[Read Gen. 32:4-33:5]

This Torah Portion covers some of the greatest times in Jacob’s life and some of the worst. We have the meeting with his estranged brother Esau, who twenty years earlier had threatened to kill him (Ch. 32-33). We have the death of his beloved wife, Rachel (35:16), and of his father Isaac (35:28). And we have the recounting of when two of his sons decided to massacre and entire town because the town’s leader had raped their sister (Ch. 34). But what is probably the most important part of this story is how Jacob’s name or really his personality was changed by encountering God.

In Vs 4 we see that Jacob is fully aware that his brother’s anger may not have lessened in the last 20 years, and he sends an emissary to determine what sort of reception he would receive. He attempts to compose the most humble and conciliatory messages. He mentions that he is still a sojourner, not a prince as his father’s blessing said would come about (27:27-29). He then states clearly that he longs to “find favour in [Esau’s] eyes.”[1] But Esau’s response of bringing 400 men is anything but reassuring.

Jacob’s immediate reaction is one of understandable fear and distress (vs. 8), and he goes about planning or scheming; looking for a way out. His plan is firstly to petition Adonai, and beg for divine protection (vs. 10-13). Then he plans to appease Esau with gifts so as to turn his hate into goodwill (vs. 14-22). And if all else fails he plans to fight, allowing the other half of his contingent to escape. And although he gets the order a little wrong in the planning state (the last was planned first), his prayer demonstrates that his character has already been changed greatly since he left.

“Jacob’s prayer, showing his humility and gratitude, is proof that misfortune had developed the nobler impulses of his heart. Twenty years of fixed principle, steadfast purpose, and resolute sacrifice of present for future, purify and ennoble. It proves that even from the first, though he may appear self-centred, Jacob is yet delicately sensitive to spiritual realities and capable of genuine reformation. And the truly penitent – declare the Rabbis – come nearer unto God than even those who have never stumbled or fallen into sin.”[2]

Although many Rabbis see this following passage as only a “prophetic vision”[3] the text does not lend itself to one. We find Jacob, just prior to a major crisis, alone, wrestling with a man until daybreak. From [Hosea 12:3-5] we learn that the man was an angel. But what is interesting is that Jacob, states that he had seen God (vs. 31). The Targum (the Aramaic paraphrase) writes, “I have seen the angel of the L-RD face to face.” But the text actually states, “I have seen God face to face.”[4] Obviously the rabbinical translators had some difficulty with this passage, because who can see God (Elohim) face to face and live? (Ex. 33:20)

Jacob, part way through, realizes that this is no ordinary man, and states, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.” At this point he is asked the rhetorical question, “What is your name?” And Jacob is truly forced to confront himself. All his life he has been known as “the supplanter”; the one who prevails against his opponents by deceit. But from now on he will be known as one who has striven with God and “a champion of God.”[5] He is marked for the rest of his life. In fact, (Heb. 11:21) says of Jacob’s faith, that at the end of his life he “bowed in worship while leaning on the top of his staff,” a staff that he had probably used from necessity from this encounter with God forward.

The next day, Israel (as we should call Jacob from now on) sees Esau and then puts himself between his family and his brother. Although Esau’s initial motives of bring 400 men are unknown, by the time he sees his brother, God has “turned Esau’s hate to love”[6] in answer to Israel’s prayer. This being said, there is no evidence that Israel truly trusts Esau. This can be seen in the following ways: Firstly he insists that Esau take the gift even after Esau rejected it (vs. 11). Although it was typical in Oriental courtesy to reject a gift before accepting it, Esau’s answer “I have much” (vs. 9) infers that he could have more. Whereas Israel’s answer “I have all” (vs. 11) demonstrates a true thankfulness that there is reconciliation. Secondly Israel rejects Esau’s offer to send men with him for “protection” (vs. 15). Finally there is no evidence that Israel ever visits Esau in Mt. Seir.

In Chapter 34 Levi and Simeon repay Shechem’s rape of their sister with the murder of all the men in the town. There is absolutely nothing good about this chapter, and Israel never forgets his sons’ violence. (See their “blessing” in Gen. 49:5-6). Although it is obvious from Israel’s exclamation in [34:30] that he finds his sons behaviour abhorrent, it still reflects badly upon his own leadership.

Adonai then tells Israel to return to Beth-El in (ch. 35), the place that God had originally met him. It is also the place to which God promised to bring him back to. His response in [Gen. 35:3] “reveals a truly changed man. Having wrestled with God and man, he stops running away from conflict and runs to God.”[7] Notice that this time he gets the order right? I find the same  is true in my life. I don’t always go to God first. Often I find myself scheming and planning when crisis comes instead of first going to God in prayer.

Let’s see what Yeshua said. [Matt. 6:25-34]

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the Tree Of Life Version (TLV), 2014.

[2] J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. (Soncino, London, 1960), 122.

[3] Hertz, Pentateuch, 123.

[4] Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objection to Jesus, Vol 2, (Baker Books, 2000), 28.

[5] Hertz, Pentateuch, 124.

[6] Hertz, Pentateuch, 125.

[7] Daniah Greenberg, TLV Family Weekly Devotions #8, Cited 15-Dec 2016. Online:—Parashat-Vayishlach