July 24, 2016
In the movie “Braveheart,” Scotland pursues its freedom from the tyranny of the English who are led by William Wallace. Wallace thought he had the backing of the Scottish nobles, but they were bought off by the King and betrayed him on the battlefield, leaving Wallace and his men to be routed by the English.
The leader of the nobles was Robert the Bruce and following his betrayal his conscience begins to bother him.
His father assures him of his noble deed.
Robert Bruce, Sr.: Son, we must have alliance with England to prevail here. You achieved that. You saved your family, increased your land. In time, you will have all the power in Scotland.
Robert the Bruce: Lands, titles, men, power… nothing.
Robert Bruce, Sr.: Nothing?
Robert the Bruce: I have nothing. Men fight for me because if they do not, I throw them off my land and I starve their wives and children. Those men who bled the ground red at Falkirk fought for William Wallace. He fights for something that I never had. And I took it from him when I betrayed him. I saw it in his face on the battlefield, and it’s tearing me apart.
Robert Bruce, Sr.: All men betray. All lose heart.
Robert the Bruce: I don’t want to lose heart! I want to believe as he does. I will never be on the wrong side again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KaSAUHvqUw
If you have ever been betrayed, then you must know what William Wallace felt that day on the battlefield, thinking he had friends, only to discover he had been sold out to the king. And if you have ever betrayed someone, then perhaps you have felt the guilt and shame of Robert the Bruce.
The act of betrayal destroys relationships.
Rebekah and Isaac gave birth to twin boys. These boys were competitive from the day they were born, symbolized by how they came out of the womb. The second born had his hand latched on to the heel of the older brother, so he was named Jacob, which means “heel catcher.”
Rebekah was partial to Jacob, as he was a quiet man staying among the tents. Isaac was partial to Esau, a skillful hunter, a man of the open country.
One day Rebekah overheard Isaac instructing Esau to go kill some game and prepare him a meal so he could give him a blessing. Being partial to Jacob, she wanted him to get the blessing which a father often gave to the one he wanted to be the next patriarch of the family. This person would be the leader of the family and get the inheritance, which he could then choose to share with others in the family or not.
Rebekah had been told by God when she was pregnant that the older would serve the younger. Her anxiety over this caused her to try to manipulate things so Jacob would get the blessing. So if she truly thought God was going to give this right to Jacob, she might have thought she was helping God out.
We must be very careful how we rationalize things. I wonder how many relationships and how many people have been wounded because we rationalized it in our heads that what we were doing was the right thing.
So she coached her son to prepare a dish of cooked goat and to put goat skin on his arms, neck and hands because Esau was a hairy man. She had him put on Esau’s clothes so he would smell like him. Jacob went before his father to trick him into giving him the blessing.
His father was suspicion because Jacob didn’t sound like Esau, but he finally gave him this blessing:
28 May God give you plenty of rain and good soil so that you will have plenty of grain and new wine. 29 May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. May you be master over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. May everyone who curses you be cursed, and may everyone who blesses you be blessed (Gen. 27:28-29).
When Esau returned and discovered that his father had already eaten and that he had been betrayed by his younger brother, grief poured out of him:
“Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father.” Then Esau wept aloud (Gen 27:30).
If parents have only one blessing, we damage our children. If we bless one child, but not the other, we send one child into the world searching for identity. I hope that you have as many blessings as you have children or grandchildren because every child needs a blessing.
I used to think that Isaac had only one blessing, but look carefully.
Isaac gives these words to his son Esau: “You will live away from the richness of the earth,
and away from the dew of the heaven above. You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother” (Gen. 27:40-41).
There isn’t anything here that sounds like a blessing. These words are not hopeful or optimistic until he says this:
“But when you decide to break free,
you will shake his yoke from your neck.”
Isaac was telling Esau, “Look, you can move beyond this betrayal when you decide that life is more than this moment.”
In his own way, his father was telling him not to lose heart and not to allow this betrayal to destroy him.
However, at that moment Esau was so angry with Jacob that Jacob had to leave home, fearful that his brother would kill him.
So this family was broken apart. This family feud continued for a generation until Jacob burned his bridges with his Uncle Laban and he had nowhere to go but to return home.
Over twenty years passed. Jacob was a wealthy man with a family. He gathered his family and his possessions, and he headed home to face Esau.
The night before he met Esau, Jacob saw and wrestled with a strange being, which appears to be an angel of God. Jacob says he wrestled with God and he named the place Peniel, “because I saw God face to face, yet my life was spared.”
This encounter with God changed his life, because he refused to let go of this figure until he was blessed.
Notice the blessing that Jacob receives. He gets a new name. “No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob,” which means ‘heel grabber,’ “but Israel,” which means ‘may God prevail.’
Any time someone is given a new name in the Bible, it’s indicative that there is a change in the person’s character.
In chapter 33, we see evidence of a change in his heart when Esau and Jacob meet for the first time in twenty years.
Not only is Jacob wealthy but Esau is a very wealthy man as well, evident by the 400 men he brings with him. Jacob is clearly afraid. He divides his family and his possessions into two groups in case Esau were to attach him.
Verse three says that when they saw each other for the first time Jacob “bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.” This does not look like the older son is serving the younger, does it?
He bows down to him, either in hopes this will keep his brother from killing him, or perhaps it is a sincere apology for what he had done when they were younger.
What is significant is that Esau had broken free and shaken his brother’s yoke from his neck. He was powerful and he was wealthy. But it goes much deeper than that.
He had shaken loose the yoke of anger, hatred, and the need for revenge. Jacob’s betrayal no longer had any power over him.
When we are betrayed, emotions like these threaten to dominate our spirit and create a deficiency in our souls that can easily lead us to violence, passive-aggressive behavior, stinging criticism, hatred, selfishness, abuse, depression, a low self-esteem and words that demean and wound.
Betrayal can do more than wound us. We can allow the emotional residue to enslave us. If we don’t cast off the yoke that binds us, we will be consumed by it like a cancer and we will not be free to use the gifts we have to do ministry and live healthy lives.
Some of you were betrayed by an adult in your childhood.
Some of you have been betrayed by a friend, a spouse, or a parent.
Your future emotional health will be determined by whether this yoke of betrayal continues to bind you to destructive emotions or whether you are able to cast it off.
Like Esau you can come to terms with the sins others have committed against you and you can forgive them.
Esau moved on with his life. When He cast off the yoke of anger and need of revenge he began to prosper.
This is the reason he could run to meet Jacob, embrace him, throw his arms around his neck and kiss him. (v.4) He had found peace within himself and he carried no animosity toward his brother.
This allowed Jacob the opportunity to say, “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” (v. 10).
Like Jacob you can come to terms with the damage you have caused if you have betrayed others. You can humbly seek forgiveness.
Jacob discovered that God is forgiving; that God has compassion even for people who manipulate others; that God can change people who mess up their families; that God still loves people who don’t get it right; that God can take a Jacob and turn him into an Israel.
When he saw his brother Esau, whom he believed was going to try and kill him but instead embraced him, he saw in his brother the face of God.
That’s a worthy prayer, that others would see the face of God in us.
Jacob was a man who once took advantage of his father’s blindness so he could steal what rightfully belonged to his brother. Now he saw in his brother’s face, the face of God.
When Robert the Bruce betrayed William Wallace on the battle field, he looked into his face and he saw something in that man that he did not have and it convicted him of his betrayal. He knew that people were fighting with him and for him not because they were afraid not to but because they had conviction in their hearts. They had a cause worth dying for and none of the men that fought for him had that.
What do people see when they look into your face? Do they see a person of compassion? Do they see a person of forgiveness? Do they see a person of integrity? Do they see a passionate person reminds them of Jesus? Or do they see a selfish person? A greedy person? A dishonest person? A person that’s all about self?
Had Jacob stopped long enough during the twenty years he was gone to think a little more about his father, he would have seen in him the face of God in him as well.
Here was a man who was clearly wounded and hurt by his son’s betrayal, and yet before Jacob left for Paddan Aram, Isaac still blessed him—again.
That’s right. Isaac gave Jacob a second blessing. Even after Jacob had stolen a blessing from him, Isaac still gave him another one.
“May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” (28:3-4)
This is the blessing of the covenant. This is the blessing Rebekah thought she was keeping Isaac from giving to Esau by coaching Jacob to trick his father.
As it turns out, this is the blessing his father intended to give him all along. Even after Isaac had been betrayed, he still blessed his Jacob with the blessing he had reserved for him. In doing so he showed him that there never was any need for deception. (“Not in God’s Name,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Schocken Books: New York, p. 136)
Rebekah didn’t have any faith that God had a healthy plan to work this out. So her anxiety to try forcing her husband to give Jacob the blessing destroyed her family.
So this second blessing to Jacob is truly a gift of grace. In no way does Jacob deserve it. Even though Isaac cannot see, through this act of grace he helps us all see the face of God.
God is like this. He bestows upon us blessings we do not deserve.
This is great news for those of us who mess up our families. This is great news for those of us who have betrayed members of our family or have had members of our family betray us.
It is great encouragement for us that need to make up our minds to throw off the yokes that keep us from receiving the blessings God wants us to receive.
Jacob and Esau’s story shows us that every one of us can change. Nothing has to stay the way it is.
While you cannot make someone give you a blessing, nor can you orchestrate reconciliation, you can get a person’s yoke off your neck. You do not have to carry the weight of someone’s betrayal around all your life. Nor do you have to be haunted by your own betrayal of someone else. You can learn to forgive others and yourself.
Like Robert the Bruce you can decide not to be on the wrong side of betrayal again.
You can move from being a Jacob to being an Israel. You can wrestle with God and be blessed by Him.
We can meet God face to face, and the best way to do that is to form a relationship with Jesus Christ.
When we form a personal relationship with Jesus, we come to understand that Jesus understands betrayal. He was betrayed by one of his closest friends and then he was abandoned by all of his disciples.
The one who betrayed him did not stick around long enough to receive any of Jesus’ grace, but the other disciples did.
To Thomas the grace came in the form of an invitation when Jesus asked him to place his finger in his nail-scarred hands. Looking into the face of Jesus, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.”
I invite you to make that same confession today as you take the Lord’s Supper. Confess to Jesus the times you have betrayed him. Ask him to help you forgive those who have betrayed you.
Give him thanks for his grace. Ask for the strength to cast off the yoke of doubt, apathy, or the sins that may be keeping you from being fully committed to following Jesus as a disciple.