“…the face of God.”
Though we do not see trouble here in this chapter, Jacob is never far away from it. We see his fear in anticipation of the wrath of his elder brother, a wrath that could be construed as humanly justified. God has blessed Jacob in many ways, and with wealth. The greatest blessing was that Jacob would be one of the great patriarchs of all earth’s history – in the line of Christ and a father of the Jews. That is fame and blessing indeed!
We continue to see Jacob as a man like us, fearful even though he knew the promises of God. He did not have to rely on promises, though, for he had already experienced, first hand, what God could do. He had received visions and much help. Yet, he feared.
I suppose the thought of 400 men coming to meet him, led by a brother he had previously duped and cheated out of his inheritance, was enough to send fear coursing through his veins! But, God previously promised him safe passage back home, so why did Jacob fear? He feared because he was human! Today, most Christians pretend they have no fear, when they secretly quake. Far better to be honest.
There is a very real need today for Christians to stand in confidence before God. There is also a need for them to stand in defiance of sin and wicked men, to be fighters, soldiers of God, who will not fall with fear or cry out in anxiety when the enemy comes closer. Easier said than done? Yes, it is, especially as believing in the Lord does not necessarily mean we escape the wrath of our enemies. But, I do know, from experience, that when we run away from an enemy we lose our peace of mind and any victory we might have had.
As Believers we have Almighty God as our Master, and He knows no defeat! We must stand by Him and fight to the death if needs be. We might be shaking in fear as we wait to fight, but when we start, we shall be given immense courage and the protection of our Father.
“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.”
The moment of truth! Jacob saw his brother arriving with 400 men. He would know very quickly what his fate was to be! The text does not really tell us if Esau had murderous intentions, but others (such as Matthew Henry, for example) think 400 men was a rather excessive number to greet a brother; perhaps a precaution. In truth, we do not know.
Quickly, Jacob divided up the children between the two wives and two concubines. With very precise reasoning, he put the maids and their children in front, and his wives and their children behind. But, note the exact positioning – Leah was in between and it was Rachel and her child who were most protected by this arrangement.
When Esau and his men were close enough, Jacob walked forward with pounding heart, with fear and trembling. He bowed down low seven times. This bowing was not particularly an act of fear, but a customary way for a younger brother to meet an elder brother.
The structure of the sentence suggests that perhaps he was bowing as he walked forward. Now, Esau would either kill him, or not. Yet, God surely blessed Jacob previously, and promised to look after him, taking him back to his homeland. Why, then, was Jacob so afraid? Even if Esau started out to kill Jacob, God would have intervened and changed his heart… as He was bound to do, given his previous promises to Jacob.
The answer is probably very simple: just look at our own lives. Do we not fear greatly when something comes along to upset our lives? Do we not similarly become filled with anxiety and woes, even when we know God is looking after us? Sad though our failing is, God knows and understands, and fills us with peace at the right time.
“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.”
Have you ever been filled with high anxiety, enough to make you shake and feel ill – only to have the anxiety lifted in a second by a response so unexpected, you then feel light-headed and elated beyond expectation? Well, that is how Jacob must have felt when Esau saw him!
Esau ran to him with open arms! No sword or other weapon. No yelling or hatred. Just sheer joy! He embraced Jacob wholeheartedly, chabaq, warmly with fervour. No hint of anger or years of hate, just brotherly love.
Esau literally threw himself on Jacob, as the word naphal means in this text. As he clasped Jacob closely, he kissed the back of his neck with affection and gentleness, nashaq. All of this affected them both, and they just wept, bakah, with joy.
Very often the things we fear most cannot or will not harm us. What we fear is the possibility of resentment, or rejection, physical harm, or some other calamity. The fear of it overrides the actuality. But, God is with us and protects us. Nothing can happen to us unless it is firstly allowed, or even sent, by Him.
He will certainly send judgement if we need it, but, generally, if our hearts are toward God and we genuinely repent and live as we ought, He will not bring harm to us for everyday failings. Note how Jacob failed on several occasions, in ways we would see as quite wrong. Yet, God blessed and protected him, making him wealthy in the process. Nothing can get in the way of God’s plan for our lives, not even our small or great sins!
Standing back, Esau then saw the women and children. ‘Who are they?’ he asked. Jacob replied that they were given to him by God’s mercy and grace. Those in the front row approached Esau and bowed. Then came Leah and her children, bowing. Lastly, came Rachel and Joseph, also bowing.
“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.
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.
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.”
When they had all approached and bowed, Esau asked Jacob ‘Why did you send droves of animals to me?’ Jacob openly said, ‘I hoped they would make you think favourably of me, my lord.’ Esau, no doubt in a kindly manner, replied, ‘I’ve got enough of my own, brother – keep the droves for yourself!’ It is a fact that Esau had been promised wealth and power by God.
But, Jacob was adamant and insisted Esau kept the animals, as a sign of Jacob’s gratitude for his loving response. He explained, ‘If I have found favour before you, it is as if God Himself has spoken to me and clasped me, so please, I urge you, take these gifts. God has dealt so graciously with me and I now have plenty.’ Esau finally gave in and accepted the droves as a gift. It is true, that it is better to give than to receive.
What we see in this text is Jacob putting a final seal on the past 20 or more years, laying to rest all that he had done against his brother. Esau’s acceptance of the gift was vital to Jacob, who now felt at peace. It is probable that he had lived the two decades in shame and doubt, knowing what he had done. Now, at last, it was all put behind him thanks to God. Esau may have forgotten his anger a time ago, but it also takes God to soften an angry heart. At the very least Jacob’s gifts helped to increase Esau’s loving response.
In Jacob’s case, he sent gifts to appease his brother. As Christians we should not think that we must necessarily appease our enemies. Jacob feared what his own brother might do to him, but God had already dealt with Esau’s heart! What if we have enemies? Should we appease them? To a certain extent.
What I mean is that we should make every effort to allay the anxieties of the other person, and, if bitterness looks certain, we should go out of our way to try and stop it. But, we must never give in to hate, or to anger, or to deliberate attempts to harm us. At times we might even have to escape from harm’s way, just as Paul did, by being put outside the city walls in a basket. We may even have to fight. On no account must we give away our principles or godliness just to appease an enemy, because then we become his or her slave. Far better to suffer harm to our persons than to sell what belongs to God.
How far should we go to ensure our safety, when all attempts at peace fail? Bluntly, as far as is necessary. Research shows that one in ten soldiers, in a battle, will deliberately shoot wide of their target, because they do not want to kill another person. In the Christian world, Christians often go to inordinate lengths to avoid confrontation or harm. This, however, is not quite the attitude, and I speak as someone who has immense experience in this matter.
The Bible tells us that we must live at peace, as much as is possible. We are not told that we must appease every enemy, or give in like whipped dogs and allow them to harm us, or those we love, without mercy! There are times when, like David and others, we must stand our ground and fight. There are also times when we must fight covertly, secretly, to bring down an enemy. Only the person who does this, and the Holy Spirit, knows when this must happen.
For most Christians, this kind of retort will only be in thought, or verbal. But, for others, in certain circumstances, the retort must be physical. Indeed, rather than a retort or response, the appropriate action will be a ‘pre-emptive strike’. Some might be shocked by this kind of talk. I can only say that if you have never been in a position where such actions have to be taken, you will not understand what is being said. Only a fool enjoys confrontation and an active response to enemies, but there are times when such must be enacted, whether or not we are afraid.
Even as I write this study, I am in just such a position. And, for a short while, I gave in to my own fear. Then, God prompted me to repent, and so I stood straight, reminded that as a soldier of the Lord I could not give in, because to do so would be to take my hand from the plough! So now I am ready to fight, and to be killed (metaphorically, I hope) on the spot rather than take even a step backward in cowardice. (2014 note: The last paragraph referred to my then recent dismissal by a pro-homosexual employer who allowed his manager to hound me relentlessly, because I was a Christian who spoke against homosexuality. At that time I was denied unemployment benefit because the employer held back vital forms concerning my dismissal. I did not receive any state support for six months. At the same time I was under constant attack from activists, on many fronts. However, my co-founder, James, decided to contact our readers to give them this information, though I would not have done so. As a result a very small number of readers kindly supported me for those six months, and I lost nothing financially for that time. God is good, so my fears were unfounded!).
“And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee.
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.
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.
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.
So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir.”
Accepting the gifts, Esau urged his brother to return with him to Seir. He would go ahead and Jacob could follow closely. But, Jacob resisted the idea, saying that both his children and his flocks were too young to journey too fast. You go before us, said, Jacob, and we shall go more slowly, allowing children and animals to walk at their own pace. We will then meet again at Seir. There is a certain reticence in Jacob’s responses to Esau, but there is no reason to read-into it anything other than what has been said. There is no record of Esau meeting up again with Jacob until they came together to bury their father.
Esau then suggested that he leave some of his own men behind, to help Jacob, but this, too, was rejected nicely. No need for that, he said to Esau – please accept my suggestion. So, Esau returned with his men to await the arrival of Jacob and his retinue.
“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.
And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-aram; and pitched his tent before the city.
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.
And he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel.”
Jacob continued on his journey until he reached Succoth (‘booths’), a place that later belonged to the tribe of Gad, near the Jordan river. Note that the name of the place is given as if it already existed. This is a very common literary device in Hebrew, where the name of a place is given even before it has been built, e.g. that is, given by the writer after the event.
It was called ‘Succoth’ (Cukkoth) or ‘booths’ because not only did Jacob build himself a house for the family but he also built ‘booths’ (cukkah) for his animals. The two words are the same in English but different in Hebrew: Cukkoth is the name or subject, whilst cukkah is an adjective – a description. The Cukkoth was a house that became a city, the several cukkah were large pens or booths made as shelters for animals. The building of these cukkah and Cukkoth indicate that Jacob intended staying a while in that place.
Jacob’s history is now truncated, we then read of his travels to Shalem… where he again ran into trouble (see next chapter). Shalem, or Salem (‘peace’) is said to be a ‘city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan’.
Shechem (‘back’ or ‘shoulder’) was owned by the Hivites. Most Jewish historians believe Shalem to be Jerusalem. (re in Psalms 76:3 ‘Shalem’ is made to equal Zion). The historian Josephus also thought the same. Shechem was a fertile valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, and is where Abraham first entered Canaan, sanctifying it. In this text, however, it refers to the son of Hamor, the prince or chieftain of the land.
It seems that Jacob had already been elsewhere, for we are told that before he went to Shalem, he went to Padanaram. Padanaram or Paddan (‘field’) was a flat area of land in Mesopotamia, Aram, a part of Syria.
Once he reached the city of Shalem Jacob pitched his tent and bought a “parcel of a field”, that is, a section of a field, in front of the city boundary. He bought it off Shechem, son of Hamor (he-ass) who governed the place, Shechem. The price was a hundred pieces of money. This might mean silver, or it might refer to a weight of valuables. We cannot tell from the text.
Nevertheless, a deal was struck. Jacob then put up an altar and called the place he had bought, Elelohe-Israel (‘the mighty God of Israel’). This is the first place in scripture where we come across the term ‘God of Israel’). You will note how Jacob tended to offer everything to God. This is proper for us all, for God owns everything we have, and everything we do not have. Whatever wealth or goods or privilege we gain must always be handed back to God, for He owns us, and what we have.
(Ed. 2014 note: Can you do this? Can you live in a house and yet accept that God might take it off you suddenly, by any means? Can you enjoy a good income and yet thank God if it is suddenly removed? Or, if your health suffers? Or, if everything you hold dear disappears? The main objective is to see everything you have as belonging to God. It is there to be used, and to be shared with those in need once your basic needs are satisfied... and, sometimes, when they are not. It depends on conscience and God’s prompting. For me, all these things occurred at once! At first I was immersed in severe misery, especially when so few of the brethren assisted. But, it soon dissipated as the Lord filled me with joy, replacing the dread. Right now I have a different but allied dread come upon me, and I pray God will offer me mercy and grace. Think on this).
© December 2005 (Revised July 2014)