Jacob and Esau were about as closely related as physical brothers could ever be. They were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. We can probably assume that, for the most part, their first few years were nearly identical. They played together, learned together and worked together as much as brothers ever could. But they did have different personalities, and over time Esau’s nature appealed to his father. Perhaps as a reaction, but then again it might have been quite natural – Rebekah leaned toward Jacob.
Eventually there was the despicable deception whereby Jacob stole the birthright and blessing of the family’s eldest child. Esau was so offended that he became livid with anger. “And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.” When their mother heard about the situation, she urged Jacob to visit distant relatives – to flee. Rebekah knew the principle of Proverbs 18:19 – “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” Despite her age and experience, I don’t believe she gave her younger son the best counsel. Anyway, Jacob went away to live in Haran with this uncle Laban. He married and became the father of his own family. Then eventually felt led to return home. It was with fear that he and his family slowly headed south, assuming all along that Esau was still furious. As he approached the northern tier of the old, familiar pastureland he had visited so often as a child…. “Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost. And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.”
We have in this snippet of family history, an illustration of Proverbs 18:19 – BUT with a good conclusion. A positive end to a brotherly warfare is rare. That is what Solomon is saying – “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.” We can see Biblical examples of this. Cain and Abel did not end positively. Absalom and Amnon did not end well. It appears that the conflict between Paul and Barnabas ended up somewhere less than perfect. And Paul and Barnabas also point out that the brethren of our text can be spiritual rather than physical.
WHY is it hard for brethren to be won or restored to good fellowship?
Isn’t due to the fact that they ARE brethren? At first that sounds counter-intuitive – illogical – but not when you think about it. Under the circumstances of a family relationship a serious offence should be something unnatural. Restoration becomes hard BECAUSE of filial expectations. When a man outside the family declares himself to be someone’s avowed enemy, each might know what to expect. But when two men are brothers, and certain things are expected between them, but when the opposite things take place, animosities are created which are different from those of natural enemies. Love which has turned to hatred is harder to repair than natural animosity where love never played a role.
Esau was “offended” by Jacob’s deceitful theft of the older brother’s blessing. “Offended?” Is there a more accurate word to describe the new relationship between Esau and Jacob? What is the meaning of Solomon’s use of the word “offended?” Of the 41 times the word “pasha” is used in the Bible, it is translated “offended” only once. Also, one time it is rendered “trespass,” but then it is “rebel” and “revolt” together 12 times. But 27 times – most frequently – this word is translated in some form of “transgression.” In other words, it is speaking of “sin.” Without question, Jacob sinned against his brother and father. He might have tried to justify it to himself or to others, but the facts and acts speak for themselves. Rebekah might have said, “Let the blame fall on me,” but that doesn’t dismiss Jacob’s actions. He sinned – and as a result he lost the love and respect of his brother.
And as in this case, “A brother against whom his brother has sinned is harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” The only other way “contention” is translated in God’s Word is “brawling.” The more two brothers brawl, the more bars are placed between them. Contentions – fighting – are not designed to bring people together. The warring parties can see each other through those bars, but the opportunity to fellowship is gone. Yes, the bars might possibly be cut away, but it would not be without difficulty. The best way to destroy those bars is for the castle owner to remove them from the inside.
What does it take to restore or win the offended brother?
Solomon says that it is essentially impossible – or at least very, very difficult under normal conditions. Jacob’s sin created a wall; it created a strong or fortified city. Esau became like a castle with a deep moat and with all its windows protected with steel or iron bars.
There are castles all over Europe. I have read that there are over 20,000 castles or their remains in Germany alone; even Wales has 500. I have seen dozens of pictures; many of them are beautiful. And in the day they were built many were sufficient for the protection of their inhabitants. But not with today’s weapons. Any castle can be easily reduced to rubble – sometimes with a single enemy shot. And similarly there used to be strong cities which could keep out any number of enemy. But like Jericho, there have never really been any completely impregnable cities.
What brought down the walls of Jericho? It was not Joshua; it was not Israel; it was not the synchronized stomping of marching feet. It was the omnipotence of the Almighty God. “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.” But that doesn’t rule out the possibility of that strong city falling under the grace of the Almighty.
And we see that in Esau and Jacob. What was it that restored the fellowship between those brethren? It wasn’t the gifts Jacob tried to send to his brother. It wasn’t the fact that Esau had grown wealthy and didn’t need gifts. It wasn’t the simple passage of time. Jacob didn’t attack with mortars and cannon; he did not tear out the bars guarding the windows. I cannot explain what happened apart from the grace of God. “A brother offended (may be) harder to be won than a strong city,” but that doesn’t mean the city can’t be won. And in this case we might say that by God’s grace there was a SURRENDER of the strong city. Even though we see spiritual growth in Jacob, the greatest change was in the offended brother. And again, the source of that change appears to be the Lord.
Obviously, the best solution to a battle between brethren would be not to need a solution in the first place. If there had never been an offense, or if the offense was recognized and immediately corrected, the castle might never have become barred and fortified. If after Jacob had stolen the family birthright, and when he heard of his brother’s wrath, he came to his senses and realized what a shameful thing he had done…. If he had repented and gone to Esau, confessing his sin and suggesting some sort of solution or restitution….. then the city might never have become fortified against him. As we see in Solomon’s proverb, prevention of the problem is infinitely easier than a later correction. Because the fact remains, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”