While this chapter concludes with another line of descendants, there is a bit of story here of which we can ask some significant questions. Jacob and Esau are at this point both very wealthy. Having reconciled, they are now living in the same area. However their wealth continues to increase, to the point that it becomes very apparent that the land will not support both of them. Their cattle need grazing areas, and their farmers need fields to work. It’s simply a problem of space – there really isn’t room for both of them. So Esau moved his family away from Canaan to settle far away in the hill country of Seir.
This was a smart thing to do. A good businessman will rightly tell you that competition brings out the best in companies. However, this is only true when there is a sufficient market for both companies to exist. If there are only enough resources for one to thrive, then the only way to succeed is to move from a competitive mode to an annihilation one. Your company’s success now depends on the other company’s failure. When this happens, there is a clear winner and a clear loser.
Perhaps this is easier to explain using businesses simply because they aren’t actual people. We can be somewhat nonchalant about our characterizations and absolute in our thinking when we are talking about things that shouldn’t hold emotional sway with us. However, when family is involved, it takes on a whole new meaning. Imagine if you and a close family member were finally together after years of enmity between you. You are looking forward to the future together and then realize that you can’t stay together because if you do, one of you will end up broke. There’s not enough land or money for you both to prosper. What would you do?
Most likely, you would respond with something like “we’ll figure it out…” or “there must be a way”. Perhaps you’ll try to consider some sort of mutual partnership. You’ll try to do anything except the smart thing because this is about family, right? It’s difficult to make a decision that would actually be best for the family when the peripheral consequence of separation is so obvious.
I’ve thought about this a lot before concerning churches. I grew up in a very different area from where I currently serve, but both places have something unique in common. All of the churches are grouped in the same area. They are literally in competition with each other. The problem is not just that it causes many of them to struggle, but rather that it distracts them from Kingdom building. Each church is so focused on growth within the body that very few resources are set aside for taking the gospel out to people who don’t have it.
A philosophy of divide and conquer would be more appropriate in the church today. If we were somewhat more strategic, I believe our method of growth would naturally be to introduce new people to Jesus, not introduce a new church to believers.
I do know that was a bit of a rant, so let me move on to explain what I think is necessary for this to happen. It’s so easy to point out a problem without offering a solution. To solve this problem, someone needs to display great humility. Esau displayed a certain kind of virtue by moving his family away. Reminiscent of his ancestor, Abraham, who deferred to Lot when choosing where each would settle, Esau, whose original birthright was stolen by Jacob, makes himself subject to his brother, and leaves the promised land for him to prosper in. This was an incredibly selfless act and an act of true love. Esau models for us that no matter what hurt someone else has caused you, your response is what is important, and your response can allow both of you to prosper. Here’s the catch though: that same humble heart has to be without malice as well, as you need to have the desire for the other person to prosper.
How do we develop an attitude like Esau’s? How does he get to this place in his life where he runs out to meet the one who betrayed him, kisses his neck and then leaves the land they settle in so that one can enjoy it? My only answer is that this only happens when we fix our eyes on Jesus, a man of sorrows who died for those who wronged and betrayed him.