Genesis 33
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 33

1–17. Meeting of Jacob and Esau (J)

18–20. Jacob at Shechem (P and E)

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.
1. And Jacob lifted up his eyes, &c.] For this phrase, cf. Genesis 18:2, Genesis 24:63, Genesis 31:10 (J).

four hundred men] See Genesis 32:6.

he divided, &c.] Jacob disposes of his household, placing in the rear those who were most dear to him, so that in the event of an attack by Esau they might have the best chance of escape.

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.
3. before them] Jacob himself goes in front of his household to protect them.

seven times] Jacob prostrates himself before his brother, in token of complete subservience. Not content with one prostration, he bows seven times to the ground, with which has aptly been compared a letter from a Canaanite king to the king of Egypt in the Tel-el-Amarna tablets: “At the feet of the king, my lord, seven times and seven times do I fall.”

And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.
4. And Esau] Esau’s conduct on this occasion is that of a good-natured and forgiving disposition. There is no statement of his having intended any mischief to Jacob. His appearance with four hundred men seems to have been accidental, and not with hostile intent against Jacob. He behaves throughout magnanimously and simply.

fell on his neck] In Genesis 45:14, Genesis 46:29 (J), this demonstration of feeling is followed by “weeping.”

kissed him] On the Hebrew word for “kissed him” the Massoretic, or traditional, Hebrew text has this note: “All of it punctuated,” i.e. every letter dotted. Probably the text was at an early date uncertain. The Rabbinic explanation is strange, i.e. “because he did not come to kiss him, but to bite him,” and the tradition goes on to say that Jacob’s neck was turned into marble!

they wept] The strong emotion of orientals; cf. Genesis 45:2.

The Targum of pseudo-Jonathan, following up the absurd Rabbinic tradition arising from the Israelite hatred of Edom, explains that Jacob wept because his neck was painful, and Esau because he had pain in his teeth!

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.
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.
8. all this company] Lit. “all this camp.” Esau refers to the droves sent on ahead as a present by Jacob (Genesis 32:13-22). The word “camp” (mahaneh) is an additional reference to Mahanaim.

And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.
9. enough] Heb. “abundance,” or “plenty.”

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.
10. forasmuch as I have seen] R.V. marg. for therefore have I seen. See Genesis 18:5, Genesis 19:8 (J).

as one seeth the face of God] Jacob desires to imply that to have seen the face of Esau, and to have found him friendly, was as if one had looked on the face of God, and found it favourable. The phrase is therefore an elaborate compliment, such as is found in 1 Samuel 29:9, 2 Samuel 14:17, where David is compared to an angel of God. We can hardly doubt that this turn of compliment contains a side allusion to the name of the locality, Peniel. Cf. Genesis 32:30-31.

The phrase “to see the face” is equivalent to being “admitted into the royal presence”; cf. Genesis 43:3; Genesis 43:5; 2 Kings 25:19.

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.
11. gift] Heb. blessing; LXX τὰς εὐλογίας μου; Lat. benedictionem. The “gift” is the material side of the “blessing”; and the word “blessing” is thus used for a gift, in Joshua 15:19; Jdg 1:15; 1 Samuel 25:27; 1 Samuel 30:26; 2 Kings 5:15. The word benedictio was similarly used to denote a gift in the Middle Ages. The “liberal soul” of Proverbs 11:25 is a “soul, or person, of blessing.”

enough] Heb. “all.” Jacob means that in the kindness of Esau he has everything. Perhaps also there is an allusion to the Divine blessing in Genesis 32:29.

urged] Until Esau had accepted the gift, Jacob’s suspicious nature could not feel secure.

And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee.
12. And he said] Esau speaks. He assumes that Jacob will be glad to receive the protection of his armed men. Jacob declines, not wishing to incur the risk of friction arising from a collision between two large companies; and will not accept a kindness which might compromise his independence. It was wiser to separate, while they were still amicable. The natures remain the same; Esau’s thoughtless, Jacob’s calculating.

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.
13. tender] i.e. young and unequal to the fatigues of travel.

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.
14. softly] Lit. “according to my gentleness,” i.e. at a quiet and leisurely rate.

according to the pace of the cattle] Lit. “of the property” in herds and flocks (m’lâ’cah, as in Exodus 22:7; Exodus 22:10; 1 Samuel 15:9).

unto Seir] Jacob here implies that he was intending to visit his brother in Seir. He has no intention of settling there, and at the most he expresses a courteous hope of a temporary sojourn.

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.
15. What needeth it?] i.e. why should you do so? Jacob courteously declines his brother’s offer.

Esau here is withdrawn from the scene. The part which he has played in this chapter is dignified and chivalrous. He forgives and forgets. He has the force at his command, but will not make an unworthy use of it.

So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir.
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.
17. Succoth] This verse preserves the traditional explanation of the origin of the name Succoth, “booths,” “huts”; LXX σκῆναι. The site of Succoth is not yet identified with any certainty. From this passage we may infer, that it lay on the east of the Jordan, and south of the Jabbok. For other references to Succoth, cf. Joshua 13:27; Jdg 8:5; Jdg 8:8; Psalm 60:6; Psalm 108:7.

an house] Jacob is here stated to have erected not a “tent” or a “booth,” but a “house,” as a sign of the more permanent character of his sojourn in the land.

And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city.
18–20. Jacob at Shechem

18. in peace] R.V. marg. to Shalem, a city of. The rendering in the margin is possible. It is supported by LXX and Vulg. There is a village, Salim, still to be found near Shechem. On the other hand, the context speaks of Jacob “before the city” of Shechem; and the fact of his arrival there “in peace” is not without significance in view of the events narrated in ch. 34.

Canaan … Paddan-aram] The transition in this verse is abrupt. Jacob is suddenly transferred from the east to the west side of the Jordan. The clause, “when he came from Paddan-aram,” seems to ignore the previous chapters, and is clearly taken from a different source, viz. P.

before the city] “In front of it,” lit. “in the presence of the city” of Shechem. It is the preposition rendered “before” in Genesis 19:13.

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.
19. the parcel of ground] or “the portion of the field.” Lat. partem agri. For “parcel,” Fr. “parcelle,” from Lat. particula, see Joshua 24:32; Ruth 4:3. Cf. “Many a thousand, Which now mistrust no parcel of my fear” (Shakespeare, 3 Hen. VI, Genesis 33:6).

his tent] Jacob has resumed dwelling in tents, see Genesis 33:17.

the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father] This apparently means the people of the tribe of Hamor; and Hamor was the founder, or chieftain, of the city of Shechem. The confusion between the “sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father,” and “Shechem the son of Hamor,” in Genesis 34:2, caused LXX in this verse to omit “sons of.”

LXX, by rendering Συχέμ for the name of the man, and Σίκιμα (cf. Genesis 12:6) for the name of the city, draws a distinction which it is not always possible to observe in English.

pieces of money] Heb. kesitah. Apparently a ḳesitah was a piece of metal used for money; elsewhere it is mentioned only in Joshua 24:32; Job 42:11. Whether it denotes a small coin, or an ingot, cannot be determined. The versions, LXX, Lat. and Targ. Onkelos, render “lambs1[53]

[53]    LXX (ἑκατὸν ἀμνῶν = “a hundred lambs”) “vel agnos ipsos intellegere potuerunt, vel nummos agnorum imagine signatos.” Schleusner, Lex. Vet. Test., s.v. ἀμνός.

”: Targ. Jon. and Jerus., “pearls.”

The purchase of this plot of ground was historically important. It was the burial-place of the bones of Joseph (cf. Joshua 24:32; Acts 7:16). The possession of such small pieces of territory (cf. the purchase of Machpelah ch. 23) constituted no claim for the possession of the country: the patriarchs were “strangers and sojourners,” Genesis 23:4.

And he erected there an altar, and called it EleloheIsrael.
20. erected] Lit. “set up.” A verb used elsewhere, not of an altar, but of a “pillar” or upright stone. Cf. Genesis 35:14; Genesis 35:20 and Joshua 24:26. Hence many prefer here to read “pillar” (maṣṣêbah) instead of “altar” (mizbêaḥ).

El-elohe-Israel] R.V. marg. That is, God, the God of Israel. The altar, or stone, is denoted by the name of Êl, the God of Israel. The origin of some sacred stone, well known to the Israelites, was thus accounted for. The stone and the Divine Being associated with it are identified: see Genesis 28:22, Genesis 35:7. “Israel’s God is El” is a profession of faith in the one true God made at the moment when Jacob comes to dwell among the heathen Canaanites.

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