Genesis 33:3
And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
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(3) He passed over before them.—While providing some small chance of escape for his wives and children, arranged according to their rank, Jacob manfully went first and placed himself entirely in Esau’s power. He endeavoured, nevertheless, by his sevenfold obeisance in acknowledgment of Esau’s superiority, to propitiate him; for the cause of the quarrel had been Jacob’s usurpation of Esau’s right of precedence as the first born. This bowing in the East is made by bending the body forward with the arms crossed, and the right hand held over the heart.

33:1-16 Jacob, having by prayer committed his case to God, went on his way. Come what will, nothing can come amiss to him whose heart is fixed, trusting in God. Jacob bowed to Esau. A humble, submissive behaviour goes far towards turning away wrath. Esau embraced Jacob. God has the hearts of all men in his hands, and can turn them when and how he pleases. It is not in vain to trust in God, and to call upon him in the day of trouble. And when a man's ways please the Lord he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. Esau receives Jacob as a brother, and much tenderness passes between them. Esau asks, Who are those with thee? To this common question, Jacob spoke like himself, like a man whose eyes are ever directed towards the Lord. Jacob urged Esau, though his fear was over, and he took his present. It is well when men's religion makes them generous, free-hearted, and open-handed. But Jacob declined Esau's offer to accompany him. It is not desirable to be too intimate with superior ungodly relations, who will expect us to join in their vanities, or at least to wink at them, though they blame, and perhaps mock at, our religion. Such will either be a snare to us, or offended with us. We shall venture the loss of all things, rather than endanger our souls, if we know their value; rather than renounce Christ, if we truly love him. And let Jacob's care and tender attention to his family and flocks remind us of the good Shepherd of our souls, who gathers the lambs with his arm, and carries them in his bosom, and gently leads those that are with young, Isa 40:11. As parents, teachers or pastors, we should all follow his example.Jacob, upon seeing Esau approach with his four hundred men, advances with circumspection and lowly obeisance. He divided his family, arranged them according to their preciousness in his eyes, and walks himself in front. In drawing near, he bows seven times, in token of complete submission to his older brother. Esau, the wild hunter, is completely softened, and manifests the warmest affection, which is reciprocated by Jacob. The puncta extraordinaria over וישׁקהוּ vayı̂shēqēhû, "and kissed him," seemingly intimating a doubt of the reading or of the sincerity of Esau, are wholly unwarranted. Esau then observes the women and children, and inquires who they are. Jacob replies that God had granted, graciously bestowed on him, these children. They approach in succession, and do obeisance. Esau now inquires of the caravan or horde he had already met. He had heard the announcement of the servants; but he awaited the confirmation of the master. "To find grace in the eyes of my lord." Jacob values highly the good-will of his brother. The acceptance of this present is the security for that good-will, and for all the safety and protection which it involved. Esau at first declines the gift, but on being urged by Jacob accepts it, and thereby relieves Jacob of all his anxiety. His brother is now his friend indeed. "Therefore, have I seen thy face," that I might give thee this token of my affection. "As if I had seen the face of God." The unexpected kindness with which his brother had received him was a type and proof of the kindness of the All-provident, by whom it had been added to all his other mercies. My blessing; my gift which embodies my good wishes. I have all; not only enough, but all that I can wish.3. he bowed himself … seven times—The manner of doing this is by looking towards a superior and bowing with the upper part of the body brought parallel to the ground, then advancing a few steps and bowing again, and repeating his obeisance till, at the seventh time, the suppliant stands in the immediate presence of his superior. The members of his family did the same. This was a token of profound respect, and, though very marked, it would appear natural; for Esau being the elder brother, was, according to the custom of the East, entitled to respectful treatment from his younger brother. His attendants would be struck by it, and according to Eastern habits, would magnify it in the hearing of their master. He passed over before them, exposing himself to the first and greatest hazard for the security of his wives and children.

And he passed over before them,.... At the head of them, as the master of the family, exposing himself to the greatest danger for them, and in order to protect and defend them in the best manner he could, or to endeavour to soften the mind of his brother by an address, should there be any occasion for it:

and bowed himself to the ground seven times; in a civil way, as was the manner in the eastern countries towards great personages; and this he did to Esau as being his elder brother, and as superior to him in grandeur and wealth, being lord of a considerable country; and at the same time religious adoration might be made to God; while he thus bowed to the ground, his heart might be going up to God in prayer, that he would appear for him at this instant, and deliver him and his family from perishing by his brother; and so the Targum of Jonathan introduces this clause,"praying, and asking mercies of the Lord, and bowed, &c.''seven times, perhaps, may not design an exact number, but that he bowed many times as he came along:

until he came near to his brother; he kept bowing all the way he came until they were within a small space of one another.

And he passed over before them, and {b} bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

(b) By this gesture he partly revered his brother and partly prayed to God to appease Esau's wrath.

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.”

Verses 3, 4. - And he (the introduction of the pronoun giving emphasis to the statement) passed over before them (i.e. passed on in front of them, thus chivalrously putting himself in the place of danger), and bowed himself to the ground - not completely prostrating the body, as Abraham did in Genesis 19:1, but bending forward till the upper part of it became parallel with the ground, a mode of expressing deep reverence and respect, which may be seen to life in Oriental countries at the present day (Roberts, 'Oriental Illustrations,' p. 41) - seven times (not in immediate succession, but bowing and advancing), until he came near to his brother. The conduct of Jacob was dictated neither by artful hypocrisy nor by unmanly timidity; but by true politeness and a sincere desire to conciliate. And as such it was accepted by Esau, who ran to meet him, and, his better feelings kindling at the sight of his long-absent brother, embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him - as Joseph afterwards did to Benjamin (Genesis 45:14, 15), though the puncta extraordinaria of the Masorites over the word "kissed" seem to indicate either that in their judgment Esau was incapable of such fraternal affection (Delitzsch, Kalisch), or that the word was suspicious, Origen appearing not to have found it in his codices (Rosenmüller, Keil), unless indeed the conjecture be correct that the word was marked to draw attention to the power of God's grace in changing Esau's heart (Ainsworth). And they wept - the LXX. adding both. "All this is beautiful, natural, Oriental" ('Land and Book,' p. 372). Genesis 33:3Meeting with Esau. - As Jacob went forward, he saw Esau coming to meet him with his 400 mean. He then arranged his wives and children in such a manner, that the maids with their children went first, Leah with hers in the middle, and Rachel with Joseph behind, thus forming a long procession. But he himself went in front, and met Esau with sevenfold obeisance. ארצה ישׁתּחוּ does not denote complete prostration, like ארצה אפּים in Genesis 19:1, but a deep Oriental bow, in which the head approaches the ground, but does not touch it. By this manifestation of deep reverence, Jacob hoped to win his brother's heart. He humbled himself before him as the elder, with the feeling that he had formerly sinned against him. Esau, on the other hand, "had a comparatively better, but not so tender a conscience." At the sight of Jacob he was carried away by the natural feelings of brotherly affection, and running up to him, embraced him, fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they both wept. The puncta extraordinaria above ישּׁקהוּ are probably intended to mark the word as suspicious. They "are like a note of interrogation, questioning the genuineness of this kiss; but without any reason" (Del.). Even if there was still some malice in Esau's heart, it was overcome by the humility with which his brother met him, so that he allowed free course to the generous emotions of his heart; all the more, because the "roving life" which suited his nature had procured him such wealth and power, that he was quite equal to his brother in earthly possessions.
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