33 1 Jacob lifted his eyes and saw Esau approaching with four hundred men. Jacob divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two slavegirls. 2 He put the slavegirls and their children first, Leah and her children after them, and Rachel and Joseph last. 3 He passed them and bowed to the ground seven times until he was near his brother. 4 Esau ran to meet him, threw his arms around his neck, kissed him, and they wept. 5 Esau lifted his eyes and saw the women and children and said, “Who are these with you?”
Jacob said, “The children with whom God has favored your servant.” 6 The slavegirls and their children came forward and bowed down. 7 Leah and her servants also came forward and bowed down. Afterward, Joseph and Rachel came close and bowed down.
8 Esau said, “What does it mean to you, all this camp that I have met?”
Jacob said, “To find favor in the eyes of my lord.”
9 Esau said, “I have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have.”
10 Jacob said, “No, pray, if I have found favor in your eyes, take this tribute from my hand for seeing your face is, after all, seeing the face of God, and you have received me with kindness. 11 Take this tribute of blessing that I’ve brought for God has favored me, and I have everything I need.” So Jacob pressed him, and he took it.
12 Esau said, “Let us journey on, and I will go with you.”
13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows the children are frail, and the nursing flocks and cattle are my responsibility. If I whip them forward for even one day, they will die. 14 Let my lord proceed ahead of your servant. I will journey slowly, at the pace of the animals ahead of me and as fast as the children are able to go, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
15 Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.”
But Jacob said, “Why? May I only find favor in my lord’s eyes.”
16 Esau started back that same day to journey to Seir, 17 but Jacob traveled to Succoth. He built a house for himself and sheds for his cattle; therefore, he named the place Succoth/Sheds.
18 Jacob came in peace to the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan. He came from Paddan-Aram and camped facing the city. 19 He bought the portion of land where he pitched his tent from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s founder, for one hundred lambs. 20 Then he set up an altar there and named it El-Elohei-Israel (El/God, God of Israel).
It was as Jacob, not Israel, that he sees Esau and the four hundred. As Jacob, he organized a display with the slavegirls (Zilpah and Bilhah) and their children (Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher) going first, followed by Leah and her children (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and, of course, Dinah), and finally Rachel and her son Joseph.
Jacob then passed the three groups, bowing seven times as he drew near to Esau. Esau ignored such formalities and ran to greet Jacob, his brother. Together they wept (scholars debate whether both wept or only Esau).
Finally, seeing what was before him, Esau asked after the women and children. Group by group, they came to bow down. Asked about the flocks previously sent ahead and these household members, Jacob continues his respectful address of Esau as “his lordship” and says it was to help him find “favor” in Esau’s eyes.
Esau disclaims the flocks and claims he already has much. Jacob prevails upon Esau to accept them, nonetheless, and Esau does.
Invited to join forces with Esau, Jacob dissembles, claiming slow travel because of the young children and nursing animals. A promise was made to meet again in Seir, Esau’s base. Jacob also finds a way out of Esau leaving some of his cohort with Jacob.
So it was that Esau went to Seir while Jacob journeyed to Succoth in trans-Jordan—a place known for sheds—where he built shelters for his cattle.
After some indeterminate time, Jacob and company cross the Jordan and come in peace to Shechem, in the land of Canaan. Here Jacob buys the land he was camping on and raised an altar, calling it El-Elohei-Israel. El, the high god of a Canaanite pantheon, is become the God of the people of Israel.
Jacob’s on-going trickery is connected to, and even constituent of, a shift from the God of Abraham and the Terror of Isaac to the God of Jacob—El of Israel. How long can such uncertainty remain at peace in Canaan as a separate people without some acculturation with the people of Shechem and Canaan?