The Expository Files


Ending Two Grudges

Genesis 33:4

"But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept" (Gen 33:4)

Jacob is fervently praying. "Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children"(Gen 32:11). He dreads the next day when he will see his brother for the first time in twenty years. Like all brothers, Jacob and Esau had quite a history, but theirs included Jacob twice scheming to defraud his brother. Jacob's fear is not unfounded. His brother had said, "The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob"(Gen 27:41). Hearing that, Jacob had run for his life, and had prospered in a foreign land. Now he is returning, at the head of a huge caravan, with his four wives and many children. Word comes that Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men! Jacob thinks quickly and divides the group into two companies in case of an attack. In a final desperate act to assuage his brother's anger, he "bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother"(Gen 33:3). The moment is tense; what will Esau do? "But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept"(Gen 33:4). Finally, gloriously, the grudge was ended!

Ten grown men are similarly nervous. They have just buried their father, yet their minds are not focused on grieving or remembering him. "When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, 'Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him'"(Gen 50:15). Afraid to approach Joseph themselves, they send messengers to beg him to forgive their sin. Finally, they appear themselves before Joseph, "fell down before his face, and they said, 'Behold, we are your servants'"(Gen 50:18). What will Joseph do? Has he been swallowing his anger for this moment? Was he waiting until his father died so he could get his real revenge? "Joseph said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.' And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them"(Gen 50:19-20). Finally, gloriously, the grudge was ended!

As long as there have been people, grudges like these have persisted. We need to learn from these good examples of resolving the problems-even the long-standing problems-that plague our interactions with others. First, we learn that grudges are hard on all involved. When Esau and Jacob embraced, why did they weep together (Gen 33:4)? Perhaps they were thinking of all the time they had lost when they could have been together. Perhaps they were relieved that this feud could be ended. Perhaps it was the simple joy of seeing a loved one again after a long separation. But the fact that both men wept shows that both were overcome with the emotions caused by the hard feelings of so long ago. Further, when Joseph first sees his brothers in Egypt, he speaks roughly to them (Gen 42:7), then accuses them (Gen 42:9), weeps (Gen 42:24), frames Benjamin (Gen 44), and weeps again (Gen 45:2). He is clearly struggling with the emotions of seeing his brothers again. Yet the brothers also feel the brunt of the past events, assuming that their trouble is because of their sin (Gen 42:21-22). The grudges were hard on both parties. Often grudges begin because one party wants to make the other party feel sorry for what they've done. The untold story of grudges is the wear it takes on the one wronged-bitterness, unresolved anger, and malice. Wrestling with the past is difficult enough without harboring such poisonous emotions in our hearts.

These examples teach us that long-term grudges can be forgotten. The length of these feuds is astounding. Jacob lived with Laban twenty years (Gen 31:41) while fearing Esau, and while we do not know the exact length of time of Joseph's separation from his brothers, it seems to have been around twenty years as well. Think of twenty years of unresolved conflict and bitterness toward someone who is your brother! Yet these grudges ended swiftly-with hugs and weeping-when the parties finally came back together. No grudge has been happening so long that it cannot be mended. The deep regret of all these men, though, must have been of the time wasted in such evil feelings. Jesus' words fit well here: "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift"(Matt 5:23-24). God's desire is swift reconciliation rather than letting problems continue. However, the good news is that even long-term grudges can be forgiven and forgotten.

Most of all, these men show us that really difficult things can be forgiven. Jacob had finagled Esau's birthright and blessing, and Esau had threatened his life. Joseph's brothers had tried to kill him and had sold him into slavery. These were not the trifles that we often fight over, yet these men showed the tremendous capacity we have to forgive when we are determined to do so. Perhaps we are not able to be reconciled in the joyous way these men were, but we can let go of the bitterness and malice we feel toward others-as we are commanded to do (Eph 4:31). These men do not show us that such forgiveness is easy, but that it is possible.

There is great joy in forgiveness. The relief of a pressing burden and the happiness of restoring a close relationship are just some of the benefits we experience. Most of all, we must hear the alarming words of the Lord Jesus on the matter: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt 6:14-15). Let us learn from these men. Don't let grudges continue.

By Jacob Hudgins 
From Expository Files 15.10; October 2008