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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 33

 

 


Verses 1-20

THE BROTHERS MEET AGAIN

Jacob's trepidation is not eased when he sees that Esau has passed by all the droves and is coming with his four hundred men to meet Jacob. He even divides his family at this time, putting the maids and their children first, then Leah and her children, followed by Rachel and Joseph, for whom he was plainly the most concerned (vs.1-2).

Now he must meet Esau, and with a servility that is not becoming to a brother, he bows himself seven times to the ground (v.3). Of course it was conscience and fear that made him do this, but Esau had no such attitude. He ran to meet his brother, embraced him and kissed him. Then both of them wept. Time had made a difference with Esau particularly. What a relief for Jacob! Indeed, family feuds should never be allowed to continue long without a reconciliation. Only an unusually hard heart could maintain bitter rancor against a brother for long years.

Esau then needs an introduction to Jacob's wives and children and each in turn are presented in the order that Jacob had previously arranged. Actually, if he had more confidence in Esau, he would have presented Rachel and Joseph first, for they were most important to him (vs.6-6). Then Esau asks the meaning of all the droves that he met. Jacob does not conceal the fact that this was not a gift given because of his love to his brother, but tells him honestly that he was giving them to him in order to find favor from Esau, -- whom he calls "my lord" -- virtually as a bribe to secure his good-will! (v.8).

But even Esau was not looking for any such thing: he tells him that he has enough, therefore that Jacob should keep what belonged to him (v.9).

Jacob insists that, since Esau's attitude was favorable toward him, he wants Esau to take his present. His words to Esau are far too flattering and exaggerated, when he says that seeing Esau was like seeing the face of God (v.10). If this meeting had been like his parting with Laban, he would not have spoken of Esau's face being like the face of God. But he urges Esau to accept his gift, and Esau does so (v.11). Though we read of Jacob giving this large gift to Esau, we never read of his keeping his promise to give one tenth of his possessions to God!

Now that they have met on friendly terms, Esau proposes to Jacob that they travel together to Seir, Esau going before (v.12), but Jacob replies, quite plausibly, that he and his large company could not keep pace with Esau's four hundred men. The flocks and herds with young must not be over driven, and his children also were young. Therefore he asks that Esau go on and that he (Jacob) would proceed at a slower pace to come to Esau's residence at Seir (vs.13-14). Jacob continues to call Esau his "lord," but he had no intention of obeying Esau's will that he should go to Seir, even though he told him he would do so. When Esau wants to leave some of his company with Jacob to accompany him to Seir, Jacob only responds that there was no need for this.

Why did Jacob not act in simplicity of faith? He could have simply told Esau the truth, that God had directed him to return to Bethel. Was he afraid that Esau might be put out by Jacob's not coming to visit with him at least? But would Esau not be more put out by Jacob's deceiving him as he did?

Perhaps one reason for Jacob's deceit was that he was not prepared to fully obey God at the time, for he did not continue to Bethel, but came as far as Succoth, where he built a house and made shelters for his flock and herds (v.17). Rather than going to Bethel (God's house) he built a house for himself. This was only half-way obedience, and evidently it did not satisfy his own conscience, for he left all these buildings behind and journeyed to Shalem, a city of Shechem. Shalem means "peace," and Jacob was not at peace at Succoth, but finds it apparently at Shalem. Shechem means "shoulder", and implies that peace cannot be enjoyed apart from our taking responsibility on our shoulders. Here he does not build a house, but pitches his tent. At least he seems to realize that, in being away from Bethel, he should maintain pilgrim character.

Still, this was also only a half-way measure, and there he bought "a parcel of a field," typical of "a part of the world," not a large part, but nevertheless involving him in a compromise that brought some sad results, so that he actually paid far more for this than only his hundred pieces of silver. He erected there an altar, but it was not because of God's word he did so. He erected there an altar, but it was not because of God's word he did so. God told him later to make an altar at Bethel. He names this one at Shalem "El-Elohe-Israel," meaning "God, the God of Israel." For it was still not god's honor primarily that he was seeking, but his own blessing. At Bethel his altar's name was "El Bethel," "God of the house of God," for then he finally learned that God's glory was more important than Jacob's blessing. God is the God of His own house, not merely the God of Israel.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 33:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/genesis-33.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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