V’yishlach

V’yishlach

He sent

“Jacob’s Maturation (Part 2)”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

When considering last week’s Torah reading, V’yeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:2), the continuing account of this week’s reading, V’yishlach, naturally came to mind. Within V’yeitzei, we encountered the life of Jacob for approximately twenty years, and noting the itinerary, Jacob goes from Bethel to Mahanaim. For the next period of Jacob’s life that is covered in V’yishlach (Genesis 32:3-36:43), we witness the return trip beginning at Mahanaim and ending at Bethel. During this significant move, we see how Jacob had largely gone from being from a young, inexperienced, brash, and fleshy man—to a mature elder, who in spite of his humanity, had become tempered and seasoned in his walk with God. In many respects, most of us can identify with the process of Jacob’s maturation, as he moved toward being more spiritually inclined. Let us see what additional maturation and seasoning takes place during this critical chapter of his life.

As Jacob began his return back to the Land of Canaan, the narrative informs us that he expected some kind of violent confrontation with his estranged brother Esau (Genesis 32:3-23). Jacob had just endured his final parting from his father-in-law, Laban (Genesis 31). Later Jacob found himself the presence of angels, who have come to prepare him on the next leg of his journey (Genesis 32:1-2). He noted the angelic host, but named the place Machanayim, meaning “two camps” (BDB),[1] which seems rather odd if Jacob was surely serving the God of his grandfather Abraham and of his father Isaac—as all of those present together should be considered the camp of God. There seemed to have been something going through Jacob’s mind with the two-camp separation from Laban, followed by the camp distinction of his family and the host of angels. Such a division continued when Jacob prepared himself to encounter Esau, and he made the point of dividing his family and possessions into two camps:

“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 [l’shnei machanot]; for he said, ‘If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape’” (Genesis 32:7-8).

Jacob had surely obeyed the request of the Lord to begin a return home to the Promised Land (Genesis 31:3), but in dividing out his family, and in sending messengers ahead to Esau with various gifts (Genesis 32:3-5), you do not get the impression that Jacob completely trusted in God. There was still an internal struggle that ensued between the mortal Jacob, and the Jacob who needed to place his life completely in God’s hands. Just read Jacob’s honest prayer before the Lord, as he confessed his various limitations:

“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”’” (Genesis 32:9-12).

It is recorded here that Jacob thought that he was innately unworthy or too small to be favored of God.[2] In more modern-day vernacular, we might think that Jacob was coming to the end of himself, realizing God’s ultimate sovereignty over his affairs. Having sensed the tension rising, as Jacob attempted to placate his brother Esau with various gifts, he had no choice but to turn toward the Holy One for protection and deliverance. Jacob had not seen Esau for quite some time, and admittedly thought that his anger toward him has not subsided.

If you have ever heard or read someone’s prayers, which implore for God’s intervening help, you detect the person has at least had to begin believing that only God and His power—rather than human strength and ability—can really provide what is needed. Here, Jacob goes back in his memory to remind the Lord about the promises from years before. Jacob pulled out all the stops. He realized that His needs were beyond his own ability. But still, his plan was to separate his family into two different camps, in order to prevent the possibility of loss of all to a revengeful Esau.

Jacob’s Wrestling Match

Even though he had just cried out to God, Jacob implemented his plan. He sent the livestock on ahead to appease his brother Esau (Genesis 32:13-21). Being left with the family, he began to follow the herds and came to the Jabbok River crossing. He sent his wives, concubines, and children across the river ford and stayed back to spend a night alone contemplating what was soon going to happen (Genesis 32:22-23). This was the infamous night that Jacob probably came to the “end of himself,” realizing that he must trust in the God of Abraham and Isaac. This was the significant moment when he stayed up all night wrestling with a supernatural being, and Jacob had his name changed to Israel:

“Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. And 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.’ And 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” (Genesis 32:24-31).

Many conclusions have been drawn throughout history from this incident when Jacob was finally at a point in his life, being ready to turn all of his inclinations of self-sufficiency over to God. It should not be surprising that many readers have concluded, or at least suggested, that the “Man” (NKJV) who wrestled with him, was actually a pre-incarnate Yeshua.[3] The main event, though, is that Jacob wrestled all through the night with this supernatural being, until he received a desperately sought blessing: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). All that had to happen to Jacob, was a distinct “touch” to Jacob’s hip to dislocate it, creating a life-long limp.

When the requested blessing finally came, it came in the form of Jacob being renamed Yisrael, for the distinct reason, “you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28, TNIV). In the thought of J.H. Hertz, “The name is clearly a title of victory; probably ‘a champion of God’. The children of the Patriarch are Israelites, Champions of God, Contenders for the Divine, conquering by strength from Above.”[4] Those who follow after Jacob—now Israel—are to be those who conquer in God’s power, led by Him, and who actively accomplish His purposes, clearly something with future missional intentions (cf. Philippians 3:14). To remember what had transpired during the monumental evening, Jacob named the site of his encounter Penu’El or “face of God” (BDB),[5] because “I have seen God face to face and I came out alive” (Genesis 32:31, Alter).

Oddly enough, the plan to send the livestock ahead and split up the camp, proceeded as conceived. Eventually, we find that Esau’s heart had already been softened toward his brother Jacob:

“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[6], and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4).

Jacob, now renamed Israel, humbled himself before his brother Esau, and bowed seven times. A weeping brother, who appeared to be delighted when the reunion occurred, was quite gracious toward him. They kissed and the past basically seemed to be behind them.

Previously in Genesis 27:16, we see how Jacob had ably deceived his father Isaac, by his mother “put[ting] the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck.” Further, as a part of Isaac’s “blessing” of Esau after Jacob had stolen the birthright, he was told, “And your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you will break his yoke from your neck” (Genesis 27:40). Richard Elliot Friedman ably points out how here in Genesis 33:4 that reconciliation occurs “as Esau runs and embraces Jacob and ‘fell on his neck.’”[7] Referencing Genesis 27:26, and how while deceiving Isaac, Jacob was asked, “Please come close and kiss me, my son,” Nahum Sarna concludes,

“Esau’s undoubtedly sincere kiss—he seems genuinely moved by Jacob’s extravagant gesture—signals the conclusion of the chain of events precipitated by that other kiss, Jacob’s deceitful kiss, recounted in 27:27,[8] which played a crucial role in the original blessing.”[9]

While Jacob wanting to give gifts to Esau did come as a result of some faithlessness, they were able to communicate to Esau that Jacob was generous and that he ultimately loved his brother. The sovereign God enabled some degree of peace to be established between the two brothers, and Esau was introduced to members of Jacob’s family (Genesis 33:5-8). Enough time had obviously transpired for Esau to forget much of the past, as he told Jacob, “I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own” (Genesis 33:9). While Jacob no longer had to worry about Esau desiring to murder him, and some degree of rapprochement was achieved, it was understandable that Jacob would still be rather cautious in his dealings with him.

But what does this mean in regard to Jacob’s dealings with God? Although Jacob may have had a cathartic moment with the Holy One at Peniel, he did still evidence a slight lack of faith in wanting to make sure that Esau was happy (Genesis 33:10-11). While the trials and tribulations in Jacob’s life had been used to tenderize him and make him more sensitive to the will of the Almighty, completely turning oneself over to Him did not happen instantaneously. Jacob did not immediately return home after this scene.

Return to Bethel

Jacob had been instructed by the Lord shuv al-eretz avotekha, “Return to the land of your fathers” (Genesis 31:3). Simply coming across the Jordan River and settling in the Shechem area, did not comply with God’s request for him to return. In spite of this, Jacob was far closer to where he needed to be then where he had been, and we do see that Jacob was now far more compliant with the patterns established by his ancestors for correctly worshipping and serving God:

“And 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. And 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 33:17-20).

After settling for a season in Succoth, Jacob moved across the Jordan River and up the valley to the land around Shechem. There he purchased a piece of land and settled. Jacob/Israel erected an altar (mizbeiach), naming it El Elohei Yisrael, meaning God, the God of Israel. Jacob not only named the altar, but gave it the designation of his new name, Israel, that he had received after his all-night wrestling experience. The spiritual maturation process was slowly taking hold, as Ya’akov was identifying himself more as Yisrael.

But if we follow the account, we find that Jacob probably should have continued down the mountain highway, back into the land of his fathers, further south around Hebron and Beersheba. It is not until after calamities befall Jacob and his children in the land around Shechem via the incident with Dinah (Genesis 34), that the Holy One spoke to him once again, and commanded him to move south:

“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’” (Genesis 35:1-4).

Here we see some clues that Jacob was not quite ready for the trip south until after the incidents in Shechem had already occurred. Apparently, he still was allowing the household idols that Rachel and others had absconded from Laban (Genesis 31:30, 32) to continue to be in his midst. Jacob had not cleaned house. He certainly was moving in the right direction on the road to return, and was growing spiritually by worshipping the Lord at the altar in Shechem. But as we can see from the problems that erupted in the Shechem area, there were still some residual problems associated with him not entirely depending upon God. He had stopped in Shechem and began to intermingle with the Shechemites. There is no recorded directive from God for Jacob to settle in the Shechem area. This could have been a potentially devastating situation as the problems associated with Dinah erupted.

Jacob’s sons, led by Simeon and Levi, took advantage of the men of Shechem after they had all agreed to join in with Jacob by performing circumcision rites that would allow them to identify with Abraham (Genesis 34:22, 24-25). The carnage was unreal, as they were caught totally unaware while experience great pain after the operation, being unable to really defend themselves. The murder of the Shechemites by his sons, made Jacob and his family odious in the sight of those in the region:

“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 shall be destroyed, I and my household’” (Genesis 34:30).

Something needed to be done, and this occurred when the Holy One spoke to Jacob and told him to move to Bethel, where he should build an altar and settle:

“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’” (Genesis 35:1).

After all the years Jacob had been gone, his life was coming full circle. He was away in order to start his family. Now he had spent a season in Shechem, after finally coming back into the land west of the Jordan. Shechem turned out to be a disaster for him and his family, and now he was commanded by God to return to Bethel. Interestingly, the Holy One protected him on his final trek south to the place where he saw the angels ascending and descending on the ladder:

“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. And 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…Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. And 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. And 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. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a libation on it; he also poured oil on it. So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel’” (Genesis 35:5-7, 9-15).

This is an interesting passage that continues to show us that Jacob/Israel was maturing in his role as the inheritor of the blessings that were first bestowed upon Abraham and Isaac. Here as he returned to Bethel, God confirmed that his name is Israel, further describing many of the elements of His promises regarding posterity and the Land. As this encounter with God concluded and He departed, Jacob set up a pillar of stone, poured a libation on it, and anointed it with oil. This is a similar procedure that occurred many years before as he was departing the Land (Genesis 28:18). Is it possible that on his spiritual journey, Jacob was slowly learning more of the techniques to properly worship the God of Abraham and Isaac (cf. Exodus 29:38-40)?

Certainly, we are observing Jacob come back home—but more significantly Jacob transition from being a fleshly young man to now a maturing father and emerging leader. But as all who have been on a spiritual journey to maturity can attest, the trials of life continue, to further develop and refine godly character traits within us.

Just after this time at Bethel, Jacob continued on with his family down the road toward Hebron:

“Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor. And it came about when she was in severe labor that the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear, for now you have another son.’ And it came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder” (Genesis 35:16-21).

Jacob was forced to endure the loss of his beloved Rachel on the road to Hebron, which no doubt had to serve as another critical step in his maturation process. Interestingly, “Jacob” put up a pillar to commemorate the place where Rachel was buried (Genesis 35:20), followed by “Israel” pitching his tent by the tower of Eder (Genesis 35:21). The text seems to be bouncing back and forth between naming him “Jacob,” and then followed by “Israel.” Is this a subtle way that the text communicates how Jacob/Israel might have still been struggling with ways of the flesh, versus ways of faith?[10]

We read a little further and discover that it is while Jacob’s family was living near the tower of Eder, that Reuben had sexual relations with his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22). “Israel” is the one who finds out about it. We know from further on that this act had serious consequences for Reuben, who in fact, lost his birthright privileges (Genesis 49:3-4).

Finally, Jacob made it back to the tents of his father Isaac near Hebron. It is here that his journey, for this part of his life, came to a close. He returned soon enough for Isaac to die, and for Esau and Jacob together to bury him:

“And 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. And 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).

As our Torah portion ends, we find that Jacob/Israel was finally settled in the area that had been promised to him and his descendants. His father Isaac had passed away. His brother Esau had moved away. And now Jacob took up his promised position as the leader of the family that would ultimately get much larger and eventually emerge into the nation of Israel.

Our Maturation

Having just read through V’yeitzei and V’yishlach in the past two weeks, we can definitely witness how Jacob had to mature, being seasoned by the various encounters and experiences he lived through. In many respects, he had modeled for those who will come after him, a life that began with a focus on self and self-interest—and steadily shifted toward a life focused on God and His will. Jacob epitomized the struggle that we have all had at one point or another.

It is encouraging to read that Jacob was ultimately known as a man of faith. Even after all of his conniving and struggles that he had to endure through, when the author of Hebrews lists great figures of faith, Jacob is listed among them:

“By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21).[11]

The Patriarch Jacob/Israel is remembered by future generations for his faith to bless his sons and grandsons after him. May we all finish this life and have a testimony of such faith, being known as those who to our dying day were witnessed as worshipping the Holy One. Then and perhaps only then, we will surely be able to pass on a testimony of significant spiritual transformation to our progeny!


NOTES

[1] BDB, 334.

[2] The Hebrew verb qaton is actually used in Genesis 32:10, appearing in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice), meaning “be small, insignificant” (BDB, 881).

[3] Cf. John Calvin: Genesis, trans. and ed. John King (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), pp 200-201; D. Stuart Briscoe, The Preacher’s Commentary: Genesis, Vol 1 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987), pp 260-261.

[4] J.H. Hertz, ed., Pentateuch & Haftorahs (London: Soncino Press, 1960), 124.

Defined as either “Ēl persisteth, persevereth” (BDB, 976) or “El fights” (HALOT, 1:442).

[5] BDB, 819.

[6] Heb. v’yipol ‘al-tzava’rav v’yishaqeihu v’yiv’khu.

Editor’s note: Be cautious and rather critical of teachings circulating in the Messianic community, which give too much significance to the notational dots over the verb v’yishaqeihu, “and kissed,” in Genesis 33:4. Generally speaking, it is attested in textual studies, how such dots,

“[M]ay have originated in the pre-Masoretic period to indicate letters of words that were considered questionable but left in the text. Similar points are used in this manner in the Dead Sea manuscripts and in early Samaritan manuscripts. It is striking that many of the letters and words thus marked are lacking in the Septuagint and Syriac translations of the Bible, and also from the Samaritan Pentateuch” (Page H. Kelley, Daniel S. Mynatt, and Timothy G. Crawford, eds., The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 153).

In the scope of Rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 33:4, it is thought that the “dots over each letter of this word, [serve as] an exegetical device that calls attention to hidden allusions. The Sages disagree regarding the significance of the dots in this verse. Some hold that Esau’s kisses were sincere; but R’Shimon bar Yochai says that, although it is an immutable rule that Esau hates Jacob, at that moment his mercy was aroused and he kissed Jacob with all his heart (Rashi)” (Scherman, Chumash, 177; cf. Sarna, in Etz Hayim, 203 making reference to Genesis Rabbah 78:9). Esau’s kissing Jacob might have been sincere, or might not have been sincere.

It is quite possible that the dots over v’yishaqeihu carry an important meaning for readers of the Masoretic Hebrew text, inscribed by its editors and copyists. These would serve to point out something significant, no different than how today within English we might mark something with an asterisk *, an at sign @, or a pound/number sign #. There is no evidence, though, that the dots over v’yishaqeihu were ever of Mosaic origin, and they would instead date much closer to the First Century B.C.E.-C.E.

[7] Richard Elliot Friedman, Commentary on the Torah (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 114.

[8] “So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed’” (Genesis 27:27).

[9] Sarna, in Etz Hayim, 203.

[10] Editor’s note: While advocates of the JEDP documentary hypothesis would no doubt propose that usages of “Jacob” and “Israel” in such close proximity to one another in Genesis 35:20-21, point to different sources being employed in the composition of the Pentateuch, we have good cause to reject this. Immediately prior in the text, the narrative details much of the reason and destiny associated with Jacob being renamed Israel (Genesis 35:9-12). Rather than vs. 20 and 21 coming from two different “sources,” a conclusion that Jacob has yet to fully transition in his character, over to being Israel, is entirely reasonable.

For further consideration, consult the relevant sections of A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[11] Editor’s note: The author of Hebrews here relies on the Greek Septuagint in his view of Jacob “leaning on the top of his staff.” The Hebrew Masoretic Text of Genesis 47:31 reads with rosh ha’mittah or “head of the bed,” whereas the Greek LXX has epi to akron tēs hrabdou autou, “on the top of his staff.” These differences may come from the fact that the vowel markings for the Hebrew MT are Medieval in origin, and without them the Hebrew word for “staff,” matteh, is spelled with exactly the same consonants, mem, tet, and heh, as mittah or “bed.” The LXX follows the point of view that Jacob was leaning on his staff as he blessed his sons.

In the scope of meaning, this is a rather small point, but some in the Messianic community have used it to discount the reliability of Hebrews. For further discussion, consult the entry for the Epistle to the Hebrews in A Survey of the Apostolic Scriptures for the Practical Messianic, and the commentary Hebrews for the Practical Messianic, by J.K. McKee.

V’yeitzei

V’yeitzei

He went out

“Jacob’s Maturation (Part 1)”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

On the Road of Escape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacob’s Audacity!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

[1] Genesis 28:10-22.

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

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

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

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

[6] Genesis 35:23-29.

[7] Genesis 29:21-27.

[8] Genesis 29:28.

[9] Genesis 29:24.

[10] Genesis 29:29.

[11] Genesis 30:1-24.

[12] Genesis 30:21.

[13] Genesis 28:19.

[14] BDB, 110.