V’yishlach (He sent)
Hosea 11:7-12:12 (A)
Obadiah 1:1-21 (S)
“Silence of the Limping”
Once again, students of the Torah are challenged when meditating on our weekly portions, which I have found to contain a wealth of information to contemplate. When I sit down to write my Torah commentaries, the choice of a subject matter to focus on can be overwhelming. There are many critical events to consider discussing, so one really has to search his heart and find out just what nugget of truth the Lord wants you to focus upon. After all, lengthy books have been written about certain aspects of the life and personal character of Jacob. And, my Torah commentaries are intended to be reflective, and not be like some of the technical, verse-by-verse resources that we have in our ministry library.
As I filter my life through the lens of God’s Torah and plead for personally needed edification, I am magnetically drawn into the character strengths and flaws of Jacob. It is amazing how truly representative he is of so many of us! I can very easily identify with Jacob’s struggles as a chosen vessel for God’s Divine purposes. If you have ever endured any difficulties in your own life, then you can probably also empathize with many of Jacob’s character traits—perhaps his apparent silence as he limps down the mountain trails of modern-day Samaria and Judea. Consider the following verses and Jacob’s absent response:
“Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘If I find favor in your sight, then I will give whatever you say to me. Ask me ever so much bridal payment and gift, and I will give according as you say to me; but give me the girl in marriage.’ But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go’” (Genesis 34:11-17).
Just contemplate this critical juncture in the family, chosen by the Lord to be a light to the world, as they reenter the Promised Land and settle around the community of Shechem. At this point in the narrative, the defiling sexual encounter with Dinah has already occurred (Genesis 34:1-5), and restitution has to be made. Now a proposition is offered by the young prince Shechem and his father Hamor, to Jacob and his sons.
What really caught my attention, after rereading this selection of verses a number of times, is that Jacob is deafeningly silent when the proposals are being discussed. In fact, the Scriptures indicate that his sons answered the requests deceitfully, and with what is ultimately demonstrated to be murder in their hearts. But for some reason, the Patriarch Jacob, who had recently been renamed Israel in an awesome encounter with the Holy One (Genesis 32:24-32), did not speak up. Why was Jacob silent? Can we really know what was going on in his heart and mind?
It is apparent that by the time this event occurred in Jacob’s life, he was confidently aware that the God of his fathers was providing, protecting, and preserving him and his family for the fulfillment of His promises. What was it about Jacob that caused him to just bite his tongue, and not overrule his sons’ conniving requests as the elder? Could it be that he was plagued with the same problem that many followers of God struggle with: the age-old battle between the Spirit and the flesh?
Our Common Human Condition
Lamentably, many of us have different flesh patterns which exercise their influences on choices we consider and decisions we make. Jacob’s life may be considered to be an “open book,” which we can all benefit and learn from, if we study and contemplate the things he did, said, and in this case did not say. Hopefully, if we are totally honest with ourselves, those wrestling with sinful behaviors will confess that they sometimes have about the same amount of success overcoming various flesh patterns as Jacob appears to have had.
Regrettably, confessing our faults is easier said than acted upon, considering the record we see in the Scriptures of fallen humanity. Even with the benefits of progressive revelation, many who claim a belief in the Creator God—and even His Son Messiah Yeshua—still struggle with battles of the flesh, and in experiencing victory over them. In Romans ch. 7, the Apostle Paul describes a viewpoint with which too many people can relate:
“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Yeshua the Messiah our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:14-25).
Many people are inclined to read Romans ch. 7 as Paul giving us information about himself, and that it is fairly common for Believers to have sin problems that they wrestle with and struggle to overcome. Paul seems to be telling us that he himself, even as a born again Believer and a chosen apostle of God, struggles with sin.
Certainly while we live in a sinful world and we will have to overcome temptation, is it appropriate for a Believer to use Romans 7 as an “excuse” to sin? In the recent past, many scholars have been led to think that Paul is not, in fact, talking about himself—but rather is speaking as a hypothetical Believer who is struggling with sin. Paul himself, contrary to the Romans 7 sinner, is a relatively mature Believer who has overcome the vast majority of temptations.
Regardless of which view you take, the realities of our fallen world should force us to rely on the grace of God, because it is only by the salvation provided in Yeshua that “the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). Only by crying out to the Lord, will we be able to overcome temptation!
Many of the sinful temptations that we encounter as Believers are simply flesh patterns that can be easily conquered, if we reach out in faith to our Heavenly Father and learn to discipline ourselves. Regardless of Jacob’s, or our own deceitful flesh patterns that we may still be wrestling with here or there, God is still able to accomplish His will, just as the people destined to be His own possession did this as seen throughout the Torah and Tanakh. Let us take a look.
The Journey Home
Over twenty years have passed since Jacob left his brother Esau, and now, after reconciling with his father-in-law Laban (Genesis 31:43-55), he is faced with the prospect of facing his sibling and perceived enemy. Remember that the reason Jacob journeyed to the east was initially to depart from the wrath of his brother’s rage (Genesis 27:42-28:5). Now with two wives, two concubines, twelve children, many slaves, and much livestock, he is returning to his original home with great trepidation. He vividly recalls Esau’s plans to kill him. In this illuminating parashah, Jacob’s character is permanently altered, having the socket of his thigh dislocated by wrestling with the Divine being all night long (Genesis 32:24-32). Yet Jacob not only received the blessing of being renamed Israel (he who struggles with God) for such endurance, but for many generations following he represents the need for each of God’s followers to become dependent on Him—and perhaps how people often literally or figuratively come “limping” into the Kingdom.
But before we as Believers, like Jacob, can limp—or even drag ourselves—successfully into the presence of the Most High, we need to remember that in spite of our most fervent promises and prayers, He is still in ultimate control of things. If the Lord really does have a call upon your life to serve Him and make a difference for Him,regardless of your innate inability to fulfill your part of your pledges, He is big enough to work through you to accomplish His will. In spite of all of the negative idiosyncrasies of Jacob, God was still able to use Him and Jacob will be in the Kingdom (cf. Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28).
Promises Made and Broken
Do you recall Jacob’s vow to God to give ten percent of all that he had as payment for His provision and protection, from the previous Torah portion?
“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, Jacob made a solemn vow at Bethel (Heb. Beit’El, latyB; meaning “house of God”) to give God ten percent of his wealth, as compensation for His protection and provision. But notice one other thing that was also pledged. At this critical juncture on his journey east, in his heart, Jacob yearned to return to his father Isaac’s house safely. Did Jacob at all forget about this? We know that the Lord did not, because in spite of Jacob’s personal problems, he is able to return to his home country—and he even finds his brother Esau in a somewhat amicable mood:
“‘Please let my lord pass on before his servant, and I will proceed at my leisure, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord at Seir.’ Esau said, ‘Please let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.’ But he said, ‘What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord’” (Genesis 33:14-15).
This scene occurs after Jacob’s incredible experience at Peniel where he encountered, and even wrestled with, what some think was a pre-Incarnate manifestation of Messiah Yeshua. Even after this life altering experience, where he received his limp, Jacob still has a human tendency to say something that he does not really mean. Was his fear of Esau still a motivating force in his life? What about his statements made to the Lord some twenty years earlier on his trek east? Did he forget that God wanted him to return to Isaac’s house, to carry on the call that He had given the Patriarchs? Surely, God would protect him. It appears that for some reason, Jacob was content to simply cross the Jordan and settle in the land around Shechem:
“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. 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 33:18-20).
Here in Shechem, the Scriptures record that Jacob followed the family tradition established by his grandfather Abraham when he purchased the caves at Machpelah in Mamre near Hebron. How could this be? Years earlier, a fleeing Jacob indicated a hunger to be reunited with his father (Genesis 28:21), and even weeks earlier, as the broken and renamed Israel, he promises his brother that he would come to his father in Seir. So why does Jacob stop at Shechem, and not proceed any further?
“Just Give Me Peace”
Jacob changes his mind and purchases land near Shechem. Soon, his growing family and extensive herds become permanent fixtures among the Shechemites. He even erects an altar that signifies his allegiance to the Lord, an indication that he does not plan on moving anywhere anytime soon. Does he not remember his vows to the Lord and the corresponding covenants promised to him?
Most can identify with Jacob/Israel at this point in his life. He just wants peace. He has just come through the trauma of encountering his brother, and certainly felt a great deal of relief that his life and the lives of his family have been spared. He knows that Esau has become very wealthy, and that Esau’s holdings would perhaps create a conflict if he relocates to the area around Hebron, which includes the region of Seir to the east. He somehow justifies his decision to simply settle into the community around Shechem. The Scriptures do not indicate how long Jacob and his family had been a part of the Shechem area, but in due time, circumstances erupt that create serious tension between the indigenous population and the children of Jacob/Israel:
“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. When Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her by force” (Genesis 34:1-2).
Whether Dinah was actually raped, or whether she had consensual relations with Shechem the prince because he convinced her to do so, is not the point. The fact remains that she ventured into the neighborhood, and became known among the young people of Shechem’s community. In time, she attracts the attention of the young prince. Before long, whether by force or enticement, the sexual act takes place. Apparently, the prince is deeply attracted to Dinah and he asks for her hand in marriage:
“He was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this young girl for a wife.’ Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in. Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. Now the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, ‘The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Intermarry with us; give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves. Thus you shall live with us, and the land shall be open before you; live and trade in it and acquire property in it’” (Genesis 34:3-10).
Jacob was in quite a dilemma. After he heard the reports of this transgression, he waited silently to ponder his reaction. He might have recalled when he had his first encounter with Rachel at the well in Paddan-Aram many years earlier:
“Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept. Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father” (Genesis 29:11-12).
In the social mores of that day, it was not proper for a man to kiss a woman at their initial meeting, but Jacob had succumbed to the physical attraction he bore his cousin. And as it turns out, they ended up being far more than “kissing cousins.” Is it possible that Jacob understood how passion and longing could be used to further God’s plans for His people? He had certainly seen how it worked out in his life. He might have concluded that God was working through these unfortunate circumstances with Dinah and Shechem.
A Deafening Silence
Hamor, the father of Shechem, makes a plea for the hand of Dinah for his son (Genesis 34:6ff). But what is interesting to note is that Jacob never responds to any of the overtures. Instead, it is his sons who retort back with the conditions of intermarriage. Why was he so silent on the matter? Did he simply consent to the arrangement that was proposed, and allow his sons to figure out the finer details? Certainly, if he disagreed with the proposal, he could have said something, and the conditions for family unions would not be acted upon. Instead, Jacob/Israel, knowing that his sons were livid, allowed the conditions to be offered. Did he know what was in their hearts, or was he more interested in maintaining peace? Here are the conditions that were determined:
“But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go” (Genesis 34:13-17).
Before too long, the requirement to circumcise all the men of Shechem was enacted in order for the intermarriage and assimilation to take place. But what was intended to take place did not occur. The treachery that was in the hearts of Simeon and Levi surfaced, and they completed a murderous engagement. As our Torah portion summarizes,
“Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth. Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses” (Genesis 34:25-29).
After the entire male population of Shechem is murdered—which was fairly easily to liquidate thanks to the pain of circumcision—the rest of the brothers complete the task of stealing all the wealth of the city. Can you imagine such deceitful actions being committed by the chosen people of God? Where was the compassion for the indiscretion of Dinah, and the young prince Shechem who wanted to make restitution? There was no mercy or grace found in the proud hearts of these sons of Jacob/Israel. Instead, murder and revenge prevailed. After these vile acts, the reaction of Jacob is finally recorded as he rebukes Simeon and Levi:
“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 will be destroyed, I and my household.’ But they said, ‘Should he treat our sister as a harlot?’” (Genesis 34:30-31).
The dialogue ends, and Jacob and company move.
A Divine Response
Jacob quickly recognizes that these actions have imperiled his entire family. There is no Biblical record of Jacob responding to the pleas that Simeon and Levi offered in their defense. Instead, the next recorded statement comes from God Himself. The Lord reminds Jacob to return to Bethel to recall the promises that were made to Him:
“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).
Another altar is erected, memorializing the promises received (Genesis 35:7, 9-15). The journey continues down the hills of the Promised Land toward Hebron, and Jacob finally gets back on the trail to his father Isaac’s home. But again there are challenges. His beloved wife Rachel dies at the birth of Benjamin in what is modern-day Bethlehem (Genesis 35:16-20). The love of Jacob’s life is taken from him. On the journey, Jacob’s eldest son Reuben sins, thus forfeiting his position to become the leader of the next generation:
“Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it. Now there were twelve sons of Jacob” (Genesis 35:21-22).
And, the journey back home continues… Finally, the full circle is completed and Jacob/Israel is back at his father’s side. The promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are being fulfilled. And, the most ironic thing occurs from our human perspective as Isaac dies and his sons, Esau and Jacob, bury him:
“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. 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).
The Journey Completed
Regardless of all the bad decisions that Jacob made along his journey, the promise to be returned to the land of his fathers is completed. Of course, he is without the love of his life, Rachel, and is further burdened by the sinful acts of his sons in Shechem during the final leg of their trek south. But he does not forget these critical events in his life. In fact, the whole future of the nation of Israel is, in many respects, determined by some of the things which occurred during these travels down the hills of what would later be called Samaria and Judea.
In his final days, as Israel is blessing his sons, the ultimate destinies of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi are uttered. Because of their lustful and treacherous acts they lose the right to receive the blessings bestowed upon the firstborn. Instead, such a firstborn status is ultimately passed onto Judah:
“Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, ‘Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come. Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; and listen to Israel your father. Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch. Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with their assembly; because in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. He ties his foal to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; he washes his garments in wine, and his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are dull from wine, and his teeth white from milk’” (Genesis 49:1-12).
From these blessings and penalizations, you can see how the actions which took place in Shechem were indeed inappropriate. If the murders were consistent with God’s laws and His true intention, then Simeon or Levi would have inherited the blessing of firstborn. But instead, those blessings were passed onto Judah.
In our study of the Torah, today’s challenge is to reflect upon the life of Jacob and his sons and seek a better way. What is our Heavenly Father trying to reveal to us as we contemplate the traumatic life of Jacob, and his struggle to return to the home of his father? Regardless of Jacob’s bad decisions and the consequences of them, God is still going to accomplish His will via the people He has chosen to represent Him in the world. For unknown reasons, He does not cover up or hide the transgressions of the people chosen to be His own possession. The Biblical record includes their faults, demonstrating such a chosen people to truly be people.
This reality should not encourage Believers to pursue things contrary to God’s way. Instead, with the benefits of the Scriptural records preserved for us, we should learn to honor the verbal commitments that we have made to the Lord and to each other. We should recognize that what we say and what we do have long term consequences for us as well as our children. We should learn from the mistakes of those who have preceded us, so we do not repeat them. We see that Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were denied the blessing of being the chosen, main leaders of Israel.
Like the Apostle Paul who lists the example of a sinner in Romans ch. 7, wanting to overcome temptation, if we similarly struggle, we should be willing to admit our faults and strive to do better. Jacob had faults that did hamper his effectiveness in accomplishing God’s purpose for his life, and what we commonly remember him for are the good things he achieved near the end of his life—not necessarily in the time period we are considering in thisparashah.
We each should strive to let the Spirit of God and His will prevail in our decisions, not succumbing to any excuses as to why our way might be better, and certainly not waiting until the end of our lives to be the most effective in His service. We each have choices to make, and if we are filled up with the Ruach HaKodesh we should seriously consider the negative consequences that will result if we are guided by a sinful ethic. As we mature in our walks of faith, it should be natural for us to simply choose the path that the Lord has laid out, guided by the imperative of love. Paul summarizes what God’s love (agapē) is to chiefly embody in his words to the Corinthians:
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away…When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 11).
Walking in unconditional love is, at times, a difficult action to take, but one which pleases our Heavenly Father. It definitely exhibits the traits of a maturing saint who submits himself or herself to the required will of the Lord.
Secondly, when encountering those inside, and even outside of the Body of Messiah, we need to exercise grace and mercy. Yeshua the Messiah spoke specifically about our natural, fleshly proclivity to judge others:
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).
If we take this truth to heart, we will knowingly conclude that our flesh wants to justify itself without first examining its own faults. We might look down on others who do not see things we way we do, or who remain in immaturity. Rather than be a partial human judge—it is much better to humble ourselves, pray for those who are wrestling with issues of sin, and let the impartial Judge, God Himself, work through the issues with such people. Who in his or her right mind would want to judge another person’s heart, when such a person’s own heart has glaring deficiencies that need to be worked through?
Finally, we have an excellent summary remark to consider by James the Just:
“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Is it not better for Spirit-led followers of Messiah Yeshua to seek this level of restitution with those who have strayed from the truth? Such a restoration, though, needs to be tempered with the same love and mercy that saved us!
The life of Jacob and his choices have been preserved for our instruction. Jacob was always reminded of his encounter with God at Peniel as he limped through the remainder of his life (Genesis 32:25, 31-32). Have you ever had a dramatic, life altering event, that has initiated needed change away from the ways of the flesh? As you contemplate V’yishlach this week, what important lesson might you be overlooking? Hopefully, unlike Jacob who wrestled with God, the only limps that we have in life are those that come from bent knees in continual prayer and humble submission to God’s will—and not any kind of reminder for chastisement from Him. In such prayer, we will learn the discernment of when to speak, and when to be silent.
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