Genesis 33: Jacob Meets Esau in Peace; Jacob Abandons Esau and Settles in Shechem

Path splits two directions, fork in the roadHebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Jacob meets Esau in peace. Instead of following Esau as he said he would, Jacob heads to Shechem via Sukkoth. Jacob buys land near Shechem and builds an altar named “god of the gods of Israel.”

II. Photo

Jacob does not follow Esau: “So Esau started back that day on his way to Seir but Jacob journeyed on to Succoth.” (vv. 16-17)

III. Select Verses

1-2: Looking up, Jacob saw Esau coming, accompanied by four hundred men. He divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maids, putting the maids and their children first, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last.

12-17: And [Esau] said, “Let us start on our journey, and I will proceed at your pace.” But he said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; if they are driven hard a single day, all the flocks will die. Let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I travel slowly, at the pace of the cattle before me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.” Then Esau said, “Let me assign to you some of the men who are with me.” But he said, “Oh no, my lord is too kind to me!” So Esau started back that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed on to Succoth, and built a house for himself and made stalls for his cattle; that is why the place was called Succoth.

18-20: Jacob arrived safe in the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan — having come thus from Paddan-aram — and he encamped before the city. The parcel of land where he pitched his tent he purchased from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred kesitahs. He set up an altar there, and called it El-elohe-yisrael.

IV. Outline

1-15. Jacob and Esau meet in peace

    1-2. Esau approaches, Jacob puts his family in the order of Bilhah and Zilpah, Leah, then Rachel

    3-4. Jacob bows before Esau, who greets him peacefully

    5-7. Esau meets Jacob’s family, who bow before him

    8-11. Jacob urges Esau to accept his gifts

    12-15. Jacob convinces Esau that the two should not travel together Edom, but that Jacob will follow him

16-20. Jacob tricks Esau and heads to Shechem

    16-17. Instead of travelling to Edom, Jacob settles in Sukkoth [in Transjordan], a place named for the booths (sukkot) Jacob builds for his cattle

    18-20. Jacob arrives in Shechem in Canaan [Cisjordan], buys a piece of land, and sets up an altar called “the god of the gods of Israel”

V. Comment

Despite his new name, this chapter has shown Israel – who is still mysteriously called Jacob – to be the same type of trickster as before. Instead of trusting in Yahweh, Jacob organizes his camp by placing his servants and their children first, Leah and her children next, and then finally Rachel and her son (vv. 1-2). Presumably this was to protect Rachel and Joseph in the event of a massacre. Also, instead of following Esau to Seir in Edom as he said he would (v. 14), Jacob travels to Succoth and then finally settles in Shechem.

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

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