Genesis Chapter 33: Jacob Meets Esau and Jacob Sojourns in the Land

Mar 6th, 2010 | By | Category: Genesis, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Genesis Chapter 33: Jacob  Meets Esau and Jacob Sojourns in the Land

Gen. 33:1 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.

Jacob had previously sent servants to Esau to indicate his intention to journey southward and to sound out Esau to see if the past grievance was abated. Jacob used strategy to break down Esau. He had sent droves of flocks as a present and had instructed his servants to call Esau “my lord” and Jacob “thy servant,” the emphasis being that Esau was superior. Esau had 400 men with him, and they were approaching. In addition to the droves for Esau’s present, Jacob had divided his flocks into two bands. Now would come his strategy regarding his family.

Gen. 33:2 And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.

Jacob put the handmaids and their children in front, then Leah and her children next, and finally Rachel and Joseph. This order showed Jacob’s preference in regard to who was the most expendable should Esau and the 400 men fight. Rachel and Joseph were most valued. This must have been Jacob’s general attitude, as indicated previously with the mandrakes and also subsequently when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery out of jealousy. Jacob would give the coat of many colors to Joseph.

Gen. 33:3 And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

Jacob went first to meet Esau, ahead of the handmaids and their children. As Jacob approached Esau, Jacob bowed to the ground seven times. Hence Jacob was continuing the strategy of trying to soften up Esau. Jacob showed submission and willingness to have peace and be Esau’s “servant,” as it were.

By going first, Jacob exposed himself to the danger of captivity and gave the others a chance to escape should Esau have hostile intentions. The handmaids and wives were probably strung out in the distance so that if they saw anything untoward, they could flee in haste.

Gen. 33:4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.

Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced and kissed him, and they wept. What a wonderful answer to Jacob’s prayer! Whatever suspicions Esau had were allayed by all of Jacob’s strategies. Now the others were encouraged to continue in their approach to Esau.

Esau’s character is shown favorably here by his not carrying a grudge and not still planning to kill Jacob. Taking 400 men with him was probably at least partly because he wondered about Jacob’s intentions. Twenty years had elapsed, and suppose Jacob had an army with him. Both Esau and Jacob had prospered during the 20 years of separation.

Gen. 33:5 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.

Esau now saw the women and children approaching and asked who they were. Jacob replied, “The children which God hath graciously given thy servant.”

Gen. 33:6 Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves.

Gen. 33:7 And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves.

In a continuation of subserviency, the handmaidens, Leah, Rachel, and the children all politely bowed themselves. The children were young, and to see the young ones manifest such courteous respect would have further melted Esau’s heart. There is no indication that the children were instilled with suspicion, hatred, or fear; that is, they were not trained in ill will towards Esau. In other words, they had not been hearing damaging stories about him.

From God’s standpoint, Jacob was the superior, and this was only the beginning as far as his blessing was concerned. For instance, Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out” (Luke 13:28 ). Esau’s name was not mentioned, so as time went on, that which Jacob represents became more and more superior. Back there they were closer to being equal from a human standpoint. When Jacob and Esau are compared in a general sense, Jacob represents a spiritual class who have faith in God and suffer for it, stepping out into the unknown. They will be richly blessed ultimately.

Gen. 33:8 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.

Esau said, “What do you mean by these droves that I met?” Jacob answered, “These are to find grace in your sight.” The use of the word “drove” means that Esau was impressed with the immensity of the introduction as well as the ceremonial approach.

Gen. 33:9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.

Gen. 33:10 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.

Esau graciously declined Jacob’s “present” of droves. The last time (20 years ago) that Jacob and Esau had seen each other, Esau felt that Jacob had stolen his birthright. Now, under different circumstances, when Jacob tried to bestow flocks on him, Esau said, “Keep the gift, for I have enough.” Esau responded this way because during the 20 years, he had prospered temporally.

Remember, although Isaac got the chief blessing, Ishmael was blessed too. Isaac would be 12 kings; Ishmael would be 12 princes, and Edom (Esau) would be 12 dukes. All were honored positions but on a descending scale (see Gen. 36:15).

Jacob urged Esau to accept the present. The last part of verse 10 is poorly worded in the King James Version. Jacob was saying, “God has so richly blessed me that now when I come into your presence, I feel as if God is there. He has favored us both in this joyous reunion that it is as if we are in His presence.” “Face” can mean “presence.” Jacob felt as if they were in the presence of God.

Gen. 33:11 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.

At Jacob’s insistence, Esau accepted the present.

Gen. 33:12 And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee.

Esau suggested that they go on together to Mount Seir, Esau’s residence.

Gen. 33:13 And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die.

Gen. 33:14 Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir.

Jacob declined because the children were young and the flocks were ready to bear. If overdriven, the animals would die. Therefore, the flocks and children would proceed leisurely, at their own pace. Also, Jacob wanted to make a clear separation, as shown in verse 14. Esau could see that there was truth in Jacob’s statement regarding the age of the children and the flocks about to bear offspring.

Comment: Another reason would be that Jacob did not want his family to intermingle with the Hittites and the Ishmaelites (Gen. 26:34; 28:8,9).

Reply: That could very well be true because Jacob saw that such intermingling would not be prudent. To settle too near Esau would eventually lead to intermarriage.

Gen. 33:15 And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me. And he said, What needeth it? let me find grace in the sight of my lord.

Esau next suggested he would leave some of his 400 men with Jacob. Jacob declined, saying it was not necessary. (Also, to have accepted Esau’s offer would have continued a tie to him, which Jacob did not want.) Thus there was an abrupt separation but with goodwill and prudence. Jacob said “no” in a gracious manner.

Comment: Even after Esau’s wonderful reception of Jacob, Jacob continued to call him “my  lord.” This form of address shows the sincerity of Jacob’s desire to return under a peaceful situation.

Reply: Jacob was a man of a peaceful disposition, even though he was Herculean in physique and superior to Esau in bodily strength. The fact that he would not harm Esau physically was another factor that melted Esau—to see Jacob, a man of strength, calling him “my lord” and referring to himself as “thy servant.”

Gen. 33:16 So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir.

Esau returned that day to Seir.

Gen. 33:17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

Jacob first went to Succoth, which was east of the Jordan River near the Jabbok tributary. The word “Succoth” means booths. (Note: This is not the Succoth of the Exodus.) Here Jacob built temporary shelters, a resting place, in which the pregnant animals could bear their young. The huts provided shade.

The word “house” is misleading, for the stay was temporary. For perhaps several weeks, Jacob and his family remained there and then proceeded on when the young animals were up to traveling.

Gen. 33:18 And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-aram; and pitched his tent before the city.

Jacob and those with him crossed over Jordan and entered Canaan. Shechem, which is called Nablus today, was in north central Canaan, 32 miles north of Jerusalem. It was the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim (the mounts of cursing and blessing, respectively— Deut. 11:29). Shalem, called a “city” in the area of Shechem, was really a village.

Gen. 33:19 And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for an hundred pieces of money.

Gen. 33:20 And he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-israel.

At Shalem in Shechem, Jacob bought a sizable parcel of land for 100 pieces of money from Hamor. There Jacob put his tent and erected an altar called “El-elohe-israel,” that is, “God, the God of Israel.” According to the King James margin, Jacob could have obtained the land by the barter of 100 lambs.

The next chapter, Genesis 34, took place in Shechem. Jacob’s well was in Shechem—it was part of the land he bought. The woman of Samaria was at this well when Jesus spoke to her (John  4:5-7). The residents of Shechem at this time were related to Noah, some through Ham(Canaanites) and some through Shem. Joseph’s bones were brought out of Egypt and buried in Shechem in Jacob’s parcel of land (Josh. 24:32). Shechem later became a city of refuge (Josh. 21:21).

(1987–1989 Study)

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