The Word Made Fresh
1Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming with his four hundred men. He put the children with their mothers – Leah, Rachel and the two maids. 2He grouped the maids with their children, followed by Leah and her children, followed by Rachel and her son Joseph, 3then he walked on ahead of them, bowing to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.
4But Esau ran to him and gave him a big hug, throwing his arms around Jacob’s neck and kissing him, and they both wept. 5When Esau saw the women and children coming behind Jacob he asked Jacob about them. Jacob told him they were the children God had given him. 6The maids approached with their children, and bowed before him, 7then Leah with her children also bowed before Esau, and last of all Rachel with little Joseph came up and they, too, bowed down.
8“What did you mean by all those people and animals I met?” Esau asked.
Jacob answered, “I sent them to gain my lord’s friendship.”
9But Esau responded, “I have plenty, brother. Keep what is yours.”
10Jacob said, “No, no. If I meet with your approval, then please accept the gifts I bring you. Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God; you greeted me with such a wonderful welcome. 11Please,” he said, “accept these as my gifts to you. God has rewarded me tremendously, and I have all I could possibly want.” He continued to urge the gifts on Esau until Esau accepted all of it.
12Esau said, “Let’s head out together. I’ll go with you.”
13“The children are not strong, as you can see,” Jacob said, “and I have to take care of the flocks and herds. If we drive them too quickly the sheep will die. 14I’ll let you go on ahead, and I’ll come more slowly at the pace the cattle and children can manage, and I’ll come join you in Seir.”
15“Very well,” said Esau, “but let me leave some of my men to accompany you.”
Jacob said “Oh, no, you need not be so attentive to me.”
16So Esau went back to Seir, 17but Jacob traveled to Succoth. He built a shelter for himself and stalls for his livestock – which is why the place is called Succoth, which means “shelters.”
18Jacob continued to journey on from Paddan-aram until he arrived at the city of Shechem in Canaan. He put up his tents just outside the city, 19and bought the land on which he camped from Hamor’s son, Shechem, and his brothers. He paid one hundred qesitah for the land. 20He made an altar there and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
1-3: Here comes Esau, and Jacob is frantic now with panic. In addition to the five groups of animal gifts he now divides his family between the maids and their kids, Leah and her children, and Rachel with the infant Joseph. By the time Esau gets to him he will have gotten a pretty good idea of who Jacob has become.
4-11: But Jacob needn’t have bothered. Esau runs to meet him, hugs and kisses him and cries with him. Jacob introduces all his wives and children to Esau. Coming into Esau’s territory, courtesy requires that he bring a gift, and he now presents Esau with the extravagant collection of domestic animals. Courtesy requires Esau to refuse to accept. Courtesy requires Jacob to insist. So now Esau has lots of stuff.
12-14: Esau offers to accompany him to their father’s home, but Jacob makes excuses. Does he not trust his brother?
15-17: Esau offers then to leave a contingency of his men to accompany Jacob, but Jacob again begs off. Does he not trust his brother? It appears not, for they go now their separate ways – Esau to Seir, Jacob to Succoth.
18-20: Arriving at Bethel, Jacob purchases a tract of land and builds an altar on which to present offerings to “God, the God of Israel.” Israel, at this point, is Jacob, of course.
When we admit a mistake we have made in life and sincerely try to make amends, things usually work out for the best. If you have had such an experience, don’t forget to acknowledge your indebtedness to God and make a place, an “altar” to remind you of God’s providence. It can be a note in a journal, perhaps, or some object to remind you of a time God rescued you. I have a smooth river rock in the glove compartment of my car. I have carried it for more than forty years. What it reminds me of is not your business, but I will never forget the time and place when I picked it up to keep as a memento.