The Encounter of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43)


As is often said, hatred is no more or less than the opposite of love. Both emotions capture us to an extent that there is no escape. In love, we cannot live, or be for one moment without the beloved: we will do anything to be together with that person for one second, fly to the ends of the earth, climb the highest mountain etc. In hatred it is the same. We have no way to dampen our hatred for an individual. It forever occupies our mind and thoughts. We can only think of revenge, to bring harm to the person, to bring him sorrow and even death even to the point that we know all very well that this hatred is both destroying our own consciousness and being and any expression of this hatred could also bring our own demise.

There is however a fundamental difference between love and hatred. In love a person can be sodden with emotion for his/her lover as if it will last forever, yet within a moment - the next morning – he/she wakes up and discovers that all emotions have dissolved for no apparent reason and life seems normal again. In hatred this is rarely the case, for hatred is usually born of a reason to hate and that reason is rarely alleviated and so adds fuel and justification for that hatred. For this reason hatred is so much more dangerous because it can bring a man beyond reason and to a point of no reason.

Such was the case of Dudu Topaz, an Israeli comedian, who could bring a house down with laughter and humour through his wit and jokes. Yet for reasons of his radio show being terminated he sought revenge on those that he blamed for the action. An uncontrollable hatred welled up inside him that culminated in hiring thugs to seriously injure and even attempt to kill his opponents. Upon being found out he found himself in jail for attempted murder and consequently hung himself. So ended the life of a man who had everything yet whose hatred caused him to sacrifice it all for vengeance and ultimately his own life.

The Story of the encounter of Jacob with Esau

The story describes the encounter of Jacob with Esau his brother occurs twenty years after he had usurped the birthright from him and soon after left his parents and his home for fear of retribution from Esau. (See hyperlink Jacob Esau and the birthright).

During those twenty years, after the incident of Jacob’s Ladder (see hyperlink Jacobs’ ladder) Jacob had married Rachel and Leah and served his father-in- law Laban, where he not only accumulated himself children, wives and concubines, but a great wealth in flocks due to his cunning understanding of Gregor Mendel’s law of genetic exchange (circa 1865), 3,500 years before Mendel himself discovered and documented them. (See Genesis 30:31-34).

Meanwhile Esau too had accumulated wealth and wives, but still harboured hatred towards his brother because of the incident of the birthright. The meeting of Jacob with Esau was one fraught with fear for his life on the part of Jacob and poisonous hatred on the part of Esau.

If we examine the story we see that it is an ancient-day version of “Star Wars” where the forces of evil are combating the force of good – or indeed ‘The Force’. It is not that Esau was evil but rather evil was harboured in his heart.

And the messengers returned to Jacob saying, we came to thy brother Esau and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him. The Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. (Genesis: 32:7-8).

When Jacob hears the news that Esau is coming with 400 men he realises that Esau is coming to attack and kill him and all his family and that the wroth of Esau is as strong as ever. Esau’s approach was to destroy Jacob’s soul with 400 men, for he knew that Jacob had reached the level of the 400, where 400 is the value of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet taf ת and represents the highest spiritual level achievable on this earthly plane, for indeed Jacob had set the altar at Beth-El whose previous name was Luz (See hyperlink Jacob’s ladder). He therefore uses 400 men to attack his very soul and destroy him off the face of the Earth. Hence Jacob was ‘greatly afraid and distressed’.

Jacob’s response to this was to neutralise Esau’s attack by sending to Esau:

that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother. Two hundred female goats, and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams: Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty cows, and ten bulls, twenty female asses, and ten foals: (Genesis 32:14-16).

If we add up the number of animals sent as a gift to Esau, including the colts, it totals 580.

She-goats 200

Goats 20

Ewes 200

Rams 20

Milch camels 30

And their colts 30

Cattle 40

Bulls 10

She-asses 20

Foals 10

Total 580

The reason Jacob sent 580 animals as a gift to Esau are threefold:

The number 580 is the value of the word Seir, spelt sin-ayin-yod-resh שעיר = 300-70-10-200 =580. Seir is the name of the place where Esau resides, so by presenting 580 animal Jacob was able to confine Esau and cause him to return to Seir - which he does,

Seir is also the name given to ‘the goat’, which is commonly given as a sin offering in the various offering made at the Temple. The offering of 580 animals was therefore in order to neutralise the hatred in Esau’s heart;

The number 580 is the gematrical value of saraf שרף meaning ‘burn’ and spelt sin-resh-peh = 300+200+80=580. It is also the gematrical value of the shofar שפר shin-peh-resh= 300+80+200=580 which is the ram’s horn used to announce the end of the complete year and the beginning of another at Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah (See hyperlink The end of time). So by presenting the 580 animals Jacob tried to conclude the matter of the birthright, reducing the hatred to ashes and to allow a new era to begin.

The encounter of Jacob with the ‘man’ and with Esau

Following the sending of the gifts to Esau we find Jacob still fearful for his life and we encounter the extraordinary story where after the night has fallen Jacob crosses the Ford Jabbok: And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day (Genesis 32:25). Finally Jacob prevails over the man and demands to be blessed: And he (the man) said:

Thy name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince thou hast power with God and with men, and hast prevailed (Genesis 32:29).

The name of the ford ‘Jabbok יבק spelt yod-beth-kof is derived from the verb y’abek, meaning ‘struggle’ or ‘wrestle’, and is spelt: yod-aleph-beth-kof and is associated with the word abbok, אבק meaning ‘matter’ spelt, aleph-beth-kof. Hence the struggle that Jacob had was effectively a struggle over ‘matter’ i.e. the physical body (of Esau).

Who this man is, we do not know. The implications are that he was a Godly figure, for Jacob is given the name Israel because he had power with God and with men. Also, after the event he calls the name of the place Peniel פניאל - meaning face (פנ) of God (אל ) in Hebrew:

And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel; for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved (Genesis 32:31).

The word ‘face’ in fact appears a total of eight times in this episode of the text. Face, spelt פן peh-nun = 80+50 = 130 – the same as sulam and sinai and also a decane above the word achad meaning one (see hyperlink aleph head of bull, name of God yin and Yang).So clearly the episode of Jacob’s encounter with Esau was under the protection and guidance of God in order to ensure Jacob came to no harm.

This is why, about 100 years later when Jacob is lying on his deathbed and is at the point of blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, he says:

The Angel who redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads (Ephraim and Manasseh); (Genesis 48:16), suggesting that the man with whom he struggled was indeed an Angel sent by God and was in some way the (positive) essence of Esau. Some rabbinical scholars suggest that the Angel was in fact ‘The Prince of Esau’. So when finally Jacob comes face to face with Esau, he says:

for therefore I have seen thy face as if I have seen the face of God (Genesis 33:10)

Change of names Jacob and Israel

This becomes a little clearer if we examine the names ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’.

Returning to the passage: Thy name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince thou hast power with God and with men, and hast prevailed (Genesis 32:29).

The name Israel is derived from the word ‘prince’, sar and ‘God’ el, as implied in the passage above. However the change of name has further implications:

Israel ישראל is spelt yod-sin-resh-aleph-lamed = 10-300-200-1-30 = 541

Jacob יעקב is spelt: yod-ayin-kof-beth = 10-70-100-2 = 182

Israel minus Jacob = 541-182 =359

This is the value for Satan שטן = sin-tet-nun=300-9-50 =359.

The word Satan effectively means ‘disturber’. It would suggest that Esau’s determination to kill his brother (a re-enactment of Cain and Abel – also caused by jealousy – Genesis 4:1-14) was guided by the Satan that was in him, and had he been successful, would again have resulted in a complete change in the history of the Hebrew race.

Not only this but if we take the name Esau עשו spelt ayin-sin-vav 70-300-6 = 376 and subtract it from Satan = 359 we get 17. Seventeen is the gematrical value for ‘good’ – טוב tov in Hebrew spelt tet-vav-beth = 9+6+2=17. And as noted in (See hyperlink Seventeen is it good) ‘good’ does not necessarily mean good, as opposed to bad, but rather change from something that appears to be negative and destructive to something which is positive and constructive. Consequently because the Angel changed Jacob’s name to Israel, Jacob was able to absorb and neutralise the evil that was in Esau, and his intentions to kill him and turn Esau’s evil intentions into good. Hence Jacob rendered Esau powerless at the time of the meeting that was to take place the following day and “a bite, turned into a kiss”.

The Bite and the Kiss

Further indication that the evil in Esau had been neutralised through the change of name of Jacob to Israel is in the in the description of when Esau came to meet Jacob:

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

If one looks carefully at the text in a Hebrew Bible one in will note that the ancient scribes have sequenced the phrase ‘and he kissed’, va yishaku, וישקהו with a series of dots over the letters.

The reason is as follows: in Hebrew the word for ‘kiss’ is nashek, נשק spelt nun-shin-kof, and is closely associated with the word for ‘bite’ nashech נשך spelt nun-shin-caph, where the last letter kof is changed for a caph. Hence it is said that when Esau fell on Jacob’s neck it was his intention to ‘bite’ him, but because he was rendered powerless by the submission of Satan in the change of Jacob’s name so the evil was neutralised and the bite became a ‘kiss’. It is for this reason the four dots are founds over the word va yishaku.

The enmity between Esau and Jacob is never resolved and even though in Deuteronomy 23:8 it says ‘You shall not loathe the Edomite (Esau became the father of the Edomites) because he is your brother’. However, later in the book of the prophet Obadiah it says:

and the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame and the house of Esau as stubble. And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble, and they shall burn them and consume them; and none shall remain of the house of Esau; for the Lord has spoken it. (Obadiah 1:18).

Unfortunately this position still persists today!

However a very strong lesson from this text is that it is possible to change evil into good, yin into yang, negative into positive: That, in times of conflict where hatred is imbedded deep into the psyche of our opponent, it is possible to neutralise and even invert that hatred to love. Hints as to how this may be done using both physical and spiritual means are indicated in the analysis above. However the implementation of such actions is less clear. 


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