Week 21 — Day 141 – Esau Forgives
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. Hebrews 11:24
When we think of the sons of Isaac – Jacob and Esau – we think of Jacob as the ‘good guy’ and Esau as the villain in the story. After all, isn’t Jacob named in the “faith chapter” (Hebrews 11:24)? Did not God say, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” (Malachi 1:3; Romans 9:13)? Did not Jacob make a vow to serve God (Gen. 28:20-22) and persist in asking for God’s blessing (Gen. 32:22-32)? Did not Jesus include him when He referred to the “God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Matt. 22:32)? And, on the other hand, wasn’t it Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup (Gen. 25:31-34) and later married an Ishmaelite woman out of spite for his father who had urged him not to (Gen. 28:8-9)?
Yes, it certainly looks like Jacob is the good guy in this story and Esau is not.
But, as is usually the case, no one is completely ‘good’ or completely ‘bad’. The flip side of the story of these two brothers is found in Genesis chapters 32 and 33. Jacob and family are journeying back to the land promised to his grandfather Abraham long ago. He had fled to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, who years earlier had vowed to kill him (Gen. 27:41). Jacob was afraid of Esau but was now entering the area where Esau lived. He made elaborate preparations for this unwanted reunion: arranging for a generous gift of livestock (32:13-15), then setting the order in which his family would meet Esau (33:2), then bowing seven times to Esau (33:3). What Jacob does not do is offer an apology for taking advantage of Esau in obtaining the birthright and their father’s blessing years before. There is no admission of wrongdoing for the scheming that he had been part of, no request for forgiveness. Instead, in this important instance, it is Esau who is the better man. By his actions in running to Jacob, giving him welcoming kisses, and weeping in joy at seeing his brother again (33:4). It is Esau who politely acknowledges Jacob’s family (33:5). It is Esau who tries to refuse the generous gift of livestock and states, “I have enough, my brother.” (33:9) And it is Esau who offers to travel with Jacob, providing some of his people, presumably as guides and guards on the trip to Esau’s base in Seir (33:15). What is Jacob’s response? He refuses insists on the gift, refuses the offer of guides and guardians, and after saying he will travel along slowly after Esau’s company, instead heads west while Esau heads south. We hear no more of Esau until he and Jacob meet to bury their father (Gen. 35:29).
How do we show forgiveness? Esau shows us what forgiveness looked like in the case of his relationship to his brother. There is no dwelling on the past. Esau sees how God has blessed him with much, as He has Jacob. He shows no envy. He offers peace and reconciliation. That is what forgiveness meant in his case.
- Read Genesis 33.
- In your personal history is there the memory of someone who has caused you hurt or loss? How are you handling that now?
- Even with that past loss, can you see ways God has blessed you and provided for you since?
- In this story, forgiveness is observed in actions. Think on the interplay of the offender and the offended in this story. There are not many words exchanged. Also, Esau doesn’t wait for Jacob to confess his earlier wrongdoing; he simply accepts Jacob where they are at the moment and demonstrates the possibility of a better future. Forgiveness doesn’t demand an apology.
Day 142 – Joseph Forgives
And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him. Genesis 45:15
So often we are offended by some little thing, after which we have a hard time talking to the offender let alone forgiving him or her. But, many people suffer horrendous ill treatment from others. How can they forgive the one who has hurt them so deeply?
Joseph was treated especially grievously by his brothers. The sins of the brothers against Joseph are chronicled in Genesis 37. We read that they hated him, initially because he brought a bad report of them to their father (37:2) and then because their father, Jacob, showed favouritism to Joseph by giving him a special robe (37:3-4). The brothers had trouble even speaking civilly to Joseph (37:4) when Joseph told them of his dream of their sheaves bowing to his sheaf (37:8-9). This was followed by their jealousy when he related a second dream about eleven stars bowing down to him (37:8-9).
All of this culminated with the plot to kill Joseph (37:18), which, thanks to Reuben’s and Judah’s interventions, led to selling him into slavery rather than to outright murder (37:28). They deceived their father into thinking Joseph had been killed by a wild animal – and thought that was the end of it (37:31-33). But we know that Joseph survived and eventually, after various other trials, became second in command in Egypt and had all the earth coming to him to dole out provisions during an extended famine (41:57). That’s how, 20 years later, Joseph’s brothers ended up before Joseph, not knowing who it was whose mercy they sought! What would you have done? Joseph had opportunity to get even, but, instead, carries out a plan to help them realize that their sin still had to be reckoned with: “God has found out the guilt of your servants,” Judah concludes (44:16) before offering himself as a substitute for the younger Benjamin in order to spare their father from a final blow if he were to lose Benjamin as well as Joseph (44:34).
Seeing this contrition and concern in Judah, Joseph reveals who he is to his brothers: “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…to preserve for you a remnant on earth… I will provide for you… Hurry and bring my father down here.” (45:4-13) We read that there were a lot of tears and kisses and, “after that his brothers talked with him” (45:14-15). So, Jacob sees his long-lost son again and all the family is provided for, and Joseph comforted his offenders, saying,“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Gen. 50:19-21)
- Read Genesis 37 and 45.
- As painful as it may be, recall a grievous wrong done to you. Have you forgiven the offender? What does that forgiveness look like?
- How can our kindness and acceptance of the wrongdoer work to convict that person’s heart?
- Are you willing to extend forgiveness even if the offending person or people never admit to wrongdoing?
- Are you willing to wait for a time of reconciliation that may take years, not holding a grudge during that time? (Note: I once received a letter asking for my forgiveness – about a decade after the offense occurred.)
- Joseph said that his brothers did evil, but God used it for good. Can you see the hand of God in your life, and through you to others, even through the wrongdoing of others?
Day 143 – David Forgives
And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may ishow him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” II Samuel 9:1
During the 1400s two branches of a family fought over the rights to the English throne. This “family feud” has gone down in history as the War of the Roses. It has not been unusual in history for rivalries to escalate into conflict.
One such rivalry in the Bible was between the house of Saul and the house of David. King Saul had sought to kill David for years but eventually lost his life in battle and the people recognized David as the next King of Israel. One of the early questions the new King faced was what to do with Saul’s descendants. The convention of the time was to eliminate such descendants in order to free the new King from potential resistance or retaliation by the previous monarch’s family and supporters.
After Saul’s death and David’s ascendancy to the throne, it is said that the surviving heir, Saul’s son Ish-boseth, lost his courage (II Samuel 4:1) and two of his captains fled – fearing the reprisals of the new King – and the nurse to Saul’s grandson, Mephibothesh, likewise took the boy and fled (II Samuel 4:4). Some time later, another relative of Saul’s was braver and cursed David to his face. Ish-boseth was indeed killed by followers of David and Shimei was threatened with beheading (II Samuel 16:9). But David chose not to follow the practice of his day and pardoned Shimei, saying, “Leave him alone, and let him curse…It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” (II Samuel 16:11-13)
But that is not all David did. He also sought out any survivors of Saul with the purpose of “showing kindness for Jonathan’s sake” (II Sam. 9:1). Mephibosheth was not only Saul’s grandson; he was also Jonathan’s son. Jonathan, Saul’s son, had been David’s great friend but had died in battle. David found Mephibosheth and summoned him and said, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father, Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” (II Sam. 9:7) And that is what happened (9:13).
So, what did forgiveness look like in this case?
- It was something that reached far beyond society’s expectation.
- It resisted the taking of revenge. David pardoned Shmei and allowed God to settle scores however He wished.
- It was revealed through kindness and generosity. David gave Mephibosheth lands and servants, and a place at the King’s table (II Sam.9:7).
- It restored dignity. Mephibosheth considered himself a “dead dog” (II Sam.9:8) but David gave him new honour.
- It removed fear. “Do not fear,” David assured Mephibosheth (II Sam. 9:7).
- Read II Samuel 9 and 16.
- Consider how the following New Testament verses were lived out in David’s life:
Luke 6:27-28, 35-36 – 27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do_good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your_reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Matthew 5:38-41 – 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for aneye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you onthe right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
I Corinthians 13:4-7 – “4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving oneanother, as God in Christ forgave you.”
- Pictured above is a bouquet of yellow roses. Red roses are a symbol of romantic love. Yellow roses are symbolic of kindness, friendship and caring.
- Have you been forgiven by someone who has shown kindness to you? Thank God for that expression. Is there someone to whom you can show forgiveness in this way – maybe with a gift of a yellow rose :}?
Day 144 – Stephen Forgives
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice,“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:60
We can suffer a great hurt in any number of ways – physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially, as a result of the politics of the workplace, etc. I am thinking of instances where we are the victim of someone else’s direct or indirect action, essentially unfair, that has hit us hard. In these cases, though we may eventually come to forgive the wrongdoer, forgiveness is probably not the first thing on our minds.
The story of Stephen in the Book of Acts prominently features his forgiveness of his assailants – who ended Stephen’s life by false accusations and stoning. Stephen was one of seven deacons appointed by the early church to assist the apostles in seeing to fair treatment of widows, whether Jewish or Gentile, who were eligible for a share of the relief which the believers distributed to the poor.
Perhaps, instead of asking, ‘What does forgiveness look like?’, in this case we should ask, ‘Where does forgiveness come from?’ In Stephen’s case we see that forgiveness issues from a Spirit-filled heart and a Spirit-empowered life.
- A Spirit-filled heart:
Three times it is said of Stephen that he was “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:3, 5, 54). Being filled with the Spirit implies an acceptance of Jesus Christ as Saviour and a subsequent submission to God the Spirit’s control in one’s life as a follower of Jesus. In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul contrasted the Spirit-filled person with one who lives by the flesh. He lists characteristics of both kinds of living and challenges us to “live by the Spirit”, as those who belong to Christ (Galatians 5:16-25). Ephesians 5:18 adds, “Be filled with the Spirit”, with a resulting worship of God, thankfulness to Him, reverence for Christ, and mutual submission with other believers. Forgiveness issues from a heart submitted to the Holy Spirit.
- A Spirit-empowered life:
Stephen had the kind of godly character that the apostles took notice of; hence, his appointment to this new office of deacon. They noticed his faith, wisdom, and grace (Acts 6:3, 5). They saw the evidence of God’s presence and work in him through powerful, miraculous wonders and signs (Acts 6:8), and his thorough knowledge of scripture (note his lengthy sermon in Acts 7). They witnessed the effect of his preaching on his hearers – observers saw that Stephen’s face was angelic (Acts 6:15). They saw that Stephen stayed with the truth even at the cost of his own life. In the end, it was “devout men” who tenderly cared for his burial (8:2). Yes, an angry audience killed him, but devout men honoured him. Also, in his last words, Stephen showed a trust in the risen Jesus Christ to receive him in glory, along with a generous forgiveness of his persecutors (7:60). One of the persecutors who could not forget Stephen’s testimony was a young Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) who soon after obeyed God’s call on his own life (Acts 22:20-21).
So, we remember Stephen as a man who forgave his persecutors and we see that this forgiveness came out of a deep knowledge of and walk with God. Forgiveness is a work of the spirit of God in a believer’s life.
- Read Acts 6, 7, 8:1-2.
- When have you found it difficult to forgive?
- When someone has forgiven you, what did that forgiveness look like? How was is communicated?
Day 145 – Paul Forgives
16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May itnot be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. II Timothy 4:16-18
These words might also be ascribed to the Apostle Paul. The letter of II Timothy was written while Paul was in a Roman prison. In chapter 4 he writes to Timothy (then the pastor of the church in Ephesus) asking that he come soon. He laments that Demas had deserted him and Alexander the coppersmith had done him great harm. Others remained faithful companions but had, nonetheless, had to move on elsewhere in their service to God. He had no one to stand with him at his first trial. Other than the presence of his physician, Luke, Paul felt alone and abandoned. He has sent for Mark and now is asking Timothy to come, too. His life on earth is probably nearing its end and he needs a few friends (not to mention a cloak and some parchments he wants Timothy to bring with him).
The departures of Demas who had come to love the world more than the Lord, and the abandonment of Alexander, who had strongly opposed the message, were very hard on Paul, as was the fact that others had not stood with him in his trial. How does he respond to these failings? He exclaims, “May it not be charged against them!” (verse 16) He forgives them. Yes, he does warn Timothy to beware of the false message of Alexander, but he also forgives those who had done him harm. Forgiveness does not mean that you ignore the wrong – a false message or an abandonment are still wrong, – but our heart can mourn over what these folk have done to themselves as well as us. We can forgive and desire their restoration. Paul left whatever discipline was needed to the Lord: “The Lord will repay him according to his deeds.” (verse 14)
Paul not only identified the wrong and forgive the wrongdoers, he also acknowledged that God had remained with him through this hardship: “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed.” (II Timothy 4:17) Surely, one of the ways God had remained with him was through the presence of Luke and the reliability of Timothy and Mark, whom he could count on.
- Read II Timothy 4:9-19.
- What scriptures can you recall that assure you that you are not alone? (Do an Internet search of “Bible verses on the presence of God”.)
- What friends and associates have remained trustworthy even when others have not?
- Are you able now to identify wrongdoing yet forgive the wrongdoer?
Day 146 – God the Father Forgives
18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. 20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. Micah 7:18-20
I’m sure you have heard someone distinguish between “the God of the Old Testament” and “the God of the New Testament”. The idea, a false one to be sure, is that the God of the Old Testament is harsh and unforgiving while the God of the New Testament is loving and kind. There are many texts we could turn to in order to show that God is consistently forgiving. An Old Testament passage that gives strong emphasis to the forgiving nature of God the Father is Micah 7:18-20.
To get our point across to someone else, we often repeat what we are saying, and that repetition may come in different forms. For example, we may define a term, use a simile, or use a metaphor to illustrate the point. In Micah 7 God uses seven words or expressions to explain the nature of true forgiveness. “Who is a God like you?”, the passage begins – surely an exclamation, meaning, “Wow! What an amazing God we have! Just think of His gracious and lavish kindness in offering us forgiveness for our many wrongs! There is no other like You, Lord!”
- Pardoning (Micah 7:18) – This is the Hebrew word “salah”. It means to offer amnesty or clemency. In English, we might use the word as a form of politeness as in, “Pardon me for interrupting”. But when we use it in a legal sense, we mean that a convicted individual is exempted from further punishment. In Micah 7:18 the idea is that God removes the deserved punishment we should have for our iniquity or sin. Interestingly, in the laws of our world, a person might be offered a conditional (or limited pardon, with some criminal liability remaining or other limits such as reporting to a parole officer) or an absolute pardon (total extinction of criminal liability), but God offers only the absolute kind.
- Passing over transgression (v. 18) – This is the Hebrew word “pesah”, meaning to skip or omit or placate. The picture that comes to mind immediately for most readers of the Bible is the night in the time of the exodus when the angel passed over any home that had the blood of the sacrificial lamb painted over the door, thus sparing the first-born from death: Exodus 12:13, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” For the correct and only effective sacrifice, God will pass over the judgment due our sin: I Corinthians 5:7, “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.” And I Peter 1:18-19, “Knowing that you were ransomed… with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” And, Romans 3:23-25, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom Gd put forward as propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith… In His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins.”
- Not retaining anger forever (v. 18) – The Bible teaches us that there are some things which make God angry. For example, Proverbs 6:16-19 list pride, lying, the shedding of innocent blood, wicked schemes, rushing into evil, bearing false witness, and stirring up conflict. Romans 1:18 adds ungodliness, unrighteousness, and suppressing the truth. You get the idea – these sins, often found in you and me, make God angry. But anger is not an emotion to be retained and fostered inside us. In us as humans, studies show it can lead to heart attacks and strokes. God has found a way to set aside His righteous anger – namely, by taking care of the sin problem through the offering of His Son, Jesus Christ.
- Love (v. 18) – “He delights in steadfast love.” Anger should not be lasting, but love should be. His love for us is the basis for forgiveness. Numbers 14:19 says, “Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love.”
- Compassion (v. 19) – “He will again have compassion on us.” As a compassionate God, He is inclined to be merciful. Are you inclined to be merciful toward the one who has wronged you?
- Tread under foot (v. 19) – “He will tread our iniquities underfoot.” God’s forgiveness is expressed through crushing or suppressing our sins, so they are no more remembered.
- Cast into the sea (v. 19) – “You will cast our sins into the depths of the sea.” Here is another way of saying He doesn’t retain His anger and He does tread those sins underfoot. He gets rid of the offensive sins. He throws them into the sea like a weighted hook on a fishing line, and they disappear. Forgiveness does that.
Here are seven ways to understand the nature of God’s forgiveness. My, what a pardoning God we have!
- Read Micah 7.
- Pick the one of the seven ways to understand God’s forgiveness that most resonates with you. Meditate on it.
- We can have two opposite reactions to the message that we are sinners whom God is eager to forgive. One is to under-emphasize the seriousness of our sin. Another is to under-emphasize the depth of God’s forgiveness. Both errors are answered in I John 1:8-9, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
Day 147 – Jesus Forgives
“[God the Father] has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace…” Ephesians 1:7
How can we consider biblical examples of forgiveness without looking at Jesus Christ? In His life, He both exemplified forgiveness and taught about it.
An Example of Forgiveness
Jesus was an example of forgiveness, both of forgiving offenses done to Him and forgiving others their own sins. His life shows us what forgiveness looks like. In Luke 5:17-20, some men work their way through a crowd gathered around Jesus. These men are carrying their friend who is paralyzed. They make a hole in the tile roof and lower the friend. Jesus is impressed by their faith and says, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” Scribes and Pharisees accuse Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to forgive sins, something only God can do. To show that He has such authority, Jesus also heals the paralyzed man, much to the amazement of the crowd who exclaim, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” In this story we see that forgiveness from God comes through faith in God’s Son.
A little farther in Luke’s Gospel we read about a woman who was known in the community as a “sinner” (7:37). She comes to Jesus and begins washing His dusty feet with her tears and her hair, kissing His feet and anointing His head with ointment. This time the Pharisee at whose home the event took place questions Jesus’ credentials, suggesting that He should have rejected the woman’s attention. In reply, Jesus points out that her actions opened the door to her forgiveness. “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much” (Luke 7:47) – and adds to the woman, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” (v. 50) It is a amazing story, with many elements deserving our attention. At the very least we see the contrition for one’s sins, faith in Jesus to forgive us, and love towards Him, together lead to generous forgiveness.
Then, there is Luke 23:34. In Luke 23 the crucifixion of Jesus is described. While on the cross, He prays, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Sins committed against Jesus during the trial and crucifixion included false testimony against Him, mocking and reviling Him, blaspheming Him, brutally placing a crown of thorns on His head, making Him carry a heavy cross, nailing His hands and feet to that cross, and callous gambling over his clothing. Yet He said, “Forgive them.” This was in keeping with Matthew 5:44, where Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Here, forgiveness again is most generous, and is centred on the benefit to others like ourselves. Ephesians 4:32 calls on us to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
A Teacher of Forgiveness
Briefly, we must note that Jesus was a teacher of forgiveness. He taught us what forgiveness looks like. He explained to Peter that we should be prepared to forgive those who sin against us seventy-seven times (or 490 times, in some translations). Peter had suggested seven times, but, in effect, Jesus said, forgive more often than you can count the offenses (Matthew 18:21-22). He also taught us that in order to receive God’s forgiveness we must show a heart of compassion like His own (Matthew 18:35). How can we expect forgiveness if our attitude is harsh and unforgiving? Such a heart’s attitude shows we are not truly repentant of our own sins. “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)
So, what does forgiveness look like? In Jesus’ life we see that it is compassion given to the greatest offenders, other-centred, an expression of faith, and a way we show that we love God and the person to whom we offer forgiveness.
- 1. Read Ephesians 1:3-10.
- In the story of the paralyzed man (Luke 5), faith and forgiveness are linked. How is forgiveness related to faith?
- How come we cannot enjoy God’s forgiveness if we have failed to forgive someone who has hurt us?
- How is forgiveness a selfless act?