Nervous reunion: Jacob and Esau
Here comes Esau with 400 men1 Jacob looked off in the distance and saw Esau coming with 400 men. Jacob divided his four wives and their children into groups. 2 Jacob put his two slave wives and their children on point, front and center. They would make contact with Esau first. Next came Leah and her children. Then came Rachel and her son Joseph, at the back of the caravan. 3 Jacob alone walked out in front of them all. As he approached his brother he bowed seven times along the way.
Tears and a bear hug4 Esau ran right into Jacob’s arms with a bear hug. Esau threw his arms around Jacob’s neck and kissed him. They both cried. 5 Then Esau took a look at the women and children behind Jacob and said, “Who are these people with you?” Jacob said, “These children are God’s gift to me, your humble servant.” 6 Jacob’s two slave wives and their children stepped forward to meet Esau, bowing to honor him. 7 Leah and her children came next, also bowing to Esau. Finally Joseph and his mother Rachel stepped forward and bowed.
8 Esau asked his brother, “What’s up with all those flocks and herds I met along the way?” Jacob said, “They are yours—my gift in the hope that you would be happy to see me again.” 9 Esau said, “My brother, I already have a lot. Keep what you have for yourself.” 10 “No,” Jacob answered. “If you’re happy to see me, please accept these gifts. I’m so happy to see you. It’s like looking into the face of God now that I know you are happy to see me, too. 11 Please accept the gift I brought you. God has taken good care of me. I have more than I need.” Because Jacob insisted, Esau eventually accepted the gift.
Going their separate ways again12 Then Esau said, “Let’s get going. I’ll come with you.” 13 Jacob answered, “Big brother, you can see that your servant’s children are small and that I’ve got sheep and cows nursing their young. If we push them too hard for even one day, the young animals will die. 14 “Big brother, why don’t you go on ahead. I’m at your service, but if it’s okay with you I’ll travel at a slower pace—a pace to accommodate the livestock and the children. I’ll meet you in Seir.” 15 “In that case,” Esau said, “let me leave some men to show you the way.” Jacob said, “Why do that? It’s enough that you’ve welcomed me home. I can find my way back.”
16 Esau headed home to Seir. 17 Jacob did not follow. Instead, he decided to go to a place that became known as Succoth. He settled there for a time. He built a house and shelters for his livestock. That’s why the place was called Succoth. 18 Later, Jacob finished his long trip from Paddan-aram. He set up camp just outside the town of Shechem in the middle of Canaan.
19 Jacob bought that plot of land from the family of Hamor, who was prince Shechem’s father and the ruler of the town. Jacob paid 100 coins. 20 Jacob built a stone altar. He named it “God is the God of Israel.” In Hebrew: El-Elohe-Israel.
A region also called Edom, in what is now the country of Jordan.
An ancient city east of the Jordan River, now possibly buried under a high mound known as Tell Deir Alla.
It means “shelters” in Hebrew.
Northern Syria and southern Turkey.
Israel and Palestinian territories.
Called kesitahs in Hebrew.
When Jacob saw a militia of 400 men coming at him, he divided his caravan by putting his least favorite wives in the front and his favorite wife in the back (33:1-2). The Bible doesn’t explain why. React to the two theories:
- to give his favorites the best chance to escape if Esau’s army attacked.
- to present his family to Esau in the way someone would present them to a king: saving the best for last.
Given what Jacob had done to his brother Esau, along with the fact that Esau had vowed to kill him and was now marching on Jacob’s caravan with a militia of 400 men, we don’t expect them to hug when they meet. Yet, “Esau ran right into Jacob’s arms with a bear hug. Esau threw his arms around Jacob’s neck and kissed him. They both cried” (33:4). What do you think may have changed Esau’s attitude? Was it 20 years of distance, the gifts, or perhaps something else?
Jacob refuses his brothers offer to escort the caravan back to Esau’s home. The Bible doesn’t explain why Jacob did that. What might have been some of the factors that prodded him to refuse the offer?
Jacob told Esau, “I’ll meet you in Seir” (33:14). That’s a region also called Edom, located in what is now the Arab country of Jordan. Jacob did not meet his brother there. Instead, Jacob camped for a while nearby at Succoth and then later pressed on to Shechem, a village in what is now the West Bank controlled by Israel. Why do you think he would mislead his brother like that and risk further damaging the relationship?
LIFE APPLICATION. There is no report in the Bible that Jacob ever apologized to Esau for what he had done to him. Does that need to happen when we bust up a relationship the way Jacob did? Or can we maintain a relatively healthy relationship without ever bringing up the topic again?
LIFE APPLICATION. When Jacob approached his brother, “he bowed seven times along the way” (33:3). Let’s say we were reuniting with someone we cared about but who felt we had in some way done them wrong. What would be a modern version of showing the kind of humility Jacob did?