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33. Jacob Meets Esau

And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. 2And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost. 3And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. 4And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. 5And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant. 6Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves. 7And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves. 8And he said, What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord. 9And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself. 10And Jacob said, Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me. 11Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it. 12And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee. 13And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die. 14Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir. 15And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me. And he said, What needeth it? let me find grace in the sight of my lord.

16So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir. 17And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

18And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city. 19And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for an hundred pieces of money. 20And he erected there an altar, and called it Elelohe-Israel.

1. And Jacob lifted up his eyes. We have said how greatly Jacob feared for himself from his brother; but now when Esau himself approaches, his terror is not only renewed, but increased. For although he goes forth like a courageous and spirited combatant to this contest, he is still not exempt from a sense of danger; whence it follows, that he is not free, either from anxiety or fear. For his cruel brother had still the same cause of hatred against him as before. And it was not probable, that, after he had left his father’s house, and had been living as he pleased, he had become more mild. Therefore, as in a doubtful affair, and one of great danger, Jacob placed his wives and children in the order described; that, if Esau should attempt anything hostile, the whole seed might not perish, but part might have time for flight. The only thing which appears to be done by him out of order is, that he prefers Rachel and her son Joseph to all the rest; whereas the substance of the benediction is really in Judah. But his excuse in reference to Judah is, that the oracle had not yet been revealed; nor, in fact, was made known till shortly before his death, in order that he might become at once its witness and its herald. Meanwhile, it is not to be denied, that he was excessively indulgent to Rachel. It is, indeed, a proof of distinguished courage, that, from a desire to preserve a part of his seed, he precedes his companies, and offers himself as a victim, if necessity demanded it. For there is no doubt that the promise of God was his authority and his guide in this design; nor would he have been able, unless sustained by the contident expectation of celestial life, thus bravely to meet death. It happens, indeed, sometimes, that a father, regardless of himself, will expose his life to danger for his children: but holy Jacob’s reason was different; for the promise of God was so deeply fixed in his mind, that he, disregarding the earth, looked up towards heaven. But while he follows the word of God, yet by the affection of the flesh, he is slightly drawn aside from the right way. For the faith of the holy fathers was not so pure, in all respects, but that they were liable to swerve to one side or the other. Nevertheless, the Spirit always so far prevailed, that the infirmity of the flesh might not divert them from their aim, but that they might hold on their course. So much the more ought every one of us to be suspicious of himself, lest he should deem himself perfectly pure, because he intends to act rightly; for the flesh ever mingles itself with our holy purpose, and many faults and corruptions steal in upon us. But God deals kindly with us, and does not impute faults of this kind to us.

3. And bowed himself to the ground seven times. This, indeed, he might do for the sake of giving honor: for we know that the people of the east are addicted to far more ceremonies than are in use with us. To me, however, it seems more probable, that Jacob did not pay this honor simply to his brother, but that he worshipped God, partly to give him thanks, and partly to implore him to render his brother propitious; for he is said to have bowed down seven times before he approached his brother. Therefore, before he came in sight of his brother, he had already given the token of reverence or worship. Hence we may conjecture, as I have said, that this homage was paid to God and not to man: yet this is not at variance with the fact, that he also approached as a suppliant, for the purpose of assuaging his brother’s ferocity by his humiliation.112112     Rivetus judiciously observes on this passage: “There are those who think that by this ceremony Jacob worshipped God; but by what argument they prove this I do not see; for whatever precedes or follows indicates that he wished to show reverence to his brother; and for this reason, he went before his family; so also the handmaidens and their sons bowed themselves; likewise Leah and her sons, and lastly, Rachel with Joesph; in each case the same word is used, which the Vulgate renders ‘adored.’ This verse also proves the same thing; for after he saw his brother approaching, he bowed seven times, till his brother drew near... This, therefore, was civil reverence, (reverentia civillis,) which did not derogate from the spiritual right and prerogative of the covenant entered into with Jehovah.” This account seems much more probable than that given by Calvin. — Ed. If any one object, that in this manner he depreciated his right of primogeniture; the answer is easy, that the holy man, by the eyes of faith, was looking higher; for he knew that the effect of the benediction was deferred to its proper season, and was, therefore, now like the decaying seed under the earth. Therefore, although he was despoiled of his patrimony, and lay contemptible at his brother’s feet; yet since he knew that his birthright was secured to him, he was contented with this latent right, counted honors and riches as nothing, and did not shrink from being regarded as an inferior in the presence of his brother.


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