SSL 6 - Gen. 33:1-15
LAST WEEK: In our lesson, Gen. 32:24-32, we met up with Jacob while he was waiting in the dark for Esau when out of nowhere, somebody grabbed him and he and, instinctively, Jacob began to wrestle with a man for his very life. Unknown to Jacob at the time, the "man, was a physical manifestation of none other than God Himself. Let's review two of the main points of application we took from the lesson: 1. God must break us of our self-dependence. God's wrestling match with Jacob wasn't a vision or a dream but a real physical alter-cation with injury inflicted on Jacob. The lesson we learn from this is that Jacob wasn't struggling with God to gain something from Him; God was laying hold of Jacob to gain something from him, namely, to bring Jacob to the end of his self-dependence. God wrestled Jacob him into submission to show him that he was his own adversary-his own worst enemy. 2. God blesses us when we cling to Him in our brokenness. Often our greatest victories come out of the wreckage of our greatest defeats. As soon as Jacob was crippled, he was able to hang on to God for dear life. He realized then that if God didn't bless him, he had no hope-none. He had learned that he couldn't trust in himself any longer because he was a cripple. He had to cling to the Lord, and in clinging to God in his brokenness, Jacob received the blessing-the personal one-the one he'd been scheming for all his life but had never received.
THIS WEEK: In Gen. 33:1-15, we learn about Jacob's encounter with Esau. He has just spent the night wresting with God, where he was both literally and figuratively broken of his self-dependence and is now walking with a limp as he approaches the dreaded meeting with his estranged brother. Under the pressure of the moment, he falls back on his old scheming ways as he takes matters into his own hands. Yet, it is mixed up with some positive aspects of his newly discovered trust in God. As we will see from the text, Jacob demonstrates a mixed result of living by the flesh and living by faith. Over the ages, Bible scholars have expressed some highly divergent interpretations of Jacob's action in this chapter. The room for differences lies in the fact the text itself doesn't reveal the inner thoughts and motives behind Jacob's actions. So these opposing views aren't based on theology but on differing perspectives-positive and negative-of Jacob's character. As we move through the lesson verses, I will try to give you a balanced view-pro and con-and you can make up your own mind about them.
Read Gen. 33:1-4 - JACOB'S MEETS ESAU
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. 4 Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
vv. 1-2: "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." - Not knowing Esau's intentions, Jacob certainly had cause to be afraid. We must remember that Esau wasn't a follower of God but had aligned himself with the pagan tribes of Ishmael. Anticipating the worst, Jacob arranged his family in order of preference, so that the most favored, Rachel and Joseph, and after them, Leah and her sons, might possibly escape if Esau attacked. Most scholars show little concern over these verses, though some see it as evidence of Jacob as relying on his wits again rather than trusting God to protect his family.
v. 3a: "But he himself passed on ahead of them" - Here, in contrast, we see Jacob leading, trusting God by stepping out in faith and putting himself at the point of the spear.
v. 3b: "and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother" - The "seven times" represents an attitude of total submission and subservience which, in effect, relinquished any claim of family authority over Esau. Some commentators praise Jacob's behavior as an act of great humility and apology, while others say it was obsequious, far beyond expected courtesy. Seven bows were normally reserved only for royal personages; one was normal (see Gen. 18:2).
v. 4: "Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept" - Jacob was probably terrified when Esau dismounted and ran toward him, but after his brother hugged and kissed him, expressed either tears of relief (flesh) or joy (faith), probably a mixture of both. Esau was obviously very glad to see his brother and shows admirable character in his manner of forgiveness. In the interval, God had blessed Esau with wealth and power so that he no longer bore a grudge against his brother; however, we must remember that Esau was a shallow individual who really had little respect for the covenant promises Jacob had obtained by deceit.
Read Gen. 33: 5-11 - JACOB'S PRESENTS ESAU WITH HIS FAMILY AND GIFT
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. 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.
v. 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" - Esau expresses surprise at Jacob's family. It was probably unusual for a man to have two wives and two concubines with children from each or Esau would not have asked. Notice that Jacob is careful to give God the credit for blessing him with this large family and ends by referring to himself as a "servant," a person under orders or submission to another.
vv. 6-7: "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 one bow given to Esau by the wives, concubines, and children was in keeping with common courtesy.
v. 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." - Esau is referring to the droves of livestock that Jacob sent ahead. This was a magnanimous gift by any standard. Jacob's reference to Esau as "my lord," has generated two views: (1) that he felt honest contrition and humility in how he had wronged Esau previously, or (2) that his flesh was causing him to grovel and show subservience out of self-protection. Keep in mind that Moses, guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote these words and still refers to him as Jacob. What does that tell you?
v. 9: "But Esau said, 'I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own'" - As previously mentioned, Esau had amassed considerable wealth of his own by this time and does not want or expect favors from Jacob. Notice that Esau calls him "brother," a term denoting a family bond.
v. 10a: "Jacob said, "No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand," - There is more to this statement than meets the eye. First, despite Esau's effusive welcome, Jacob is still cautious, not trusting what he's seeing at face value. Second, in this culture, to refuse a gift implied a broken relationship, and a refusal would confirm Jacob's worst fears. Again, Bible scholars have seen this verse two ways: (1) some applaud Jacob as being a model of reconciliation; (2) others say Jacob was being superficial at best, insofar as he never verbally confessed the wrongs he had committed against Esau or asked for forgiveness of them.
10b: "for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably" - Here, in another twist, we see Jacob draw a remarkable parallel between his earlier encounter with God and his meeting with Esau, where like God, Esau shows unmerited favor-grace-to Jacob.
v. 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." - The word "gift" in Hebrew literally means the same as a "blessing." The irony in this statement is that Jacob is acknowledging that the blessing he had tried to take from Esau all those years ago was actually given to him by God afterward. So in his last attempt to express reconciliation with Esau, Jacob is in a sense giving back the blessing he had stolen from his brother over 20 year earlier, and conferring it from the blessings God had given to him. So Esau, in an exchange of grace from brother to brother, took the gift.
Read Gen. 33:12-15 - JACOB DEPARTS WITH CAUTION
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."
v. 12-13: "'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'"- Here we see Jacob fall back on his flesh in response to Esau's offer to travel together. Not much debate on this one. His story about the children and the flocks was an out and out exaggeration. Jacob was not wrong for refusing to follow Esau to Seir, in that God had clearly commanded him to return to Canaan, but his method-deceit and dishonesty-was clearly questionable.
v. 14-15: "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." - The question raised by v. 14 is whether Jacob is telling Esau another lie. Some scholars come to Jacob's defense, saying that he intended to go to Seir, but whether or not he did is not explained. What he did do, if you read down to v. 17, which isn't in the lesson, as soon as Esau was out of sight, he headed south, in the opposite direction. I would venture that he never intended to follow Esau. Should he have told Esau the truth? He couldn't follow him because God had commanded him to return to Canaan.
1. This lesson doesn't impart the fill-in-the-blank application points that we normally cover. I think what we should look for are the actions of Jacob that were actually done in faith. (1) He went ahead of his family to meet Esau in v. 3. That showed uncharacteristic faith and courage. (2) When he referenced his family in v. 5 and his ability to offer the gift to Esau in v. 11, he gave God the credit for them, saying in both cases that God had "graciously" given or dealt with him. (3) Jacob's refusal to follow Esau to Seir was at least, in part, faith driven, but his explanation appeared to be deceitful-another lie. It could also be said that since Esau was not a follower of God, that Jacob was correct in not trusting him, because we really don't know if Esau had ulterior motives. Moreover, Esau might have had little to no respect for God's purpose in commanding Jacob to return to Canaan-in fact, it might have made him angry, a sore reminder that Jacob had stolen his blessing.
2. At the end of this, we can only conclude that Jacob's reconciliation with Esau displayed a mixture of living by the flesh and of living by faith. In many ways, the story outwardly depicted Esau as the better man, didn't it? It's a sad fact that non-Christians, who have no interest in the things of God, are sometimes nicer than people who claim to be Christians. We can only speculate that Esau brought along those 400 men just in case Jacob, true to form, was up to his old tricks. However, when he saw Jacob wasn't meeting him with any threat, he ran to Jacob and hugged and kissed him. The fact that he didn't hold a grudge over Jacob's past treachery was a truly magnificent gesture. And Esau wasn't greedy: Although he finally did accept Jacob's gift, he had said, "I already have plenty, my brother." The sad thing about Esau is that he was completely of the world, with no concern for the things of God. H. Spurgeon said it this way: "It is an awful contentment when a man can be satisfied without God." The final point is grace: Jacob got better than he deserved from both God and Esau, didn't he? Like many of us, Jacob was a work in progress. I don't think God is done with me either-how about you?