Well as always, thank you once again for listening to this Bible study podcast, I’m Randy Duncan, and in this episode, we will be covering Genesis chapter 33, which sees Jacob finally return to face his brother Esau after 20 years of being away.
In the last episode, we saw Jacob wrestle with God, and have his name changed from Jacob, to Israel. We also saw all of the preparations made by Jacob as his brother Esau approached with his 400 men. And that is where we pick up the action here in chapter 33.
V1-3…And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. 2 And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. 3 He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
And so here we are, the final act of this drama between Jacob and Esau. And as I mentioned in the last episode, the 400 men who are with Esau serve as a reminder to Jacob of the possible aggression he is about to encounter. Again, 400 men was about the size of the standard militia in those days. So Jacob can’t be certain of Esau’s intentions. What was previously only reported to Jacob as Esua coming with 400 men, is now about to become a reality.
But one thing has changed since his encounter with God the night before…there is no mention of fear this time. In the last chapter, we read that when Jacob heard that Esau was approaching, Jacb was greatly afraid and distressed. But not this time. No mention of fear, no mention of stress or anxiety. Maybe he is more confident after the events that transpired the night before, when God changed his name to Israel.
But what we see here is that it’s not the old Jacob who approaches Esau, it is the new Israel that is now approaching Esau.
The day before, Jacob had divided his people and possessions into two camps in case they had to run. It was a tactical move in case of flight. But now, he divides the two groups amongst his four wives in preparation to meet Esau. So this time it’s simply a matter of arranging the mothers and their children in order to meet Esau. And he does so in order of his apparent love for them, or maybe their social status, placing Rachel and Joseph at the very back so that they would be the last to be introduced to Esau. It sort of mimics the ascending order of value that Jacob arranged in the gifts he presented to Esau
After he has arranged them in order, it tells us that Jacob went on ahead of them. The new Israel is a leader, not a coward.
And it tells us that as he approached Esau, he bowed himself to the ground seven times. The Hebrew phrase there denotes touching your nose and forehead to the ground in a prostrate position as a symbol of submission before a superior.
The bowing seven times is a well-documented practice of a vassal to his lord in ancient courts. And so Jacob greets Esau sort of like a vassal would greet a superior, or a servant to his lord.
And there is a lot of irony in this scene already, with Jacob bowing before Esau. Because this is a complete reversal of the blessing that Jacob had received from his father Isaac 20 years earlier, which said that Esau would bow to Jacob
V4-7…4 But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. 5 And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” 6 Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. 7 Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down
And so for all of Jacob’s fears, all of his anxieties, all of his worries, Esau runs to meet him, and embraces him, and kisses him. And they both wept. Can you imagine how Jacob must have felt? That sense of overwhelming relief, all of the pent up worry and stress released. That sense of guilt he had probably carried for the last 20 years, he is able to finally let it go.
I wonder how much moreso all of us will feel those same types of emotions when we get to Heaven, when we finally see Jesus face to face, and He welcomes us home. When we see our loved ones once again!
Revelation 21:4 tells us that “4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And here, Jacob experiences just a shadow of that joy and relief, for the former things, in his embrace with Esau, have now passed away.
There is an old saying that “time heals all wounds”, and perhaps that is true here with Jacob and Esau. And although time might heal all wounds, the scars remain. The scars are still there. And just like scars on our body, they remind us that the past is real.
There is also a saying that the only man-made things in Heaven will be the scars on Jesus’ body. Again, wounds healed, but the scars remain, reminding us of the past. Reminding us that the sacrifice Jesus made was real.
But before I move on, just a note here. Some people listen or read the story of Jacob and Esau, and they sort of get this picture that Jacob is the good guy and Esau is the bad guy. But the Bible never portrays Esau as a bad man. It is true that he didn’t care as much about spiritual matters, at least not 20 years earlier. He is described as sort of a rough guy, a man of the earth, a hunter, but he was also a devoted son, who honored his father Isaac.
But Esau sees of course the women and children with Jacob, and he asks him who they are. Notice Jacob’s response, “The children whom God has graciously given “your servant”. Jacob continues to address Esau in terms of an inferior in the presence of a superior. But Esau is speaking to him just like he would a brother.
Jacob may have simply not wanted to take any chance with Esau, even after the emotional embrace. Younger brothers were expected to show respect to their older siblings, but Jacob’s language here goes well beyond that expectation. And then of course we see Jacob’s wives and children step forward, bow, and pay their respects as well. Jacob has no doubt explained to them what they were to do, either out of respect, or fear. And the way word travels, they would have almost certainly known why Jacob has just recently divided them into two camps.
Verses 8-11 continue…8 Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” 9 But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.
So Esau finally asks, what’s up with all this company that I met, why the droves? And Jacob responds, “To find favor in the sight of my lord”. If you remember, honesty was not always one of Jacob’s strongest qualities, but here, he answers very honestly, ‘To find favor in the sight of my lord”. Notice also, he’s still referring to Esau as his superior.
But Esau responds by saying, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” IOW, “I’m doing fine, I don’t need your gifts, keep them for yourself”. Notice again too, that Esau is still referring to Jacob as “brother”, which is in contrast to the way Jacob refers to him.
Esau’s response here, ‘keep what you have for yourself”, may also be his way of subtly conceding his birthright to Jacob. You can almost see Esau, with a slight smile, looking Jacob in the eye, and telling him, the way this phrase reads in the Hebrew,“Let what you have remain yours”, and only the two of them know what he is actually referring to.
But Jacob pleads with Esau to accept his gifts. “Please, if I have found favor in your sight, accept the presents from my hand”. Notice here that Jacob deliberately uses a different word for “gift” this time. In the English, this isn’t an obvious as a significant change. But Jacob uses a Hebrew word, “birkat”, which is the same word for “blessing”, which is what Jacob stole from Esau. So what he is saying is “Please, if I have found favor in your sight, accept the “blessing” from my hand”. Jacob knows that if Esau accepts his gifts, then he has found acceptance. And so he presses Esau, “Please accept my blessing that is brought to you”
Well, Esau finally accepts the gifts, but notice that he doesn’t offer any gift or blessing for Jacob. By not offering a gift in exchange, Esau indicates that he accepts the gift as a payment for the wrong done to him by Jacob. And so their reconciliation is sort of finalized in this exchange.
12 Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you.” 13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir”
With their old score now being settled, Esau says, let’s be on our way, let’s head home, and I’ll go on ahead of you”. Esau may have assumed that Jacob was on his way to simply pay him a visit, and so he suggests that they travel together as they head home.
But Jacob begins to tell Esau that the flocks and herds, the women and children will slow him down, and that Esau should go on without him so that he and his men will not also be slowed down.
So we start to pick-up on, we get the first hint here, the idea that even though Jacob and Esau have just had this reunion, Jacob doesn’t appear interested in traveling with Esau.
Verses 15-17 continue…15 So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” 16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir . 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth
So we saw Jacob begin to balk at the idea of traveling with Esau. But now Esau offers to leave some of his men behind to accompany them, to protect them, on their journey. But again, Jacob sort of swerves this offer as well, saying “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord”. IOW, “Aahh, You’re too kind Esau, thanks, but I’m good”.
Esua is probably catching on at this point. I’m sure he is smart enough to realize that Jacob is trying to politely turn down the offers his brother is making. It also makes you wonder a bit why Jacob doesn’t want to travel with Esau. Although they have reconciled, Jacob is probably still a bit uneasy, maybe has his guard up…just in case Esau’s welcoming was not genuine. And so Jacob is certainly relieved and happy, but he also thinks it is best if they each go their separate ways.
As Dennis Prager remarks, “The brothers have buried the hatchet, so to speak, but they both know where the hatchet is buried!
It then says that Esau left and returned to Seir. And with this, Esau sort of rides off into the sunset of the Bible. This is the last we see or hear of Esau, except for a brief mention at his father Isaac’s funeral.
And as Esau leaves and heads for Seir, Jacob leaves and heads toward Succoth. IOW, he is heading in a different direction. Jacob, or Israel as he is now known, will live apart from both Esau and Laban. He had no intention of meeting up with Esau in Seir.
So the last three verses of this chapter, verses 18-20 read…18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
So Jacob sets up camp just outside of Shechem. He doesn’t go all the way into Canaan just yet. This is intentional. And he stayed long enough so that it was necessary to buy some property, and to build some booths. This was his first purchase in the future land of Israel. And it’s interesting because Joseph will eventually be buried on this plot of land.
It also tells us that Jacob paid 100 pieces of money for the land. The exact price is given. However, in the Hebrew it says that he paid 100 “kesitah. The kesitah mentioned here is an unknown unit of weight. It wasn’t a coin, because coins don’t appear in the Bible until later on, after the period of the monarchy.
There is a tradition that kesitah means “lamb”, because there was extensive use of cattle being used as a medium of exchange in ancient times. But another tradition takes kesitah to mean a piece of jewlery, or a fixed weight. But we just don’t know for certain.
Jewish tradition says he stayed there for a year and a half before crossing the Jordan into Canaan. Some people think that he may have been using the natural resources of that area to replenish what he gave away to Esau
But he build an altar there, and names it El-Elohe-Israel, which in Hebrew means, “God, the God of Israel”
And so as we wrap up this short chapter, we have seen the change in Jacob, from the deceiver he once was, to a person who has been humbled, suffering under Laban for 20 years, who has wrestled and struggled with God, had his name changed to Israel, has learned how to speak the truth with grace.
We see Jacob, who was supposed to have his brothers bowing down to him, bowing down to his brother Esau. Very humbling. But it’s often during times like these, where God sometimes humbles us, so that we can then begin to be used by God.
Proverbs 18:12 – Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
Some of us are very stubborn, and we have to be brought to our breaking point, to have nowhere else to turn, to hit rock bottom, in order to be humbled, in order to be open to hearing God’s voice.
But if we do, if we humble oursleves before God, remember James 4:10, which says “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.