I vividly remember reading the short story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” by Frank Stockton in 6th grade. The classic way Stockton leaves the reader in perpetual uncertainty, wondering whether the princess had sent her lover into the arms of another woman or to be mauled by a tiger, left me deeply satisfied while many of my friends were angered by the cliffhanger. The ambiguity leaves me–as the reader–to consider which ending I would have preferred. What would I do?
I believe the reunion of Jacob and Esau in Genesis offers us the same invitation.
Last week I preached a message regarding the power of forgiveness between Esau and Jacob. While I focused on Esau’s line of offering forgiveness (Genesis 33:4), time did not permit me to transition to Jacob’s response.
Esau offered forgiveness, telling his brother that he has forgiven him. The question remains whether Jacob received that forgiveness. Did he allow that to penetrate his heart?
That is a hard pill to swallow. Most of the time when we think about receiving forgiveness we are expecting to hear the other person say, “I am sorry.” However, that is not receiving forgiveness. Receiving forgiveness is when the person tells us–“I will no longer hold this against you.” It is when they confront us with our wrongdoing. They are telling us:
- I will not dwell on it.
- I will not bring it up.
- I will not let this drive a wedge between us.
This is hard to accept. But this is how you accept grace.
In order to receive grace you have to realize it means “getting what you do not deserve.” When someone offers you forgiveness, they are not basing it upon your merit. You do not deserve this. They are saying what you did was wrong and it hurt. Grace is saying, you are not worthy of my love; nothing you have done or ever will do will earn this love. However, I am offering you this gift, this grace.
Esau offers Jacob this gift of grace.
The question Genesis poses is, did Jacob humble himself enough to accept it?
Genesis 33:17 tells us that after the experience of reconciliation with his brother, Esau returned home but Jacob went off to Succoth. He did not accept his brother’s invitation to travel together (v. 12) nor his protection (v.15). Instead Jacob went away from his brother to live on his own.
The two never reunite until Genesis 35:29 when their father died:
“Then he, [Isaac] breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years, And his sons, Esau and Jacob, buried him.”
“Esau and Jacob:” the twins were finally reunited. Their reunion, however, occurred at the graveside of the man who had driven the wedge between them. Their father–the one whose love the two had been fighting for–was finally dead.
Like “the Lady, or the Tiger?,” scripture leaves us with this image of Jacob standing beside his brother at his father’s grave. We do not know if Jacob had chosen to sow the seeds of grace and forgiveness into his heart, or if he allowed bitterness and resentment to permanently ruin their relationship forever.
Now at the graveside, Jacob had a choice to make. He could either receive the forgiveness offered or remain bitter. Either he could keep picking away at that festering wound, or allow it to scar.
The difference between a scar and a wound is healing.
Forgiveness begins the healing process that will take time, but if we do not accept the gracious gift of forgiveness we will never begin the process of being healed. Would Jacob allow the wound of his father to heal?
When Jesus cries out “Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing,” I believe he was not only praying for the soldiers casting lots, but also for us. We can become so caught up in the trivial nature of our lives (like gambling over a garment) that we may miss Christ’s forgiveness that sets us free from our sins and assures our salvation.
Have you received the forgiveness offered to you?
Do not wait until you are standing at the graveside.