared with you that my life had revolved around certain promises I had made to myself. I had vowed to get the blessing of my father and I did whatever it took to get that blessing. I had vowed to get material comfort and security in life and I did what it took to get it, although the process took its toll on me.
Finally, I was brought to the place where my vow was, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Every one of us makes such promises, takes such vows in the course of our lives. And in a very real way, our quality of life depends on how we have lived out those vows.
What I have discovered is that I cannot settle these matters, resolve these tensions and fulfill these vows by myself. I need my brother. To try it myself means I will end up in a mud puddle of self-pity or self-hate.
In your life, there is a brother or a mother or father or lifelong friend who is in an odd way God’s means of grace and forgiveness for you. You may or may not receive forgiveness from them, but if you have not sought God’s favor in reconciliation with this loved one, you will never fully find God’s favor. The cord is there and it is strong.
Reconciliation is not only essential, but it is inevitable, especially if your pilgrimage is with and toward God. God will always send you back to Bethel, to Canaan, to home. If I wanted to live in the Promised Land, I had to seek reconciliation. It was inevitable.
The truth is, Esau would not go away, even if I had stayed in Haran. He stood between me and my father and mother. If I wanted to see them again, I had to see Esau as well. Besides Esau had 400 men. He was going to find me. If you are on a pilgrimage with God, reconciliation is inevitable.
You might also like to know that it is easier than you think. What I didn’t realize is that Esau was hurting as much as I was. That became clear when he came up and hugged and kissed me. I was crying for relief and he was crying, too. He wanted and needed reconciliation. I suppose he had been dealing with some anger issues. That was partly my doing, of course.
As you know from the record, I thought I could reconcile by bribing him. We sometimes think that material things can patch up spiritual potholes, don’t we? All those sheep and goats and other gifts I sent ahead were my way of pacifying his anger. But he didn’t need sheep, he needed a hug from his brother. He needed this kind of spiritual therapy as much as I did. I tend to think if the other person is truly your brother, God has been working in his life, too. God had been pouring blessing into Esau’s life all along, perhaps leading him to this moment of blessed reconciliation.
I can’t guarantee that reconciliation will be easy, of course. But I do suggest it may be easier than you think.
Reconciliation happens for you when you can see and accept the blessings of God which come through your brother. I had stolen blessing, worked my tail off for the blessing, fought all night for God’s blessing. Now I had to accept God’s blessing from the hand of another person, someone I had been at odds with for years.
That day, Esau refused my many gifts and even responded by offering me his help to get home safely. I remember that my statement was, “Just let me find favor in your eyes.” That’s all I needed. Both Esau and I needed to find God’s grace coming through one another. That’s the way God has made it.
Guess what happened next? After Esau left for home, I moved on down into the land – the land God had promised to my grandfather, to my father, to me. There at Shechem, I bought some land and began to settle in.
On the first evening after our arrival there, I went out into the desert, as I had on that fateful night near the stream Jabbok, gathered some rocks and built an altar. I think the pile of rocks is still there. If you drop by there sometime, you will see the inscription I wrote on the top rock.
“This altar is dedicated to God. The God of Israel.”
There, I said it and I mean it.
Questions for Reflection:
- Do you have an Esau in your life? Someone with whom you must settle some accounts before you can move forward with true spiritual strength?
- Is there someone you know well who has gone through such a process of reconciliation as Jacob and Esau did? Ask them about their experience.
Catch up with the Jacob Journal by reading through past entries.
About the Author
The 21st century author of this journal is Mike Baird, PhD, retired professor of Christian studies. The ideas and insights found here come from a life lived, not from a fantasy world. It is his prayer that you will see yourself mirrored in some of Jacob’s struggles and decisions, and that you will discover the timeless spiritual resources which Scripture and the Holy Spirit speaking through it have made available to us.
Dr. Baird originates from Glendale, AZ. He received his BA at Grand Canyon College (now GCU). His MDiv and PhD were completed at Southwestern Baptist Theology Seminary, Fort Worth, TX (Go Cowboys!). He and his wife have three children and five grandchildren.
He has enjoyed teaching college students for the last 35 years. He is a member of First Southern Baptist Church, where he teaches a Bible study class on Sunday mornings and sings in the choir.
What he has enjoyed greatly over the years is participating in the Ethington Theatre Series as a guest actor. He has been in 27 productions, his favorites being the Shakespeare productions.
He encourages students to use their time at GCU to clarify and sharpen their sense of calling. You are here to equip for the work of the Kingdom. Don’t squander the opportunity.