Letting the other guy win


Jordan Valley--CRJNK(2)

This view eastward across the Jordan valley, north of the Dead Sea, shows land that Lot chose as grazing territory for his flocks.

With wars festering in many countries, and continuing conflict over land in the West Bank, I pray that political leaders might have the reconciling spirit of Abraham.

Shortly after returning to Canaan from Egypt, Abraham found himself in conflict with his nephew Lot over access to grazing (Genesis 13). Abraham was rich, and as patriarch could have demanded that his herds get the best. Instead, he chose generosity.

“Let there be no strife between your herders and my herders,” Abraham told Lot, “for we are kindred. Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

Hearing such a gracious offer, one might expect Lot to defer to his uncle. But Lot looked eastward and saw that the “plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt” (where the Nile River creates a long, lush ribbon of agricultural land).

Genesis says Lot “chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan.” Abraham settled in Canaan, the drier highlands, while his nephew went to the far side of the valley and set up camp near Sodom.

Today travelers along eastern edges of highlands in the West Bank can look down across green vegetation in the Jordan valley below. On the far side of the valley, just before the mountains, there is an unexcavated tel (archeological mound) that may contain ruins of ancient Sodom. There Lot settled after helping himself to what appeared to be the best land when Abraham the peacemaker made that possible.

Modern social theory identifies five negotiation styles in conflict: 1) compete (I win/you lose), 2) accommodate (you win/I lose), 3) avoid (I lose/you lose), 4) compromise (I win some/lose some, you win some/lose some), and 5) collaborate (I win/you win). In this conflict with Lot, Abraham accommodated.

A University of Notre Dame website says “Giving in or accommodating the other party requires a lot of cooperation and little courage. . . This style might be viewed as letting the other party have his way. While this style can lead to making peace and moving forward, it can also lead to the accommodator feeling resentment.”

Yes, that is a hazard. But after Lot and Abraham parted, Abraham rescued his nephew when he was abducted (Gen. 14), and later pleaded (unsuccessfully) with God to spare the city of Sodom, where Lot lived (Gen. 18). There is no hint of resentment in these actions of Abraham, but neither is there evidence that the accommodating and rescuing he did issued in a close bond between him and Lot.

But by taking generous initiative for a peaceful solution with Lot, Abraham was not burdened with bitterness. I admire his willingness to share with Lot and even accept loss to keep peace. Sometimes accommodation, or going the second mile (Matt. 5:41), is the best strategy in conflict. Abraham had faith in God’s call, and confidence that God would be good on the promise to bless him and his descendants with land and abundance.

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************IMG_0425

Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible even to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. . . The wolf and the lamb shall feed together . . . They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”  Isa. 65:18–19, 25

Israel, Jerusalem, Western Wall

The Western Wall is part of the foundation of the huge platform that Jews call the Temple Mount. The bottom courses of stone above ground are from King Herod’s construction. The Dome of the Rock (upper left) is at the likely location of the ancient temple. Jews pray in the courtyard below at right, near the wall.

What spot on earth elicits more spiritual yearning than the great platform  in Jerusalem that Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount?

On this “holy mountain” King Solomon built the first temple, a structure Babylonians destroyed four centuries later. Here Zerubbabel built the second temple–demolished by Roman armies a generation after Jesus’ ministry. On this platform Jesus upset both money-changing tables and religious authorities. Here Muslim ruler Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock shrine in the seventh century—an elegant structure that still is a jewel in the heart of the Old City.

Under the dome is an outcrop of bedrock that, according to Jewish and Islamic traditions, is where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. From this rock, say Muslims, Mohammed and his horse took flight for a nighttime visit to heaven. Sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, this religious precinct long has been a flashpoint of conflict.

Devout Jews do not go up on the great platform for two reasons: 1) the presence of Jews is offensive to Muslims who control the precinct, and 2) there is danger of unwittingly walking into the Holy of Holies; no one knows precisely where the ancient temple stood.

Israel, Jerusalem, Western Wall, wailing

A worshiper weeps against the  great retaining wall, all that remains of the temple destroyed in AD 70.

So Jews pray outside and below the great platform, at a courtyard where a 200-foot length of the retaining wall built by King Herod is accessible. Colossal, finely-dressed masonry stones, some weighing an incredible 500 tons, form the wall. This facade is about as close as worshippers can get to the site of the ancient temple without going up onto the platform.

The closest spot is an ancient underground hall next to Dome of the Rock along the Western Wall. Here Orthodox Jewish men pray, some before banners depicting the ancient temple. Others lean against the Western Wall and weep for loss of the temple.

Elsewhere in the Holy Land, Palestinians weep for loss of homeland and civil rights since the founding of Israel as a state in 1948. Jews lament destruction of the temple and unfathomable losses of the Holocaust. Palestinians grieve what they call the Nachba (“disaster”) of 1948, when Israeli armies destroyed hundreds of Arab villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Many of those Palestinians and their descendants still live in refugee camps today.

At the Western Wall I thank God that Jews at last have a homeland. I love the scriptures they cherish and pray daily with Psalms they use. I also pray for Palestinians, who deserve security and dignity in the land of their birth. The provocation of Jewish settlers moving into West Bank territory that belongs to Palestinians grieves me and makes Israel less secure.

I pray that Jews will follow the best lights of their own biblical prophets and seek justice for all in the Holy Land. I support Jews, Palestinians, Christians, Muslims and others who work for reconciliation among peoples of the Holy Land. I want Christians around the world to be agents of healing rather than add to polarization through uncritical Zionism or coercive boycotts. God hasten the day when the wolf and the lamb feed together in Jerusalem.

© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************************IMG_0425

Want to see Jordan, Israel, and Palestine? To join a Peace-Pilgrim Bible study tour in 2016, see https://tourmagination.com/tours/by-date/2016-tours/498-jordan-palestine-israel-a-journey-of-hope

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Like seeing the face of God

Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. . . Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. . . Jacob said, “truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God.” (Gen. 33:1-11)

Jabbok River

Jacob had a mysterious nighttime wrestling match with a divine being somewhere in this valley of the Jabbok River (Gen. 32:22-32). The next day, probably on this road, he met and was reconciled to his brother Esau.

Jacob had reason to fear his brother Esau. These twins once struggled within the womb, and their mother Rebekah despaired of life itself upon learning she carried in her body “two peoples who would be divided.” Trouble started early during their youth at Beersheba (in modern Israel). Esau rightfully expected privileges of the firstborn, including a double portion of blessing/inheritance. But Jacob, literally clinging to his brother’s heel at birth, was determined to look out for himself (Gen 25:22-26).

Father Isaac was fond of Esau; mom preferred Jacob. Sensing opportunity once when Esau came home from hunting famished, Jacob persuaded Esau to trade his birthright for a pot of lentil stew. When old Isaac sent Esau to hunt wild game for a feast at which Esau would formally receive the blessing/inheritance, Jacob made his move. Mother Rebekah prepared a dish of goat meat, and Jacob—disguised as Esau—served it to his nearly blind dad. The ruse worked, and Jacob received the irrevocable blessing that belonged to his brother.

Fearing Esau would kill, Jacob fled fifty miles north to Bethel (in modern West Bank). There, in a dream, he saw angels ascending and descending on a stairway to heaven. God promised Jacob and his descendants possession of the land around him, with this high standard: “All families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring” (Gen. 28:14). All families!

From Bethel Jacob continued another four hundred miles to relatives at Haran (in modern Syria). There he spent twenty years, married, and established a family. He learned what it is to be hoodwinked: uncle Laban switched brides on Jacob at his wedding, and took advantage of him in business dealings. Eventually Jacob decided to move with his wives and children back to the land of his birth.

Jacob meets Esau

Jacob was born in Beersheba. When conflict with Esau became too hot, he fled to Bethel, where he dreamed of angels. From there he continued northeast another four hundred miles, probably along the purple line. For the reconciliation, it is likely that Esau traveled up the Jordan valley (red line) then turned eastward into the Jabbok valley to meet Jacob at Peniel.

Having alerted Esau in Seir (southern modern Jordan) that he was returning, Jacob wrestled with God and his own conscience as he anticipated rendezvous with his alienated twin. In what seemed like a show of force, Esau approached with four hundred men. Jacob dispersed his family and possessions to minimize losses in case of attack. Then he gave lavish gifts of animals to Esau, and the encounter was redemptive. So powerful was reconciliation for Jacob that seeing Esau’s face was “like seeing the face of God.”

Jacob and Esau both had real grievances and legitimate self-interests. They never became pals, and lived far apart after the reconciliation. But they reached a stage in life when nursing a grudge was more costly than reconciliation. They stopped hating, something which we humans apparently need to learn anew every generation.

When reconciliation happens between individuals or between nations divided, it is like seeing the very face of God.

Join me in 2015 for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land! See: Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015

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© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************************    IMG_0425