Uneasy Reconciliation between Jacob and Esau
Genesis 33. In this chapter Jacob meets Esau, and they part ways again. Jacob learns that God has preserved his life, not through the cleverness of Jacob (his gift), but by turning Esau’s heart. Rather than go to Bethel, Jacob stops short in Succoth, and then Shechem, setting up a difficult stage which follows in ch.34.
Jacob meets Esau (33:1-15)
1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and with him four hundred men. And he distributed the children to Leah, and to Rachel, and to the two maidservants: 2 and he put the maidservants and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindmost. 3 And he passed on before them, and bowed to the earth seven times, until he came near to his brother. vv.1-3 As Jacob approached Esau, he arranged his family in a certain order, it would seem from least to most favored, with Rachel and Joseph at the end. Yet Jacob did not come after Rachel, but passed over before them all, and took his place at the lead. If Esau meant to harm him, Jacob would be out in front. Yet Jacob was still afraid of Esau, even after wrestling with the angel in ch.32. He bowed himself to the ground seven times as a sign of obeisance.
4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept. 5 And he lifted up his eyes and saw the women and the children, and said, Who are these with thee? And he said, The children that God has graciously given thy servant. 6 And the maidservants drew near, they and their children, and they bowed. 7 And Leah also, with her children, drew near, and they bowed. And lastly Joseph drew near, and Rachel, and they bowed. vv.4-7 How surprised Jacob must have been when Esau received him with affection, and not hatred. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1). Jacob’s gifts and his bowing down did nothing to save his family. The work was the Lord’s! In the message that Jacob had sent earlier (Gen. 32:4-5) he had said much of his possessions, but nothing of his family. Esau was puzzled by the wives and children; “Who are these with thee?” Jacob’s reply is beautiful; “The children that God has graciously given thy servant”. He viewed the children as a gift from God! This is how every Christian parent should view their children.
8 And he said, What meanest thou by all the drove which I met? And he said, To find favour in the eyes of my lord. 9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; let what thou hast be thine. 10 And Jacob said, No, I pray thee; if now I have found favour in thine eyes, then receive my gift from my hand; for therefore have I seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou hast received me with pleasure. 11 Take, I pray thee, my blessing which has been brought to thee; because God has been gracious to me, and because I have everything. And he urged him, and he took it. vv.8-11 Esau’s disposition toward Jacob was so transformed that he could not understand the reason for the large gift of livestock. Jacob meant it to gain Esau’s favor, but the Lord had already taken care of that which had worried Jacob greatly. How often we spend sleepless nights worrying about things that we cannot really change, and things that God has perhaps already taken care of. Esau refused the gift at first, but Jacob insisted. Jacob would feel more at ease if he could make Esau his beneficiary. Jacob was really flattering Esau with his talk. He had just exulted in seeing ‘the face of God’ (ch.32), but now he tells Esau that the welcome reception was almost an equal experience; “therefore have I seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God”. He went from a high to a low in one day! When we are acting in the flesh we tend to say things the glorify man and disparage God. Jacob turned backwards what the Lord had previously stated, that the elder should serve younger. Nonetheless, Jacob did acknowledge the source of his wealth; “because God has been gracious to me”. We need to recognize the same! At last Esau took the gift, and Jacob was put more at ease.
12 And he said, Let us take our journey, and go on, and I will go before thee. 13 And he said to him, My lord knows that the children are tender, and the suckling sheep and kine are with me; and if they should overdrive them only one day, all the flock would die. 14 Let my lord, I pray thee, pass on before his servant, and I will drive on at my ease according to the pace of the cattle that is before me, and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord, to Seir. 15 And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the people that are with me. And he said, What need? Let me find favour in the eyes of my lord. vv.12-15 As they prepared to travel, Esau suggested that they travel together, with his four-hundred men in the lead. Jacob really wanted to be rid of Esau as soon as possible, and preferred to travel alone. He gives the excuse of needing to travel slow for the children and cattle’s sake, which might have been partly true, but it wasn’t the full truth. Jacob still had unjudged sin in his life. Notice too that he told Esau that he would come to Mt. Seir. Jacob had no intention of going to Seir. He wanted to part ways with Esau; the sooner the better. But this was dishonesty. Would “all the flock” really die if Jacob were to overdrive them “one day”? No, but it was a good excuse. Nevertheless, we have in Jacob’s excuse a helpful lesson for mothers and especially fathers. We need to be sensitive to the pace that our family can take. Peter instructed husbands; “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them [your wives] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7). As men it is natural to have big ambitions that are not conducive to a wife and young children. We need to know their pace, and adjust our own accordingly. Esau offered to leave some of his men with Jacob, so see them all the way to Seir. Jacob wanted none of it, but refused saying that it wasn’t necessary, and that he would do Esau a favor by not imposing on his hospitality. This is the deception; to present what we want under false motives.
Jacob and Esau Part Ways (33:16-20)
16 And Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. v.16 Esau departed, and would not see Jacob again until the burial of their father Isaac (Gen. 35:29). Esau returned to the area he had inhabited; Mount Seir. This elevated region to the south of Canaan which borders the wilderness of Zin (Gen. 14:6), was previously by the Horites, and the area was named after a prominent Horite named Seir (Gen. 36:20). Esau and his family destroyed the mountain people, and took their place. Evidently the Lord allowed this because He had given Seir to Edom for a possession (Deut. 2:5, 12). However, this is a place that the Lord would later turn against (Ezek. 35:3), and in the Millennium it will be one place that will not blossom as the rose, but will remain desolate; “Also Edom shall be a desolation: every one that goeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss at all the plagues thereof.” (Jer. 49:17).
17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and for his cattle he made booths. Therefore the name of the place was called Succoth [‘booths’]. 18 And Jacob came safely to the city Shechem [‘a portion’], which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-Aram; and he encamped before the city. 19 And he bought the portion of the field where he had spread his tent, of the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred kesitahs. 20 And there he set up an altar, and called it El-Elohe-Israel [God, the God of Israel]. vv.17-20 Jacob had already crossed the Jabbok stream, but was still on the east side of Jordan. He settled in a place called Succoth a little to the north, and built a house there, and shelters for his animals. He stopped short of the land that Abraham had walked in as a stranger for one hundred years. It was a step backwards, away from Bethel. It was the opposite direction from Mount Seir, where Esau had gone, and where Jacob has promised to follow. How long Jacob was in Succoth we do not know exactly, but he built a permanent residence, and his children appear to be well grown when he arrived at Shechem. Dinah, who was perhaps six or seven years old when Jacob met Esau, was old enough to visit the daughters of the land in ch.34. This would indicate that at least six or seven more years had passed, and perhaps many more in Succoth, were no progress was made. Perhaps Jacob was not ready to deal with the idols in his house. At last Jacob moves across the Jordan near the city of Shechem. Jacob is now back in the land of Canaan, but he does not go to Bethel, the place where the Lord had appeared to him at the beginning. Instead he settles down near a Canaanite city. In Shechem Jacob suffered tremendous heartache and loss. If only he had gone directly to Bethel! Yet he does have an altar in Shechem; an altar to “God, the God of Israel”. It represents God’s providential care for Israel personally. This is how we come to know God at first: in an individual way. But this falls short of what we get in ch.35; “God, of the House of God”. Later we understand God in relation to the whole of that which represents Him in this world, and the importance of our conduct as in the house of God.