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Forgiveness, reconciliation, and Shalom (peace) are important teachings and attitudes promoted in the Bible. Readers of the Bible are familiar with the Esau and Jacob saga. Although the narrative is undoubtedly an interesting one; many have often misconstrued and misinterpreted it. Esau has often been accused of been profane, sensual and thus, unworthy of the Abrahamic covenant-blessing. Hence, the purpose of the study was to critically re-read Esau-Jacob's reunion episode in order to discover some of the salient qualities of Esau and to draw some principles for interpersonal conflict resolution and reconciliation. Using the historical-critical and grammatical�historical analysis approach, the story comes alive though in a less conservative but illuminating and thrilling form. The findings showed that Esau was sincere, loving, forgiving, admirable and a worthy grand-son of Abraham. Though he had the capacity to harm and/or kill Jacob; however, he chose a non�violent approach. He rather swiftly ran to meet his brother, Jacob and embraced him with all sincerity of heart; fell on his neck and then kissed him. The climax of the reconciliation process was loud weeping. The verbs in the narrative were used to propose and form a model for conflict resolution, peacemaking and reconciliation. Some implications of the need for forgiveness and peaceful resolution of conflicts were noted with the conclusion that since conflicts/offence is inevitable in human relationships; forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace
P.M.B 1167, JALINGO,
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Jalingo Journal of Christian Religious Studies
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From the Editor
Jalingo Journal of Christian Religious Studies is a
publication of the Christian Religious Studies Department of
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Journal of Christian Religious Studies and Societal Research. The
volume 3 (No 1) edition was published in 2018 while other volumes
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challenges in the society. In this volume, there are fifteen articles
cutting across many Universities and Seminaries. These are: West
Africa Theological Seminary, Owerri, Imo State; Crowther
Graduate Theological Seminary, Abeokuta, Ogun State;
Theological College of Northern Nigeria, Jos; Jos Teaching
Hospital; Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State; Benue
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1. Esau and Jacob Reconciliation Episode (Genesis
33:4, 8-12): A Model for Interpersonal Conflict
Obedben Mmesomachukwu Lumanze
2. Gender, Culture, and Women Spirituality in the
Jewish Culture and African Indigenous Churches
Jegede O. Paul and Uchenna Offondu
3. The Impact of Herdsmen Attack on Farmers in
Benue State
Samuel Anger Gbinde and James Igbabee
Jonathan Ukpe
4. The Roles of Dialogue in Religious Conflict,
Peaceful Co-Existence and Resolution in Nigeria
Jegede Oyebode Paul and Abare Yunusa Kallah
5. Effects of Divorce on Marriages in Universal
Reformed Christian Church in Tivland
Joshua Aondoawase Ajim and James Igbabee
Jonathan Ukpe
6. The Devil in God's Cabinet: The Role of Satan in
Job vis-a-vis the African Belief of the Duality of
Good and Evil in the Tiv Experience
Nenge, Terna Akambe; Jonah, John Yanda;
Odei, Moses A. and Ozigi, Elijah
7. An Examination of Moral Decadence in Eli's
Home: Lessons for the Contemporary Church
Komolafe, Hezekiah Deji
8. A Theological-Ethical Analysis of “The Day of the
Lord” in The Old Testament
John Umaru Rikka
9. Nung doo/hak/sigin (Jealousy): A Catalyst for the
Under-Development of Mumuye Society
Hosea Nakina Martins and Messiah Militus
Jalingo Journal of Christian Religious Studies
10. The Causes and Effects of HIV/AIDS Among
Adolescents in the Baptist Churches in Jos,
Babalola- Jacobs, Akintoye and Babalola-
Jacobs, Alero Bolanle
11. Religion and Awon Mass-Marriage Festival in
Shao Town, 1900 – 1994: A Historical Overview
Yahaya Eliasu
12. The Message of John the Baptist on
Repentance in Luke 3:1-12 as a Panacea for
Socio-Political Change in Nigeria
Amadi-Nche Church-Hill
13. Corona Virus: Biblical Understanding on
Diseases and Sicknesses
Williams Peter Awoshiri
14. Pentecostalism and African Tradition Religion
on Healing in Nigeria: A Comparative Analysis
of the Belief, Methods and Approaches
Abraham Mbachiri
15. Biblical Religio-Cultural Implications of
Polygamy on African Christian Church
Olabode John Omotosho
Jalingo Journal of Christian Religious Studies
Jalingo Journal of Christian Religious Studies
(GENESIS 33:4, 8-12): A MODEL FOR
Obedben Mmesomachukwu LUMANZE (MA, Jos)
Department of Religion & Biblical Studies
West Africa Theological Seminary, Owerri Campus
Imo State, Nigeria
Forgiveness, reconciliation, and Shalom (peace) are
important teachings and attitudes promoted in the Bible.
Readers of the Bible are familiar with the Esau and Jacob saga.
Although the narrative is undoubtedly an interesting one; many
have often misconstrued and misinterpreted it. Esau has often
been accused of been profane, sensual and thus, unworthy of the
Abrahamic covenant-blessing. Hence, the purpose of the study
was to critically re-read Esau-Jacob's reunion episode in order
to discover some of the salient qualities of Esau and to draw
some principles for interpersonal conflict resolution and
reconciliation. Using the historical-critical and grammatical-
historical analysis approach, the story comes alive though in a
less conservative but illuminating and thrilling form. The
findings showed that Esau was sincere, loving, forgiving,
admirable and a worthy grand-son of Abraham. Though he had
the capacity to harm and/or kill Jacob; however, he chose a non-
violent approach. He rather swiftly ran to meet his brother,
Jacob and embraced him with all sincerity of heart; fell on his
neck and then kissed him. The climax of the reconciliation
process was loud weeping. The verbs in the narrative were used
to propose and form a model for conflict resolution,
peacemaking and reconciliation. Some implications of the need
for forgiveness and peaceful resolution of conflicts were noted
with the conclusion that since conflicts/offence is inevitable in
human relationships; forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace
building are important and should not be neglected.
Keywords: Esau, Jacob, Rebekah, Isaac, Reconciliation,
Peace and Conflict Resolution
The text of Old Testament is an interesting volume. It
contains many fascinating stories that many, over the centuries
past, have enjoyed reading and drawn inspirations from. Born
into a Christian home and growing up, I fell in love with reading
the stories in this part of the Bible. In fact, as a teen, I often
enjoyed reading the Old Testament more than the New
Testament. This was partly because I loved the many interesting
stories/narratives in the texts. Then, I loved and appreciated the
Old Testament so much and I do not think that interest and love
have diminished now.
Readers of the Bible are familiar with the story of Esau
and Jacob. It is undoubtedly a very interesting and remarkable
saga in the whole of the Old Testament. Many have read and
interpreted the narratives in several ways. A good number of
interpreters and commentators have often followed
Jewish/rabbinic traditions; while others often have read and
interpreted the story with the lens of the eyes of the New
Testament ethics. As a result, such interpreters have tended to
idolize Jacob and vilify Esau; accusing him of many crimes he
never might have committed (Schindler, 2007, pg. 155). Such
commentators seem not to be sensitive to Jacob's blemishes and
Esau's merits. As a matter of fact, many of such interpreters have
refused to reread the episodes objectively in order to discover
and acknowledge Esau's good qualities. Many interpreters often
fail to acknowledge the fact that Esau, like any other human
being, had his own assets as well as his own weaknesses. Thus,
like many other Bible figures, he wrestled with God in many
areas of his life. For example, among many commentators that
have castigated Esau is Wenstrom (2011) who wrote:
The life of Esau is a tragic story because even
though he was born into a home of great
privilege, which had a tremendous spiritual
heritage, he remained an unbeliever. At no time
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in his life, did he ever place his faith in the God of
his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac,
who is the Lord Jesus Christ…he never accepted
Christ as his Savior and thus now resides in
“Torments”, which is the temporary fire for the
s o u l s o f u n b e l i e v e r s f r o m e ve ry
dispensation…(pg. 1)
The above views/conclusions are obviously hasty and faulty
judgments. It simply is “over-spiritualizing” historical
narratives of the Old Testament and reading New
Testament/Christian ethics, theology and ideology into them. A
critical examination of the Jacob-Esau episodes however raises
some salient questions: Are Jacob's actions praiseworthy and/or
commendable? Should he have done what he did? Among the
two of them (Esau and Jacob), who should be castigated? Did
Esau know Jacob's intentions of demanding for his primacy?
In addition, a careful examination of the text under study
(Genesis 33:4), provides evidence that Esau should not be
hastily judged and dismissed as a “profane” and unworthy son.
According to the passage, after many years of rivalry and
separation, when Esau saw Jacob from a distance, he hastily
runs to meet him and embraces him, and falls on his neck and
kisses him, and they both weep…” (Emphasis and boldness
mine). This shows that Esau had forgiven his brother and was no
longer bitter with him.
The verbs used here are the major focus of this study. We intend
to use them as reconciliation models for especially, interpersonal
conflict resolution and transformation. Though, in doing this, I
must quickly state that my intention in the study is not to provide
any fresh, unique”, and/or venturesome alternative
interpretation of the text under study. I have only tried to
critically reexamine the narrative in order to discover some of
the good qualities of Esau that the contemporary Christian can
emulate especially in regards to forgiveness, reconciliation and
peace building. The study thus seeks to discover some principles
in the text to help Christians think through why they like Esau,
should be willing to forgive and be involved in encouraging
reconciliation and peace building. The study however, starts by
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first establishing the fact that Esau should not be dismissed
altogether as a profane and unworthy/unfaithful son who does
not deserve the covenant-blessing as he has often been
traditionally portrayed. He was in fact, a good, humble,
forgiving, meek, faithful and worthy man of God and at the same
time, a worthy and reliable grand-son of Abraham and Isaac's
Isaac's Family: The Setting of the Drama
The story of Isaac's family is one of the most dramatic,
powerful and significant stories in the whole of the Bible. In the
episodes, Rebekah, Isaac's wife is seen very influential, active
and powerful. In fact, Reiss (2014) has rightly observed and
opined that she, Rebekah, is the most powerful matriarch in the
whole of the Old Testament. This is partly because; she is one of
the women that God spoke to in the Scriptures. The God of her
father-in-law, Abraham, talked to her about her role in the
perpetuation of the Abrahamic covenant-blessing, and she
played that role very well. We must thus recognize, understand
and appreciate the fact that all the roles she played in making sure
Jacob received the covenant-blessing by all possible means, was
a covenant/divine role and/or mission which emanated from her
faith in the Deity that spoke to her- the Deity that her father-in-
law, Abraham and her husband, Isaac, worshipped. Thus,
everything she did was an act of faith; not deception or fraud per
say. I believe, the vision and/or oracles Rebekah received
concerning the twin sons continuously affected/influenced the
way she related with both of them. She believed that the younger
was the one divinely chosen and entitled to receive the covenant-
blessing. Thus, she only wanted God's will to come to pass and
she was ready to pay the price. She was not sentimental; all she
wanted was the fulfillment of the vision/oracles she received.
I often have heard many people condemn Rebekah and many
Old Testament characters for some of their actions. However,
just as earlier stated, I think we should not hastily interpret these
narratives or judge these people with the lens of the eyes of the
New Testament ethics. Many preachers and Christians often
make this mistake. Old Testament historical narratives should
often be first and foremost interpreted in their context; not our
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own. More so, it is not too good to blatantly accuse and/or
criticize our patriarchs and matriarchs of faith of unfaithfulness
and dishonesty. This is because, they are the foundations upon
which our religion and faith is built. So, then, we must be careful
of how we talk about them. Besides, we don't have all the details.
The Bible has not supplied us with all the details/information
about them and the situations that influenced some of their
Nonetheless, as stated above, in Genesis 25: 22, we see that it
was Rebekah that went herself to enquire of the Deity
concerning her experiences with the babies in her womb and the
Deity gave her oracles concerning the unborn children. Hence, it
is evident that Rebekah had faith in this Deity and that is why she
went to Him for enquiries. Again, it is understandable that
Rebekah accepted the oracles/prophecies and believed this
Deity. She never doubted the message. I believe the prophecies
that she received made her play all the roles she played in the
narrative (or drama).
Now whether Rebekah shared the oracles she received about the
unborn children with her husband, Isaac, or not, we do not know
and the Bible is silent about that. Probably she did not; and
probably, she did. She might have related the message to Isaac
due to the fact that it was Isaac that interceded on her behalf
before she became pregnant of the twins. Remember, it was as a
result of his prayers and/or sacrifice that God opened the womb
of his wife, and she became pregnant of the twins (cf. Genesis
25:21, 22). The Hebrew verb used here, atar, is significant. It is
the same word used in the story of God's dealings with the
Egyptians in which Moses prayed (asked) him to remove the
plagues. The NET Bible commenting on this verb, notes that the
cognate word in Arabic means 'to slaughter for sacrifice,” and
that the word is used in Zeph. 3:10 to describe worshippers who
bring offerings. Consequently, Isaac probably did not just say
some prayers alone; some sacrifices/rituals might have
accompanied the prayers (pg. 80). Because of the above
incidence, I believe Rebekah may have told her husband about
the oracles concerning the destinies of the unborn twins.
Moreover, looking at Isaac's actions after many years, by calling
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Esau secretly and asking him to prepare him “venison” without
involving the wife; presupposes that he knew about the prophecy
but wanted to bless the right person, the elder, instead of the
younger. From the look of things, Isaac did not want his wife,
Rebekah, to know about his plans to bless Esau talk of being a
witness to the occasion. It also seems that there were some sorts
of tensions, scheming and eavesdropping in the family. Isaac
was probably been monitored to know when he intends passing
on the Abrahamic blessing to the rightful heir. Else, why would
he (Isaac) rush or hurry (as if he was going to die soon), to bless
Esau in the secret? From the look of things, it is obvious that he
lived for more than twenty years after the saga. This is because,
Jacob still came back to meet him alive (Gen. 27:1ff; cf. 35:27-
29). So, why the rush to pass on the covenant-blessing? Was
Isaac afraid of something? Moreover, how did Rebekah get to
know that Esau was been sent to hunt for some game and prepare
the meat for the father to bless him? Was she monitoring her
Rebekah was not the one that wrote the script she acted. The
script was written by the Deity that spoke to her and who gave
her a glimpse of it. She only directed it; while Jacob acted it.
Jacob was the major actor and Esau was a victim of
circumstance. Obviously, Isaac was not part of the scheme.
Because he tried his possible best to bless his worthy firstborn
child, Esau; but all his efforts did not work out because, the script
had already been written and endorsed by the Deity- the [G]od of
his father, Abraham. Moreover, we observe that this God was
silent as Rebekah and Jacob acted out the script He wrote. He
never rebuked or criticized them for deceit or betrayal- instead,
after the whole drama has been acted out, He goes ahead to
confirm the blessing and lionize Jacob and his descendents as the
chosen/favored race.
Esau is remarkably an interesting character or figure in
the Old Testament even though many have refused to admit this
fact. He and his twin-brother Jacob was born into the chosen
family that God had ordained to receive His covenant-
blessing/promise. Their grand-father, Abraham, was chosen,
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called and separated by God almighty to receive the Promise
with privileges, responsibilities and blessings attached (Genesis
Genesis 25:19-20 records the family history of Isaac the father of
Esau and Jacob and as a part of this history, Genesis 25:21
records Rebekah's challenge with getting pregnant and/or
having children. According to this passage, and as stated earlier,
Isaac had to pray to the God of his father, and intercede for the
wife before she was able to conceive after about twenty years.
Genesis 25:21 and 25:26 mentions that Isaac was forty years old
when he married Rebekah and sixty years when Rebekah
conceived and gave birth to the twins.
At the vanguard of the Esau-Jacob episode is his struggle with
his twin brother, Jacob. This struggle started from the womb and
foreshadowed the struggle that would consume much of their
lives and even their offspring (Israel and Edom). This verb,
ratsats is a rare hithpoel stem. It connotes the idea of “crushing
each other”. It thus implies an extraordinary/uncommon violent
struggle. For Rebekah, the experience was not normal. The God
of their father and grand-father even predicted this struggle
(Genesis 25:22-23). The Hebrew Bible tells us that this God
knows each individual and their destiny even before they are
The name of each of the twins was indicative of his features and
characteristics. Esau means “red”, “hairy”. He was thus a hairy
man and his hair was red. Esau was a skillful hunter (like
Nimrod) and thus, a man of the field. He was independent, wild
and strong but also a passionate/emotional type. He could be
passionate and obsessive for anything: sex, food, hunting etc.
This was probably one of his weaknesses that Jacob discovered
and used against him. For example, one day, Esau comes in from
a hunt and met Jacob cooking red stew. He points to the red stew
and pleads with Jacob to feed (la'at) him else he die because he is
famished. Because of this singular incident, many have accused
Esau and his descendents as lusty, profane and passionate people
who lived for the moment (NET, 2000, pg. 80).
Everything about Esau was opposite of Jacob. Whereas Esau
was a skillful hunter, Jacob was the calm type, even-tempered
Jalingo Journal of Christian Religious Studies
and one “living in tents”. The mother loved him probably
because of the oracles and not because he was the quiet type or
that he lived in tent with her.
Selling of the Birthright: A Critical Re-examination
Many who have castigated Esau for trading his primacy have
little or no understanding of the socio-cultural context/milieu of
their time. Actually, what transpired between Esau and Jacob
was not really a strange transaction so to say. Trading of one's
primacy was customary and/or common in their time and
culture. In line with Nuzu customs, one could negotiate and
acquire primacy (birthright) at a price in order to secure
inheritance for himself. And that's exactly what Jacob did. He
negotiated with his brother, Esau, and acquired his primacy.
Schultz (1990) corroborates, “In line with Nuzu customs he
(Jacob) negotiated with Esau to secure inheritance rights.
[However], his bargaining ability is readily apparent in his
acquisition of first-born rights for a meager price of a dish of
lentils” (pg. 36).
In the ancient Near East, primacy/birthright and right for
inheritance could be acquired in many ways: it could be traded
(bought with either money or gifts), or by possessing family
idols; pronouncement of blessings on the heir etc. For example,
in Genesis 31: 19, we see Rachel, Jacob's wife, trying to acquire
primacy for herself and/or the husband by laying hold of their
family idols. On their way back home, she stole her father's
(family) idols and hid them. She knew and understood the
implications of her actions. In their time/culture, anyone having
the family idol(s) could claim the father's inheritance.
Possessing those idols automatically gave her and the husband
the legal rights to become the rightful heirs and inheritors of her
father's wealth/property. Probably, Rachael, having been told by
her husband of how he cheated his elder brother and stole his
birthright/covenant-blessing and ran away, also stole the idols
and ran away. She did that in order to help the husband, Jacob,
who has been cheated severally by her father, Laban, become the
heir and rightful inheritor of his (Laban's) inheritance.
Be that as it may, from the above comments of Schultz,
first, we see that the ancient Near Eastern custom then permitted
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the sale of one's primacy, birthright or inheritance. The NET
Bible corroborates, “There is evidence from Hurrian culture that
rights of inheritance were occasionally sold or transferred” (pg.
81). If that was the case, why do many today, in the light of the
“New Testament” ethics or perspectives, criticize Esau without
hearing from his own side of the story? Besides, we must admit
and acknowledge the fact that all we read about these twin
brothers are from the Israelites' (Jacob's descendants) side and/or
perspectives of the story. We do not have at hand, any parallel
story/text from the descendents of Esau (the Edomites) today.
Furthermore, the fact remains that many of the patriarchal
narratives undoubtedly experienced a lot of adjustments and
transformation as at the time they were redacted, edited and
compiled after the Exile (ESV, “Intro.” xxviii) And in the case of
the Jacob-Esau episodes, the present literary form of the
episodes was probably influenced by the Israel's historico-social
and religious perception of the Edomites as a rival tribe. As at
when the narratives were redacted and complied, Edom was one
of the archenemies of the Israelites and probably, the portraying
of Esau as profane and Jacob as righteous (tzadik) by the
redactors/editors, had both nationalistic and religious
undertones. The Israelites retold their history to prove that they
were the chosen race and to inform others that their national and
religious heritages, history and laws were superior to others'
(Patterson, 2003, pg. 9). Hence, the narrators/editors were very
deliberate- they painted the picture as if Esau despised and
neglected his primacy. If we believe that the Old Testament text
was edited/compiled many centuries after the actual events
happened, then it is possible that the harsh expressions of
censure directed against Esau and Edom by Hebrew prophets
and Rabbis were a product of nationalistic prejudice/bias.
However, as Patterson has observed, Hebrew authors commonly
wrote the patriarchal narratives as though the words they used
had been spoken a long time before” (pg. 66). These expressions
should thus be read and understood in that context rather than
spiritualizing them and using them as text proofs to criticize
Esau as a person. As at the time the texts were compiled, Edom
(as a nation) was one of the archenemies of Israel. They
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continually plotted against Israel's interests because there was
this uninterrupted pattern of hatred/prejudice and hostility by
Edom against Israel. Consequently, Israelite prophets/prophetic
text were also antagonistic against Edom (Jer. 49:7-22; Ezek.
26:12-14; Obad. 1:1-14; Mal. 1: 2-5).
Moreover, talking about the religious undertone of the
episode, it is conspicuous that the narrator(s) tried to defend their
[G]od in the role He supposedly played, especially His silence,
passivity and endorsement of their father, Jacob whose actions
were unethical. Hence, they assert Divine fairness and justness
by branding the cheated, Esau, villain; and made him look
irresponsible and unworthy of the “covenant-blessing”.
Therefore, they excused the negative behaviors of the cheater
(Jacob); while projecting those of the cheated (Esau). This
prejudice was sustained for generations up to the New Testament
times. Schindler (2007) affirms that the Rabbis, in the Rabbinic
literature, adorned “…Jacob in garments of righteousness and
virtue; [while] Esau is portrayed as wicked (rasha)” (pg. 153). In
the New Testament we see Christian authors like Saul (Paul) of
Tarsus, a rabbi and later, a Christian scholar and many other
Chr istia ns of Jewish origin, also promoting this
nationalistic/religious pride and stretching it farther (cf.
Hebrews 12:16, 17).
Finally, based on Shultz's observations, if the transaction was an
accepted cultural practice in the ancient times, the questions are:
Was Esau aware that in his own case, there was more to the issue
of his primacy, namely, a covenant-blessing attached? Did he
think of any religious/spiritual significance (as we now know)
attached to his primacy other than physical inheritance? Was he
actually serious with the bargaining like Jacob? I believe Jacob
had privilege information that Esau probably did not have.
Hence, while Esau might have been scatty and casual with the
bargain; Jacob was deliberate and serious. In fact, the wordplays
in the story are noteworthy. They help to clarify the essence of
the story. According to the NET Bible (2000), the verb, “cook”
(zid) sounds like the Hebrew word for “hunter” (tsayid). By this
soundplay/wordplay, the understanding is “setting a trap by
cooking”. Thus, Jacob presumptuously set a food trap for his
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brother and the trap of course, caught him. The narrator(s) thus
deliberately used this word to pass the message that the skilled
hunter (Esau) became the hunted. For that reason, a critical
examination of that narrative and the condition that made Esau
trade off his birthright and Jacob's attitude towards him in such a
difficult situation provoke some measure of sympathy for Esau
and indict Jacob. Look at the choice of the vocabularies the
narrator(s) used: Esau came in “faint,” (translated 'ayif), and said
to his brother, Jacob, “feed (la'at) me,” less I “die.” Thus, it is
obvious that Esau was physically exhausted and desperate for
food; and instead of Jacob to feed his brother, he used that
opportunity to defraud him of his birthright (Fawenu, 2015, p.
197). Jacob set the trap at the right time, when Esau was
exhausted and hungry- at his “unguarded hour”, and caught him.
Conceptualizing Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult virtues and/or qualities to
cultivate by an average human being. It is often easier
preached/said than done. In fact, for some people, the word is not
in their dictionary. For example, telling someone to forgive an
unfaithful partner maybe difficult. Or, asking a family or parent
to forgive someone who they are very sure that s/he “bewitched”
or killed their child/ward, is a difficult thing to do. In such cases,
it is normal for the bereaved family to seek to avenge the death of
their loved one. However, I believe that if people should
consciously and intentionally cultivate the virtue of forgiveness,
the world will be a better place for everyone. A lot of people have
done foolish and unimaginable things because someone
offended them and they found it difficult to forgive and let go.
Many divorce, murder and suicide cases have happened and will
continue to happen because someone said or will say, “Over my
dead body will I forgive him/her”. As a consequence, our society
has experienced a lot of evils, wars, disintegration and
estrangement, broken relationships everywhere, and hostilities
all because someone or some people vowed never to forgive
Going through the pages of the Bible, one discovers that
God Himself is the one that initiated the acts of forgiveness and
reconciliation. When the first humans He created and blessed
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violated His commands, it was Him that came down looking for
them. He did not wait for Adam and Eve to come begging for
forgiveness rather, He initiated and began the process of
reconciliation and by extension, redemption. Forgiveness is
thus essential because, our own eternal salvation is also
dependent on us forgiving those who offend us even as our
Father in heaven forgives us. Hence, it is the basis and the
requirement for receiving our own forgiveness from God (cf.
Matthew 6: 12- 15).
It is very unfortunate that forgiveness and the ministry of
reconciliation are being relegated to the background by many
believers who are bent on retaliation. Jesus says, “Love and Pray
for your enemies and those who persecute you” but many
contemporary Christians now say otherwise. They hate and pray
against their “enemies” and still come back to criticize and
preach against Esau who unlike them would forgive and
reconcile with his brother, Jacob- the one that denied him his
Understanding Forgiveness
Before we talk about what forgiveness is, let us first start
by saying what it is not.
First, forgiveness is not admitting and/or approving people's
wrongs and sins. Both God and our Lord Jesus never approved
sin or sinful attitudes. Jesus forgave the adulterous woman
brought to Him and yet told her to “go and sin no more” (John
Second, forgiveness is neither excusing nor covering people's
evil/bad or inappropriate behaviors. We are to confront and
boldly speak against evil without fear or favor. Forgiveness is not
also trying to make what is evil right or look good- that is,
justifying bad habits. Even though we are to forgive people who
mistreat and offend us, but we are not to paint what is bad good.
We are to always call a spade, a spade and be firm about it. We are
to forgive but oftentimes, we are to allow justice to prevail if it
has become necessary. I think, there is a thin difference between
forgiveness and pardoning. There are cases that one would have
to allow an offender to receive his/her due punishment. In such
cases, s/he is not serving the punishment because s/he has not
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been forgiven but it would serve as a warning to the person and
anyone who is thinking/planning of indulging in a similar
practice. Hence, forgiveness is not aiding and abating crime and
sweeping it under the carpet.
Forgiveness then is having a free, clean, pure mind and/or
conscience towards someone who has injured, abused or
offended you. It is not having malice or harboring grudges
against someone that has done something wrong to you.
Experience has shown that whenever one forgives another, s/he
often would have and enjoy peace of mind and tranquility of the
Understanding Reconciliation
Reconciliation entails re-stitution, re-storation and re-
establishment of friendship or peace after a crisis, clash and/or
quarrel. According to McCain (2006) “Reconciliation means a
change in relationship from hostility to love, from animosity to
friendship, from rejection to acceptance”. Reconciliation thus
has to do with a change of attitude especially, “a change from a
strained misunderstanding to loving acceptance” (pg. 90). The
above definitions are significant. This is because; reconciliation
should be the fruit of love and forgiveness. Any re-conciliation
without genuine forgiveness is a time-bomb waiting to explode.
It is a waste of time. It will amount to nothing. And any
forgiveness without reconciliation is incomplete.
We must however note that re-conciliation does not mean re-
opening the door of one's life to someone who is not worthy to
enter- to someone who has betrayed you and has gone far to hurt
you in the past. Though we are to forgive (not bearing
grudges/keeping malice) and re-concile (that is, to re-stablish the
harmony and love as before), but we are to be careful. Among the
Igbo of southeastern Nigeria, there is a saying that onuma
juoor/biee, onye nzuzu anwuo when wrath subsides, that is,
after re-conciliation, the foolish person dies.” The fool here
implies one who is not careful and cautious. It is dangerous to
hastily reconcile and/or re-establish a relationship/friendship
with someone who has not genuinely repented and admitted his
faults. It is not advisable to re-establish friendship with someone
living in denial; that is, an old friend or partner who has hurt you
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but has refused to admit or come to terms with the reality of the
bad situation caused by his actions or inactions. The best thing to
do is to make peace with the person(s), love them genuinely,
have clear conscience towards them and then move on with your
life. Even God Himself never allowed everybody in the Old
Testament era to approach Him. The tabernacle and later, the
temple, were divided into courts and segments. Only the High
Priest was permitted to enter the most holy place where God
dwelt and it was just once in a year. The priests were restricted
from entering the Holy of holies; so also were the Levites. There
were different courts: for men, women and children. And many a
times, I think we should habitually apply the same principles in
human relationships. There are people that should not enter or be
at the inner court of your life. When the wrong people enter one's
inner court, they will always come out leaving some indelible
marks on the person's soul/life.
Having briefly looked at what forgiveness and reconciliation
entail, let us critically re-examine and analyze the story of Esau's
meeting with Jacob in the Book of Genesis. For the purpose of
this study, we are going to analyze/exegete a verse (Genesis
33:4), which captures the whole essence of the study. The
grammatical-historical analysis approach is specifically
employed here because it allows one to determine the semantic
range of the terms/words.
The Text (Genesis 33:4)
Lexical Analysis and Comments
õø?ååååå/wayyarats: This is one of the most important verbs in
this episode that needs to be given attention. The verbal form is
Qal waw-consecutive, 3rd masculine singular (3ms) with the
particle å/wa or va, serving as a conjunction from the root ruwts,
meaning “to run or rush upon in a hostile manner”. In the Polel,
the verb could be translated “to run swiftly”. According to Vine,
the word in Akkadian means, “to hasten to one's aid”. It appears
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But Esau ran to meet him, and
embraced him, and fell on his neck
and kissed him, and they wept.
åÇ éÌÈ øÈ õ òÅ ùÒ È å ìÄ ÷À øÈ àúåÉ åÇ éÀ çÇ áÌÀ ÷Å äåÌ åÇ éÌÄ ôÌÉ ì òÇ ìÎöÇ åÌ È àøÈ å
åÇ éÌÄ ùÑ Ì È ÷Å äåÌ åÇ éÌÄ áÀ ëÌ åÌ Ó
about eighty (80) times in the Bible. It could mean moving very
quickly or running (Gen. 18:2, 7) (BDB, OT: 7323). Hence, Esau
on sighting Jacob his brother, rushes, runs, and/or hastens to
meet him. He did not delay or wait for Jacob to come close before
he could reconcile with him. He rather runs, showing eagerness,
enthusiasm and willingness to meet and reconcile with his
brother, having forgiven him. Jacob also was willing to meet
with Esau and reconcile with him. He was ready to make up for
his sins against Esau. Hence, he sent delegates and gifts ahead in
order to pacify him. Both parties were thus committed in/to the
whole process.
Thus, in reconciliation, forgiveness on the part of the injured
party and repentance on the part of the wrongdoer or offender,
are necessary and basic. Anna (2012) admits that there cannot be
any restoration of a good relationship between hostile parties if
such move is not rooted in true forgiveness. As Esau met his
brother, Jacob, though he might had been angry before; he
however decided to forgive and accept him back. Also, Jacob
from all indications had recognized his faults and was willing to
amend his ways. He was not the one that asked Esau for
The second verb that is worth examining in the text is
?úàø÷ì /liqra'tow. It is Qal infinitive construct with a third
masculine singular (3ms) suffix and åm/wa (particle) serving as a
preposition. The root of the word is qir'ah or qara' (BDB OT:
7125; 7122). It means an encountering, (accidental, friendly or
hostile). It could also be translated, “to befall”, “to meet”. But in
Niphal, it is best translated “to meet unexpectedly”; while in
Hiphal, it is translated, “to cause to meet”.
The root/verbal form of this word denotes a planned encounter
and/or meeting wherein the subject intentionally confronts the
object. According to Harris (1980), this word can represent the
following: a friendly encounter like that of a host rushing out to
meet a prospective guest (cf. Gen. 18:2; Judg. 4:18) or one going
out to meet someone in order to recognize or gain him as an ally
(2Sam. 19:16; Josh. 9:11; 2Kgs. 10:15; Ps. 59:5). Whatever be
the case, such meetings, like in the case of Esau and Jacob, were
intentional and purposeful.
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Meeting” (for dialogue) is important in reconciliation and
conflict resolution. There cannot be dialogue without a meeting.
Thus, 'meeting' gives two parties the opportunity and platform
for dialogue. And reconciliation is almost impossible without
dialogue. Dialogue is an organized encounter(s) between two
disagreeing/conflicting parties. In reconciliation, there is often
the need for both parties to “meet” and/or come face to face to
talk about how they feel. That is what Esau and Jacob did. Even
though Esau had forgiven Jacob and Jacob had also repented,
they both arranged for a meeting in order to dialogue, express
their feelings and consummate the process. Dialogue is thus an
important element in reconciliation and conflict resolution.
?ä÷?çéåååååååå/wayechabqahu: This verb is also significant in this
narrative. It is from the root chabaq meaning “to clap the hands”
or “to embrace”. When Esau met Jacob, he embraced him
(extending his hands for peace/fellowship). Other places this
verb is used in the Old Testament are in Genesis 29:13; 48:10 and
2Kings 4:16. Interestingly, in that Genesis 29:13, we see a
similar occurrence- Laban did to Jacob exactly what Esau later
did to him. Even though, in his own case, He was not sincere. For
he would cheat Jacob severally (Gen. 31:38ff; cf. 29: 21ff; 30:
34ff). However, in the first instance, when Jacob first arrived at
Paddan-aram, Laban on hearing about his arrival, “…runs to
meet him, and embraces him, and kisses him…” The order of
the actions here are very remarkable. It is the same order that the
Esau-Jacob's episode follows. However, Esau, after embracing
Jacob, did not stop there, he goes ahead to fall on his neck
demonstrating forgiveness.
?ä÷? ?å /wayyishaqehu: is another important word used in the
episode. In the Masoretic Text (MT), each letter of this word is
noted with a point over it to make it emphatic. And as Clark
(2005) notes, the rabbis used those notations to draw the
attention of the reader to the change that had taken place in Esau,
and the sincerity with which he received his brother.
The verbal form of this word is Qal waw-consecutive 3ms verb
with a 3ms suffix. According to BDB (OT: 5400), the verb is
from nashaq, identical with nasaq, meaning “to catch fire, burn,
kindle, to kiss”. The verb has the idea of “fastening up”, and
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figuratively, “to touch” as a mode of attachment. Again, it is
important to note that the verb nashaq is also related with chasaq
(OT: 2836), meaning “to cling”, that is, “to join, to love, delight
in” etc. In the hiphil, nashaq means “to touch gently”. Hence,
Esau, runs to meet Jacob, embraced him and fell on his neck and
kissed him passionately. The kissing here talks of acceptance.
The usage of this verb, nashaq implies that Esau sincerely
forgave and accepted his brother, Jacob. Everything he did was
done with passion, love and honesty. For there to be true
reconciliation and peacemaking, both parties, must be willing to
accept the conditions initiated and/or agreed upon during the
dialogue stage and be ready to wholeheartedly obey them. Also,
the items, passion, love and honesty are necessary for true
Finally, the verb Ó??á?åFFFFFF/wayyibeku meaning “and they
wept” is also important in the narrative. The verbal form is Qal
waw-consecutive third masculine plural (3mp) from the root,
bakah meaning “to weep or bemoan”. It could as well be
translated as: “to bewail, complain, make lamentation, shed
tears, to cry etc. In the Qal, the verb is translated: to weep
(especially in grief, humiliation, or joy), to weep bitterly, to
embrace and weep, as the case may be (OT: 1058). The root
occurs in many Semitic languages; and in Hebrew, it is
commonly paralleled with dama' meaning “to shed tears” and
sapad, “to mourn”. The ancient Semitic peoples often wept
loudly than quietly. Hence, when Esau met, embraced and kissed
Jacob, they wept loudly. The weeping is the climax of the
reconciliation process. It indicates accepting and sharing of
blames and pains and joy. Thus, in reconciliation, both parties
should be humble enough to accept/share blames- that is, the
consequences of their actions and inactions. Any reconciliation
process that ends with one party rejoicing while the other is
unhappy is not true reconciliation. At the end of every conflict
resolution and peacemaking, both parties should share the
blames, pains of their actions/inactions and also the joy of the
reunion. It should be a win-win not win-lose affair.
In the case of Esau and Jacob, both parties were eager and active
in the reconciliation process. Jacob bowing seven times to Esau
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shows deep manifestation of reverence and humility. He made
every effort to win the heart of his brother. He came to Esau with
the attitude and feeling that he had offended him and needed his
forgiveness. Probably Esau had thought that the strife between
him and his brother may continue knowing the character of
Jacob. But on meeting Jacob, he saw a new, mild, humble and
broken man. When Esau saw this disposition, he was
overwhelmed with brotherly affection and his heart melt.
Vv. 8-11: After the weeping, Esau then asks Jacob the meaning
of all the presents he sent to him. Jacob's reply was
straightforward, éÄðãà é Å éò? ì /limso' hen be'ene ‘adonu/
to find grace in the sight of my lord”. Jacob had lived in guilt all
these years and probably wanted to make it up to and repay his
brother what he stole from him. However, Esau's attitude
towards the gifts and his reply is noteworthy- it showed maturity.
He was no longer the Esau to be deceived with material things.
He had learnt his lesson and moved on with his life and
moreover, he was also rich and blessed. However, after been
urged by Jacob to accept the gifts, he collected them because he
had sincerely forgiven him.
V 12: Esau wanted to travel along with Jacob; therefore he said,
Ó Æ?âðì äÈëìà äëÅìðå ä È ñðìÅëä ðñòÈä
/nis 'ah wenelekah we'elekah
and let us go and I will go before (ahead, in front) of you”.
The above suggestion of Esau to Jacob shows the kind of heart
Esau had- a sincere, broken, and simple and forgiven heart.
Though he bore grudges against Jacob, but after their meeting,
he forgave him. In fact, in the whole episode, we see that he is
more proactive than Jacob. He was the one that came out to meet
his runaway brother; he was the one that ran to meet him,
embracing, kissing and weeping on Jacob's shoulders. He never
exhibited any form of anger- he was very excited to meet his
brother and was happy with his success. This shows that Esau is
not the type of person many have painted him to be. He had so
many good qualities that many have refused to acknowledge.
The expression of kindness at this meeting is noteworthy- and as
earlier stated, it is the best reconciliation narrative in the Bible.
Commenting on the passage Henry (2006) notes:
lenegdeka/ let us take our Journey
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Though he (Jacob) feared Esau as an enemy, yet
he did obeisance to him as an elder brother…The
way to recover peace where it has been broken is
to do our duty and pay our respects, upon all
occasions as if it had never been broken. It is the
remembering and repeating of matters that
separates friends and perpetuates the separation.
A humble submissive carriage goes a great way
towards the turning away of wrath. Many
preserve themselves by humbling themselves: the
bullet flies over him that stoops.
Also, Clarke (2005) draws our attention to the role that
Esau played in the reconciliation process. According to him,
Esau was very sincere and genuine in his conduct and at the same
time, he was magnanimous. He buried all his resentment, and
forgot all his injuries and wholeheartedly received his brother.
And by this singular attitude, a potential full scale violence was
aborted prematurely and peace ensued between the two parties.
Implications for Interpersonal Conflict Resolution and
First, interpersonal conflict, misunderstanding, offences
and cheating are inevitable in human relationships and based on
the study, the use of non-violence/peaceful methods in settling
such disputes is preferable. Moreover, this method has always
been around for a long time as demonstrated in the Esau-Jacob
narrative. Had the strife/conflict between Esau and Jacob
ensued, maybe Esau would have succeeded in carrying out his
earlier plan of killing Jacob. And if that had materialized, then,
probably the whole program and historical plan of God for
humankind may not have been actualized via Jacob's
descendents. The essence of the covenant-blessing may thus
have terminated half-way had Jacob died. Fawenu (2015) agrees
that if Esau had killed Jacob, the perpetuation of the Abrahamic
covenant through him may have been impossible. Hence, “By
implication, abortion of the violence makes the perpetuation of
the patriarchal covenant possible” (pg. 200). Who knows how
many geniuses and destinies that have been wasted because of
interpersonal conflicts that were not properly managed and/or
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resolved? Many people have done harms/atrocities against
others because of rage and anger emanating from interpersonal
conflicts. Esau had the capacity to harm and/or kill Jacob;
however, he chose a non-violent approach and runs to meet him,
embraces him, falls on (threw his hands around) his neck and
kisses him and both of them weep. As earlier stated, the verbs
used in narrating this peaceful and smooth reunion, is still
significant and relevant in conflict resolution and
Second, we should not always allow temporary emotions (like
anger, sadness, and hate) emanating from offences from people,
to cause us take permanent unwholesome decisions that we may
end up regretting for the rest of our lives. We should emulate
Esau's attitude in the episode. He did not allow his anger to cause
him to harm his brother and to sin against God. Third, anger,
animosity, hatred and bitterness are potential catalysts of
violence. Hence, they should not be allowed to degenerate to
violent behavior because, they have the capacity of doing so.
Keeping malice and animosity is a choice. And if one chooses
them over love, forgiveness and reconciliation, then, such
individual has probably chosen to die young. God Himself
intentionally does not keep malice. Psalms 30:5 says, “For His
anger lasts only a brief moment, and his good favor restores one's
life…” That means, if God begins to keep malice against us each
time we offend Him, none of us will still be alive today. It is His
favor that is still keeping us despite our shortcomings. We are to
do the same to others (cf. Matt. 6:14; 5:43-48).
Fourth, peacemaking is something that has to be made. Jesus
says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons
of God” (Matt. 5:9). Reconciliation, peace and conflict
resolution and transformation do not just happen. Broken
relationships cannot be restored by apathy. Christians should
actively be involved in providing opportunities for
reconciliation. Peacemaking is what every Christian should be
committed to. In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul
advocated for peacemaking and reconciliation. Jesus
admonishes us to forgive others so that our heavenly Father will
also forgive us. And in 1Corinthians 5:18-20, Paul informs us
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that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Though, this
he spoke in the context of preaching the gospel and bringing
sinners to God; however, it can also be practically interpreted to
mean peacemaking among people in a social context. So, we are
to share this message with others especially via our actions.
This study so far has established and maintained the fact
that Esau is not a negative or wicked (rasha) personality; and that
his life is/was not a tragic story. There are so many things we can
learn from this noble and gracious grand-son of Abraham.
Though Jacob cheated him of his primacy and the covenant-
blessing, he embraced his brother, setting aside all past grudges
and misdeeds. As a matter of fact, this attitude, though often
being neglected and downplayed by interpreters, is
commendable and should be emulated by every Christian. Since
conflicts/offence is inevitable in human relationships;
forgiveness, reconciliation, Shalom (peace) are important
teachings, themes and/or principles promoted in the Bible that
should not be neglected.
Anna S. Y. L. (2011). Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Old Testament
Sacrifice. In MJTM 13 Hamilton, ON: McMaster Divinity College. Pp. 24-
Brown, F., Driver, S.R., and Briggs, C.A. (1907). A Hebrew-English Lexicon
of the Old Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clarke's Commentary on the Whole Bible. Electronic Database. © 2005,
Biblesoft Inc.
Fawenu, B. O. (2015). “Abortive Violence” Motif: A Re-Reading of Jacob's
Narrative. In Research on Humanities and Social Sciences (online). Vol. 5,
No. 8. Pp. 194-202.
Henry, M. (2006). Commentary on the Whole Bible. PC Study Bible
Formatted Electronic Database by Biblesoft, Inc.
McCain, D. (2006). We Believe Vol.2: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine.
Bukuru, Jos: ACTS Books.
New English Translation (NET) Bible. 2001 First Beta Edition. Biblical
Studies Press, L.L.C.
Patterson, C.H. (2003). Cliffs Notes on the Bible. NY: Willey Publishing, Inc.
Reiss, M. (2014). Esau, Son of Isaac and Grandson of Abraham: The Model
of a Faithful Son. In The Asbury Journal. Vol. 69. No. 2. Pp. 165-
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186Schindler, P. (2007). Esau and Jacob Revisited: Demon Versus Tzadik? In
Jewish Bible Quarterly Vol. 35, No. 3. Pp. 153- 160.
Schultz, S. J. (1990). The Old Testament Speaks. Fourth Edition. San
Francisco: Harper Collins Pub. Inc.
Wenstrom, W.E. (2011). Esau. William E. Wenstrom Jr. Bible Ministries.
Jalingo Journal of Christian Religious Studies
Jegede O. Paul, PhD
Mr. Uchenna Offondu
Faculty of Humanities, Management and Social Sciences,
Department of Religious Studies, Federal University of
Kashere, Gombe State
From the inception of the church, there has existed
controversy concerning women spirituality and to what extent
can they be involved in the church administration and
leadership. Even in the contemporary African church and the
society at large, the contention is still very much alive. This may
not be unconnected with the belief that women are meant to
follow at all times while the men lead by divine sanction. A few
denominations involve women to a certain limit in church
activities. In Mainline Churches, women are still view as
spiritually incompetent more especially in church leadership. As
such, they do not allow them to demonstrate their spiritual
potentials basing their doctrine on the Pauline injunction in I
Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Timothy 2:11-12. It is also recorded
that though Jesus demonstrated a revolutionary attitude to
women, he did not choose a woman apostle, all the twelve were
men, an argument being used for women subordinate status in
the church today. The fact remains that the Great Commission is
given to all believing Christians without gender specification. As
such, women have an obligation to actively participate in the life
of the church at whatever level, without cultural and gender
barriers and not just in the area of welfare alone. The work made
use of historical method. It was discovered that the role of culture
and the doctrine of male-denomination are major factors
against women's contribution to the development of Christianity
in Africa as observed both in the Jewish and African cultural
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settings. The paper, therefore, recommended that women should
be encouraged to use their spiritual gifts for the upliftment of the
church at large and the development of African Christianity
where they are so qualified.
Keywords: Gender, Culture, Spirituality
Patriarchal societies like the Jewish and African societies
have from time immemorial always ascribed subordinate status
to women. Judaism, in particular, was openly discriminatory
regarding women. In the contemporary African societies are
churches that are not favourably disposed to women's
demonstration of their spirituality. In this category are churches
like Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), Anglican
Church, Methodist Church and a few other churches in Africa. In
1993, for instance, late Bishop Haruna, the head of Kwara
Diocese of Anglican Church, ordained three women but the
Anglican House of Bishops annulled the ordination. In a similar
fashion, the Methodist Diocese of Kwara and Kogi states
ordained some women but the Headquarters of the Church
cancelled it. A few of the African Indigenous Churches tend to
tow this line of action against women leadership though with
minimum toleration. In Christ Apostolic Church, for instance,
women are excluded in the General Executive Council, the
highest decision making organ of the Church. At the same time,
the ministerial hierarchy in the Church of the Lord (Aladura)
does not have women at the top-most position. In fact, the
position of elder is exclusively meant for men. Decision making,
even on women issues lies with men.
To this extent, one wonders why some African
Indigenous Churches are refusing to give adequate attention and
recognition to women spiritual development? Therefore, the
thrust of this paper is to examine the negative influence of culture
and imbalance as an impediment to women's spiritual
development in African Churches mentioned above vis-à-vis the
roles of women in the Jewish culture.
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Definition of Key-Terms
The terms gender” and “sex” are often used
interchangeably but their uses are becoming increasingly
distinct. In general terms, gender refers to the role of a male or
female in society, known as a gender role, or an individual's
concept of themselves or gender identity. Gender tends to
denote the social and cultural role of each sex within a given
society. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines gender
as “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men,
such as norms, roles, and relationships of and between groups of
women and men.” This varies from society to society and can be
changed. Thus, gender refers to the individual's and society's
perceptions of sexuality and malleable concept of masculinity
and femininity.
The term spirituality is a common term in world
religions. It is a universal human experience, something that
touches us all. As such, people often describe such spiritual
experience as “sacred”, or “transcendent.” However, what
determines “sacredness” or “holiness” and “profanity” is our
attitude, feeling and reverence to the objects concerned.
The word “culture” was originally used probably in the
pre-colonial Latin period to mean “cultivation” or “nature.”
However, this meaning has extended to the modern time in such
expressions as agriculture, horticulture, oyster culture, pearl
culture. In the second half of the 18 century, the word became
associated to human societies and history. Its other meaning is
“civilization”. At a time, the word “culture” conveyed the idea of
betterment and improvement towards perfection. James
Hastings submits that the notion of culture may be broad enough
to express all forms of spiritual life in man… “it is best
understood as humanity's effort to assert its inner independent
being”. In the opinion of Kato, culture embrace the totality of
knowledge and behaviour, ideas and objects that constitute the
common heritage of a society. Kroeber and Klukhon gave a
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succinct definition of culture as, “consisting of patterns, explicit
and implicit, of any behaviour acquired and transmitted by
symbols constituting the distinctive achievement of human
Women and the Jewish Culture
The Judaism was openly discriminatory regarding
women. In fact, Old and New Testaments are products of a
patriarchal Jewish culture, more especially of a literate urban
elite of male religious specialists who did not take women
activities into consideration. Whatever the ultimate origin of its
tradition, the present form of the Hebrew Bible is the work of
male authors and editors whose views created or reflected the
dominating theological perspective.
Some scholars like Denise Lardner see the world of the
Jews as a man's world. As such, the general pattern was that of
submission and subordination of women to men. Women were
regarded as “incapable of bearing witness; they remained
excluded from essential religious tasks for men; they were
viewed as unworthy of participating in most of the religious
feasts, neither could they study the Torah nor participate in the
sanctuary service.” The woman was consigned to a permanent
purification-ritual, especially in dates regarding with the sexual
(menstruation and birth). For the Jews, the birth of a female was a
misfortune. Rabbi Simon submits that, “All are happy with a
male child birth but all are unhappy with a female child birth.”
As a rider to this, Rabbi Jicaq says, “When a male is given birth
to, he brings peace to the world; he brings bread in his hands, but
when a female is born, nothing is coming with her.” According to
Rabbi Jehuda, Jews should recite the following prayer everyday:
Praise be God, that He did not create me a boy
Praise that He did not create me as a woman! Praise that
He did not create me an ignorant person. Among all the
Savage beasts, none is found as harmful as women;
…from garments cometh a moth and from women the
iniquities of men.
The above simply summed up the socio-cultural setting
which the Jewish women found themselves. Similarly, the
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second account recorded in Genesis 2, makes a clear distinction
between men and women. Hinson is of the view that Adam was
formed “from the dust of the ground,” and became “a living
being” having received from God “the breath of life.” Eve was
created “from the body of Adam.” The implication drawn from
this chapter concerning the woman's being “taken out of Adam”
is that of subordination and submission. The fact that woman
comes from man (Gen. 2:21) serves to highlight her likeness to
him. This process of creation also shows how male and female
belong together. They are of the same substance and flesh.
However, in the Jewish culture, the significance of
women is greatly undermined in variance with the submission of
Hinson. For instance, within the family circle, a daughter
remained under the authority of her father until she came under
the authority of the man whom she was to marry. The Jewish
women had unfavourable restrictions in all spheres of life. In
fact, they were not allowed to take any part in public life, “being
concealed by their clothes to such an extent that… a man did not
even recognize his own mother.” In the city of Alexandria, for
instance, women were confined to the inner chambers, and for
modesty sake, avoided the sight of men. Daughters were second
to sons and were totally dependent on their fathers till marriage.
To betroth to girl is to own and acquire her. Acquiring her is like
getting a Gentile slave. Also, in the face of danger the husband
was first saved unless the woman's purity was at stake. Legally,
the woman was ill-privileged. Religiously, she could not enter
into the covenant relationship through circumcision. During her
monthly period, or after the child-birth, she could not enter the
It is interesting to note that the Jesus' attitude to women
violated the contemporary norms. This is because he constantly
treated them as equal to men. He took genuine interest in women.
He protected a woman who was caught in adultery, and would
have been stoned to death (Jn.8:3-11). It is important to note that
Jesus continued to talk to her after the others had left, just as he
conversed with the Samaritan woman. This was contrary to the
culture of the day in which men were discouraged from talking
with women openly. Conversation with a woman in a public
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place was particularly scandalous even if she was a member of
one's family.
It is worthy to state that although Jesus demonstrated a
revolutionary attitude to women, yet, he did not choose a woman
disciple; all the twelve were men. Scholars have offered various
explanations for this. Some are of the opinion that Jesus did not
appoint women apostles because of the possibility of scandal.
This reason appears untenable for the simple fact that if Jesus'
association with women was not scandalous, choosing them as
apostles would not have been either. Others allege that in not
selecting them as apostles, Jesus was merely conforming to the
social context of his day. This also is not likely to be so for Jesus'
revolutionary attitude to them would not support such a view.
Ward Powers contended that in not choosing female apostles,
Jesus followed the terms of the board of eldership of the
Synagogue which in itself followed the pattern of the Old
Testament. Eldership began in Israel with the appointment of the
council of elders to assist Moses (Exo.18:19-27). The Jewish
worship and religious life centered around the Synagogue. Since
the earliest Christians were Jews and Jewish proselytes, the
initial Christian organization more or less automatically
patterned itself, automatically, on that of the Synagogue with
particular emphasis that the Messiah had come. In this way, the
twelve apostles constituted the board of elders. Therefore, Peter
and John referred to themselves as elders (I Pet. 5:1; II Jn. 1; III
Thus, in the appointment of an all-male apostolate, Jesus
followed the pattern of the Synagogue. As Powers noted, in this
case, he was doing more than appointing witnesses; he was also
building his church (Matt.16:18). In appointing apostles, Jesus
was appointing the first elders of that church, the Foundation
Stones (Eph.2:19-21). In the view of S.O. Ademiluka, the New
Testament all-male eldership simply follows the pattern Jesus
endorsed. If women were to be apostles or elders, this was the
point at which Jesus would have altered the pattern inherited
from the Old Testament and set a new one for the church. To this
extent, the author subscribes to the fact that in not choosing
female apostles, Jesus simply followed the pattern of the
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religious leadership of his time.
Christian Women and Culture in Africa
The question is; what place should women have in the
society? This question is germane because, traditionally, a
woman's place has been inferior to that of the average man. As
such, whatever is considered most valuable in the church and the
society at large is placed under the direction of men and whatever
is considered less valuable is given to women to care for, even
when people ostensibly know better.
Culture has continuously determined the extent to which
women are allowed to take part in the scheme of things,
including church related activities. The dominating role of men
is one of the characteristics of culture. Therefore, it can be
inferred that God created man in such a way that “man is a
culture-producing being.” If so, one wonders what the place of
women is in a male culturally dominated environment and what
should be the attitude of Christians to culture? Can Christians
separate culture from Christianity? To some scholars, God is
opposed to culture because culture is evil (I Jn.2:15-16). This
reason is untenable because, the author is of the view that God
Himself is the author of culture and as such, how could a good
God authored an evil culture?
It is disheartening to note that women in Christianity in
African are operating within the African culture that continues to
sing discordant songs against them. The superiority of men over
women is unquestionable. Women are made to play subordinate
roles in all spheres of life be it at home, in politics and to a large
extent in church leadership. Despite the preponderance of
women in religion, and in Christian religion in particular, little
recognition has been accorded to womenfolk. Therefore, there is
urgent need for the appropriate authorities and policy makers of
Christianity to yield to calls for a re-appraisal concerning women
subordination in the church and allow them to occupy leadership
position and exhibit their spiritual potentials.
True biblical equality assures that both men and women
are full and equal partners in life. As such, the concept of mutual
submission and responsibility determines the relationship
between women and men. It is therefore the duty of the church to
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enforce this. This submission, to an extent, is closely related to
the status of women in African culture. Women's spirituality is
prominent and as such, women are allowed to occupy leadership
cadre if they are so qualified. African culture and tradition allow
women to play meaningful role in religious matters in certain
capacities. For instance, in Yorubaland, there is a popular adage,
b'obinrinba f'ojub'Oro, Oro a gbe, meaning “if a woman sees
Oro, Oro will seize her.” The reason for this is based on the fact
that women cannot keep secret. As a result, they are often
excluded from actively participating in certain designated rituals
that forbid women presence.
Culture should not be seen as an enemy or friend to
women's spiritual development but rather as something that can
be employed by human beings. Bearing in mind the enormous
potentiality of culture for the Africans, it therefore becomes
glaring that for Christianity to be meaningful in an African
setting, the importance of culture cannot be overlooked. The
authenticity of the above claim has already been established by
the African Indigenous Churches. In African Indigenous
Religion, spirit possession is not strange. As a way of identifying
with African culture and tradition, spirit possession also plays an
important role among the Christians, particularly in the African
Indigenous Churches. By implication, the African Indigenous
Churches have borrowed a lot from the African Indigenous
Religion. People, particularly women, are often possessed by the
Holy Spirit, thus, they become mediums or better still
prophetesses and visioners.
The status of women which seems to confine them to the
background in the society can become an asset rather than a form
of discrimination. Through their activities at the home front, they
can enhance the capacity of their communities and nation at large
through training and mentoring of their children as exemplified
by Priscilla and her husband Aquila in the training of Paul and
Lois and Eunice in the training of Timothy, inculcating in them
from childhood religious and cultural ethos which produces men
of upright characters.
Another agency that defines womanhood in the African
cultural setting is the cultural role played by women's
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spirituality. This role is played out not just at the family level, but
also and more importantly, at the communal level. African
women have the special ability to be close to the spirit world as
mothers and therefore, harmonize the visible and invisible
spiritual realities. For example, when the community or society
is faced with natural calamities, the women are usually saddled
with the ritual responsibility of offering prayers. These reflect
the significant participation of women as central figures in
bringing about and sustaining the spiritual and physical
wellbeing of their families, communities and indeed, the entire
Gender Bias against Women's Spirituality
The exclusion of women from equal participation in the
society and church leadership in particular should be seen as
oppression of women. This male chauvinistic tendency is visibly
in display in all strata of human endeavours. Women are
vulnerable as they are often described as weaker vessels, as such,
unfit both spiritually and physically to withstand the rigour of
pastoral challenges. The response of the authorities and policy
makers of Christianity is re-appraisal of the existing laws against
women in the leadership and administration. This has happened
because women themselves have been their own liberators and
have dared to say “enough is enough”. As women's voices
become stronger, there will be more changes which will result in
the transformation of the church where gender equality will be
the norm rather than the exception.
Yet, we need to ask ourselves; how does the church stand
up to the scrutiny of gender and gender equality? In other words,
if we are to look at the church through the eyes of gender and
gender equality, what would we see? Is there patriarchy in the
church? How do the scripture construct gender? These are the
questions we need to ask the church. These questions cannot be
answered, without briefly examining the position of women in
the church, the portrayal of women in the Bible and how we do
react to the Bible.
It is interesting to note that in church attendance,
majority of the members are women. They usually make up the
greater percentage in the population. However, there appears a
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strong bias against women that runs throughout the Bible. A
good number of women in the Bible are heroines but the reality is
that their stories and contributions are not given the same
attention in sermons and teachings as their male counterparts.
In some cases, their names are not even mentioned, for example,
Noah's sons were mentioned by names but not their wives.
Where their names were mentioned, their roles were not given
the same attention as their husbands. This may seem like an
insignificant issue but when we try to understand the exclusion
of women from leadership positions in the church, every
instance of exclusion becomes paramount.
Moreover, there is no evidence that Paul ever appointed
female elders for any of the churches he founded. Perhaps, this
goes to strengthen his position on the matter, that women should
only be receptive in the church. This injunction has continued to
generate a lot of controversy from the inception of the church
more especially I Corinthians 14:33b-35 and I Timothy 2:11-12.
These texts are often used to determine the level of women's
involvement in the ministry or if at all they should be involved.
Taking the two texts together, one discovers that the order of
silence is absolute in view of the fact that the permission to speak
at all is denied to women. The absoluteness is also implied in the
call for submission to men who are the ones authorized to
coordinate the service. Silence in the church as demanded by
Paul was not only the practice in all other churches, but the
expected norm, for it was, in fact reckoned as shameful for them
to speak in the church.
However, some scholars allege that the injunction
contradicts I Corinthians 11:5 which allow women to prophesy
and pray in the church provided they are veiled. Williams
disagrees with commentators who say that I Corinthians 4:34-36
are interpolated verses as they seem to contradict 11:5 and 13. In
his opinion, by virtue of this injunction, Paul never contemplated
women becoming priests or overseers or even public preachers.
Kugelman submits that the church in Corinth should observe the
prohibition which obtained in the Palestinian churches. He is of
the opinion that by this injunction, Paul abrogates the
Corinthians practice of permitting women to prophesy in
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public. Hodge also agrees that Paul prohibits women from
speaking in the church. The rational ground for prohibition is
that, “it is contrary to the relation of subordination in which the
woman stands to the man that she appears as a public teacher.”
The injunction must have arisen from the fact that women, who
sat apart from men in the church were probably commenting
freely and calling out questions in a disorderly manner.
This is also the view that many interpreters have of I
Timothy 2:11-12. For instance, Hendriksen opines that:
A woman should not yearn to exercise authority
over a man by lecturing him in public
worship…for the sake of both herself and the
spiritual welfare of the church, such unholy
ta mp er i ng w i t h d i v i ne a ut h ori t y i s
forbidden…Hence, to teach, that is, to preach in
official manner…is wrong for a woman. She must
not assume the role of a master.
Yet, there are other scholars who approach these texts
differently to the effect that Paul's injunction does not apply to
the context of worship. Powers, for instance, criticizes
interpreters of I Timothy 2:11-12 who change the original
singular nouns “a man” and “a woman” to plural, thereby giving