(3) He passed over before them.—While providing some small chance of escape for his wives and children, arranged according to their rank, Jacob manfully went first and placed himself entirely in Esau’s power. He endeavoured, nevertheless, by his sevenfold obeisance in acknowledgment of Esau’s superiority, to propitiate him; for the cause of the quarrel had been Jacob’s usurpation of Esau’s right of precedence as the first born. This bowing in the East is made by bending the body forward with the arms crossed, and the right hand held over the heart.
The behaviour of Esau is very generous. He wished to spare his brother so large a present, and therefore leads the conversation to it, knowing, of course, what was the meaning of the five herds, as their drivers had delivered to him Jacob’s message. To have refused it, however, would have been a mark of hostility, especially as Jacob represented it as the gift of an inferior for the purpose of obtaining the favour of one from whom he had feared danger. But Esau expostulates with his brother. He too was rich, and Jacob should keep what was his own. But Jacob still urges its acceptance as the proof of goodwill, magnifies the value of Esau’s favour, and declares that by God’s goodness he has still abundance, even after giving his brother so princely a present. It is called “blessing” because it was considered lucky to receive a gift, and of all good-luck God was the giver. (Comp. 1 Samuel 25:27; 1 Samuel 30:26.)
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.
(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.)
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.
An hundred pieces of money.—Heb., a hundred hesitas. It is plain that the kesita was an ingot of metal of some considerable value, from what is said in the Book of Job (Genesis 42:11), that each of his friends gave the patriarch “one kesita and a nose-ring of gold.” The etymology of the word is uncertain, and apparently all knowledge of its meaning had at an early period passed away, inasmuch as Onkelos and some of the versions translate it lambs, for which rendering there is no support.