V’yishlach

V’yishlach

He sent

Genesis 32:3-36:43
Hosea 11:7-12:12 (A)
Obadiah 1:1-21 (S)

“A Wrestling Faith”


by Mark Huey

This week, our Torah portion Vayishlach continues the saga of Jacob’s life, as he learned to depend upon and have faith in the God of Abraham and Isaac. If you will recall from last week, the final separation from his father-in-law Laban concluded with a dramatic covenant that essentially placed a demarcation point at Mahanaim, which inclined Jacob to maintain his family’s march west toward the Land of Canaan, promised to him and his fathers (Genesis 31:51-32:2).

With the problems behind him resolved, there were problems in front of Jacob still looming. Jacob was still confronted with a tenuous reunion with his brother Esau, who twenty years earlier had threatened to kill him. Despite all of the blessings of a family, servants, and a bounty of livestock—Jacob had to be utterly petrified about what might take place. Assuming that his brother Esau was still holding a grudge against him, this week’s parashah opens with Jacob concocting a plan to thwart any evil intentions that Esau might have brought upon his family. Even though during the time he spent in Paddan-aram, Jacob’s faith had been surely maturing—as he witnessed the Lord honor His word and promises—we can see that Jacob was still depending upon his own strength and cleverness to avoid what he must have contemplated would be a difficult reception from Esau. In order to prevent a potentially life-threatening encounter, Jacob first sent messengers to Esau to determine the level of Esau’s animosity toward him. Upon the report that Esau was approaching with four hundred, Jacob devised a plan to avoid any anticipated confrontation with Esau by dividing his entourage into two camps, with his immediate family in one and the servants in the other. But then in an indication that Jacob was beginning to trust more fully in the God of his fathers, he turned to God in supplication, having sought the Lord’s protection from his brother:

“Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He also commanded them saying, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: “Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.’”’ The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; for he said, ‘If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.’ Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, “Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.”’ So he spent the night there. Then he selected from what he had with him a present for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, ‘Pass on before me, and put a space between droves.’ He commanded the one in front, saying, ‘When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, saying, “To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and to whom do these animals in front of you belong?” then you shall say, “These belong to your servant Jacob; it is a present sent to my lord Esau. And behold, he also is behind us”’” (Genesis 32:3-18).

In Jacob’s somewhat confessional prayer to God, he not only recognized God’s promises to him, but also his unworthiness to receive the blessings that have already been bestowed. Jacob’s genuine fear of Esau was so great that he had already made the decision to separate into two camps, but he was still reminding God of His promises to prosper him and make his descendants as many as the sand of the sea. The struggle to live by faith in the Holy One, or depend upon one’s own mortal strength, was waging mightily in Jacob. This is a great lesson for any Torah student to study and contemplate. After all, how many times during the course of life do people who profess faith in the Almighty find themselves in similar predicaments? While these times of depending upon the Lord do not necessarily have to be life threatening, most can identify with tests and trials that truly challenge our faith and trust in God. In the development of Jacob’s faith, one can definitely see it growing—but lifelong patterns to resort to cleverness or inherent strengths as humans are difficult to overcome. As Jacob would soon discover, it is at times like these, when the Lord showed up to help him get through the trial.

Jacob Renamed Israel

In V’yishlach, we see that Jacob was in quite a dilemma. He knew that his brother Esau was approaching with four hundred men, not knowing exactly what their intentions were. He had sent ahead servants and livestock to appease Esau, but there was no indication that Esau was satisfied with the overtures. The entourage had been strategically separated into two camps, so Jacob arose in the night and took his family across the river Jabbok, in order to await the arrival of Esau and his company. It was here in the dark of the night, that Jacob encountered a unique supernatural being. Not only did this figure have the ability to simply touch Jacob on his hip and dislocate it, but he also took the opportunity to rename Jacob:

“Then he commanded also the second and the third, and all those who followed the droves, saying, ‘After this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; and you shall say, “Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.”’ For he said, ‘I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’ So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp. Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.’ But he said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him and said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.’ Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip” (Genesis 32:19-32).

During this struggle that ensued, Jacob likely was having to mentally wrestle with the thoughts of his future, and what would soon happen regarding his imminent encounter with Esau. What transpired in the night as Jacob struggled with the supernatural being, was that he showed himself to be a fighter—and for this reason he was renamed Israel or Yisrael, meaning “he contends with God” (TWOT).[1] Jacob was given the name Israel because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome (Genesis 32:28, TNIV). This must have had some great significance to Jacob.

Jacob’s wrestling match during the night—when he was renamed Israel—was most definitely a defining moment in his life, as some serious future events were preparing to occur. Twenty years earlier on his departure from Canaan on the way to Paddan-aram, Jacob had a dream-vision of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder (Genesis 28:10-22). Now on the precipice of returning to the Promised Land, Jacob had an even more dramatic supernatural experience. Perhaps finally, after years of striving with God and with human beings, Jacob was ready to rely fully on God—with the assurance that God was in control of all of the circumstances he was facing?

Reunion with Esau

From the wrestling match at Jabbok with the supernatural being, Jacob was resigned to be at peace with his God. So, he simply went forth confidently with his plan to show proper respect to Esau, and he instructed his family to do the same:

“Then Jacob lifted 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 maids.  He put the maids and their children in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. He lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and said, ‘Who are these with you?’ So he said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the maids came near with their children, and they bowed down. Leah likewise came near with her children, and they bowed down; and afterward Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed down. And he said, ‘What do you mean by all this company which I have met?’ And he said, ‘To find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own.’ Jacob said, ‘No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably. Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me and because I have plenty.’ Thus he urged him and he took it. Then Esau said, ‘Let us take our journey and go, and I will go before you.’ But he said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die. Please let my lord pass on before his servant, and I will proceed at my leisure, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord at Seir.’ Esau said, ‘Please let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.’ But he said, ‘What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.’ So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built for himself a house and made booths for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth. Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city. He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel” (Genesis 33:1-20).

By the time our Torah reading describes the meeting of Jacob with Esau, it is not explicitly clear what had changed the disposition of Esau toward his brother Jacob. Was it possibly the statements of the messengers bearing the gifts of livestock that softened Esau’s heart toward his brother? Was it finally greeting his brother, as they convened and took note of all of the wives and children that were an immediate part of Jacob’s entourage? Or, could it possibly have been the twenty-year interval where Esau had been blessed by a bevy of children himself (cf. Genesis 36)? Perhaps God had answered Jacob’s prayers for peace with his brother Esau?

Needless to say, Jacob was greeted a bit generously, and with what appeared to be a willingness for the two to learn how to live together in the same region. Esau seemed a bit overwhelmed by all of the news about his brother Jacob, and stated that he was already blessed and not in need of the bevy of livestock offered to Esau by Jacob. But after Jacob insisted, Esau accepted the gifts, and even offered to have the two families live together in the region around Seir.

Seir was south of where they were meeting, and east of the Jordan River. This was not the principal land promised to Abraham and Isaac, and so the newly renamed Israel insisted that his brother go on ahead, and he would follow in due time. But rather than heading south to follow Esau, Jacob instead headed west across the Jordan and toward Shechem, to retrace some of the same path he had taken twenty years earlier. In fact, as the text indicates, when Jacob and his family arrived back in the Shechem area, he actually purchased a piece of land from the Shechemites in order to settle down. He erected an altar there, naming the place El Elohe Israel.

The transformation of Jacob, into a man of faith, seems to have been completed. Not only has Jacob navigated a potentially disastrous confrontation with Esau, but now he was free to move back into the Land of Promise without fear of retribution. In an action that clearly indicated a sincere desire to fulfill his promise to the God of his fathers, Jacob actually erected an altar to worship God and names the place, “God, God of Israel.” Jacob was not only confident that God was with him as he overcame the fear of encountering Esau, but he was so moved by his return, that in a move to publically declare who he was serving—he built and dedicated an altar to his God. Jacob seemed to have transformed considerably in his trust and faith in the Almighty. But as is true with all who seek to serve God, the trials of life remain…

Israel’s Troubles in Shechem

While parents are not directly responsible for the actions of their children, they can be indirectly held accountable, whether they want to be or not. In the case of Jacob/Israel, he faced a significant trial as his children got involved with the Hivite population in the area where Jacob had initially decided to settle. Jacob’s daughter Dinah got sexually entrapped with Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, with some unintended consequences. The possibility of Israel’s family being absorbed into the local population was a problem that this incident and the subsequent actions brought to light:

“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. When Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her by force. He was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this young girl for a wife.’ Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in. Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. Now the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, ‘The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Intermarry with us; give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves. Thus you shall live with us, and the land shall be open before you; live and trade in it and acquire property in it.’ Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘If I find favor in your sight, then I will give whatever you say to me. Ask me ever so much bridal payment and gift, and I will give according as you say to me; but give me the girl in marriage.’ But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go” (Genesis 34:1-17).

A number of thoughts come to mind as one reads the account of the tragedies that would take place in and around the Shechem area. Jacob did not want his company intermingling with Esau’s company down south in the Seir area. Yet, with ten sons, a daughter, and attendant servants—how was Jacob/Israel going to avoid being absorbed by the more abundant indigenous population, even if he was wealthy based on the size of his livestock herds? So to make some distinctions, Jacob purchased some land and erected an altar to declare his allegiance to the God of Abraham and Isaac.

But the Hivites worshipped other gods, which was going to be a significant problem, especially if any intermarrying did take place. When Dinah got involved with Shechem, the relationship caused a challenge not only for Jacob—who remained silent without taking any immediate action—but also his sons, Simeon and Levi, who became very involved when they heard about the violation of their sister Dinah. In fact, the lack of response from Jacob is concerning, despite the fact that his presence when confronted by Hamor and Shechem is noted. But instead of responding to their pleas for Dinah’s hand in marriage, Jacob said nothing as Simeon and Levi interjected their concern over a marriage to an uncircumcised person. After all, a part of Israel’s walk of faith included circumcision of infant boys (Genesis 17:11-25). Apparently, after Abraham and Isaac were circumcised, the practice was continued with Esau and Jacob. Then the practice must have continued with the sons of Jacob, as they used this rite as the stated reason to stop the marriage of Dinah with Shechem. But there was a hidden motivation of vengeance to convince the Hivites to circumcise their men:

“Now their words seemed reasonable to Hamor and Shechem, Hamor’s son. The young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was more respected than all the household of his father. So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, ‘These men are friendly with us; therefore let them live in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters in marriage, and give our daughters to them. Only on this condition will the men consent to us to live with us, to become one people: that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock and their property and all their animals be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will live with us.’ All who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and to his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city. Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth. Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.’ But they said, ‘Should he treat our sister as a harlot?’” (Genesis 34:18-31).

Simeon and Levi had decided that they were going to avenge the humiliating treatment of their sister, and prevent the potential merger of the families. After three days, when the pain of the circumcision was great, the young men struck not only Hamor and his son Shechem, but massacred all of the men of Shechem! When their brothers discovered the action, they did not hesitate to plunder the city and ravage the inhabitants. What an horrific display of revenge by these young sons of Jacob.

Jacob’s silence is almost deafening. There is no recorded statement in the Biblical record that Jacob tried to stop the actions of his sons. It was only after the massacre had taken place that Jacob finally spoke to Simeon and Levi, with some serious concern about the ramifications of their vengeful acts. Jacob was mindful that the neighboring Canaanites and Perizzites would take great offense over the murder of their regional neighbors, and take up arms against the greatly outnumbered group of servants that were a part of Jacob’s entourage. Naturally, Jacob was extremely concerned about the survival of his family, and reprimanded Simeon and Levi accordingly. It was not until years later when Jacob/Israel bestowed blessings on his children, that we discover that there were definite negative consequences for this act of vengeance:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with their assembly; because in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel” (Genesis 49:5-7).

As you think through this tragedy and the consequences of settling near Shechem, is it possible that Jacob stopped in his return to Canaan a little prematurely, without going further south to relocate near the area around Hebron?

The Relocation Continues

Following the tragic events that took place in Shechem, God spoke to Jacob with instructions about his relocation. If you can picture the next move further south of Shechem that they were about to take, you find that Jacob and his entourage were once again on the ridgeline highway, leading south of Shechem through Bethel, where Jacob had his earlier encounter with God during his sojourn east some twenty years prior. God was bringing Jacob “full circle,” to the place where he had anointed a rock with oil (Genesis 28:16-19). It was here that some additional work was needed, in order to eliminate all association with other gods and idol worship:

“Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.’ So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.’ So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem. As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him.  He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother. Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; it was named Allon-bacuth. Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; you shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you. The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you.’ Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him. Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel” (Genesis 35:1-15).

God’s work with Jacob was not yet finished, because some of the people moving with him were still worshipping foreign gods, as indicated by all the items used for false worship. God spoke to Jacob, reminding him of his earlier commitment at Bethel, and told him to rid his entourage of any idolatrous items. After burying the amulets, Jacob returned to the place where he anointed the stone, and this time erected an altar to worship the Holy One, once again recognizing it as Bethel. Then to reaffirm the earlier encounter at Jabbok, when he was renamed Israel—the Lord not only restated the name, but also reminded Jacob about the blessings of Abraham and Isaac that Jacob/Israel had received. By this time in the life of Jacob/Israel, one would think that he was getting the message from God very loud and clear. But the vagaries of life continued, as the sojourn continued south toward the Hebron area. God is never finished with testing His chosen vessels until they die.

Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel was pregnant during the journey south, and she went into Jacob around Ephrath (Genesis 35:16-17). During the birth of her second son, she died and was buried (Genesis 35:18-20). The loss of Rachel must have saddened Jacob greatly, but rather than allowing Rachel’s dying name of Ben-oni (son of my sorrow) to remain, Jacob instead named his youngest son Benjamin (son of my right hand). The patriarch erected a memorial pillar at her burial site, and then settled in the area near the tower of Eder (Genesis 35:21). But Jacob/Israel’s troubles with rebellious children continued. In an act of disrespect toward his father, Jacob’s eldest son Reuben has sexual relations with Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). This ultimately resulted in Reuben forfeiting his birthright privileges, as noted in Jacob’s blessings uttered at his deathbed years later:

“Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch’” (Genesis 49:3-4).

A Wrestling Faith

While our parashah actually concludes with an extensive listing of the descendants of Esau (Genesis 36), the extended journey of Jacob comes to a close with him finally arriving in the Hebron area to bury his aged father Isaac:

“Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre of Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him” (Genesis 35:27-29).

It is difficult to specifically determine any additional moves that Jacob/Israel made during the remaining days of his sojourn in Canaan, but it is interesting to note that when his father Isaac died, there must have been at least a semblance of peaceful interactions with his brother Esau—or they probably would not have been able to come together for the burial of their father.

It is reasonable to conclude that Jacob struggled with the God of his fathers for most of his life. Even though there were considerable moments of revelation and experience—both direct and indirect with the Holy One—Jacob had to constantly contend with the challenges of life that are an example to all who study his life. God had obviously chosen him from the womb to receive the blessings of Abraham and Isaac, but just like every person born, his life journey was unique. Despite growing up in a family dedicated to the Holy One, Jacob had to personally learn how to trust in the Lord himself. Is this not the case for everyone who seeks the Lord?

As you think back and contemplate the sojournings of Jacob, perhaps you can identify with some of his trials. Maybe you grew up in a home where a relationship with God was modeled to you by your parents or relatives. As a result, you may struggle with your own personal relationship, because your interactions with God may not be as profound as those relayed to you by others. On the other hand, you might be the first one in your family to truly seek God, and have an assurance that He is truly the One who brings you salvation from your sin. Whatever your personal history includes, having some kind of struggles with God along the road of life, are just a part of everyone’s personal journey.

Whether your faith is tested with sibling rivalries, with rebellious children, when others treat you unfairly, when loved ones die, or by any number of life circumstances that come your way—know that God is always there to confide in and lean upon. In fact, the image of wrestling with God or clinging to Him is appropriate, given the desire of God-seekers to hold onto Him through the trials of life. Even the revered Moses used this imagery when he exhorted the Israelites in the desert to not only fear the Lord, but serve Him and cling to Him:

“You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21).

Surely, if you have sought the Lord and received assurance of your salvation because of belief in the atoning work of the blood of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus), then you have seen or experienced the work of God in your life. Perhaps you have even spent some time wrestling with God as He has tested your faith!

Despite the struggles of life that test our faith, may we all learn to cling to the Holy One as ultimately exemplified by Jacob who wrestled with his faith throughout his life. For our God is indeed the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and by their individual examples—we can learn to cling to the Holy One who promises eternal life through belief in His Son Yeshua, our Redeemer and the Rock of our salvation!


NOTES

[1] J. Barton Payne, “Yisrael, sarah,” in TWOT, 2:883.

V’yeitzei

V’yeitzei

He went out

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

“Jacob’s Maturing Faith”


by Mark Huey

Torah students should realize that after the first 11 chapters of Genesis record a wide swath of human history, from the Creation to the scrambling of the languages, the remaining chapters deal with the four generations, which consist of Abraham, his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. From Genesis chs. 12-25, the focus is on God testing Abraham, the person chosen to be the father of faith. From Genesis chs. 25-28, the emphasis is on Abraham’s son Isaac and how he continued along the walk of faith that Abraham had established. When we now turn to the Torah portion V’yeitzei in our weekly readings, the life of Jacob is detailed, and is followed by specific actions taken by his twelve sons and daughter for the balance of the Book of Genesis. The first book of the Pentateuch is primarily concerned with the Lord God, and how He interacted with these individuals and their steadily enlarging family, as they learned to trust wholeheartedly in Him. This Deity is hence forever referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—precisely because their personal testimonies establish a foundation for their successors in the balance of the Holy Scriptures.

It is not only interesting—but also extremely important—for readers to study, analyze, and compare how these different individuals responded to the Almighty. Each generation is unique, and no two people and their experiences with God are identical. Abraham had at least a modicum of belief in the One True Creator, when his father Terah and their family left Ur. When Abraham received the direct call from the Holy One to go forth to another country (Genesis 12:1-3), Abraham responded without any recorded hesitancy. Abraham is so recognized as “the father of faith,” because his intimate relationship with God was not necessarily modeled by his father Terah. Abraham was uniquely chosen by God to establish a special relationship with one man and his family, which would set in motion a system of belief that has endured down through the millennia. It is from the early chapters of Genesis that the foundation of the Judeo-Christian faith system and worldview are derived.

Believers in the Messiah are reminded centuries later how the Torah is to serve as an example of things for instruction and admonition (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). And, this is one of the primary reasons why one studies the recorded stories of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Just like modern people today, these early heroes of our faith were human beings with foibles and carnal tendencies, which did not make them perfect in any way. Even though they each had varying degrees of personal interaction with the Holy One as recorded, there were still times when some of their decisions were “curious,” to say the least. Those who annually study through the Torah might identify with many of the specific challenges that the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of these four generations endured, because family dynamics and issues doubtlessly continue down through the generations to our own time. Perhaps in the course of reviewing these lives and understanding some of the problems they had to contend with, people today will learn from these examples and grow in their walks with the Lord. In so doing, may we all continue to receive the blessings promised to those who place their faith in the Holy One of Israel!

Jacob’s Journey

V’yeitzei begins with Jacob obeying his parents and heading east toward his uncle Laban’s community. Because Jacob’s demeanor was such that he had a tendency to hang out around the tents during his upbringing (cf. Genesis 25:27)—seemingly learning about the family traditions and seeking to please his parents—when his parents gave him some instructions to avoid marrying the local Canaanite women, but rather find a wife from the daughters of Laban, he did not hesitate or question their wisdom (Genesis 27:41-46). As Jacob obediently departed from Beersheba toward Paddan-aram, he had his first recorded, life-changing encounter with the Lord. Since no other people are mentioned on the journey, Jacob was likely traveling by himself, with many thoughts on his mind about Esau’s anger, and perhaps being separated from his parents.

After traveling some distance, Jacob stopped for the night and had a dream-vision that obviously impacted him for the rest of his life. It is in this dream that the God of his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac appeared to him, and He reaffirmed the blessings that Isaac had recently declared about Jacob receiving the blessings of Abraham (Genesis 28:3-4):

“Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran.  He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 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 will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will 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. 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.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ 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. He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 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 28:10-22).

While it is impossible to know just where Jacob’s faith was when this dream and word from the Lord came, Jacob was quite moved. Here, Jacob was venturing out alone on a journey to a foreign land seeking to connect with Rebekah’s brother Laban—and all of a sudden he had a vision of a ladder reaching from the Earth to Heaven, with many angels ascending and descending up and down. It surely must have been something to behold! While staring into the night and trying to discern what he was witnessing, all of a sudden the Lord appeared and repeated to him the blessings that he had undoubtedly heard about, which had been received by his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. The Lord said how He would be with him and keep him and bring him back to the Promised Land.

Upon awakening from this dream, the reaction of Jacob was elated worship, knowing that he had been in the presence of God. To Jacob, something was very awesome about this particular place on Earth. He felt that this must be the House of God, and a literal gate to Heaven after watching angels ascend and descend. Upon arising in the morning, Jacob took some of the oil he was carrying, and anointed the stone that had been his pillow, naming the place Beit’El, Bethel or “house of God.” Like his grandfather and father before him, who had both built altars to the Lord to honor and worship Him, this is the first recorded time that Jacob not only directly encountered the Lord, but openly worshipped Him. Clearly, Jacob was now confident that the Lord God was with him, not only to protect him, but to eventually be with him until his return to Canaan.

Conditional Faith

If you consider what Jacob vowed to the Lord after receiving the comfort of knowing that He was going to be with him and protect him until He returned Jacob to the Promised Land—you read that Jacob’s faith had some if/then conditions attached to it:

“Jacob then made a vow, saying, ‘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, and if I return safe to my father’s house—the LORD shall be my God” (Genesis 28:20-21, NJPS).

Jacob was overwhelmed with the dream-vision he had witnessed the night before. The promises from God were irrevocable, but it appears that Jacob’s faith and willingness to serve God had some strings attached. Despite the Lord telling Jacob that He would be with him wherever he went, and would bring Jacob back to the Land of Canaan—Jacob made a vow to the Lord that if he were cared for, then Lord would be Jacob’s God, and Jacob would give a tenth of his wealth to the Lord (Genesis 28:22). At the beginning of Jacob’s journey here, there appears to be a nominal faith that he possessed in the Holy One. One wonders why Jacob had a lack of faith. Was it because he was a third generation follower of the Holy One, who had not yet personally seen Him perform His word? Did Jacob need some trials in life, perhaps having lived a sort of “sheltered” existence in the shadow of his grandfather and parents? Was Jacob just used to getting his way, as he had secured the birthright and blessing of Isaac, without trusting in the Lord, but cleverly deceiving Esau and Isaac?

While there is little doubt that Jacob was substantially moved by his encounter with the Lord at Bethel, his reaction to the dream-vision was clearly different than the relative mute responses of Abraham and Isaac, when they had similar interactions with Him. By placing conditions on his willingness to make God his provider, it appears that Jacob still had some trust in his own ability to make things happen, according to his human will. Consequently, as Jacob’s journey continued, the Lord would use conflicting situations with Laban, to teach Jacob how to more fully trust in Him.

Jacob’s Growing Family

When Jacob arrived at his destination in Paddan-aram, in a scene reminiscent of Eliezar’s trek to secure a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24), Jacob found himself at a well where herds of sheep were waiting to be watered. Providentially, one of the groups watering their sheep just happened to be the relatives of Laban, specifically Laban’s daughter Rachel. Jacob had to be elated. After his experience with God at Bethel, he had to sense that the Lord was directing his steps. In a chivalrous move, Jacob moved the rock to attain access to the well and water the sheep of Rachel’s herd. In what seems like a bold gesture, Jacob kissed Rachel while tearfully declaring to her that he was her father’s kinsman. The news of the Jacob’s arrival was received by Laban with great expectations, as he recalled that Eliezar years earlier had brought many gifts to give to his family (Genesis 29:1-20). As we will soon discover, Jacob has met his match when it comes to a person operating in his own strength, rather than trusting in the Lord.

Please remember how Jacob had two primary motivations for traveling eastward. First, Jacob was fleeing from the presence of Esau, who had made some threatening remarks that Rebekah considered potentially harmful to him. Secondly, once a safe distance between Jacob and Esau was established, the next motivation was to secure a suitable wife to continue the faithful line of Abraham and Isaac. Upon encountering Rachel, it seems that Jacob’s concerns over Esau were mitigated, as the opportunity to have a wife that his parents would approve of became paramount. The only problem that Jacob did not foresee was the cleverness of Laban, and how he was going to alter Jacob’s plans to marry Rachel. We see how Laban misled Jacob on his wedding night, by substituting the elder Leah instead of the younger Rachel for his wife:

“So when Laban heard the news of Jacob his sister’s son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Then he related to Laban all these things. Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh.’ And he stayed with him a month. Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her.’ Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?’ But Laban said, ‘It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years.’ Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid. So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years” (Genesis 29:13-30).

The wedding bargain that Jacob and Laban established for marriage to his daughter was Jacob serving Laban for seven years. The first seven years apparently went by quickly as Jacob anticipated his marriage to Rachel. However, when the wedding night switch of Leah for Rachel took place, the clever Laban negotiated another seven years for his second daughter. Jacob had been tricked by Laban, and had perhaps met his match in terms of deceptive practices. During those fourteen years Jacob had to deal with his father-in-law who continually altered the agreements for wages that they had made. Clearly, the Lord was trying to get the attention of Jacob, as he must have pondered all of these circumstances. What had begun years earlier with an encounter with God, followed by venturing into Laban’s community to find his wife, was surely the Lord’s hand upon him. But the trials of dealing with Laban and the ongoing struggles, as Jacob began to have children, had to try him terribly. Certainly, the Lord was preparing Jacob for the promises He had made to him. But as always, the timing is always up to Him.

Without going into all the details about the births of Jacob’s children, what most concerned him was the lack of a child with the beloved Rachel. For years, as Leah and the handmaidens had children, Rachel was barren. But finally, Rachel conceived and had a child she named Joseph. Jacob now made a request to Laban that he take his family back to the land from where he came. But, there was a conflict between Jacob and Laban, because Laban clearly understood that he was benefitting from the Lord’s blessings that were being bestowed upon Jacob:

“Then God remembered Rachel, and God gave heed to her and opened her womb. So she conceived and bore a son and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ She named him Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD give me another son.’ Now it came about when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my own country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me depart; for you yourself know my service which I have rendered you.’ But Laban said to him, ‘If now it pleases you, stay with me; I have divined that the LORD has blessed me on your account’” (Genesis 30:22-27).

Jacob finally wanted to return back to the Land of Canaan with his growing family. The Lord had prospered him mightily with wives, children, and the ability to add substantially to the family business of sheep herding. In fact, the overabundance of sheep was creating a logistical problem with too many sheep for the grazing land to support. Laban was in a bit of a dilemma. While he was enjoying the relative prosperity that Jacob was bringing to his own wealth, there was some animosity building between Jacob and Laban. And so, Jacob received not only another word from the Lord, but we see how Jacob was certainly aware that the blessings upon him were from the Lord:

“Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, ‘Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth.’ Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.’ So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to his flock in the field, and said to them, ‘I see your father’s attitude, that it is not friendly toward me as formerly, but the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength. Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me. If he spoke thus, “The speckled shall be your wages,” then all the flock brought forth speckled; and if he spoke thus, “The striped shall be your wages,” then all the flock brought forth striped. Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock and given them to me” (Genesis 31:1-9).

With the word from the Lord that he was to return to the land of his fathers, Jacob explained what had been transpiring and gave the Lord total credit for prospering him with the flock’s growth. Obviously, Jacob’s faith had been maturing through all the trials of dealing with his father-in-law, and the challenges of having a large family. Yet, God was given the credit for explaining how to maximize his herd of goats to the detriment of Laban’s herds, while reminding Jacob that He is the God of Bethel:

“Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock and given them to me. And it came about at the time when the flock were mating that I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the male goats which were mating were striped, speckled, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.’” Rachel and Leah said to him, ‘Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father’s house? Are we not reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price. Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you” (Genesis 31:9-13).

After having this discussion with Rachel and Leah, Jacob decided it was time to leave the environs of Laban and take his wives, children, livestock, and property back to the Land of Canaan. The major challenge was doing this without the knowledge and consent of Laban. But having lived and worked with Laban for twenty years, Jacob knew that he was going to have to surreptitiously leave in order to avoid the anticipated conflict with Laban. One curious thing that we find in V’yeitzei concerns Laban’s family idols that were stolen by Rachel. The beloved Rachel was still harboring an affection for idol worship, and was not totally committed to the Lord—who her husband Jacob was trusting even more with his destiny. We also find that the Lord continued to intervene for Jacob, by appearing in a dream to Laban to warn him not to impede the departure of Jacob and his entourage:

“Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels; and he drove away all his livestock and all his property which he had gathered, his acquired livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father’s. And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. So he fled with all that he had; and he arose and crossed the Euphrates River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead. When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled, then he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him a distance of seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead. God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, ‘Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.’ Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen camped in the hill country of Gilead. Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre; and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, “Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.” Now you have indeed gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?’ Then Jacob replied to Laban, ‘Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself.’ For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent. Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel’s saddle, and she sat on them. And Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them. She said to her father, ‘Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me.’ So he searched but did not find the household idols. Then Jacob became angry and contended with Laban; and Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me? Though you have felt through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two’” (Genesis 31:17-37).

Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the family idols, or he would never have made the statement that would have condemned to death anyone found with the Laban’s idols. But, since the idols were never discovered, Jacob and Laban finally came to an agreement about any separation of property. Jacob had honorably taken only that which he has earned after twenty years of laboring for Laban. Jacob reiterated the history of their relationship, and once again gave credit to the God of Abraham and Isaac as not only his Provider, but also his Protector. In an effort to maintain peace between the two growing families, the two made an agreement that was exemplified by a heap of stones gathered to mark the spot where the covenant was ratified. Interestingly, even Laban conceded that the God of Abraham, and the God of his father Nahor, was to ultimately judge between the two parties:

“‘These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten the rams of your flocks. That which was torn of beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it myself. You required it of my hand whether stolen by day or stolen by night. Thus I was: by day the heat consumed me and the frost by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flock, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had not been for me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, so He rendered judgment last night.’ Then Laban replied to Jacob, ‘The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.’ Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. Jacob said to his kinsmen, ‘Gather stones.’ So they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Now Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. Laban said, ‘This heap is a witness between you and me this day.’ Therefore it was named Galeed, and Mizpah, for he said, ‘May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other. If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.’ Laban said to Jacob, ‘Behold this heap and behold the pillar which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass by this heap to you for harm, and you will not pass by this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.’ So Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal; and they ate the meal and spent the night on the mountain. Early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place. Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. Jacob said when he saw them, ‘This is God’s camp.’ So he named that place Mahanaim. (Genesis 31:38-32:2).

After twenty years of living and working together, Jacob and Laban finally came to peace with one another. Clearly over that time, it seems that Jacob’s faith in the Holy One grew considerably. Not only had he encountered the Lord as he commenced his journey, but he had witnessed the Lord providentially guide him to the family which would eventually provide him with the means to have his own children. Even though Laban created a number of challenges as he cleverly manipulated marriages, changed the wages and eventually made the separation difficult—it is obvious that as their immediate association came to a close, the influence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and now even more so, Jacob, was becoming ever-present. By the time of building a heap of stones to be a witness between the competing groups, reference to God became much more commonplace. Both Jacob and Laban recognized that God was ultimately in charge of the circumstances.

Also important is how the blessing of Laban upon his daughters and grandchildren was completed, and Laban was resigned to the reality that Jacob was taking his growing family back to Canaan. As our parashah concludes, the angels of God met Jacob—and more than ever, Jacob proclaimed that this was “God’s camp.”

Obviously, the maturation of Jacob after twenty years away from Isaac and Rebekah is evident. Jacob was seeing God’s hand upon all that he was doing, recognizing that God had been present in all that he had done.

Thinking back to his experience with God at Bethel, Jacob had to be reminded that God was indeed keeping His word to be with him and keep him in his travels (Genesis 28:13-15). Jacob was also remembering that God said He would bring Jacob back to the land of his fathers, and now that the separation with Laban was complete, the next step was to get back to the Land of Canaan. After all, Jacob was the inheritor of the blessings bestowed upon Abraham and Isaac, and he was aware that his descendants would be like the dust of the Earth and bless all peoples on Earth.

Now on the verge of taking his family back to Canaan, there was only one thing that might have concerned Jacob. This, of course, was the possible threat of his brother Esau. As Jacob sat around the camp at Mahaniam, contemplating all that had occurred in the previous twenty years and the dramatic departure of Laban after securing his blessing, he might have looked at the heap of stones and realized that he was not going back to Paddan-aram, but instead venturing back west to the land where he was raised. Thankfully, his trust and faith in the Almighty God of Abraham and Isaac was maturing. But was he ready to deal with a vengeful brother who years earlier threatened his death? Was he going to trust in the Lord, or would he fall back on some of his clever ways to avoid the inevitable confrontation?

The promises were sure and Jacob had witnessed the Lord fulfill His promises. Now Jacob was ready to fulfill his vow to the Lord and make Him his God. This is a common lesson of life, to many who study the Torah and the lives of the Patriarchs, for they were mortal beings with various strengths and weaknesses, just like those of us living today. They always had the choice to rely upon their own strength or cleverness, or trust and have faith in the Lord.

Perhaps in your meditation on this subject you might consider some significant choices as you go about your daily routine. Do you trust in your own abilities, or are you placing your faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Have you gotten to the point in your own walk that the tests and trials of life have shown you to trust in the Lord?

A maturing faith makes trust in the Lord the best choice. May we all reach the point where our trust in the Lord overcomes our trust in anything else…

A Torah Foundation (Part II) – November 2017 OIM News


Update

November 2017

My how time flies! It is difficult for us to believe that fifteen years ago, on November 1, 2002, that Outreach Israel Ministries was born. This was a process involving a lengthy “gestation period,” which was initially conceived during a tour of Israel that Margaret and I took with Zola Levitt’s ministry in December 1994. It was there that the Holy Spirit communicated to us that our family needed to begin celebrating the Feasts of the Lord. We had each already participated in various Passover seders years earlier, and were acquainted with the Jewish Roots of Christianity—but this prompting was much more than just a recommendation to have some token attendance at a formalized meal for the sake of spiritual enrichment. Instead, it was a solemn invitation to learn more about our direct connection to our Savior, the Messiah Yeshua, who we both worshipped. In addition, since we had just traversed the same paths as the forefathers of the faith and gazed upon the same terrain they had during their lives, our hearts were ripe for more understanding of who we were as adopted children of the Most High (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). Providentially, this past month, while attending a conference of various charismatic Christians, we recalled the life-changing decisions we made in 1994-1995 that have altered the direction of our lives forever.

At that recent gathering, as we reflected back over twenty years to that time, we both concluded that it was a “crossroad” moment when we had two different paths to seek God before us. By His grace, we chose the path less traveled toward Messianic Judaism. In particular, I vividly remember in November 1994 a training jog, in preparation for another marathon run, when I was contemplating all the peer group pressure from the Charismatic Church we were attending to go to Toronto to experience the “Toronto Blessing” first hand. As I mulled this over and over in my mind, I heard in my spirit an almost audible “Jerusalem!” Immediately upon receiving this word, in my mind’s eye I envisioned the “pouring out of the Spirit” everyone was talking about in Toronto, instead being a direct pour on Jerusalem with a significant splash going to Toronto. By the time I jogged home I greeted Margaret with these words, “We don’t need to go to Toronto to receive a blessing, but instead, let’s go to Israel!” Her direct response was simply this: “If we are going to Israel, we need to go with Zola’s ministry. If we are going to tour Israel, we might as well be guided by a Messianic Jew.” Since I knew Zola from associations in Dallas, I called his ministry to find out when their next tour was scheduled, and five weeks later we were headed to Israel.

But even upon getting this inspiration to visit Israel and the gentle nudge to celebrate the feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23), it still took nine months to be led to a Messianic Jewish congregation, where we celebrated our first Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Even though we were not Jewish, we were certainly drawn back to the Shabbat services and within a few months of “triple dipping” (Friday Evening Erev Shabbat, Saturday morning Shabbat, and Sunday morning services at church), we concluded that the Holy Spirit was teaching us about the Holy One of Israel most effectively at the Messianic Jewish congregation:

“But the Helper, the Ruach ha-Kodesh whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I said to you” (John 14:26, TLV).

In a few months, we were taking the new member’s class and introduction to Hebrew. Before long, our family was totally integrated into the assembly with our daughters learning Davidic dancing and John getting very interested in eschatology and other theological subjects. Needless to say, as we gaze back upon those early days and the intervening years, we are delighted that the Lord led us to what we have been doing for the Messianic community of faith ever since!

Initially upon the inception of Outreach Israel Ministries, we discerned a need to help and aid the issues being faced by evangelical Believers, like we ourselves had been, who were being led into similar understandings. We wanted to make sure that we were all focusing on Yeshua and His ways, in a loving, balanced, and academic manner. After John McKee’s undergraduate studies were complete in 2003, he then matriculated at Asbury Theological Seminary in 2005 to hone his skills in Hebrew, Greek, and Biblical exegesis, and received a Master’s in Biblical Studies in 2009. As a result, our teaching abilities were immeasurably enhanced. Today in 2017, via Messianic Apologetics, and as we survey the future of the Messianic community, we know that we have a significant calling to be a voice of stability to the diverse Jewish and non-Jewish people whom God has called into this special move of His Spirit. Our ongoing efforts are focused at making sure that the difficult questions and issues people are facing get addressed!

This month’s lead article continues where last month’s left off, with Part II of “A Torah Foundation.” It finishes by addressing many common passages that are used to claim that the Torah or Moses’ Teaching has no more relevance for God’s people today. You should find this a very concise and useful summary—and it should definitely also increase your interest in further studies of the Scriptures!

We want to especially thank those of you who have faithfully supported our efforts over the years. We continue to need your financial support in order to dedicate the time and energy required to continue in the work that the Lord has assigned us. We particularly need many of you to sign up for a regular monthly contribution via PayPal at www.outreachisrael.net. In the past month, the Messianic Apologetics website at www.messianicapologetics.net has completed its full server transfer, with all articles restored. We have also added a new Messianic Apologetics podcast, which we encourage you to subscribe to via iTunes and Google Play.

Finally, the U.S. continues to have a variety of issues that are spreading division and strife on many different levels. It is our prayer that God will use each of these circumstances to draw people unto Himself, and that hurting and confused people will turn to the Messiah for salvation, hope, and restoration. Father, we need your love, healing, and peace!

“ADONAI bless you and keep you! ADONAI make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you! ADONAI turn His face toward you and grant you shalom!” (Numbers 6:24-26, TLV).

Blessings, Mark Huey


A Torah Foundation

PART II

by J.K. McKee

Last month’s lead article, A Torah Foundation—Part I,” addressed the components of the weekly Torah portions, the Tanach as the Bible of Yeshua, and began to address common Scripture passages used to claim that the Torah is not important for born again Believers today.

“A Torah Foundation—Part II” finishes the list of Scripture passages, incorrectly employed to claim that God’s Torah is irrelevant for His people.

Romans 11:6: “Grace is no longer on the basis of works”
It is a common misunderstanding among many contemporary evangelical people that grace was not present in the period of the “Old Testament.” Paul actually references a number of Tanach passages (1 Kings 19:10, 14, 18) in emphasizing how God’s gracious choice has always allowed for a remnant of righteous. The statement, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (NASU) should be taken as a logical argument, demonstrating how God’s grace has always been present in all time periods, not that there was once a time when grace could be actually earned from human works.

Romans 14: “God does not care about what days people celebrate or what food they eat”
The information in Romans ch. 14 is often applied to matters of adiaphora in contemporary religious settings today, such as the music people listen to or the movies people watch. In all probability, Paul’s instruction to the Romans about eating and sacred days (Romans 14:2-6) involved unnecessary criticism of those who would only eat vegetables at fellowship meal times, and not “common” (Romans 14:14, LITV) meat that others would eat, Biblically clean but not ceremonially acceptable to some. These people were not to be looked down upon. There is a long-standing alternative opinion that the religious “days” in view (Romans 14:5-6) were times of traditional Jewish fasting. If one should not be criticized for fasting on a particular day—likely remembering or memorializing a tragic event in Israel’s history—then one should surely not be criticized for not eating certain things at a communal fellowship meal.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20: “All things are now lawful”
A correct translation of Panta mou exestin 1 Corinthians 6:12 would be “Everything is permitted for me” (TLV). Numerous versions place this clause in quotation marks “ ”, reflecting the opinion of most scholars that this was a slogan used by a particular group in the Corinthian assembly. When Paul says, “‘Everything is permitted for me’—but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permitted for me’—but I will not be controlled by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12, TLV), he is actually cross-examining and refuting something said by a group of Corinthians; this is not reflective of his own personal beliefs.

1 Corinthians 8: “Paul permitted Gentile Christians to eat idol food, a clear violation of the Mosaic Law”
Paul did not permit any of the Corinthians to knowingly eat meat sacrificed to idols, and was critical toward those who thought that they had the freedom to do so (1 Corinthians 8:9). He focused his admonitions heavily toward those who thought that given the supremacy of the One God, that it did not matter if they ate meat sacrificed to idols, given how idols were dead objects (1 Corinthians 8:4). Their actions could have had grossly negative consequences, as there were new Believers who once ate their meals as an act of reverence or worship to idols (1 Corinthians 8:7), and eating meat sacrificed to idols could cause them to relapse back into paganism (1 Corinthians 8:10).

1 Corinthians 9:19-23: “It is only necessary to keep the Old Testament law to convert Jews to Christ”
If Paul only taught that some adherence to the Torah or Law of Moses was necessary for Jewish evangelism, then Paul could rightly be accused of violating his own words about not bringing the good news in a manner of craftiness (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). When Paul communicates “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20a, NASU), among the other groups he lists (1 Corinthians 9:20b-23), this is best taken as a statement of rhetoric. Paul self-identifies with the position of the diverse groups in the First Century Mediterranean, in order to best communicate the good news of salvation to them. Paul never stopped being a Jew after coming to Messiah faith. But, there were certainly aspects of the First Century Jewish experience and recent history—among other groups’ experiences—that he had to be quite conscious of, in going to synagogues and declaring that Yeshua was the Messiah of Israel.

1 Corinthians 10:14-33: “Paul says to eat whatever is set before you”
The specific context of Paul saying to eat what is set before you, involves the acceptance of an invitation to eat at a non-Believer’s home (1 Corinthians 10:27). What is set before a Believer on his or her plate, is to be graciously received as a matter of the host’s hospitality. Should it become public knowledge that any meat had been offered to idols, then it is to not be eaten (1 Corinthians 10:28), as it would be a bad witness of one’s faith in the One God of Israel.

1 Corinthians 16:2: “The early Christians met on the first day of the week, a clear abolishment of the Jewish Sabbath.”
The reference to the Corinthians meeting “on the first of the week” has been traditionally approached as Sunday worship services replacing the seventh-day Sabbath. There have, at times, been some dissenting opinions from this, given how this meeting on the first of the week was specifically for collecting monies. This would not be a permissible activity for the Sabbath. Also, in view of the Biblical day beginning in the evening, it has been usefully proposed that what is in view is Motza’ei-Shabbat (CJB/CJSB), or a special time closing off the Sabbath on Saturday evening.

2 Corinthians 3: “The veil of the old covenant has been removed.”
The Old Covenant is specifically labeled by Paul to be “the ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7) or “condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:9). It involves the Torah, at most, being delivered on lifeless stones, only able to condemn people as sinners. The supernatural work of “the ministry of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 3:9) involves activity of Divine principles being written onto human hearts and manifest to others (2 Corinthians 3:3). This is language taken from the New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 37:15-28, which speak of the commandments of God written by His Spirit onto new hearts of flesh. The reading of the Old Covenant ministry of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:14), the Torah operative for a non-Believer, should convict people of their sins. Unfortunately, a veil lies over the heart of many, especially Jewish non-Believers, when the Torah can only operate as Old Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:15-16). The veil that separated Moses’ face from Ancient Israel (Exodus 34:34) was not unlike the curtain separating out the Holy of Holies in the Temple complex—which was split in two at the Messiah’s death (Mark 15:38; Matthew 27:51; Luke 23:45). The veil over a non-Believer’s heart, prohibiting God’s salvation and sanctification to take place, is what is removed. The Torah no longer functions in a condemnatory fashion, but in principles imbued on a redeemed psyche by the Spirit.

Galatians 2:11-21: “By the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”
Whether “works of the law” is approached from its traditional vantage point of being “observing the law” (Galatians 2:16, NIV)—or “works of the law” is approached in association with various sectarian deeds involving formal proselyte conversion to Judaism (cf. 4QMMT)—justification comes only through belief in Yeshua the Messiah and what He has accomplished. Who we are as redeemed human beings is to be focused around the work of Yeshua, and not any human action. We are to obey the Lord’s Instructions as a result of the Divine work of Yeshua in our lives.

Galatians 3:12-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law.”
Those who disobey God’s Instruction are cursed, and the Messiah’s death on the tree (Deuteronomy 21:23) is what merits those who believe in Him a redemption from the effects of sin. Obedience to God’s Instruction, however, is to bring with it a high quality of life lived on Earth (Leviticus 18:5).

Galatians 3:23-25: “The Law is our tutor to lead us to Christ.”
It is said, “Therefore the Torah became our guardian to lead us to Messiah, so that we might be made right based on trusting” (Galatians 3:24, TLV). Salvation does not come by any human actions involving the Torah. But, the Torah’s Instruction is to convict people of their sins, so that they might come to a point of realizing that only the work of Yeshua can provide salvation. The Torah’s pre-salvation role is one of instruction and harsh discipline, revealing the human limitations and faults of people

Galatians 4:8-11: “The Sabbath and Old Testament feast days are weak and worthless principles.”
Paul specifically told the Galatians, “but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits?” (Galatians 4:9, RSV). The non-Jewish Galatians, in being errantly influenced to be circumcised as proselytes to Judaism to be truly reckoned as God’s own, were returning to practices they left behind in Greco-Roman paganism. Has Paul associated Biblical commandments in God’s Torah, such as those involved with the appointed times, and paganism, as being quantitatively indifferent? Or, in becoming formal converts to Judaism, did the Galatians feel that they could still participate in the Roman Emperor cult as good citizens? Alternatively, were the Judaizers/Influencers who had been persuading the Galatians, practitioners of any proto-Gnostic or mystical errors, with superstitions infused into their observance of their appointed times? A variety of interpretations are available at a reader’s disposal, all of which have been proposed in Galatians scholarship over the past few decades.

Galatians 5:1-4: “Those who try to keep the Law of Moses have fallen from grace.”
It is actually stated by Paul, “You have been severed from Messiah, you who would be justified by the Torah; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4, PME). This specifically involved non-Jewish Believers seeking some kind of right-status before God, originating in the Torah and not the Messiah. It also involved whatever commitments they made in undergoing formal proselyte circumcision, where one would make himself “a debtor to do the whole law” (Galatians 5:3, YLT), a negative condition to be sure. Born again Believers, reliant upon the work of Yeshua of Nazareth, are not to be debtors of any kind to perform the Torah, but are rather to fulfill its righteous requirements via the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit inside of them (Romans 8:4), something resultant of the justification they have experienced.

Ephesians 2:8-10: “We are saved by grace, not as a result of works.”
No one true to the Scriptures can deny the clear imperative, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV). Eternal salvation does not result from any human activity—be that activity general works, or actions in association with the Torah of Moses. Yet, it is also absolutely true, that “we are His workmanship—created in Messiah Yeshua for good deeds, which God prepared beforehand so we might walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, TLV). Those who have received the salvation of Yeshua, are to walk in good works of obedience, serving as definite external proof of the internal change which has occurred within them.

Ephesians 2:14-15: “The Law was abolished in the flesh of Christ.”
The breaking down of the barrier wall (Ephesians 2:14) has frequently been interpreted by Christians, as meaning that the Torah of Moses had to be abolished in order to bring unity to Jewish and non-Jewish Believers. While there was a dividing wall present in the Second Temple, designed to keep pagans and non-proselytes out on threat of death (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 15.417; Wars of the Jews 5.194), such a wall is nowhere specified in the Torah itself. Some Protestant traditions, favorable to the moral instructions of the Law, conclude that Ephesians 2:15 is only speaking of ceremonial instructions of the Law, and not the Torah as a whole. The Greek clause ton nomon tōn entolōn en dogmasin specifies a kind of direction that has been abolished: dogma. This term appears nowhere in the Septuagint translation of the Tanach in regard to any Biblical commandments, but instead in regard to regal decrees of the Babylonians and Persians (Daniel 2:13; 6:8; Esther 3:9) or Jewish ancestral traditions (3 Maccabees 1:3; 4 Maccabees 10:2). What was abolished by Yeshua were various extra-Biblical dogmas or decrees responsible for erecting the barrier of the dividing wall in the Temple complex—passing themselves off as “Torah”—and resulted in an inappropriate spiritual culture where people from the nations were being kept out of God’s Kingdom, rather than being welcomed into it.

Philippians 3:2-11: “Righteousness is not derived by the Law.”
In spite of Paul’s significant Jewish pedigree (Philippians 3:5), he recognized that his human achievements were meaningless in view of Yeshua (Philippians 3:7-8). He emphasizes how as a Believer, that he be “found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the Torah, but that which is through the faithfulness of Messiah, the righteousness which is from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9, PME). Paul’s identity is centered and focused around placing his faith or trust in what Yeshua the Messiah has accomplished in being sacrificed for human sin. Messianic Believers today, who place a high emphasis on following the Torah, do so because they want to emulate the Messiah who followed the Torah—while steadfastly recognizing that their righteousness is to be found in His atoning work.

Colossians 2:14: “The Law of Moses was nailed to the cross of Christ.”
That something was nailed to the execution-stake or wooden scaffold of the Messiah, is clear enough from Colossians 2:14: “He wiped away the bill of charges against us. Because of the regulations, it stood as a testimony against us; but he removed it by nailing it to the execution-stake” (CJB/CJSB). Many have interpreted what was nailed to the execution-stake of Yeshua as the Torah of Moses in its entirety. Throughout Protestant history, though, many others have been more tempered in their conclusions. Instead of the Torah as a whole being “nailed to the cross,” the most frequent alternative has been to conclude that the capital penalties and condemnation of the Torah were absorbed onto Yeshua.

Colossians 2:16-23: “Christians are not to be judged for not keeping the Sabbath and Old Testament feast days.”
Unnecessary or unfair judgment of people, for what they do or do not do, is certainly not warranted from mature Believers. However, the statement “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (Colossians 2:16, NASU), is directly connected to a false philosophy that denigrated the Divinity of Yeshua (Colossians 2:8-9), and involved self-abasement and asceticism (Colossians 2:18, 20-22). Torah instructions involving Shabbat or the appointed times are supposed to reveal a significant Messianic substance to them (Colossians 2:17), something which adherents of the Colossian false teaching were not able to comprehend. Frequently, Colossians 2:16 is read out of context with what the judging actually involved per the situation being faced: What did various Torah practices mean, when caught up in association with the false teaching or false philosophy?

1 Timothy 1:8-9: “The Law is not made for a righteous man.”
The verb keimai correctly means “to lie upon,” and appears in Yeshua’s teaching about the ax that is laid at the root of the trees (Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9). 1 Timothy 1:9 is correctly translated with “the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners” (RSV). This is speaking of the penalties and condemnation of the Torah being used against those who violate it. Those who are redeemed in the Messiah do not have such harsh condemnation used against them.

1 Timothy 4:1-5: “Those who observe the dietary laws have committed apostasy against Jesus.”
The false teaching encountered in 1&2 Timothy, not only involved some kind of abstinence from eating meat, but also sexual relations (1 Timothy 4:3), as well as the errant belief that the general resurrection of the dead had already taken place (2 Timothy 2:18). True spirituality for initiates was believed to involve a return to a pre-Fall condition, where humans only ate a vegetarian diet and presumably did not engage in intercourse. The issue in 1 Timothy 4:3 involves a total abstention from eating all forms of meat, not the kosher dietary laws separating out clean and unclean meats.

2 Timothy 1:9: “Salvation is not according to works.”
“He has saved us and called us with a holy calling—not because of our deeds but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Messiah Yeshua before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9, TLV). People in today’s Messianic community who give an importance to the Torah for God’s people in the post-resurrection era, do so because of the need to live a life in accordance with His holiness resultant of their salvation—because human actions, deeds, or works cannot merit one eternal salvation.

2 Timothy 2:15: “The Word of God is to be rightly divided between the Old and New Testaments, Israel and the Church.”
While one needs to understand Holy Scripture in its ancient context(s) for sure, and recognize that Biblical books were not written directly to Twentieth and Twenty-First Century people, the KJV rendering of 2 Timothy 2:15 has led to some bad conclusions: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The idea that Holy Scripture needs to be rigidly split up, as it were, between the Tanach and Messianic Writings, is not sustainable. More modern versions correctly render the verb orthotomeō as “rightly handling” (RSV), “accurately handling” (NASU), “correctly handles” (NIV), or even “keep strictly” (REB).

Titus 1:14: “The Old Testament law is to be regarded as nothing more than Jewish myth”
The troublemakers on Crete are said to have been pushing “Jewish myths or…merely human commands” (Titus 1:14, TNIV). Is this actually to be regarded as the Tanach Scriptures, or instead something outside the mainstream? Given the later reference to “genealogies” (Titus 3:9; cf. 1 Timothy 1:4), various exaggerations and embellishments on various minor characters in the Tanach, for which fringe branches of Ancient Judaism offered much speculation and lore, is more likely in view.

Titus 3:5-8: “He did not save us according to our deeds, but according to His mercy”
God indeed does save people according to His mercy, and not according to their deeds or works. This takes place “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5, NASU). Yet, it is also true that the promise of the New Covenant is that God will cleanse His people from their sins, and by His Spirit supernaturally empower them to keep His commandments (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Titus 3:9: “We are not to be concerned about obedience to Jewish laws”
Titus 3:9 actually says, “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about Torah, for they are unprofitable and useless” (TLV). For the circumstances addressed in Crete, this involved an irresponsible usage of the Torah, as a responsible usage is to reveal and condemn sin (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

Hebrews 4:1-10: “Jesus is our Sabbath rest now”
There is little doubting that for those who have received salvation in the Messiah, that they do experience a rest from the guilt incurred by sin. Surely, however, given the future realities to be anticipated in salvation history, the institution and significance of the seventh-day Sabbath should not be haphazardly dismissed. The complete Sabbath rest that is to be experienced by born again Believers involves nothing less than the complete establishment of the Kingdom of God in eternity. Some Protestant theological traditions, while errantly thinking that the Sabbath was transferred to Sunday, have rightly emphasized that the Messianic rest of the future cannot be properly understood unless a Believer partakes of a day of rest once a week. The weekly Sabbath or Shabbat is to teach God’s people important principles about the rest of the Messiah—which we already partake of now via our salvation from sins, but which we are to anticipate more of at the culmination of the age.

Hebrews 7:11-12, 18-19: “A change of law has taken place, because it was weak and worthless”
Due to the sacrifice and resurrection of the Messiah, “a change of the Torah” has taken place, but this is specified to involve “the priesthood being changed” (Hebrews 7:12, PME). The overall context of Hebrews 7:11-12 and 18-19 makes it clear that it is not the ethical code of the Torah, or even institutions such as the appointed times or moedim, which are in view of being affected some sort of change or alteration. Changes which have been affected to the Torah involve the Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifices. The animal sacrifices could not provide permanent atonement and forgiveness for human sin, whereas Yeshua’s sacrifice could. Yeshua’s priestly service before the Father in Heaven is not Levitical, but instead is after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:11).

Hebrews 8: “The New Covenant makes the Old Covenant obsolete”
No one denies that the work of Yeshua the Messiah has inaugurated the New Covenant. However, Hebrews 8:8-12, includes the longest quotation in the Messianic Scriptures from the Tanach, that of the New Covenant or b’rit chadashah from Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is a mistake to think that the New Covenant has nothing to do with the Torah, when the promise includes the explicit word, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10, ESV). The transcription of the Torah’s commandments onto the hearts and minds of God’s people, for sure, can only come about because they have received Yeshua into their lives. It is also a supernatural work that can only take place via the sanctifying activity of the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 10:1: “The Law was only a shadow of good things to come”
A Bible version like the New American Standard Update, which employs italics for words added, indicates how “only” has been added: “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.” The source text of Hebrews 10:1 says Skian gar echōn ho nomos tōn mellontōn agathōn, “For the law having a shadow of the coming good things” (YLT). While it is true that the Torah and its ordinance do include types and shadows of the substantive reality of the Messiah, the addition of “only” is intended to downplay the importance of those types and shadows. The Torah is incomplete without the revelation of Yeshua of Nazareth, but none of us can have confirmation of who He is, without knowledge of the Torah’s Instruction and expectations.

Hebrews 10:9: “God takes away the first covenant to establish the second”
The overall context of Hebrews 10:2-8 makes it clear that the issue in view is the limitation of the animal sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood, compared and contrasted to the final sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah. As the author of Hebrews inquires, “The Torah has a shadow of the good things to come—not the form itself of the realities. For this reason it can never, by means of the same sacrifices they offer constantly year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers—cleansed once and for all—would no longer have consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices is a reminder of sins year after year—for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4, TLV). The issue in Hebrews 10:9, “He does away with the first in order to establish the second” (ESV), is restricted to the role of animal sacrifices in the atonement of sin.

Revelation 1:10: “The Sabbath has now been replaced with the Lord’s Day”
Various theologians have made the case, that per the subject matter of the Book of Revelation, that John did not receive his visions on “the Lord’s Day” or Sunday, as would be seen in the emerging Christianity of the Second Century. Instead, John received his visions on “the Day of the Lord” (CJB/CJSB, TLV).

Serving the Lord as a Messianic Believer

Today’s Messianic Believers, who are convinced of the validity of the Torah from the Apostolic Scriptures or New Testament, need to be consciously aware of how many of today’s Christians will look at their lives rather critically. Whether you  are a Messianic Jew or non-Jew does not matter here: such people will try to find what they perceive to be weaknesses in your life or faith practice, specifically as to whether or not Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is the central focus of your faith. Is the Messiah the focus of your faith? We have just examined many of the common verses that contemporary Christians will direct toward Messianic Believers, as self-justification for them not having to keep most, if any, of the Mosaic Law.

While we have offered some fair-minded answers for you to provide such critics, keep in mind that Messianic examination and teaching on the Apostolic Scriptures need to go far beyond just having answers to passages that are commonly read as being anti-Torah. Many Messianics do not spend a great deal of time considering the important message and theology that the New Testament conveys to us. We have the definite responsibility as a Messianic faith community to truly regard the Apostolic Writings as being a part of “all Scripture” (2 Timothy 3:16) too, and not exclusively spend our time focusing on the Torah and Tanach, as can be commonplace in some sectors. If we do not have a high regard for the value and integrity of the Messianic Scriptures, then today’s Messianic community will be neutered not only from understanding the continuing plan of salvation history—but most of all from accomplishing the Heavenly Father’s objectives in restoring a sense of sanctified obedience to the Body of Messiah.