Genesis 33: Jacob Meets Esau

After his struggle with God, Jacob is spiritually ready to face his brother Esau. He is thinking about God in the proper way and his attitude towards God’s blessings and mercy is healthier.

Verses 1-11: Reunion

Jacob finally sees Esau coming with 400 men and he separates his children among Leah, Rachel, and their two maidservants for protection. In terms of exposure to the threat of Esau, Jacob placed groups in a particular order: maidservants and their children first, Leah and her children next and Rachel last. This order is reveling about whom Jacob values most and/or who actually is most valuable.

Jacob does not hide behind them, however. He instead places himself between Esau and the groups as he presents himself to Esau. We should note that Jacob bows before Esau seven times. The number seven represents completeness in the Bible so Jacob’s bowing demonstrates true regret over his former actions and total acquiescence to his elder brother. Esau’s original intent with the 400 men is not revealed, but it seems likely that it was to attack Jacob, seeking retribution for the thefts of the birthright and the blessing. It appears that Jacob’s successive waves of gifts have changed Esau’s heart, for he does not show aggression.

But let’s take a moment to recognize the beauty of Jacob’s servant heart. Jacob could choose to enjoy the reprieve and move on into the land and reunite with his father Isaac. Instead, however, he chooses to continue to make amends to Esau. When Esau asks him about the successive waves of gifts, Jacob plainly says in verse 8: “These are to find favor in the sight of my lord.”

This again speaks to Jacob’s growth as a man of righteousness and hints at the idea that Jacob knows he has done wrong in his previous dealings with Esau. Here, the impact is not made by the gifts, for both were wealthy men. Rather it is the gesture that solidifies their positive reunion when we consider that the outcome could have been disastrous.

Verses 12-20:

When Esau proposes that they return home together, Jacob resists for the practical reason of the safety of his flocks and young family. They will need to travel at a much slower pace than Esau and his 400 able-bodied men. Esau offers Jacob a faction of men to travel with, but Jacob declines saying, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my Lord.” This is yet another positive sign of Jacob’s increasing faith and reliance on Almighty God. 

Jacob travels with his caravan safely to a place called Succoth and builds a house and dwellings for his livestock. Then Jacob goes to Shechem in Canaan, buys a piece of land for himself, builds an altar and calls the place “El Elohe Israel” or “God, the God of Israel.” Jacob, having been recently renamed “Israel” by God, seals the deal of his faith by naming the place of his home in this way. This is also the fruition of the prayer made in Genesis 28:20-22:

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.””

Jacob’s faith has matured and is now strong. He has made good on his end of the agreement and God has certainly made good on His. It is crucial to note here how much more important God’s promise is than Jacob’s. God’s promise is part of the covenant originally made to Abraham and eventually inherited by Jacob and you and me. The fact that Jacob had to make his own promise is a demonstration of his faith needing to grow; God’s plan was there for Jacob (and for Israel) all along. Jacob’s (and your and my) opportunity to grow in faith is grace from God, a lovingkindness through which God allows us to grow closet to Him, coming to know Him in a way that forms strong lifelong bonds. This growth, in due course, prepares us for a lifetime of walking with, and living for Almighty God.

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