Jacob’s meeting with Esau. — V.1. And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. Jacob had joined his caravan and continued his march. He no longer looked for the approach of Esau with anxious apprehension, but with cheerful expectation. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. V.2. And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost. The division of the caravan was care fully planned. Jacob “himself, as the head of the family, as its protector and representative, takes the lead; then follow the handmaids with their children; then Leah with hers; and at last, Rachel with Joseph. This inverted order, by which the most loved came last, is not merely chosen from a careful and wise prudence, but at the same time the free expression of the place which they occupied in his affections.” V.3. And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, in the Oriental manner, in which men stoop over forward until their forehead practically touches the ground, a sign of the deepest reverence, until he came near to his brother. The six fold repetition of the deep obeisance was a form of humiliation which indicated that he wanted to atone fully for any offense against his brother Esau, that he was willing to show him the utmost reverence. V.4. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept. If Esau had still been cherishing his old grudge when he left his home, this was now fully overcome and removed by the humility of his brother. His brotherly feeling took hold of him at this point, and in a spontaneous outburst of affection he embraced him and kissed him, whereupon these two gray headed men, separated for a score of years, are overcome with joy and burst into weeping. In this moment Esau became a different man, who willingly bowed himself under the will of the Lord and showed truly noble traits of character. V.5. And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children, and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant. Jacob humbly expressed the gratitude of his heart in giving the Lord all honor for His blessings. V.6. Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves. V.7. And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves; and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves. They all followed the example of Jacob in his humble behavior toward Esau, thus doing their share in gaining the heart of Esau for Jacob. It is noted particularly that Joseph came near before his mother; he seems to have run ahead in childlike trustfulness in order to meet his uncle first. Altogether, the scene is a fine illustration of the ideal painted by the psalmist: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” Ps. 133, 1.
Jacob presses his gifts upon Esau. — v.8. And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord. Jacob’s answer to Esau’s question as to the meaning of the train of small caravans which he had met is not an act of fawning servility, of cringing humility, but rather an expression by which he hoped to be restored fully to the favor of his brother, somewhat strongly accented, perhaps, after the Oriental manner. V.9. And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself. The kindness and courtesy of Esau are now apparent throughout: he addresses Jacob with the tender “my brother,” he gently urges him to keep his unusually large gift, he states that he is provided with all that he needs. V.10. And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand; for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me. Although colored by Oriental courtesy, the words of Jacob were altogether sincere. He had found favor in the sight of Esau, in the friendly face of his brother he saw again the evidence of God’s friendly watching over his life’s path, all of which filled him with an intense joy. V.11. Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. God’s favor and goodness had blessed Jacob so richly that he had all he needed and to spare. And he urged him, and he took it. Thus the new bond of friendliness and brotherliness was strengthened. V.12. And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee. Here Esau offered to accompany Jacob’s caravan in the role of protector. This offer was a proof of the genuineness of his reconciliation; he was anxious to have the relation between himself and Jacob restored to the intimacy of their youth and early manhood. V.13. And he said unto him, my lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me; and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die. V.14. Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant; and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir, which he hoped to visit some day. The objections of Jacob to his brother’s plan were well founded and backed up by his experience in handling cattle for many years. His intention to travel only as fast as the feet of the cattle were able to progress was based upon the fact that a single day’s overdriving, with the attendant total exhaustion, would result in an entire loss. V.15. And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee, set at thy disposal, some of the folk that are with me. And he said, What needeth it? Let me find grace in the sight of my lord. So Jacob courteously, but firmly, refused even a small company of protecting Bedouins. There was no need of it, and therefore Jacob did not want to bother Esau nor put himself under heavy obligations to him. Jacob knew, for one thing, that the host of the Lord’s angels was with him. But he also did not want to become too intimate with the people of Esau, who undoubtedly did not all share their leader’s sentiments. Christians will try to live peaceably with all men, but they will always avoid an intimate union with such as are distinct from them in spiritual matters.
Jacob returns to Canaan. — V.16. So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir, in the valley of Zin, south of the Dead Sea, the country which he had selected for his home. V.17. And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the name of the place is called Succoth (booths). Jacob, from the neighborhood of Peniel, turned toward the Jordan, where he built a more permanent encampment, by erecting a house for himself and sheds, or booths, for his cattle. This place probably remained one of his stations for his rapidly growing herds and flocks. Cp. Josh. 13, 27; Judg. 8, 4. 5. V.18. And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city. After living at Succoth a number of years, until Dinah, his daughter, had become a young woman, during which time Jacob also made a visit to his aged father at Hebron and brought back the old nurse of his mother, Deborah, he finally entered Canaan proper with his family and at least some of his herds and flocks. He came into his home country in good health, as the Lord had promised him, and encamped before the city of Shechem, which the Hivite prince Hamor had built since the time of Abraham, calling it after the name of his son. V.19. And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, for an hundred pieces of money. Jacob, trusting in the promises of the Lord and preparing for an even more permanent residence in Canaan than Abraham, bought a possession for himself during his lifetime. This piece of land, with the so-called Jacob’s well, is shown to this day at the southeast opening of the valley of Shechem. Jacob paid for this land one hundred pieces of money, the value of which can no longer be determined. Some scholars think that each piece of money was worth as much as a lamb, while others are of the opinion that there was money in those days which, in a crude manner, had the figure of a lamb stamped upon it. V.20. And he erected there an altar, and called it Elelohe Israel (God, the God of Israel). That was Jacob’s confession after the many years of travel and sojourn in strange countries: The strong God is the God of Israel. He had experienced the mighty power of God in numerous instances, and was thankful for the days of peace and rest which he now enjoyed. For this reason also his worship, which he formally instituted at Shechem, consisted chiefly in proclaiming the name of this true God. In this all believers, who ever and again enjoy the rich blessings of the Lord in wonderful measure, will cheerfully imitate the aged patriarch.