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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Genesis 33

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The Meeting of Jacob and Esau

A. Esau’s warm welcome.

1. (Genesis 33:1-2) Jacob’s careful preparations.

Now Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and there, Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maidservants. And he put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children behind, and Rachel and Joseph last.

a. He divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maidservants: These preparations were not necessarily examples of unbelief or of human wisdom and strength. Yet the order of the groups shows that Jacob openly favored Rachel and her son Joseph, with Rachel and Joseph last.

b. He put the maidservants and their children in front: Leah and her children were more protected than the two maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, and their respective children.

2. (Genesis 33:3) Jacob demonstrates his submission to Esau.

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

a. He crossed over before them: After being conquered by God, Jacob now led the procession to meet Esau. This displays some change of character.

b. Bowed himself to the ground: Jacob already sent over gifts and showed he didn’t want to take anything materially from Esau. Then, by bowing down, he showed he was submitted to his brother and wanted no social power over him.

i. If Jacob had not superstitiously tried to steal the blessing 20 years before, all this would have been unnecessary. Isaac’s promise to Jacob, Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren (Genesis 27:29) would have been more immediately fulfilled.

ii. It is still common to suffer some problems because we try to accomplish what we think to be God’s will, or in unbelief to protect ourselves with merely human energy and wisdom. God never needs us to sin to help Him fulfill His plan in our lives.

3. (Genesis 33:4-7) Esau warmly greets Jacob and his family.

But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. 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.” Then the maidservants came near, they and their children, and bowed down. And Leah also came near with her children, and they bowed down. Afterward Joseph and Rachel came near, and they bowed down.

a. Esau ran to meet him: This probably terrified Jacob. Surely, he thought his life would soon end. Instead, God had worked in Esau, and he only wanted to bless Jacob.

b. Fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept: Esau and Jacob did not feel a need to discuss and resolve the past. God worked in both their hearts, and there was no need to discuss or argue over it all again. What was past was past.

c. Who are these with you: In a moving scene, Jacob introduced his large family to his brother Esau.

4. (Genesis 33:8-11) Esau receives Jacob’s gifts.

Then Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company which I met?” And he said, “These are to find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 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 as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me. 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.

a. What do you mean by all this company which I met: Jacob’s generous gifts confused Esau. He did not expect this, showing that he had no sense of superiority over Jacob or did not have a strong sense that Jacob owed him.

b. I have enough… I have enough: Both Esau and Jacob have a blessed testimony; they could both say, I have enough. Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6). Esau’s peace and contentment showed him to be a remarkably blessed man, though he did not receive the promise of the Abrahamic covenant as he had hoped.

i. “Although Esau did not receive the great blessing — the covenant blessing, — that having gone to Jacob who secured it by deception, yet Esau did receive a great blessing of a temporal kind, which Isaac pronounced upon him with all the fervor of a father who loved his son most ardently. Esau thus received what he most wanted, for he cared very little for the spiritual blessing, — not being a spiritual man, — and when he obtained the temporal blessing, that satisfied his heart, and he said, ‘It is enough.’” (Spurgeon)

c. So he urged him, and he took it: Esau’s receiving of the gifts was as important to the reconciliation as Jacob’s giving of the gifts. When Jacob gave such generous gifts, it was his way of saying to Esau that he was sorry, and when Esau accepted the gifts, it was his way of accepting Jacob and saying he was forgiven.

i. In that culture, one never accepted a gift from an enemy, only from a friend. To accept the gift was to accept the friendship.

B. Jacob’s travels in the Promised Land.

1. (Genesis 33:12-17) Jacob and Esau part their ways; Jacob goes to Succoth.

Then Esau said, “Let us take our journey; let us go, and I will go before you.” 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. 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.” 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.” So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, built himself a house, and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

a. Please let my lord go on ahead before his servant: Jacob was glad to be reconciled with his brother, but didn’t want to be too close to him. He was still afraid of Esau.

b. Jacob journeyed to Succoth: Unfortunately, Jacob still acted like old Jacob instead of like new Israel, because he said he would go far to the south with Esau to the area of Mount Seir. Instead, he allowed Esau to go a few days beyond him and then headed north towards Succoth.

i. It’s hard to try to be Jacob and Israel at the same time. We could have called him Jak-iel or Israe-ob.

c. Built himself a house, and made booths for his lifestock: God had appointed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to live in the land, but in tents as sojourners. Here was a disobedient and unwise settling down.

i. “Yet at Succoth we read that he built booths — scarcely houses, I suppose, but more than tents. It was a compromise, and a compromise is often worse than a direct and overt disobedience of command. He dares not erect a house, but he builds a booth and thus shows his desire for a settled life.” (Spurgeon)

2. (Genesis 33:18-20) Jacob comes to Shechem.

Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel.

a. And he pitched his tent before the city: It is good Jacob came to the Promised Land, and he settled there. But he came short of full obedience, because it seems God directed him to return to Bethel (Genesis 31:13).

b. Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel: The altar was good, but complete obedience was better. God wants obedience first, then sacrifice. Jacob and his family will suffer in this wasted, disobedient period of time.

©2018 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission


  1. Spurgeon, Charles Haddon "The New Park Street Pulpit" Volumes 1-6 and "The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit" Volumes 7-63 (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1990)

Updated: August 2022

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