This week's Bible Study - February 8, 2015
Ready When Families Are Torn Apart
Genesis 32:24-30; 33:1-4, 10-11
Quotes of the Week:
If the world would apologize, I might consider a reconciliation.
Do you know anybody that has a family that is totally intact, from the grandparents to the grandchildren, including all aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters? If you find that person, let them know how blessed they are, because nearly every person in this world has had issues with other family members at some point or another. The issues may be with one or two or all of them, but for whatever reason, there are those people that like to hold the things of the past over other family member's head for years, and perhaps even for life, causing huge rifts within the family. Certainly, there are some cases where abuse of all sorts has taken place and it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to forgive and restore relationships in those situations. But more often than naught, it has to do with the fall out that occurs when someone feels animosity towards another family member. The reasons can border on the preposterous - a perceived slight by a sibling towards you or your child. Or perhaps the reason for the divide is caused because a divorce has happened or a loved one has died. (I have seen some of the most outrageous things happen when people have to split an inheritance). Restoration and reconciliation do not necessarily mean that everything goes back to the way things were before the "incident" happened, but at the very least, we should be able to find peace with our past, and with others whom we have had issues with along the way.
I don't know who comes to your mind when you think of relationships within a family that are torn apart. It may be with a mom or dad that disappointed you. It may be with a sibling or other relative that has hurt you in some manner (perceived or otherwise). Or maybe a family member has made a life decision that you disagree with, and because of that choice, you have chosen to sever ties with them. As believers, we know that we need to take a stand on issues, but sadly, some people take such a hard stance on the "issue" that they damage the relationships with those closest to them. Often, we forget that people make mistakes or make choices that may not be agreeable with others around them. It can be difficult to continue with family relationships, if a sibling or aunt or parent or child decides to live in a way that we do not agree with. On one hand, we don't want to relax our standards, but on the other hand, do we really believe that God would have us discard the people we love because they do not completely agree with us on the topic at hand? This is a dilemma for both churches and families, but in families, the inability to heal and 'get along' can have lifelong consequences on all parties involved.
The Bible is full of just about every kind of family issue that might come to mind. As some have said, there is nothing new under the sun. This lesson focuses on Jacob and Esau, who had a falling out when Jacob swindled Esau out of receiving their father's blessing (with their moms help). In truth, Esau should have received the prized blessing from Isaac, as Esau was the older brother. Can you imagine the intensity of emotions that must have been present when Jacob realized that Esau stole his blessing…..and that his mom helped him do it? This lesson is set 20 years later where we find Jacob thinking about Esau. What do you think he was thinking about? He knew that Esau had hated him (even to the point of wanting to kill Jacob), and we all know (unfortunately from personal experience) that hate has a tendency to fester and grow. Jacob knew that sooner or later, he would have to encounter Esau and bury the hatchet. What about you? Have you ever considered that one day you will have to deal with what might be an unpleasant experience in an attempt to reconcile? So often, we tend to want to put that event off for days, weeks, months or years and assume that time will heal all wounds. Time does help to decrease the intensity of negative feelings, but time alone will not solve relationship issues, and in fact, time can make wounds of the past fester and emotions can escalate.
In the verses leading up to this passage, you can read that as Jacob headed towards Esau, Esau approached with 400 armed men. If you were Jacob, how would you feel? I have to believe that his first thought was that this wasn't going to go well. Jacob sent messengers to Esau, with a communication stating a hope for peace. Esau would not respond and he and his army kept advancing towards Jacob.
A younger Jacob probably would likely have tried to take things into his own hands, but time had made Jacob older and wiser. He planned an approach, but more importantly, he prayed and sought God's wisdom. He was no longer looking at what he could do, but instead, was trusting in the Lord. Becoming vulnerable was a lesson he had learned, and on this day, he was putting it into practice. Jacob had been operating for 20 plus years out of a somewhat guilty conscience. As Shakespeare said, "Conscience doth make cowards of us all". When you know that you have been in the wrong, a guilty conscience can make reconciliation of any relationship a much more difficult proposition. In many cases, where a wrong was committed, the 'innocent or offended party' ends up committing far more wrongs, as time goes on, based on how they deal with the situation and treat the other party or parties involved. Many times, the one taking the retaliatory actions, try to claim that they are "justified" in what they're doing because of what was originally done to them. In truth, those actions are not justified and will never be valid reasons to behave as they have.
As Jacob is preparing to confront Esau, he finds time to be alone. His servants and wives and children have gone on, and as Jacob now has no other distractions, he takes time to seek God in solace. In your life, have you ever noticed how beneficial it is to find time to seek God when you know that something big is coming? In Jacob's situation, he was now posed with a situation that was beyond his ability to manipulate and control. All the things he had done to try to appease Esau didn't matter, and now there was nothing that he could do to guarantee that Esau would have a change of heart towards him. Jacob had no more plans. He had no more strategy. He had no more schemes. He had exhausted his own proverbial bag of tricks and he found himself at the end of his own ability. When relationships are fragile, trying to manipulate or control the situation rarely works and often times backfires, causing more damage in the long run.
As Jacob was alone, we read that a man wrestled with him till daybreak. We don't know if this was an angel or an appearance of Christ, but we do know that this man was associated with God. Jacob had come to think that his "problem" was with Esau, but he soon found out that what was at the heart of the issue wasn't what he had done to Esau, but rather what is in his heart. He wasn't battling Esau, in reality; he was battling God for control of his life. When we are at odds with others, we often will come to that place as well - where we have to decide if we will trust in God and obey Him, and in so doing, allow Him to be glorified in us, or whether we choose our own selfish desires over His will.
The wrestling match didn't have a bell to single the end of the round. It went on for hours - well into the night - and at some point "the man" touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that it was wrenched. Trying to understand this story is somewhat difficult, but I believe that at the end of this match, Jacob was left with a permanent disability that he could not get rid of. Paul wrote of a thorn in the flesh that God would not take away. Others have had physical ailments or other issues that helped them realize that they needed to rely upon God. Jacob's own physical infirmity showed him that there were things that were beyond his control. Isn't it amazing how we become humbled when we experience the presence of physical issues in our lives? Even at the time of this writing, I know of many who are enduring serious, potentially life threatening physical ailments. Some of them seemed invulnerable and strong beforehand. Yet, when things "get real" and we know we can't do anything to change things, we understand that our strength and prowess aren't enough. It can be frustrating and impact your self confidence, but truly, we need to understand that God wants us to put our confidence into Him.
After this long drawn out fight, the man told Jacob that he had to go as it was daybreak. Some say that this was some instance of God and he could not be seen by Jacob in the daytime. Jacob said that he would not let him go unless he received a blessing. (Isn't it interesting that Jacob did everything he could to receive his father's blessing, even though it was intended to be for Esau - and we read here that he is demanding another blessing?)
The man asked Jacob what his name was and proceeded to tell him that he would no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because he had struggled with God and with humans and had overcome. God changed other names, including Jacob's grandfather, Abram, who became known as Abraham. While God may not change your name, it is only God that can change the person that you truly are. Jacob asked for the man's name, but the man responded as if Jacob knew who he was, as Jacob had asked for a blessing. Then, the man blessed Jacob and Jacob called that place Peniel, saying "because I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared."
As you read this, you might wonder how we could ever apply this to our lives. I don't know about you, but I have never wrestled anyone else for hours upon hours. However, I do believe that there is some application for us to see. As stated before, when you are about to face a difficult situation, meeting with God is crucial. It does help to pray before you make major decisions, but when you need to do something like trying to reconcile with someone that you have had a problem with, it helps to truly seek God's direction. You may not physically wrestle, but you can feel that you've been in an emotional tug of war, and be as worn out as if you had been in a physical battle with that other person, and sometimes it can even feel you are battling with God. You want to be at peace but you don't want to give up your 'rights'….and so the war between self and God continues….until we finally surrender to Him. Sometimes we are a weeping mess by the time we finally get to this point - exhausted and emotionally spent. But in that surrender, we will find a peace that surpasses understanding. Sometimes, the battle is the way God grows us, as it was with Jacob.
After the night of wrestling with the Lord, Jacob was ready to face his brother. He had given it all to God, and now he would follow through, come what may. As he saw Esau, he noticed that he was coming forward with his army. Jacob knew that he was not in control, so he still planned for the demise, if it were to occur. He put the servants and their children in the front, followed by Leah and her children and then Rachel and Joseph followed in the rear. It is interesting to realize that Esau had an army with him, and all that Jacob had were his wives, servants and children. If it turned out to be a battle, by all rights, Esau would have surely won.
Jacob went ahead of the others and showed humility as he approached. He bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached Esau. Esau, on the other hand, ran to meet Jacob and embraced him. Esau was ready to forgive Jacob and he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. When restoration of broken relationships does take place, it can often be an emotional experience.
Esau saw all of the women and children and he asked Jacob who they all were. Jacob introduced his servants, Leah and her children, followed by Joseph and Rachel. Each of them bowed before Esau, showing him respect. Then, Esau asked about all the flocks and herds that had been sent to him, and Jacob told him that was to find favor in his eyes. Esau told Jacob that he had plenty and Jacob should keep what he had for himself.
Jacob insisted that Esau take the gift, as he had received much more than he had ever hoped for in a favorable reception. When we seek to restore a relationship and can find that restoration, other things that may have seemed important may dwindle in their importance. We all like to have things that we enjoy and work for, but in the end, those things are only things, while people are people created in God's image. Jacob insisted that Esau take the gift, and Esau accepted it.
Your situation with others was likely not the same as Jacob and Esau's. You likely did not pull a ruse to get your father's blessing. However, we all have issues in our relationships. If you find yourself in a broken and severed situation, the first thing you need to do is to admit to yourself that something is not right and then determine what you need to do to make it better, as opposed to what you may 'automatically' do to make it worse. We tend to want to lash out if we are hurt by someone else. That is natural, but there comes a time when your attitude and behavior can only make things worse. So many people are harboring bitterness for something that happened in the past. Rather than burying the hatchet, they may want to 'use' the hatchet in order to get even (and then some). If this is you, are you willing to seek God and ask Him to help you make the changes that need to be made in you? You can't control the other party, but you can ask God to help you be the person He wants you to be.
In closing, we read these lessons and put ourselves in the position of one of the characters. Some will naturally relate to Jacob, while others are thinking they are Esau. Although we don't read about his transformation, it is obvious that God must have been working in Esau's heart as well, at least at this time. If you're involved in a broken relationship and you are not willing to 'budge' until you get what you want…..you might be waiting for a long time. We can't always wait for the other person to take the first step. On the other hand, if someone has taken the steps to reconcile, and you rebuff them and their sincere attempts, you need to understand that there is a limit as to how long some people will continue to reach out. If you keep pushing attempts aside, you might find that you have lost the opportunity to reconcile, and the only person you will be able to blame is yourself. If this has happened, perhaps now you are to take the role of Jacob and do some soul searching of your own.
Lest you think you can wait until you decide that 'you are ready' to heal things, you might want to stop and consider that life is going by and there are benefits of that relationship that you are losing out on by forcing things to happen on your time frame? And, unfortunately, there are times when death comes before someone takes the step to reconciliation, and when that happens, you are the one left to carry the weight of that regret for the rest of your life. If God places another person on your heart with which to seek restoration, what will you do?