Hobbling along with a dislocated hip is ordinarily bad enough, but if you must do so while shepherding your family and animals through unfamiliar territory, while also seeing *four hundred strange men* approaching you with hostile intent for all you know, that puts an extra burden on your shoulders.
How many of you reading this in the comfort of your twenty-first century homes would swap places with Jacob as he confronted these hazards more than three-thousand years ago?
With the oncoming four hundred men getting ever closer, Jacob had to think fast. He divided the children between Leah and Rachel and their two slave girls. He ordered the slave girls with their children to go in front, followed by Leah and her children, and then Rachel with her only son Joseph.
Because the brunt of any attack by Esau’s men would be borne the most by those in the front, and borne the least by those at the back, it is clear that Jacob valued the slave girls and his children by them the least, and valued Rachel and Joseph the most.
Leah, who, with her children by Jacob, was in front of Rachel and therefore less valued by Jacob, demanded that she and her children be allowed to swap places with Rachel and Joseph. “If you won’t do as I ask” said Leah to Jacob, “I’ll withhold my wifely favours the next time you visit my tent. You know I *light your fire* as no other woman does.”
“I’ve other concerns right now, dear Leah” said Jacob, “so just do as I tell you.”
Jacob, to his credit, didn’t cower at the back of the procession, but went on ahead to meet his brother, Esau, in the hope that Esau would call off his four hundred men. He saw Esau in the distance, and approached him while prudently bowing low to the ground, which Jacob didn’t find easy because of his dislocated hip.
When Jacob got near, Esau ran to meet him, and wrapped him in a hug of such strength that, after Esau let go, Jacob collapsed on to the ground
“It’s good to see you, Jakey boy” said Esau as he picked Jacob up, “what’s with the limp?”
“A dislocated hip. Sounds worse than it is. Nothing to worry about” said Jacob, “it’s good to see you too, Brother. You look a bit different but you still smell as rank…….ha ha ha…….”
“Still the same wise-cracking Jakey, hey?” said Esau. He gave Jacob a friendly punch on the shoulder that sent Jacob to the ground again, “Say, who are all these people with you?”
“They are my wives and children” said Jacob as he got up and dusted himself off.
“Nice” said Esau. “You’ve also brought a lot of livestock with you.”
“The livestock are for you, Brother” said Jacob,”as a token of my wish that all the unpleasantness of the past between us be buried forever.”
“It’s good of you, Jakey. But I’m rich enough. Keep the animals for yourself.”
“I insist you take them, Brother. Do it for me.”
“If you say so.”
There followed some socialising, in which Jacob introduced his wives and children to Esau, and there was a lot of family talk, for there was much for Jacob and Esau to catch up on.
Esau said to Jacob, “Let’s set out together for Seir, me you, my men, and your family. I and my men will go at your pace, for I know your wives and children won’t be able to walk that fast, and you with your dislocated hip and all.”
“Thank you, Brother, but we would still be going too slowly for the likes of you and your men. So please, you go on ahead to Seir, and I and my family will make our way there on our own.”
“You sound to me, Jakey, like you still want to keep away from me?”
“Not at all, Brother. If I didn’t have my wives and children with me, and I didn’t have this hip problem, I would cleave to you like a leach on a donkey.”
“You trying to be facetious, Jakey?”
“Not at all, Brother. I’m just saying what I feel.”
“Well, at least allow my men to go with you, so you’ll feel safe on your journey.”
“While I, myself, might feel safe with them, Brother, I don’t think Leah and Rachel and their slave girls will. I’ve seen how your men have been looking at them. They look like a ripe bunch of cutthroats, if you don’t mind my saying so, Brother. So, no, we’ll make our journey alone.”
“Are you implying I’m not a good judge of men? Don’t push the inside of papyrus with me, Jakey, know what I’m saying?”
Looking at Esau’s face becoming redder than normal, and at the pulsing on Esau’s temple, Jacob hastily assured his brother that he was a fine judge of men.
Esau gathered together his men and went off to Seir. Jacob, deciding at the last moment that he didn’t want to see more of Esau for a while, set out with his family not for Seir, but for Succoth, where he built a house and settled.
After several years, though, Jacob again got itchy feet and moved to a city in Canaan called Sechem. There, Jacob bought a strip of land, set up an altar to God, that he called El-Elohe-Israel.
Source: Genesis 33