Jacob Meets Esau
Introduction: There’s a war which wages between the people of the world against the message of God in Christ. There’s no doubt about it. Christians are martyred for their faith by the hundreds of thousands and even millions while the world turns a blind eye.
If you have the stomach to read accounts about this type of persecution, there is a website and a magazine called the Voice of the Martyrs which details many instances which continue unabated in the world today. If you need a boost in your faith, it’s a great place to go in order to see what others are willing to face for the honor of bearing the title “Christian.”
The reason for this enmity is as old as the span of man on earth. Man rebelled against God and was separated from Him. Now there are two paths for Adam’s fallen seed to take. One is, as Jesus said, a broad path leading to destruction. This path rejects God’s provision and attempts to reconcile with God by man’s effort.
The second is the narrow path which leads to life. It acknowledges that there is no thing that we can do to be restored to God. Instead, it accepts what God has done as all-sufficient for our healing and our reconciliation. It is Jesus – His life, death, and resurrection. God says it is the only way we can be saved.
Every human must come to Christ individually. We can remain defiant and we can continue to be at war with Him, or we can accept His provision and receive His offering where peace between God and man is restored.
Today’s passage shows us pictures of this restoration between God and man in the reconciliation between two brothers who had been separated for such a long time.
Text Verse: 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14
Jacob finally appeared to Esau after sending five droves of gifts before their encounter. In the same way, Christ finally appeared to Adam’s race after providing five dispensations which each worked to prepare us for the meeting. The Genesis stories shows us time and time again that God has a plan and how it will come about. Each story gives us particular insights into this overall plan and today is no different. And so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. A Joyous Reunion
1 Now Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and there, Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men.
We begin chapter 33 with the anticipated meeting between Jacob and Esau finally coming about. After 20 years of separation, the meeting is now moments away. Jacob had deceived Isaac and stolen the blessing from Esau. Esau had threatened to kill him at the death of their father and so Jacob fled.
Now these many years later, still before the death of Isaac, Jacob is returning as directed by God. It’s an important encounter, especially considering that Jacob is never mentioned as meeting with Isaac after his return. Therefore, there is a reason why God included these details while not mentioning any reunion with Isaac.
Once again, the specific number of Esau’s men is mentioned, 400. This detail is included because God wants us to search out why. Otherwise, it could have just said, “the men who came with Esau.”
As noted a few weeks ago, the number 400 is the product of two other numbers – 8 and 50. Eight is the Hebrew word sh’moneh, which comes from the root shah’meyn which means to “make fat” or cover with “fat.” This gives the impression of superabundance.
When shah’meyn is used as a participle it means “one who abounds in strength.” As a noun it is “superabundant fertility,” or “oil.” So that as a numeral it is the superabundant number.
Fifty is the number of jubilee or deliverance. It points to deliverance and rest following on as the result of the perfect consummation of time. And so 400 is the product of 8 and 50. It is a divinely perfect period resulting in rest.
The number 400 here is pointing to the entire time of man’s history as a people, from his time in Eden, all the way through the kingdom age, the millennial reign which is still future to us now. As noted, it is a divinely perfect period resulting in rest.
1 (con’t) So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maidservants.
In an attempt to break up the family in case things don’t go too well, Jacob makes three divisions of the mothers and children. It’s good to remember what these picture or we can miss why God is including the detail.
Jacob pictures Christ Jesus, Leah pictures the law, Rachel pictures grace, and the two maidservants picture the two exiles of Israel. The children are the people Israel.
2 And he put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children behind, and Rachel and Joseph last.
Adam Clarke, the great Methodist theologian and commentator says this about verse 2 –
“There is something so artificial in this arrangement of Jacob’s family, that it must have had some peculiar design.”
The answer is obvious when you know who each pictures. The least favored go first, followed by the most favored. Obviously, captivity or exile, pictured by the maids is least favored, then the law whom Leah pictures comes next, and finally an encounter with God’s beautiful grace, pictured by Rachel, comes last.
3 Then he crossed over before them
Jacob, picturing the Lord, went before them. This is beautifully reflected in Micah’s words concerning the restoration of Israel –
The one who breaks open will come up before them; They will break out, Pass through the gate, And go out by it; Their king will pass before them, With the Lord at their head.” Micah 2:13
3 (con’t) and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
The type of bowing, instead of complete prostration on the ground, would be a deep oriental bow, such as the Japanese do. It was a sign of respect to Esau as the elder brother, but it may also have had the purpose of petitioning God for a friendly meeting.
I would suggest to you that these seven bows, which are recorded here for a reason, are the same symbolism as the five gifts he had sent earlier. The five gifts pictured the five dispensations prior to Christ’s coming. These seven bows picture all seven dispensations of history, including the two after Christ’s first coming.
This story, as you will see, is showing us man’s reconciliation to Christ at any point in history. It is when we see Him as individuals and run to him. Therefore, it is a picture of any of us at that moment.
4 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
In an act reminiscent of Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son, Esau ran to meet Jacob. Esau represents, as we have continuously seen, Adam – fallen man. This meeting is picturing man’s meeting with the Lord, and the peace and restoration found between the two.
In this verse is something very unusual in the original Hebrew text. It is a writing tool called a puncta extraordinaria. Above the words “and kissed him” which in Hebrew is vaiyishshakehu, there are a series of dots or points which provide emphasis.
It is said that these are placed there to draw the attention of the person reading the account to the change that had taken place in Esau. The change is in Esau, not in Jacob. It is Esau who receives his brother. It’s obvious that this is picturing the change in us when we receive and accept Jesus as our Lord. It is our moment of salvation.
Having seen this though, it says that both wept; both Esau and Jacob. This is the heart of God and the glory of the gospel. That the Lord is so moved by a repentant sinner that the same emotion floods Him as floods us.
5 And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and children, and said, “Who are these with you?” So he said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.”
This verse pictures the biblical account in a nutshell. Presented to man are the Lord, the people of Israel, the law, the captivity of the Israelites, and the coming of God’s grace. All of this is symbolized, coming in a special order, to be presented before man. It is God’s way of dealing with us in a manner which we can understand.
The children were, as Jacob notes, given to “your servant.” Jacob subordinates himself to Esau, just as Jesus subordinated Himself to Adam by coming as a descendent of Adam, because the fathers are considered greater than the son. It’s all here and noted for us to see what God is doing for us through Jesus.
If you notice, Jacob’s reply only mentions the children and not the wives. The reason why is because the children are sons of Adam whom, as it says, God had given to Jacob.
The picture is perfectly clear that these are Israel’s redeemed of the ages, from under the law, whether during times of freedom or captivity, and those under grace during the church age. They are Esau’s kin by nature, born to Jesus by the workings of God.
6 Then the maidservants came near, they and their children, and bowed down.
Captivity and captivity’s children come first before Adam, just as these maidservants and their sons come first before Esau.
7 And Leah also came near with her children, and they bowed down. Afterward Joseph and Rachel came near, and they bowed down.
In order then come Leah and her children, picturing the law and those born under the law, and then comes Rachel, picturing grace and those born under the New Testament grace found in Jesus. Of all the children of Israel, only Joseph is mentioned by name in this encounter, and he is mentioned prior to Rachel.
If you were here during the sermons on the births of the children, you might remember that Joseph pictured Christ at that time. His name was given in conjunction with two words – asaph meaning to “take away” and yosef meaning “he shall add.”
The mentioning of Joseph and especially before Rachel is to show us Jesus’ coming under the law, just prior to the age of grace, the Church Age. He has taken away the reproach of the law and has added to God’s fold through Jew and Gentile in the age of grace, pictured by Rachel.
This is the answer that Adam Clarke wondered about concerning the peculiarity of the order in his commentary that I read above.
II. God Has Dealt Graciously With Me
8 Then Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company which I met?”
Esau is referring to the five droves of gifts which were given to him by Jacob as they neared each other. He already knew what they were because the servants who brought them told him. However, he asks Jacob again directly so that he can have an opportunity to refuse them.
8 (con’t)And he said, “These are to find favor in the sight of my lord.”
In the same way that Esau can refuse the gifts, Jacob will know he found favor in Esau’s eyes if he accepts them. If you were here during that sermon, you know that these five droves of animals picture the five dispensations until the coming of Christ, Innocence, Conscience, Government, Promise, and Law.
These were given by God to work reconciliation between God and man until the point that Christ came. And they were each given by the words of God through God’s messengers. Again, there is so much symbolism tied up in this encounter between two brothers.
9 But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”
Esau’s response is that he already has enough. The word rav is used indicating abundance. He has more than enough to satisfy himself. And it is true, man was given abundance on this earth without God adding any extra.
We have food from the earth, animals and sea life to eat, cotton and wool for clothing, we have mountains full of metal, forests full of trees; we have sunshine and lollipops. Man can say to God, I have enough, keep what you have for yourself, but in the end, everything we have is temporary and earthly. What God offers is spiritual and eternal.
10 And Jacob said, “No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand,
Jacob explains the gift and Esau’s need to accept it, “If I have found favor in your sight.” If he accepts the gift then reconciliation is made between the two and he knows it. And it is the same with what this is picturing. If man accepts God’s provision as presented in the work of Christ through each dispensation, then man has favored what God offered.
10 (con’t) inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me.
Jacob uses an idiom found elsewhere in the Bible. Someone’s face being compared to seeing the face of God is to say that just as God favors a person when His face shines on them, so it is when a person favors another person. The high priestly blessing of Israel includes this thought – יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ – ya’er adonai panav eleyekha v’khoonekha, “The Lord make His face shine upon you.”
Matthew Henry explains it this way, “Jacob saw God’s favour to him in Esau’s: it was a token for good to him that God had accepted his prayers.”
Once again, we can see our relationship to Jesus in this verse. If we have received Jesus and His gifts to us, then our receiving of it is a token to Him that the Father had accepted His work. The premise of Jesus and His work is that it is to bring reconciliation between God and us. Again, all of this is pictured in this beautiful story.
11 Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” So he urged him, and he took it.
In the last verse, Jacob’s offering was called a present, minkhati. Now it is termed his blessing, birkhati. The gifts presented are, in fact, intended as a blessing. This is exactly what has been intended for man during the five dispensations leading up to Christ’s arrival. They are blessings of divine favor from the Lord.
Bible translations almost consistently note that Jacob says he has “enough.” But this isn’t what he says. Instead, only Young’s Literal Translation correctly reads, “I have all things.” The word is kol – all. This is included by God because it’s true in what it pictures.
Jesus has all things. He is the possessor of heaven and earth. Jacob had many temporal things, but he also possessed the spiritual blessing and the birthright. God was his covenant God and protector, Christ his Redeemer, and the Spirit was his sanctifier.
We’ve seen all of this in our past sermons. Jacob has all. And he pictures Jesus beautifully in this respect. To Jesus is all honor and He is the Heir of glory. This is the intent of what we read here.
III. All in God’s Timing
12 Then Esau said, “Let us take our journey; let us go, and I will go before you.”
In a sign of both acceptance of the gift and of a happy relationship restored, Esau offers to travel with Jacob, leading the way and helping him as they traveled. This must surely picture man’s willingness to participate in the Lord’s work when He came.
But time and again, He had to redirect those around Him to show us that God’s way are not man’s ways. I’ll give you two examples of Jesus following a unique path, which is reflected in Jacob’s words to Esau –
18 And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. 19 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Matthew 8
Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16
God is working out things in a unique way. Despite Esau offering to lead Jacob, he turned him down. And despite people thinking they have Jesus’ path determined for Him, He shows that God alone controls the route.
13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are weak, and the flocks and herds which are nursing are with me. And if the men should drive them hard one day, all the flock will die.
Jacob’s response to Esau’s offer is in regard to the children and the flocks and herds which were nursing. The obvious thing that would happen if they tried to keep up with Esau would be that they’d fall dead from the trip.
In the same way, it would be beyond reason to ask 400 men to dally along on a journey going at a snail’s pace and stopping continuously for one thing after another. Esau’s gracious offer, like those made to Jesus, were unreasonable.
Jesus’ plan is one of length, preciseness, and which tends to the needs of His people – of both Israel and the church, all pictured in this verse. We are impatient and call out, “Come soon Jesus,” but His plan concerns more than just desirous you and impatient me.
14 Please let my lord go on ahead before his servant. I will lead on slowly at a pace which the livestock that go before me, and the children, are able to endure, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
Here Jacob implores Esau to go at his own pace and he will follow. The term he uses for the pace of the livestock and children is le’regel, meaning “at the foot.” The speed he will take will be at the pace of the slowest of the bunch. It will be at whatever pace keeps everyone alive. He is in no hurry at all. LIFE APPLICATION
At the end of this verse, he says “until I come to my lord in Seir.” There is no record of him ever going there, but it doesn’t mean he lied or never went there. As I said earlier, there’s no record of him having gone to see Isaac, and yet we can be sure that he did.
The Bible isn’t recording a detailed life of Jacob, it’s recording details of the life of Jacob. It’s a huge difference and the details are selected to show us small pictures of what is ahead, not broad panoramas of what is behind.
Jesus is leading on, and slowly. He is taking His time as He builds, tends to, and leads His flock. His children are being well cared for and that is all we need to know. He is a wise, careful, and gentle keeper of His sheep. Jacob probably did go visit Esau, but it’s not a part of what’s important for us to know.
If a second encounter with Esau is expected, as the Bible indicates, we aren’t given any clues as to when it will happen. Likewise, Jesus will return on His own schedule and we don’t need to worry about the timing. Instead, as He instructed His disciples, we are to go out and be His witnesses until He returns.
15 And Esau said, “Now let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.”
Because Jacob declined the first offer, Esau offers to leave some of his men with Jacob. This would be as a gesture of protection and help on his journey, but Jacob declines again. He has all the help and servants he needs and the Lord is His protector as well.
The evident picture here, and it should be evident, is that as Jesus and His servants are tending to His flocks, we don’t need secular man’s help in the process. It is His flock, His people, and His responsibility. If the church can’t sustain itself, it needs to close.
If the mission isn’t productive, it needs to be ended. There is no reason that we should have to rely on the secular world to have our spiritual business accomplished. This is the Lord’s flock and those who aren’t a part of it have to understand this, and so do we.
16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir.
On the same day they met for the first time in 20 years, Esau departed for home. Both were probably immensely relieved at the reunion and the ended animosity that had driven them apart for so long. And isn’t this the same feeling that we have when we finally call on Jesus?
The tension is gone, the past is behind us, and friendship with God is restored. We now have a new hope, a new direction, and a new attitude on life. Esau returned to Seir, the land which means “hairy.” As I’ve noted in several previous sermons, hair in the Bible denotes awareness.
It is man’s place to be aware. We are sentient beings, ever in search of more knowledge and experience. Esau returns to the land of awareness, but he has a new awareness. He is reconciled to Jacob. Man, likewise, after his meeting with Christ has a new awareness.
We have a new knowledge and a greater experience than we ever could have imagined. We are reconciled to God through this meeting, all divinely orchestrated by the God who sees and knows all things and which directs them for His purposes.
17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, built himself a house, and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.
After the happy reunion and the subsequent departure, it says Jacob journeyed to Succoth. This place gets its name from the account, something often seen in the Bible. Even though the title or name is given first, it is actually a result of the story.
This place is east of the Jordan river. There it says, he “built himself a house.” This then is a permanent dwelling, in Hebrew bayit. We’ve seen the five dispensations leading up to the coming of Christ. Then we saw the meeting between Jacob and Esau which pictures Christ coming and meeting with man.
In this verse we’re seeing Christ returning and building a house, pictured by Jacob’s building of a house. The place Succoth is named in honor of the building of these tabernacles for his livestock, not his house! In Leviticus 23, we will see this recorded as an observance for the people of Israel, one of the seven Feasts of the Lord –
“Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord. (v.34)
The word translated as “Tabernacles” is the word Succoth. This feast of the Lord is picturing the dwelling of God with man; it is the church age. Jesus came and, as John chapter 1 tells us, dwelt, or “tabernacled” among us. He put on a temporary tent of flesh.
He departed, but now His Spirit dwells in our temporary shelter, our Succoth. The house Jacob built pictures the church and the shelters, or booths for his flocks, are our residences with Him – our bodies sealed with His Spirit. This is the lesson we’re to see in this beautiful account of two brothers being reconciled to each other.
The enmity is over, the past is gone. There is now a peace which is restored between Jacob and Esau, between Jesus and Adam. God is now building a house, as the New Testament tells us, of living stones. We who have called on Christ are those living stones. In one verse, we’ve gone from the law to the next dispensation, the church age.
While we are here on earth, we are dwelling in temporary shelters, or Succoth, but someday, Jesus will return and we will be given eternal bodies, bodies that will never wear out, never tire, never die. We will experience a new type of existence that we cannot yet fathom. All of this is sure, as sure as the sun is in the sky.
If you’ve never received the gift of eternal life which is offered to Adam’s children. If you’ve never been reconciled to the Lord and made peace with Him and kissed Him and received Him, let me explain to you why it’s important and how you can…
Closing Verse: Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen. 1 Peter 5:14
Next Week: Genesis 33:18-20 (God, the God of Israel) (83rd Genesis Sermon) – Make sure to read and study those verses.
The Lord has you exactly where He wants you and He has a good plan and purpose for you. Call on Him and let Him do marvelous things for you and through you.
Jacob Comes to Esau/Jesus Comes to Adam (Man)
Now Jacob lifted his eyes and looked then
And there, Esau was coming
And with him were four hundred men
Will it be peace or war drums drumming?
So he divided the children among Leah, it does tell
And Rachel, and the two maidservants as well
And he put the maidservants and their children in front
Leah and her children behind
And Rachel and Joseph last in order for Esau to confront
These positions he assigned
Then he crossed over before child and mother
And bowed himself to the ground seven times
Until he came near to his brother
Making it hard for me to make suitable rhymes
But Esau ran to meet him
And embraced him, yes it is so
And fell on his neck and kissed him
And they wept, two brothers reconciled, you know
And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and children
And said, “Who are these with you?
“The children whom God has graciously, then…
Given your servant, my beautiful family crew
Then the maidservants came near
They and their children, and bowed down
And Leah also with her children so dear
And they bowed to Esau, their uncle of renown
Afterward Joseph and Rachel came near
And they bowed down, who were to Jacob so dear
Then Esau said, “What do you mean
By all this company which I met?
And he said, “These are to find favor as you have seen
In the sight of my lord whom I once upset
But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother
Keep what you have for yourself, or give it to another
And Jacob said, “No, please
If I have now found favor in your sight
Then receive my present from my hand
Inasmuch as I have seen your face, I am filled with delight
It’s as though I had seen God’s face
And you were pleased with me here in this place
Please, take my blessing that is brought to you
Because God has dealt graciously with me
And because I have enough, it’s true
So he urged him, and he took it, willingly
Then Esau said, “Let us our journey make
Let us go, and I will be before you on the path we take
But Jacob said to him, with these words
“My lord knows that the children are weak
And so it is with the flocks and herds
Which are with me nursing, of them I speak
And if the men should drive them hard one day
All the flock will die, yep, they will pass away
Please let my lord before his servant proceed
I will lead on slowly at a pace
Which the livestock that go before me can heed
And the children, are able to endure, it’s not a race
Until I come to my lord in Seir
We’ll meet up again sometime, do not fear
And Esau said, “Now let me here leave
With you some of the people who are with me
But he said, “What need is there, none I believe
Let me find favor in the sight of my lord I plea
So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir
And Jacob journeyed to Succoth that day
And built himself a house over there
And made booths for his livestock to stay
Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth
This is the name of the place that the Bible does note
Time and again we see hints in each story
Of the coming of Christ and of His great glory
He has come to bring reconciliation to us
Yes, He has come to meet with Adam’s seed
To be born again is now possible through Jesus
And with that gift comes eternal life, indeed
Let us not fail to accept this glorious gift of God
Which will allow us in His presence to trod
For ever will God lavish His grace upon us
A glorious gift made possible through our Lord Jesus
Hallelujah and Amen…