33 And Jacob lifted up 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 female servants. 2 And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. 3 He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. 4 But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. 5 And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” 6 Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. 7 Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. 8 Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” 9 But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present [grace] from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.
There was an ugly story behind Jacob’s fear of his brother Esau. Jacob had dealt his older brother some life-altering humiliations. First, he conned the happy-go-lucky Esau out of his birthright (the right to spiritual leadership of the clan) by selling him a bowl of vegetarian chili for it. The starving twin was only too happy to give up what was of no value to him in that moment. Then, Jacob dressed up as Esau and stole Esau’s intended blessing by deceiving their father, Isaac.
Jacob’s shifty actions left Esau grinding his teeth and saying, “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.” Then in 27:38, Esau pleaded with tears, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.”  Esau’s only comfort was in his dark fantasies of homicide. After twenty years in Aram, for all Jacob knew his brother had only grown more resolute in his desire for fratricide. The fact that Esau is riding to meet Jacob with 400 warriors only intensifies Jacob’s terror for his family and himself. Nevertheless, Jacob knows he must meet his brother and attempt reconciliation. Israel must reconcile with Edom.
As Jacob prepared for his brother’s arrival, an even greater dread gripped him in the dead of night. Out of nowhere the pre-incarnate Jesus appeared like a ninja and grabbed the patriarch. So began the exhausting Great Smackdown that lasted the entire pitch-black night. What Jacob didn’t know was the Smackdown was God preparing him to meet his brother. God had to deal with Jacob before Jacob could deal with Esau. As he stood exhausted and sore all over (and with a dislocated hip, no less), Jacob had come to realize that he had been wrestling with God himself. And, God had allowed Jacob to prevail right up until the dawn began to break. God had actually treated Jacob gently.
Jacob’s blessing came by losing the Great Smackdown, being forced to surrender his name to God (with all the sinful self-reliance it represented), having a painful limp to remind him of his striving with God, and receiving a new name: “Israel.” His new name was both a prayer (May God fight for him) and a word-play reminding the patriarch that he had fought with God and people. Jacob’s blessing was knowing he had met the Promised Seed, God veiled in human flesh, who would one day permanently wed himself to human flesh and struggle against sin to the point of death on a cross for all his chosen race. He would rise victorious over death and ascend to the throne of the cosmos. Of course, Jacob/Israel didn’t know the details. He only knew this God-Man would crush the serpent-dragon’s head.
Israel’s new name signaled his growing relationship with YHWH, his growing spiritual character, and his future as the patriarch of the people of God. But he was still Jacob as well as Israel. When God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, Moses thereafter only called him “Abraham.” But in Jacob/Israel’s story, Moses continues to refer to the man as both Jacob and Israel, indicating the patriarch (just like every earthly believer) is simultaneously saint and sinner. Israel will not be fully Israel until he is gathered to his people. But God’s sanctifying grace is relentless, and Jacob will be conformed to the likeness of the Promised Seed.
Now, as the crippled patriarch limps back over the Jabbok River to his family, he lifts his eyes to the horizon in the growing light of day. In the distance, he sees the rising cloud of dust as 401 men and over 550 animals approach. “And Jacob lifted up 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 female servants.” Exhausted and aching Jacob arranged his family for a formal presentation to the approaching warlord of Edom. “2 And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. 3 He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.”
Though hobbled, Jacob limped in front of his four wives and twelve children in a royal greeting ceremony, bowing flat-out in prostration seven times as he approached Esau. Ironically, Jacob’s bowing was the reverse of the blessing that he had stolen for himself, which stipulated to Jacob, “Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you” (27: 29). Jacob’s reversal here expressed his sorrow over his shameful theft of Isaac’s blessing. “Only in giving up his rights does Jacob fully become the family leader. Israel’s rule prefigures the rule of Christ (Phil. 2:9–11). So also, God gives up his Son, who humbly gives up his rights to be equal with God, to reconcile the world to himself (see 2 Cor. 5:16–21; Phil. 2:6–8). Their model of servitude is an example to the church (Matt. 5:24; Phil. 2:5).”
As it turned out Esau had brought along his militia to honor his long-lost brother and to ensure their safety as they traveled (33:15). Rebecca had been right about Esau. His anger had evaporated. God prepared Esau’s heart for this meeting with Jacob. “4 But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” Esau, his red mane flying in the breeze, comes running towards his limping brother, wraps him in a bear hug, and kisses him as they both weep for joy. R. Kent Hughes writes:
Esau was beautiful here. Whatever his intention had been up to that moment, the sight of Jacob made his natural affections take charge. He made no mention of the past. His hug and kiss said it all. Only the day before, Jacob had prayed, “Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children” (32: 11). And here was the direct answer to his prayer. God had changed Esau’s heart. “Such is the result when ‘God fights’ in his way” (Ross).
Esau, as the superior party, opens the conversation by inquiring about Jacob’s family. Jacob presented his family by ascending order of their social status in the clan. First Bilhah and Zilpah and their four boys (Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher) bowed to the ground. Then Leah and her seven did likewise: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and daughter Dinah. And lastly Rachel with her baby Joseph. Jacob sees his family as purely a work of God’s grace – “the children whom God has graciously given to your servant.” Esau is now introduced to the genesis of the nation Israel.
Jacob speaks in the unmistakable treaty language of the era, submitting himself as Esau’s royal subject. Esau’s second question paves the way for their formal reconciliation:
8 Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company [“droves,” “army”] that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” 9 But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.
Jacob connects meeting God with meeting Esau. He realizes that wrestling with God was preparation for this meeting. Jacob had seen the face of God and lived. And then he saw the face of Esau and lived— so that to him Esau’s face was like that of God. Here we see a picture of the infant church acting with honor and respect for civil authority. Esau is a king, the warlord of Edom. Jacob treats him as such, regardless of the superior eternal spiritual blessing the patriarch possesses by YHWH’s sovereign free will. As we will see, Jacob will not accept Esau’s religion or his lifestyle. But Jacob does pay him the respect and honor all God-ordained civil authorities deserve. Esau never once mentions even God’s universal name (Elohim), much less his covenant name (YHWH). But he’s still due his worldly respect and honor.
Jacob could not have bowed the knee to Esau without first being disjointed by the pre-incarnate Promised Seed. The divine meeting paved the way for the human meeting.
God’s crippling of Jacob (Jacob’s humbling) preceded his reconciliation with Esau. God’s blessing upon Jacob preceded Esau’s forgiveness of Jacob. The principle of God first, man second is written large in the language of love in the Scripture. It is in the very structure of the Ten Commandments. The first four command love for God; the second six command love for humanity. That is the order. Love God, and then you can love man. Jesus summed it up like this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39).
Jacob’s trust into God’s grace is all over this passage. Esau never once mentioned either grace or God. But Jacob references “the children whom God has graciously given your servant” (5b) and his desire “to find favor [grace] in the sight of my lord” (8b) and again, “If I have found favor [grace] in your sight” (10a), and finally, “God has dealt graciously with me” (11).
Social custom of the ancient Near East demanded Esau make a show of turning down Jacob’s gift. And, it demanded Jacob make a show of begging Esau to accept it. Esau says, “I have enough [I already have plenty]” (9a). Esau does not say God has blessed him with plenty. What he had was the spoils of war reflected in Isaac’s “blessing” (27:39-40). His feigned rejection of the droves “is perhaps a double entendre for ‘keep the droves’ and, more subtly, ‘keep the birthright and blessing.’” By not offering his own gift in exchange, Esau accepts Jacob’s offering as a payment for the wrongs done to him.
Conflict with Laban was resolved through a treaty of nonaggression. Conflict with Esau is resolved through genuine expressions of repentance, extravagant gifts, and exaggerated humility. The reconciliation is sealed by accepting the reparation gift. His acceptance is witnessed by Esau’s four hundred men and by Jacob’s entire household in the same way Abraham’s claim to Ephron’s cave and field was sealed when Ephron accepted the payment before witnesses. Restitution was now paid in full. This was no cheap forgiveness. It cost Jacob a great deal of wealth that he joyfully paid.
BREAKING AWAY (12-17)
With restitution and reconciliation accomplished, Esau offers to lead Jacob’s clan back to his kingdom. But Esau’s kingdom was outside the Promised Land. At Bethel, God promised he would lead Jacob back to the land (28:15). Also, Jacob understands the need to remain separate from those who are not people of the Abrahamic Covenant. Esau’s generous offer was unintendedly spiritually dangerous for the people of the Covenant. Jacob/Israel must delicately disengage himself from his pagan brother. “The disengagement occurs in two parts: the brothers’ exchange about Esau accompanying Jacob to the land of Seir (33:12–15) and Jacob’s departure to Succoth instead (33:16–17).” But the patriarch is more “Jacob” than “Israel” in the way he demurred.
Fist, Jacob exaggerated:
13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die.
Then, he falls back to deceit:
14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.
Again, this is all according to Near Eastern custom. Jacob cannot openly refuse a king’s generous offer. In the shame-and-honor-culture of the City of Man, it is perfectly acceptable to offer a lie in place of the truth for the purpose of saving the other party’s honor. But his “harmless” lie goes against all he learned at Peniel. Israel would have spoken the truth in love, testifying of his covenant obligation to remain in the Promised Land – even if doing so brought up the reminder of stolen blessing. Jacob takes the easy way out of a delicate situation. Perhaps Jacob rationalized that one day soon he might go visit his brother in Seir.
The effect of their exchange was that Esau headed back to his kingdom with his entire militia. He and his 400 men march off the pages of biblical history. He will make a brief appearance in chapter 35 to attend Isaac’s burial. His name will reappear in the genealogies of chapter 36. But his significance to redemptive history is over with his departure here. You would think that Jacob, having delicately extracted himself from a social obligation, would head straight into the Promised Land and make his way back to Bethel to build and alter and worship YHWH. Instead, we read:
17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.
Succoth is back across the Jabbok River, the opposite direction from Bethel and the Promised Land. Jacob has been miraculously reconciled to his enemy brother, who had every right to bring his wrath down upon sinful Jacob. But Jacob is simultaneously Jacob and Israel, both saint and sinner. To Jacob, it’s important to stay in the fertile Jabbok valley and rebuild his flocks after giving so much of his wealth to his brother. Succoth means “stalls” or “booths.” It indicates that Jacob stayed a considerable time there, suggesting he was still a man who did things his own way, in his own fleshly wisdom. As we will see, he and his family will pay a heavy price for Jacob’s choices.
JACOB ENTERS CANAAN (18-20)
After rebuilding his wealth to his satisfaction, Jacob/Israel finally crosses the Jordan and enters Canaan. There is no fanfare. No angel armies greet him. The Lord of the Ladder does not reappear. This may be because the patriarch is being only halfway obedient to his call since he does not go directly to Bethel. About a decade elapsed between Jacob’s exodus from Laban and his upcoming troubles in Shechem.
18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel [The Mighty God is the God of Israel].
Jacob had declared Bethel to be God’s House (28:22) as part of his vow to God. So, it’s possible that his decision to settle in Shechem was more fleshly wisdom rather than gospel sanity. However, his purchase of land in Canaan is a declaration of trust in God’s land promises. His purchase parallels Abraham’s purchase of the cave at Machpelah. Shechem is only about 20 miles from Bethel. Perhaps the patriarch rationalized he could visit God’s house whenever he wanted. After all, he did build an altar at Shechem. And Abraham built several altars in the land at various places, including Schechem (12:6, 8). But Jacob will finally go to Bethel, build an altar, and settle there (35:6, 7). Old Testament scholar Ian Duguid writes:
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.
Jacob will come to see that trust into his fleshly wisdom will result in the rape of his only daughter and the murder spree of his sons that will make the Jacob/Israel family a pariah in the Promised Land. Jacob’s mighty God will wrestle the patriarch again through horrible circumstances. Half-way obedience receives full-measure consequences. We all know that playing in the street is dangerous. But if we decide to play alongside the street, there can still be dire consequences. We all long to color outside the lines.
It’s delusional for us to believe that we have obeyed God when we have only partly obeyed. If God orders us to be perfect as he is perfect, don’t imagine you have obeyed because you have partly disentangled yourself from some besetting sin. When God calls us to specific obedience, anything less than perfection is utter disobedience. God will not be fooled or mocked, and his sanctifying grace can be brutal.
Jacob’s blessing at the end of the Great Smackdown was that for a brief moment he had the gospel sanity to completely give up and cling desperately to the Promised Seed. But as his sense of desperation ended, he gradually moved back into the insanity of trusting his own wisdom and understanding again. “He lied to his godless, bighearted brother. He tarried in Succoth instead of entering the promised land. And then when he did enter, he continued in partial obedience. Jacob’s altar in Shechem declared that the mighty God was his God— and he was right. But he built it in the wrong place, testifying that his knee was not bent to El-Elohe-Israel.”
God’s relentless grace will continue to hound Jacob. God will have his fearsome, loving way. Jacob will finally limp to Bethel, broken and humiliated. But how much better would it have been for Jacob to go straight to the House of God in the glory of his new name and new crippling – in the power of his weakness. Jacob/Israel’s descendant, Messiah Jesus the Promised Seed, would not come to rescue his people in glory. He did not rely on human wisdom. He did not live according to his own self-interest. The apostle Paul wrote:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
Messiah Jesus lived humbly, following God’s holy law in complete perfection. He died humbly and humiliatingly and excruciatingly to pay the wages of sin for all his people. He rose from the grave and ascended to the throne of heaven as the God-Man, from whence he offers to all who will come in trust, his own perfection, and his own payment for all our sin.
He relentlessly pursues the proud and self-reliant and self-interested to our utter exhaustion and our brokenness. And he gives to us little tastes of gospel sanity, periods of Jesus-dependence – little rest stops along the way as we limp towards Bethel, the House of God.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 33:1–11.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 27:36.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 27:38.
 Hughes, 404. Kindle Edition.
 Waltke and Fredricks, 457.
 Hughes, 405-406. Kindle Edition.
 Waltke and Fredricks, 455.
 Waltke and Fredricks, 455–456.
 Kline, 111.
 Ian M. Duguid, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1999), pp. 126, 127.
 Hughes, 410. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 2:5–11.