Did Jacob Lie About Going to the Land of Seir? (Genesis 33:14)

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The scene in Genesis 33 is dramatic. It’s a reunion of sorts between two brothers who were previously at odds: One who had “stolen” a birthright, and the other who vowed to kill him in revenge. 

With that in mind, it’s easy to overlook the supposed negatives of this chapter. We get so caught up in the hugs and the tears and the “please accept this gift” moments that we miss the fact that Jacob quite possibly tricks his older brother again.

Follow the Text carefully. In Genesis 33:14, Jacob tells Esau to go on ahead of him for the sake of his children and nursing flocks. He’ll tag along behind at a leisurely pace and eventually — and here’s the important part — meet his lord (A.K.A. Esau) in Seir.

Only Jacob never goes to Seir. A quick glance at Genesis 33:17 says that Jacob bypassed Seir and went on to Succoth, where he built a home for himself. According to this map, there’s quite a bit of distance between the two places. 

The biggest question that needs to be asked about this is why. Why does Jacob, after an amazing reunion in which they seem to have buried the hatchet, not join his brother in the Transjordan area of Seir? 

The easiest answer is that Jacob was always supposed to end up in Canaan, where Succoth was. Since he was the grandson of Abraham, a return to his geographic inheritance makes sense. And, since the nation of Israel would eventually “return” back here under Moses, he needed to have his home set up in this area.

But that still doesn’t answer the question of why Jacob chose to lie to Esau about joining him in Seir. And, even more frustratingly, the Bible doesn’t tell us. We’re left to our own assumptions about what happened.

There are a few possible options. The first possibility is that Jacob went to Esau eventually and the Bible doesn’t record it for us, which is totally possible since the Bible leaves out a lot of events that are not imperative to the overall story of the Bible. 

The second option is that Jacob did, in fact, lie to Esau again. This implies that while he put up a good front to meet Esau, the old Jacob was still in play — the one who didn’t really trust his brother. 

Whatever the rationale was, Genesis 33 would represent the last time these two nations of people were friendly. For the rest of the Old Testament, the Israelites and Edomites (descendants of Jacob and Esau) were sworn enemies.