Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 33:17-20

17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

18 And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-aram; and pitched his tent before the city.

19 And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for an hundred pieces of money.

20 And he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel.

Jacob continues on to Succoth and makes a more permanent dwelling-place there, but then continues again to the city of Shechem. Some scholars have wondered whether the temporary stay at Succoth was to heal from the thigh wound he endured from his night-time wrestle, but whatever the reason, at long last Jacob had found himself in the land of Canaan once more.

But though he was back in familiar country, Jacob did not try to move in on his father’s abode. Rather he bought his own place, with his own money, and erected his own altar to the Lord. Jacob is putting in his stakes, finally choosing a place of permanent abode.

Or so he thinks. In a little bit we will read how he is moved once again to a different part of the country, and even in his old age he will move to Egypt when famine strikes the land. He seems to have his heart set upon settling down, but like his grandfather Abraham, his fate is to spend considerable time as a stranger in a strange country.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 33:12-15

12 And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee.

13 And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die.

14 Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir.

15 And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me. And he said, What needeth it? let me find grace in the sight of my lord.

While reading this chapter I had continually wondered to myself “but why did Esau bring four hundred men in the first place?” That was an army, and Jacob’s assumption that they were being brought to destroy him seems a totally valid fear. Why would Esau have thought it was a good thing to bring them?

One possibility that occurred to me was that maybe Esau did intend to destroy his brother, but when he finally saw Jacob’s face felt his anger melt away. Or perhaps he knew he was going to forgive his brother, but he wanted to give him a good fright first. But if either of these possibilities were his true motivation, then it would surprise me that Esau then says absolutely nothing about the past offense. Instead, his behavior seems to me as though he had let go of his anger many years prior. Then I considered that he might have become something of a warlord, so accustomed to wandering around with a traveling army that he had forgotten how their appearance might frighten delicate farmers.

Reading today’s verses, though, I also realized that he might have simply brought all these men to help his brother during the last leg of the journey. It might have been meant entirely as a kindly gesture, just one that Jacob had misinterpreted. But when Esau suggests that he leave some of his men to protect the flocks, Jacob refuses. Jacob has seen for himself that he is guarded by his God, so he knows that all will be well.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 33:8-11

8 And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord.

9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.

10 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 I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me.

11 Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it.

I would very much like to know what Esau’s tone was when he asked, “what meanest thou by all this…” Was it spoken as a sincere curiosity, or as a chiding reproof? Jacob gives an honest answer, that it was to obtain Esau’s grace, though he tastefully omits “because I thought you might kill me!”

There then follows a show of good manners from each brother. Esau refuses the gift, acknowledging that he has enough for himself already, but Jacob insists upon it. This is a good move on Jacob’s part. If he took the gift back now, it would mean he only wanted to save his skin and had no sincerity in the offer.

Jacob further insists on giving the gift by invoking the goodness of God, saying that he had been so kindly dealt with that he must go through with his own act of kindness as well. It is an excellent example of our modern phrase to “pay it forward.”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 33:5-7

5 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant.

6 Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves.

7 And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves.

Waiting behind Jacob were all of his family, and Esau was anxious to meet them. Originally, I had thought that he had staggered them in order to give the ones in the rear a chance to escape if things went very badly, but it seems they were already much too near for that to have been Jacob’s strategy. Instead, it seems that he had been preparing them for presentation in the event that things went very well. Which, thankfully, they did.

So now Jacob introduces his household, one branch at a time, showing Esau that he has not only grown in age and servants and flock and wealth, but also in family ties. The boy who had left their father’s tent had had nothing and nobody, but he had made his way, and had had come into his own. Evidently Esau had grown as well, able to marshal hundreds of men, a veritable army. Yet he also seems to have grown in his capacity for tenderness of feeling. The two boys had become men.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 33:1-4

1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. 

2 And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.

3 And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.

At long last the moment of reckoning has come for Jacob. He sees Esau and his men, which presumably means that they have also seen him, meaning it would be too late to run away. Jacob sets himself ahead of his family, and as he comes to Esau he bows seven times, a final gesture to show his immense reverence and respect. It truly is hard to think what more he could have done to appease any lingering wrath in Esau.

And then…Jacob finds out that all his fear was unnecessary. Esau runs forward, embraces his brother, and kisses him. He has no intention of causing harm to Jacob, rather he is moved to tears by being reunited after these long twenty years!

All of Jacob’s preparation may not have been necessary for his survival, but I do not think it was a wasted effort. Abraham’s preparation to sacrifice Isaac ended up not being necessary either, but the exercise was still essential in how it revealed Abraham to himself. So, too, I imagine that Jacob had a far greater understanding of what he was made of for having passed through this trial. And, like Abraham, he had learned that with God as His shepherd, things would work themselves out.