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Don't Fear Even Fear Itself

Date: Oct. 14, 2018

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 33:1-20

Key Verse: Genesis 33:10

“‘No, please!’ said Jacob. ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.’”

In 1933, the Great Depression reached its lowest levels. People were afraid for their livelihoods. Unemployment was high, and a number of people were living in makeshift slums. Farmers were still having issues growing crops because of bad soil conditions and the Dust Bowl. Families didn’t know how they would survive. It was a worldwide issue. Some countries responded with new leadership. In 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany and opened the first concentration camp in Dachau. The US also voted in Franklin Roosevelt for his first term in 1932 and he was inaugurated in as President in March 6, 1933. It was considered a dark time for our nation, but among his first words in his inaugural address were, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” He was certain that the only thing to fear is fear itself. Roosevelt called all the fear that people had at the time unreasoning and unjustified. Fear was paralyzing the nation and the whole world. It prevented people from making good choices or caused them to make even the worst choices in history, like making Hitler the leader of your nation. Have you ever felt that type of fear? A couple of weeks ago, we heard from Mike about the Fear of Isaac, but this fear is not like the incredible awe of God that we should have. The fear Roosevelt talked about was nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that paralyzes us. It is the type of worry that causes you to think that your world was going to end if something happened or didn’t happen, and it is something that we all fall into. We all let our fear get ahead of us from time to time. In today’s passage, we find Jacob no longer succumbing to that fear and living by faith.

In the last passage, Jacob had arrived in the land of Canaan and he sent some messengers our ahead to find his brother Esau. After the messengers found Esau, he decided to come out to meet him, and he brought along four hundred men. When Jacob heard this, his heart melted in fear. His brother was bringing an army to meet him, he would have no chance at survival. So, he divided his camp in two in hopes that one camp would survive. He also sent lavish gifts ahead of him with the hope of placating his brother. He was still worried at night, so he sent his family across a river, while he stayed on the other side by himself. When everyone was gone, a man wrestled with Jacob until morning. It was revealed that the man was God himself. Jacob was afraid of the struggles he had with men and the struggle he perceived was ahead with his brother Esau. But at that point his struggle was with God.

This passage begins the next morning after he crossed over the Jabbok to meet his family. “Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants.” (1) At that moment, Jacob looked up and he saw his brother coming with his entourage. Esau was front and center, and all around him were four hundred men. That is a big group of people and quite intimidating. If you remember, Jacob had cheated his brother out of his birthright and stole the blessing of the firstborn. Esau was so upset at his brother, he wanted to kill Jacob. That’s why Jacob fled and headed to Laban. Jacob’s mother Rebekah told him that she would send for him when Esau calmed down and forgot everything, but she never sent for him. Perhaps Jacob took that to mean that Esau was still angry with Jacob and still wanted to kill him, and now, here was Esau with his four hundred men. There would be no escape if Esau wanted to cause Jacob any harm.

Jacob had just wrestled with God, but he was still uncertain about what was going to happen. So, he divided up his family into two groups. One group had Leah and Rachel and their children and the other had the servants and their children. The passage continues, “He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear.” (2) Here we see the Jacob’s heart. He put the one’s he loved the most in the rear, away from harm, with the servants and their children first, who would take the brunt of any attack. Again, Jacob is looking like he is trying to save what is most important to him, but then something different happened. “He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.” (3) For his entire life, Jacob was a deceiver and he refused to take responsibility for what he did. When hardship came, he ran away without saying much to the one he was running away from. He ran away from Esau after stealing the blessing, and he ran away from Laban after their relationship grew sour. Despite all that, here, Jacob puts himself in the front and goes to confront his brother. He took the fear he had and set it aside. He converted retreat into advance by bowing to the ground seven times. He honored his brother by bowing to him.

Esau approached and the tension in the air was thick. The air was electric with apprehension. What would Esau do? Would he receive Jacob warmly or would he order his four hundred men to attack? Every step that Jacob took was heavy, like his feet were made of lead. It took so much effort just to move forward. A moment felt like an eternity as Esau approached, and, then, the tension broke. Esau began to run to his brother. Jacob’s heart was pounding. What did it mean? Was he running to attack or was it something else? Jacob braced himself for his brother’s attack, “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” (4) What a response! Jacob was worried about being killed by his brother, but instead, he came running, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. You couldn’t have had a response that was further than what was anticipated. Esau hadn’t seen his brother in twenty years and he was just so happy to see him. It reminds me of the response of the dad in the story of the prodigal son. The son had asked for his inheritance and took off to live a wild life and squandered the whole thing. When all his money was gone, along with any dignity he had, the son decided to return to his father and ask to become a hired hand. He had a speech to his dad all lined up in his head, but before he could say a thing, his dad ran to him and embraced him. (Luke 15:11-32) The father wasn’t concerned with what the son had done, he was just happy to have his son back. It seems like it was the same with Esau. He was just happy to have his brother back. This wasn’t even a possibility in Jacob’s mind, but it was the reality. Jacob could only imagine a way to flee or placate or be killed, but reality was that his brother was happy to see him, and they wept for joy.

After some time embracing, Esau noticed the people with Jacob. “Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. ‘Who are these with you?’ he asked. Jacob answered, ‘They are the children God has graciously given your servant.’” (5) Jacob was gone for twenty years, and, in that time, he had a family. Jacob had left with just a staff but returned with a family and flocks and servants. He was rich. Group by group, Jacob’s concubines and wives came forward and bowed down to Esau. Esau then asks about the animals sent ahead to greet him. Jacob responds, “To find favor in your eyes, my lord.” (8) During this exchange, Jacob is constantly referring to himself as a servant and to Esau as my lord. This is in contrast to how he treated Esau earlier. In arrogance, Jacob had taken the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn. He was in charge of the family and not Esau, but, in humility, he stood before Esau now. His bravado and scheming were gone. I think he was sincere in his words. He doesn’t seem to be working an angle on Esau but is sincere in his words. I think Jacob realized that he had hurt his brother tremendously as he wrestled with God in the last passage and now that he was face to face with his brother, he wanted to honor Esau, so he gives Esau all the flocks and herds that went before him as a bit on recompense for what he did to his brother.

But Esau didn’t need it. “But Esau said, ‘I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.’” (9) Despite not having the rights of the firstborn, God still blessed Esau abundantly. We don’t know exactly how much Esau had, but he did have four hundred men with him. Those four hundred men worked for Esau and you have to be pretty well off to have four hundred men working for you. God still watched over Esau and was going to make him in to a nation as well. I find it interesting that after losing the rights of the firstborn, Esau chooses to live in Seir, which is outside the Promised Land. Jacob would become the heir of the promise and part of that promise was to inherit that land of Canaan. However, of his own accord, Esau chose to live elsewhere. While in Seir, Esau would become even more prosperous and become a nation with kings.

After Esau’s refusal of the gift, Jacob insisted that he take it. “‘No, please!’ said Jacob. ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.’ And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.” (10-11) Here, Jacob revealed his thankful heart. Jacob finally acknowledged that God provided for him. Everything that Jacob had was not due to his planning and scheming, but because God was with him and blessed him. He acknowledged that and also recognized that since God provided for him, he had everything he needed.

Jacob also said to Esau, “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.” (10) This is an interesting statement. It was widely thought, that if a person saw the face of God, they would die. Jacob even mentions that in the previous passage, when he realized that he was wrestling with God himself. There he was, in awe that he was still alive after seeing the face of God. Here it is less about the awe and more about the warmness of God. Esau had received Jacob so well that Jacob could see God’s hand in all of it. We don’t know when Esau was no longer angry with Jacob. God could have come the Esau that morning to warn him, just like he did with Laban or it could have been year prior that Esau’s anger subsided. At any rate, God was working in Esau by preparing his heart for Jacob’s return. It was the only way that Esau’s heart would have changed. Since Esau received Jacob favorably, Jacob could see God working in Esau, so it was just like seeing the face of God.

Because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted his gift, but he also wanted to return home. “Then Esau said, ‘Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.’” (12) Esau wanted to Jacob to return with him to Seir, but this is where things get a little weird. “But Jacob said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.’” (13-14) Jacob is hesitant to go with Esau. He is worried about his young children and the young of his flocks and herds. They wouldn’t survive even one day of being driven hard. He would have to take it slowly for the sake of those who were not as able.

I’m not sure how truthful Jacob was being. What he says sounds plausible, but I get the sense that Jacob was still being a deceiver. Esau then offers to provide some protection for Jacob while he makes his way to Seir, but Jacob refuses. I read that this could be because Jacob wanted to trust God to protect him and not Esau, but I still get the feeling that Jacob refused because he didn’t want his ruse to be detected. Esau accepted and left for Seir, but Jacob never went to Seir. Jacob ghosted his brother and left him to wonder what had happened. He was nowhere to be found. Instead of going to Seir, he went toward Sukkoth and then Shechem, where he purchased some land and settled for a time.

While in Shechem, Jacob set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel, which could either mean “mighty is the God of Israel” or “God is the God of Israel”. Either of these meanings give some insight into Jacob’s mind. In the first meaning, it would mean that Jacob was acknowledging God’s protection over him. He had arrived safely in Shechem and he wasn’t going to be killed by his brother. He was relieved and knew that it was all because of God’s might. The other meaning acknowledges that God is Jacob’s God and that he accepted his new name of Israel. This meaning is the fulfillment of the vow that Jacob took at Bethel in Genesis 28. He said, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Genesis 28:20-22) Jacob had fulfilled his vow by acknowledging God as his God and accepted his new name of Israel.

Jacob was a fearful man, who learned to trust in God and face his fear. When he did that, he came to realize that God is faithful to him. God kept his promise to return him safely to Canaan and his father’s household. His fear was proven to be unfounded. In the end, he had no reason to be afraid. Now, he wasn’t perfect. He still deceived his brother, again, but we can see his growth in this passage. He trusted that God would protect him. He trusted that, somehow, God would take care of the situation and God did. He had nothing to fear for God was with him.

Think about what you fear. We live in uncertain times with fear driving people to become angry at everything. We are victims of other people and never acknowledge our own part in situations. We always focus on what the other people did to us and we don’t see what we did. Anger and fear fill our hearts. We think that other people are our enemy, but we are reminded through the Bible, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) Our true enemy is the great deceiver that tries to keep us in fear. The devil is the one who whispers in your ear about how dire your situation is. You might put on a brave face, but in your heart, you are filled with fear and uncertainty because don’t know what is going to happen next. Not knowing is one of the hardest things to deal with, but the reality of the situation is that the fear and uncertainty that you have is unfounded; it is nameless, unreasoning, and unjustified terror, just like Roosevelt said. It paralyzes us, but the truth is that God is for us, and if he is for us, who can be against us. God is on our side. It is like being on a basketball team with Michael Jordan in his prime or being on the Bears with Khalil Mack as an outside linebacker. In fact, it is even better than that. We can face anything with God on our side. Nothing can stop us, not even fear. It may not turn out the way we want or expect, but in the end, we are victorious.

There is a new song from Elevation Worship that goes, “As I walk now through the valley, Let your love rise above every fear. Like the sun shaping the shadow, In my weakness your glory appears” and the bridge goes,

Not for a minute
Was I forsaken
The Lord is in this place
The Lord is in this place

Come Holy Spirit
Dry bones awaken
The Lord is in this place
The Lord is in this place
(Here Again, Elevation Worship)

Not for a minute are we forsaken. God is so faithful to us, not matter what we have done, God is always there for us, with his love rising above every fear. When we are weak we are strong, because God is right there with us.

Don’t just take my word for it. You don’t need to look any further than Jesus to find proof of God’s love and faithfulness. One of the names Jesus is known by is Immanuel, which means God with us. Jesus is God in the flesh. He came down to this earth to be with his people. He is not a distant God, but one who is willing to come down and meet his people. He doesn’t require for us to come to him, he came to us. Jesus chose to be with us and he chose to die for us. Jesus died on the cross for us, to redeem us and bring us back to God. He died for our sins and if he did that, there is nothing that will be withheld from us. The apostle Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) And there is nothing that we can do to lose that love. Paul wrote a little later, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus. There is no power on earth or under the earth that can overpower God. There is nothing that we should be afraid of because we have the creator of the universe on our side backing our plays.

We don’t need to live in fear and worry about life. Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31-34) Jacob lived his life in fear, running away from his troubles, but in one moment, after he wrestled with God, he was able to trust God and his promise of protection. In that moment, his life changed and the result was greater that he could have imagined. God made a way when there was no way. Esau was coming with four hundred men to meet Jacob. He was running to his brother, but not to kill him, but to embrace Jacob as his long-lost brother. God never failed Jacob, and he has never failed you yet. Roosevelt was wrong, we don’t have to fear even fear itself when you seek God first and trust in him.

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Daily Bread

The Birth of Isaac

Genesis 21:1-21

Key Verse: 21:2

And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.

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Intro Daily