Last week, I wrote a post about the benefits of reading the Bible closely and how good preaching should model this. In this week’s post, I’m going to give an example of the types of questions I might ask of a passage (and the characters in it) when I am trying to read it closely. To do this, I’ve fashioned this post as a mock interview with the two main characters of Genesis 33: Jacob and Esau. In other words, if I was able to conduct an interview with these two men, what would I ask them, specifically, in light of the details listed in Genesis 33?
By way of background, in Genesis 33, finally, after many, many years, Jacob comes face to face with his brother Esau. Esau is the hairy-warrior-older-brother, and Jacob is the younger, softer brother who stole his older brother’s blessing. While it is fairly easy to get the big picture of Genesis 33, questions abound as to the motives involved. A few details make it seem as though Jacob’s motives we honorable, and other details seem to make them seem less so. The same is true of Esau. It’s difficult to know what to make of the two brothers. This interview is designed to sort out the ambiguity, at least as much as possible.
So, without further introduction, below are the questions I would like to ask Jacob and Esau based on the words of Genesis 33.
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Mock Interview Questions for Jacob and Esau from Genesis 33
Genesis 33:1, And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants.
Esau, this first question is for you. Why exactly did you bring “four hundred men” with you to see Jacob? That’s a big posse to meet a guy with his family and some animals.
Later, as the story unfolds, it appeared that your intentions (at least in this encounter) were not to harm Jacob but to protect him. So, Esau, were these men really just there for protection, or were they also for influence and intimidation, you know, in case you didn’t like what you saw in Jacob?
Genesis 33:2, And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all.
Jacob, this question is to you. Why did you arrange your children and wives this way? Was it pure favoritism to protect the ones you love most? We know how you feel about Rachel.
Genesis 33:3, He [Jacob] himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
Jacob, good work on going out in front alone to meet Esau. That was brave. But, why did you bow down seven times? I have read that it was an established sign of respect in your culture, but was it really respect coming from you to him? Was this a genuine plea for forgiveness that came from a repentant heart? Or, Jacob, was this all an elaborate plan with survival as the principal motive?
In the previous chapter, we read that you sent messengers to Esau to tell him you were coming (32:3), so I’m inclined to pick the former motive, namely genuine repentance, but which was it? Or maybe it was some of both.
Genesis 33:4, But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
Esau, were you planning to react this way, or was it a spur of the moment thing?
Genesis 33:5, And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, "Who are these with you?" Jacob said, "The children whom God has graciously given your servant."
Esau, I noticed that you asked a question to Jacob about the women and children. However, Jacob, you only responded to Esau about the children. Why? Is this significant? Was it because “wives” were a sore subject in your family? We know that you, Esau, back in Chapters 27 and 28, took “foreign wives” much to the disappointment of your mother Rebekah.
To the question again: Jacob, is this why you didn’t bring up your wives? Or maybe it was that you were embarrassed by the fact that you now, like your brother, had multiple wives and girlfriends?
Also, Jacob, here you spoke very humbly. For example, you spoke to your brother Esau as “your servant,” and later as “my Lord.” Jacob, was this the humility you learned over the years of hard labor and service to your uncle Laban, or was it an intentional projection of humility to win favor? Or again, could it be that it was some of both?
Genesis 33:6-7, Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. 7 Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down.
Jacob, before this encounter, had you taught your children to bow down like this when they met someone of importance, the same way I might teach my children to look people in the eye and say, “Nice to meet you”?
Or, Jacob, are we reading about the result of very special instructions that you made to your family for this particular moment so that you could curry favor in Esau’s (potentially angry) eyes?
Genesis 33:8, Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.”
Again, Jacob, if I may, what do you mean with your answer to Esau’s question, “To find favor in the sight of my Lord”?
Are we talking about apologizing or trying to save your skin? If the latter, I’m not sure that would be terribly wrong. I totally understand that a father might have to be creative at times to protect his family from danger. Still, it would seem better if you were apologizing, at least in part.
Genesis 33:9, But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”
Esau, it seems that there has been a change in you since we last met you. Before, you were “consoling [yourself] with the thought of killing [Jacob]” (Genesis 27:42). What has happened during these twenty years while Jacob was away? Have you let “bygones be bygones”? Have you truly forgiven your brother? Or, are you so wealthy now so that losing the birthright turned out to be of no real consequence, at least financially?
Genesis 33:10, Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me…
Jacob, I hear an allusion in the above comment back to your previous night’s struggle where you wrestled with a man all night, and the comment that you made that night, namely, “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30).
So, Jacob, my question is this: what are you getting at by likening Esau’s face to God’s? Again, is this more flattery or is it sincere? It seems like you are probably very sincere, but I just have to ask.
Genesis 33:11, …Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he [Jacob] urged him, and he [Esau] took it.
Esau, I have heard that to accept a gift from someone in your culture meant that you were on good terms with the person who gave the gift. Was that what you meant by receiving this gift from your brother (or a better translation, this “blessing” from your brother)? Was this the sign that you two are now on good terms, at least you, Esau, are on good terms with Jacob?
Genesis 33:12, Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you.”
Esau, why did you want your brother to come with you? Did you want to keep tabs on him? Did you just assume that he would have wanted to come with you? And here is the real question, was your amiable posture something that was going to continue once you got home? I am sure your brother was wondering this.
Genesis 33:13, But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die…
Let’s stop here in the middle of this quote to talk about it for a bit.
Now Jacob, was this true? I understand you had been fleeing from your uncle Laban in haste for the last two weeks, but were the animals really on the brink of death? Could they have not gone on just a few more days? It’s hard for me to know, I wasn’t there and you certainly know more about animals than I do.
Or maybe something else was going on. Was it this: now that you and Esau had “kissed and made up,” was this statement about the animals really just a front to get Esau to leave without you? Maybe some of the stories you heard about Grandpa Abraham were bouncing around in your mind, stories about how he had to part ways with Lot (cf. Genesis 14).
Genesis 33:14, …Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir."
Jacob, let’s talk about what you said here. Jacob, you said you were going to go to “Seir,” which is just south of the Promised Land, but that you would merely get there a little slower than Esau (e.g. “I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock… [and] the children”). However, as the story goes on, we read that you don’t go to Seir. Jacob, at this point in the conversation with Esau, did you know that you were not really going to Seir with your brother? Or was that something you decided later? Did you have in your mind the command of God that you had recently received, which was to go to your homeland, not to Seir (Genesis 31:13)?
Or were you simply worried that Esau would change his mind, and when you got to your brother’s village, you were worried that Esau the “hairy-warrior-older-brother” would come back out, along with his four hundred armed friends?
Or maybe you did not want to go with Esau because—as we might say using the language of the New Testament—Esau was an “unbeliever” and you did not want to be “unequally yoked”? If that was so, why not just be upfront and honest with Esau? Were you scared? I understand if you were.
Or—and this is possible too—maybe you were not lying at all because you really did go to Seir, just at a later time and then only for short visits? I wouldn’t know if this was true because no visits are recorded in the Bible, but I guess you could have done so. I did notice that Moses, the narrator of Genesis, did not add an editorial comment to this part of the story as he did when you snuck away from Laban (Genesis 31:20, “And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee.”). So maybe this business of going or not going to Seir is not a breach of integrity. Still, I’m curious, Jacob, can you explain this to me?
Genesis 33:15, So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he [Jacob] said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.”
Let’s go back to you, Esau. I asked this earlier, but I need to ask it again. Esau, why do you really want to leave these men with Jacob? Are they escorts for Jacob’s safety, or are they undercover agents to make sure Jacob and his family go where you want them to go? As before, I’m inclined to see benevolence in your actions, but Jacob’s reaction to your kind gesture concerns me.
Jacob, did you see something in Esau’s actions that I am not seeing? Were you trying to keep Esau’s men away because you didn’t want to be an inconvenience to someone you had wronged so deeply, or were you more concerned with not having Esau’s watch dogs—I mean his protectors—with you the whole time because you knew you were not actually going back to his home in Seir?
Genesis 33:16, So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir.
Esau, when you parted company, did you expect to see Jacob meet up with you a few days or weeks later? Or did you get the vibe from Jacob that he was not coming?
Genesis 33:17-20, But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth. 18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
Jacob, I could be wrong, and I may not have all the facts; but, it sounds like from the end of this passage that you were not just making a quick stop on the way home but setting up camp for a decent length of time? Is this right? And if so, this is not at all the direction of Seir, right?
You seem to be headed home, but you didn’t make it all the way, did you? Did someone get sick? Or did the seasons change and the weather was no longer conducive for continuing travel?
Or did you simply find a place that you thought you could do profitable business and so you stopped?
I’m especially interested about the initial cause of this stop and why it was prolonged because of what happens in the next chapter. I hate even to bring it up, as I’m sure it’s still painful. This “pit stop” puts events in motion that lead to your only daughter, Dinah, being so horribly abused. Tell me Jacob, what’s going on?
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I first created this mock interview several years ago when I was interning with a church that was preaching expository messages through Genesis. It was there, that summer as an intern, that I fell in love with expository preaching—not as a listener but as a practitioner.
In the end, I’m not sure how either Jacob or Esau would answer each and every one of these questions, but I do think, for a few of the questions, we can come to reasonably good guesses. And, regardless of whether the questions can be answered or not, I certainly know the passage better for going through this exercise. This is part of what I mean when I talk of reading the Bible closely. And in a world of sloppy reading, good preaching should offer the fruit of a close reading of the Bible.