Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Meeting with Esau. - As Jacob went forward, he saw Esau coming to meet him with his 400 mean. He then arranged his wives and children in such a manner, that the maids with their children went first, Leah with hers in the middle, and Rachel with Joseph behind, thus forming a long procession. But he himself went in front, and met Esau with sevenfold obeisance. ארצה ישׁתּחוּ does not denote complete prostration, like ארצה אפּים in Gen 19:1, but a deep Oriental bow, in which the head approaches the ground, but does not touch it. By this manifestation of deep reverence, Jacob hoped to win his brother's heart. He humbled himself before him as the elder, with the feeling that he had formerly sinned against him. Esau, on the other hand, "had a comparatively better, but not so tender a conscience." At the sight of Jacob he was carried away by the natural feelings of brotherly affection, and running up to him, embraced him, fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they both wept. The puncta extraordinaria above ישּׁקהוּ are probably intended to mark the word as suspicious. They "are like a note of interrogation, questioning the genuineness of this kiss; but without any reason" (Del.). Even if there was still some malice in Esau's heart, it was overcome by the humility with which his brother met him, so that he allowed free course to the generous emotions of his heart; all the more, because the "roving life" which suited his nature had procured him such wealth and power, that he was quite equal to his brother in earthly possessions.
When his eyes fell upon the women and children, he inquired respecting them, "Whom hast thou here?" And Jacob replied, "The children with whom Elohim hath favoured me." Upon this, the mothers and their children approached in order, making reverential obeisance. חנן with double acc. "graciously to present." Elohim: "to avoid reminding Esau of the blessing of Jehovah, which had occasioned his absence" (Del.).
And he said, These are to find grace in the sight of my lord.
Esau then inquired about the camp that had met him, i.e., the presents of cattle that were sent to meet him, and refused to accept them, until Jacob's urgent persuasion eventually induced him to do so.
"For therefore," sc., to be able to offer thee this present, "have I come to see thy face, as man seeth the face of God, and thou hast received me favourably." The thought is this: In thy countenance I have been met with divine (heavenly) friendliness (cf. Sa1 29:9; Sa2 14:17). Jacob might say this without cringing, since he "must have discerned the work of God in the unexpected change in his brother's disposition towards him, and in his brother's friendliness a reflection of this divine."
Blessing: i.e., the present, expressive of his desire to bless, as in Sa1 25:27; Sa1 30:26. הבאת: for הבאה, as in Deu 31:29; Isa 7:14, etc.; sometimes also in verbs הל, Lev 25:21; Lev 26:34. כל ישׁ־לי: "I have all" (not all kinds of things); viz as the heir of the divine promise.
Lastly, Esau proposed to accompany Jacob on his journey. But Jacob politely declined not only his own company, but also the escort, which Esau afterwards offered him, of a portion of his attendants; the latter as being unnecessary, the former as likely to be injurious to his flocks. This did not spring from any feeling of distrust; and the ground assigned was no mere pretext. He needed no military guard, "for he knew that he was defended by the hosts of God;" and the reason given was a very good one: "My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds that are milking (עלות from עוּל, giving milk or suckling) are upon me" (עלי): i.e., because they are giving milk they are an object of especial anxiety to me; "and if one should overdrive them a single day, all the sheep would die." A caravan, with delicate children and cattle that required care, could not possibly keep pace with Esau and his horsemen, without taking harm. And Jacob could not expect his brother to accommodate himself to the rate at which he was travelling. For this reason he wished Esau to go on first; and he would drive gently behind, "according to the foot of the cattle (מלאכה possessions = cattle), and according to the foot of the children," i.e., "according to the pace at which the cattle and the children could go" (Luther). "Till I come to my lord to Seir:" these words are not to be understood as meaning that he intended to go direct to Seir; consequently they were not a wilful deception for the purpose of getting rid of Esau. Jacob's destination was Canaan, and in Canaan probably Hebron, where his father Isaac still lived. From thence he may have thought of paying a visit to Esau in Seir. Whether he carried out this intention or not, we cannot tell; for we have not a record of all that Jacob did, but only of the principal events of his life. We afterwards find them both meeting together as friends at their father's funeral (Gen 35:29). Again, the attitude of inferiority which Jacob assumed in his conversation with Esau, addressing him as lord, and speaking of himself as servant, was simply an act of courtesy suited to the circumstances, in which he paid to Esau the respect due to the head of a powerful band; since he could not conscientiously have maintained the attitude of a brother, when inwardly and spiritually, in spite of Esau's friendly meeting, they were so completely separated the one from the other.
Esau set off the same day for Mount Seir, whilst Jacob proceeded to Succoth, where he built himself a house and made succoth for his flocks, i.e., probably not huts of branches and shrubs, but hurdles or folds made of twigs woven together. According to Jos 13:27, Succoth was in the valley of the Jordan, and was allotted to the tribe of Gad, as part of the district of the Jordan, "on the other side Jordan eastward;" and this is confirmed by Jdg 8:4-5, and by Jerome (quaest. ad h. l.): Sochoth usque hodie civitas trans Jordanem in parte Scythopoleos. Consequently it cannot be identified with the Scut on the western side of the Jordan, to the south of Beisan, above the Wady el Mlih. - How long Jacob remained in Succoth cannot be determined; but we may conclude that he stayed there some years from the circumstance, that by erecting a house and huts he prepared for a lengthened stay. The motives which induced him to remain there are also unknown to us. But when Knobel adduces the fact, that Jacob came to Canaan for the purpose of visiting Isaac (Gen 31:18), as a reason why it is improbable that he continued long at Succoth, he forgets that Jacob could visit his father from Succoth just as well as from Shechem, and that, with the number of people and cattle that he had about him, it was impossible that he should join and subordinate himself to Isaac's household, after having attained through his past life and the promises of God a position of patriarchal independence.
From Succoth, Jacob crossed a ford of the Jordan, and "came in safety to the city of Sichem in the land of Canaan." שׁלם is not a proper name meaning "to Shalem," as it is rendered by Luther (and Eng. Vers., Tr.) after the lxx, Vulg., etc.; but an adjective, safe, peaceful, equivalent to בּשׁלום, "in peace," in Gen 28:21, to which there is an evident allusion. What Jacob had asked for in his vow at Bethel, before his departure from Canaan, was now fulfilled. He had returned in safety "to the land of Canaan;" Succoth, therefore, did not belong to the land of Canaan, but must have been on the eastern side of the Jordan. שׁכם עיר, lit., city of Shechem; so called from Shechem the son of the Hivite prince Hamor
(Note: Mamortha, which according to Plin. (h. n. v. 14) was the earlier name of Neapolis (Nablus), appears to have been a corruption of Chamor.)
(Gen 33:19, Gen 34:2.), who founded it and called it by the name of his son, since it was not in existence in Abraham's time (vid., Gen 12:6). Jacob pitched his tent before the town, and then bought the piece of ground upon which he encamped from the sons of Hamor for 100 Kesita. קשׂיטה is not a piece of silver of the value of a lamb (according to the ancient versions), but a quantity of silver weighed out, of considerable, though not exactly determinable value: cf. Ges. thes. s. v. This purchase showed that Jacob, in reliance upon the promise of God, regarded Canaan as his own home and the home of his seed. This piece of field, which fell to the lot of the sons of Joseph, and where Joseph's bones were buried (Jos 24:32), was, according to tradition, the plain which stretches out at the south-eastern opening of the valley of Shechem, where Jacob's well is still pointed out (Joh 4:6), also Joseph's grave, a Mahometan wely (grave) two or three hundred paces to the north (Rob. Pal. iii. 95ff.). Jacob also erected an altar, as Abraham had previously done after his entrance into Canaan (Gen 12:7), and called it El-Elohe-Israel, "God (the mighty) is the God of Israel," to set forth in this name the spiritual acquisition of his previous life, and according to his vow (Gen 28:21) to give glory to the "God of Israel" (as he called Jehovah, with reference to the name given to him at Gen 32:29), for having proved Himself to be El, a mighty God, during his long absence, and that it might serve as a memorial for his descendants.