Genesis  33:1-20


Verse 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.

I.    The battle has already been won.  It was won this past night when Jacob wrestled with God.  Jacob divides his family because it is right to do all a person can do, but it is wrong to trust in our plans.


II.   Jacob still has fear when the time comes to face Esau.


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

I.    Jacob doesn't know what Esau is going to do, therefore he does all he can to protect himself and his family.  He places those "lest loved" to face Esau first, then those "more loved" later, himself last.


II.   I think it is important to note right here that Jacob has always loved Rachel most.  Leah was "forced" upon him.  Then his two wives offered him their two handmaids to "wife" when they were competing for his affections.  In light of this, the actions of Jacob can be understood.


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

I.    It looks like Jacob went in front of these other groups to meet Esau.

A.  Jacob was first.

1.   Directly behind him was the handmaids and their children.

2.   Directly behind them was Leah and her children.

3.   Directly behind Leah was Rachel and Joseph.

B.   This is in direct contrast to what I have always thought.

1.   I have been taught and have believed that Jacob would let his wives and children face Esau first.

2.   I now believe that Jacob will face Esau first, which would give the others a chance to escape if Esau injured or killed him.

3.   Therefore, the nation of Israel would continue even though Jacob was dead.


II.   Jacob bowed himself to the ground, his position indicating his humility and his desire for grace from his brother.  Jacob, by his position, is clearly showing Esau that he was and is wrong.  That he recognizes what a terrible thing he did to him.


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

I.    If Esau was riding upon an animal, he dismounted and ran toward Jacob. 

A.  "Fell on his neck" - Indicates they hugged and in the custom of the east, put the head on one side, then on the other side.

1.   The kiss is not on the lips, but on the two cheeks of the face.

2.   They weep.

3.   Esau is probably weeping because he finally sees his long lost brother.

4.   Jacob is probably weeping because of relief.


II.   Esau didn't pay very much attention to the droves of animals Jacob sent ahead of him, nor of the women and children that was in front of Jacob.  He had eyes only for Jacob.  This shows me that if Esau had on his mind to kill Jacob, the droves of animals, nor the women and children would have been enough to change his mind.  Listen: plans of men don't work, prayer to God does work!


III. It is very interesting to compare the position of the two men as they approach each other.  Esau is standing up, running toward Jacob while Jacob is slowly walking toward Esau, raising, then bowing himself to the ground.

A.  Esau is showing his joy at seeing his brother, while Jacob is showing his fearfulness and desire for compassion.

B.   I think this also shows the condition of the two men as the 20 years have passed.  Esau has reconciled himself to Jacob's treachery and seems to be happy in his present state.  Jacob hasn't reconciled himself to his deception, and understands that if Esau is mad at him, he has a right to be.


Verse 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.

I.    Esau didn't know who Jacob's family was.  This is apparently something Jacob hadn't considered.  Of course, Jacob knows who they all are, but Esau has never laid eyes on them.  Often times we fail to consider that others don't know the same things we know.  I remember when I moved to Willow Hill, the people there would explain where a certain piece of property was by saying who lived there before.  I didn't know who lived there now, much less who lived there before.


II.   Jacob calls himself the servant of Esau.

A.  This is true when considered as brother to brother.

1.   Jacob bowed down to his brother, not to the nation of Edom.

2.   This is a very powerful lesson:  It is not necessary for those in power to show their power at every turn.  Jacob is conciliatory to his brother, just like those in power ought to be conciliatory to those under them.  There is no need for a pastor to act like a fool just because God has given him the power and authority of the pastorate.  He ought to understand that God can give that same power and authority to another if it is abused.  Besides that, the power and authority is in God, not in any fleshly person.

3.   Any man who would be a real pastor will also be a true minister, which is a servant of others, one who helps others do the task God has given them.

B.   This is not true when considered in the light of the birthright.

1.   Genesis 27:29, Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed by every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.

2.   This passage hasn't come true in the physical sense, but it has come true in the real, spiritual sense.  Esau didn't bow down to Jacob, but he has recognized the position of both sons before God.


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

I.    It seems those that were furthest away got there first.  There is no doubt they were very curious, or that they had been told of the upcoming events.


II.   The handmaids and their children followed the example of Jacob and bowed themselves before Esau.  They had a good example to follow, not like Mrs. Lot, who followed the example of her husband who asked God to go to Zoar instead of to the mountains.


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

I.    It seems those that were furthest away got there first. 


II.   It is interesting to note that Joseph was the only child of Jacob that was mentioned, and he is mentioned before his mother.  This might be because of the inspiration of the Scriptures.  Judah is the firstborn, but he will lose his right to lead Israel because of his fornication.  Joseph is the one that will save Israel alive from the famine.


Verse 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.

I.    There is no doubt that Esau already knew what the droves were for because each of the men with the droves told him.  But Esau will not be satisfied to take another's goods without word from that man himself. 


II.   It is customary in that country to send gifts ahead to those of great statue to show good will toward them.


III. Grace is an interesting word.

A.  Jacob desires grace from his brother, which is actually lower than himself as far as the blessings of God is concerned.

B.   But in this case, Jacob is placing himself below his brother, thus he desires grace from him.


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

I.    Esau declares that he has enough, actually he might have as much as or more than Jacob.


Verse 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.

I.    The droves are much more than a gift, they are a token of forgiveness and acceptance by Esau.  If they had simply been a gift, Jacob might have graciously received them back, but when Esau accepts the droves, he is saying that all is truly forgiven and forgotten.

A.  This gift will be like the shoe of Ruth 4:7.  It will be a token of the grace from Esau to Jacob.


Verse 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].

I.    The gift is a blessing from Jacob to Esau.  It is more than just a gift.


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

I.    Esau would go before as if to announce the one that follows.  A king in those days would have heralds go before them to announce their coming that people would be able to prepare to receive him.  This seems to be what Esau is doing.


Verse 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.



Verse 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.



Verse 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.



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

I.    Evidently, the visit between Esau and Jacob didn't last very long if Esau returned to Seir that same day.


Verse 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.

I.    Succoth is on the east side of the River Jordan.  The word "Succoth" means "booths".

A.  I don't know if Jacob went to Seir to visit with Esau for a while or not.  The Bible doesn't say he went, so I assume he didn't.  The indications of verse 12-16 are that Jacob was going to Seir, but there is no indication he actually went.


II.   SUCCOTH (sewk' kohth) 1. A place name meaning, "booths." A city east of the Jordan in the tribal territory of Gad. Jacob dwelt there upon his return to Canaan (Gen. 33:17). It was an important town during the time of Gideon. Its leaders were punished by Gideon for not helping him in a campaign against the Midianites (Judge. 8:5-7,13-16). Near Succoth Hiram made vessels for Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 7:45-46). It is usually located at tell Deir Alla, but some excavation results have called this into question. 2. A place where the Israelites camped upon leaving Egypt (Ex. 12:37; 13:20; Num. 33:5-6). It was near Pithom and is usually identified with tell el-Maskhutah or tell er-Retabah.[1]


Verse 18  And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which [is] in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city.

I.    Shalem is the first city Jacob came to.  There is no record of exactly where this city is, but the meaning of the name is peace, complete, safe, perfect, whole.  This also speaks of the condition of Jacob.  It may have been that he named the city of Shechem this to show his contentment at reaching Canaan and solving his conflicts with Laban and Esau.


II.   SHECHEM (sheh' khuhm) Personal and place name meaning, "shoulder, back." 1. District and city in the hill country of Ephraim in north central Palestine. The first capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, the city was built mainly on the slope, or shoulder, of Mount Ebal. Situated where main highways and ancient trade routes converged, Shechem was an important city long before the Israelites occupied Canaan.

A.  The city makes its earliest appearance in biblical history in connection with Abram's arrival in the land (Gen. 12:6-7). When Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, he settled down at Shechem and purchased land from the sons of Hamor (33:18-19). In Genesis 33-34, Shechem was the name of the city and also of the prince of the city. While Jacob was at Shechem, the unfortunate incident of Dinah occurred. Simeon and Levi, her full brothers, destroyed the city (Gen. 34). Later, the brothers of Joseph were herding Jacob's flock at Shechem when Joseph was sent to check on their welfare. Joseph was buried in the plot of ground that his father Jacob had purchased here (Josh. 24:32).

B.   As the Israelites conquered Canaan, they turned unexpectedly to Shechem. Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal and led the people in its building, renewing their commitment to the law of Moses (Josh. 8:30-35; compare Deut. 27:12-13). Shechem lay in the tribal territory of Ephraim near their border with Manasseh (Josh. 17:7). It was a city of refuge (Josh. 20:7) and a Levitical city (21:21). See Cities of Refuge; Levitical Cities. Joshua led Israel to renew its covenant with God there (Josh. 24:1-17). Gideon's son Abimelech fought the leaders of Shechem (Judg. 8:31-9:49).

C.   Rehoboam, successor to King Solomon, went to Shechem to be crowned king over all Israel (1 Kings 12:1). Later, when the nation divided into two kingdoms, Shechem became the first capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:25). Samaria eventually became the permanent political capital of the Northern Kingdom, but Shechem retained its religious importance. It apparently was a sanctuary for worship of God in Hosea's time about 750 B.C. (6:9).

D.  The name Shechem occurs in historical records and other sources outside Palestine. It is mentioned as a city captured by Senusert III of Egypt (before 1800 B.C.) and appears in the Egyptian cursing texts of about the same time. "The mountain of Shechem" is referred to in a satirical letter of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. Shechem also figures in the Amarna Letters; its ruler, Lab'ayu, and his sons were accused of acting against Egypt, though the ruler protested that he was absolutely loyal to the pharaoh.

E.   At Shechem (sometimes identified with Sychar), Jesus visited with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well (John 4). The Samaritans had built their temple on Mount Gerizim, where they practiced their form of religion.[2]


Verse 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.

I.    This is the second record of the three patriarchs purchasing land in Canaan.

A.  Abraham was the first to buy land.

1.   Gen. 23:17-20 - He used it for a burial plot.

2.   Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah were buried there.

B.   According to Genesis 48:22, Jacob gave this land to Joseph.

1.   Joshua 24:32, Joseph will be buried in this parcel of land.

2.   Some interpret the Joshua 24:32 to mean that Joseph's descendants were also buried in that parcel of land.


Verse 20  And he erected there an altar, and called it Eleloheisrael.

I.    The word "Eleloheisrael" means "God, the God of Israel".  To me this has a dual meaning.

A.  Jacob's name has been recently changed to Israel, therefore Jacob is saying that this altar belongs to the his God.

1.   This altar is being raised when Jacob first returns to the promised land, not before.

2.   This altar is a symbol of all the blessings Jacob has received in the past 20 years.

3.   This altar is a symbol of God fulfilling His promises to Jacob about being with him and doing him good.

B.   Israel is the name of the future nation that is now living in the seeds of Israel's (Jacob's) sons.

[1]Holman Bible Dictionary, article Succoth.


[2]Rich Murrell, Holman Bible Dictionary, article Shechem.