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Enough Is Enough

by Tim O'Hearn

Jacob was on his way home. He had spent many years elsewhere for fear of his life. He had grown rich. Now he was going home. But he still feared his brother, Esau. So he prepared a sumptuous gift for his brother, and sent it ahead of him. When they met, Esau asked what all that treasure was that he had met, and Jacob said it was a gift for him. “And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself. 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.” (Gen 33:9-11)

The King James Version and some other English translations obscure a valuable lesson in this exchange. Indeed the Hebrew shows two different attitudes toward physical things that may be instructive. The question is, how much is enough? Jacob and Esau represent two opposite answers to this question.

Esau sees this great wealth, and answers his brother in a way that is true to his nature. In keeping with Eastern tradition, he at first refuses the gift, knowing it will be pressed on him and he will eventually accept what he has coveted from the beginning. So when Jacob says that this wealth is a gift for him, Esau replies, “I have enough.” Actually, he uses the Hebrew word, rab, which means “much.” To paraphrase his response with what seems to have been his intent, he says, “I really have a lot myself. You do not impress me with this great wealth. But much is not really enough, so keep asking me to take the gift.”

Many people take this attitude that enough is not really enough. They may have a lot or a little, but whatever they have is never quite enough. They have much, but not enough. They trust God, but not enough. They think that God owes them more, or that they cannot live on what they have. God may be saying, “You have enough.” Instead they reply, “Yes, I have a lot. But think of what I could do for you, Lord, if you gave me more.” Of course, if they get more very little, if any, would go to working for God.

Jacob has a different attitude. In offering the gift he says, “I have enough.” He uses a different Hebrew word, kol, which means “everything” or “all.” His response, then, could be paraphrased, “I have it all. I don’t need this meager gift, because God has given me everything I could possibly want and more. So go ahead and take it, because it is really nothing to me.”

Jacob says enough is everything. Whatever God sees fit to give us is what God considers sufficient for our needs. And if God thinks it is enough, it must be. The person with the attitude of Jacob may not have a lot of this world’s goods. He may be considered by others to be quite poor. Nevertheless, he considers that any more than what he has would tempt him to be an Esau, so he is happy with whatever he has. Esau trusted in himself and his possessions. Jacob trusted God, and that was enough.

When I was young and my brothers and I had been arguing for a while, my father would sometimes say, “Enough is enough.” I don’t know if he knew how right he was.