December 2016 OIM News


OIM Update

December 2016

Now that the American electoral season has come to a conclusion, many (but not all) in the evangelical and Messianic community of faith have experienced a collective sigh of relief. Personally, as I indicated in last month’s article, our prayerful pleas and heartfelt supplications have shifted from seeking mercy for our national direction, to protecting those who have been elected to lead our nation. There is substantial encouragement from statements made by parties involved with the incoming administration, that the U.S. Executive Branch will have a strong relationship with the leadership of the State of Israel. This probability in and of itself brings great joy to our hearts, because we know from Biblical and historical evidence, that the Almighty favors individuals and nations which bless Abram/Abraham and his chosen descendants:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’” (Genesis 12:1-3).

I have personally talked to people who have heard directly from reliable sources, and read some articles, indicating that the incoming President-elect is very favorable to relocating the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While this potential move would validate the Jewish State and its right to exist in the Promised Land, it would in and of itself be extremely controversial among the powers which continually war against the children of Israel (Psalm 83). But thankfully, controversy is not something the new administration is unaccustomed to, but rather extremely adept at handling. As followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who believe in the accomplished work of the Messiah Yeshua at Golgotha (Calvary), we need to redouble our prayers, with occasional Hallelujah pauses, as we literally witness prophecy unfold right before our eyes!

This month of December 2016 arrives at a very unique season for the growth and development of the Messianic community of faith. As anyone involved with Messianic things is astutely aware, December brings challenges to people, as they involve the holiday of Christmas on December 25, and the commemoration of the Feast of Dedication or Chanukah. Our ministry does have a book available, entitled the Messianic Winter Holiday Helper, which has been compiled to provide teaching, as well as sound advice, on how to handle some of the inevitable conversations which will arise during this time of year. We encourage you to get a copy for your personal use, or to give as a gift to help others.

Since relocating back to North Texas four years ago, we have seen our family and our ministry steadily welcomed not just into a local Messianic Jewish congregation, but this past November, John was a featured speaker as the MJAA Heartland regional conference. While we are entirely supportive and promoting of an inclusive and welcoming Messianic community, as Jew and non-Jew are brought together as “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15), there has been a noticeable gap building between Outreach Israel Ministries and Messianic Apologetics—and the mainly non-Jewish Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement. While we will interact with all sorts of individual people, who label themselves by many different things, there have been developments in the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement in the past few years which we are very disturbed by.

The Lord is definitely doing something very important in this hour, as non-Jewish Believers are embracing their faith heritage in Israel’s Scriptures in a very profound and significant way. Our own family’s involvement in the Messianic movement since 1995 is a testimony to this. As it is very clearly foretold in Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4, the nations will come to Zion in the Last Days to be taught God’s Torah. And, per the thrust of the Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27 New Covenant, this is to be a work of the Holy Spirit for all of His people. But, the welcomed participation of the nations within the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13) or Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), is hardly supposed to take place to the exclusion of the salvation of the Jewish people. We are finding that more and more people in the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement, are not too concerned with the issues of Jewish outreach, Jewish evangelism, and Israel solidarity. They are keen to embrace their Hebrew Roots in the Torah and Tanach, but not too interested in embracing their Jewish Roots in the Second Temple religion of Yeshua and His Apostles.

This month’s lead article, by J.K. McKee, notes how many non-Jewish Believers who have entered into the “broad Messianic movement,” are not going to be remembering the Feast of Dedication or Chanukah this month. These are people who have largely left the confines of their previous Christian church, and they even regard themselves as being grafted-in to Israel’s olive tree via their faith in Israel’s Messiah (Romans 11:16-17), but they have a very difficult time with understanding Judaism and the Jewish people. They may understand the Apostles’ question of Acts 1:6, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”, but only in part. While recognizing that there is more going on in the Messianic movement than just declaring the good news of Yeshua to Jewish people who need salvation, the article “A Restoration of Israel—Without the Jews?” is critical of some of the things presently being witnessed in the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement. With many non-Jews claiming to have embraced their faith heritage in Israel’s Kingdom, it is amazing to see how many of them are not too concerned with issues of Jewish outreach. Dismissing Chanukah as a vain human tradition, among many possible examples, is not going to aid the first and primary mission of the Messianic movement: to see the Messiah’s Jewish brethren come to redemption.

Finally, it is the time when many of you are considering where to invest in God’s work through others with a variety of year-end giving opportunities. Consider the specific work and calling of Outreach Israel Ministries and Messianic Apologetics. Our family is uniquely positioned to not only address the theological and spiritual issues which face many of today’s Messianic people, but we are also working for resolution to some of the things which have divided or confused too many of us for too long. We are making able usage of all of the tools at our disposal, as we anticipate the Messianic restoration of all things!

“May the LORD bless you, and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Thank you in advance for your partnership with us and your generous support of our endeavors!

Chag Samaech!

Mark Huey


A Restoration of Israel–Without the Jews?

by J.K. McKee
editor@messianicapologetics.net

This month of December 2016, the Jewish and Messianic Jewish communities will be commemorating Chanukah or the Festival of Dedication. Chanukah is a very warm time for Jewish and Messianic Jewish families, mainly as they reflect back on different family memories, special times of fellowship, gift giving, and of course eating many specialty foods. In many Messianic congregations the world over, there will be dedicated times of reading from the Books of Maccabees, focusing on the ancient history of the Seleucid invasion of the Land of Israel, the resistance that opposed Hellenism and upheld God’s Torah, and which assured not just a Jewish victory over evil but the very survival of the Jewish people. For those of us in Biblical Studies, the Maccabean crisis of the Second Century B.C.E. significantly impacted the Second Temple Jewish world of Yeshua of Nazareth, and in particular the attitudes of many within the Jewish community to their Greek and Roman neighbors. Many of the conflicts in the First Century ekklēsia that took place, as Greeks and Romans began receiving the Messiah of Israel into their lives—and whether these people had to be circumcised as Jewish proselytes in order to truly be reckoned as God’s own—can trace their way back to the effects of what we review during the season of Chanukah.

Ten to eleven years ago (2005-2006), in my family’s Messianic quest, we fully embraced the remembrance of Chanukah. Up until this point, we had moved beyond Christmas on December 25, but were unsure of the Festival of Dedication. We certainly had no problem with joining in to various congregational activities which took place on Shabbat, in order to remember Chanukah, which mainly included various readings from 1&2 Maccabees and lighting the chanukiah. The significance of the Maccabean crisis really began to come into focus for us, as I started writing Messianic commentaries on various books of the New Testament, and found myself referencing not just the Maccabean revolt—but its psychological impact on later Jewish generations. Without the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Greeks, there would be no Jewish people into which the Messiah of Israel would be born. Chanukah should be remembered by today’s Messianic community, no different than how Americans celebrate the Fourth of July.

Today, if you are a part of a Messianic Jewish congregation, some significant remembrance of Chanukah is going to take place, likely including various teachings which compare the Maccabees’ cleansing of the Temple to how we as Yeshua’s followers need to be cleansed by Him. If you are part of some informal Messianic home group or Torah study, you may also have some kind of Chanukah remembrance. But, if you are part of the widely independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement—something mainly, if not exclusively, composed of non-Jews—then you will see variances in approach to Chanukah. Many people who identify as being a part of the Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement, think that the Festival of Dedication is something spiritually edifying and worthwhile for God’s people to remember (cf. Philippians 4:8). Many others, however, would consider Chanukah to be a hollow Jewish custom that the Messiah’s followers should not be observing, and they think that when the Festival of Dedication is mentioned in John 10:22-23 that Yeshua was not commemorating it along with the rest of the Jewish community, but stood off to the side in disapproval.

As a Messianic Bible teacher, and not only as someone who has been a part of this movement since 1995—but who actively uses social media—I interact with people all across the spectrum, who identify with any number of different labels. While I am not always successful, I do try my best to be a consensus builder, being a firm believer that what the Messiah of Israel has accomplished for us, in being sacrificed for our sins, is the most important thing. If you are going to divide with someone, make sure that it is over something directly related to the Messiah’s work. In my over twenty-one years of being involved in Messianic things, I have certainly witnessed my share of controversies, and I am astutely aware of the competing spiritual forces which can manifest across our faith community.

What we call “the Messianic movement” today is something that has its origins deeply rooted within Protestant evangelistic outreaches to the Jewish community, first in Europe and Britain, and later in North America, starting in the early Nineteenth Century. The Hebrew Christian movement, of the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, was an association of Jewish Believers in Jesus, usually as a sub-sector of Protestantism, where various aspects of Torah could be observed as a part of Jewish culture, in parallel to conventional Protestant observances. The Messianic Jewish movement, which really entered onto the scene in the 1960s and 1970s, emphasized Jewish outreach and evangelism via congregations established on a synagogue model, and where various aspects of Torah—such as keeping Shabbat, the appointed times, or a kosher diet—were no longer just aspects of Jewish culture to be remembered, but were aspects of Jewish obedience to God via the expectations of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). The primary mission of the Messianic movement has always had a basis in Jewish outreach, Jewish evangelism, and Israel solidarity. And this is the way it should be, as is declared so affluently in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the Good News, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who trusts—to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (TLV).

Within the 1980s and 1990s, as the Messianic Jewish outreach widened, and new Messianic Jewish congregations and synagogues began being established—it is safe to say that something did take place, which was widely not anticipated by some of the early Messianic Jewish leaders. During this time, many evangelical Christians were being directed by the Lord to Messianic congregations, for a variety of reasons. The primary reason that non-Jewish Believers are drawn to Messianic congregations, is to remember the significance of Yeshua the Messiah in the appointed times. My own family was among those steadily drawn into their Jewish Roots throughout the 1908s, via studying “Jesus in the feasts.” Concurrent with this, many non-Jewish Believers drawn into Messianic congregations get quickly acclimated to the weekly study of the Torah portion, and in reconnecting with the Tanach or Old Testament in a very tangible way not witnessed in contemporary evangelicalism.

Today in 2016, if you asked many individual Messianic people, they would have to agree that there is a dual mission being achieved within the Messianic movement. First and foremost, the Messianic movement is here to see Jewish people come to saving faith in Israel’s Messiah, in fulfillment of prophecy (cf. Romans 11:12, 26-27), and plugged-in to assemblies where Jewish Believers can remain in fidelity to their Jewish heritage—not finding themselves assimilated away into a Gentile Christianity, which might see that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren have no comprehension or knowledge of their Jewish ancestry. Secondly, the Messianic movement has witnessed many non-Jewish Believers take a tangible hold of their Hebraic Roots in the Tanach and Jewish Roots in Second Temple Judaism and the Synagogue, in fulfillment of the nations coming to Zion in the end-times to be taught God’s Torah (Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4), recognizing that God is with His Jewish people (Zechariah 8:23).

All of us, as God’s children, should be willing and eager to learn from each other—particularly as there are many godly and edifying virtues from both Judaism and Protestantism, which can definitely be employed as we contemplate the final stages of history before the return of the Messiah. While Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are not exactly the same, and there are natural differences among God’s people—namely that only Jewish Believers can expect to be given a tribal inheritance in the Promised Land, and that the Torah and Tanach composes not just their spiritual but also ethnic and cultural heritage—we have far more in common than not. If we focus on what we have in common, first, then our differences can be used to enrich and aid us in encountering the challenges of life—not encourage suspicion, division, and rivalry.

This December is a season when I get to join with my fellow Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah Yeshua, and I get to celebrate with them in the triumph of their ancestors over the forces of Antiochus Epiphanes. I consider my commemoration of Chanukah to be no different than when we remember the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, or the retaking of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967. Chanukah is a celebration of victory. And, in no uncertain terms, do I hide the fact that I think that everyone in the Messianic movement—if they are genuinely committed to the original mission of Jewish outreach, evangelism, and Israel solidarity—should remember the eight days of the Festival of Dedication as well. The Maccabees’ resistance against pagan assimilation, as important as it was for past Jewish history, has much to teach each of us about the future end-times. For, just as Antiochus Epiphanes had demanded that people worship his image, so the coming antimessiah/antichrist will demand that people worship him, and reject the God of Israel and His ways (cf. Revelation 13:4-7).

Four years ago (2012), our family returned to the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, where we got our original start in the Messianic movement back in 1995-1996. We not only reconnected with our old Messianic Jewish friends, and made some new Messianic Jewish friends, becoming part of a vibrant Messianic Jewish congregation—but we have even been welcomed into positions of leadership and teaching. The biggest “controversy” I have witnessed regarding Chanukah is over who is going to set up, and take down, the decorations in the sanctuary. While improvements can always be made regarding what lessons there are to learn from the Maccabean revolt, I am thankful to report that there are no controversies whatsoever about whether or not we even need to learn from the Maccabean revolt.

Things get much more interesting, however, in my ministry service through Outreach Israel and Messianic Apologetics—because most of what we do actively involves online social media. In open forums, you encounter people from all sorts of religious persuasions, in particular as it involves the many, who in some form or another, associate themselves with the label “Messianic.” To be sure, the significant number of people with whom I interact are Jewish and non-Jewish Believers, who want unity and stability within the Messianic movement, and who want us all to get along, learning from one another. At the same time, when one moves into the more independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots persuasions, things can get very, very interesting. While I think many of us can understand—especially after the election cycle of 2016—much of the frustration that people have with “the establishment,” some people are so anti-establishment that they are of the mindset that neither Christianity nor Judaism have ever made any significant, positive contribution, of any kind, to human civilization.

The kind of person who has become particularly odious to me, over the past few years, is the non-Jewish “Believer” who claims to be a part of the polity of Israel, but wants little or nothing to do with the Jewish people or with mainline Jewish traditions and customs. Almost all of the non-Jewish Believers I interact with are of the conviction that, along with their fellow Jewish Believers, they are a part of the polity of Israel. They believe that they are a part of what Ephesians 2:11-13 calls the “Commonwealth of Israel,” the Galatians 6:16 “Israel of God,” the Romans 11:16-17 phenomenon of being wild olive branches “grafted-in” to Israel’s olive tree (cf. Jeremiah 11:16-17; Hosea 14:1-7), participants in Israel’s Kingdom restoration along with their fellow Jewish Believers, witnessing David’s Tabernacle being restored (Acts 15:15-18; Amos 9:11-12)—a part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel, with a restored Twelve Tribes at its center, and its dominion welcoming in the righteous from the nations. Many of these people know the horrors resultant of Christian anti-Semitism and replacement theology, and so if they are claiming to be “fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise” (Ephesians 3:6), this better be joined with the thrust of Romans 12:10 in mind: “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (NRSV).

Certainly, if someone like me has a Biblical responsibility to outdo my fellow brothers and sisters in showing honor to them, then what it means is that I have to show an appropriate amount of respect to the spiritual and theological heritage that I have in the Jewish Synagogue. That is, if I really do regard myself as a part of the Commonwealth of Israel. There are things that I have to legitimately learn and appreciate from the Jewish experience with God. My writings to date bear witness to the fact that I have been spiritually and intellectually enriched by not just many of the Jewish writings of the Second Temple period and immediately thereafter, but I have learned immense things from the Jewish struggle the past two centuries, particularly as they involve the rise of Zionism, the Holocaust, and the creation of the State of Israel. I am learning new things all the time from the Jewish experience in history, that everybody needs to especially learn and integrate into their psyche, as we get closer and closer to the Messiah’s return.

As it involves living out a lifestyle of Torah obedience unto God, my writings to date also bear adequate witness that I am very philo-traditional when it comes to mainline Jewish traditions and customs. While I am hardly what one would consider to be “Orthodox,” I do not haphazardly dismiss some of the major traditions and customs practiced in Conservative and Reform Jewish settings. I do not eschew, for example, men wearing a yarmulke or kippah in worship services. I do not have any problem with the Hebrew liturgy at my Messianic congregation’s Shabbat service. I adhere to the longstanding convention since Second Temple times of not speaking the Divine Name YHWH/YHVH in public arenas. Whenever I encounter a Jewish tradition or custom that I do not understand, I expel some effort of investigating it first, before commenting on it, much less dismissing it. For certain, I will encounter Jewish perspectives or practices that I consider non-Biblical and in error—just as I have encountered Protestant perspectives or practices that are non-Biblical and in error. At the same time, the wide majority of Jewish perspectives and conventions I find to be genuinely edifying. Certainly for this December, remembering Chanukah or the Festival of Dedication would be an edifying Jewish practice.

Unfortunately, not everyone with whom I interact throughout the week, shares my commitment to fairness and equity. While I do believe, as someone from an evangelical Protestant background, that there are edifying virtues and perspectives from which today’s Messianic movement can benefit that originate from my Reformed and Wesleyan heritage—the fact is that as a non-Jewish Believer in Israel’s Messiah, I have cast my lot with the Jewish people and the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom. I do not just look to the return of the Messiah and His eventual reign from Jerusalem, but I pay attention to what is happening in modern Israel, and I oppose anti-Semitism when I encounter it. I cannot be arrogant or haughty in regard to the widespread Jewish dismissal of Yeshua, but I have to instead act as a vessel of grace and mercy, and be facilitating a widespread Jewish acceptance of Yeshua (Romans 11:30-31). I have to be very conscientious of the Apostle Paul’s warning, “for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either” (Romans 11:21).

What do you do with a non-Jewish Believer, who legitimately partakes of his or her spiritual heritage in the Scriptures of Israel, considering himself or herself a part of Israel’s Commonwealth or polity, and is looking for the return of the Messiah to Jerusalem—but then wants little or nothing to do with mainline Jewish traditions or customs? Perhaps more education in Second Temple Judaism and Jewish history would be in order. But what about those non-Jewish people who want to claim that they are a part of the community of Israel via their faith in Israel’s Messiah—but then take no interest in the original Messianic mission of Jewish outreach, evangelism, and Israel solidarity? Be aware that these people have made commitments to a live a life of Torah obedience, in emulation of Yeshua and His early followers. They keep Shabbat, the appointed times, and eat a kosher style of diet, among other things. They may even read the weekly Torah portions. No one is saying that being a part of the Messianic movement is only a one-way street for them, as though they are only here to provide various forms of support for Jewish ministry; such people should have their spiritual needs met and questions answered, just as Jewish Believers have their own spiritual needs and unique questions. Yet, while it is to be properly acknowledged and recognized that God has sovereignly drawn many non-Jewish Believers into the Messianic movement, we have a serious problem on our hands if a number of them want little or nothing to do with their fellow Messianic Jewish Believers.

While the Messianic movement is broad and diverse, and there are certainly instances of various Messianic Jewish congregations being unwelcome toward non-Jewish Believers—today in 2016 many Messianic Jewish congregations welcome non-Jewish Believers, provided they are respectful and understanding of various Jewish sensibilities. I have Messianic Jewish friends who have no problem with my family living a life of Torah obedience in emulation of Yeshua the Messiah. Part of it, they understand, is being involved with the Messianic community. Another part of it, they understand, involves the prophecies of the nations coming to Zion to be taught God’s Instruction (Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4). They just want to make sure that we are doing this as a part of the Messianic Jewish experience, and not off on our own. How are we helping see the Romans 11:25-26 trajectory of salvation history come to pass—“until the fullness of the nations has come in; and in this way all Israel will be saved” (PME)? Certainly, if such a mission is to be achieved, it will involve expelling the proper efforts to understand Judaism, accept Messianic Jewish Believers as one’s fellow brothers and sisters, and help declare the Messiah to Jewish people who do not know Him!

How much concern does the widely non-Jewish, Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement really have for the Messianic Jewish movement which preceded it? While I do not want to be found broad-brushing any group of religious people, in the past several years—especially since our family relocated back to North Texas—legitimate concerns as they involve the original mission of the Messianic movement are not too important for Hebrew Roots aficionados. Recently this past Summer, a video documentary called The Way started circulating around social media, and by this time at the end of 2016, it has probably had hundreds of thousands of views. I have seen The Way several times, as its producers visited a number of Hebrew Roots related conferences, independent home fellowships, and interviewed a wide number of popular teachers, as well as individual people. As I have watched The Way: A Documentary, I have tried to practice a method I learned a long time ago as a political science undergraduate: separate data from noise.

There are many non-Jewish Believers whom the Lord is sincerely stirring to look into parts of the Bible which have remained closed to them. Many are partaking of the Sabbath and appointed times. Many are studying the Torah. Many have a genuine desire to want to live like their Savior, and they are willing to make the sacrifice to do it—which at times can include being spurned by their family, ostracized from their friends, and accused of being cultic from their former pastors and Sunday school teachers. Many non-Jewish Believers, who have been directed by the Holy Spirit to be Torah pursuant in their obedience to our Heavenly Father, have experienced some of the same rejection as Jewish Believers who have been ostracized from their families, considered crazy, and maybe even regarded as dead, for placing their trust in Yeshua of Nazareth. I am blessed to say that in my own family’s experience of being a part of Messianic things, we have come together with our Jewish brothers and sisters in Yeshua, and in getting to know one another—and join in common cause—we have been able to have a reciprocal recognition of the sacrifices we have made to walk this path.

Among the many individuals and couples interviewed in The Way: A Documentary, the common thread was that the Lord was moving on people to dig into the Bible like never before. Many of them were indeed cut off from their faith origins in the Old Testament. Many of them had a sincere desire to want to live like Yeshua. Even though many of these people were rough around the edges, particularly in the newness of their experiences, you could tell that these people were ready and willing—not unlike some of the people who in the early days of the Protestant Reformation, first encountered a Bible. One can tell from The Way: A Documentary, that the numbers of non-Jewish Believers awakening to their faith heritage in Israel’s Scriptures, cannot be ignored or dismissed.

But the producers of The Way: A Documentary made one, very critical mistake. They may have traveled across the United States, to Canada, to Costa Rica, and to the United Kingdom. (I was not expecting them to travel to Israel.) They interviewed many Hebrew Roots teachers, and individuals, couples, and families. They may have attended various Hebrew Roots conferences. But not only did the producers of The Way: A Documentary not bother to attend a single Shabbat service at a local Messianic Jewish congregation, and interview the rabbi—they did not even mention the existence of the Messianic Jewish movement. Even though no religious movement is without its challenges and growing pains and errors at times: there would be no move of non-Jewish Believers embracing their faith heritage in Israel, without first a modern Messianic Jewish movement with origins going back to at least the same time as the emergence of Zionism.

What does some of this say? Was this just an oversight of the producers of The Way: A Documentary? Or, is it reflective of the fact that many non-Jewish Believers who have embraced their Hebrew Roots in the Tanach Scriptures, are not too interested in embracing their Jewish Roots in the Second Temple religion of Yeshua the Messiah and His Jewish Apostles? Even more so, are there non-Jewish Believers—believing themselves to be a part of the Commonwealth of Israel, grafted into the olive tree by faith in Israel’s Messiah—who think that Judaism and the Jewish experience have nothing to teach them about their relationship with the God of Israel, or even just the human experience of encountering and overcoming trials on Earth?

That there is more going on in the Messianic movement than just Jewish evangelism is clear enough. But, to forget and/or dismiss the original vision of Messianic Jewish outreach to Jewish people who need Yeshua the Messiah is a grave sin. The agony of Paul over the salvation of his countrymen needs to be heard: “I could wish myself actually under God’s curse and separated from the Messiah, if it would help my brothers, my own flesh and blood” (Romans 9:3, CJB).

It might take a little more work, but one can be a part of a Messianic movement with a dual mission of Jewish outreach and evangelism and in equipping the non-Jewish Believers God has sovereignly drawn in to be a part of the restoration He is performing. Yet as obvious as it may be to some: you cannot have an authentic restoration of Israel’s Kingdom without the Jews. I am afraid that many presently run the severe risk of being cut off (Romans 11:21).

V’yeishev

V’yeishev

He continued living

“Conflict and Faith”

Genesis 37:1-40:23
Amos 2:6-3:8


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

In much of the Holy Scriptures, we witness how God often uses conflict to accomplish His will. Just witness how there is a contrast between elements such as light and darkness, good and evil, the Heavens and the Earth, and the flesh versus the Spirit—with them frequently being at odds.[1] As the Creator of time, space, and matter—God’s purposes for Planet Earth are subject to the immutable laws of the natural and spiritual realms and dimensions He fashioned. Every created thing has a purpose and a reason for existence, regardless of our mortal ability or inability to fully comprehend the minute or grandiose details of His grand design. This reality came into focus when I meditated upon the sibling rivalry among the sons of Jacob/Israel, which is detailed for us in this week’s Torah portion.

Conflict between people is one of the primary results of human beings inheriting a fallen sin nature in Adam (cf. Romans 5:12ff), and every Bible reader should be innately aware of the first fratricide in how Cain murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-15). For some reason, I could not help but reflect upon a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes, which seemed to permeate my thoughts, as I contemplated the various conflicts and acts of oppression described in V’yeishev:

“Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun. I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:1-4).

I had a difficult time considering the perspective of Qohelet, who concludes that it is actually better for a person to have never existed, than for those who have seen all of the evil activity and oppression that is performed under the sun. Is life really this futile? The challenge, for those of us seeking to know God, is recognizing how the ills of this world are largely things that fallen people have brought on themselves—and that we all require Him for salvation and guidance. The words of Ecclesiastes are often presented from the perspective of what a life without God would be: not something that we would probably want to have.[2]

The main focus of V’yeishev this week is the early life experiences of Joseph. Within our parashah, we clearly see how the Eternal God allows the natural inclinations of humankind to accomplish His purposes for His chosen ones. Joseph had a unique problem, as he was the favored son of his father Jacob, and this obviously fomented great jealousy and hatred in the hearts of his brothers:

“Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms” (Genesis 37:3-4).

This human emotion, which is common to all people, eventually resulted in Joseph being sold to the Ishmaelite traders from Midian, who in turn took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, captain of the Pharaoh’s bodyguard (Genesis 37:18-36). It is very true that after being given a revelation by the Holy One, that Joseph’s lack of maturity in zealously expressing his dreams to his brothers, could very well have precipitated and enhanced their rage to dispose of him (Genesis 37:5-11)—a lesson to all in that we must be very careful and tactful when we think the Lord has communicated something special to us, and we think we can then go out and share it. But in spite of this, Joseph did nothing so abominable so as to merit his other brothers’ hatred, and with it a dastardly plot to murder him. If anything, I would suggest that Jacob’s preference toward Joseph, as being the firstborn child of his beloved Rachel, caused more of the problems than anything else. For Joseph’s brothers, their thoughts must have been that if he were removed from the scene, they would be able to garner more of their father’s love and attention.

We know from previous readings over the past few weeks how Jacob, or Israel, was himself a somewhat “conflicted” individual. Although Jacob knew he had inherited the blessings of his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac—and even had some rather unique first hand encounters with the Lord—he still retained various human frailties. The emotions of love and adoration, exemplified in fondness, were difficult for him to hide. By displaying preferential treatment toward Joseph, we can only conclude that the hand of God was able to let the cruel actions of the brothers and various others to accomplish His will. These dealings ultimately positioned Joseph into a place to save the entire family of Jacob/Israel in the future years:

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

The Torah relates that despite the potential negative impact of sibling betrayal and being sold into slavery, Joseph’s masters visibly recognized the blessing of his God upon their servant and prisoner. Joseph was blessed as a slave who served in Potiphar’s stead, and even after being falsely accused of trying to rape Potiphar’s wife and being imprisoned,[3] Joseph found favor in the Egyptian prison:

“The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the LORD was with him and how the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge” (Genesis 39:2-4).

“But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper” (Genesis 39:21-23).

In spite of his various trials, Joseph maintained a relatively positive attitude about the life circumstances he encountered. Was it faith and confidence expressed in his childhood dreams, or was it his faith in the God of his fathers, that sustained him during these tumultuous times? Perhaps it was a combination of these things, but nevertheless, Joseph knew that he had a special relationship with the Almighty, as he certainly recognized the blessings of favor among his superiors. When Joseph had the opportunity to interpret some dreams while in prison,[4] he appropriately gave the glory to his God—as the only One who can give a mortal being the true comprehension and interpretation of dreams:

“Then they said to him, ‘We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.’ Then Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please’” (Genesis 40:8).

From this statement you might conclude that Joseph had a personal relationship with the Holy One that allowed him to speak so directly and confidently: “Are not solutions from God?” (Alter). The intimacy that Joseph undeniably had to have, with the Heavenly Father, is surely something that each of us needs to heed! We are not going to be sold into slavery, and are probably not going to be falsely accused and thrown into prison. But we all need and require incredible patience, faith, and maturity in our lives—and these things can only come by us being sensitive to the will of God.

If there is one thing that we should all learn to appreciate about the various episodes related to us in this Torah portion, it is the fact that God uses our common fallen nature to achieve His goals for His Creation. We might not always understand the complex relationship of how our free will choices and His sovereignty work together. At times in our lives, we may think that we have complete control over our destiny, but later in retrospect recognize that events transpired by the Father’s doing after all. As limited beings, we have to each recognize how God is providentially in control of the ultimate outcome. While human conflict is one of the ways that His purposes are realized—and none of us inherently like conflict—events that do not seem to go our way are to drive us to Him, so that He might mold and fashion our faith and character.

God knows the beginning from the end, and as the Creator of time, He is not limited by anything to fulfill His purposes. It is for this main reason why I encourage Messiah followers to study the Torah. Within Moses’ Teaching, we can review the foundational stories and accounts of what God’s plan for His Creation truly is. We witness how bad circumstances later turn out to be good, and how evil intentions can ultimately be shifted around into a key stage toward a nation’s very survival.

What main lesson can you learn from reviewing V’yeishev? Do you identify more with Joseph, Jacob/Israel, or Joseph’s envious brothers? How much faith do you have in the Holy One that terrible events or various tragedies are necessary in order for you to truly seek Him and rely upon Him? How might our Torah portion for this week allow you to more fully understand the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8:28?

“[W]e know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Regardless of what happens in your life, allow events and circumstances to draw you ever closer to Him!


NOTES

[1] For a useful handle on this, and a discussion of why physical matter is ultimately not inherently evil, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website “Dualism.”

[2] Consult the author’s thoughts on Ecclesiastes in the chapter “Sukkot Reflections on Ecclesiastes,” appearing in the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics. Also consider the entry for the Book of Ecclesiastes in A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[3] Genesis 39:11-18.

[4] Cf. Genesis 40:1-23.

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.