Genesis 33 - Jacob Returns

October 21, 2019

1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.

And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.

And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.

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.

Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves.

And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves.

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.

And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.

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.

11 Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it.

12 And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee.

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.

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.

15 And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me. And he said, What needeth it? let me find grace in the sight of my lord.

16 So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir.

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.

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.

19 And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for an hundred pieces of money.

20 And he erected there an altar, and called it EleloheIsrael.


1. Jacob meets with Esau and they are reconciled.

2. Jacob settles in Canaan near the town of Shechem.

3. Jacob builds an altar to the Lord.

What does this passage teach us?

Verses 1–2. As he made final preparations for the dreaded meeting with Esau, Jacob divided his family into three groups. Apparently, he arranged the groups in the order of their dispensability to him. Zilpah and Bilhah with their children would go first, then Leah in the middle, and Rachel in the rear. The meaning behind the arrangement would not have been missed by the members of the family. Polygamy will always produce dysfunctional, contorted, and ugly effects upon family relationships. By his actions, Jacob was planting seeds that would bear sour fruit years later.

Verses 3–16. When Jacob finally met with Esau, the reunion was a good one. The God who commands the armies of heaven also works in the hearts of men! Esau’s disposition towards Jacob had changed dramatically. Twenty years earlier, he had been muttering dark threats and contemplating his brother’s murder. This change of heart could only be attributed to the work of God. If the hearts of kings are in the hands of God, who turns them “withersoever He will” (Prov. 21:1), then He can soften the heart of a murderous brother if He so desires. While Jacob’s efforts to restore the relationship were not without some value, it was God who did the substance of the work in Esau’s heart. God made all the difference in the reunion. If Jacob was to live peaceably and safely in the land, it was important that he be on good terms with Esau. This is not to say that Esau came into a right relationship with the God of the covenant. Esau’s change of heart towards his brother does not necessarily imply a change of heart towards God. This distinction is important to remember in our own relationships with unbelieving friends and relatives.

Jacob’s behavior towards Esau at their meeting was both conciliatory and humble. Seven times he bowed to his brother, and he even addressed him as “my lord.” This respect appears odd to an informal, careless, and thoughtless age. But his concern to avoid the appearance of superiority towards Esau is commendable and worth emulating. How many children are caught up in sibling rivalry because one is trying to prove himself better than the other? The major root of all conflict between brothers and sisters is pride. Nothing stirs up conflict between siblings more than condescending treatment and proud attitudes in the home.

As you read the account, don’t miss Jacob’s constant reference to his faith in God. Three times in his conversation with Esau, he mentioned the name of God. He openly recognized God as the source of all of his blessings. What is also conspicuous about the interchange is Esau’s failure to refer to God at all. Consequently, there was to be little unity between the Edomites in the Israelites in future generations, However, God did provide a land inheritance of sorts for the children of Esau because Esau was the son of His covenant man, Isaac. According to Deuteronomy 2:22, God gave Mount Seir to Esau by driving the wicked Horites out of the area.

Over his brother’s protestations, Jacob insisted that Esau accept his gift of the animals. Jacob emphasized his commitment to avoid any conflict with his brother’s family; then without further ado, the two brothers parted ways. As far as we know this was the last time the two brothers would see each other until their father’s death. Apparently, Jacob felt the need to minimize future fellowship with Esau. This is a delicate balance. On the one hand, it is impossible to leave the world or separate ourselves entirely from unbelievers who disagree with our basic commitments. But there are still warnings against synthesis in Scripture. We are to avoid fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. How does one “come out from among them and be separate,” while still fulfilling the mandate to be salt and light in the world? What God wants is maximum obedience to His laws, the fruits of the Spirit manifest, and an obliteration of pride and lust in all of our work. If we need to separate from certain influences in order to bring this about, so be it. If our contributions would only create more conflict, and less peace and joy and obedience to God’s law with ourselves and others, it would be better that we pull away from these associations.

Verses 17–20. Jacob settled down near the town of Shechem, about eighty miles north of Mount Seir. He bought a parcel of ground where he pitched his tent. Then he built an altar to the Lord and called it El-elohe-Israel, translated as, “God, the God of Israel.” In a polytheistic land where people served multiple gods, Jacob called upon the one true and living God. This was the God with whom his family had made a covenant. Appropriately, Jacob addressed his sacrifice to the “God of Israel.” In a similar way, the Smith family might also make reference to the “God of the Smiths,” and the Swanson family may refer to “the God of the Swansons.” When we call upon God as our God, we are claiming Him for our own. We recognize His authority, and we commit ourselves to His worship.

How does this passage teach us to walk with God in faith and obedience?

1. Here we find the beginnings of what we call “family worship.” The altar Jacob built was a means by which he and his family could worship God. After the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, there is no longer any need for altars. But God will still be worshiped by His people. Today, godly families gather together and worship in the name of Jesus Christ who sacrificed Himself for us. Things haven’t changed that much. Fundamentally, godly families still worship God in the same way that these patriarchs did. They gather the family together and call upon the name of the Lord. The New Testament people of God are known for singing psalms, giving daily exhortations, and engaging in unceasing prayer (Heb. 3:13, Eph. 5:19, 6:4, 1 Thess. 5:17, etc.). Does this characterize our lives? Is our family in regular fellowship with God?

2. God’s people must also resolve to live at peace with all men. This includes efforts to resolve conflicts peaceably, and to otherwise govern all of our relationships with wisdom and care. Humility and deference to others is critical, especially in relationships between brothers and sisters. Sometimes communications between brothers and sisters devolve into informality, rudeness, and cutting insults. These rude communications will not sustain healthy relationships in the long term. What would happen if brothers referred to their brothers as “my lord?” Of course, such references come across as excessively formal and awkward in our culture. But still, a little more humility and respect would go a long way towards repairing and strengthening tenuous relationships.


1. What are the themes of Chapters 1 through 33?

2. How is Jacob a good example to anyone who has a conflict with his brother or sister?

3. How did Esau demonstrate a change of heart towards Jacob?

4. What did Jacob build when he settled down in Shechem?

5. What does “El-elohe-Israel” mean?

Family Discussion Questions:

1. What are the best ways to cultivate peace with our unsaved friends and relatives? Is it wise to maintain some distance with extended family members that do not share our commitment to the Lord? Are we governing these relationships with wisdom?

2. How can we strengthen our relationships between family members? Are we humble enough? Do we use respectful language with each other, and prefer one another over ourselves?