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Chapter 33

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Jacob Meets Esau (ch. 33:1 - 20)    


In verses 1 through 3 we see what Jacob does as he approaches Esau.  First of all he puts the two maid servants and their children in from of him.  Then he puts Leah and her children behind the servant girls and their children.  Last of all he puts Rachel and Joseph behind Leah and her children.  You can certainly see the priority that Jacob places on his wives, servants and children, and also himself.  Rachel and Joseph are the most important to Jacob.  The servant girls and their children are the least important.  Just in case Esau attacks them, at least he will be more safe than the rest by being at the end of the procession.


Esau however does not attack Jacob and his company.  That might be surprising to Jacob.  Whether it was or wasn't, Jacob now approaches Esau on his own, and probably in fear and trembling.


In verse 4 we see what happened when the two brothers met.  It was nothing like Jacob thought it would be.  Esau actually ran to meet Jacob and embraced him and the two kissed.  It was as if two long lost friends had met up with each other after many years.  Jacob expected a fight, instead he got a hug and a kiss.


In verse 5 we see that Esau looked up and saw the women and children.  He asked who they were, and Jacob responded by saying they were his wives and servants and the children that God has given him.  After all these years, we see one brother greet another, and the sight of women and children apparently thrilled the heart of Esau.  Of course Esau was much older now and probably appreciated seeing his brothers wives and children.  This is a natural response when one sees  his brother's children for the first time.  


In my opinion, when you compare the two brothers in this event, Esau comes out being the better and kinder of the two.  As I've been saying, I'm not convinced that Jacob had good motives and intentions when he appears to be so nice towards Esau.  On the other hand, I think the way in which Esau greets Jacob's family here shows that his kindness is genuine.    


In verses 6 and 7 we see the women and children in priority again.  First of all, the servant girls and their children come up to Esau and bow before him.  Then comes Leah and her children, and last comes Rachel and Joseph.  One group at a time come to Esau and bow down before him out of respect.  This is twice now in this chapter that we see the women and children grouped in such a way.  Clearly, we know who Jacob loves most  It's been no secret since day one.  This must have been some kind of event for Esau, to see all these children and their mothers.


In verse 8 Esau asked Jacob about all the flocks that he had given him as gifts.  You might remember that Jacob sent servants out ahead of him to give to Esau to appease his anger.  Apparently Esau was not angry at Jacob.  So he asked Jacob what was the meaning of all these animals for a gift.  Jacob simply responded  by saying "to find favour in your sight".  The gifts were meant to appease Esau. 


Notice here, as is the case all along, that Jacob calls his brother Esau "lord'.  He is approaching his brother from a place of humility.   Jacob is stating that he is the servant of his brother Esau, when all along, it should be the other way around.  The blessing and the birthright given to Jacob by his father Isaac stated that Esau would be the servant to Jacob, not Jacob to Esau.  This was not the case in reality.  It's not the case because Jacob fell away from the will of God.  He has been outside of God's will for years and thus is seen as the servant, and not the lord.  The ironic thing here is that Jacob may have been pretending to be the servant just to find favour with his brother.  He may not have really thought he was a servant.  That being said, in this present case, he was the servant, whether he thought he was or not.  


Later, in the law of Moses God tells Israel that if they obey Him, they will be the head and not the tale.  For the most part, throughout history, Israel hasn't been the head.  They haven't been in charge of their own destiny.  They have been enslaved by others.  Even now, when they have their own country, they are bombarded with criticism from without that makes it hard for them to be their own boss.  Jacob was to be the head, but he is now the tale, because he walked away from his God given inheritance.


In verse 9 Esau refuses the gifts, and I believe he refuses them graciously.  I believe Esau meant what he said.  I don't think he had any ulterior motives.  Esau said that he had plenty.  He needed nothing else.


In verse 10 Jacob pleaded with his brother to take the gifts. He said, "please, if I have found favour in your eyes, accept the gift …"   The word "please" sounds serious, next to begging, and begging it might be since Jacob is now acting like a servant.


In the last part of verse 10 Jacob says that seeing the face of Esau, now that Esau has accepted him, is like seeing the face of God.  He must be greatly relieved, although we will see later, that Jacob might not have fully trusted Esau yet.  Whatever he really thought inside of his heart, Jacob told Esau that his face was like the face of God.  This is something since just in the last chapter Jacob felt that he actually saw the face of God when he wrestled with the man the night before.  Was Jacob really being honest here?  I'm not convinced that Jacob, the deceiver is being totally honest here.  I'm also not convinced that Jacob thought that Esau was being honest either.  I think Jacob was putting on a front.  I say this because of what we will learn later in this chapter.  I think Jacob acted as the humble servant merely to appease his brother, not that he really meant it. 


We see in verse 11 that because Jacob pleaded with him, he finally gave in and accepted the gift of cattle from his brother.  Maybe Jacob felt that he now had paid him back for his acts of deception.  I don't know for sure, but it might be possible that Jacob felt better once Esau accepted his gift of cattle.  The giving of the cattle might well be an act on Jacob's part to clear his conscience of his past deceptions.  We often do such things to clear a guilty conscience. 


In verse 12 Esau seems eager to leave and go on his way, and the verse implies that he wanted to take Jacob with him.


In verses 13 and 14 is where I think I see that Jacob did not fully trust Esau.  Jacob tells Esau, and he calls him lord again, and he calls himself servant again, to go on ahead of him.  Jacob said that his young cattle could not stand the pressure of moving so quickly and so far all at once.  He had to take the trip slow to keep his young cattle safe.  So Jacob tells Esau to go ahead and that he would meet them later on at a place called Seir, which was south east of where they presently were.  These words turn out to be yet another deception, which is often overlooked if you don't pay attention closely. 


In verse 15 Esau seemed to agree, but he wanted to leave some of his men with Jacob, maybe for protection, or maybe just to help him, or maybe to keep an eye on Jacob.  Who knows for sure.


Also in verse 15 Jacob responded by saying, "why do that.  Just let me find favour in your sight my lord."  Once again, we see the words servant and lord.  Jacob is really laying this servant business on pretty heavily.   He didn't really want Esau's men to stay with him, and we will see why soon.


Apparently Esau agreed to Jacob's thinking.  Verse 16 says that Esau left for Seir.


Verse 17 begins with the words, "Jacob, however…"   This is important because the word "however" implies that he did something different that what he said he would do, and that is exactly what he did.  Esau went south east to Seir.  Jacob told him that he would go there too, but at a slower pace.  "However", Jacob did not go south east to Seir.  He went north west to Succoth where he built himself a home and shelter for his cattle.  This looks like a permanent residence to me.  Jacob went one hundred and eighty degrees in the opposite direction to Esau.  He went one hundred and eighty degrees in the opposite direction to where he said he would go.  I believe he knew all along where he was going to.  That is why he did not want Esau's men to stay with him.  All that Jacob wanted to know is that Esau was no longer angry with him.  He had no intention of reconciliation.  And by the way, God told Jacob earlier to stay in Bethel, but he didn't.  Once again, Jacob could not obey the Lord and do his will, even after fighting with God in human flesh all night.  Man will never learn.


As was prophesied years earlier, there would be problems between these two men, and that certainly was true.  We know that the children of Esau became the Edomites.  They always gave Israel problems.  It is said by many scholars that king Herod, of the time of Jesus was an Edomite.  If  that is indeed true, how ironic.   


In verse 18 to the end of the chapter we see that Jacob bought some land near Shechem in Canaan.  To me this is interesting.  Shechem is in Canaan, the land that God promised Abraham, but since Abraham left Canaan and went to Egypt, he never got to possess the land as God said he would.  God then promised it to Abraham's descendents.  Well, Isaac never got the land.  Here Jacob is buying a piece of property in Canaan.  It's clear that he never got the land.  The land has never been gotten by Israel in its totality, but some day they will receive their promised land.  When Jesus returns to earth, defeats the enemies of Israel, He Himself will take possession of the land and give it to Israel.  This will happen at the end of this present age.


Like Abraham, Jacob buys land in Canaan , the land that was meant to be his all along, that was promised by God, but was never taken by Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.  


In verse 20 Jacob builds an altar on the property that he bought.  He called the altar "El Elohe Israel".  This means, "God, the God of Israel".  This is very presumptuous on the part of Jacob.  God wanted Jacob in Bethel, not where he presently was.  Like Jacob, Christians build altars, memorials in the form of buildings and organizations as a place of worship to their God, but as is often the case, that is not what God wants.  We carry out what we think is the will of God when in fact it isn't.   


We will see the importance of Shechem, where Jacob moved to, in the next chapter.  What happens is a direct result of Jacob not obeying the Lord to live in Bethel.  As in all cases when we refuse to do the will of God, things usually get pretty messed up.  


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