September 5, 2015

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART III: HISTORY OF ISAAC AND JACOB (Gen. 25:19-36:43)

 

Topic #D:  JACOB'S RETURN TO CANAAN. (Gen. 31:1-33:17)                

 

 


Lesson III.D.9: The Meeting with Esau (Genesis 33:1-17)                                                                          

 

 

Genesis 33:1-17 (KJV)

 

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.

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

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

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 those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

As we begin Chapter 33 Jacob is limping, a broken man, a blessed man, a man with a new name, and a new nature now in control.  Later we shall see Jacob leaning, an old, old man down there in Egypt with his boys gathered around to hear his parting words before venturing forth upon his last great journey into the unknown.

 

Chapter 33 is a great commentary on the reconciliation of brethren.  If we have offended a brother it is not the slightest use going to him in a contentious spirit or in a spirit of self-justification.  The way to come is with reparations in hand and in a humble, contrite spirit.  That spirit disarmed Esau on the spot, and he forgave Jacob fully, freely, and forever.  (Esau’s descendants, however, did not share in that spirit of forgiveness.)

 

In our study of this remarkable life, we have seen God saving Jacob and we have seen God subduing Jacob.  Now we will see how God separated Jacob (chapters 33-34).  The story is in two parts.  In chapter 33 we have the story of Jacob and his brother; in chapter 34 we have Jacob and his backsliding.  We shall begin with the meeting between Jacob and his brother (33:1-16).  The story is told from the perspective of Esau rather than from that of Jacob.

 

Question: why does the name “Jacob” persist after Peniel?  Because he went back from that position.  He degenerated sadly.  He declined spiritually, and went back to his old ways of conniving and scheming.  He took four steps backward in verses 1-17.

 

 

Commentary

 

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.

 

Genesis 33 is a pivotal chapter in Jacob’s life, for he is facing Esau after 20 years of no contact of any kind. Jacob has every reason to believe that 20 years has not diminished Esau’s anger, as he sees Esau marching toward him—having come from Edom—with 400 men at his back. If a renewal of hostilities with Jacob was in the making, Esau was ready.  Down there in the rock cities of Seir he had already carved out a name for himself and a position of considerable power.  Esau knew nothing about Jacob’s angel escort and nothing of Jacob’s changed heart.  He only knew that if Jacob had any more tricks up his sleeve, he had better not try to pull any of them on him.  And Jacob, having had power to prevail with God, he was confident of the same power with man, according to the promise: “And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: FOR AS A PRINCE HAST THOU POWER WITH GOD AND WITH MEN, AND HAST PREVAILED” (32:28).

 

 

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

 

Esau discovered a cautious Jacob awaiting him (vs. 1-2).  He had divided the CHILDREN between LEAH, and RACHEL, and the two HANDMAIDS.  And he put the Handmaids and their children at the front, and LEAH and her children after that, and Rachel and JOSEPH were last.  It is evident that he placed the more expendable ones up front where they would be first to meet any hostile actions on the part of Esau.  That would give the others, and especially his beloved Rachel and Joseph a chance to get away. By arranging his four wives and their children in this way he created a new problem in the home which may have contributed to Joseph’s brothers’ hatred of him in later years. You certainly knew where you stood in Jacob’s household! 

 

 

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

 

If Esau found a cautious Jacob waiting for him he had also found a courageous Jacob.  For Jacob was no coward.  “HE PASSED OVER BEFORE THEM,” putting himself up front in the place of danger. We can forgive Jacob for many of his shortcomings when we see him doing that.  It was the act of a courageous man.  By going ahead of his family to meet Esau, Jacob shows that he has overcome the fear that had formerly dominated the old Jacob.  He also shows valor by protecting his family.  BOWING to the ground (vs. 6-7) before Esau demonstrates humility.  This is ancient court protocol for approaching a lord or king.

 

Jacob was not only cautious and courageous, but was contrite as well, for it says here that he “BOWED HIMSELF TO THE GROUND SEVEN TIMES, UNTIL HE CAME NEAR TO HIS BROTHER.” He would take a few paces and bow, take a few paces more and bow again.  This was a sign of total submission.  What a scene it must have been.  There was Esau, a wild, hairy man sitting on his swift Arabian horse gazing down at his brother.  There was Esau’s escort, a band of unruly ruffians such as Jacob had not seen all his life.  There was the little cluster of wives and children, still arrange as Jacob had placed them, looking with scarred eyes first at Esau and then at Jacob.  There were Jacob’s shepherds, tough as nails customers themselves but no match for Esau’s armed men.  And there was Jacob, bowing and scraping, bowing and advancing and bowing again, bobbing up and down like a cork on the waves.  There was a customary manner of doing this—looking in the direction of a superior and bowing with the upper part of the body brought parallel to the ground, then advancing a few steps and bowing again, and repeating his homage till at the SEVENTH time, the petitioner stands in the immediate presence of his superior.  The members of his family did the same.  This was a token of profound respect, and though very conspicuous, it would appear natural; for Esau being the elder brother was, according to the custom of the East, entitled to respectful treatment from his younger brother.  His followers would be struck by it, and according to Eastern habits, would magnify it in the presence of their master.

 

And all about them, stretching far into the distance, all the way to the Jabbok were Jacob’s flocks and herds.  That’s the scene when Esau found Jacob.

 

 

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

 

It was totally unexpected; “ESAU RAN TO MEET Jacob, EMBRACED HIM, AND KISSED HIM, and then both of them WEPT.” It was a typically oriental thing to do, something though that is foreign to westerners, but something as natural as a sunrise to an easterner.  The Bible does not put a great premium on emotion but on the other hand, neither does it ignore it.  There are times when a display of emotion is healthy and better than ten thousand words.  There were no lengthy speeches.  Jacob did not launch into a long explanation about his new-found penitence.  Note that there is no intellectual exchange at all.  Instead there was something far more powerful, something that cleared the air much more quickly and cleanly, like a torrential downpour at the end of a scorching day.  There was a good healing emotional exchange.  The tears that flowed down the cheeks of the estranged brothers washed away all the bitterness and ill-will of more than 20 years. Both of them WEPT,” but for different reasons.  Jacob wept for joy, to have been so kindly received by his brother whom he had feared; and ESAU perhaps wept for grief and shame, to think of the cruel plans he had conceived against his brother, which he found himself strangely and unaccustomedly prevented from executing. 

 

There is something else here that is very unusual, for in Esau’s culture, men walk; they didn’t RUN.  By running to Jacob, Esau is breaking the cultural norms of that day, and humbling himself.  His kiss seems to be an indication of forgiveness and that a change had taken place in his heart.  Jacob had been given an open door to talk with Esau about the past and get family matters straightened out; for, after all, God’s army was hovering near and Jacob didn’t have to be afraid.  But instead of confessing his sins and giving witness to God’s grace in his life, Jacob spent the time begging Esau to accept the gifts he had sent (vs. 8-11).

 

Now we can see that the wonderful irony of the reunion is that Esau’s 400 men are not a posse but a welcome party of escorts.  Jacob is all about bowing and belittling himself, and Esau just wants a hug.  They both weep but the tears means something different for Jacob from what they mean for Esau.

 

 

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. 6 Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves. 7 And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves.

 

Esau knew Jacob but not the others, so Jacob introduced his family group by group, and each group in turn courteously BOWED themselves (v. 6).

 

Once the emotional outburst was over there came the normal introductions and never again, during the lifetimes of Esau and Jacob, did the old animosities raise their heads.  What a fine person Esau was in so many ways—generous, likable, noble, yet lost.  And that is what creates a problem for so many people.

 

In talking with Esau, Jacob constantly referred to himself as “your servant” or “THY SERVANT” (vs.  5, 14) and to his brother as “my lord” (vs.  8, 13-15) whereas Esau simply called Jacob “my brother” (v.  9). This contrasts with their father’s blessing when Isaac made Jacob Esau’s lord (27:29).  Jacob definitely approached Esau cautiously and humbly, in an effort to ward off any possible retaliatory spirit.

 

So what was the essential difference between Esau and Jacob?  As a man Esau was a far more open, honest, out-going person than Jacob.  He was a very fine fellow, but he was spiritually dead.  Jacob was a natural-born schemer and a man with many glaring faults, but he had spiritual life.  It was a difference of kind, not degree.

 

 

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 now turned his attention to the great quantity of expensive animals Jacob had sent him as a present.  The older brother had been puzzled by the three bands of servants with presents which had already met him. Jacob explained that the presents were given in order that he might find GRACE with his estranged brother.  “WHAT MEANEST THOU BY ALL THIS DROVE WHICH I MET?” he asked.  “THESE ARE TO FIND GRACE IN THE SIGHT OF MY LORD,” said Jacob.  He was saying, “Years ago I cheated you, Esau.  I deeply regret it now.  I would like to make restitution.  I want you to know that my regrets go far deeper than mere words.” But Esau had long since forgotten his grudge against Jacob, and indicated that he did not need the presents.  However, he took them when Jacob insisted.  They had not been needed to appease Esau’s anger, for God had long since prepared his heart to forgive Jacob.  But Jacob’s heart had only been prepared that very morning, so now the presents represented gratitude and affection instead of appeasement.  We learn from this that God has the hearts of all men in his hands, and can turn them when and how he pleases, by a secret, silent, but resistless power.  He can, all of a sudden, convert enemies into friends.  It is not in vain to trust in God and to call upon Him when facing trouble; they that do so, often find the issue much better than they expected.

 

 

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

 

ESAU immediately refused the trespass offering.  “I HAVE ENOUGH, MY BROTHER; KEEP THAT THOU HAST UNTO THYSELF.” That was Esau.  Apparently, Esau is not the taker that Jacob has been.  In one gracious statement he could cancel all of Jacob’s gift.  But then, when he saw that his refusal of the gift troubled his brother, he just as generously received it.  In the East, the acceptance of a present is the equivalent to a bond of friendship, and Jacob wanted to make sure that his old guilt would never be raised against him again.

 

 

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.

 

“JACOB SAID, 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.” Jacob’s comparison of seeing Esau to seeing God’s FACE may seem like flattery or overstatement; but, it showed he knew this deliverance from harm by Esau was OF GOD.  It could also have been recognition on Jacob’s part of God’s character in the life of his brother.  Jacob had seen God face-to-face, but he said nothing to Esau about it!  “GOD HATH DEALT GRACIOUSLY WITH ME” (v. 11), he added, but he didn’t tell his brother the facts and give God the glory.  He didn’t tell Esau that he had a new name, probably because he wasn’t living up to it at that time.  He was made a prince but he was acting like a pauper.

 

 

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.

 

“TAKE, I PRAY THEE, MY BLESSING THAT IS BROUGHT TO THEE; BECAUSE GOD HATH DEALT GRACIOUSLY WITH ME, AND BECAUSE I HAVE ENOUGH,” he said.  Note again the essential difference between Esau and Jacob.  Both men said, “I HAVE ENOUGH,” but Jacob made mention of “GOD” and Esau did not; Jacob had a testimony and Esau had nothing.  The name Jacob used for God in giving his testimony was not Jehovah, His covenant name, for Esau’s carnal mind could never appreciate that glorious and gracious name for God.  He used the name “Elohim” hoping, perhaps, that the thought of God as the God of creation might strike some note in Esau’s dead soul, whereas the thought of God as the God of covenant was far beyond Esau’s power to grasp.  In giving that brief word of testimony to his brother, Jacob stepped down to Esau’s level and used the kindergarten language of faith.

 

Certainly there is a change that has taken place in Jacob.  Before he had traded a bowl of stew to get a birthright; now he is willing to give flocks and herds (550 animals; 32:13-15) to his brother for nothing!  In fact, Jacob insists that he take them.  In that day and in that land if one refused to take a gift which was urged upon him, it was considered an insult.  Therefore, Esau takes the gift. When Esau finally accepts Jacob’s gift, he gives Jacob the opportunity to feel forgiven.  Jacob sent presents through fear; but the fear being over, he now interprets his acceptance of it as brotherly love, to show that he desired his brother’s friendship, and did not merely dread his wrath.

 

It was mentioned in the introduction that Jacob went backwards from Peniel—FIRST STEP BACKWARD—he still plots and plans even after the assurance of power (32:28).  The brothers meet, and Esau’s opposition is seen to have been removed by God, but there is still fear and fawning on Jacob’s part.  All the recognition of God is by Jacob (vs.  5, 10, 11), but it is not on the same level as the recognition given at Peniel.

 

 

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

 

Esau wanted Jacob to return home with him to the rugged, mountain vastness of Seir, therefore, Esau offered to accompany Jacob, giving him the courtesy of his presence.  That frightened Jacob not because he had any fears that Esau would do him harm, but because he had learned of the problems associated with being unequally yoked to someone.  Jacob, with his vast, slow-moving flocks and herds could not be sensibly yoked to Esau with his 400 mounted Calvary.  It made no sense, and as soon as Jacob pointed that out to Esau, his brother saw it too.

 

The unequal yoke never makes any sense whether in business, marriage, or social entanglement.  We are all honor-bound to be friendly with unsaved people but we are equally at fault should we become tied to them.  Jacob is to be commended for using tact in declining his brother’s generous offer.  Tact should always be used when our overtures of friendship to unsaved neighbors are followed by reciprocal offers which involve an entanglement—it would be best to decline. 

 

 

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

 

ESAU saw Jacob’s point, but, if Jacob could not accept the offer of his presence, surely he could accept the offer of his protection. “AND ESAU SAID, “LET ME NOW LEAVE WITH THEE SOME OF THE FOLK THAT ARE WITH ME” (v. 15).Again Jacob carefully sidestepped the involvement.  “WHAT NEEDETH IT,” he said, “LET ME FIND GRACE IN THE SIGHT OF MY LORD.” (v. 15) And once again Esau—who had made the offer because he thought perhaps that Jacob who looked so weak and unprotected, needed an escort to shield him from robbers and marauders—bowed to his brothers judgment.  Thus they said their farewells and Esau went on his way back to “SEIR,” the land of Edom, in southern Canaan.  After their father’s death, he moved to Mount Seir, which God subsequently gave to Esau for a possession (Deuteronomy 2:5). 

 

The repetition in verse 14 of the phrase “MY LORD” may indicate Jacob’s respect and courtesy, but it also suggests that Jacob was groveling again.  One thing was sure; Jacob was deceiving again. 

 

Throughout the conversation there is implied, on Jacob’s part, a half promise to visit Esau in “SEIR,” but Jacob had no desire to spend more time with Esau than was necessary.  Like his farewell with Laban, Jacob’s meeting with Esau was a truce, not a true reconciliation.  Whether he visited his brother at a later date we are not told.  Probably both Esau and Jacob knew that it would be a last goodbye.  The boys had chosen divergent paths.  Esau had chosen the present evil world and Jacob had chosen the world to come.  The two had little or nothing in common beyond their birth into the same family and their somewhat tarnished boyhood memories.  At the same time it is not impossible that Jacob might have made a trip to Edom to see his brother. One would like to think he did keep his promise.

 

 

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.

 

SECOND STEP BACKWARD.  After Esau’s offer of escort was denied, JACOB promises to follow; but instead of going southeast he goes northwest, directly opposite from where Esau lived. The lie is absolutely inexcusable.  What must Esau have thought when his brother did not arrive?  Perhaps Jacob did not want to face his father, or perhaps reconciling with Esau was a different matter than living beside him.  Or it could have also been a practical concern regarding pastures for the herds.  As a result of Jacob’s choice to settle away from his brother, he never saw his father again.  The next time we find Jacob and Esau together in scripture is twenty-seven years later at the graveside of their father, Isaac (35:29).

 

The patriarchs were all wealthy men, but with Abraham and Isaac and with Jacob (up until this point) the pilgrim character was never lost.  The pilgrim character was symbolized by a tent and an altar; a tent that manifested a pilgrim walk in a wicked world, and an altar that manifested pure worship amidst so much religious corruption.  As pilgrims, the patriarchs were men on the move, always willing and able to obey the call of God.  It is that aspect of testimony that now broke down in Jacob’s life.

 

THIRD STEP BACKWARD.  Jacob’s stay at Succoth was brief (several years), though he did build himself a house, and barns for the animals.  He had forgotten his vow at Bethel (28:21; 31:13).  There were no pastures there, and he easily forgot God and his own word.

 

FOURTH STEP BACKWARD.  God’s command was that Jacob return to Bethel—“I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred” (31:13)—and then to his home where Isaac still lived, which was Hebron—“And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned” (35:27). Still he did not go to Bethel. Instead, he tarried at SUCCOTH.  At Succoth, the pilgrim who was supposed to live in a tent (Hebrews 11:9-16) built a house for himself and sheds for his flocks and herds.   After a short stay at Succoth, he settled near Shechem (33:18-20).  When he moved near Shechem, Jacob purchased a piece of property—which was quite close to the Canaanites, a nearness which brought untold trouble—settled down, and became a “resident alien” in the land.  Shechem was an important city in central Canaan, first built and inhabited during the patriarchal period.  Jacob followed in the footsteps of his Father Abraham (see 12:6-7), having arrived where Abraham was first promised the land.

 

Miracles were worked in both Jacob and Esau.  In Jacob, God brought about a spirit of humility and generosity.  Esau was changed from seeking revenge to desiring reconciliation.  These changes were proof that God had delivered Jacob in answer to his prayer: “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” (32:11).

 

Now the sunshine is beginning to fall on Jacob’s life.  Laban is appeased and Esau is reconciled.  God had arranged all of this for him.  Had Jacob been left to his own greed and his own cleverness, he would have come to his death in a violent manner.  Before too long Jacob is going to look back over his life, and when he does, he is going to see the hand of God in his life, and he is going to give God the glory.  However, the evil that he has sown is yet to bring forth a full harvest.  Trouble is waiting in the near future for this man.

 

 

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