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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 33

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-16


Genesis 33:3. Bowed himself to the ground seven times.] “He bowed himself after the Eastern fashion, bending the body so that the face nearly touches the ground. The text gives us to understand that these obeisances were not made on the same spot, but one after another as he approached Esau.” (Alford.)—

Genesis 33:5. Who are those with thee?] Heb. Who these to thee?—pertaining to thee.—

Genesis 33:11. My blessing.] Meaning my gratuity. In Scripture a gift is often called a blessing (1 Samuel 25:27; 1 Samuel 30:26; 2 Kings 5:15). I have enough.The expression is rendered in our version in the same way with that of Esau (Genesis 33:9), but they differ in the original. Esau says (Heb.), ‘I have much,’ but Jacob (Heb.), ‘I have all.’ ”—

Genesis 33:14. According as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure.] Heb. “According to the foot of the possessions—and according to the foot of the children.” The meaning is, at the pace of the cattle, as fast as the business of travelling with cattle will permit.

Genesis 33:15. Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me.] Heb. “I will place, station, set.” He wished to leave part of his men as an escort or guard to Jacob’s company.



I. It illustrates the difference between the characters of the two brothers.

1. Esau was generous and forgiving. He was generous in refusing Jacob’s present (Genesis 33:9), and also in afterwards consenting to accept it (Genesis 33:11); because to decline a gift is a token of enmity among the Orientals. There must be some one to receive in order that others may have the blessedness of giving. He was generous also in offering an escort, and in that delicate feeling which led him not to press it upon his brother (Genesis 33:15). Esau was of a forgiving disposition. His passion soon cooled down, and there was a fund of good nature within him.

2. In Jacob there are traces of his old subtlety. His old life had left traces in his character of fear, distrust, and suspicion. He was a cool, calculating man, one who refused to commit himself to others, however encouraging the appearances. He did not ally himself too closely with Esau’s band, lest the old enmity should break out. He would put off the more leisurely meeting with his brother till afterwards, proposing to pay an early visit to him at his residence. (Genesis 33:14.) We have no account of their meeting afterwards, until they met at their father’s funeral. (Ch. Genesis 35:29.) Jacob simply desires his brother’s favour, and does not care to be too closely associated with him.

II. It illustrates the power of human forgiveness—One forgave, and the other received forgiveness. There is a forgiveness of man by man which is virtually God’s forgiveness. This grace at the hands of Esau was to Jacob as “the face of God” (Genesis 33:10). Therefore he comes in peace to the city (Genesis 33:18). He had sought forgiveness in the right way, by humility, by a sense of his sin. And he obtained it most fully (Genesis 33:4).

III. It illustrates the tyranny of old sins—. The brothers separated, but not to meet again for many years. It would not have been expedient for them to live together. All was forgiven, but there was no longer any confidence. So the effects of past sins remain.

IV. It illustrates the power of Godliness.—This is not an ordinary reconciliation of human enmities. It has a deep foundation, for it is based upon the reconciliation of Jacob with God. Jacob might have tried to overcome wrath with wrath. He once had hoped to overcome Esau by force, but now he tries the new and better way. Jacob’s humility before his brother was but a sign of his humility before God. His satisfaction to Esau is a sign also of his reconciliation with God. The strength of his love and confidence comes from God’s grace. He could not mingle afterwards with Esau, for he had the consciousness within him of his high calling of God. Notwithstanding the many flaws in Jacob’s character, he had that God-consciousness which was lacking in his brother.


Genesis 33:1. Jacob masters his fears, and makes use of the likeliest means. So Esther, when she had prayed, resolved to venture to the king whatever came of it. And our Saviour, though before fearful, yet, after He had prayed in the garden, goes forth and meets His enemies in the face, asking them, “Whom seek ye?” (John 18:4). Great is the power of prayer to steel the heart against whatsoever amazements.—(Trapp).

Genesis 33:2-3. Esau has the array of physical force. Jacob has only a weak band of women and children. Yet Jacob prevails.—(Jacobus).

In the midst of all his fear Jacob displayed true courage. He placed himself at the front of the band. Like the Captain of our salvation, he was ready to bear the brunt of the battle.

Genesis 33:4. Esau is blunt and generous. Jacob had the guilty conscience, and therefore he does not touch upon the brotherly relation.

In Esau’s tenderness towards his brother we are reminded of the gracious reception of another penitent (Luke 15:20).

The dreaded time with Jacob was turned to joy and gladness. God is better to him than all his fears.

Genesis 33:5. Jacob’s answer is worthy of Him. It savours of the fear of God which ruled in his heart, and taught him to acknowledge Him even in the ordinary concerns of life.—(Fuller).

Genesis 33:6-7. Had this been done to Jacob, methinks he would have answered, God be gracious unto you, my children. But we must take Esau as he is, and rejoice that things are as they are. We have often occasion to be thankful for civilities, when we can find nothing like religion.—(Fuller).

Genesis 33:8. We are taught the propriety of conceding all that we can to others for the sake of making or preserving peace. The Christian’s inheritance will leave him riches enough, and his prerogatives honour enough, after all the abatements that his generosity prompts him to make.—(Bush).

Genesis 33:9. Whatever effect Jacob’s present had upon him, he would not be thought to be influenced by anything of that kind; especially as he had great plenty of his own. Jacob, however, continued to urge it upon him, not as he thought he needed it, but as a token of good-will, and of his desire to be reconciled. He did not indeed make use of this term, nor of any other that might lead to the recollection of their former variance.—(Fuller).

Genesis 33:10. The receiving of a present at another’s hand is, perhaps, one of the greatest proofs of reconciliation. Everyone is conscious that he could not receive a present at the hand of an enemy. And upon this principle no offerings of sinful creatures can be accepted of God, till they are reconciled to Him by faith in the atonement of His Son.—(Fuller).

God Himself had appeared to Jacob as his combatant instead of Esau. Therefore Jacob sees in Esau the appearance of God again. And in this, case, as in that, the face, angry at first, changes into kindness to the believing man.—(Baumgarten).

Already he had met Esau in the conflict with God, and had received encouragement of success in this meeting; and now he recognises the significance of that wrestling which ends in blessing. Seeing Esau now is like seeing the face of God, and that which was already signified to him by the angel must not fail. Here again Jacob displays his triumphant faith.—(Jacobus).

In the forgiveness which comes from man we may see a reflection of God’s forgiveness.

Genesis 33:11. Esau had said, literally, I have much. Jacob says, “I have all.” The worlding may indeed have much; but he lacks one thing which is the vital thing—which is everything—as the soul to the body, as the eye to the needle, as the blade of the knife. The Christian has all things, the world, life, death, things present, things to come!—(Jacobus).

Jacob had all, because he had the God of all.—(Trapp).

Genesis 33:12-15. Jacob was discreet in resolutely declining the offer of Esau. He would do better to pursue his journey alone. They might properly embrace for a few moments, but if they had attempted to sojourn together, the enmity so early planted between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent would in all likelihood have broken forth. Esau would once more have hated Jacob, or the spiritually man of God have been drawn from his allegiance by his more worldly-minded brother.—(Bush).

Many evils arise from lack of that kind of prudence which Jacob showed.
It is not expedient for believers to form close compacts with the children of this world.
Jacob, in declining the offered escort, had other reasons than compassion for his children and cattle. But he did not feel bound to state them, for this would have given offence and produced greater evils.
Jacob had sufficient experience of the past to teach him to trust himself entirely to the guardianship of God.

Genesis 33:16. On his way unto Seir. Whither God had sent him before-hand to plant out of Jacob’s way. He was grown rich, desired liberty, and saw that his wives were offensive to the old couple; therefore he removed his dwelling to Mount Seir, and left better room for Jacob.—(Trapp).

Verses 17-20


Genesis 33:17. Made booths for his cattle.] “Booths, or folds, composed of upright stakes wattled together, and sheltered with leafy branches.” (Murphy.)—

Genesis 33:18. Shalem, a city of Shechem.] “It seems very improbable that the word Shalem should be a proper name, as the A.V. after the LXX. and Vulgate has rendered it. No such place is known in the neighbourhood of Sichem (Nablus), nor mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. The meaning is far more probably ‘in peace.’ ” (Alford.)—

Genesis 33:19. An hundred pieces of money.] This coin is called kesitah (lamb). Gesenius suggests that this was probably of the value of a lamb. Ancient coins were often stamped with the image of an animal, which they represented.

Genesis 33:20. Called it El-Elohe-Israel.] That is God, the God of Israel.



I. His faith. He bought a parcel of ground as a pledge of his faith in the future possession of that country by his posterity (Genesis 33:19). This purchase of a portion of land, concerning which God had promised Abraham that it should be his, showed Jacob’s deep conviction that the promise was renewed to him and to his seed.

II. His piety. This was an evidence of his faith. He gave himself up entirely to God, and this inward feeling was expressed outwardly by acts of obedience and devotion. His piety is seen—

1. In an act of worship. “He erected there an altar.” This was in keeping with his vow (Genesis 28:21).

2. In the use of blessings already given. He called the altar “El-elohe-Israel” (Genesis 33:20). He now uses his own new name, Israel, for the first time, in association with the name of God. He uses that name which signifies the Mighty One, who was now his covenant God. He lives up to his privilege, uses all that God had given. He had vowed that he would take the Lord to be his God.

3. In the peace he enjoyed. He arrived in peace at his journey’s end (Genesis 33:18).—(See Critical Notes.)


Genesis 33:16-17. We view Jacob’s settlement at Succoth—

1. In the light of a building of booths and houses for refreshment, after a twenty years’ servitude, and the toils and soul-conflicts connected with his journeyings.
2. As a station where he might regain his health, so that he could come to Shechem well and in peace.
3. As a station where he could tarry for a time on account of Esau’s importunity. (Lange.)

Genesis 33:18-19. The acquisition of a parcel of land at Shechem by Jacob, forms a counterpart to the purchase of Abraham at Hebron. But there is an evident progress here, since he made the purchase for his own settlement during life, while Abraham barely gained a burial place. In Jacob’s life, too, the desire to exchange the wandering nomadic life for a more fixed abode becomes more apparent than in the life of Isaac.—(Lange.)

Genesis 33:20. Jacob consecrates his ground by the erection of an altar. He calls it the altar of the Mighty One, the God of Israel, in which he signalises the omnipotence of Him who had brought him safely to the land of promise through many perils, the new name by which he himself had been lately designated, and the blessed communion which now existed between the Almighty and himself. This was the very spot where Abraham, about 185 years ago, built the first altar he erected in the promised land (Genesis 12:6-7). It is now consecrated anew to the God of promise.—(Murphy.)

He erected an altar—

1. As a memorial of the promises, and a symbol of God’s presence.
2. As an external profession of his piety.
3. That he might set up God in his family, and season all his worldly affairs with a relish of religion.—(Trapp.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 33". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/genesis-33.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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