Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Vayishlach

Genesis 32:3-36. Haftarah: Hosea 11:7-12:12, Obadiah 1:1-21

I’m too embarrassed to go into the details but many years ago I was swindled by a Del Trotter-type character (apologies to those outside the UK who don’t know Del Trotter, but you can find out about him at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Del_Boy). I┬ástill don’t know how the guy tricked me into handing over almost a week’s wages for a worthless piece of junk, but he did.

Jacob, who succeeded in getting his older brother to sign over his birthright, and his father to bestow on him the blessing of the firstborn, almost met his match in his uncle Laban. However, after twenty years, Jacob is on his way home with great riches. Having arrived at Laban’s home with nothing, he is leaving with two wives, two concubines, eleven sons and a daughter, servants, and large flocks of sheep, as well as cows, camels and donkeys. God has indeed been with Jacob.

So far so good; but word arrives that Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men; and Jacob is scared. Up to this point, Jacob has been self-sufficient. He has been able to handle all the problems life has thrown at him by himself (so he thinks) but now his back is well and truly against the wall. He is at his wit’s end and, for the first time in his life (so far as we know), Jacob begins to pray.

In Genesis 32:10-13 he calls on Yahweh, the God of his father Abraham and the God of his father Isaac. Yahweh is not yet “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” but the turning point in Jacob’s life occurs at the end of the mysterious wrestling match recorded in 32:25ff). The “man” who, it turns out, is actually God, wrestles all night with Jacob and overcomes him! Although Jacob loses the contest and will spend the rest of his life limping, God blesses him and changes his name from Jacob to “Isra-el”. According to Biblical scholar John Goldingay, “Isra-el” means like “God fights/persists/exerts himself”. How astonishing that the God who created the cosmos with his word has to exert himself against a mere man in order to, as Goldingay observes, “get a person like Jacob to be the kind of person he ought to be”. But doesn’t that take us back once again to Genesis 3:15? Although it was easy for God to create the universe (he simply spoke everything into being), it will be a fight to reverse the work of the serpent. The result of that struggle will be the crushing of the serpent’s head and bruising of the heel of the “Seed of the woman”. And if it was such a struggle to change Jacob for the better that God had to wrestle physically with him; it will surely have to be God who does battle with the serpent.

The faith of Israel’s patriarch’s Abraham and Isaac was that they pitched their tents, built their altars and called on the name of Yahweh. So far, Jacob has only pitched his tent; he has yet to build his altar and call on the name of Yahweh. And so he does in 33:19f; after being transformed by his night with God, he pitched his tent and set up an altar and called it El-elohe-yisrael (God, the God of Israel).

More so than Abraham and Isaac, in Jacob we see a picture of his descendants. The Jewish people have been gifted by God more than any other nation. They have produced more Nobel laureates than any other country. They have blessed the nations in so many ways but the tragedy is that many Jews think they can get by without God. They believe they can solve all their problems without the need of divine assistance. However, just as God wrestled with Jacob and brought him to the point where he had to pray for God’s blessing, he will continue to struggle with Jacob’s children until they, like their father, truly become Israel.


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