Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
Genesis 33: 12-20
12 Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you.” 13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
15 So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” 16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.
18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
After an amical reunion, Esau offers to lead Jacob home. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And he (i.e. Esau) said (in further token of his amity), Let us take our journey, and let us go,—but whether he intended to accompany Jacob on his way (Keil, Kalisch, et alii) or invited Jacob to go with him to Mount Seir (Ainsworth, Clericus) is uncertain. On the first hypothesis it is difficult to explain how Esau came to be traveling in the same direction as his brother, while the adoption of the second will serve in some measure to elucidate Jacob’s language in Genesis 33:2. But whichever way the words of Esau are understood, they amounted to an offer to be an escort to Jacob through the desert regions with which his excursions had made him familiar, since he added, and I will go before thee—i.e. to lead the way.
The note points out that the underlying language is more vague regarding Esau’s intentions than the translation seems to be. However, vague or not, as the note says, Esau is offering to be an escort for Jacob either way.
After, the two brothers negotiate the pace of their travel. Jacob reminds Esau that he must move slowly, on account of his children and his livestock, so he encourages Esau to travel ahead of him. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary makes the following notes regarding verses 13 and 14:
(13) Flocks and herds with young.—Heb., that give such. Thompson (Land and Book, p. 205) infers from this that it was now winter, and thinks that this is confirmed by Jacob making folds for his cattle at Succoth. If so, more than six months would have elapsed since Jacob’s flight from Haran; but the conclusion is uncertain, and Jacob probably halted at Succoth because of his lameness.
(14) According as the cattle . . . —Rather, according to the pace—Heb., foot—of the cattle that is before me, and according to the pace of the children. Joseph was only six or seven years old; and Leah’s two younger sons, and probably Zilpah’s, were too tender to endure much fatigue.
Unto Seir.—This implies a purpose of visiting Esau in his new acquisition, not carried out probably because Esau did not as yet settle there, but returned to Hebron to his father.
As the notes point Jacob tells Esau that he will meet him in Seir before settling in Succoth in verse 15. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Esau said, Let me now leave (literally, set, or place) with thee (as an escort or guard) some of the folk—i.e. armed followers (vide Genesis 33:1)—that are with me. But of even this proposal Jacob appears to have been apprehensive. And he said, What needeth it! (literally, For what, or wherefore, this?) let me find grace in the sight of my lord—meaning either, I am satisfied, since thou art gracious to me (Vatablus),—ἱκανὸν ὅτι ευ}ron xa&rin e)nanti&on sou ku&rie (LXX.); hoc uno tantum indigeo, ut inveniam gratiam in conspectu tuo (Vulgate),—or, be gracious to me in this also, and leave none of thy followers (Ainsworth, Patrick), though the two clauses might perhaps be connected thus: “Wherefore do I thus find grace in the eyes of my lord?” (Kalisch).
So (literally, and, complying with his brother’s request) Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir—from which he had come to meet Jacob (vide Genesis 32:3). And Jacob journeyed to Succoth. Succoth, so called here by anticipation, and afterwards belonging to the tribe of Gad, was situated in the valley of the Jordan, on the east side of the river, and to the south of the Jabbok (Joshua 13:27; Judges 8:4, Judges 8:5), and consequently is not to be identified with Sakut, on the western side of the Jordan, ten miles north of the Jabbok, and opposite the Wady Yabis; but is to be sought for at the ford opposite the Wady-el-Fariah, “down which the little stream from Shechem drains into the Jordan”. And built him an house. This was an indication that Jacob purposed some considerable stay at Succoth; and, indeed, if a period of repose was not now demanded by the state of Jacob’s health after his long servitude with Laban, his exhausting conflict with the angel, and his exciting interview with Esau (Lange), an interval of some years appears to be imperatively required by the exigencies of the ensuing narrative concerning Dinah, who could not at this time have been much over six years of age (Murphy, Afford, Gosman, et alii). And made booths for his cattle. Porter states that he has frequently men such booths (Succoth, from saccac, to entwine) occupied by the Bedawin of the Jordan valley, and describes them as rude huts of reeds, sometimes covered with long grass, and sometimes with a piece of tent (vide Kitto’s ‘Cyclop.,’ ut supra). Therefore the name of the place is called (literally, he called the name of the place) Succoth—i.e. booths.
Ellicott adds the following note re: Succoth:
(17) Succoth.—That is, booths. There are two claimants for identification with Jacob’s Succoth, of which the one is in the tribe of Gad, on the east of the Jordan, in the corner formed by that river and the Jabbok; the other is the place still called Sakût, on the west of the Jordan, but as it lies ten miles to the north. of the junction of the Jordan and Jabbok, it is not likely that Jacob would go so far out of his way.
Jacob . . . built him an house, and made booths for his cattle.—This is something quite unusual, as the cattle in Palestine remain in the open air all the year round, and the fact that the place retained the name of the booths shows that it was noticed as remarkable. But the fact, coupled with the right translation of Genesis 33:18, is a strong but undesigned testimony to the truth of the narrative. Jacob had been pursued by Laban, and suffered much from anxiety and the labour attendant upon the hurried removal of so large a household. Delivered from danger in the rear, he has to face a greater danger in front, and passes many days and nights in terror. At last Esau is close at hand, and having done all that man could do, he stays behind to recover himself, and prepare for the dreaded meeting next day. But instead of a few calm restful hours he has to wrestle fiercely all night, and when at sunrise he moves. forward he finds that he has sprained his hip. He gets through the interview with Esan with much feeling, agitated alternately by fear, and hope, and joy, enduring all the while his bodily pain as best he can, and then, delivered from all danger, he breaks down. The word “journeyed” simply means that he broke up his camp from the high ground where he had met his brother, and went into the corner close by, where the two rivers would both protect him and provide his cattle with water and herbage. And there he not only put up some protection, probably wattled enclosures made with branches of trees, for his cattle, but built a house for himself—something, that is, more solid than a tent: and there he lay until he was healed of his lameness. The strained sinew would require some months of perfect rest before Jacob could move about; but it was healed, for “Jacob came whole and sound to the city of Shechem.” (See next verse.)
The note reminds us that Jacob is injured due to his wrestling match and that he likely needs an extended rest to recover. The extended stay also benefits his party which has been traveling and under a considerable amount of stress since leaving Laban.
Verse 18 is a bit confusing. In verse 17, we are told Jacob builds a house but in the next verse, we are told he arrives safely in Shechem, in the land of Canaan. Are Shechem and Succoth the same place or has some time passed? From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Jacob (leaving Succoth) came to Shalem—the word שָׁלֵם, rendered by some expositors as here (LXX; Vulgate, Syriac, Luther, Calvin, Poole, Wordsworth), is better taken as an adverb signifying in peace or in safety (Onkelos, Saadias, Rashi, Dathius, Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Keil, Kalisch, et alii), meaning that Jacob Was now sound in his limb (Jarehi) and safe in his person, being no more endangered by Esau (Gerundensis in Drusius), or that he had hitherto met with no misfortune, though soon to encounter one in the instance of Dinah (Patrick), or that the expectations of Jacob expressed in Genesis 28:21 (to which there is an obvious allusion) were now fulfilled (Keil)—a city of Shechem,—if Shalem be the name of the town, then probably Shechem is the name of the person referred to in Genesis 34:2, viz; the son of Hamor the Hivite (Drusius, Poole); but if Shalem mean incolumis, then the present clause must be rendered “to the city of Shechem,” the city being already built and named—which is in the land of Canaan,—Bush thinks that Jacob had originally contemplated entering Canaan from the south after rounding the Dead Sea, probably with a view to reach Beersheba, but that, after his interview with Esau, he suddenly altered his route, and entered Canaan directly by crossing the Jordan and driving up his flocks and herds to Shechem, the first halting-place of Abraham (vide Genesis 12:6), which may perhaps lend additional interest to, if they do not explain, the words that follow—when he came from Padan-aram (as Abraham previously had done); and (he) pitched his tent before the city—because he did not wish to come in contact with the inhabitants (Lyre), or because his flocks and herds could not find accommodation within the city walls (Murphy), or perhaps simply for convenience of pasturage (Patrick).
The note tells us that Jacob left Succoth. I therefore get the impression that the mention of Succoth might be intended to give the audience of Genesis an explanation for why Succoth bears its name – but is otherwise not terribly important to the narrative.
The verse tells us that Jacob came to Shechem and also that Shechem is a person. The note above, however, names the place to which Jacob came as “Shalem.”
Shechem (city) = שְׁכֶם Shᵉkem, shek-em’; the same as H7926; ridge; Shekem, a place in Palestine:—Shechem.
Shechem (person) = שְׁכֶם Shᵉkem, shek-em’; the same as H7926; ridge; Shekem, a place in Palestine:—Shechem.
The same Hebrew word is used in both instances.
However, there is another word here to look at:
safely = שָׁלֵם shâlêm, shaw-lame’; from H7999; complete (literally or figuratively); especially friendly:—full, just, made ready, peaceable, perfect(-ed), quiet, Shalem (by mistake for a name), whole.
(18) Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem.—The Sam. Pent. has shalom,”safe”; but shalem is right, and means whole, sound. Onkelos, however, followed by most modern commentators, renders it in peace, but this too would not mean peaceably, but that his troubles were now at an end, and his lameness cured. Philippsohn’s rendering, however, is more exact, namely, wohlbehalten, in good condition. Rashi also, no mean authority, sees in it an allusion to the cure of Jacob’s lameness. As Shechem was a man, his city would not be Shalem, but that called after his own name. In Genesis 12:6 it is called “Sichern,” where see Note. Sichern was probably the old name, but after the cruel fate brought upon it by Shechem’s misconduct the spelling was modified to suit the history.
In the land of Canaan.—Jacob therefore had now crossed the river Jordan, and so far completed his homeward journey. Probably as soon as he had recovered from his lameness he visited his father, but as his possessions were large, and Esau was the chief at Hebron, there was no room at present for him to dwell there, nor in fact was this possible until Isaac’s death. But as we find Deborah with them soon afterwards, it is plain that he had gone to visit Isaac, and, finding his mother dead, had brought away with him her beloved nurse.
Jacob came to safety in a city of Shechem. That makes sense.
After arriving, Jacob settles in Shechem. So he has not followed his brother to Seir as verse 14 suggested but has instead settled first in Succoth and now in Shechem. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And he bought a parcel of a field,—literally, the portion (from a root signifying to divide) of the field—where he had spread his tent,—and in which he afterwards sank a well (cf. John 4:6)—at the hand of the children of Homer, Shechem’s father (after whom the town was named, ut supra), for an hundred pieces of money—or kesitahs, the etymology of which is uncertain (Kalisch), though connected by some philologists (Gesenius, Furst) with kasat, to weigh; translated lambs (Onkelos, LXX; Vulgate), but believed to have been a certain weight now unknown, or a piece of money of a definite value, perhaps the price of a lamb (Murphy), which, like the shekel, was used for purposes of commercial exchange by the patriarchs (Gesenius)—probably a coin stamped with the figure of a lamb (Bochart, Munter); but coined money does not appear to have been of so great antiquity (Rosenmüller, Wordsworth, Alford).
And he erected there an altar,—as Abram his ancestor had done (Genesis 12:7)—and called it—not invoked upon it, invocavit super illud (Vulgate), ἐτεκαλήσατο (LXX.), but named it (Dathe, Rosenmüller, Keil, &c.)—El-elohe-Israel—i.e. God, the God of Israel; meaning, he called it the altar of God, the God of Israel (Rosenmüller), or, reading el as a preposition, “To the God of Israel”.
El-elohe-Israel= אֵל אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל ʼÊl ʼĕlôhêy Yisrâʼêl, ale el-o-hay’ yis-rawale’; from H410 and H430 and H3478; the mighty god if Jisrael; El-Elohi-Jisrael, the title given to a consecrated spot by Jacob:—Elelohe-israel.
“The mighty God of Israel.”
Ellicott also provides motives for Jacob’s actions here:
(20) He erected there an altar.—Abraham had already built an altar in this neighbourhood (Genesis 12:7), and Jacob now followed his example—partly as a thanksoffering for his safe return, partly also as taking possession of the country; but chiefly as a profession of faith, and public recognition of the new relation in which he stood to God. This especially appears in his calling the altar “El, the Elohim of Israel.” Of course the title of Jehovah could not be used here, as the altar had a special reference to the change of Jacob’s name, and was an acknowledgment on his own part of his now being Israel, a prince with El, that is. with God.
Jacob’s return to “The Promised Land” is now official. He has made peace with Esau and he has purchased land and built an alter upon it.
Given how things have gone for the line of Abraham in Genesis, we should expect conflict with the locals imminently – and that is exacatly what happens.