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Shepherding with Wisdom, Humility, & Gentleness | Genesis 33

In chapter 32 as he was heading back to his homeland, Jacob got word that his brother Esau was coming out to meet him with 400 men. Being somewhat fearful, Jacob began to plan for the worst and pray for the best. Will Esau try to kill Jacob, as it appears to Jacob he may, or will they be reconciled to one another? We’ll soon find out in this chapter.

Also in this chapter we are going to see qualities in Jacob that we should emulate - wisdom, humility, and gentleness. By his use of wisdom and humility Jacob will avoid unneeded controversy and disaster. And by his use of gentleness Jacob gently leads his little one and his flocks to safety.

Let’s get into the Word.


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.

Right now Jacob doesn’t know if these 400 men and Esau are coming to kill him or what they are going to do, so he is preparing for the worst.

Genesis 33:2 And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.

Interesting. Was Jacob showing favoritism here? The first to be killed would be the handmaids and their children, then Leah and her children, and hopefully his favorite wife and son would be able to escape. That’s no doubt what Jacob was thinking.

Genesis 33:3 And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

The standard greeting typically given to powerful men and leaders. Though Jacob’s descendants, blessed by God, were to eventually be more powerful than Esau, Esau had more military might at this time. So Jacob submits to Esau here in an attempt to keep the peace and pacify any anger Esau may still about losing the birthright and the blessing.


Genesis 33:4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.

Wow! Quite a different response than Jacob expected. I think it is likely that Esau had a change of heart here, possible in part due to Jacob’s gifts and submissiveness to him. Had Jacob not used wisdom in sending the gifts wave by wave and humbly submitting himself to Esau we could be looking at a totally different outcome.

God can change minds. Nothing to fear, God is in control.

Lesson: At times, even though God has promised us to be “heirs of the world”, before that time comes there are times when we need to submit to earthly authorities while we patiently wait for God’s promises to come to pass. Had Jacob taken the attitude that “he was chosen of God” and Esau wasn’t, and there is no way he is going to submit to him, Jacob would have through his pride of heart brought great distress upon his family unnecessarily. We must use wisdom in this world.

Genesis 33:5 And 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.

Notice that Jacob is humbly giving credit to God for his children, as blessings graciously given unto him.

Genesis 33:6 Then the handmaidens came near, they and their children, and they bowed themselves.

Genesis 33:7 And Leah also with her children came near, and bowed themselves: and after came Joseph near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves.

All showing respect to Esau. Now remember Esau is the uncle of all these children.


Genesis 33:8 And 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.

Genesis 33:9 And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.

No doubt Esau was a rich man as well, and powerful too seeing that he had a 400 man army.

Genesis 33:10 And 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.

To me it almost seems as if Jacob is pouring it on real thick here by saying seeing him, Esau, was like seeing the face of God. It could also be because of the grace Esau showed to him after having been so angry with him years ago. Perhaps it also had something to do with the change in Esau’s countenance.

Genesis 33:11 Take, 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.

Some people look at this gift as sort of a peace offering to Esau, in an attempt to make up for the blessing that Jacob took away from Esau 20 years ago.

Genesis 33:12 And he said, Let us take our journey, and let us go, and I will go before thee.

Esau offers to lead the way.

Genesis 33:13 And 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.

Genesis 33:14 Let 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.

This shows that Jacob has the heart of a shepherd. Keeping up with the pace of 400 strong men would be too much for Jacob’s young children and animals. So Jacob rejects that offer and says that he will let Esau go ahead but that he would go at a gentle pace that the young ones can handle.

Lesson: There is a lesson here for strong Christians, Pastors, and parents. As shepherds we should be mindful of weaker or less mature Christians. We must not drive them too hard but rather lead them at a pace they can handle with patience and love. Now that doesn’t mean we don’t push them to grow, we do. But we must know their limits and not push them so hard that they break.

Example: Let’s say you are just driven to study the Word of God 3 or more hours a day. You can’t expect a brand new Christian to keep up with that pace. They need time to develop, and if you push them too hard they might get overwhelmed and give up. We definitely don’t want that. But at the same time, we do need to gently encourage new Christians to get deeper and deeper into the Word of God at a pace they can handle.

Genesis 33:15 And 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.

Nice gesture by Esau by volunteering to leave some men back with Jacob to help protect Jacob’s family. Jacob wisely but respectfully rejects that offer. Though Jacob has submitted to Esau he is not going to surrender his freedom or rely upon the earthly power of Esau to secure the promises and blessings that God has given him. Instead, Jacob will continue to put his trust in God rather than in men. Remember that.

Genesis 33:16 So Esau returned that day on his way unto Seir.

Genesis 33:17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

Jacob and Esau end up in separate places, which is good. Had they dwelt together problems no doubt would have occurred. Remember Esau was still a carnal worldly man, he married pagan Canaanite women, and it is likely the men that were with him were the same. Any permanent close relation with Esau could have had a devastating moral consequences upon Jacob and his family.

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.

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.

The second piece of land owned by Abraham’s chosen seed. The first property Abraham bought as a burying ground for his wife Sarah.

What’s the significance of this?

Genesis 33:20 And he erected there an altar, and called it Elelohe-Israel.

Building an altar to make sacrifices to God is something Jacob does right away – worshiping God should always be our first priority. Especially after God blesses us and brings us to our destinations.


Never forget the lessons learned in this chapter. We must always remember to use wisdom and avoid unnecessary conflict that could bring hurt upon our family. With that said we must not avoid necessary controversy either. Sometimes no matter what we do, if we are serving God, situations will arise that we will have to face without backing down. But if we can get along with others, we should. And if we’ve wronged someone, or if someone perceives that we’ve wronged them, it’s better to offer a peace offering than to allow strife and hatred to build. Sometimes we fight with the sword and sometimes we fight the good fight using wisdom.
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