Do you believe that “time heals all wounds”—including those that result from relational skirmishes?
I know a lot of people (myself included, on occasion) who think that this is the best way to mend broken fences. When they have angered somebody else, or have been offended themselves, they vacate the premises and wait for time to bring a resolution to their conflict.
This is the very advice that Rebekah offered her son, Jacob, in this past Saturday’s Bible reading. (If you’re not following Scripture Union’s Bible reading schedule, you can find a link to it at the “Resources” tab on my Bible Savvy website.)
Jacob was at serious odds with his brother, after cheating Esau out of both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Esau was mad enough to kill Jacob.
So, Rebekah had some motherly advice for her favorite son:
Flee at once … until your brother’s fury subsides. When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back … —Genesis 27:43-45
Now, before I point out the foolishness of this particular counsel, let me note that Rebekah did not have a great track record—up to this point in the story—when it came to offering sage advice. In fact, Rebekah was the one who originally suggested the ruse by which Jacob stole Esau’s blessing!
Her scheme had been introduced with the words: “Listen carefully and do what I tell you.” (v.8) And when Jacob raised some objections to her deceitful plan, Rebekah adamantly reiterated: “Just do what I say.” (v.13)
If you follow my blog (or have read my book, Walk), you know that one of the observations to make when reading a Bible passage is to look for repeating words and ideas.
So, having twice come across Rebekah’s insistent “Just do what I say,” you may have noticed it when it made its third appearance in verse 43. This was the line—“Do what I say”—with which she introduced her counsel to Jacob that he run away until Esau got over his anger.
That line should have set off red warning lights in Jacob’s mind! He should have reasoned: “Every time Mom tells me to do what she says, I wind up in a boatload of trouble.” But, alas, Jacob was unfamiliar with my coaching to look for repeating words and ideas—and so he was not alert to his mom’s pattern of offering miserable advice. She said “Run!” So, Jacob ran.
Fortunately for us, the Bible not only records this negative example for us to go to school on, it also gives us plenty of positive, straightforward counsel about resolving conflicts with others. Has someone offended you?
Matthew 18:15 encourages you to “go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
Ephesians 4:26 instructs you to take this initiative immediately. Don’t allow time (which doesn’t heal wounds) to go by while anger (yours and/or theirs) festers. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
And if you are the guilty party in a conflict, don’t wait to be confronted by the person you’ve offended.
If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them. —Matthew 5:23-24
This is the counsel that Rebekah should have given to Jacob. Instead of directing him to run, she should have exhorted him to resolve his problems with Esau by seeking his brother’s forgiveness.
Are you waiting for the anger to dissipate in a relational conflict in your life? Simmering anger doesn’t go away — it morphs into bitterness. Maybe it’s time to stop running and to start resolving.