This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
Fearful of his brother, Jacob had sent gifts ahead to Esau, who was approaching with a vast group of men. During the night, he had wrestled the Angel of the LORD, where he was changed. His name was changed, his body was changed, and his disposition was changed. He was not the same Jacob that had left the land of Canaan all those years before. The LORD had worked in his life to shape and mold him and to cause him to fear God and walk before Him. Now, Jacob had to face his brother and make amends for the wrongs he committed against him in the past.
1 Then Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2 He put the maids and their children in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. 3 But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
Jacob was afraid that Esau intended evil against him. So he approached Esau in a formal and respectful manner. The family was spaced out, so that if Esau did indeed intend harm, then the three companies of women and children would have their chance to escape. But Esau dropped all pretense, and in a surprise move:
4 Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. 5 He lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and said, “Who are these with you?” So he said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” 6 Then the maids came near with their children, and they bowed down. 7 Leah likewise came near with her children, and they bowed down; and afterward Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed down.
The tenseness of the scene is broken by Esau’s actions. He was no longer angry with his brother but was happy to see him after so many years. Esau was amazed that Jacob had flourished into so large a household after he had left Canaan without any possessions.
This led Esau to ask Jacob what his overly generous gifts were for:
8 And he said, “What do you mean by all this company which I have met?” And he said, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” 9 But Esau said, “I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably. 11 Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me and because I have plenty.” Thus he urged him and he took it.
It appears that Jacob’s gift to Esau had a further purpose than appeasing his anger. Jacob did not use the word ‘gift’ in verse 11. He used the word ‘blessing.’ While neither brother explicitly stated it, Jacob clued Esau in on the fact that all the gifts he had sent ahead of him were reparations for the stolen blessing.
12 Then Esau said, “Let us take our journey and go, and I will go before you.” 13 But he said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Please let my lord pass on before his servant, and I will proceed at my leisure, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord at Seir.” 15 Esau said, “Please let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” 16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built for himself a house and made booths for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth.
Jacob seems to have been ready to get rid of Esau. He refused his help, promising to meet him at Seir. Jacob was not intending to go to Seir but to Bethel as the LORD had commanded him. Yet he did not even make it to Bethel as God had commanded. He stopped for some time in Succoth, where he made a dwelling and places for his livestock. He had come so far in his walk with the LORD, but he still had much to learn.
18 Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city. 19 He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. 20 Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
In direct disobedience to the LORD, Jacob settled in Shechem for quite some time. The LORD had commanded him to return to Bethel, but he was delaying. Nothing good ever comes from such delays. As the next chapter suggests, his stay in Shechem was prolonged. He bought a piece of land where he could dwell in the midst of the people of the land. Even though the years at Shechem were not times of spiritual growth for Jacob, he did accept his new name, calling an altar ‘God, the God of Israel.’
Disobedience has a price, and Jacob found that out in the next chapter. He was not walking in the ways that God had commanded him, and it will become evident within his family. But God was not finished with Jacob. He had many more plans for Jacob that would further his growth in faith. Praise the LORD that He is never finished with us! He brings circumstances into our lives that cause us to grow in our walk with Him!
There was only one man whose walk with God was always perfect, and He was the Son of God! Jesus was born of a virgin from the nation of Israel, and He died to redeem sinners from the curse of death. God raised Him from the dead to live and reign forevermore, just as He will also raise those who believe in Jesus for eternal life.