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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 33

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-20


Genesis 33:1, Genesis 33:2

And Jacob, having the day before dispatched his conciliatory gift to Esau, turned his back upon the Jabbok, having crossed to the south bank, if the previous night had been spent upon its north side, passed over the rising ground of Peniel, and advanced to meet his brother, richly laden with the heavenly blessing he had won in his mysterious conflict with Elohim, and to all appearance free from those paralyzing fears which, previous to the midnight struggle, the prospect of meeting Esau had inspired. Having already prevailed with God, he had an inward assurance, begotten by the words of his celestial antagonist, that he would likewise prevail with man, and so he lifted up his eyes (vide on Genesis 13:10), and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men (vide Genesis 32:6). And he (i.e. Jacob) divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah, thus omitting no wise precaution to insure safety for at least a portion of his household, in case Esau should be still incensed and resolved on a hostile attack. And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost, as being most beloved (Kalisch, Murphy, Lange, and others) or most beautiful (Bush).

Genesis 33:3, Genesis 33:4

And he (the introduction of the pronoun giving emphasis to the statement) passed over before them (i.e. passed on in front of them, thus chivalrously putting himself in the place of danger), and bowed himself to the ground—not completely prostrating the body, as Abraham did in Genesis 19:1, but bending forward till the upper part of it became parallel with the ground, a mode of expressing deep reverence and respect, which may be seen to life in Oriental countries at the p, resent day—seven times (not in immediate succession, but bowing and advancing), until he came near to his brother. The conduct of Jacob was dictated neither by artful hypocrisy nor by unmanly timidity; but by true politeness and a sincere desire to conciliate. And as such it was accepted by Esau, who ran to meet him, and, his better feelings kindling at the sight of his long-absent brother, embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him—as Joseph afterwards did to Benjamin (Genesis 45:14, Genesis 45:15), though the puncta extraordinaria of the Masorites over the word "kissed" seem to indicate either that in their judgment Esau was incapable of such fraternal affection (Delitzsch, Kalisch), or that the word was suspicious, Origen appearing not to have found it in his codices (Rosenmüller, Keil), unless indeed the conjecture be correct that the word was marked to draw attention to the power of God's grace in changing Esau's heart (Ainsworth). And they wept—the LXX. adding both. "All this is beautiful, natural, Oriental".

Genesis 33:5

And he (i.e. Esau) lifted up his eyes,—corresponding to the act of Jacob (Genesis 33:1), and expressive of surprise—and saw the women and the children; and said, Who art those with thee? (literally, to thee, i.e. whom thou hast). And he (Jacob) said, The children which God (Elohim; vide infra on Genesis 33:10) hath graciously given—the verb חָנַן being construed with a double accusative, as in Judges 21:22; Psa 19:1-14 :29—thy servant.

Genesis 33:6, Genesis 33:7

Then (literally, and) the handmaidens came near, they and their children (since they occupied the front rank in the procession which followed Jacob), and they bowed themselves (after his example). And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves. The remark of Lange, that the six-year old lad who comes before his mother seems to break through all the cumbrous ceremonial, and to rush confidently into the arms of his uncle, is as fanciful and far-fetched as that of Jarchi, that Joseph took precedence of his mother because he feared lest Esau, who was a homo profanus, should be fascinated by his mother's beauty, and seek to do her wrong; in which case he would try to hinder him.

Genesis 33:8

And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove—literally, What to thee all this camp (Mahaneh)—which I met?—i.e. yesterday, referring to the droves which had been sent on by Jacob as a present to my lord Esau (Genesis 32:16). And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord (vide Genesis 32:5).

Genesis 33:9

And Esau said, I have enough (literally, Here is to me abundance), my brother (it is impossible not to admire the generous and affectionate disposition of Esau); keep that thou hast unto thyself (literally, let be to thee what is to thee, i.e. what belongs to thee).

Genesis 33:10, Genesis 33:11

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—פִעִַלּ, because (Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Quarry), or, for this purpose (Keil, Kalisch, Hengetenberg, Lange, Ewald. Vide Genesis 18:5; Genesis 19:8; Genesis 38:26)—I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God,—literally, as a vision of the face of Elohim, in which language Jacob neither uses adulation towards his brother (Tostatius), nor calls him a god in the sense in which heathen potentates are styled deities (Vatablus, Arabic, Chaldee), nor simply uses a superlative expression to indicate the majesty (Menochius) or benevolence (Ainsworth) of Esau's countenance, contended with him at the Jabbok (Bush); but either that he had received from Esau the same friendly welcome that one coming into God's presence would receive from him (Rosenmüller, Keil, Murphy, 'Speaker's Commentary'), or that he had come into Esau's presence with the same feelings of penitence as if he had been coming before God (Kalisch), or that, as he had already seen the face of God and his life was preserved, so now he had seen the face of Esau, and the anticipated destruction had not been inflicted on him (Quarry), either of which accords with the words that follow—and thou wast pleased with me—literally, thou hast graciously received me, the unexpressed thought being, as already I have been favorably accepted by Elohim. Hence Jacob with greater urgency renews his entreaty that Esau would not decline his proffered gift, saying, Take, I pray thee, my blessing (i.e. my present, the word signifying, as in 1 Samuel 25:27; 1 Samuel 30:26; 2 Kings 5:15, a gift by which one seeks to express good will) that is brought to thee;—or, which has been caused to come to thee, adding, as a special reason to induce him to accept—because God hath dealt graciously with me,—Elohim, it has been thought, is used here and in Genesis 33:5 by Jacob instead of Jehovah, either "to avoid reminding Esau of the blessing of Jehovah which had occasioned his absence" (Delitzsch, Keil), or, " because Jehovah was exalted far above the level of Esau's superficial religion" Hengstenberg); but it is just possible that by its employment Jacob only wished to acknowledge the Divine hand in the remarkable prosperity which had attended him in Haran—and because I have enough—literally, there is to me all, i.e. everything I can wish (Murphy), all things as the heir of the promise (Keil). The expression is stronger than that used by Esau (Genesis 33:9), and is regarded by some (Ainsworth) as indicating a more contented spirit than that evinced by Esau. And he urged him. In Eastern countries the acceptance of a gift is equivalent to the striking of a covenant of friendship. If your present be received by your superior yon may rely on his friendship; if it be declined you have everything to fear. It was on this ground that Jacob was so urgent in pressing Esau to accept his present (cf. A. Clarke in loco). And he took it, and so gave Jacob an assurance of his complete reconciliation.

Genesis 33:12

And he (i.e. Esau) said (in further token of his amity), Let us take our journey, and let us go,—but whether he intended to accompany Jacob on his way (Keil, Kalisch, et alii) or invited Jacob to go with him to Mount Seir (Ainsworth, Clericus) is uncertain. On the first hypothesis it is difficult to explain how Esau came to be traveling in the same direction as his brother, while the adoption of the second will serve in some measure to elucidate Jacob's language in Genesis 33:2. But whichever way the words of Esau are understood, they amounted to an offer to be an escort to Jacob through the desert regions with which his excursions had made him familiar, since he added, and I will go before theei.e. to lead the way.

Genesis 33:13

And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender (Joseph at this time being little over six years of age), and the flocks and herds with young (literally, giving milk; עַלוֹת, from עוּל, to give suck) are with me,—literally, upon me, i.e. are an object of my special care, because of their condition (Rosenmüller, Keil)—and if men should over-drive them literally, and they (sc. the shepherds) will over-drive them, i.e. in order to keep pace with Esau's armed followers they must do so, and in that case, if they were to do so for only—one day, all the flock (literally, and all the flock) will die. Thomson says that Oriental shepherds gently lead along the mothers when in the condition spoken of by Jacob, knowing well that even one day's over-driving would be fatal to them, and, from the fact that Jacob's ewes were giving milk, infers that it was winter time, since then alone the flocks are in that condition—an inference which he further confirms by observing that at Succoth Jacob constructed booths for their protection.

Genesis 33:14

Let my lord, I pray thee,—it is perhaps too much to explain Jacob's obsequious and deferential address to his brother (my lord) as the sign of a guilty conscience (Kalisch, Alford), when possibly politeness and humility will suffice—pass over—not cross the Jordan (Afford), since Esau was not journeying to Canaan; but simply pass on, as in Genesis 33:3before his servant: and I will lead on softly (literally, I will go on at my slow pace), according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure,—literally, according to the foot, i.e. the pace, of the property (here, cattle), and according to the foot of the children; i.e. as fast as flocks and children can be made with safety to travel—until I come unto my lord unto Seir. It is apparent that Jacob at first intended to accept Esau's invitation to visit him at Seir, either immediately (Clericus, Kalisch), or, as is more probable, afterwards (Keil, Murphy, 'Speaker's Commentary'), though, if afterwards, the historian has preserved no record of any such journey, while, if presently such was his intention, he must have been providentially led, from some cause not mentioned, to alter his determination (Bush, Inglis, Clarke), unless we either think that he really went to Seir, though it is not here stated (Patrick), or entertain the, in the circumstances, almost incredible hypothesis that Jacob practiced a deception on his generous brother in order to get rid of him, by promising what he never meant to fulfill, viz; to visit him at Mount Seir (Calvin), or leave it doubtful whether it is the old Jacob or the new Israel who speaks (Lange).

Genesis 33:15

And Esau said, Let me now leave (literally, set, or place) with thee (as an escort or guard) some of the folki.e. armed followers (vide Genesis 33:1)—that are with me. But of even this proposal Jacob appears to have been apprehensive. And he said, What needeth it! (literally, For what, or wherefore, this?) let me find grace in the sight of my lord—meaning either, I am satisfied, since thou art gracious to me (Vatablus),—ἱκανὸν ὅτι ευ}ron xa&rin e)nanti&on sou ku&rie (LXX.); hoc uno tantum indigeo, ut inveniam gratiam in conspectu tuo (Vulgate),—or, be gracious to me in this also, and leave none of thy followers (Ainsworth, Patrick), though the two clauses might perhaps be connected thus: "Wherefore do I thus find grace in the eyes of my lord?" (Kalisch).

Genesis 33:16, Genesis 33:17

So (literally, and, complying with his brother's request) Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir—from which he had come to meet Jacob (vide Genesis 32:3). And Jacob journeyed to Succoth. Succoth, so called here by anticipation, and afterwards belonging to the tribe of Gad, was situated in the valley of the Jordan, on the east side of the river, and to the south of the Jabbok (Joshua 13:27; Judges 8:4, Judges 8:5), and consequently is not to be identified with Sakut, on the western side of the Jordan, ten miles north of the Jabbok, and opposite the Wady Yabis; but is to be sought for at the ford opposite the Wady-el-Fariah, "down which the little stream from Shechem drains into the Jordan". And built him an house. This was an indication that Jacob purposed some considerable stay at Succoth; and, indeed, if a period of repose was not now demanded by the state of Jacob's health after his long servitude with Laban, his exhausting conflict with the angel, and his exciting interview with Esau (Lange), an interval of some years appears to be imperatively required by the exigencies of the ensuing narrative concerning Dinah, who could not at this time have been much over six years of age (Murphy, Afford, Gosman, et alii). And made booths for his cattle. Porter states that he has frequently men such booths (Succoth, from saccac, to entwine) occupied by the Bedawin of the Jordan valley, and describes them as rude huts of reeds, sometimes covered with long grass, and sometimes with a piece of tent (vide Kitto's 'Cyclop.,' ut supra). Therefore the name of the place is called (literally, he called the name of the place) Succothi.e. booths.

Genesis 33:18

And Jacob (leaving Succoth) came to Shalem—the word שָׁלֵם, rendered by some expositors as here (LXX; Vulgate, Syriac, Luther, Calvin, Poole, Wordsworth), is better taken as an adverb signifying in peace or in safety (Onkelos, Saadias, Rashi, Dathius, Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Keil, Kalisch, et alii), meaning that Jacob Was now sound in his limb (Jarehi) and safe in his person, being no more endangered by Esau (Gerundensis in Drusius), or that he had hitherto met with no misfortune, though soon to encounter one in the instance of Dinah (Patrick), or that the expectations of Jacob expressed in Genesis 28:21 (to which there is an obvious allusion) were now fulfilled (Keil)—a city of Shechem,—if Shalem be the name of the town, then probably Shechem is the name of the person referred to in Genesis 34:2, viz; the son of Hamor the Hivite (Drusius, Poole); but if Shalem mean incolumis, then the present clause must be rendered "to the city of Shechem," the city being already built and named—which is in the land of Canaan,—Bush thinks that Jacob had originally contemplated entering Canaan from the south after rounding the Dead Sea, probably with a view to reach Beersheba, but that, after his interview with Esau, he suddenly altered his route, and entered Canaan directly by crossing the Jordan and driving up his flocks and herds to Shechem, the first halting-place of Abraham (vide Genesis 12:6), which may perhaps lend additional interest to, if they do not explain, the words that follow—when he came from Padan-aram (as Abraham previously had done); and (he) pitched his tent before the city—because he did not wish to come in contact with the inhabitants (Lyre), or because his flocks and herds could not find accommodation within the city walls (Murphy), or perhaps simply for convenience of pasturage (Patrick).

Genesis 33:19

And he bought a parcel of a field,—literally, the portion (from a root signifying to divide) of the fieldwhere he had spread his tent,—and in which he afterwards sank a well (cf. John 4:6)—at the hand of the children of Homer, Shechem's father (after whom the town was named, ut supra), for an hundred pieces of money—or kesitahs, the etymology of which is uncertain (Kalisch), though connected by some philologists (Gesenius, Furst) with kasat, to weigh; translated lambs (Onkelos, LXX; Vulgate), but believed to have been a certain weight now unknown, or a piece of money of a definite value, perhaps the price of a lamb (Murphy), which, like the shekel, was used for purposes of commercial exchange by the patriarchs (Gesenius)—probably a coin stamped with the figure of a lamb (Bochart, Munter); but coined money does not appear to have been of so great antiquity (Rosenmüller, Wordsworth, Alford).

Genesis 33:20

And he erected there an altar,—as Abram his ancestor had done (Genesis 12:7)—and called it—not invoked upon it, invocavit super illud (Vulgate), ἐτεκαλήσατο (LXX.), but named it (Dathe, Rosenmüller, Keil, &c.)—El-elohe-Israeli.e. God, the God of Israel; meaning, he called it the altar of God, the God of Israel (Rosenmüller), or, reading el as a preposition, "To the God of Israel".


Genesis 33:1-20

Jacob and Esau, or the brothers reconciled.


1. The approach of Esau.

(1) Conscious of his greatness, being attended by 400 armed followers;

(2) thirsting for revenge, remembering the wrongs he had endured at Jacob's hands;

(3) longing to see his brother, from whom he had been parted now for upwards of twenty years. It is probable that all three emotions—pride, anger, affection—swelled within the breast of my lord Esau, struggling to obtain the mastery. Which of them should conquer another moment would decide.

2. The advance of Jacob.

(1) With commendable caution, dividing his company into three several groups—first the handmaids and their boys, next Leah and her children, and last Rachel and Joseph;

(2) with rare chivalry, placing himself in front of the foremost, which may be placed to his account as a set-off against his supposed partiality to Rachel and Joseph;

(3) with profound respect, bowing and advancing seven times, with true Oriental politeness, until he came to Esau.

3. The reconciliation of both. The conflict of emotions in the breast of Esau was brought to a decision by the sight of Jacob, which at once cast the balance on the side of fraternal affection. Old memories of boyhood and home revived in the bosom of the stalwart hunter as he looked on his twin-brother, and, under the impulse of generous and noble feeling, he ran and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him. Nor was the heart of Jacob less susceptible of such tender emotion. Reciprocating his manly brother's embrace, he too yielded to a rush of kindly sentiment, and they both wept. What a study for a painter! Cf. Jonathan and David (1 Samuel 20:41), and the prodigal and his father (Luke 15:20).


1. Esau's inquiries and Jacob's answers.

(1) Esau asks about the women and the children in Jacob's train; and Jacob, piously acknowledging the Divine hand that had surrounded him with so many precious objects of affection, instructs them to do obeisance to their kinsman, which with beautiful politeness, following his own courteous example, they do. It bespeaks a devout heart when domestic as well as other blessings are traced to the all-bountiful Giver, a well-ordered home when its inmates imitate the good conduct of its head, and a fine sensibility when the claims of relatives to courtesy and kindness are recognized and honored.

(2) Esau requests to be informed about the droves which he had met, and Jacob explains that he had sent them as a present to conciliate his favor. At first declining with a praiseworthy magnanimity to deprive his brother of any of his hard-earned wealth, Esau is afterwards constrained to accept the proffered gift, on learning that Jacob would not otherwise be sure of his forgiveness and friendship. It is beautiful when brothers emulate each other in noble acts.

2. Esau's invitations and, Jacob's promise. It appears most satisfactory to understand Esau as soliciting his brother to accompany him to Seir, where for the time he was residing, and Jacob as engaging to drive on slowly after the roving chieftain, according as the tender age of his children and the condition of his flocks and herds would admit, with the view of ultimately paying him a visit in his mountain home; but whether he fulfilled that promise now or afterwards, or at all, cannot be ascertained. If he did not, we may rest satisfied that he had good reasons for breaking his word, which, alas, promise-breakers seldom have.

3. Esau's offer and Jacob's declinature. Esau anxiously desires to leave a convoy of his troopers to assist his brother in the further prosecution of his journey; but Jacob with respectful firmness refused to accept of his kindness—perhaps because, being a man of peace, he did not care for the society of soldiers, but chiefly, we apprehend, because, having Jehovah as a guide, he did not need the help of roving buccaneers (cf. Ezra 8:22).


1. Esau returned unto Mount Seir.

(1) Immediately, that day; but

(2) not as yet finally, since his ultimate withdrawal from the land of Canaan appears to have taken place at a subsequent period.

2. Jacob journeyed to Succoth, where he built himself a house, constructed booths for his cattle, and remained a considerable time, afterwards moving up to Shechem, where he

(1) pitched his tent outside the city, for convenience or for safety;

(2) purchased a field from the chief man of the place, honestly paying for his purchase, as became a just man; and

(3) erected an altar, which he named El-elohe-Israel.

See here—

1. The strength of fraternal affection.

2. The beauty of forgiveness and reconciliation.

3. The possibility of combining politeness and piety.

4. The power of kindness in disarming enmity and opposition.

5. The advantage of conference for promoting good understanding and exciting kindly feeling.

6. The tender care which the strong should exercise towards the weak.

7. The sad partings which Providence effects between friends.

8. The propriety of taking God with us on all our journeys.

9. The duty of affectionately remembering God's mercies.


Genesis 33:1-20

The fruits of prayer.

The "prince" who has been lifted by the grace of God out of the humiliation of his fear and shame to the height of his favor at the throne of the Most High now reveals his princely power. He takes captive Esau's heart; he blesses him in the name of God, he bestows his gifts upon him. Notice the fruits of Divine discipline in the patriarch.

I. THE THEOCRATIC FEELING IS ALIVE IN JACOB'S HEART. He puts the handmaids first, Leah next, Rachel and Joseph hindermost. He placed them in the order of his own affection; but it represented also the Divine order, for it was in Joseph that the kingdom of God was about to be especially manifested. "I have seen thy face," he said to Esau, "as though I had seen the face of God." He saw the favor of God going on before him, and like the sunshine it rested on the face of the enemy, and cast out the darkness and turned it into light.

II. Jacob's entire STEADFASTNESS AS A SERVANT OF GOD and believer in the covenant. Seen in his refusal to mingle his family and people with those of Esau.

III. SPECIAL GRACE MEETS THE TRUE SERVANT. " Succoth" is better than "Seir;" and it is on the way to "Shalom, peace. There it is that the patriarch finds rest, and builds an altar, calling it " El-elohe-Israel." Not merely an altar to God, but to him who had revealed himself as the faithful God, the God of Israel, the God of his people.R.


Genesis 33:12

Worldly companionship.

"And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee." The offer probably made with kindly intention. No sign of bitterness in Esau's feelings; but ignorance of the necessities of Jacob's march. Jacob knew it was not possible with safety (cf. Psalms 137:4; 1 Peter 4:4). Reminds us of the attitude of many worldly persons towards Christians. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." Yet worldly men may have sincere regard for Christian men; bear unconscious testimony to excellence of Christianity. And here a danger to Christians. Let us journey together. I like you; you are unselfish, trustworthy. And why not? Because in journeying with Esau he must be leader, or he would cease to be Esau. The world's good-will does not mean a changed heart. Without any pronounced dislike to higher aims, it shares them not, and knows not anything more real than earth. There is a journey we all take in company: in the thousand ways in which men are dependent on each other; in the courtesies and good offices of life; in what belongs to our position as citizens or family men. But in what constitutes the road of life—its stamp and direction, its motives and aims—no union. We have another Leader (Hebrews 12:2). The pillar of fire led Israelites not according to Roman judgment.

I. THIS DOES NOT IMPLY KEEPING ALOOF FROM MEN, OR FROM HUMAN INTERESTS. We are called to be the salt of the earth. It is an error to shrink from contact with the world as dangerous to us. This of old led to monasticism. But there may be a spiritual solitude even when living in the throng of a city. In secular matters refusing to take an interest in what occupies others (cf. Luke 6:31), as if God had nothing to do with these; or in spiritual things avoiding Christian intercourse with those who do not in all points agree with us; or being engrossed with our own spiritual welfare, and turning away from all concern for the welfare of others (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:20-22).

II. IT DOES IMPLY A REAL CONSCIOUSNESS OF BEING REDEEMED, set free, bought with a price; OF HAYING A DEFINITE WORK TO DO FOR GOD, WITH WHICH NOTHING MUST INTERFERE; a real way to walk in, from which nothing must make us turn aside. And in order to this, watchfulness over self, that in seeking to help others we ourselves are not ensnared.


1. By the plea, there is no harm in this or that. We must not think that all actions can be brought to an absolute standard of fight and wrong. This is the spirit of legality, the spirit of bondage, and leads to partial service instead of entire dedication (cf. Luke 15:29). Loyalty to Christ must direct the Christian's life; desire not merely to avoid direct disobedience, but to use our time and powers for him who loved us and gave himself for us.

2. By the display of good feelings as the equivalent of Christian graces. Esau's kindliness and frankness are very attractive. Yet he was a "profane person;" not because of his anger or any sinful act, but because he thought little of God's blessing.

3. By making Christians familiar with worldly aims and maxims, and thus insensibly blunting their spiritual aspirations. The way of safety is through prayer for the Holy Spirit's help, to maintain the consciousness of Christ's presence.—M.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 33". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/genesis-33.html. 1897.
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