Torah Portion: Vayishlach (And He sent) Genesis 32:4-36:43
HafTorah: Obadiah 1:1-21
This week we read of Jacob’s return from a 20+ year exile living with his uncle Laban. While there, G-d blessed him with family,(four wives and 12 children) and material wealth. In Genesis 32:9-12 we read Jacob’s prayer as he approaches his reunion with his brother Esau. Look especially at verse 10. In this verse we read, “I am not worthy” of all you have done for me. Interesting word used in Hebrew for, “I am not worthy.” In Hebrew it is the word “Kantoni” which means, “I am small.” It actually appears in verse 11 in the Hebrew text. This gives us a window into where Jacob is spiritually during this prayer. It could have been that looking at all he had he might have felt proud of what he had accomplished. However, this word gives us the impression that he had full awareness of who was responsible for his flocks, wives and children. It seems Jacob is saying, “I have decreased as You have increased in my life. As I have been embraced by Your love it has brought me closer to You and as You have become closer to me I have gotten smaller. I know you are the One, not me.” He had grown more humble.
It is a good model for us. What we have comes from G-d not from our own greatness. Always remember who our Provider is and that He and He alone is our Provider and as that comes more into focus we become smaller. It is the point of our life here in this world. We become smaller and He becomes more so that more and more each day the world sees Him not us. May it be so for each of us.
Now I want us to look at the struggle of Jacob before he meets Esau. It occurred at the Jabbok River which enters the Jordan at the north end of the Dead Sea between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. If you continue directly west you come to Shechem where Jacob purchases a plot of land. This area is very important in Bible history. The Mishkan is erected at Shiloh, Joseph is buried in Shechem and when the tribes came into the land it is here that the blessings and curses were read out. But here it is the place of the meeting of these two brothers after 20 years.
From his prayer we read earlier we see Jacob as very concerned about how it will go. He sends everyone over the river and stays on the eastern side alone. We read he was alone and a man wrestled with him. Odd that he was alone yet wrestled with a man. There are many ways to look at this. It could have been an angel, could have been Esau’s angel, or G-d’s angel, or it could have been Jacob wrestling with himself. I would like to look at the last possibility for a bit. I would like us to think about maybe this was a battle that many of us fight everyday in our lives. Do we ever fight a battle between who we were before Yeshua and who we are now? Jacob had left Israel 20 years earlier as a pure man but one who had lied to his father and received the blessing of his father under false pretense. He had lived with an uncle who sought to cheat him at every turn. He had become outwardly a person who lived in the fields rather than one who lived in tents. Physically his appearance had changed. Who was he now on his return? Had the world changed him? Maybe he had a crisis of identity. He was about to meet a brother who was all those things he did not want to be. Maybe this titanic struggle was with himself.
Sometimes we deal with this in our own lives especially when we go back to see family or friends from our past life. Do we fall back into old patterns or are we able to remain true to what G-d has done in our lives. Do we honor the spiritual changes that have happened to us? Do we revert to the old ways or do we bring light into those old ways? I think G-d confirmed to Jacob that he had changed by changing his name to Israel. He could meet Esau with the confidence that he was not the same kid who had slipped away in the middle of the night. This is our challenge each day. Do we meet the day as a child of G-d or do we fall back into old patterns?
As the brothers part I think Jacob’s destination clarifies his choice. He goes to Succoth. What does Succoth mean in scripture (Lev. 23:42-43) Here we see Jacob returning from exile as the Israelites will years later. These temporary structures remind us of what? G-d is our provider, it all comes from His hand. Jacob expresses this by going there after his meeting with Esau. The succah can represent the final redemption as we see in Amos 9:11-12. So Jacob’s choice was filled with spiritual meaning to each of us as we live out each day as the new person we have become through our faith in G-d through Yeshua.