The relationship between the twin brothers Jacob and Esau is not described anywhere in the Bible as a friendship. They were at odds with one another from before the day they were born. Their mother Rebekah had so much pain from their prenatal discord that she cried out to God about it. God Himself told her that they were the heads of two nations and that they would always be at each other.
That was true. Finally one day (they may have been in their late teens), with the help of his mother, Jacob stole the father's blessing which rightfully belonged to the first-born. That made Esau furious, so Rebekah sent Jacob off to her brother Laban and other relatives back in Haran.
Jacob and his uncle Laban pulled some fast ones over each other, but after twenty years, Jacob had two wives in his cousins, Leah and Rachel, and he had many flocks of sheep and cattle and many servants. Then God told him to pack up and move back to his own country where he belonged. Jacob slipped away on the sly with his large family and wealth of flocks and servants. But Laban chased after them, and Jacob had to stop and negotiate a peace and put up a memorial of stones to settle his quarrels with his uncle.
When they got closer to Edom, where his brother Esau had settled and grown rich, Jacob sent servants with gifts of flocks and herds ahead as a peace offering to Esau.
As he waited overnight, Jacob wrestled with a spirit-being and insisted on a blessing. I believe this was tied to his deep inner struggle about his relationship with his brother. At the end the stranger changed his name to Israel, “because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” He also gave Jacob, now Israel, a physical reminder in a dislocated hip. (This incident is often shown as proof that we should persist in prayer).
Seeing Esau coming in the distance with four hundred men, Jacob quickly divided up his family and flocks into two camps, so that if one were attacked the other might flee, and he went forward to meet Esau bowing seven times before his brother.
However Esau came running to meet Jacob and hugged and kissed him and wept for joy at seeing him at last.
Esau was astonished to see so many people behind Jacob, so Jacob introduced his family, first the maidservants and their children, then Leah and her children, and lastly his favourite wife, Rachel, and her son Joseph.
Then they had some polite dickering over whether Esau would accept the gifts of the flocks he had met on the way. He said he was wealthy enough and did not need them, but Jacob insisted, saying that seeing Esau was like seeing the face of God.
Esau offered to accompany Jacob and his traveling party, or at least second some of his men to go with them, but Jacob insisted that it would not work. The children and the young flocks must travel slowly. One day of fast riding would kill them. In the end Jacob got his way, and Esau went back to his Seir.
Jacob went as far as Succoth (meaning shelters), making shelters for his livestock. Then he bought land near the city of Shechem and pitched all his tents to settle down there with his large family.
There are of course, many more stories of this unique family in the Bible, but for now let us notice how the brothers were reconciled to one another.
How did it happen?
Jacob sent a peace offering ahead. He also moved his family into a place of safety.
Then, before meeting with his brother, he spent the night in prayer over their estranged relationship. His wrestling may have mainly been about over-coming his own pride, and repenting of his own part in the original quarrels. For people hung up on their own rights and feeling wounded by others this can be a serious struggle in the spirit. But he stayed at it until he had a victory that gave him peace - and love towards his brother. However, as is so often the case, when we are ready to forgive and to ask forgiveness, the enemy has already been changed by God to be more receptive. Esau ran to meet Jacob with hugs and kisses.
Notice too, that Jacob had the good sense to realize that just because he was reconciled with his brother didn't mean they had to live in the same neighbourhood, so to speak. He declined Esau's offer of an escort by his own small army, and he settled in a different place so that he and his brother would not be in each other's face all the time.
In our own relationships, sometimes, we have this impression that to be at peace with others means that we are living practically arm in arm all the time. Not necessarily so. It is healthy to note that our friends, or siblings, are not exactly compatible with us. Our friendship can be at an arms' length. We need to allow space between ourselves, perhaps in time and perhaps in location too.
Not all friendships are of the intimate, flesh-of-my-flesh type. We see in Esau and Jacob that they had quarreled all through their childhood but after this reconciliation they were at peace. In the same area, but far enough apart so that they could remain friendly to one another.
Lest you want to escape making reconciliation by just keeping a distance between you and your siblings or enemies, remember this, bitterness and unresolved quarrels eat away at our spirits and become a rotten disease in our physical bodies too. You will suffer if you do not reconcile.
My novel, Ruthe's Secret Roses, and this related site have a Friendship theme. By getting to know and follow around the heroine, Ruthe, you can learn a lot about friendships, and that there is one that is the golden key to enriching all your other friendships and making them more satisfying. The site is more like a perfumed poupouri of articles and pages on that theme, and I've started a series on the friendships we observe in the Bible and what practical insights we can gain for our own friendships by thinking about them
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Ruth Marlene Friesen
The Responsible One
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Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada