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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 33

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 33:0


Jacob Meets EsauJacob and Esau MeetJacob's Reconciliation with Esau(Genesis 32:1-20)Jacob Meets EsauMeeting with Esau
Genesis 33:1-3Genesis 33:1-3Genesis 33:1-3Genesis 33:1-5aGenesis 33:1-7
Genesis 33:4-11Genesis 33:4-11Genesis 33:4-11
Genesis 33:5-7
Genesis 33:8aGenesis 33:8-11
Genesis 33:8b
Genesis 33:9
Genesis 33:10-11Jacob Parts Company with Esau
Genesis 33:12-14Genesis 33:12-14Genesis 33:12-14Genesis 33:12Genesis 33:12-17
Genesis 33:13-14
Genesis 33:15-17Genesis 33:15-17Genesis 33:15-17Genesis 33:15a
Jacob Settles in ShechemJacob Comes to Canaan Genesis 33:15-17Jacob Arrives at Shechem
Genesis 33:18-20Genesis 33:18-20Genesis 33:18-20Genesis 33:18-20Genesis 33:18-20

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This chapter includes mostly dialogue (note TEV translation). The term "say" (BDB 55, KB 65) is used ten times.

This dialogue format has several commands/requests.

1. "let what you have be your own," Genesis 33:9, BDB 224, KB 243, Qal jussive

2. "please take my gifts," Genesis 33:11 BDB 542, KB 534, Qal imperative

3. "let us take our journey," Genesis 33:12, BDB 652, KB 704, Qal cohortative

4-5. "go" (twice), Genesis 33:12; Genesis 33:12, BDB 229, KB 246, Qal cohortative

6. "please let my lord pass on before me," Genesis 33:14, BDB 716, KB 778, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

7. "I will proceed at my leisure," Genesis 33:14, BDB 624, KB 675, Hithpael cohortative

8. "please let me leave with you some of my people," Genesis 33:15, BDb 426, KB 427, Hiphil cohortative

9. "let me find favor in the sight of my lord," Genesis 33:15, BDB 592, KB 619, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense

B. Jacob has faced his fears.

1. Laban

2. the angelic wrestler

3. Esau

C. Jacob is back in the Promised Land (Canaan). The divine promises of Bethel have been fulfilled. The covenant promises to Abraham and his seed continue (i.e., the eternal redemptive plan is on track).

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 33:1-3 1Then Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2He put the maids and their children in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. 3But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

Genesis 33:2 Notice the distinction in the family. The lesser wives and children go first, his favorites go last (i.e., Rachel and Joseph). Things have changed in Jacob's heart, however, and he goes before them all (cf. Genesis 33:3). If they are to be killed, he will be killed first. He still strategizes, but he trusts in YHWH's presence and promised protection.

Genesis 33:3 "bowed down" This VERB (BDB 1005, KB 295, Hishtaphel IMPERFECT) is repeated four times.

1. Jacob bows before Esau, Genesis 33:3

2. the maids and their children bow before Esau, Genesis 33:6

3. Leah and her children bow before Esau, Genesis 33:7

4. Rachel and her child bow before Esau, Genesis 33:7

"seven times" This was a gesture of submission (i.e., El Amarna Letters, 14th century B.C.).

Verses 12-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 33:12-14 12Then Esau said, "Let us take our journey and go, and I will go before you." 13But he said to him, "My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die. 14Please let my lord pass on before his servant, and I will proceed at my leisure, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord at Seir."

Genesis 33:13 One wonders if this was another way for Jacob to make Esau feel superior, as well as an excuse for not traveling with him back to Seir immediately. His children were not "weak" and the flocks had already traveled a long way. Is Jacob still a manipulative liar?

Verses 15-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 33:15-17 15Esau said, "Please let me leave with you some of the people who are with me." But he said, "What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord." 16So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built for himself a house and made booths for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth.

Genesis 33:15 "people" This is the term goi (BDB 766 I), which usually has a negative connotation referring to Gentiles, but here it is used of Esau's men and in Exodus 33:13 it refers to the people of God. Context, context, context determines word meaning, not lexicons! Words have meaning only in sentences; sentences have meaning only in paragraphs/strophe or stanzas; and these have meaning only in larger literary units. Be careful of "set" or "technical" definitions!

Genesis 33:17 "Succoth" This term (BDB 697) means "booths." Jacob built a shelter for himself, but this is called a "house" (BDB 108), but note Genesis 33:19. He also built "booths" (BDB 697, i.e., a shelter made from branches) for his animals.

It is uncertain if there was a village in this area before Jacob camped there. It will later become the name of a city (cf. Judges 8:5).

This is not the same as the Succoth located in the Egyptian delta (cf. Exodus 12:7; Numbers 33:5). This is a city on the east side of the Jordan (i.e., The MacMillan Bible Atlas, p. 22).

One more point, Jacob does not seem to follow Esau to Mt. Seir, but travels to Succoth, which is not on the way to Seir/Edom. He even builds a house! It is uncertain if the text is telling us that (1) this was purposeful or (2) simply omits Jacob's visit to Seir. I prefer option #2. I want to believe Jacob has truly changed, that he is no longer the trickster, manipulator, liar.

Verses 18-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 33:18-20 18Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city. 19He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, for one hundred pieces of money. 20Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.

Genesis 33:18 "Shechem" The name can refer to

1. a person's name, Genesis 33:18, Genesis 33:19; Genesis 34:2; Numbers 26:31; Joshua 17:2; Joshua 24:32; Judges 9:28

2. a topological region between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerazim. The same root (BDB 1014 I) means "shoulder" or "shoulder-blade."

3. a city, Joshua 20:7; Joshua 21:21; Joshua 24:1; Judges 8:31

It is first mentioned in Genesis 12:6 in connection with Abram and now with Jacob (cf. Genesis 37:14).

There is no apparent connection between Genesis 33:17 and Genesis 33:18. How long Jacob stayed at Succoth is not recorded. They seem to be two separate events and times recorded with no clear connection. From building a house to buying land may imply temporary to permanent residence. The only problem is that Genesis 33:18 seems to imply soon after Jacob arrived from Paddan-aram (area around Haran) he bought the land.

He was told to return to Bethel, but he stopped short and remained. Why is not stated in the text!

Genesis 33:19 "And he bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent" The act of buying a field implied residency or at least shows legal residency.

"Hamor" This name means "ass" (BDB 331 II). In the ancient world donkeys were considered sacred animals. We know this, not only from the Mari Tablets, but also from the fact that (1) the wealthy rode donkeys (cf. Judges 5:10) and (2) Israel's kings rode on a special donkey for their royal mount (i.e., 1 Kings 1:33).

"for one hundred pieces of money" This is a rare Hebrew term, קשׂיטה, qesitah (BDB 903). It is an unknown weight of metal (cf. Joshua 24:32; Job 42:11), possibly (1) the price of a lamb (LXX) or (2) a weight (mina) of metal in the shape (or imprint) of a lamb.

Genesis 33:20 "he erected there an altar" This designated a place, time, and manner of worshiping. It allowed prayer and sacrifice to be offered to YHWH (cf. Genesis 8:20; Genesis 12:7-8; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 22:9; Genesis 26:25). This is a fulfillment of YHWH's promise of Genesis 28:15!

"El-Elohe-Israel" This CONSTRUCT is made up of

1. El, BDB 42, cf. Exodus 34:6; see Special Topic at Genesis 12:1

2. Elohe, BDB 43, cf. Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalms 18:32

3. Israel, see Special Topic at Genesis 32:28

The Septuagint translates it as "the God of Israel." The Jewish Study Bible, using the JPSOA translation in its textual footnote, has "El, God of Israel" (p. 69).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 33". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-33.html. 2021.
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