Jacob and Esau Bible Story: a retelling
The following is a retelling of the Jacob and Esau Bible story, which is written to read aloud to children, or young people. The Esau and Jacob story is one of those stories of hate that turns into love for a brother at the end. But is it in the end love without still holding onto the pain?
My own view is that the story of Jacob is about how God changes him, but Esau isn’t the hard done to brother either. Esau rejects his birthright, and gets upset because he also loses his blessing. It’s Esau that marries two women that make it miserable for his mum and dad. It’s Esau who then goes and marries someone else to make his mum and dad happy – attempting to manipulate them, I wonder. It strikes me that Jacob and Esau are about as bad as each other, and although the story focusses on Jacob, it seems that God is working with Esau as well throughout that time.
I’ve left out many of the details in the Jacob bible story, and I encourage you to look into them (Genesis chapter 27 to 33). In the end, Jacob in the Old Testament ends up still not trusting his brother not to turn on him, and I guess we’ll never know about how far Esau was going to be reconciled to his brother, Jacob. Would they have eventually turned on each other? At least at that moment of their meeting there was a sense of mutual forgiveness and compassion. We don’t know because after promising to go with Esau as reunited brothers Jacob actually makes a detour and sets up life elsewhere.
The Bible deals with the reality of life. And reality is that even when we forgive others, still there may be lingering pain. But pain doesn’t mean we need to be full of hate and a continued looking for revenge. Lip service only finds no part in forgiveness. Thankfully God not only forgives, but he also chooses not to remember the pain that we cause him when we have said that we don’t want to do things his way. And as we are reconciled to God when we have faith in him, so we can then be reconciled to others through the same faith.
Who do you need to be reconciled with? Who have you fallen out with? Can you forgive?
Because we CAN forgive, since God has forgiven us first.
Jacob sat in the early morning light, terrified. He’d not slept, not a bit. He’d fought…not the usual kind of fight you might have heard of. He’d fought with God. And God had let him win. But that wasn’t the end of his trouble, because now he had to face his brother.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “So? Big deal! I have to meet my brother or sister every day. Usually it’s coming out of the bathroom in the morning…” but Jacob’s brother wasn’t coming out of the bathroom. He was coming towards him, and was bringing about 400 armed soldiers towards Jacob.
And that doesn’t sound too friendly to me.
It’s what had been bothering Jacob all last night, whilst he was fighting with God. In fact it had been bothering Jacob for a lot longer than that. Years in fact.
He had been terrified of this very moment, the moment when he had to meet his brother Esau, the brother who he had cheated not once, but twice.
And no, I’m not talking about a game of snakes and ladders, or maybe scrabble. Not even marbles. We’re talking blessing and birthright.
Blessing and birthright. Ok, so this story isn’t, like, yesterday. This story is from about 1500 years before Jesus was even born (add it up, that’s around 3,600 years ago.) But don’t think this is a story which should be ignored, it really happened, and it’s about people, and people have always been the same. People have arguments. This idea of blessings and birthrights though, that’s pretty old. And probably more important to the people back then than it is now.
For those people the blessing your dad gave you was important, it was like a promise that God made happen. So if you were blessed to be the great person that would happen. And birthright was like inheritance, so when your mum and dad died, you got what they had. They were the rules.
And that’s exactly what Jacob had cheated from his brother hairy older brother Esau. Or rather, stolen. His brother had nothing, and had been so angry with Jacob that he threatened to kill him, and maybe he would have done it had Jacob not run a long, long way away.
And he had stayed a long way away from Esau for the last few years, sometimes forgetting what he had done, sometimes worrying about it. Often he found himself praying about it, wishing things had been different. And every time he prayed, God changed him a little by little. Changed him from that cheating brother into, well, someone different.
Over the years God had made Jacob into a rich and powerful man. If I were to tell you that many other families joined Jacob, and Jacob became important, the head of a kind of moving town – they didn’t have any buildings to call their own. And if I were to tell you that personally he owned thousands of sheep, and goats, and hundreds of cows, and people asked him what to do all the time…you would see just how important Jacob was.
But then yesterday one of his servants came to him and told him that a man had been spotted, a man matching the description of Esau, who was headed his way. Esau had also been blessed by God. Esau had also grown rich and powerful. And Esau the brother who Jacob had stolen from years and years before, had a small army with him. Esau’s soldiers had spears, and swords, and things for throwing, and things for cutting. And they were big and strong.
Jacob had a few sheep. And sheep aren’t much good in a fight. They tend to say ‘baaaa’ and run away. And you can’t throw them to easy neither.
So Jacob had to plan. He sat and he planned and he schemed. First he sent away half of his whole walking-town in one direction, and the other he kept with him, which were his own personal family and everything that he himself owned. “Well,” he thought, “If Esau catches one half of the town, the others will live…”
Then he sent ahead of him all the herds of sheep…as gifts for Esau, hoping that would make his brother happy. And then he sent ahead of him his family. And he was left alone. It had been dark, so dark, on his own. Not the kind of darkness that you get in a town at night. Not even the kind of darkness we know now, but the kind of darkness that is an inky velvet black, where you are so afraid. It’s a cold kind of dark, when your mind makes you as afraid as the reality of it being dark. And when you are in the middle of a desert, on your own, it’s even worse.
That’s when God wrestled with Jacob. How, what or even why I don’t know. But it was the last thing needed to change Jacob, change him into just the person God wanted. Though it didn’t seem to help Jacob at the time, just as the dawn light broke over the morning hills.
There he sat, alone, and terrified. His brother marching towards him with his four hundred armed men.
Afraid Jacob walked towards them, and then bowed down seven times to the ground, a sign that he totally and completely was giving in.
Esau cried out. Jacob could hear it. He could hear the cry. It sounded like the cry of war to his tired ears. And to his tired eyes all he could see was Esau charging towards him, his face all twisted, and what looked like angry tears streaming from his eyes. Esau’s men were charging behind him. “This is it,” though Jacob, “This is where I die.”
Jacob buried his face in the ground and closed his eyes. He heard and felt the feet pounding towards him. He heard the sound of those feet stopping and standing right next to him. He heard the breathing. Any moment now it would all be over.
He flinched as he felt a touch on his shoulder. He winced as he felt his collar tighten as a hand clenched tightly on the cloth on his back. Jacob opened his eyes a crack and saw the legs next to him, the hairy legs of his brother, who was so strong he lifted Jacob to his feet with just one arm. “Look at me, Jacob.” Said Esau.
Jacob opened his eyes slowly, ready to see the fury in his brothers face. But instead he looked into the eyes of a different man. It was still Esau, still the brother he had cheated, but somehow changed.
Esau smiled, and tears of joy streamed from his eyes. “My brother!!!” he shouted and flung his arms around him. And both of them cried. Esau with joy, and Jacob, with relief and joy.
Well at least he was going to live.
And Jacob said over and over “I’m-sorry-I’m sorry-I’m sorry”. Until Esau laid a finger on his lips to stop him. The Esau said, “What were you thinking sending me all these gifts?”
“Well, God has been good to me,” said Jacob, “and I thought, well, I just thought, you know…”
“Hey,” Esau said, “God has been good to me too.”
And Esau forgave him.
And they both lived in peace. In their own way. After all, they were brothers. But they never fought each other.
So tell me, what was it that had changed them both?
Maybe you need that thing too, to change you, to make peace with the people who have hurt you, or maybe who you have hurt.
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