Genesis 33:1-20 “Jacob and Esau Reunited, Part 3”

Posted on March 18, 2012. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 33:1-20


Review/Introduction: Last week we made it through verses 1-14 but we did not make it to a discussion about whether or not Jacob lied to Esau by telling him he would meet him in Seir when he apparently had no intention of going there at all, and went to Succoth instead. This morning we shall pick up there in vs. 14 and discuss whether or not that is a lie, and then we shall discuss the cultural aspects of lying in theMiddle East and Islam, then seek to find a Christian way of dealing with the truth and lying.

(referring back to last week’s unfinished notes)

***    ***    ***

  1. I.                   Jacob and Esau Meet, vss.1-4
  2. II.                Jacob and Esau Reconcile, vss.5-15
    1. C.     Esau Offers to Travel with Jacob, vv. 12-14
      1. 7.       Is this a lie in vs.14? Waltke writes, p.450-451, “The narrator also gaps evaluation of Jacob’s statement to Esau that he will follow him to the land of Seir and his failure to carry through on his word. Whereas he says explicitly that in Jacob’s flight from Laban ‘Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away’ (31:20), he makes no similar evaluation in the peaceful parting of the brothers. He allows his audience to live with ambiguity regarding Jacob’s motives for going the opposite direction from Seir. Does he have misgivings about the longevity of Esau’s amiable mood? Does he think going to Seir imprudent because that land cannot sustain both (cf.Gen.13:1,6)? Is he bent on completing his pilgrimage (33:20; 35:1-15)? Does he tactfully not mention the land of his fathers in order to entomb the past wrongs and not to resurrect old grievances?…the narrator’s omission of evaluation excludes the interpretation of deception. Moreover, the narrator implies that Esau bears him no grudge, for he draws this book to conclusion with the brothers in peace together burying their father (35:29). Probably both men understand Jacob’s final request, ‘let me find favor in the eyes of my lord,’ as a tactful request to disengage.”
      2. 8.       Keil, p.198, writes, “these words are not to be understood as meaning that he intended to go direct to Seir; consequently they were not a willful deception for the purpose of getting rid of Esau. Jacob’s destination wasCanaan…From thence he may have thought of paying a visit to Esau in Seir. Whether he carried out this intention or not, we cannot tell; for we have not a record of all that Jacob did, but only of the principal events of his life. We afterwards find them both meeting together as friends at their father’s funeral (35:29).”
      3. 9.       Hamilton, however (p.347), does believe Jacob resorts to subterfuge, “All of Jacob’s concerns voiced at this point may be another subterfuge to distance himself once more from Esau. Does Jacob really intend to join Esau at Seir, Esau’s domain?…These two verses, especially vs. 14, however, indicate that post-Peniel Jacob is not above making false promises and offering misleading expectations to Esau.”
      4. 10.   James Montgomery Boice, pp.338-340, observes that while God changed Jacob’s name toIsrael at Peniel, he is still called Jacob about twice as often as he is calledIsrael in the remainder of the book. However, when Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, he is only referred to by Abraham for the rest of the book. This can be an indication of what we see in this chapter. Boice explicitly says, “…we find Jacob lying to Esau. Some commentators have been reluctant to see this and have made excuses for Jacob. But it is hard to doubt that this is what was happening….” He then points out that Jacob was probably using faulty judgment when he settled his family at Succoth and then Shechem because the LORD had basically called him back to the land of his fathers, mentioning Bethel specifically, and that after the shameful episode at Shechem in ch.34, he does move on to Bethel.
      5. 11.   I think Boice is on to something but fails to mention the difference between Jacob and Esau being the covenant and he may overstate the lying of Jacob. There very well could be a cultural/politeness going on here with Jacob saying he would meet Esau at Seir and yet Esau knowing full well that was not going to happen. In the end, I think that Jacob should have been more forthright with Esau and mention that God was calling him back toBethel. Jacob is changed, but like Boice mentions, he is not altogetherIsrael yet.
      6. 12.   Mathews, p.573, does not think Jacob lied. He refers to 36:6-8 as showing that the two brothers had too many flocks and herds to dwell together.
      7. 13.   Do not bear false witness- we know from the 9th Commandment in Ex.20:16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” is generally taken as a prohibition against lying. It is specifically talking about perjury in a court of law, which would corrupt the judicial system.
      8. 14.   Numerous passages in the OT speak against using false measures or weights such as Lev.19:35f “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity.” You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin.” See also Amos 8:1-6.
      9. 15.   In the Golden Rule of Matt. 7:12, lying would be forbidden since we are to do to others what we would want them to do to us. Paul says, in Eph.4:15, 25 “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way….Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor…”
      10. 16.   Application- Was Jacob justified in lying to Esau? When is it OK for a Christian to lie? Should we just blurt out every truth every time even if it causes harm? Is there room to be tactful and discreet without lying? What about telling a lie when confronted with evil? Can this slide into “the end justifies the means?”
      11. 17.   Another religion that uses lies as part of their religious life is Mormonism
      12. 18.   Mormon lies include-
        1. a.      “We’re not trying to convert you, we are sharing a message for all faiths”
        2. b.      “The Bible is the Word of God…as long as it is translated correctly” unhistorical hermeneutic.
        3. c.       “We are Christians too!” They claim to be just another Christian denomination at times, while at other times, relying on Joseph Smith’s first vision, claim they are the only true church, thus contradicting themselves.
        4. d.      “We believe in Jesus too!” They deliberately misrepresent who they believe Jesus is, leading the potential convert to think the mormon Jesus is the same as the biblical Jesus.
        5. e.      “We have a living prophet.” Their prophets have been immoral and horribly wrong, contradicting Scripture along the way. Deut.18:22.
        6. f.        The Book of Mormon is Scripture. It is poorly written, it is not attested by any facts, manuscripts, or evidence and has internal contradictions. The story of the golden plates is fanciful as is the history of the native Americans.
        7. g.      Salvation is by “grace” after doing all that you can do, thus it is a different gospel.
        8. h.      People can become gods, and have their own worlds. They lie about being monotheists, there is a god for every world.
        9. i.        The material universe has always existed, making it eternal and uncreated, thus denying both Scripture and Science.
        10. j.        Temple marriage is needed for eternal life. TheTemple ceremonies are based on Freemasonry. When you look at the size of theirTemples, you wonder what goes on there- they have dozens of bedrooms, like a hotel, where those who get married in theTemple must go consummate their marriages immediately. Weird.
      13. 19.   Application: Understanding the lies of Islam and Mormonism is crucial for believers today. With Islam the lies are on a grand scale in the realm of international politics. We must recognize that Islam seeks to convert, enslave, or kill the entire world. That is their missionary imperative. Lying is allowed by the Quran for these purposes. Christianity must always be open and honest about our desire to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, without using force to convert others. With Mormonism, the individual mormon who shares his/her faith is taught to present the lies of the church, which they may sincerely believe to be truth, in order to convert unbelievers. Their lies are easy to spot if you know the Bible, sound doctrine, and listen for their inconsistencies. Confront the Mormon with the gospel, expose their lies and contradictions, and love them.


  1. D.    Esau Offers to Leave Jacob an Armed Escort, vs.15

1.“Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me” This should be interpreted as a genuine offer of an armed escort for protection and indicates the concern of Esau for his brother. Hamilton, p. 347, “Esau is clearly concerned about his brother’s safety. At almost every point in this story, Esau emerges as the more appealing, more humane, and more virtuous of the two brothers.”

2.Jacob’s response to Esau’s first offer was logical, his troop could not keep pace with Esau’s group. But now, Jacob appeals to Esau’s favor, his grace.

3.  Waltke, p.456, probably gets it right, “Esau probably knows that this is Jacob’s polite way of declining his proposal…He could not refuse him directly without offending him and risking his anger.”

4.   Wenham writes, p.300 “Even Esau’s offer of a bodyguard is politely turned down, whether out of fear or faith…being again left open.”



  1. III.             Jacob and Esau Go Their Separate Ways, vv.16-17
    1. A.     Esau Returned to Seir, Outside the Covenant, vv.16-17
      1. “So Esau returned…to Seir”- despite how Esau looks like the better man in this sequence of events with Jacob since their youth, and how we may respond emotionally more sympathetically towards Esau than Jacob, he dwells outside the Promised Land, outside of the Covenant, lost.
      2. Mathews writes, p.572, “Esau’s descendants will reside outside the land of promise, and Jacob’s household moves closer toCanaan(Succoth) and ultimately Shechem.”
        1. Waltke writes,p.456, “Israelmust live apart from bothEdomand Laban…Except for the brief mention of burying his father in 35:29, the man who despised his birthright steps off the pages of salvation history. The ‘visionless’ man has no part in the eternalkingdomofGod.”
        2. But Jacob journeyed to Succoth and built himself a house- still not across theJordan, Succoth is on the Jabbok, some say that it is back across the Jabbok on the north side, about a mile from theJordan River. This place may not have been insideCanaantechnically, but it would be the home of the tribe of Gad under Moses and Joshua. I think there is a subtle message being given however, in that he did not go all the way toBethel.
        3. Succoth- the word means “shelters” and is the 4th place that Jacob has named- Bethel, Mahanaim, Peniel, and now Succoth. The word is used in the name ofIsrael’s Feast of Tabernacles, and indicates a temporary booth or shelter thatIsraelused on their wanderings. Thus, Jacob’s stop at Succoth was a temporary stop for the sake of the flocks and herds, before he moved on to Shechem. He had probably pressed his flocks and herds in the escape from Laban and now needed rest.


  1. IV.              Jacob Returns to the Promised Land and Worships, vss.18-20
    1. A.      Jacob Reaches Safety at Shechem, or Does He? Vv.18-20
    2. Jacob came safely- the word is salem meaning in peace and safety, which echoes his prayer atBethel in 28:21 where he prays for coming back to his father’s house in safety. In 12:6 we see that Shechem was the first place Abraham passed through when he entered the Promised Land; thus is Jacob portrayed as following in Abraham’s footsteps again.
    3. There is obvious irony here in that these verses set the stage for what would happen in ch.34, where his daughter Dinah is raped and his sons, Simeon and Levi (Dinah’s brothers), wage war against Shechem in a most deceptive manner and kill all of the Shechemites, thus bringing trouble on Jacob and “making him stink to the inhabitants of the land.”
    4. camped before the city- may look back toLotwho pitched his tents nearSodom.
    5. He bought…the piece of land- like his grandfather, he purchases a piece of land from those who dwell there.
    6. Though the account does not say that Jacob dug a well here at Shechem, John 4:4-6 mentions Jacob’s well at this location.
    7. He pitched his tent- the phrase/word is like 12:8 where Abraham “pitched his tent”.
    8. There he erected an altar- again like his grandfather he builds an altar as he enters the Promised Land (12:7).
    9. El-Elohe-Israel-he named the altar, God, the God of Israel, claiming the land as a promise from God. Abraham never named one of his altars, and it is rare in the Bible. Moses (Ex.17:15) and Gideon (Judges6:24). The word used is not “built” an altar as is normal, but rather “erected-set up” which points back to 28:12-13 which uses the same root for the ladder that was resting on the earth.

Conclusion: Jacob’s exile is now over, he is back home in the Promised Land, but his trials are not over. The chapter was full of drama and allusions to Abraham’s day, his time atBethel, and his dealings with his brother. The chapter also points us forward to what will happen in 34. We see the faith of a changed Jacob, changed by his encounter with God, demonstrated in how he treated his brother Esau. Faith overcame fear in Jacob’s life. The Gospel point is that Jacob is the recipient of the covenant, not Esau, and so the two must separate, but they separate on friendly terms and will, in the future, collaborate on the funeral for their father, Isaac, thus indicating that those in the Covenant should seek to live peaceably with those outside the covenant.

The ethical problem with Jacob’s lie to Esau is relatively minor and can be explained as a cultural way of getting around a situation that would be difficult and embarrassing to both men. While there may be times when Believers may be allowed to lie to prevent a greater evil from occurring, it does become a slippery slope. Two religions were discussed, Islam and Mormonism, in terms of how they use lies as part of their religion. The application of this moral lesson should be to help us in understanding world politics in regards to Islam, and in how to properly share the gospel with Mormons.


Boice, James Montgomery. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 2, Genesis 12:1-36:43. Zondervan:Grand Rapids, MI. 1985 (pp.336-340).

Calvin, John. Genesis, in the Geneva Series of Commentaries, translated and edited by John King, two volumes in one. Banner of Truth Trust:Carlisle,PA 1847 (originally published in Latin 1554). Vol.2, pages 203-215.

Duguid, Iain M. Living In The Grip Of Relentless Grace: The Gospel In The Lives Of Isaac & Jacob. P&R Publishing:Phillipsburg, NJ 2002 (pp.119-130).

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company:Grand Rapids, MI.1995 (pp.316-339).

Keil, C.F. Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 1 The Pentateuch. Hendrickson Publishers:Peabody,Mass. 2006 (pp.197-199). Original English translation published by T&T Clark,Edinburgh, 1866-91.

Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26. Broadman & Holman Publishers:Nashville, TN. 2005. (pp.561-576).

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic:Grand Rapids,MI 1998 (pp.560-567.)

            Sailhamer, John H. “Genesis” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol.2, Frank E. Gaebelein, Editor. Regency Reference Library, Zondervan Publishing House:Grand Rapids,MI 1990 (pp.211-214).

Waltke, Bruce. Genesis: A Commentary, Zondervan:Grand Rapids, MI. 2001 (pp.349-479.)

Wenham, Gordon. Word Biblical Commentary vol.2 Genesis 16-50.Word Books:Dallas,TX. 1994 (pp.298-304).


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