Genesis 33: Jacob meets Esau
In the last chapter, Jacob was preparing to meet Esau, who had earlier vowed to kill Jacob. Jacob was fairly worried about this, and took some precautions, and was even more worried when he heard that Esau was coming to meet him, with a small army. However, when they meet in this chapter, all is well.
Although Jacob is becoming more godly, you can tell that he is still treating different parts of his family differently. As he prepares to meet Esau, he breaks his family up into groups: the maidservants and their children come first, meaning that they’ll meet Esau—and his army—first, next comes Leah and her children, and finally Rachel and her son Joseph. I’m sure Jacob is thinking that if the maidservants and their children are killed by the army, hopefully Leah and her children can get away, and even if they can’t, there still might be hope for Rachel and Joseph.
But this is all for nothing, because Esau ignores the maidservants, wives, and children, and heads straight for Jacob, whom he hugs and kisses. Then Jacob introduces his family. Esau also asks Jacob what all of the gifts were for, and Jacob tells him that they were sent “to find favour in [your] eyes” (verse 8). Esau tells Jacob that he can keep his gifts, Esau has been blessed enough on his own, but Jacob insists, so Esau keeps the gifts.
Finally, they begin to head back, and Esau offers to go with Jacob, but Jacob is worried that he has to go slow because of the children and flocks, so he tells Esau to go on ahead, and he’ll go at his own pace. Esau then offers to leave some men with Jacob, but Jacob turns down that offer, too.
Chapter 32 led us to believe that Esau was still planning to kill Jacob, so it’s a nice surprise to see things come out nicely. It’s possible that Esau was placated by the gifts Jacob sent to him, but it’s also possible that he had never meant Jacob any harm in the first place. I don’t know which is the truth.
As mentioned above, Jacob is treating different parts of his family differently. Many—if not most—parents have “favourite” children, but Jacob has favourite wives, and his favourite children are simply the ones who are born from the favourite wives. This must have been very hard on Leah, and even more hard on the maidservants. Not to speak of the children.
When Esau and Jacob are talking about the gifts Jacob had sent, I’m not sure if there is something going on underneath the text that I’m not picking up. Something cultural, I mean, that I don’t get, as a modern-day North American. I get especially suspicious about the conversation where Jacob is turning down Esau’s offer of leaving some of the men with Jacob as he travels; again, it might be something cultural going on, but I also get the impression that things are not properly healed between these brothers.