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Jacob’s family situation should strike you as messy and complicated. We have been looking in recent chapters at how Jacob was able to untangle himself from being trapped in his wife’s country and household – separated from the Promised Land. His relationship with his father-in-law was characterized by scheming and mistrust on both sides – not a peaceful situation at all. But now Jacob has been reassured by His God of his need to return to the Promised Land with his wives and children and possessions. He has distanced himself from Laban and is headed back to Canaan.

But that does not make for an easy, smooth transition. Jacob still has to deal with his ruptured relationship with his twin brother Esau – who surely resents the unwise relinquishing of his birthright. Jacob was the favorite son of his mother; Esau was the favorite son of his father. So as Jacob heads for home, he is filled with fear and anxiety over what awaits him (a brother who had expressed a desire to kill him) – despite the gracious promises of God. He is still struggling to learn how to walk by faith instead of sight – how to trust in God’s unshakeable promises instead of his own scheming and attempts to control his situation.


A. (:1a) Anticipating Potential Danger

“Then Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him.”

Hughes: The dread that filled Jacob as he prepared to meet Esau was grounded in the mean facts of the life-altering humiliations that he had dealt his older brother – first, when he conned Esau, who while in a flippant mood sold him his birthright; and, second, when he dressed up as Esau and stole Esau’s blessing from their father Isaac. These humiliating stratagems left Esau uttering, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing” (27:36).

B. (:1b-2) Arranging a Protective Buffer for His Family

“So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids.”

1. Maids and Their Children

“And he put the maids and their children in front,”

2. Leah and Her Children

“and Leah and her children next,”

3. Rachel and Joseph

“and Rachel and Joseph last.”

Keith Krell: Jacob has a family-value, depth chart. He divides his children and wives, putting the least favorite in the front so that the more favored can possibly escape the massacre he still fears. Jacob continues to rely on his own wits to get him out of another tight situation. The fact that Jacob made preparation for his encounter with Esau wasn’t necessarily wicked. In fact, the Lord will often lead us to do very practical things when we follow Him. But we must take action only after prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit. This demonstrates our trust in the Lord.

C. (:3) Approaching the Danger Head-On

“But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.”

Duncan: The pathway to exaltation is humiliation … the way up is the way down –

And so after taking appropriate precautions, Jacob himself steps forward to meet the approaching Esau. And when he comes near to him, he prostrates himself seven times. We have tablets from things which were written in the context of this era and this culture in the near east which tell us that this was a standard way that you would have greeted a tribal king. In fact, we probably have fifty examples of this in tablets where over and over those who are greeting a tribal king will bow seven times. And it’s almost a standard formula in the way that they greet a superior figure.

But it’s ironic, isn’t it. It’s Jacob bowing seven times before Esau who has been prophesied by God to be the lesser of these two brothers. . . Here was a man who needed the divine humbling of the Lord to prepare him for the position of exultation which God had planned for him, had promised to him through the covenant prophesy, all the way back in Genesis 27.

Keith Krell: By going ahead of his family to meet Esau, Jacob shows the new Israel overcoming the fear that had formerly dominated the old Jacob. A remarkable and important transition is taking place here. Jacob—the self-serving, greedy, self-promoting, self-protective heal-catcher is being transformed by his relationship with God. He is beginning to take responsibility for the consequences of his own sinful past.


Tension here between trusting in human schemes and divine provision

A. (:4-7) Esau Graciously Embracing Jacob and His Family in Spirit of Forgiveness

1. (:4) Esau Embraces Jacob

“Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and

they wept.”

Parunak: Esau cannot do enough to show his affection toward his brother. Compare Luke 15:20, the return of the prodigal son, where our Lord no doubt has this reunion in mind. Bailey notes on Luke 15 that the old men in Palestinian villages never run. It isn’t considered dignified. When the father (or here, Esau) runs, they are opening themselves to ridicule. Esau’s running is itself a mark of his emotional welcome for Jacob.

2. (:5-7) Esau Embraces Jacob’s Family

“And 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.’”

a. The Maids and Their Children

“Then the maids came near with their children, and they bowed down.”

b. Leah and Her Children

“And Leah likewise came near with her children, and they bowed down;”

c. Joseph and Rachel

“and afterward Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed down.”

B. (:8-11) Jacob Graciously Entreating Esau to Receive His Gifts from God’s Blessing

1. (:8) Gifts Intended to Forge a Bond of Fellowship

“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.’”

2. (:9) Gifts not Necessary

“But Esau said, ‘I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own.’”

3. (:10-11a) Gifts Appropriate as an Expression of God’s Blessing

“ And 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. Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have plenty.’”

Leupold: What Jacob means is that in the friendliness beaming from Esau’s face he saw a reflection of divine favor, because he knew that it was God Himself who had changed Esau’s heart to make it friendly. (1 Sam. 29:9; 2 Sam. 14:17)

Duncan: the thing that strikes me in this passage is that Jacob acknowledges God’s kind providence to him in every aspect of his life, including the way that Esau received him. Jacob gives all the tribute to God. This is so different from the Jacob that we know. He gives all the glory to God. He gives all the credit to God. . .

Here again we see the spontaneity of Esau. We’re expecting Esau to be angry and then suddenly spontaneous Esau, the same spontaneous Esau who gave up his birthright for a bowl of soup, is now spontaneously overjoyed at this reunion with his brother, Jacob. And I must say that we are reminded in that of the common grace that God sometimes displays in the lives of natural men. .

Do you see what Jacob is saying? He’s saying, Esau, you don’t know it but the reason you have received me like you have is because my Father ordained that you would receive me like this. Not because of these stupid presents that I sent before me to try and get you to love me. You’ve received me like this because God has answered my prayers beyond my asking. So just keep everything that I gave. They’re presents. Because God has shown me that He is able to give me what I need without my own strategies. And so Jacob is humbled in his response, and he acknowledges that God, not his gifts, gave him Esau’s favor.

4. (:11b) Gifts Insisted Upon and Received

“Thus he urged him and he took it.”

Keith Krell: The word translated “gift” (berakah) is the word “blessing.” Jacob had stolen Esau’s blessing and birthright (27:35) and he understood that for reconciliation to take place, he would need to make restitution for his theft. Esau didn’t want or need the animals; he wanted his brother. But Jacob needed to feel he could restore himself; he needed to feel restitution. Finally, Jacob convinced Esau to accept the gift. Esau took it to allow his brother the opportunity to feel forgiven.

Parunak: At Jacob’s insistence, Esau accepts the gift. By not giving one in return, he acknowledges Jacob’s gift as an apology, and accepts it.

Cole: I think this was a superficial reconciliation at best, because Jacob never verbally confessed the wrongs he had committed against Esau, nor did he ask for forgiveness.


A. (:12-14) No Need to Travel Together

1. (:12) Esau’s Offer to Journey Together

“Then Esau said, ‘Let us take our journey and go, and I will go before you.’”

Hughes: With the restitution and reconciliation in effect, Esau’s magnanimity overflowed as he offered to lead Jacob’s clan to his home in Seir. But Seir was outside the Promised Land. God’s word to Jacob at Bethel was that God would bring him back to the land (cf. 28:15). Moreover, God’s chosen people were to remain separate from those who were not people of faith. The dangers in Esau’s generous offer were therefore substantial.

2. (:13-14) Jacob’s Desire to Make His Own Way

“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. 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.’”

Interesting that he is not going to wind up at Seir – dwelling with Esau; but in Succoth

Duncan: Jacob is wise in avoiding going back to Mt. Seir with his brother, Esau. Even though Esau has been gracious, and in God’s mercy there has not been a violent meeting between these two brothers, Jacob is indeed the heir and the head of the covenant. And his job is not to mix and intermingle with this one who has chosen another way. And that would have inevitably happened had he gone back to Mt. Seir and settled there with his elder brother. So Jacob is wise to sidestep that.

H. Griffith Thomas: instead of going after Esau to Seir, which was situated south-east of Peniel, he took his journey in an exactly opposite direction, and went to Succoth, north-west of Peniel. And thus he took the second step backward, deceiving his brother once again. It is surely impossible even to palliate this falsehood. As he had not the courage to give his brother the real reason of his declining the journey together, so also he told an untruth in order to put as much distance as he could between them. We wonder what Esau must have thought when he found Jacob did not arrive.

B. (:15) No Need for Protection to be Provided by Each Other

1. Esau’s Offer of Protection

“And Esau said, ‘Please let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.’”

2. Jacob’s Confidence

“But he said, ‘What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.’”

C. (:16-17) No Need to Live Together

1. (:16) Esau Living in Seir

“So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir.”

2. (:17) Jacob Living in Succoth

“And Jacob journeyed to Succoth; and built for himself a house, and made booths for his livestock, therefore the place is named Succoth.”

Why did he stop short of travelling to Bethel?


Things seem to be going well for Jacob on the surface … but are they??

A. (:18) Compromised Roots — Secure Encampment in Shechem (which still is not Bethel)

“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.”

Derek Kidner: Shechem, or Shechem we say from the King James way that it’s written, offered Jacob the attractions of a compromise. His summons from God was to Bethel; but Shechem, about a day’s journey short of it, stood attractively at the crossroads of trade. Chapter 34 shows the cost of Jacob settling at Shechem. He paid in rape, treachery and massacre, a chain of evil that proceeded logically enough from the unequal partnership with the Canaanite community there.”

Ian Duguid (quoted by Hughes): What was Jacob doing settling down at Shechem and raising an altar when he should have been continuing on to Bethel to raise the altar there, where he had first had the dream? Did Jacob think that Shechem was a better site for trade and for his flocks? Perhaps he thought it didn’t matter. After all, Bethel was now a mere twenty miles or so away; he could go there whenever it suited him, once he got settled. Why be so precise in these things? Shechem or Bethel – it’s really all the same, isn’t it? Indeed, it is not. Whatever his motivation, Jacob’s compromise and his failure to follow through with complete obedience to what he had vowed would cost him and his family dearly, as we shall see in the following chapter. Almost obedience is never enough. Being in the right ballpark may be sufficient when watching a baseball game, but is not nearly enough when it comes to obeying God. Nothing short of full obedience is required.

A. (:19) Compromised Rights – Buying Land Unnecessarily

“And 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.”

H. Griffith Thomas: Then, again, he bought some property there, purchasing the land on which his tent was pitched. He was thus actually buying his own promised possessions, the land assured to him by God! Was this necessary? Surely not.

B. (:20) Compromised Reverence — Compromised Worship

“Then he erected there an altar, and called it El-Elohe-Israel.”

“God, the God of Israel”

Consequences of these steps of incomplete obedience and worldly compromise will be seen in the tragic outcomes described in Chap. 34