Facing the coming of Esau and his four-hundred men, now Jacob had the strength to prepare his families and himself to meet his brother. After the exchange of proposals, the two brothers each went their own separate way. The family reunion not only showed the two brothers’ change of heart but also showed God’s guidance and protection toward Jacob and his family. The chapter serves as a lesson for us to wait for God’s deliverance in difficult times.
Did You Know...?
- “I have enough” (33:11): This expression in Hebrew can literally be translated as “I have everything.”
- Succoth (33:17): In Hebrew, the word literally means “booths,” “shelters” or “Tabernacles.” The psalmist references this place with Shechem (Ps 60:6, 108:7). Jacob journeyed to Succoth meant he went northwest, the opposite direction from Esau’s Seir in the south. [ref]
- One hundred pieces of money (33:19): The Hebrew pronunciation for this “money” is “qesitah,” which is a reference of unit of unknown value. Interesting enough, the Septuagint version translates it as ”lambs.”
- El Elohe Israel (33:20) is taken literally from a Hebrew pronunciation, which can literally be translated, “God, the God of Israel.”
When Jacob lifted his eyes, what did he see?
How did Jacob arrange the positions of his families? What can we learn about Jacob’s relationship with his families from their arranged positions?Hide Answer
In meeting Esau and his four hundred men, Jacob divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. The arranged positions were as follows: The two maidservants and their children were in front, Leah and her children were behind, and Rachel and Joseph were last (Gen 33:1-2).
The arrangement of the positions of his families inferred the distinction among his wives and their children. The two maidservants and their children were positioned at the most front, separated from the daughters of Laban. Leah and her children were next while Rachel and Joseph were last. The different positioning between Leah’s company and Rachel’s company was merely to show that Rachel was the wife whom Jacob loved and intended to marry from the beginning (Gen 29:20, 25, 31).
Furthermore, the mention of Joseph, the son of Rachel, individually as opposed to the children of Leah and the two maidservants generally foreshadowed Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph compared to the rest of his brothers (Gen 37:3).
In responding to Esau’s arrival, compare Jacob’s attitude in Genesis 32 with his attitude in Genesis 33.Hide Answer
There was a transformation in Jacob’s reaction from Genesis 32 to Genesis 33 in responding to Esau’s arrival. Previously, after Jacob had sent away the companies of presents and his families over the brook of Jabbok, he himself stayed behind in fear (Gen 32:7) and lodged in the camp (Gen 32:21-24). Later on, after the wrestling with God, Jacob prepared his families and he himself crossed over before them, bowing to the ground seven times until he came near to his brother (Gen 33:1-3).
What can we learn from Jacob’s change of attitude?Hide Answer
After the wrestling with God, Jacob was no longer overwhelmed by fear of Esau and his four hundred men. Instead, through God’s grace, now Jacob bravely crossed over before his families to face his greatest fear: Esau. In addition, Jacob was no longer a selfish man who hid behind the companies of his presents and the companies of his families. Instead, now Jacob was willing to sacrifice himself before his families to face whatever consequence he might receive from Esau. Jacob’s change of attitude teaches us that a personal experience with God enables us to change our characters; from a timid and selfish person into a courageous and thoughtful person.
What was the significance of Jacob’s bowing to the ground seven times? Bowed himself to the ground;Hide Answer
Throughout the Scriptures, an act of bowing shows a person’s respect and humility for the other person. For example, Abraham bowed to the strangers who were approaching near his dwelling place (Gen 18:2), Moses bowed down to his father-in-law (Ex 18:7), and Mephiboseth bowed to King David when he was called (
2 Sam 9:8). Jacob bowed himself to the ground to show his humility and respect for Esau upon his arrival.
Bowed seven times until Esau came near;Hide Answer
The Scriptures mentioned how David bowed three times in front of Jonathan, showing his thankfulness to Jonathan’s truthfulness and faithfulness about Saul’s plot (
1 Sam 20:41). In Genesis 33, Jacob bowing himself seven times indicated his great effort, humility and sincerity to reconcile with his brother, Esau.
How was Esau’s reaction unexpected to Jacob? What was the significance of each of Esau’s reaction?Hide Answer
When Esau and his men were approaching, Esau’s reaction was completely unexpected to Jacob.
First, Esau ran to meet Jacob (Gen 33:4). Instead of charging and attacking Jacob’s companies along with his four hundred men, Esau ran toward Jacob for the purpose of meeting Jacob, his brother. Jacob did not detect any sign of hostility from Esau’s coming.
Second, Esau embraced Jacob (Gen 33:4). The embrace which Esau performed on Jacob was similar to the embrace which Laban performed on his nephew (Gen 29:13) or which Israel performed on Joseph’s sons (Gen 48:10). Jacob never thought that the vengeful Esau would become so loving by performing a welcoming embrace to the one who had greatly wronged him in the past.
Third, Esau fell on Jacob’s neck and kissed him (Gen 33:4). Jacob never expected that the same Esau who had previously hated and planned to kill him (Gen 27:41), now fell on his neck and kissed him—a warm gesture of receiving a family member back from a long absence. The gestures of Esau was similar to Joseph who performed it on Benjamin and on his father, Israel (Gen 45:14, 46:29) when they were absent from one another for a long period of time. Such gestures signified a great deep longing and gladness in receiving the long-absent family member back.
Fourth, both Esau and Jacob wept (Gen 33:4). Esau’s unexpected reactions of warm welcome had made both of them wept on each other. Now, it was clear to Jacob that Esau did not plan to execute his hatred upon Jacob. They both could weep in happiness; not only because they received the chance to be reunited after a long absence but they also could reconcile from their past conflict. Especially for Jacob, he did not expect that now Esau was willing to forgive his past sins.
How did the phrase “lifted his eyes” play an important part in Genesis 33? What did it teach us about the relationship between God with His people? When Jacob lifted his eyes;Hide Answer
After the event of Peniel, Jacob lifted his eyes and he saw the coming of Esau along with his four-hundred men (Gen 33:1). Here, instead of just hearing from his messengers about Esau’s coming (Gen 32:6), Jacob could witness for himself the approaching-Esau and his men. Jacob’s lifting up his eyes to see Esau and his men signifies his readiness and willingness to face the upcoming difficulties with God’s help. From this incident, we can learn that a personal and a close relationship with God will surely give us strength to be able to face the upcoming difficulties in our lives. Once the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Here, the apostle teaches us that no matter how hard our sufferings may be, we ought not lose the hope of God’s abidance. For God will surely strengthen us in order that we may be able to face the impossible.
When Esau lifted his eyes;Hide Answer
After Esau had reunited with Jacob, he lifted his eyes and saw the women and children who were with Jacob (Gen 33:5). Later, Jacob explained to Esau that the children were God-given grace to him (Gen 33:5). Thus, by lifting his eyes during the meeting, Esau witnessed God’s grace, favor and blessing upon Jacob’s life. This event teaches us that other people are able to see the grace and the favors of God upon our lives. Thus, living our lives properly according to God’s will and being thankful always for His blessing and abidance are ways to show others that Jesus is in us.
On one hand, when Esau was presented the gift by Jacob, he said, ”I have enough, my brother, keep what you have for yourself” (Gen 33:9). On the other hand, while urging Esau to receive his gift, Jacob literally said,”Because God has dealt graciously with me, [NIV—and I have all I need]” (Gen 33:11).
How did the different statements reflect each of the two brothers’ characters?Hide Answer
Esau had enough while Jacob had all that he needed. The contrasting statement between the two brothers was interesting. From Esau’s statement that he “had enough,” we know at this point in time, he already had enough cattle and servants, let alone the four hundred men who were accompanying him on his journey. In fact, the book of Genesis 36 tells us that later Esau became the father of the Edomite kingdom. Furthermore, Genesis 36:7 stated that Esau and Jacob’s possessions were too great for both of them to dwell together in the same land. Thus, Esau’s statement ”I have enough” reflected his physical contentment upon the numerous measure of his wealth.
Whereas Jacob, at this point in time, had just made peace with Laban after he went out from him, taking his wives,children and the acquired possessions which he had gained in Padan Aram (Gen 31:18). When Jacob insisted Esau on taking the gifts presented to him, they were part of Jacob’s acquired possessions. Yet, Jacob told Esau that he had all that he needed because God had dealt graciously with him (Gen 33:11). Though Jacob was still struggling from escaping Laban, only taking with him the remaining possessions which were not gifts of Esau, he was thankful due to God’s grace. Physically, Jacob may have few possessions compared to Esau but he was grateful for God’s protection over his family and God’s guidance over his safety from Laban’s ill intent and Esau’s possibility of revenge.
What teaching can we learn from this comparison?Hide Answer
The statements of both Esau and Jacob reflected their characters. On one hand, Esau’s words “I have enough” fulfilled the statement of his father Isaac that through his sword and restlessness, he would live (Gen 27:39-40). In other words, the “enough” wealth that Esau had gathered was through his own effort of restlessness and his own sword. Esau believed that he achieved his “enough” possessions through his own might.
On the other hand, the words of Jacob reflected his faith in God. Jacob said that he had all that he needed because of God’s grace (Gen 33:11). Jacob’s phrase “I have all I need” summed up his faith and thankfulness in God’s abidance.First, Jacob was thankful for having the God of Abraham and Isaac to be his God. Second, Jacob was thankful for the safety of his wives, children and the remaining possessions. Third, Jacob was thankful for his survival in facing the two great difficulties of his life so far—the threat of Laban and Esau.
Each of the two brothers’ statement gives us perspective about the type of person we are. As we succumb into our worldly affairs, drifting away from God and His will, we are turning ourselves into an Esau-like character. We begin to believe that all of our achievements are from our own effort and might, disregarding that God’s guidance is actually at hand. But if we make every effort to draw near to God, then we begin to realize that everything which happens around us—good or bad—comes from God. Thus, as long as we are being thankful to God, we lack nothing and we will have everything.
What was Esau’s proposal to Jacob?
What was the meaning of Esau’s proposal?Hide Answer
By giving Jacob his proposal, superficially Esau wanted to give protection to Jacob and his companies. But essentially, Esau was claiming himself to be the leader of the companies of the two brothers. Thus, Esau wanted Jacob to follow him, to be under his leadership. Esau’s proposal to Jacob meant that Esau wanted to show Jacob that he was able to fulfill the prophecy of Isaac, his father. Now, with Esau’s immense wealth and men under his command, Esau truly broke the yoke of Jacob from his neck and no longer serve his brother. Esau could finally emerged by his might, no longer under the shadow of Jacob (Gen 27:40).
What was Jacob’s counter-proposal to Esau?Hide Answer
To answer Esau’s proposal, Jacob gave him a counter-proposal. He began stating that Esau knew the companies who were with Jacob consisted primarily of small children and nursing flocks and herds. Then Jacob appealed to Esau’s emotions by saying that “if the men should drive them hard one day, all the flock will die” (Gen 33:13). After this, Jacob proposed to lead on slowly at a pace which the livestock that went before him and which the children could endure (Gen 33:13-14).
What was the meaning of Jacob’s counter-proposal?Hide Answer
Offered to go with Esau, Jacob respectfully declined. He refused to go with Esau for several reasons.
First, Jacob was aware that his companies consisted of weak children and nursing flocks and herds (Gen 33:13). In order to save them, Jacob needed to lead at a slow pace for the children and the herds to follow. Otherwise, if they were to be forced to follow the pace of Esau and his four hundred men, the children would not be able to endure and the flocks would die (Gen 33:14).
Second, Jacob turned down Esau’s proposal to go with him because he wanted to independently build his family. When Esau offered Jacob to “leave with [Jacob] some of the people who [were] with [Esau]” (Gen 33:15), Jacob politely turned him down by saying, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord” (Gen 33:15). Thus, after Esau returned to Seir, Jacob journeyed to Succoth and “built himself a house, and made booths for his livestock” (Gen 33:17). Starting from that point on, Jacob gradually established his own family and he was separated from the clans of Esau.
How could Jacob be benefited if he were to accept Esau’s proposal?Hide Answer
If Jacob were to accept Esau’s proposal to join with him, Jacob would have received several benefits.
In terms of protection, Jacob would not need to worry about the safety of his families, livestocks and even himself. Taking the journey together with Esau meant that Esau’s men would be able to surround and protect Jacob’s companies from any harm. Even when Jacob pleaded to take a slower pace, Esau offered him some of his men to stay with Jacob as bodyguards (Gen 33:15), keeping Jacob and his families safe from harm.
In terms of wealth, Jacob would gain much more wealth and possessions. Having been surrounded by Esau’s protection, Jacob’s livestocks would be able to grow even more. In Gen 36:6-8, when Esau and Jacob dwelled together for a certain period of time, their wealth increased far too great for the land to support. Thus, Esau “went to a country away from the presence of his brother Jacob” and he “dwelt in Mount Seir” (Gen 36:6, 8). If Jacob were to continue to be under Esau’s protection, the growth of his wealth would have been unimaginable.
From Jacob’s counter-proposal, what can we learn about “standing-up” to our principle and belief?Hide Answer
Though by following Esau, Jacob would have been able to receive protection and gain wealth through their journey together, Jacob stood firm in his position to take a separate journey from Esau and his men. Although Jacob had initially intended to “come to [Esau] in Seir” (Gen 33:14), he changed his mind and dwelt in Succoth instead (Gen 33:17). Not until the Lord said to Jacob to “go up to Bethel [which was in the land of Canaan] and [to] dwell there” (Gen 35:1, 6) that Jacob finally decided to move from Shechem and to purify his household from the foreign gods (Gen 35:2). At the end, Jacob and his household made a leap of faith by returning to “the land of [his] family” (Gen 31:13) and “dwelt…in the land of Canaan” (Gen 37:1).
Likewise, standing firm in our faith requires us to take certain measures of actions. The apostle Paul exhorts us in the letter to the Corinthians to be watchful, to stand fast in the faith, to be brave and to be strong (
1Cor 16:13). For example, standing up for what we believe in requires our steadfastness, bravery and strength to refuse an invitation that will cause us to be tempted into sinning or walking further away from God.
In Hebrew, the word Succoth is also used to refer to “Tabernacles” as in the Feast of Tabernacles” (Lev 23:33-34). In the book of Genesis, Jacob made booths (Succoth) as temporary shelters for his livestocks before he continued his journey to the land of Canaan (Gen 33:17-18). Later on, during the exodus of the Israelites, the Lord reminded them again about Succoth. This time, the Israelites were to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:33-34). For the entire length of this feast, the Israelites were to dwell in booths made from branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook woven together (Lev 23:40).
Just as Succoth became a reminder for Jacob of God’s protection in his journeys, the Feast of Tabernacles was to be a reminder for the Israelites of the Lord’s care and protection (Ps 27:5) during their wilderness wanderings (Lev 23:33-43) and His promise to protect them in the future, especially concerning their harvests (Deut 16:15).
What teachings can we infer from Succoth?Hide Answer
From Jacob’s booth-making and the Israelites’ Feast of Tabernacles, we can learn several teachings. The making of booths (Succoth) signifies a temporary shelter which means that the booths will not be used permanently as one will surely continue one’s journey to another place. The apostle Paul reminds us through his letter to the Corinthians that our physical body and our life on the earth is but like an earthly tent (
2 Cor 5:1). The earthly tent is mortal, destructible and not eternal ( 2 Cor 5:1-3). Therefore, while staying in this temporary earthly tent, we must press on, confidently walking by faith to move on and to continue our journey to the eternal building in the heavens. At the end, our goal is to return to the land of our Father who are in heaven.
Furthermore, the making of booths also reminds us to constantly give thanks for God’s grace and protection in our daily journeys, whether in hardships or happy moments. The psalmists wrote that in times of trouble, the Lord hid us in the secret place of His tabernacle (Ps 27:5). Just as the Lord had led Jacob and the Israelites to safety in the difficulties of their wanderings, the Lord will lead us high upon a rock and thus, enabling us to overcome the troubles in our daily life.
What kind of danger loomed ahead of Jacob and his family when he “pitched his tent before the city”?Hide Answer
After Jacob had arrived in the land of Canaan, he pitched his tent before the city of Shechem (Gen 33:18). At this point, Jacob did not realize that his action would soon cause his daughter, Dinah, to mingle with the daughters of the Canaanites (Gen 34:1). Later, Dinah would be violated by Shechem, the prince of the very country (Gen 34:2) where Jacob had pitched his tent before it.
How is the example of Jacob pitching his tent before the city of Shechem similar to a previous example in Genesis 13:12 and 19:30-38?Hide Answer
The example of Jacob pitching his tent before the city of Shechem is similar to Lot pitching his tent as far as Sodom (Gen 13:12). Both Jacob and Lot were unaware that their pitching the tent before the city carried a certain risk to themselves. When Jacob pitched his tent before the city of Shechem, Dinah—his daughter—was able to see the daughters of the land and later, was violated by Shechem (Gen 34:1-3). Similarly, by dwelling in Sodom, not only was Lot “oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked” of the Sodomites (
2 Pet 2:7) but Lot’s two daughters behaved just as sinful as the people of Sodom (Gen 19:30-38).
How was Jacob’s altar-erecting at El Elohe Israel different from his altar-erecting at Bethel? See Gen 28:19.Hide Answer
When Jacob erected an altar at Bethel, it was after his first encounter with the Lord through a dream (Gen 28:16-17). Here at Bethel, Jacob came to know the Lord God of his grandfather, Abraham, and of his father, Isaac. The purpose of the altar-erecting was an acknowledgement of Jacob to God’s promise and also a vow of Jacob to make the Lord to be his God (Gen 28:21). Later in Genesis 33:20, Jacob erected an altar for the second time. He erected it after the Lord had granted his prayer of supplication, asking God to deliver him from his brother, Esau (Gen 32:9-11). During his meeting with Esau, Jacob said that it was as though he had seen the face of God (Gen 33:10). Jacob never expected that Esau would be pleased to see him. The second altar at El Elohe Israel not only serves as a commemoration for Jacob’s thanksgiving toward God’s deliverance, but also signifies the growth of Jacob’s personal relationship with God. Here at El Elohe Israel, Jacob admitted that the Lord God was not just the God of his grandfather and of his father but He was indeed Jacob’s personal God.
What can we learn about “growing in faith” from such a difference as shown above?Hide Answer
The example of Jacob erecting altars at Bethel and at El Elohe Israel teaches us an important lesson. Our walk of faith in the Lord must progress from the stage of simply knowing God to the stage of having a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord God. The writer of the book of Hebrews reproves us that the progress in our walk of faith is necessary. The first stage of our faith is likened to partaking only milk—knowing God at the surface only, unskilled in the word of righteousness (Heb 5:12-13). But this stage must progress further into the next one, which is likened to having solid food. At this stage of full age, one is required to exercise one’s senses to discern both good and evil (Heb 5:14), having a dynamic relationship of obedience to God’s will and efforts to please Him.