The Greatest Commandment

, ,

Our faith is expressed when we love God and others.

Genesis(102) (Part of the Origins(100) series)
by Stuart Johns(233) on January 1, 2023 (Sunday Morning(346))

Hospitality(1), Salvation(84), Worship(26)


The Greatest Commandment

(Genesis 33:12-20)



Loving God through Loving Others


“From Saul Bellow's collection of traditional Jewish tales comes this story:


In a small Jewish town in Russia, there is a rabbi who disappears each Friday morning for several hours. His devoted disciples boast that during those hours their rabbi goes up to heaven and talks to God.


A stranger moves into town, and he's skeptical about all this, so he decides to check things out. He hides and watches. The rabbi gets up in the morning, says his prayers, and then dresses in peasant clothes. He grabs an axe, goes off into the woods, and cuts some firewood, which he then hauls to a shack on the outskirts of the village. There an old woman and her sick son live. He leaves them the wood, enough for a week, and then sneaks back home.


Having observed the rabbi's actions, the newcomer stays on in the village and becomes his disciple. And whenever he hears one of the villagers say, ‘On Friday morning our rabbi ascends all the way to heaven,’ the newcomer quietly adds, ‘If not higher.’”


Source: Jim McGuiggan, Jesus, Hero of Thy Soul (Howard Publishing, 1998), p.15.





  • ME

    • Loving God

        • I do not do it perfectly, but I love God!

        • I enjoy time with Him in the morning and throughout the day

        • I enjoy studying His Word and seeking His wisdom in preparing sermons

    • Loving others

        • I do not do this perfectly, but I try

        • Judy and I have opened our home over the years for meals with various individuals

        • We have opened our home to those who needed a place to stay

        • We have taken meals to various individuals

        • We have visited with people

        • We have prayed with and for others


  • WE

    • Loving God

        • All of us have probably expressed our love for God in various ways

        • Take a moment to reflect on the ways we have loved God

    • Loving others

        • All of us have probably expressed our love for others in various ways, too

        • Take a moment to reflect on the ways we have loved others


Jesus gave us the greatest commandment when He responded to one of the Pharisees. ​​ He said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ ​​ This is the first and greatest commandment. ​​ And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ​​ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40). ​​ Through the continued interaction between Esau and Jacob, we will see Esau’s love for his brother. ​​ We will see Jacob loving God when he builds and names an altar at Shechem. ​​ The greatest command was given for all followers of Jesus Christ. ​​ So, through this narrative today, we will be challenged with the idea that . . .


BIG IDEA – Our faith is expressed when we love God and others.


Let’s pray


  • GOD (Genesis 33:12-20)

    • Loving others (vv. 12-16)

        • Hospitality

          • Travel together

            • Esau’s offer

              • Hamilton points out that “I will accompany you is literally ‘I will go in front of you’” [Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 346]

              • Esau is showing love and concern for his brother and his family by offering to go in front of them to probably provide protection

            • Jacob’s response

              • Different pace

                • Esau and his 400 men were warriors/soldiers and their pace would be much faster than that of a shepherd

                • Jacob explains that the young children in his family are tender and will not be able to keep the pace of a warrior

                • Jacob also explains that he has ewes and cows that have nursing young

                  • The nursing young would not be able to keep a steady, fast pace

                  • They would need to stop in order to nurse

                  • The momma animals would need time to graze and drink, so they would be able to produce the milk needed for their young

                  • If Jacob drove the animals hard, even one day, they would die

                • “At first glance we might think the reference to the animals and children offered a convenient excuse, but most likely it represented the reality of the different lifestyles these men and their descendants had adopted.” ​​ [Gangel & Bramer, Holman Old Testament Commentary, Genesis, 281]

                  • Some scholars are hard on Jacob, saying that the excuse he gives for refusing Esau’s offer shows that Jacob is still Jacob and not Israel

                  • It is easy for us to be hard on Jacob when we do not know his mind and heart

                  • I believe he was being a good shepherd of his flock and family

                  • This was not some lame excuse, but a genuine concern for Jacob

                  • I believe that Jacob knew that God was with him and would protect him

                • “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 are upon me’: 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.’” ​​ [Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 1, The Pentateuch, 198]

              • Go on ahead

                • Jacob encourages Esau to go on ahead

                • Jacob continues to address Esau as his lord and refers to himself as his servant

                • Jacob will move along at the pace of his family and flocks

                • “‘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 willful 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.” ​​ [Keil & Delitzsch, 198]

            • Esau obviously accepts Jacobs explanation, but his offer of hospitality did not end there

          • Leave some men with you

            • Esau’s offer

              • Esau offered to leave some of his men with Jacob

              • Perhaps it was to help with the flocks

              • Maybe it was to guide them to Seir

              • It is not stated what the expectation was

            • Jacob’s response

              • Jacob’s inquires about why Esau would do that

              • Jacob just wants to find favor in the eyes of Esau

                • It was his polite way of declining Esau’s second offer, without offending him [Waltke, Genesis: ​​ A Commentary, 456]

                • How many of us have been in a situation where we have to politely decline hospitality that has been offered to us

                • We do not want to offend the person who has extended hospitality, so we have to find a way to graciously decline

            • The text does not continue with Esau insisting that Jacob accept the offer of men, so we can assume that Jacob has found favor in Esau’s eyes [Mathews, The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 571]

          • Esau extended hospitality to Jacob twice

        • Application

          • PRINCIPLE #1 – God is pleased when we extend hospitality.

            • We are not told in Scripture that Esau ever began to follow the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham

            • People who are not followers of Jesus Christ can certainly extend hospitality

            • But, as followers of Jesus Christ our motivation to extend hospitality is different than those who are not followers of Jesus Christ

            • God is pleased when we extend hospitality to others

            • Our faith is expressed when we love God and others.

            • Hospitality is one way we can show others that we love them

            • When was the last time you received hospitality from someone else? (How did that make you feel?)

            • When was the last time you extended hospitality to someone else?

              • To whom can you extend hospitality today?

              • To whom can you extend hospitality this week?

            • What are some creative ways you can extend hospitality to others? (offering a meal, offering a time of fellowship, offering help with a project, babysitting kids, offering a ride to church or an appointment, offering a smile and/or a kind word, serving them in any way they may need)

          • #1 – My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Show my love for someone by extending hospitality to him or her this week.

        • Esau started for home that same day, but Jacob went to Succoth (sook-kohth’/sue-kohth’)

    • Loving God (vv. 17-20)

        • Succoth

          • We do not know if Jacob eventually went to Seir (say-eer’/say-ear) to see Esau and his family

          • We do know that instead of going to Seir, he went to Succoth

            • Succoth was just west of Peniel on the Jordan River and north of the Jabbok River [show map]

            • It is mentioned several times in the story of Gideon in Judges 8:5, 6, 8, 14

            • It is probable that he stopped there to allow his children and flocks to rest, so they would not get worn out

            • Jacob actually named the place where he stopped

            • He build shelters there, which is why he named it Succoth (Succoth means shelters/booths)

            • “The word sūkkâ describes a covered booth or shelter that served temporary purposes (e.g., 2 Sam 11:11; Ida 1:8; Job 27:18; Jonah 4:5). ​​ The word is best known for naming the structures built during Israel’s wilderness sojourn, whose provision they celebrated in the annual ‘Feast of Tabernacles/Booths’ (ḥag hassūkkôt; e.g., Lev 23:33-43).” ​​ [Mathews, 573]

          • There are no time stamps to let us know how long Jacob stayed in Succoth

        • Shalem a city of Shechem

          • What we know is that after Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at Shalem, a city of Shechem (shek-em’/shek-hem’)

          • He pitched his tents in sight of Shechem

          • Jacob had finally reached the Promised Land (Canaan) [show map]

        • Land purchase

          • Jacob purchased the ground where he had pitched his tents for a hundred pieces of silver

            • The NASB translates it as a hundred pieces of money

            • That is probably more accurate, because the Hebrew word represents a unit of unknown value

            • We are not sure how much Jacob paid for the ground where he pitched his tents

          • The ground was owned by the sons of Hamor (kham-ore’), the father of Shechem

          • “This piece of field, which fell to the lot of the sons of Joseph, and where Joseph’s bones were buried (Josh. 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 (John 4:6), also Joseph’s grave, a Mahometan wely (grave) two or three hundred paces to the north (Rob. Pal. iii. 95ff.).” ​​ [Keil & Delitzsch, 199]

        • Set up an altar

          • Jacob set up an altar

            • Comparisons between Abraham and Jacob’s arrivals in Canaan from Haran [Mathews, 574]

              • Shechem was the first place where Abraham and Jacob both resided in Canaan

              • They both pitched their tent there

              • They both set up an altar there

            • While Abraham did not name his altar, Jacob did

          • He called the altar El Elohe Israel

            • It can mean “God, the God of Israel”

            • It can also mean “mighty is the God of Israel”

          • Jacob was fulfilling his vow to the Lord (Genesis 28:21)

            • He had returned safely to his father’s house

            • So, the Lord would be his God

            • It is significant that Jacob used his new name in naming the altar

          • The Lord was worthy to be Jacob’s God

            • God had been with him for 20 years in Haran

            • God had protected him for 20 years

            • God provided food and clothing for Jacob over the 20 years that he was away

            • God had brought him safely home to Canaan

            • God had provided a family for him

            • God had provided a livelihood as a shepherd and God had provided flocks and herds

        • Application

          • PRINCIPLE #2 – The Lord is worthy to be our God.

            • Take a moment to reflect on everything that God has done for you

              • How has He been with you?

              • How has He protected you?

              • How has He provided for you? (food, clothing, shelter, family, friends, livelihood, education, etc.)

              • What has He brought you safely through?

            • Do you think the Lord is worthy to be your God?

            • #2 – My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Worship the Lord as my God and thank Him for all He has done for me.

            • Our faith is expressed when we love God and others.

          • If you have never believed in Jesus as your Savior, I want you to know that He is worthy to be your Savior

            • We are all born with a desire to be in charge of our lives and to have our own way – we do not want anyone else to be in charge of us (Rom. 3:23)

            • Our desire to be separated from God is called rebellion, which is sin

            • This rebellion against God earns us separation from Him for all of eternity (Rom. 6:23)

            • That is not God’s desire for you or anyone else

            • His desire is that you would be in a personal relationship with Him

            • He loves you with an everlasting love and draws you to Himself with loving-kindness (Jer. 31:3)

            • He demonstrated His love for you by sending His One and Only perfect Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for you (Rom. 5:8)

            • God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21)

            • Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross for your sins is why He is worthy to be your Savior

            • John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

            • #3 – My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Believe in Jesus as my Savior from sin and receive God’s gift of eternal life.


  • YOU

    • To whom do you need to show hospitality to this week?

    • Are you ready to worship the Lord, because He is worthy to be your God?

    • Are you ready to believe in Jesus as your Savior and receive eternal life?


  • WE

    • We have the opportunity to show hospitality to those in our community

    • We can worship the Lord for providing and protecting us as a body of believers



“In his book, Sources of Strength, President Jimmy Carter shared this lesson.

After a personal witnessing experience with Eloy Cruz, an admirable Cuban pastor who had surprising rapport with very poor immigrants from Puerto Rico, I asked him for the secret of his success. He was modest and embarrassed, but he finally said, ‘Senor Jimmy, we only need to have two loves in our lives. For God, and for the person who happens to be in front of us at any time.’ That simple yet profound theology has been a great help to me in understanding the Scriptures. In essence, the whole Bible is an explanation of those two loves.”


Source: Jimmy Carter, Sources of Strength, Meditations on Scripture for a Living Faith, Times Books, 1997, p. xvii.