An Encounter with Esau

Nov 22, 2015

וַיִּשָּׂא יַעֲקֹב עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה עֵשָׂו בָּא וְעִמּוֹ אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת אִישׁ וַיַּחַץ אֶת־הַיְלָדִים עַל־לֵאָה וְעַל־רָחֵל וְעַל שְׁתֵּי הַשְּׁפָחוֹת׃

Looking up, Yaakov saw Esau coming, accompanied by four hundred men. He divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maids,

Genesis 33:1

וַיַּצֶּב־שָׁם מִזְבֵּחַ וַיִּקְרָא־לוֹ אֵל אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃

He set up a mizbayach there, and called it El-elohe-yisrael.

Genesis 33:20

When Jacob spies Esau in the distance, he again divides and organizes his camp. He walks ahead of them and bows seven times before his brother. Esau embraces Jacob, and the brothers weep. Esau is awed by the magnitude of Jacob’s camp. Jacob tells Esau that everything he sent before him is a gift for his older brother. When Esau tries to decline, saying he, too, has much wealth, Jacob insists he keep it, as God has already granted him everything. Esau invites his younger brother to travel with him, but Jacob begs off, saying Esau’s pace is too difficult for Jacob’s camp, and they would one day meet up in Esau’s home of Seir. Thus assured, Esau departs for Seir, but Jacob heads instead to Succoth, so called for the succot, or booths, he builds for his animals.


From Succoth, Jacob travels to Shechem, where he purchases a piece of land and settles peacefully with his family. He builds an altar there for God, calling it El-elohe-Israel, or the God of Israel.


The Israel Bible notes that Jacob’s actions are a sign for future generations: the first thing he does after escaping Esau’s clutches is purchase land, teaching us that to remain secure, the Jewish people must continue to build up their homeland, Israel.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

There is a subtext of a power struggle in the encounter between Jacob and Esau. What do you think is really going on between them?

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