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Genesis 33 – Jacob and Esau Meet

Genesis 33 - Jacob and Esau Meet

Genesis 33 has been interpreted a number of different ways.  In Western culture, to act in the way that Jacob does shows submission and defeat.  In Eastern culture, the same thing is not true.  In the East, a great deal of emphasis is placed on birth order and age.  It would have been a great insult to Esau had Jacob come and acted as though he was not beneath his elder brother.  Even though Jacob had obtained the birthright and the patriarchal blessing, in respect to age, Jacob was still beneath his elder brother.  Because Jacob acts according to the culture he finds himself in, rather than assuming that he is greater than his brother, he is welcomed back with tears and joy.  This is not a passage about tricking Esau in receiving Jacob warmly, this is a passage where Jacob acts as he should and is accepted by his brother, who has forgiven him for the past wrongdoings.

In Genesis 34, the children of Jacob react violently to the actions of Shechem the son of Hamor.  Rather than act according the law that would be given later by God to Moses, that is in a just way, the Levi and Simeon take it upon themselves to kill the males of en entire villiage.  Some people have argued against the concept of an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth calling it primitive and unenlightened.  This law, which we will study again, is actually an expression of God’s mercy and grace.  We see here what kind of justice is performed when making legal decisions is left to the devices of men.  Rather than dealing justly with their neighbors when they are wronged, Simeon and Levi deal treacherously with them.  They destroy families and enslave women and children because of the single misdeed of one young man.

At the same time, this gives us a very graphic picture of what sin has done to the world that we live in.  God created everything good, but when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were changed in some way.  Because of their decisions, all of mankind has been changed from the good state in which we were created in the garden and all mankind must suffer the punishment of physical death due to the separation from the tree of life.

When Jacob prepared to leave the area because of what his sons have done, he commands all in his house to get rid of their household gods, to cleanse themselves and to change their clothes.  This great instruction, found in Genesis 35.2-3, is a great parallel for what we are called to do today when we leave our lives of sin and seek to serve the Lord only.  We are to put away all of the things that draw us away from the Lord – we are to repent of our sins.  That is, we are to change the way that we think so that what allures us and pulls away from God is no longer the goal and aim of our lives.  We strive to seek God first in all things.  We do this by being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins – that is we are washed with the washing of regeneration, just like Jacob commands everyone with him to wash themselves.  Then we are clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is parallel to the new clothes that Jacob commands his house to wear.

In Genesis 36.7-8, an old problem creeps up again between family members: there is not enough land for all of the cattle.  This time, like Abraham before him, Esau determines to move so that there is enough room for the cattle to graze.  We hardly expect Esau to be the one to move his possessions, but that is exactly the thing he does.  Perhaps, because of the way that his brother had been acting toward him since his return, he felt kindly enough toward him to be the one to avoid causing any conflict.  Perhaps he remembered the words of his father’s blessing and understood that the greatness of his brother’s possession came from the Lord.  Rather than finding himself striving with the Lord, he then chose to move himself to another location.  We are not told Esau’s internal dialogue, but whatever the reason, we should be impressed by his willingness to move for his brother’s sake.