Bible study 33 – Genesis 33
Posted: November 5, 2016 Filed under: 1 - Genesis, Bible study, Short stories
“Father, your brother has arrived with his men!”
Jacob, who had been talking to one of his slaves about what waterhole to travel to next, turned around and saw Reuben standing behind him. “Your uncle is here already, eh? Run back to your mother and tell her to slaughter one of the goats for a celebratory meal.” As his son set off towards Leah’s tent, Jacob again turned to his slave: “Go fetch Simeon and Levi. They are to gather their strongest men, put on their finest attire, arm up, and come to me.”
“Yes, sir!” the slave responded, and ran off.
Jacob looked up, to the south-west. In the distance, he could see the sand clouds whipped up by 400 men and their camels in the distance. “So the time has come…”
“Leah, Rachel. Have your maids stand in the front with their children, with you and your children in the back.” Jacob walked up to Rachel and kissed her on the forehead, ignoring Leah’s flaming eyes on them. “I want you and Joseph safe at the back. Stay behind all the others.”
All his men and women gathered, Jacob finally walked towards his approaching guests. He progressed slowly, bowing down to the ground in a show of respect every few meters.
But by the seventh bow, he heard an approaching voice. “Brother!”
Jacob looked up, and saw a man about his own age running towards him. “…Esau? Is it really you?”
Esau laughed and cried at the same time as he threw his arms around his brother. “Of course it is me, silly little brother! Some decades may have passed since our last encounter, but surely you recognize me? Your brother from the same womb!” He kissed Jacob, and placed his head so Jacob could have a good look at his face.
“Now I see it! Esau! Your face has grown older, but under that beard is still my beloved brother!” Jacob broke out in tears, and Esau joined him as they fell down on the ground.
“Brother!” Esau said through the tears. He grabbed Jacob’s hand, and held it to his skin. “If you are still unsure, just feel my hairy, rough skin! It is how our father always recognized me.”
Jacob felt a sting of bad conscience, but ignored the comment and helped Esau up.
“Who are these with you?” Esau asked when he saw the maids and their children.
“They’re the children whom God has graciously given your servant. My wives, concubines and their offspring. Zilpah, come and greet my dear older brother.” And so Zilpah, Bilhah, Leah and Rachel each came up to Esau with their children and bowed to him.
“It’s so nice to finally meet your family, brother. Your wives are gorgeous, and your boys look like fine men!”
Jacob smiled. “Thank you, I did my best back in Haran. I trust you’ve done well for yourself down in the Negeb,” he said and blinked.
“Oh, I can’t complain. But you haven’t only made success in women and children; on my way here I met with several of your servants driving before them scores of goats, sheep and camels! The last guy even had some cows and donkeys. What do you mean by all this company that I met? They told me they were gifts for me, but surely they must be mistaken?”
Jacob bowed his head. “No, they are not. I want you to have it all, brother. I give them to you to find favor with my lord.”
“Stop pretending we are anything but brothers! I am not your lord, and you surely need these animals more than I do. I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”
Jacob was looking down at the ground now, refusing to meet his brother’s gaze. “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God – since you have received me with such a favor. Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.”
There was an awkward silence. Esau wasn’t sure how to respond – the sudden formality and repeated mention of God had caught him off-guard. He couldn’t come up with any way to refuse the offer as it was made. “Alright then, Jacob. No need to get all religious on me. I’ll take your gifts. With pleasure,” he added and raised up Jacob’s emotionless face towards his own.
Jacob drew an inaudible sigh of relief, and changed the subject. “Let’s go and get supper!”
“Here you go,” Leah said as she poured stew into Esau’s bowl. Her husband and brother-in-law were sitting on each side of the fire. Sitting leisurely on the ground by the tent canvas were two of Esau’s men. One was trying to sleep, while the other was playing with a small toy.
“Smells lovely! What’s in it?” asked Esau.
“Fresh goat meat, and lentils,” Leah answered gracefully.
Esau reached for a bread, and broke off a piece. “Once again you serve me bread and lentil stew, dear brother.”
The tent turned silent. The sleeping man opened his eyes, while the other looked up from his toy. Jacob sat emotionless. The only one grinning was Esau.
Finally Jacob started, “That deal was fair and square, and…” but stopped himself. He took a deep breath, and changed the subject. “I’m really looking forward to see your lands, Esau. From the looks of it, you’ve really made a man of yourself in Seir down in the Negeb. I mean, I might muster 400 donkeys, but 400 men? Really impressive.”
Esau changed his grin to a smile. “The land isn’t very fertile, but once your learn how to dig and control wells, it’s easy to attain wealth. Ishmael taught me a lot. I really want you to meet him. In fact, I was thinking, it really isn’t necessary for you to travel with this lot the whole way. You have sons and slaves who can manage your affairs for a while. Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.”
Jacob’s face again turned cold and emotionless. “My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; and if they are overdriven for one day, all the flocks will die. Let the lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
“Oh come on, Jacob! That’s ridiculous! You’re saying your whole livestock will die if you are gone for one day? Have a little faith in your men! I’m sure they can do the job without you,” Esau objected. But Jacob didn’t answer. He just stared silently at Esau.
Finally Esau had enough of the silence. His smile was completely gone now. “Damn you, Jacob! At the very least, let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” He glanced at the two men by the tent canvas. They sat up and stared coldly at Jacob. The daggers in their belts were clearly visible in the light from the fire. Leah, who had been sitting by the stew pot, put her hands to her mouth and killed a scream. Esau looked triumphantly back at Jacob. Jacob’s eyes narrowed.
At that very moment the canvas at the tent opening parted, and three men entered. Simeon, Levi, and a third man of great size and with huge muscles. They all wore daggers in their belts.
Esau turned around to look at them, and quickly reached for the bow lying beside him. But not quickly enough; Simeon stepped on it before Esau could pick it up, his hands on his dagger and his eyes fixed on Esau. Esau took his hands off his bow and turned back towards Jacob. By the tent canvas, Levi and the third man was surrounding his own two servants, who were nervously looking at their master for instructions. Jacob had stood up, and was looking down on Esau from the other side of the fire.
“Why should my lord be so kind to me?” he spat at Esau.
Esau’s heart was beating heavily, and he forced himself to calm down. “Right. You have no need of my men. I suppose we’ll meet in Seir then. Looking forward to it.” He pushed away his food bowl, stood up, and walked out the tent, Simeon’s eyes still fixed on him. His two servants followed him.
When all three of them were outside, Leah dropped her hands from her face and ran to embrace Jacob. “My husband! How will this end?”
Jacob lightly hugged her, and pushed her away. “Don’t worry. Everything is under control.”
“Damn it! I can’t believe I let him go!” Esau was fuming as he forced his camel to a stop next to one of his leading men.
“Can’t we just attack his whole party? They’re mostly women and slaves,” his man suggested.
“I don’t want to slaughter his whole family; I just want him dead! He tricked me out of my birthright, and he stole my father’s blessing!” Esau let out a scream of frustration. “All his wealth, all his family, all his slaves – they should be mine! I should be the rightful heir of our father Isaac!”
“But, it’s not like you would have literally had his wealth and family if…” his man started.
“Damn that cunning liar!” Esau cut him short. “My only hope is that he might still follow us to Seir, as he promised. If he does, we will be waiting for him. Make the arrangements.” He waved the man away.
“Father, your brother and his men are on their way. Our scout just returned, and he said he saw the whole party a day’s ride from here, in the direction of Seir.”
When Reuben was done reporting, he saw the tension in his father’s face change into an expression of relief. “Well, that should be enough,” Jacob said as he wiped the sweat off his forehead. “Then it’s time we change course. We go to Shechem.”
Reuben looked perplexed. “What? Are we not going to Seir to meet uncle Esau and granduncle Ishmael?”
Jacob smiled. “No, I expect nothing good awaits us there. Have the slaves lead the cattle ahead; and to make haste.”
“But Shechem is far away, father. The cattle are already tired.”
“Then we’ll rest somewhere along the way. We’ll figure something out. With God on our side, I suspect we can overcome any difficulties.”
There was obviously so much going on between the lines in this chapter, that I felt compelled to give some extra life to the source material. Jacob is clearly terrified that his brother will kill him, but this is never stated explicitly in the text, only strongly hinted at. Similarly, it never says that Esau intends to kill his brother – in fact, Esau doesn’t do anything at all to suggest this (apart from wanting to be alone with his brother), and my interpretation of his intentions could be totally wrong. Maybe he has totally forgotten the whole grudge and just wanted to be with his beloved brother.
All the quotes from the biblical text are also present in my story.
Jacob and Esau’s reunion somewhere between Seir and Haran.