Talk: Diplomacy, Prayer, and Action (and When to Use Which)

The question of conflict is not between countries, or peoples, or religions.

The question of conflict lies within myself: whether or not I am willing to love as God loves.

When I love the way God loves, there is peace.

When I wait for someone to deserve my love, or earn it, or be worthy of it, then there is war.

I am the one who makes peace or destroys it, depending on whether or not I keep the laws of God.

I know this to be true.

I also know that I want to be a peacemaker, and that this is fulfilling the commands of God to love Him and others so well.

Herein lies my challenge, for I am weak and know so little, and so easily falter like a toddler learning to walk. It is one thing to want peace, and another thing to understand that peace is made through love, and another thing all together to know how to do it.

This is the real question: if i must make peace by being peaceful (even loving), then what must I do to be peaceful?

I used to think that being peaceful meant doing nothing, but I disagree with this now. Doing nothing is acting in fear, is being acted upon, is choosing to let things remain the same or deteriorate. Doing nothing is giving permission for and participating in destruction.

There are times we must hold our peace by not responding to non-peace around us.

But we cannot hold our peace until first we make peace.

We must act, because faith is an active process. But we must act wisely, knowing good from evil. We must be sure our actions are choosing His way and not our own way (2 Nephi 2:26). We must act in accordance with God’s laws, and so also the laws of our governments, no matter what is going on around us, with full knowledge that way to have peace in our families, our communities, and our nations is to be obedient to God (Family Proclamation).

Jacob gives us an example of how to make peace God’s way. It is a good example because it has many layers we all experience. There is the layer of making peace with the past, the layer of being in immediate danger, and the layer of having different expectations for the future. These are layers common to us all, whether we are talking about people or countries.

In Genesis 32, Jacob has been enjoying his life. He has been very obedient, and is enjoying the blessings and prosperity that come with obedience. His family has grown, and they are happy.

Then one day Jacob gets the news that his brother Esau is headed their way. It does not seem they have had much contact, if any, since Jacob was sent away after taking Esau’s birthright. He did take it fair and square, with Esau surrendering it willingly (foolishly), but still – Jacob took what was not his, and he did it when his brother was weak. This makes Jacob an oppressor in that moment, even if Esau was foolish to agree to the deal.

Our good behavior never depends on how others are treating us. Our choices are ours alone, and we make good choices because we love God – not because those around us deserve it or don’t deserve it. I do not deserve the love of God, but He loves me because I am His daughter. In the same way, we love others – even make peace with them – not because they do or do not deserve it, but because they are children of our Father as much as we are.

Meeting Esau again is a confrontation Jacob does not want.

He also is concerned for the safety of his family, because Esau could still be angry.

He cannot do nothing, and just wait for his family to be attacked.

But when he acts, it must be action that is obedient to God.

He does take action, immediately, but not by being aggressive towards his “enemy” (brother!). He takes action, instead, by protecting his family.

We cannot control what our enemies do to us, but we can make choices about how to protect our families.

Jacob splits his family into two groups, so that Esau cannot attack everyone at once, giving some a chance to escape if they need.

Note that his action is not one of violence toward his presumed enemy, but rather one of immediate personal protection for his own family. See verses 6-8:

And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him. Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands; And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.

Now that he has a plan to protect his family, his next action is prayer. He turns to God to present his plan for protecting his family and to ask for God’s help. He can claim these blessings because he has already been very obedient. He can ask for God’s guidance because he is willing to do what God says, no matter what that direction is. But he also acknowledges he is not worthy of divine intervention, in part because this situation is the natural consequence of his past behavior. Jacob knows that he cannot do it his way, that his way did not work, and that he must do it God’s way. This is a new level of repentance for Jacob, and he is submitting to God’s will, and agreeing to respond in God’s way. In this way he acts in faith, and not in fear. See verses 9-12:

And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children. And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.

Part of repentance is restitution. Jacob prepares “a present for Esau his brother” (verse 13). This is not just a gift to appease the enemy, or a bribe to make him go away. This is restitution, part of Jacob’s restitution for having taken what was not his.

It does not matter how foolish Esau had been.

It does not matter that Esau had not yet earned anything, or deserved anything, or been punished long enough.

It is not about that.

It is about the atonement. It is about making peace.

Jacob is not making peace with Esau so much as Jacob is making peace with himself.

This is his repentance, his humbling himself to be at-one with his brother, whether his brother deserves it or not. It is not about what Esau deserves. It is about Jacob wanting to be very obedient to his God, even if that meant making peace with his “enemy” (brother!).

Now that Jacob is both spiritually and temporally prepared and willing, he must follow through with obedience. Wanting peace is not enough. Jacob must go and make peace with Esau, his brother (no longer fearing him or seeing him as an enemy).

Diplomacy comes from the Latin “diploma”, which is a document that certifies, or testifies. The Latin word comes from the Greek word “δίπλωμα”, meaning a folded document. While unrelated in etymology, this makes me think of origami, where plain paper is folded into beautiful pieces of art. This is diplomacy, which takes the mundane that everyone can see and “folds” it into something beautiful that all can enjoy.

Usually diplomacy is focused in relations between countries, discussing issues about trade economics and human rights. Often this includes ideas about making peace or starting wars. Almost always, this is done by “diplomats”, who work out the arrangements before the leaders actually announce or endorse them.

This is what Jacob does next. He lines up his family to greet his brother, sending gifts ahead to soften the blow. All those who go before him are diplomats, easing the tension before the actual brothers meet in person. Then, rather than attacking or blaming, Jacob humbles himself to honor his brother because it is the right thing to do. He does not make peace by arguing about the past, and he does not attack to defend his rightful place. He makes peace by approaching Esau not as an enemy, but as a brother, even his older brother – even giving the proper tribute due an older brother, regardless of their issues in the past (see chapter 33:1-11).

And 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. And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant. Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves. And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves. And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord. And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me. Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it.

This is how Jacob made peace.

It is never fun to be bullied by our enemies.

Whether a school yard fight or being stoned on Temple Mount or at Rachel’s Tomb, whether it is a lawn dispute between neighbors or barbed wire fences marking land mines between countries, squabbling leaves us bruised and cut and tired.

We all have experienced being hurt by others, whether this has been personal offense or societal injustice. We all have been bullied, or neglected, or abandoned, or forgotten.

Genesis 33 tells us the story of Jacob using diplomacy, prayer, and action. As we read of Jacob’s encountering his brother Esau after their long separation, we learn how to respond even to our enemies.

When Jacob sent messengers with gifts (verses 10 and 11), that was diplomacy.

When Jacob called on God to deliver him (Genesis 32:9-12), that was prayer.

When Jacob splits his camp into two groups (verses 7 and 8), that was action.

Jacob did not just take action, he took righteous action.

He did it God’s way.

In another story, by the example of Moses in Exodus 14“>Exodus 14, we learn the difference between doing things our way or God’s way. The people are escaping Egypt, with the Pharaoh hot on their trail. The sea is before them, Pharaoh’s army is closing in, and the people start to panic (which is not acting in faith). God tells Moses to lift up his staff, and the sea will part so the people can escape (see verses 14-16).

The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace. And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.

Moses did it exactly as he had been told, and it happened exactly as God had said (verses 21-22).

And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

God had a purpose for this miracle: to help the people turn to Him and to His prophet (verse 31).

And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses.

We learn in the New Testament that this was a mikveh for the people as a community (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-2). The people, as a community, were brought out of that “unclean” place, and away from an “unclean” people. They had to cleansed, as a people. They had to become God’s people again, set apart and made holy. This was their mikveh before receiving the Torah (see play on words in Exodus 15:4, and also see Exodus 19:10-11, 14). It is Law that one cannot experience, much less appreciate, the Holy presence of God without being clean, without the mikveh. Because of where they had been and the conditions in which they lived they needed the mikveh as a people (see HERE for more from 1 Nephi 2) in order to become the People of Holiness (see HERE for more from 1 Nephi 15). They could not receive the Torah or His presence (sheckinah) until after the mikveh (see more in 1 Nephi 17).

All of this was accomplished because Moses did it God’s way, which was to lift up his rod in testimony of God.

But when Moses does it his own way, failing to testify of God, the price to be paid is losing his ticket into the promised land. In Numbers 20“>Numbers 20, we read how the people are hot and thirsty from traveling in the desert. Moses prays to ask what to do, and God uses the experience as an opportunity to deepen the faith of the people another step forward, another step upward. This time God tells Moses he just has to speak – not even lift his rod (the people by now should have matured with a higher priesthood, and no longer needed the physical reminder). All Moses had to do was speak to the rock, and water would come out of it for the people (see verses 6-8).

And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto them. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.

This time Moses was not supposed to lift his rod to remind the people to look to God.

The people have by now received the Torah. They know God’s laws. They understand their covenants. They understand the blessings of keeping them, and the penalties for breaking them. They are no longer fresh out of the mikveh; they have the tabernacle and the higher priesthood. They have moved from milk to meat (1 Corinthians 3:2), and no longer need the reminders. They should already know, already understand, already remember.

But Moses does not do it God’s way. He is out of tune with the purpose of God. Instead of sticking to his role of helping them mature further, he is irritated by their complaints and removes their opportunity for learning. He even interferes with agency by using unrighteousness dominion to do it (the faith part required for the miracle) rather than letting the people witness the miracle of their own faith. This is why the consequences are so big: it was not just that he lifted his rod and hit the rock instead of just speaking to it. It is that he was to testify, even of the rock and water that is Christ, but instead only cared for the physical needs of the people (instead of the spiritual also).

That is a good warning not only of our need (requirement) to testify, but also in how we care for those we home and visit teach. We must attend to both physical and spiritual needs.

Moses, though, in this moment, hits the rock instead of speaking to it (verses 9-12).

And Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as he commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

He acts out in frustration with behavior that becomes unrighteousness dominion, instead of testifying and teaching. He shows a lack of faith in God, that God can teach this complaining people, and a lack of faith in the people, that they would not mature in faith. Here Moses is not at-one with God or the people. It does not matter how much he has done for God already, and it does not matter how much the people have complained. Moses is responsible for his own behavior, and the consequences were his alone.

Our Father is eternal, and His laws are eternal. Laws are not removed and penalties are not taken away. There are sometimes civil bans on some laws, which we follow because we are responsible citizens of the countries in which we live. Penalties do not have to be discussed when we are an obedient people, but that does not mean they have gone away.

The New Testament does not mean the Old has been cancelled. It has been fulfilled! It means there is a new testimony of it, higher covenants possible, because we have matured as a people.

Exodus 14:14 says the Lord will fight for us, and we will hold our peace.

Our peace comes through the atonement!

This is the newness of life, the blessings that come after all we can do, the freshness of Spring after we have left our mikveh. Look! It is greener than many remember, in perfect timing for Tu BiSh’vat, the New Year that starts with Spring. Like the trees, we are no longer dormant; we are no longer asleep. We are waking up, and we are strong and healthy and well and strong. We are at peace, because He has made us at-one. This sparks within us a life of inspiration that revitalizes not only our own souls, but those around us – when we make peace, when we live at-one. This is how He delivers us, this is how He makes peace,

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam mateer asurim.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sets captives free.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Talk: Diplomacy, Prayer, and Action (and When to Use Which) — 1 Comment

  1. My comment concerns the following paragraph in your blog: “We learn in the New Testament that this was a mikveh for the people as a community (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-2). The people, as a community, were brought out of that “unclean” place, and away from an “unclean” people. They had to cleansed, as a people. They had to become God’s people again, set apart and made holy. This was their mikveh before receiving the Torah (see play on words in Exodus 15:4, and also see Exodus 19:10-11, 14). It is Law that one cannot experience, much less appreciate, the Holy presence of God without being clean, without the mikveh. Because of where they had been and the conditions in which they lived they needed the mikveh as a people (see HERE for more from 1 Nephi 2) in order to become the People of Holiness (see HERE for more from 1 Nephi 15). They could not receive the Torah or His presence (sheckinah) until after the mikveh (see more in 1 Nephi 17).
    Your thoughts on this made me think of the Temple and the ordinance of washing prior to receiving your endowment and how that ordinance takes us from an unclean state to a clean and sanctified state, sets us apart, and makes us part of God’s people. It prepares us to become People of Holiness and to eventually receive the Lord’s presence (his sheckinah) as we progress toward exaltation. Thanks so much for taking me on this small journey to a better understanding of the Temple!