V’yeitzei

V’yeitzei

He went out

“Jacob’s Maturation (Part 1)”

Genesis 28:10-32:2
Hosea 12:12-14:10 (A); 11:7-12:12 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As you prepare to read through this week’s Torah portion, V’yeitzei, you may conclude, as I have, that both this parashah and next week’s parashah (V’yishlach: Genesis 32:3-36:43) together, are a two-part rendition of the main substance of the life of the Patriarch Jacob. The Torah specifically dedicates about nine chapters to describing the main experiences of the life of Jacob—largely trials and tribulations—as he developed from a young man in laboring to start a family, to being a more tempered and seasoned elder who would finally reunite with his brother Esau to bury their father Isaac.

V’yeitzei covers approximately twenty years in the life of Jacob as he departs for Haran,[1] and then after laboring for his father-in-law Laban,[2] begins his return back to Canaan.[3] In V’yishlach next week, we encounter the intensity when Esau and Jacob are brought back together,[4] and we see some of the challenges Jacob’s family has living in the Shechem area,[5] before they ultimately turn south back to Hebron.[6]

During this first score of years detailed in V’yeitzei, Jacob marries Leah[7] and Rachel,[8] takes on Zilpah[9] and Bilhah[10] as concubines, and he fathers eleven sons[11] and one daughter.[12] It is during this two-decade period of Jacob’s life when he experiences some rather dramatic encounters with the Creator God, which begin to solidify his relationship with Him. Here for all to read, are some chronicled events that give one a sense of Jacob’s real humanity and mortal limitations.

On the Road of Escape

Jacob is one of the unique characters in the Scriptures who exemplifies the common dichotomy present in each person, the struggle that too often—and most unfortunately—ensues between a natural inclination toward the flesh and a desired inclination toward the Divine (cf. Romans 7:14-25). On various levels, I would submit that the life of Jacob is something that all of us can identify with, as we each have had times in our lives when putting ourselves in the complete will and care of God has been most difficult. Jacob, after all, had to leave the relative comfort and security of his home, under the threat of retribution from his brother Esau, and was in desperate need of assurance that what he did and where he was to go were for a bigger purpose. The immediate need for Jacob to actually escape from Esau’s vengeance, certainly factored in to his decision to obey his parents’ direction to head eastward to find a wife from their relatives in Paddan-aram:

“So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. And may God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you; that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham’” (Genesis 28:1-4).

But what about the promises bestowed upon Jacob as the heir of God’s previous promises made to his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac (cf. Genesis 27:27-29)? Now with Jacob as the recipient of the birthright and the blessing, would God be able to fulfill these promises if he relocated outside of Canaan? Certainly, the thought might have arisen that perhaps some things would be altered as a result of the ongoing problems with Esau. We later see that in contrast to Abraham, who simply moved when God told him to, how young Jacob did not have his grandfather’s faith.

From the very beginning of his moving eastward on the road to Haran, Jacob had an encounter with the Lord, as the angelic host appeared on a ladder just after his departure from Beersheba, at Bethel or Luz:[13]

“And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you’” (Genesis 28:13-15).

Jacob surely had a very inspiring encounter with the Almighty and His angels! In this scene it is recorded how God will be faithful to the promises He gave to Abraham and Isaac before him, including: the inheritance of the Promised Land, a vast multitude of descendants, and that future blessings to the nations will come through Jacob. God’s final declaration is: Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15, NJPS). In categorical terms, God affirmed to Jacob that everything was under His control, and that He would not only be with him during his trip eastward—but that He would safely return him back to Canaan to complete all of the promises which have been made. Apparently, Jacob was convinced that he has heard from the Most High, because his actions reflected convictions that were laced with awe and reverence:

“Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on its top. And he called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz” (Genesis 28:16-19).

Jacob’s action, especially in renaming the location Beit-El or “house of God” (BDB),[14] speaks for itself. But, it is also followed by a rather significant vow he took:

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’” (Genesis 28:20-22).

Here, as Jacob moved forward on his journey eastward, he had an intimate encounter with the Creator. He saw a ladder appear, and a portal opens up into Heaven with supernatural beings going up and down. Jacob recognized this spot as being “the house of God,” a place where His presence had appeared. Yet, where you would expect his grandfather Abraham to have simply praised the Almighty or have expressed great thanks for witnessing this, Jacob instead made an “if/then” vow with God: “If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear…” (Genesis 28:20, NJPS), v’hayah ADONAI li l’Elohim or “then the LORD will be my God” (Genesis 28:21).

Jacob’s Audacity!

When I read in the narrative how Jacob said, “…then the LORD will be my God” (Genesis 28:21), in light of the surrounding events regarding his encounter with the Almighty and Heavenly host, a number of thoughts came to my mind:

  • How could Jacob make this statement to the Lord?
  • Did Jacob not understand who he was truly addressing?
  • Did Jacob not believe in God’s promises that were already made regarding his welfare?
  • Can you actually imagine making a conditional bargain with the Creator?

Certainly by the words that Jacob uttered, he knew that he had been in the bone fide presence of God. But to then move from a contrite state of encountering His holiness and magnificence, to putting conditional demands on Him, appears to be quite audacious and presumptuous. When people know that they have just encountered the sheer glory and awesomeness of God, they should naturally have the faith to realize that He is all powerful! Is it possible that the conditional statement “…then the LORD will be my God,” is a major clue regarding the relative spiritual immaturity of young Jacob?

Perhaps this is a vivid indication that Jacob was used to striking deals or controlling various situations—and could even have been used to getting his own way. After all, he had been the favored child of Rebekah, and he traded a bowl of lentil soup to his brother Esau for the privileges of the firstborn (Genesis 25:27-34). Before departing for Padan-haram, Jacob had deceived his father, and essentially stole the blessing which Isaac would have otherwise given to his brother Esau (Genesis 27:1-29). One really wonders, in lieu of his past experiences, whether Jacob’s vow in Genesis 28:20-22 was really made with any serious thought, contemplation, or consideration for the consequences of his commitment.

Later within the Torah, specific instruction is codified about the significance of making vows (Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21). In His Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua the Messiah has to emphasize how by the First Century C.E. making oaths and vows had been severely abused (Matthew 5:33-37). But here in V’yeitzei, with little progress made on his journey east—after hearing a reiteration of Divine promises made to his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac—Jacob decided to strike a “bargain” with the Lord. If the Lord “performed” for Jacob by providing him with food, clothing, and protection, then Jacob would make Him his God. This sounds like a very carnal practice for someone to be doing. We can only speculate as to the specific reasons why this was Jacob’s reaction to the great theophany he witnessed.

What we do not need to speculate about is that Jacob had quite a few things to still learn about his Creator. Jacob lacked the faith of his grandfather Abraham, because limited human beings take a significant risk when they put conditions on an Eternal God. Rather than live forth His purpose for their lives via His direction, those who operate in faithlessness tend to think that they can manipulate God into following their own will. Unless quickly remedied and fixed, this can result in one having to experience some serious consequences—certainly in terms of Earthly refinement and seasoning if the Lord is going to use you for something beyond yourself.

In reading V’yeitzei, it is not difficult to detect that Jacob had a great deal to learn and still must mature. During the next twenty years, as he would labor under the watchful eye of Laban and begin his family, his fleshly and mortal inclinations would be challenged through a variety of distinct experiences, as he was doubtlessly forced to understand more about the God of Abraham and Isaac. Jacob would have to learn—largely “the hard way”—that it is the Sovereign One who alone was ultimately in control of his life and destiny. It will only be at the right point in time, though, when God would remind him that it is time to return to Canaan (Genesis 31:3).

Many of us in life today fail to place ourselves entirely in the hands of God, or will go through times when we doubt that He is there. Jacob never denied God, but he was certainly faithless at times. God was never faithless, because otherwise He would not be God. If you can at all identify with some of the early experiences of Jacob as he left his home, then I would encourage you to take some comfort in a few of the final words of the Apostle Paul, as he was exhorting his friend Timothy who would have to continue in the work of ministry after he passed on:

“It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

Just as we have learned in our Torah portion this week, once you have been in the presence of God—do not try to bargain with Him! Respect your Creator, and cry out to Him that you may never forget His faithfulness toward you.


NOTES

[1] Genesis 28:10-22.

[2] Genesis 29:1-30:43.

[3] Genesis 31:1-32:2.

[4] Genesis 32:2-33:17.

[5] Genesis 34:1-35:22.

[6] Genesis 35:23-29.

[7] Genesis 29:21-27.

[8] Genesis 29:28.

[9] Genesis 29:24.

[10] Genesis 29:29.

[11] Genesis 30:1-24.

[12] Genesis 30:21.

[13] Genesis 28:19.

[14] BDB, 110.

Toldot

Toldot

History

“Generational Choices”

Genesis 25:19-28:9
Malachi 1:1-2:7


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Over the past few weeks, Torah readers have witnessed several parashot focusing on the life of Abraham and his progeny. This week the saga continues, as some of the trials of Isaac are detailed. Interestingly, the title of “History” or “Generations” (Toldot) can give one pause to consider many of the realities, and perhaps uncertainties, of family growth. While we can notice how the descendants of Abraham began to multiply, we should take greater notice of how Abraham had passed on the knowledge of his relationship with the God of Creation and His promises to his progeny.

In Toldot, we clearly see how the Almighty was establishing His chosen people among the nations of the world through His choice of Isaac, and later Jacob. It is instructional for us to learn that, as modeled, how all of us make generational choices is critical for furthering the truths we have inherited through God’s blessings originally promised to Abraham millennia ago.

Last week, if you will recall, our Torah portion Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) actually concluded with a brief description of Abraham’s death and his burial, by what the text specifies as “his sons”:

“And these are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. And Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael [Yitzchaq v’Yishma’eil banyv] buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife” (Genesis 25:7-10).

This is an interesting depiction of Abraham’s internment, because if you will recall, following the death of Sarah, Abraham married Keturah and had six additional sons:

“Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. And she bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah…Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east” (Genesis 25:1-2, 5-6).

Here we see the names of six additional sons, yet Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, and only gave gifts to his other sons (Genesis 25:6). This was a critical decision Abraham made as he was approaching his death. Abraham knew that God had promised the inheritance of the Land of Canaan to his son by his wife Sarah (Genesis 17:19, 21). Abraham also remembered that God had made some promises to Ishmael, in order for him to be fruitful and be a great nation (Genesis 17:19-21).

There are no recorded promises made to the other six sons, so when Abraham’s death approached, he gave them some gifts and sent them eastward. By the time Abraham died, Ishmael had probably already fathered many of the twelve sons that were expected (cf. Genesis 25:16-18). When you couple these grandsons with the six sons from Keturah, was Abraham at all concerned about a potential threat to Isaac and his children? Keep in mind that although Abraham was told by God that he would be fruitful (Genesis 22:17), the example of his lack of judgment in fathering Ishmael via Hagar is one that is not looked at that favorably throughout the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 4:25).

Even though Ishmael was present at the burial of Abraham, the fact that Abraham continued to favor Isaac, and gave all that he had to him (cf. Genesis 25:5), indicates that Abraham lived his final years in close proximity to Isaac and Rebekah, so that the inheritance of livestock and goods could be completed. Even though Abraham had a second family, as it were, with Keturah, preference was definitely made toward Isaac, the son of promise. I would submit that the most important thing in Abraham’s mind was to impart to Isaac and his children the special relationship that he enjoyed with the God of Creation.

The Next Generation

One of the main features of our parashah this week is how Isaac and Rebekah had to wait twenty years, before she became pregnant with the twins Esau and Jacob. Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah:

“Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife” (Genesis 25:19-20).

A few verses later we see that Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born:

“And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them” (Genesis 25:26).

Having been married for twenty years, Isaac and Rebekah lived together childless. They also got to experience the stigma and disappointment of being childless, which in the Ancient Near East would often be viewed as something less than a misfortune. Even in more modern times, while some married couples may choose to wait a number of years before starting a family, they normally do not expect to have to wait two decades!

In many ways, Isaac and Rebekah having to wait was a repeat of some of the pain endured by Abraham and Sarah, as they waited a seemingly interminable amount of time before the birth of Isaac (cf. Genesis 18:11-12). Perhaps when the whole family got together, Abraham may have comforted Isaac and Rebekah with stories of how he and Sarah had to wait for Isaac to be conceived. If this took place, could they have been cautioned not to make the mistake of forcing God’s timing, as was the case with the pregnancy of Hagar that produced Ishmael (cf. Genesis 16:3)?

The Scriptures do not give us any great detail about what transpired during the two decades Isaac and Rebekah waited for their own children, but we do know that in God’s time, Isaac’s entreaties for a pregnancy were answered as Rebekah became pregnant with twins (Genesis 25:21). But, even after a twenty-year wait for children, Rebekah’s pregnancy appeared to have complications. From the very womb, the twins inside of her are said to have been struggling for dominance. Rebekah’s pleas to God were answered when He spoke to her about the situation:

“But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is so, why then am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger’” (Genesis 25:22-23).

In what appear to be some very intriguing words, Rebekah wanted to know why “the children clashed together[1] within her” (Alter). She received an answer to her plea from God, and many Bible readers—especially those who follow current events in the Middle East with the Israeli-Arab conflict—feel that Genesis 25:22-23 definitely informs them about this. Perhaps a bit more significant for the narrative here, Rebekah would have been relieved to receive an answer from the Holy One that the conflict she felt during her pregnancy was by His design, and not because of anything that she did. Similarly, if you have ever heard the voice of the Creator respond to one of your urgent pleas, then you are likely able to recall His response whenever you need guidance and encouragement.

In a moment of great stress, the Lord told Rebekah that within her womb were two peoples who were already struggling with one another. Can you imagine what she thought when she delivered her two boys, and the first one came out ruddy and hairy, with his younger brother actually grabbing the firstborn child’s heel?

“Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them” (Genesis 25:25-26).

Certainly as a follower of Abraham and Isaac’s God, she had probably heard about the curses that were first uttered to the serpent, Eve, and Adam in the Garden of Eden. Recall what God’s first promise of the Messiah to come actually was:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).

What was God communicating to His followers when He said that the seed of the woman would “bruise him on the heel”? In the scene of Esau and Jacob’s birth, the younger son being born held on to the heel of his older brother. Having just experienced the pain of childbirth, one can only imagine what Rebekah might have thinking. We may never know for certain what went through Rebekah’s mind, but we do know from the rest of the Biblical narrative that the line of Jacob eventually gave rise to the Messiah (Matthew 1:2ff; Luke 1:33). And as the Apostle Paul attests, women are to take special note of how they are to “be saved through the child-bearing[2]” (1 Timothy 2:15, YLT), Yeshua, a direct reference back to Genesis 3:15.[3]

Further on in Toldot, the twins are described in contrasting tones:

“When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:27-28).

We see an interesting picture here of the distinctions between these two children of Isaac and Rebekah, and how their parents treated them. Esau was “a skillful hunter, a man of the open country” (NIV). On the other hand, “Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents” (RSV). It appears that Esau was the “stronger” of the two, or at least was more outgoing as a warrior/gatherer, while Jacob spent time in tents attending to various household chores.

As Esau and Jacob grew up together, Rebekah certainly witnessed the obvious differences between her two sons. The older son was a man after the flesh (cf. Hebrews 12:16), and the younger was inclined to remain at home. Within a period of time, a challenging dichotomy developed in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. It is stated that Isaac loved Esau, because he had “a taste for wild game” (Genesis 25:28, NIV). On the other hand, it is stated that Rebekah loved Jacob.

Rebekah had been given a very strong word from the Lord during her pregnancy that “the elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23, RSV). She knew that Jacob was definitely more inclined to household responsibilities. She was living in the reality that Isaac, the firstborn son of Abraham and Sarah, was to receive the promises of God. She could definitely have thought that the promises to Abraham and Isaac were ultimately going to be bestowed upon Jacob, the younger of the twins. After all, she had imbedded in her memory: Was not the older to serve the younger?

Birthright Transfer

Continuing in the narrative of our Torah portion, we encounter more, which specifically informs us about the character of Esau and Jacob. A very unique event occurred, confirming how Esau was largely a mortal man after the flesh, with little concern for spiritual matters. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a meal. Even if Jacob’s intentions were not entirely honorable in this scene, Esau’s actions in agreeing to the transaction were neither wise nor responsible, either:

“And when Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.’ Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ And Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’ And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me’; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright’” (Genesis 25:29-34).

Some Jewish Rabbis think that this event took place at the time of Abraham’s burial,[4] but there is no direct Biblical evidence that indicates this as the specific time when Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. What should grab our attention a little more is why Esau agreed to sell his birthright for a meal. What does it mean when “Esau came in from the field and he was famished” because he says “I am about to die” (Genesis 25:29, 32)? Is this just because Esau was out hunting too much? Or had Esau gone out and committed some ungodly deeds, stirring up some problems for himself? Jacob was obviously at home conducting his affairs, and for some reason or another might had an inclination that if Esau were given the birthright, he might have either misused or squandered it.

In securing Esau’s birthright of the firstborn for a meal, Jacob was treating Esau in a manner consistent with a second meaning derived from his given name Ya’akov,[5] which can mean “supplanter” (Genesis 27:36). Here at this propitious moment, Jacob sold his brother a bowl of soup, knowing that Esau would give him his birthright:

Apparently, this transaction is considered by God to be valid, because Esau verbally swore to Jacob that the birthright was to be his (Genesis 25:33). How powerful can spoken words be, which reveal what is truly in one’s heart (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45)? Is it possible that Rebekah had revealed to her son Jacob, that as the younger his older brother would serve him? Or is it possible that while Jacob conducted his affairs in the family tents, that he decided he wanted to inherit the birthright blessings? He certainly knew the (irresponsible) inclinations of his twin brother Esau. Did Jacob have a plan of eventually taking the birthright from Esau? We do not know for sure. When Jacob offered a meal to his brother, Esau notably did not refuse, having readily (and stupidly) accepted the proposal for the exchange.

In the First Century, the author of Hebrews admonishes his audience why Esau could accept the exchange without any immediate reservations. Esau is specifically considered to be an ungodly and immoral man, who was quite foolish and who made a rash decision:

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Hebrews 12:16-17).

This view of Esau being a base man of the flesh is seen earlier in the works of the Jewish philosopher Philo. He describes Esau as an evil man, versus Jacob who was wise and who concerned himself with virtue:

“Now that the wicked man is destitute of a city and destitute of a home, Moses testifies in speaking of that hairy man who was also a man of varied wickedness, Esau, when he says, ‘But Esau was skillful in hunting, and a rude man.’ [Genesis 25:27.] For it is not natural for vice which is inclined to be subservient to the passions to inhabit the city of virtue, inasmuch as it is devoted to the pursuit of rudeness and ignorance, with great folly. But Jacob, who is full of wisdom, is both a citizen and one who dwells in a house, that is to say, in virtue. Accordingly Moses says of him, ‘But Jacob is a man without guile, dwelling in a house’” (Allegorical Interpretation 3.2).[6]

Although Jacob was by no means imperfect, it is ultimately Esau who is to be considered to be an immoral or godless person (cf. Genesis 28:6-10). Because Esau did not have a spiritual inclination toward his Creator, he despised his birthright (Genesis 25:34). Esau was willing to sell it to satisfy some momentary hunger or cravings. The ArtScroll Chumash perhaps validly notes, “For what did he give up his precious birthright?—for a pot of beans!”[7]

The Blessing of Isaac

A number of years later, with Esau and Jacob a bit older, Esau now had an interest in securing the blessings of his father Isaac. But as the narrative details, he had already been inclined to intermarry with some of the local women, and was a practicing polygamist:[8]

“And when Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:34-35).

The marriages of Esau to Judith and Basemath were grievous for Isaac and Rebekah to witness: “they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (RSV). Probably realizing how Abraham’s servant had to be sent back to his home country to select a wife for Isaac (cf. Genesis 24:1-7), the two parents understood how important it was for their sons to at least try to marry someone who had a similar background. They knew that they had inherited the blessings via the marriage of Abraham to Sarah, and in their hearts they wanted the same blessings for their sons. But Esau had married local women, who were undoubtedly involved in the worship of other gods and other unacceptable practices. Yet, with this in mind, it is interesting that as Isaac was growing old, he was still inclined to give Esau a chance to receive his blessings (Genesis 27:1-4). Even if Esau had displeased his parents in his marriage choices, he still remained their son and they still loved him.

As Isaac’s eyes began to fail him, he thought he was going to die, and so in a last minute appeal to his son Esau, he made the request of one final savory meal: “prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die” (Genesis 27:4). Isaac does tell Esau that before he died, he wanted to bless him. Of course, as the record indicates, Rebekah overheard this request and she went into high gear to circumvent the bestowing of Isaac’s blessing on Esau (Genesis 27:5-14). She probably remembered the clear words from God “that the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23), and so now in a very premeditated way, Rebekah decided that she would intervene to see that Jacob receives the blessings of Isaac instead.

Without going into great detail, we should all know that the deception was successful and that Isaac blessed Jacob as he would a firstborn son (Genesis 27:15-29). In essence, the successful trade of the birthright status years earlier, had now come full circle as the firstborn blessings, usually designated for the one actually born first, was bestowed upon Jacob rather than Esau. Right after Jacob had stolen his brother’s blessing, Esau returned to prepare the meal his father actually wanted, so that he might receive the firstborn blessing (Genesis 25:30-31). Instead, he found out that he was too late (Genesis 25:32-34), and he cried out for restitution with a gut-wrenching plea:

“Then he [Esau] said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob [Ya’akov], for he has supplanted [aqav] me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.’ And he said, ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’ But Isaac answered and said to Esau, ‘Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?’ And Esau said to his father, ‘Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.’ So Esau lifted his voice and wept” (Genesis 27:36-38).

Esau was crushed. He finally realized that he had not only lost his birthright to Jacob, but now the grand blessing of his father Isaac had also been taken away from him. His weeping was an indication of great human sorrow. In his mercy and love toward his son, Isaac did bestow a word upon Esau—but only after he realized that the blessing of Abraham, which he had inherited, was already passed on verbally to his son Jacob. Isaac was not about to change what had already been stated over Jacob and his descendants, and so he can only tell Isaac this:

“Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, ‘Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, and away from the dew of heaven from above. And by your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck.’ So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 27:39-41).

(I do not know about you, but I do not honestly know if I would have really wanted something like this pronounced over me…)

Generational Blessing

Realizing that it was Esau’s intention to murder Isaac (Genesis 27:42-45), Rebekah again decided that she knew best, recognizing how the best thing for Jacob was for him to relocate out of the region. She knew how she could get Isaac to agree to this. Rebekah implored her husband Isaac, blaming her frustration on Esau’s wives from the daughters of Heth, to send Jacob back to the old country to secure a wife from among her relatives:

“And Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?’ So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. And may God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you; that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham’” (Genesis 27:46-28:4).

We see here from Isaac how the blessing of Abraham was bestowed upon Jacob: “may El Shaddai bless you, make you fruitful and make you numerous, and may you be a congregation of peoples[9]” (Genesis 28:3, ATS). Isaac himself did not know when he would again see Jacob, so he passed on this final blessing before Jacob left. Of course, no one at the time realized that Isaac would live to a ripe old age of 180, and that his two sons would have to reunite to bury him (Genesis 35:28-29).

Considering the Generational Choices

What have we learned, as we are reading about the early generations of the family chosen by God to be a major example of faithfulness toward Him?

First, we witness that the Lord challenges each generation with trials that are designed to test our faith. Whether it is waiting upon God’s blessing for opening the womb, or being sent into hostile territory to deal with the ravages of famine (Genesis 26:1ff), the ability to trust in God for His plan and provision is imperative. As we have seen in recent weeks, both Abraham and Sarah—and now Isaac and Rebekah—have dealt with these challenges in different and yet similar ways.

Next, we can see that each generation has some critical choices to make in order to help insure that the blessings of the Holy One are passed down to succeeding generations. We are modeled the concept of encouraging our children to marry spouses from people with the same faith and relatively familiar backgrounds, so they can have the best chance of marital success. Abraham did this for Isaac in retrieving Rebekah to be his wife (Genesis 24). In a like manner, Jacob was sent to Rebekah’s family to secure a wife (Genesis 27:46-28:2). By following this pattern, each successive generation made choices for their children that increased the probability that their descendants perpetuated the truths regarding the God of Abraham and His promises.

For those of us living today, it is our responsibility to heed the successes and failures of those who have preceded us, notably the examples of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Sarah and Rebekah. Just like these spiritual forbearers, we should be ever conscious of the need to make good generational choices, as we are given responsibility for those who come after us. We should be positively influencing the future choices of our offspring. Among the many things this involves, is there anyone better equipped to advise and encourage the next generation about marital choices than the parents who raised them? Of course, in order to assist in this process, the one Torah commandment that deals specifically with the direct relationship between children and parents, should be inculcated into each successive generation:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12; cf. Deuteronomy 5:16).

May we all take an active interest in the lives of our children, and also other young people in the community of faith who look to us as mentors. Let us do so by not only giving them upstanding marital advice and council, but most especially exemplifying what it means to have a dynamic relationship with the God of Israel through His Son, Yeshua the Messiah. In so doing, it will not only be the faithfulness of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs that they are guided by, but most importantly the faithfulness of the One who died for our sins and has provided us full reconciliation with the Father![10]


NOTES

[1] Heb. ratzatz.

[2] Grk. dia tēs teknogonias.

[3] For further reading, consult the article “The Message of the Pastoral Epistles” and the commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[4] Cf. Scherman, Chumash, 127.

[5] Cf. J. Barton Payne, “aqav,” in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:691-692.

[6] Philo Judaeus: The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, trans. C.D. Yonge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 50.

[7] Scherman, Chumash, 128.

[8] For a review of this subject in the Bible, consult the article “Is Polygamy for Today?” by J.K. McKee.

[9] Heb. qehal amim.

[10] Consult the article “The Faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah” by J.K. McKee.

Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah

Sarah’s Life

“Respecting the Local Customs”

Genesis 23:1-25:18
1 Kings 1:1-31


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, entitled Chayei Sarah or “Sarah’s life,” begins by mentioning the death of the Matriarch Sarah, and how Abraham mourned for her passing:

“Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her” (Genesis 23:1-2).

Even though the title of our parashah is “Sarah’s life,” the bulk of the narrative is actually devoted to the events that follow her death. As the beloved wife of Abraham, often regarded to be among the principal matriarchs of the faithful followers of the One True God, she is held in high esteem throughout the Scriptures. The respect shown to Sarah has been given not only for her godly qualities, but also for her character traits. The author of Hebrews mentions Sarah as an important figure of faith, as she and Abraham were seeking a country and city that reached beyond this Earth:

“By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:11-16, NIV).

Examining Chayei Sarah, we find that we are at a period in time when the life of Sarah comes to a climax. As the wife of Abraham, Sarah had witnessed and participated in an extraordinary series of events with a man to whom God chose to guarantee special promises. He took his responsibility very seriously, and although his imperfections and lack of patience had resulted in a premature copulation with the handmaiden Hagar, resulting in the birth of Ishmael—at the ironic suggestion of Sarai—his true love and partner for life was undeniably the faithful Sarah. Now as she predeceases him, Abraham desires only the best available burial site (Heb. qever)[1] in the land that he was promised by God.

At her death, Abraham and Sarah were residing in the environs of Hebron in Canaan, which was then dominated by the Hittites. Noah said that descendents of Canaan would be “slaves” or “servants” (Heb. evadim) to the descendents of Shem:

“When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9:24-27).

As a result of this word, some from the local Hittite population, including the elder servant Eliezer of Damascus, were certainly included among Abraham’s many servants. Whether the Hittites were literal “slaves” of Abraham and Sarah or not is important, because there is certainly an indication that they had an innate recognition that Abraham was a blessed man of the Creator God, to whom they needed to defer a great deal of respect. Read the following statements of honor that were bestowed upon Abraham by his neighbors at the time of Sarah’s death:

“‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’ The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’ So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth” (Genesis 23:4-7).

By referring to Abraham as “my lord” (Heb. adoni) and declaring that he was “the elect of God among us” (NJPS), it is apparent that the indigenous population understood that Abraham had a unique connection with the Almighty. You also might note that Abraham treated his neighbors with great respect, declaring that he was a sojourner,[2] bowing before them and honoring the local inhabitants. This mutual respect pays great dividends as Abraham elicits his good will to secure a revered burial site for his beloved Sarah. There is no indication that Abraham was trying to “convert” his neighbors, except those who had become a part of his household, to join him in the worship of his God. Apparently, this “stranger” who crossed over the Jordan and became the first Hebrew (cf. Genesis 12:1-3),[3] conducted his life in such an exemplary manner that he gained a degree of admiration from his neighbors. This is a worthy example to pass on to us as his spiritual descendants, who likewise worship his God, and who should be conducting their lives properly in whatever environment we happen to live.

Obviously, the natives were aware of the great wealth that Abraham had accumulated during his lifetime. But the status achieved through wealth did not affect his treatment of his hosts in their native land. Abraham was still humble and respectful enough to display sincere humility, by deferring to many of the local customs and accepting their norms for conducting affairs. The blessing of assets consisting of flocks and servants indicates that he had received great tangible favor from the Almighty. But what is most admirable—and certainly recognized by the Hittites—was his genuine respect for others no matter where they stood in society. This attitude is confirmed many times throughout his life, especially when we are given glimpses of his interactions with Eliezer.

In an interesting exchange of comments, the negotiations were such that Abraham utilized the favor of the local people to approach the owner:

“So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, ‘If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site’” (Genesis 23:7-9).

We then see that when Ephron heard the initial open-ended offer, he tried to save face in deference to Abraham’s favor among the locals, by back-handedly stating that he would make the transfer of ownership as a gift to the “prince of God” (Heb. nesi Elohim; Genesis 23:6, ESV):

“Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.’ And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there.’ Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead’” (Genesis 23:10-15).

In a clever, but apparently customary way, Ephron with witnesses present was able to place a price on the property without directly asking for compensation. Even though the price was a ridiculously high sum, Ephron was able to appear magnanimous, while still establishing the amount. But Abraham, knowing the local customs, understood in his grief what was being communicated. Without hesitation, he weighed out the purchase price before witnesses and consummated the transaction:

“Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard” (Genesis 23:16).

Four hundred shekels of silver may not sound like a tremendous amount of money given Abraham’s means, and so we should not be surprised to see how later Jewish interpreters attempted to exaggerate this a bit. The Talmud describes that these were large shekels that had the weight of 2,500 ordinary shekels (b.Bava Metzia 87a). According to this, the price that Abraham really paid for the burial cave of his wife was one million ordinary shekels of silver.[4] This interjection does seem a bit extreme, but we cannot totally blame various Jewish Sages for wanting to emphasize “Abraham’s love for Sarah,”[5] as the burial site of Abraham and Sarah is one of the three holiest sites in Judaism, along with the site of the Temple and Joseph’s tomb.

Even if four hundred shekels is all that was paid, this is a considerable sum of money for such a small plot of real estate that would only be used for one purpose. But Abraham had his priorities right, and we can conclude from the lack of negotiations and hesitation, that the Lord wanted this generous sale recorded for future generations to consider. Incidentally, He was also responsible for the prosperity that Abraham enjoyed in order to come up with the required sum!

As we consider the life, death, and final burial place of Abraham and Sarah this week, we have some serious things to consider concerning our own personal faith and how we interact with others. If we are relative outsiders in a community of people, will we show them respect and defer to some of their local customs? In Messiah Yeshua, we are told that one’s ethnicity or social background do not matter (Galatians 3:28). We have the important responsibility as members of the Body of Messiah to be generous to others, and if necessary, even show respect to “the pagans” we encounter just like Abraham did. Do we do this? Do we demonstrate the goodness of the God we serve through our attitudes—even if we may be shortchanged or even “shafted” sometimes?

The rewards for us demonstrating the good character of God in the world are not just being blessed by Him in our lives today. It especially includes our knowing that the ultimate blessing will come when His Kingdom is restored and the rule of Heaven comes to Earth, something that the Patriarchs eagerly anticipated:

“And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:15-16).

May the Heavenly City always be our focus as we seek to serve the Lord and testify of His goodness until the end of our strength and days!


NOTES

[1] The Hebrew term qever and its related verb qavar, are to be differentiated from Sheol, which regards “a subterranean place, full of thick darkness (Job 10:21, 22), in which the shades of the dead are gathered together” (H.F.W. Gesenius: Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, trans. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979], 798), in which there is some degree of consciousness (cf. Isaiah 14:9ff).

[2] Heb. ger-v’toshav anokhi immakhem (Genesis 23:4).

[3] The word for “Hebrew” is Ivri. As B.J. Beitzel notes, “It is suggested that ‘ibrî derives from the root ‘br, ‘cross over, go beyond’” (“Hebrew (people),” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. et. al., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988], 2:657).

BDB, 720 states that Ivri comes from the root word ever, meaning “one from beyond, from the other side,” “used to distinguish Isr[aelites] from foreigners,” or “from beyond the Jordan,” which has generally come to mean “one who has crossed over.”

[4] Nosson Scherman, ed., et al., The ArtScroll Chumash, Stone Edition, 5th ed. (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2000), 109.

[5] Ibid.