33 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. 2 He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. 3 He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.
4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. 5 Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.
Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”
6 Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. 7 Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.
8 Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”
“To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” he said.
9 But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”
10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.
12 Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.”
13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. 14 So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
15 Esau said, “Then let me leave some of my men with you.”
“But why do that?” Jacob asked. “Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord.”
16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. 17 Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Sukkoth.
18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. 19 For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. 20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.
(Genesis 33:1-20 NIV)
In our last time together, we saw Jacob wrestling with God and receiving the blessing of God and a new name to indicate his new life. Yes, he walked with a limp, but with a whole new perspective on life based on his encounter with God in those twilight morning hours.
As we move into Chapter 33 today, we see Jacob look up and see his brother Esau and 400 men coming his way.
What happens next is a bit of a puzzle, but reveals Jacob’s heart.
After having wrestled with God, having his life spared, and being blessed by God, one would think that Jacob would be a different man with great faith. Instead, we see the old Jacob – the schemer, the manipulator, come out again. Granted, he was much more humble now, but he was still Jacob, his old identify, and not Israel, the new identify God had given him.
Jacob arranged his family from least cherished in front to most cherished in back, then went on ahead to meet Esau. Rather than trusting the Lord and facing Esau, Jacob resorted to cultural norms of showing respect – bowing multiple times as he approached his brother.
Moses makes a point in verse 4, beginning the sentence with “but”. When Esau saw his brother, he quickly forgot all cultural norms and ran to meet his brother, give him a hug, and shed tears of joy.
What Jacob had feared the most about his encounter with Esau, God had already taken care of. There was no more animosity in the part of Esau, only love. Jacob’s fears were unfounded; his prayer had been answered.
After family introductions, Esau inquired about all the gifts that had been sent ahead. Jacob replied that they were gifts to find favor with Esau. Again, Moses makes a point to contrast Jacob’s fear with Esau’s reaction, beginning verse 9 with “but”. Once more, God had gone before Jacob as He had promised and made Esau’s heart tender toward Jacob.
Esau told Jacob he didn’t need the gift, that he had plenty already. Jacob insisted, which put Esau in an awkward place. In their culture, to not accept a gift was to insult the giver and declare the giver an enemy. So Esau reluctantly accepted the gift.
Then Esau offered to escort Jacob, his family, and all his possessions on their journey back to wherever Jacob was headed. Jacob was traveling unarmed and unguarded, and this was wild country, with many dangers and unfriendly foes along the way.
Rather than trust the Lord and spend time with his brother, Jacob made an excuse to travel separately from Esau, blaming the slowness of their caravan on the children and the young livestock. Esau even offered to leave some of his men with Jacob as armed escorts, but Jacob politely but firmly refused. Jacob promised to stop in Seir where Esau lived as he made his journey back to his birthplace.
In verse 17, we see Jacob heading in a completely different direction, going off to Shechem instead of Seir, where Esau lived. Jacob even bought a piece of land there, and made shelters for his animals. In his fledgling new faith in God, Jacob did erect an alter and named it “El Elohe Isarael” (God, the God of Israel”). Jacob did acknowledge God as his God, after he had safely returned to being in control of his own destiny again.
Was Jacob being obedient to the Lord? Back in Genesis 31:13, God had told Jacob to go back to Bethel, where Jacob had made a vow to the Lord. Stopping and buying land in Shechem and setting up residence was not what God told Jacob to do.
How often do we, after having a great encounter with the Lord, buckle under the pressure of a test or trial and resort to our old ways, living in fear or trying to be in control, rather than walking in new-found faith?
May we learn to walk in faith, through both our experienced times with the Lord as well as our journeys through times of testing and trials.
May we have the assurance as David did, that “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 NIV)