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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

How Matthew 18 Can Help Your Relationships

Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re wondering if someone is upset with you? Sometimes if you believe things are not right between you and another person, your behavior changes dramatically and not always for the better. We see a great example of that in the Torah reading for this week called Vayishlach or “and he sent…”.

Here, we pick up with Jacob sending servants with a message to his brother, Esau. They come back and say that Esau is coming with 400 men! “So Jacob became extremely afraid and distressed.” Gen. 32:8 TLV

It is important to note that the last time Jacob had seen Esau was before he had stolen their father’s blessing. What’s worse is that Jacob immediately fled, with the advice of his mother Rebekah, so that his brother wouldn’t kill him. It had been more than 20 years since they had seen one another. Has something awful ever happened between you and another person and then you meet up years later? It seems only human to not know how to act, or what to say, or even what to feel. Nevertheless, this is what happened between the two sons of Isaac in Genesis chapter 32. 

It is so interesting to see how Jacob reacts to the situation. First, he splits his camp up in two so that if Esau attacks, one can escape. Then he finally prays to God:

“O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, ADONAI, who said to me, ‘Return to your land and to your relatives and I will do good with you.’  I am unworthy of all the proofs of mercy and of all the dependability that you have shown to your servant. For with only my staff I crossed over this Jordan, and now I’ve become two camps. Deliver me, please, from my brother’s hand, from Esau’s hand, for I’m afraid of him that he’ll come and strike me—the mothers with the children.  You Yourself said, ‘I will most certainly do good with you, and will make your seed like the sand of the sea that cannot be counted because of its abundance.’” Gen. 32:10-13 TLV 

(How often do we not pray first?)

Next, Jacob puts together an offering from everything owns. Then, he sends them out one by one in groups ahead of him to give to his brother Esau. “For he thought, ‘Let me appease him with the offering that goes ahead of me, and afterward see his face, perhaps he’ll lift up my face.'” (Gen. 32:21b TLV)  Doesn’t this response feel so relatable? Aren’t we all guilty of trying to appease someone with gifts hoping they won’t be irritated or angry with us?

Thankfully, it appears to me, Jacob recognized that what he really needed was a God answer. So he sent his family away and found himself physically wrestling with God – who changes his name (and displaced his hip in the process! Gosh!). 

Just a thought, when God changed Jacob’s name – do you think Esau supernaturally saw him differently? 

The next day Jacob sees Esau coming with his 400 men and decides to split his camp up again according to his wives and children. He then cut in front of his family and bowed all the way to the ground seven times until he got to his brother. It is clear to me, at this point, that Jacob is under the impression that Esau intends to kill him and his family. Yet, what I love is reading the very next line: “But Esau ran to meet him, hugged him, fell on his neck and kissed him—and they wept.” (Gen. 33:4 TLV) Esau continues on to ask Jacob about his family. (and the why behind all the gifts which Esau tries to give back but reluctantly accepts them)

Matthew 18 in Relationships

This whole story reminds me of what I learned as a young kid from my parents in Matthew 18:15-16: “Now if your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault while you’re with him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen, take with you one or two more, so that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand.’

It seems to me that, although this story has a happy ending, the whole thing could have been avoided. Back in chapter 27, when Jacob steals the blessing and takes the advice of his mom to leave, Jacob and Esau never truly resolved the issue between them. As years go by, the original situation has still not been dealt with. Now understandably, Jacob and Esau didn’t have the New Testament or the Gospels at their disposal to know how to properly deal with one another. Clearly, their parents didn’t either. Who knows if Esau could have tolerated being in the same room with Jacob? Nonetheless, it appears that this situation only got bigger and grander and involved more people because it wasn’t handled early and quickly.

I feel like this kind of thing gets the better of us all the time. We find ourselves irritated or upset by someone’s behavior and then we don’t talk to them about it. Then one day we end up blowing up over something minuscule, all because we didn’t handle it right away. I remember several times getting upset about my siblings not helping me clean the house when we were all younger. I didn’t say anything and one day I just blew up in front of my whole family because someone didn’t put their dish in the sink.

Also, how do you think the other person feels? They probably thought everything was fine and had no idea that they did something wrong. It is important to keep the lines of communication open when something is bothering you or perhaps you think someone is angry with you and you can feel them pulling away and being distant. All it takes is, “Hey, I think maybe we could talk. Something has been bothering me and I thought we could about it.” or “Hey, I am just wondering if perhaps something is bothering you? Have I done anything that you want to talk about?” Although this might sound scary at first, I promise you that it will be better on the other side.

So, let me encourage you to take some time this holiday season and pray about what family relationships and friendships could use a little TLC (tender loving care). You’ll be glad you did.

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