Gen 33:1 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants.
‘The meeting is a classic of reconciliation. The stream of gifts and the demure family processions, almost comically over-organised (as it turned out), give some idea of the load on Jacob’s conscience and the sheer grace of Esau’s reply.’ (Kidner)
Gen 33:2 He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear.
Gen 33:3 He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.
Bowed … seven times – ‘The manner of doing this is by looking towards a superior and bowing with the upper part of the body brought parallel to the ground, then advancing a few steps and bowing again, and repeating his obeisance till, at the seventh time, the suppliant stands in the immediate presence of his superior.’ (JFB)
Gen 33:4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
But Esau ran to meet Jacob – ‘What a sudden and surprising change! Whether the sight of the princely present and the profound homage of Jacob had produced this effect, or it proceeded from the impulsive character of Esau, the cherished enmity of twenty years in a moment disappeared; the weapons of war were laid aside, and the warmest tokens of mutual affection reciprocated between the brothers. But doubtless, the efficient cause was the secret, subduing influence of grace (Pr 21:1), which converted Esau from an enemy into a friend.’ (JFB)
It is possible that Jesus drew on this story in his portrayal of the father of the prodigal son in Lk. 15:20.
Gen 33:5 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.”
On children as a gift from God, see Ps 127:3.
Gen 33:6 Then the maidservants and their children approached and bowed down.
Gen 33:7 Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.
Gen 33:8 Esau asked, “What do you mean by all these droves I met?” “To find favour in your eyes, my lord,” he said.
Gen 33:9 But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”
Gen 33:10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favour 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 favourably.
Gen 33:11 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.
Esau accepted it – ‘In the East the acceptance by a superior is a proof of friendship, and by an enemy, of reconciliation. It was on both accounts Jacob was so anxious that his brother should receive the cattle; and in Esau’s acceptance he had the strongest proofs of a good feeling being established that Eastern notions admit of.’ (JFB)
Gen 33:12 Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.”
Gen 33:13 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.
Gen 33:14 So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the droves before me and that of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
“Until I come to my lord in Seir” – But as soon as he was alone, Jacob turned north, to Succoth. Is there a sign here of his old deviousness? ‘Despite his total capitulation at Peniel Jacob kept his scheming ways, pretending one thing and intending another. He remained the same Jacob as Esau had know years earlier, giving his brother the slip under cover of following gently for the sake of the children and tender animals. Heartening it would be if defects of character were immediately removed by a conversion experience, evidence from Scripture and from life indicates otherwise.’ (Baldwin)
Gen 33:15 Esau said, “Then let me leave some of my men with you.” “But why do that?” Jacob asked. “Just let me find favour in the eyes of my lord.”
Gen 33:16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir.
The brothers part, not to meet again until they meet to bury their father at Hebron (Genesis 35:29).
Gen 33:17 Jacob, however, went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Succoth.
Succoth = ‘shelters’.
Gen 33:18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city.
There is a break of several years between v17 and this verse.
Gen 33:19 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.
Gen 33:20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.
‘Two generations on from Abraham all the covenanted purposes of God were vested in one man, Jacob, and his sons. Was it possible that from so small and unpromising a beginning the whole world could be significantly changed? In terms of human understanding the proposition was highly unlikely, but there was dynamisim in the word of the Lord, and it would not fail. Jesus saw his own ministry in a similar light; it was “like a grain of mustard seed, … the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs … ” (Mk 4:30-32). The quiet, hidden work of God’s Spirit goes on through the centuries, embracing succeeding generations, all of which belong in his world-wide outreach and are part of a greater whole, called by Jesus “the kingdom of God”. Statistics cannot estimate its size, nor reckon its worth.’ (Baldwin)