Genesis 33:1
Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming toward him with four hundred men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maidservants.
Forgiveness of InjuriesSydney Smith, M. A.Genesis 33:1-16
LessonsG. Hughes, B. D.Genesis 33:1-16
LessonsG. Hughes, B. D.Genesis 33:1-16
Needless FearsA. K. H. Boyd, D. D.Genesis 33:1-16
Needlessness of AnxietyC. H. M.Genesis 33:1-16
The Brothers ReconciledHomilistGenesis 33:1-16
The Brothers ReconciledJ. C. Gray.Genesis 33:1-16
The ContrastE. Craig.Genesis 33:1-16
The ReconciliationW. S. Smith, B. D.Genesis 33:1-16
The Reconciliation of Esau and JacobF. Bourdillon.Genesis 33:1-16
The Reconciliation of Jacob and EsauT. H. Leale.Genesis 33:1-16
The Fruits of PrayerR.A. Redford Genesis 33
Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel. Twenty years before Jacob learned at Bethel to know God as a living and present Protector. This a great step in spiritual life; belief of God in heaven, becoming consciousness of God "in this place," guiding all events. It is the first step towards walking with God. But his training not yet complete. Truth is usually grasped by degrees. Unbelief, cast out, returns in new forms and under new pretences. A common mistake at beginning of Christian life is to think that the battle is at an end when decision made. The soul may have passed from death to life; but much still to be done, much to be learned. Many a young Christian little knows the weakness of his faith. During these years Jacob shows real faith, but not perfect reliance (Genesis 30:37; Genesis 31:20). Returning home greatly enriched, he heard of Esau at hand. He feared his anger. No help in man; God's promise his only refuge. Could he trust to it? His wrestling. We cannot picture its outward form; but its essence a spiritual struggle. His endurance tried by bodily infirmity (cf. Job 2:5) and by the apparent unwillingness of the Being with whom he strove (cf. Matthew 15:26). His answer showed determination (cf. 2 Kings 4:30). This prevailed; weak as he was, he received the blessing (cf. Hebrews 11:34). And the new name was the sign of his victory (cf. Matthew 21:22; 1 John 5:4).

I. THE STRUGGLE. Why thus protracted? It was not merely a prolonged prayer, like Luke 6:12. There was some hindrance to be overcome (cf. Matthew 11:12); not by muscular force, but by earnest supplication. Where Scripture is silent we must speak cautiously. But probable explanation is the state of Jacob's own mind. Hitherto faith had been mixed with faithlessness; belief in the promise with hesitation to commit the means to God. Against this divided mind (James 1:8) the Lord contended. No peace while this remained (cf. Isaiah 26:3). And the lesson of that night was to trust God's promise entirely (cf. Psalm 37:3). When this was learned the wrestling of the Spirit against the double mind was at an end. Such a struggle may be going on in the hearts of some here. A craving for peace, yet a restless disquiet. The gospel believed, yet failing to bring comfort. Prayer for peace apparently unanswered, so that there seemed to be some power contending against us. Why is this? Most probably from failing to commit all to God. Perhaps requiring some sign (John 20:25), some particular state of feeling, or change of disposition; perhaps looking for faith within as the ground of trust; perhaps choosing the particular blessing - self-will as to the morsel of the bread of life to satisfy us, instead of taking every word of God. There is the evil. It is against self thou must strive. Behold thy loving Savior; will he fail thee in the hour of need? Tell all to him; commit thyself into his hands; not once or twice, but habitually.

II. THE NEW NAME (Cf. Revelation 3:12). No more Jacob, the crafty, but Israel, God's prince (cf. Revelation 1:6). The token of victory over distrust, self-will, self-confidence. In knowledge of poverty is wealth (Matthew 5:3); in knowledge of weakness, strength (2 Corinthians 12:10). That name is offered to all. The means, persevering prayer; but prayer not to force our will upon God, but that trust may be so entire that our wills may in all things embrace his. - M.

And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him.

1. Esau was generous and forgiving.

2. In Jacob there are traces of his old subtlety.


III. IT ILLUSTRATES THE TYRANNY OF OLD SINS. All was forgiven, but there was no longer any confidence. So the effects of past sin remain.

IV. IT ILLUSTRATES THE POWER OF GODLINESS. Jacob's humility before his brother was but a sign of his humility before God. His satisfaction to Esau is a sign also of his reconciliation with God.

(T. H. Leale.)



1. Because of the happiness of their aged parents.

2. On account of their own families.

3. On account of their own spiritual well-being.


1. Prayerfulness.

2. Humility.

3. Disinterestedness.


1. The most obvious motive to forgive is the pleasure of forgiving and the pain of resenting. Therefore, as the apostle says, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, we may say, Forgive, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Forgive while forgiveness is worth having; forgive while there remains enough of life for the renewal of kindness; forgive while you have something else to bestow on repentance than lingering looks and faltering words. And what does this solemn Christian injunction of forgiving do but eradicate from the mind the most painful and most unquiet of all passions? What wretchedness to clamour out for ever, "I will pursue, I will overtake; my right hand shall dash in pieces mine enemy"; to sacrifice all the quiet happiness of life, to sicken on the bosom of joy, still, after the lapse of years, to feel, to see, and to suffer with the freshness of yesterday; and in the midst of blessings to exclaim, All this availeth me nothing while Mordecai, the Jew, sitteth at the king's gate.

2. Are we sure, too, that the cause of our resentment is just? Have we collected the most ample evidence? Have we examined it with the closest attention? Have we subjected it to impartial revision? Have we suspected our passions? Have we questioned our self-love?

3. Men are so far, generally, from being ashamed of not forgiving injuries, that they often glory in revenge; they believe it to be united with courage and with watchful, dignified pride. Yet, after all, what talents or what virtue can an unforgiving disposition possibly imply? Who is most likely longest to retain the sense of injured dignity? He who has given no pledge to his fellow-creatures that he is good and amiable? who does not feel that he is invulnerable? who is least fortified by a long tenor of just intentions and wise actions? What man who had ever trodden one step in the paths of religion would vex the sunshine of his existence with all the inquietudes of resentment? would ingraft upon his life the labour of hating, and hovel year after year over expiring injuries? Who is there that bears about him a heart of flesh that would put away a brother or a friend who knelt to him for mercy?

4. Other men, who have no desire to be thought magnanimous because they revenge, are still apprehensive of being considered as timid if they forgive and resent to maintain a character for spirit; but it is certainly extremely possible to combine temperate resistance to present injustice with a tendency to forgive what is past; to be firm in the maintenance of just rights while we abstain from any greater injury to our enemies than is necessary to maintain them, and hold ourselves ready for forgiveness when they are maintained.

(Sydney Smith, M. A.)

Now think, brethren, what a revulsion of feeling there would be in Jacob's heart. He would think, "Have I been all these years vexing myself for this!" Here was the thing, so happy and pleasant and kindly when it came, that had many a time broken his night's rest at Haran just to think of it; that had been a dull gnawing at his heart, making him uneasy and restless in cheerful company; that had been the drop of gall in every cup he tasted — all these years! And one thing we may be almost sure of: that in all his picturing out of this dreaded meeting, thinking of it as coming in twenty sad ways, if there was one thing he never pictured out, it would be just the meeting as it actually came! The thing you expect is, in this world, the last thing that is likely to befall you.

1. How needless are our fears! In how many cases we conjure up things to vex and alarm us! For one-and-twenty years Jacob had kept himself unhappy through the fear of a meeting which, when it came, proved one of the happiest things that ever befell him in all his life. Now, have not you many a time looked forward with great anxiety to something that was coming, and then, when it came, found that all your anxiety had been perfectly needless? We all have it in our power to make ourselves miserable if we look far into the years before us and calculate their probabilities of evil, and steadily anticipate the worst. It is not expedient to calculate too far ahead. Oh that we had all more faith, Christian friends, in God's sure promise made to every true Christian, that as the day, so shall the strength be! We have all known the anticipated ills of life — the danger that looked so big, the duty that looked so arduous, the entanglement that we could not see our way through prove to have been nothing more than spectres on the horizon; and when at length we reached them, all their difficulty had vanished into air, leaving us to think how foolish we had been for having so needlessly set up phantoms to disturb our quiet. I remember well how a good and able man, who died not long ago, told me many times of his fears as to what he would do in a certain contingency which both he and I thought was quite sure to come sooner or later. I know that the anticipation of it cost him some of the most anxious hours of a very anxious, though useful, life. But his fears proved just as vain as Jacob's in the prospect of meeting Esau. He was taken from this world before what he dreaded had cast its most distant shadow. God, in His own way, delivered that man from the event he had feared. Some people are of an anxious, despondent temperament, ready rather to anticipate evil than to look for good. But all of us, brethren, need more faith in God. How comprehensive a prayer that is, asking so much for time and for eternity, "Lord, increase our faith!" We bear a far heavier burden than we need bear. If we had the faith which we ought to have, and which the Holy Spirit is ready to work in us, we should cast all our care on God, who careth for us.

2. In those seasons of anxiety and foreboding which, through our weak faith and our remaining sinfulness, will come to us all, we should remember what Jacob did, and where Jacob found relief. He turned to God in prayer. He went and told God all his fear, and asked deliverance from God. And not once, but many times; through a long night of terrible alarm and apprehension he wrestled in urgent prayer. And see what he got by it. He got relief of heart, certainly: of that we are sure. Perhaps he got more. We cannot say how far those prayers went to turn Esau's heart, and to make him meet Jacob in that kindly spirit. When we are overwhelmed, fearful, perplexed, anxious, let us go to God, and humbly and earnestly tell Him all we are thinking and fearing, and ask Him to deliver us and comfort us. "Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." If ever there were words confirmed by the experience of Christian people, you have them here. Perhaps our prayer may cause the trouble we bear or we dread to go away. Perhaps the stroke that seemed sure to fall may be withheld; perhaps the hope that seemed sure to be blighted may be fulfilled after all: perhaps the blessing that seemed sure to be taken away from us may be spared us yet. Perhaps, through our prayer, it may be with us as it was with Jacob: when we come up to the time, the trial, the duty, we feared, we may find that there is nothing about it to be afraid of. But our prayer may be answered in a way that is better and happier still. It may please God to allow all that we feared to befall us. It may please Him to disappoint the hope, to frustrate the work, to continue the long disease, to bring the beloved one down to the grave; but with all that to resign our heart, to make us humble and content, to sanctify the trial to work in us a patience, a faith, a humility, a charity, a sympathy, that are worth, a thousand times over, all worldly happiness and success. Oh what an attainment it is, which Christians sometimes reach, to feel, if only for a little while, that our whole heart's wish is that our blessed Saviour's will be done and His glory be advanced; and that, as for us, we are content to go where He leads us, and to do and bear what He sends, sure that the way by which He leads us is the right way, and that it will bring us to our home at last! And prayer will bring us to this, if anything will. Do not, with the gnawing anxiety at your heart, sit sullenly and try to bear your burden alone. Go with a lowly heart and roll your burden on the strong arm of God Almighty! Oh how it will lighten your heart to tell Him, simply, all your fears! You will come back, like Jacob, from your Saviour's footstool, calmed and cheered. And even if the stroke should fall, even if we come out of our trial somewhat stricken and subdued, not quite the people we were — as Jacob came lamed from that long night of prevailing prayer — we shall be thankful and content if the stroke be sanctified to us: as he (we may be sure) would never murmur as he halted on through life. One word to prevent misapprehension. All this peace and hope is spoken only to Christian people. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked," or to any who have no part in Christ. We can speak no comfort to such in their fears. There is too good reason for that dull foreboding of evil they bear through life. Their fears are not needless.

(A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)


1. Of Esau. At the head of four hundred armed men. Probably at the first meditating revenge, or to make a great display of his power. But Jacob was a man of prayer. Had often asked God to guard and keep him. Had the night before this meeting so mightily prevailed in prayer that his name had been altered. In answer to the prayers of Jacob, the revengeful feelings of Esau depart. As he draws nigh, Esau feels his heart drawn out in love towards his brother.

2. Of Jacob. Full of hope and confidence. Lame, and yet strong. He is now the prevailer. The sun shining upon him, and, better still, God lifts upon him the light of His countenance. He had sent forward the present, and now places himself in advance of all the rest. He — the prevailer — does not fear to meet the first storm of his brother's rage.

II. RECONCILIATION OF THE BROTHERS. Esau, the offended and injured, instead of taking vengeance on Jacob, having his heart softened by the grace of God, runs towards Jacob. Does not proudly wait for Jacob to approach, and then upbraid him for his past conduct. Ran towards him. Then spoke not a single word. Could not. Too full of joy at once more meeting his long-lost brother. They throw themselves in one another's arms. The kiss of reconciliation. Tears of joy, gratitude. Tears too, it may be, of penitence on both sides. Each needed to be forgiven by the other. Each had done wrong. Jacob, in that he had deprived his brother of the birthright and the blessing; and Esau, in that he had left his father's house, and harboured wrong feelings against his brother, and been the cause of his long exile. Persons offended with each other have often much need of each other's forgiveness. The pardon should be on both sides. He who forgives should also seek forgiveness.


1. Of Jacob. He entreats Esau to accept his present. Will take no denial. Thus shows the sincerity of his affection. Is unwilling that Esau should at all go out of his way to guard him. Has sufficient trust in God alone.

2. Of Esau. At length, to please his brother, accepts the present he makes. It is often as kind to accept as to make a present. He kindly received the wives and children of Jacob. Goes on the way before Jacob to make the way clear. Acts as his brother's guide and vanguard. Shows his forgiveness by deeds as well as by words. Without practical kindness words are "sounding brass," &c.Learn:

1. In all angry partings, remember that a future meeting will come.

2. God can still the raging of the fiercest storm of passion and revenge.

3. The reconciliation of brethren, a fit and beautiful sight.

4. We have all sinned against God, and need His forgiveness.

5. By causing Esau to forgive his brother, God shows how ready He is to forgive us.

6. Our elder Brother, Jesus, has obtained a full pardon for us.

(J. C. Gray.)

Reposing, therefore, with confidence on the promised protection of his God, Jacob crossed the brook at sunrise, and, rejoining his family, went calmly on his way. A short time appears to have brought on the crisis of his trial: "Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men." It is not difficult to conceive the rush of con. tending feelings that would agitate his breast when the hostile party came in sight; nor to imagine to what a height the tumult of his thoughts would increase as the two bands approached each other. Grace does not make us stoics. It controls and regulates the natural affections by subordinating them to higher principles; but men of the warmest piety, while they are preserved from an exuberant and inordinate indulgence of the affections, are generally possessed of the most tender and benevolent spirit. Excessive natural affection is a common, and in no respects a sublimated, feeling. But the leading point on which I wish at this time to fix your attention is the manifest superiority of character discoverable in Jacob when compared with his elder brother — a superiority evidently not arising from superior intellect or other natural advantages, but originating in his religious principles and habits. A fair and unprejudiced examination of the case before us will show that the godly man, the faithful servant of God through Jesus Christ, has a superiority of character to other men, both in principle and in practice.

1. He possesses a superiority of principle. To examine this more closely —(1) The first idea included in this conviction is the sense of demerit. "Gracious dealing" implies undeserved kindness on the part of God, and, consequently, defect and demerit on the part of His creature. And where such convictions dwell, it is impossible but that the individual must view the actions and thoughts of any one day of his life with abhorrence, and the dealings of God with him, from first to last, as characterized only by grace and long-suffering mercy.(2) Such a conviction includes the idea of a review of God's mercies to the soul. "God has dealt graciously with me."(3) But to the lively recollection in the Christian's mind of God's merciful dealings with him we must add the grateful acknowledgment of them. The undeserved kindness of God throughout a whole life, manifested in an infinite variety of necessities and trials, cannot pass in review before the mind without emotion.(4) This is an habitual feeling. It is not a cold philosophical speculation. It is not a rational deduction that because God is great and we are less than nothing, therefore we, of course, must be indebted to Him, and therefore we are; but it is the emotional, affectionate consciousness of obligation. And it will be invariably found that this is the character of true piety; that there is this living and influential sense of the mercy of God; and that this it is, especially, which, coming into play continually as the leading principle of action, does make its possessor a far superior character to those who are merely left to have their conduct regulated by the operation of natural principles and affections. This will become more evident as we proceed to notice —

2. The superiority of the religious man's conduct as originating in this principle. A principle so powerful could not be in action without producing very manifest results. Nor is it; for the man who truly believes the redemption of the gospel "lives no longer to himself, but unto Him who died for him." We do not say that there is no virtue among men with. out the influence of revealed religion. All the virtues of the natural character are of a much lower origin. They are spurious and defective in the motive and principle from which they spring. They are frequently constitutional. Taken, however, at their highest point, such manifestations of virtuous principle are fleeting and uncertain. Let us notice, by way of illustration, the two instances of moral virtue which arise out of the present event of Jacob's life — those of content and liberality.(1) Content. There are many persons who are tolerably satisfied with their condition. They are not always repining or envying. They are at rest, because they do not think; because they are well assured that they cannot alter them if they would; and they call this content. "I have enough." But how different is all this from that Christian content which originates, not in carelessness or sensual indifference, but in a calm, extended, fair, and manly view of the whole circumstances of the case. "Yea, God hath dealt graciously with me, and I have enough." This indicates no listless inattention to the real state of things, no reckless indifference, no resolute insusceptibility; but it is peace in the midst of, and in the calm contemplation of, every vicissitude.(2) Again, if we look to the virtue of liberality, as it is exhibited in Jacob, it differs from the liberality of the men of the world.Let us now endeavour to draw some plain practical instructions from the whole.

1. In the first place, it will be evident where we must look for the spring of superior virtue; not in the spontaneous emotions of a man's own heart, not in the strong stimulus of occasional circumstances, not in the influence of human opinion, not in the rewarded efforts of heroic resolution, but in the right appreciation of a dying Saviour's love. All other principles will fail in their own time and way.

2. Observe, this contrast of the character of Esau and Jacob will enable men of excellent moral habits to discriminate between the virtue of habit and the virtue of principle.

3. This subject speaks with peculiar force to the covetous man. True Christianity imparts, in a high degree, the graces of content and liberality. A greedy pursuit of gain is utterly inconsistent with the self-denying spirit of the gospel. This alone ought to be felt as a cutting rebuke for the love of money.

(E. Craig.)


II. THE PRUDENT SEPARATION. Perhaps Jacob was still a little afraid of the impetuosity of his brother. But the deepest reason why Jacob politely declined Esau's offer of help and companionship was, we may well believe, a religious one. He saw that the aims which Esau would have in view and the habits of Esau's life would not suit what he (Jacob) wished to keep in mind and do. Besides, he felt that God intended him to keep apart from his brother, and to train his family in the special knowledge of the covenant with Abraham, and of all the promises which God had given. "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"


1. Thankfulness. God had enriched, guided, defended, comforted him.

2. Faith. Jacob would trust and worship God.

3. Hope. God, who had blessed him hitherto, would help him now and in his further career.

(W. S. Smith, B. D.)

The present was quite unnecessary; the plan useless. God "appeased" Esau, as He had already appeased Laban. Thus it is He ever delights to rebuke our poor, coward, unbelieving hearts, and put to flight all our fears, Instead of the dreaded sword of Esau, Jacob meets his embrace and kiss; instead of strife and conflict, they mingle their tears. Such are God's ways. Who would not trust Him? Who would not honour Him with the heart's fullest confidence? Why is it that, notwithstanding all the sweet evidence of His faithfulness to those who put their trust in Him, we are so ready, on every fresh occasion, to doubt and hesitate? The answer is simple, we are not sufficiently acquainted with God. "Acquaint now thyself with Him and be at peace" (Job 22:21). This is true, whether in reference to the unconverted sinner or to the child of God. The true knowledge of God, real acquaintance with Him, is life and peace.

(C. H. M.)

1. God's promise falls not short in making men yield to His saints.

2. Where God moveth, even wicked men will make speed and run to show kindness to His servants.

3. The hardest hearts melt in affection when God toucheth them.

4. When men please God, enemies are made friends to them (Proverbs 16:7).

5. Where greatest danger is feared, God turns it to greatest love.

6. It is natural for brethren, good and bad, to melt in tears upon providential turns and meetings (ver. 4).

(G. Hughes, B. D.)

1. Brotherly respect unto brethren will work kind inquisition after their relations.

2. Love makes queries to know such relations as are to be beloved.

3. Truth, piety, and humility become all the answers to be made unto queries of love by God's servants.

4. Children are to be acknowledged the fruit of God's mercy and goodness to His (Psalm 127:3).

5. The anger of enraged men is turned into love and tenderness best by self-denying submission. The reed overcomes the wind by yielding; the oaks fall by resisting (ver. 5).

6. It becometh family relations to keep order designed by their head.

7. Orderly approach and submission is the way to gain acceptance with great men.

8. Providence works by motions of creatures to turn hearts from fury to love (vers. 6, 7).

(G. Hughes, B. D.)

1. Brotherly love is a precious thing; let it be guarded well. Be just, and true, and kind to one another; and let a spirit of forbearance and forgiveness prevail.

2. We see here a striking example of prayer. Wrong as Jacob had been before, he was right in this.

3. Jacob sets us an example also of wisdom and prudence. He prayed; yet he used all the means in his power.

4. The very word reconciliation cannot but remind us of the great reconciliation — that between the sinner and God. If God, in answer to prayer, disposed Esau to be reconciled to his brother, surely He Himself will not refuse pardon, reconciliation, and acceptance to one who has offended Him.

5. God will give His Holy Spirit to those that ask Him; and in this office, among others, as the spirit of peace. He will help those of one family to live together in peace, to bear and forbear, to love as brethren. Nay, more: He can, by the same mighty influence, create a new heart in those who have as yet been far from Him.

(F. Bourdillon.)

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