Humility, Reconciliation. Genesis 33:1-20
Jacob has gone through a lot of spiritual growth during the last twenty years, but not finally at Penial he finally realizes that he truly needs to rely upon God and the fact that God was going to provide for him. He is truly a different person after that. This is not when Jacob gets saved, that has already happened. This is where he reaches a level of spiritual adulthood, of spiritual maturity, because he comes to truly understand grace and to trust God. But even though we reach maturity there are still failures and flaws from our sin nature that are going to continue to pester us, and we see that is a very real life sense in chapter thirty-three. What is emphasized here is that God has to humble Jacob, and we have two passages in the New Testament that emphasize this.
1 Peter 5:5, which concludes with a quote from the Old Testament, a summation of a verse in Proverbs: "God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble." The word in the Greek for "resist" is ANTIPASSO [a)ntipassw] which has the idea of lining up a rank of soldiers to do battle against another group. It was used in a military sense primarily in classical Greek. By the Koine period it came to mean primarily the idea of opposition, hostility to something, resistance to something. So it is an extremely strong word to describe the opposition that God has against the arrogant. But in contrast He gives grace to the humble. So one of the things that has to happen as we grow spiritually is that we go through series where God teaches us humility, where we get a little full of ourselves in life, a little too self-reliant, and God, as it were, pulls the rug out from under us in order to get our attention. We have to realize that we are completely and totally dependent upon God for everything.
James 4:6 reiterates the same thing, it restates the same quote from the Old Testament but in a slightly different context. "But he gives more grace. Wherefore he says, God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble." Giving more grace indicates the successive stages of grace reception in the spiritual life where there is saving grace, logistical grace, an accumulation of more and more grace that God gives as we walk in obedience and grow spiritually. Just as Jesus said in John chapter fourteen, that as we obey the Father who reveals Himself t us there is as we grow a greater and greater understanding of who God is—not a revelation in the sense of special understanding but a greater appreciation and understanding of who God is and His plan in our spiritual growth. This is what we see in the life of Jacob, the successive stages of spiritual growth. But even when we have had times when we do things right and well what often happens is that when we come to the next test we don't necessarily pass it one hundred per cent.
So now we come to chapter thirty-three, and it take place immediately after the events of Penial when Jacob meets God face to face. Genesis 33:1, "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." It is immediate. The next morning he wakes up and there is this army of Esau and 400 servants. Jacob now has to make decisions on the basis of God's promise. Here we see Jacob as a man who has just had this face to face encounter with God. This isn't some religious experience, this is a true face to face encounter with the living God. But he is, on the other hand, still uncertain as to just how Esau is going to react. The last time he saw Esau, Esau was about to kill him, so once again he starts to operate on the fear and anxiety that he had before. Some commentators see Jacob here failing to trust God at all, he just fails completely and falls back on his strategies of manipulation and control in this situation. Others see Jacob as having had a total transformation. But both are true. He has had a major transformation and there is indication of real spiritual growth here, but he is still a sinner. He still has weaknesses and flaws, and that is true for most of us. We do really well but realize at time that even though we did pretty good we only did 93% and didn't do 100%, and there are still areas within the success where we were failures. That is all a part of being human and growing.
So Jacob has this development and throughout this chapter we see an emphasis on grace. We see the word "graciously" in verse 5, "favor" in verses 8 and 10, and 15, and all translate the Hebrew word hen, which means grace. So grace is a dominant idea in this passage. Jacob clearly understands the grace of God and the provision of God. He also believes that God is going to protect him, but that doesn't mean he should be stupid either. So as Esau is approaching he takes a wise step. He is not sure what he is going to do but he begins as per verse one. If Esau is going to attack he wants to make sure that Rachel and Joseph are in the most protected position. The Jacob of chapter 32 sent gifts ahead but he stayed behind, but this is where we see the change. Jacob lines the family up so that he has Rachel and Joseph in the most protected position and then he moves out in front of everybody.
Genesis 33:3, "And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother." This is a very interesting scenario. This bowing down episode is typical of how a servant would approach royalty in a court. They would show extreme subservience. He is not sure what Esau is going to do yet and he puts himself in a position of real humility because, remember, Jacob is the one who is the leader now. He has the right to assert his position of authority and what he does is rather put himself in a position of humility and subservience to Esau, demonstrating that there has been a genuine change in him. This is seen as he begins to explain to Esau later on. In verse 5 he says after Esau asks him who all these people with him are, "The children whom God has graciously given your servant." He recognizes that everything he has, has come from God. He didn't do anything to earn or deserve anything that he had. This showed a genuine sense of humility here. And even though he is the lord of Esau, since he is the heir, he reveals that he does not wish to lord it over Esau or to take advantage of his position.
What is humility? Humility is a primary virtue in the spiritual life. Humility in the Scripture is always contrasted with pride, arrogance, and self-absorption. Too often people think that humility is some sort of self-deprecation, low self-esteem, somebody who is walked all over by somebody else, and never asserts themselves in any situation. But that is not the biblical concept of humility. The biblical concept of humility is authority orientation. It is a biblical perception of who one is—understanding who you are properly in the plan of God and who you are in the chain of command, so to speak. And it is orientation to divine authority. That is at the core of being able to advance in any circumstance in Scripture. So humility is a biblical perception of who one is an orientation to God's authority. We are told in the Old Testament that Moses was the most humble man in the Old Testament. The reason was that he was completely oriented to the authority of God. The New Testament picture of humility is given in Philippians 2:5-11. It gives us that picture of humility in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is what Jacob is in the process of learning. He has learned that humility is that you orient yourself to God's plan. God's plan is to bless Jacob God's way, not Jacob's way. God's way waited until he finally learned some lessons about humility in the people testing with Laban, and goes through this all-night wrestling match with the angel of the Lord, and ends up being crippled in the process. Then he finally recognizes that he has to be dependent upon God, and it is only then that God blesses him. Jacob has to learn a principle that is exhibited in the Lord Jesus Christ in His desire to serve—Mark 10:45. When we see that term "Son of Man" the imagery that should come into our head is that of a glorious personage who was predicted in Daniel chapter seven to come and to destroy all the kingdoms of man and to set up the kingdom of God on the earth. So the Son of Man is an image of someone of tremendous authority. But there is this irony that the Son of Man did not come to be served. Rather than emphasizing His sovereign authority the second person of the Trinity deemphasized His power, prestige and person, and became a creature in order to serve us by dying on the cross for us.
Jacob is demonstrating this expression of humility toward his brother Esau. There is genuine humility here. He is not just bowing and scraping because he was afraid Esau was going to do something. There has been a real and genuine transformation in his character.
Humility is foundational to grace orientation. Grace orientation means that we recognize that all that we are and all that we have is from God, and this is what Jacob expresses in the main part of this chapter. In arrogance we think that any part of what we have and any part of what we are is what we have accomplished. The emphasis is on our own achievements as opposed to what God has provided for us.
Humility is foundational to learning, to growing, and to loving others, because humility is authority orientation. To learn anything we have to submit to an authority. We have to be willing to be taught, willing to admit we are wrong, willing to admit that the ideas that we have might not be correct. So there has to be a level of humility and teachability. Humility is foundational for learning, for growing spiritually, and to loving others. When we are self-absorbed we can't love anybody because we are too busy focusing on ourselves.
Humility, then, is foundational to forgiveness and reconciliation. In any human relationship there has to be forgiveness and reconciliation because we are all sinners and every one of us fails at times.
Genesis 33:4, "And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept." Three verbs, "ran, embraced, fell on his neck, kissed him." Up to this point all the action is what Esau did. Then we are told, "they wept," both of them. But the other part of the picture that we see here is that Jacob appears to be rather reserved and cautious in his attitude toward Esau, in contrast to this open exuberance and enthusiasm that Esau has for his brother Jacob. Jacob is stiff; Esau is excited, open, free, he shows genuine affection and happiness in seeing Jacob. He hasn't seen his brother for 20 years. He is excited, and there is no indication at all in the text that he is harboring any level of resentment toward his brother whatsoever. Nevertheless, Jacob is cautious, careful, guarded, and unwilling to entrust himself to Esau. Esau treats Jacob as a long lost brother and a friend, and it is clear that he cares more for Jacob and the restoration of their relationship. But they both weep, and there is real emotion here. They are just thrilled to see one another again.
Notice that in the narrative here there is a lot of conversation but it is Esau who has the initiative. He is the one asking questions. Jacob is the responder.
Genesis 33:5, "And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with you? And he said, The children which God has graciously given your servant." This is the first mention of grace and it does reveal Jacob's attitude. It is all of God, he didn't have anything to do with it.
Genesis 33:8, 9, "And he said, What do you mean by all this drove which I met? And he said, These are to find grace [Heb. hen = favor, grace, acceptance] in the sight of my lord. And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep what you have to yourself."
Genesis 33:10, 1And 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.1, "And Jacob said, No, I pray you, if now I have found grace in your sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen your face, as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me. Take, I pray you, my blessing that is brought to you; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. And he urged him, and he took it."
It seems Jacob has a guilt complex working in the background, that he knows that he may have achieved God's will but he didn't do it God's way. A right thing done in a wrong way is wrong. So even though he gets the blessing he is never going to be able to fully enjoy and appreciate it like he would have if he had not manipulated it himself. The lesson we have to learn is that we have to trust God and His timing to give us that blessing, whatever it is, in His time and His way and not try to force it. Then we can relax and enjoy it and there are no second thoughts.
Genesis 33:12, "And he [Esau] said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before you." Jacob is disingenuous here, he just makes up an excuse as to why he is not going to go home with Esau. Rather than saying no, that he needs to stay in the land that God gave him, it is as though he is afraid to bring up the past, it may remind Esau of why he wanted to kill him. So he makes up an excuse for why he can't go back with him.
Genesis 33:14, "Let my lord, I pray you, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goes before me and the children be able to endure, until I come to my lord unto Seir." He never made it that far.
Genesis 33:15, "And Esau said, Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me. And he [Jacob] said, What need is there? let me find grace in the sight of my lord." Again we have that word [hen]. When Moses wrote this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this constant repetition of these grace words stands out, and he wants us to understand what is really the overriding issue in this whole passage, that is, how Jacob has come to understand grace and humility but there is still a problem. So Esau returned and Jacob goes on, but he doesn't go to Seir, he goes to Succoth. There he builds himself a house. Now he just barely is in the land. Succoth is from the Hebrew noun meaning a booth or a thicket. It could be a term used for a temporary shelter, it could be to cover animals, warriors.
After he was there for an unknown time he moves again. Genesis 33:18, "And 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." Trouble is on the horizon. The next two chapters is one of the strangest and most bizarre episodes in the Old Testament. God is showing the depravity of Jacob's family and of the Canaanites, and the rest of Genesis is really setting out the explanation for why Jacob's family needs to be taken to Egypt. What God is showing the later conquest generation here is what happens when a nation disobeys God and refuses to be separate from the Canaanites. The city of Shechem is a Canaanite city.
Genesis 33:19, "And 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. And he erected there an altar, and called it Elelohe-Israel." He erects and altar in the land. That is the key to understanding his spiritual orientation at this stage, his devotion to God. Elelohe-Israel means God, the God of Israel. Who is Israel? Jacob. So it is an indication that this passage is looking at Jacob in a positive sense. He ends on a positive note, that he builds an altar, that he is worshipping God, he is oriented to the authority of God. It shows that he has clearly been humbled and is under the authority of God. But, on the other hand, he is still dealing with his problems from bad decisions in the past.