Jacob knew he was walking into great danger as he returned to the land of Canaan.
The eighth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayishlach (וישלח), which means “and he sent.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom” (Genesis 32:3 [verse 4 in Jewish-published Bibles]). Jacob prepares to meet Esau as he returns to the promised land, but first he has a mysterious encounter with an angel in the darkness, who changes his name to Israel. The portion follows Jacob’s adventures in the land of Canaan, including the loss of his beloved wife, Rachel.
Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. (Genesis 32:3)
After some twenty years of labor, Jacob was finally free from Laban’s mistreatment. Only God’s direct intervention saved him from Laban’s ire. As this Torah portion begins, the confrontation with Laban is over, and Jacob leaves his father-in-law behind in peace.
But something was still bothering Jacob. One angry relative was now behind him, but Esau was still ahead of him. He knew that Esau wanted him dead. Jacob must have felt like he had escaped the frying pan only to fall into the fire.
To escape Esau, Jacob had fled to the homeland of his mother, Rebekah. She had told him, “Stay … until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there” (Genesis 27:44-45). Rebekah’s message never came. Esau’s anger never cooled. Jacob knew he was walking into great danger as he returned to the land of Canaan.
Hoping that his brother’s heart had softened, Jacob sent messengers ahead to announce his homecoming to Esau. The messengers returned with bad news. “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him” (Genesis 32:6). Quite a welcoming party! Jacob’s heart sank. He felt certain Esau was coming with armed men to slaughter him.
This is what dealing with our past mistakes is like. Through the course of life, our sins and bad decisions leave broken relationships and emotional messes behind us. Ordinarily, we do exactly as Jacob did. We run from the problems and hope they will go away. We hope the passage of time will heal the hurts we have caused. Perhaps forgetfulness and distance will absolve us. It rarely works that way. Inevitably, the wheel of life brings us back around to confront our past. Sometimes the problems have not diminished at all. Instead, time and neglect has only aggravated them. When Jacob left Canaan, he had only Esau to worry about. Now, upon returning, he faces Esau and four hundred armed men.
The solution is to deal with our mistakes when we make them. When we do wrong to someone, we should immediately do everything in our power to make amends. When we make a mistake, we should acknowledge it, correct it, and do our best to fix it. Yeshua taught that you should “make friends quickly with your opponent” (Matthew 5:25) lest the situation escalate.
There is one opponent, however, that we can never mollify. The adversary, that old serpent haSatan, has a case against each of us. His job is to record our sins and transgressions and bring charges against us in God’s court of law. He does not take bribes, and he never forgets. No matter how long ago it happened, he remembers. He has a claim against us that we can never escape. Just as Jacob eventually had to face Esau, we will eventually have to answer to his charges. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We all face judgment. (Click to Source)
Living Torah Commentary
Vayechi (He Lived)
Jacob Lives another Seventeen Years
47:28. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years, so the whole age of Jacob was a hundred forty-seven years.29. And the time drew near for Israel to die, and he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have now found favor in your sight, put, I pray you, your hand under my thigh and deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me, I pray you, in Egypt. 30. But I shall lie with my fathers and you will carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying-place.” And he said, “I shall do as you have said.”31. And he said, “Swear to me.” And he swore to him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.
Jacob Blesses Ephraim and Manasseh
48.1. And it was after these things, that someone told Joseph, “Behold, your father is sick.” And he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.2. And someone told Jacob and said, “Behold, your son Joseph is coming to you.” And Israel strengthened himself and sat up on the bed. 3. And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me 4. and said to me, ‘Behold, I shall make you fruitful and multiply you, and I shall make of you a congregation of people, and I shall give the land to your seed after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5. And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before My coming to you in Egypt, are mine, like Reuben and Simeon. They will be mine. 6. And your children, which you father after them, will be yours and will be called after the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7. And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died beside me in the land of Canaan on the way, when yet there was but a little way to come to Efrat and I buried her there on the road of Efrat, the same is Bethlehem.”
48:8. And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons and said, “Who are these?” 9. And Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons whom God has given me in this place.” And he said, “Bring them to me now and I shall bless them.” 10. Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so he could not see. And he brought them near to him and he kissed them and embraced them. 11.And Israel said to Joseph, “I had not thought to see your face and, lo, God has also shown me your seed.”
48:12. And Joseph brought them out from between his knees and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand and brought them near to him. 14. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head. He guided his hands wittingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn.15. And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before Whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God Who fed me all my life long to this day, 16. the angel who redeemed me from everything bad, bless the lads and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Heb. 11:21)
48:17. And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18. And Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.” 19. And his father refused and said, “I know it, my son, I know it. He also will become a people and he also will be great, but truly his younger brother will be greater than he and his seed will become the fullness of the nations.”
48:20. And he blessed them that day saying, “In you will Israel bless saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” And he set Ephraim before Manasseh.
21. And Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you again to the land of your fathers.22. Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.”
Jacob Blesses the Remaining Sons
49.1. And Jacob called to his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, so I can tell you what will befall you in the last days. 2. Gather yourselves together and listen, you sons of Jacob, and hearken to Israel your father.
49:3. “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellence of dignity, and the excellency of power: 4. unstable as water, you will not excel because you went up to your father’s bed, then you defiled the one who ascended my couch.
49:5. “Simeon and Levi are brothers, weapons of violence are their downfall. 6. O my soul, do not come into their secret, to their assembly, my honor. Do not be united, for in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed an ox. 7.Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel. I shall divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.
49:8. “Judah, you are he whom your brothers will praise: your hand will be on the neck of your enemies, your father’s children will bow down before you. 9. Judah is a lion’s whelp, from the prey, my son, you are gone up: he stooped down, he couched like a lion and as an old lion. Who will rouse him up? 10. The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor a Torah scholar from between his feet, until Shiloh comes: and the gathering of the peoples will be to Him. (Rev. 5:5) 11. Binding His foal to the vine and His donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed His garments in wine and His clothes in the blood of grapes. (Rev.7:14; 19:13) 12. His eyes will be red with wine, (Rev. 1:14) and His teeth white with milk.
49:13. “Zebulun will live at the haven of the sea, and he will be for a haven of ships, and his border will be to Zidon.
49:14. “Issachar is a strong donkey lying down between the sheepfolds: 15. and he saw that rest was good, and the land that was pleasant and bowed his shoulder to bear and became a servant to tribute.
49:16. “Dan will judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 17. Dan will be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path that bites the horse’s heels, so that his rider will fall backward. 18. I have waited for Your salvation, LORD*.
49:19. “Gad, a troop will press upon him, but he will press upon their heel.
49:20. “Out of Asher his bread will be fat, and he will yield royal dainties.
49:21. “Naphtali is a deer let loose. He gives beautiful sayings.
49:22. “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall. 23. The archers have sorely grieved him and shot at him, and hated him. 24. But his bow abode in strength and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob; from there he became the shepherd, the stone of Israel: 25. even by the God of your father, Who will help you, the Almighty Who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep lying below, blessings of the bosom, and of the womb. 26. The blessings of your father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors to the endless boundaries of the everlasting hills. They will be on the head of Joseph and on the crown of his head that was from the exile of his brothers.
49:27. “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf: in the morning he will devour the prey and at night he will divide the spoil.”
49:28. All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them. He blessed each one according to his blessing. 29. And he charged them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Efron the Hittite. 30. In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Efron the Hittite for a possession of a burying-place. 31. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebeccah his wife, and there I buried Leah. 32. The purchase of the field and of the cave that is there was from the children of Heth.” 33. And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed and expired and was gathered to his people.
Jacob Buried in Israel
50.1. And Joseph fell upon his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. 2. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father and the physicians embalmed Israel. 3. And forty days were fulfilled for him, for so are fulfilled the days of those that are embalmed, and the Egyptians mourned seventy days for him.
50:4. And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the house of Pharaoh saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh saying, 5. My father made me swear saying, ‘Lo, I am dying. You will bury me in my grave which I have dug for myself in the land of Canaan.’ Now therefore let me go up, I pray you, and bury my father and I shall come back.” 6. And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.”
50:7. Then Joseph went up to bury his father, and all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt went up with him, 8. and the whole house of Joseph and his brothers and his father’s house. They left only their little ones, their flocks, and their herds in the land of Goshen. 9. And both chariots and horsemen went up with him and it was a very great company. 10. And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and very deep lamentation and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11. And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians: therefore the name of it was called Abel-Egypt, which is beyond the Jordan.”
50:12. And his sons did for him as he had commanded them. 13. For his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a burying place from Efron the Hittite, before Mamre.
50:14. And after he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he, his brothers, and all who went up with him to bury his father.
50:15. And when Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Maybe Joseph will hate us, and will certainly pay us back for all the bad that we did to him.” 16. So they sent a messenger to Joseph saying, “Your father commanded before he died saying, 17. ‘So will you say to Joseph, Forgive, I beseech you now, the transgression of your brothers and their sins, for they did evil to you.’ And now, we pray you, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18. And his brothers also went and fell down before his face and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19. And Joseph said to them, “Do not be in awe! For am I in the place of God? 20. But as for you, you thought evil against me, but God meant it for good, to make happen, as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21. Now therefore do not be in awe! I shall take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
50:22. And Joseph dwelled in Egypt, he and his father’s house, and Joseph lived a hundred ten years. 23. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation, also the children of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph’s knees. 24. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am dying and God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land to the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25. And Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel saying, “God will surely visit you and you will carry up my bones from here.” 26. So Joseph died, a hundred ten years old, and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. (Click to Source)
Behold, the lamb of God. The manger in Migdal Eder
Jesus Birth Foretold
The story of Jesus birth was first foretold in Genesis three verse fifteen. God told Adam and Eve that a child would be born. This Child would crush the head of the old Serpent who tempted Eve to sin and resulted in the curse that leads to man’s extinction. Many others would foretell the coming of this Savior of man.
God Chose Jacob
I suppose God could have chosen a million different ways to bring about a remedy to mankind’s disease. But He chose Jacob, a very flawed man and his wildly dysfunctional family to bring forth the antidote. This Christmas story begins with a man, Jacob, and his family spanning 53 generations.
Beyond a brief telling of Jacob’s story, our focus will be on two of his future grandsons David and Jesus. All three men had one thing in common. The importance the little town of Bethlehem played in their life. The reason our Christmas story ends with the birth of Jesus, is because in his blood is the antidote for the curse.
Hundreds of years pass from God’s promise in Genesis, but slowly and painstakingly God, or Yahweh as He is known to the Hebrews, moves mankind closer and closer to a solution to his death problem. Yahweh makes covenants with famous men like Noah and Abraham, edging ever closer, till one day Abraham has a grandson named Jacob. Yahweh changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and transferred to him God’s promise to Abraham that the Messiah, who would save mankind from the curse of death, would come through one of his sons.
Jacob’s journey through life was a painful one and he was not a sinless man. He had many hardships and struggles, most of which he brought on himself by his poor choices. But Yahweh had a plan for Jacob to bring forth the Messiah through his seed.
Jacob Meets Rachel
While Jacob is still a young man, he cheats his brother out of his inheritance, and consequently his brother threatens to kill him. So Jacob finds himself on the run, fleeing the wrath of his brother, away from home for the first time, lonely, broke and in a strange land. He runs to his mother’s relatives in Haran. When he arrives in Haran, he goes to a well where Sheppard’s are waiting to water their flocks, and He asks them if they know his Uncle Laban. They say, “Yes, and there comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”
Jacob is so ecstatic to meet his beautiful cousin Rachel, that he sobbed on her between kisses. It was love at first sight for Jacob and for Rachel too.
Jacob marries the beautiful Rachel, who he adored, but he is also tricked into marrying her sister Leah. Though he did not love Leah, Leah gave Jacob six sons. Rachel however, could not conceive, and her ache for a child, throbbed throughout the camp. Jacob then had two sons from the handmaid of Rachel, and two more sons from the handmaid of Leah, but Rachel still could not become pregnant, and her despair was almost unbearable.
Jacob’s Heart Broken in Bethlehem
Finally, with great joy, Rachel becomes pregnant and has a son named Joseph, who will become a famous character in the Bible. After Joseph’s birth, Jacob decides to move his family back to Canaan, the land of his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham. Along the way, Rachel conceives again, and by the time they get to a little town that becomes known as Bethlehem, Rachel’s birth pains begin, and she delivers her second son Benjamin. The labor was too much for Rachel, and she dies soon after Benjamin is born.
Jacob’s heart is broken. He mourns that he will never again hold her face in his hands, gaze upon her, feel her embrace or inhale her fragrance. He will miss her sweet words and shattered are the dreams of growing old together. His darling has died and the loving mother of his two youngest sons. He ceases his journey there, because his sorrow is too great. The Bible tells this part of the story like this.
And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labor. And it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, Fear not; you shall have this son also. And it came to pass, as her soul was departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: (Which means son of my sorrow) but his father called him Benjamin. (Which means son of my right hand) And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar on her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.
Rachel’s body was laid to rest in Bethlehem. It remains one of the Jews most holy places, and a beautiful shrine to Rachel is there today.
Ephrath means fruitful place, which is an ironic name for a burial-place. However, it was not only the place of Rachel’s departing, as the scripture puts it, but it was also a place of new life, because Benjamin began his life there.
The prophet Micah, who appeared a few generations after King David, spoke for Yahweh, and prophesied the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah. Too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you, One will go forth for Me, to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
For Jacob though, this was the place of his mourning for beloved Rachel.
We know that Jacob was becoming a wealthy and prosperous man having much livestock. The Bible tells us that when Rachel died he went beyond the tower of Edar and spread his tent. Migdal Edar, as it is known, was only a 1000 paces from Bethlehem, and was a place of elevation, where Shepherd’s would go to watch over their sheep that grazed in the valley’s meadow below. It was a good vantage point, and ideal for watching over the sheep and keeping an eye on what might come down the road from Jerusalem. Several generations later, it became the place where they raised the unblemished and unspotted sheep used for Temple sacrifice.
David is Born in Bethlehem
Eleven generations would come and go till Jacob’s descendant David is born in the little town of Bethlehem. He is quite possibly born near this very spot where Jacob pitched his tent to mourn. One day David would become King of Israel, but as a young man, David was a Priestly Sheppard in the hills and valleys of Bethlehem. It was the sacred duty of a Priestly Shepherd to watch over the sacrificial sheep used in the temple worship.
A priestly Shepherd was not just any Shepherd, but a priest who knew the scriptures, for while David watched the sheep his delight was in the law of the LORD;and in his law he meditated day and night.( Psa. 1:2) Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. (Psa 119:97) Later David references his thoughts of Yahweh while watching the sheep through the night: On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. (Psa. 63:6)
The little lambs of God
David must have had a true sense of sacrifice, knowing the fate of the little sheep he came to love and risk his life to protect. The daily Temple sacrifice required two unblemished sheep from Bethlehem. One sacrificed in the morning and one in the evening as a continual sacrifice before the Lord.
The Passover was an annual sacred feast that Yahweh himself instituted for Israel to commemorate their deliverance out of Egypt. During Passover in Israel, the feast required literally thousands of sheep. One lamb needed for each household in all of Israel. During the time of David’s census there were 1,300,000 men beyond age 20. This would suggest a population nearing 5 million. This demand required an estimated 250,000 sheep to accommodate the Passover annually.
Jesus born in Bethlehem
Now let’s fast forward 900 years from the days of David to see what is happening in our little village of Bethlehem. The apostle Luke writes this account.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
The fields around Bethlehem were valuable grazing lands. The Priestly Shepherds were still charged with watching over the Temple flock both day and night. They were vigilant to protect them from their natural enemies, the robber, the wolf, the bear and the lion. Migdal Edar or Tower of the Flock was constructed as a place for watching over the sheep. A room on the ground floor was designated for the delivery and protection of these special lambs. Here they kept a manger ceremonially clean due to the sacred role of these little lambs.
The Shepherd’s find the prophesied Lamb of God
And the Shepherds did find the babe, for they understood what the sign meant. They knew to look for the Messiah in the manger at the watch tower in Bethlehem. The Shepherd’s knew the prophecy of the Prophet Micah, who foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. They also knew Micah foretold where to look in Bethlehem. The Messiah King would come to the “the tower of the flock.”
Micah 4:8 “And thou, O tower of the flock the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.”
The Messiah, the sacrificial Lamb of God would be born in the same place all unspotted lambs designated for Temple sacrifice were born.
John the Baptist, grew up knowing the stories and prophecies of his cousin Jesus. I expect they were friends and playmates like most cousins who grow up together. I like what may have been John’s nickname for Jesus for we have recorded in John 1:29 when John saw Jesus he said, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
This Lamb, Jesus, who was once born at Migdal Eder, the tower of the flock, became the sacrificial Lamb of God for Israel. One day He will return to Jacob’s troubled land and miraculously deliver his descendants. Jeremiah called this future time the day of Jacob’s trouble when Jerusalem’s enemies besiege her.
In the nick of time, The Lamb will reveal his true identity and take His rightful place, seated on His throne as the glorious Son of David, the greatest King of Israel. He will tend the sheep of the house of Jacob and all of those from the nations who have come to dwell in that house. Finally, Jacob’s heartache and troubles are comforted. No more tears will flow from Migdal Edar. The lowly Lamb, who became incarnate there, will be Jacob’s Comforter, King, Shepherd and Messiah forever and ever.
And the angel Gabriel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Praise be the name of the LORD. (Click to Source)
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Hosea 11:7-12:12 (A)
Obadiah 1:1-21 (S)
“A Wrestling Faith”
by Mark Huey
This week, our Torah portion Vayishlach continues the saga of Jacob’s life, as he learned to depend upon and have faith in the God of Abraham and Isaac. If you will recall from last week, the final separation from his father-in-law Laban concluded with a dramatic covenant that essentially placed a demarcation point at Mahanaim, which inclined Jacob to maintain his family’s march west toward the Land of Canaan, promised to him and his fathers (Genesis 31:51-32:2).
With the problems behind him resolved, there were problems in front of Jacob still looming. Jacob was still confronted with a tenuous reunion with his brother Esau, who twenty years earlier had threatened to kill him. Despite all of the blessings of a family, servants, and a bounty of livestock—Jacob had to be utterly petrified about what might take place. Assuming that his brother Esau was still holding a grudge against him, this week’s parashahopens with Jacob concocting a plan to thwart any evil intentions that Esau might have brought upon his family. Even though during the time he spent in Paddan-aram, Jacob’s faith had been surely maturing—as he witnessed the Lord honor His word and promises—we can see that Jacob was still depending upon his own strength and cleverness to avoid what he must have contemplated would be a difficult reception from Esau. In order to prevent a potentially life-threatening encounter, Jacob first sent messengers to Esau to determine the level of Esau’s animosity toward him. Upon the report that Esau was approaching with four hundred, Jacob devised a plan to avoid any anticipated confrontation with Esau by dividing his entourage into two camps, with his immediate family in one and the servants in the other. But then in an indication that Jacob was beginning to trust more fully in the God of his fathers, he turned to God in supplication, having sought the Lord’s protection from his brother:
“Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He also commanded them saying, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: “Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.’”’ The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’ 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; for he said, ‘If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.’ 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.”’ So he spent the night there. Then he selected from what he had with him a present for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, ‘Pass on before me, and put a space between droves.’ He commanded the one in front, saying, ‘When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, saying, “To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and to whom do these animals in front of you belong?” then you shall say, “These belong to your servant Jacob; it is a present sent to my lord Esau. And behold, he also is behind us”’” (Genesis 32:3-18).
In Jacob’s somewhat confessional prayer to God, he not only recognized God’s promises to him, but also his unworthiness to receive the blessings that have already been bestowed. Jacob’s genuine fear of Esau was so great that he had already made the decision to separate into two camps, but he was still reminding God of His promises to prosper him and make his descendants as many as the sand of the sea. The struggle to live by faith in the Holy One, or depend upon one’s own mortal strength, was waging mightily in Jacob. This is a great lesson for any Torah student to study and contemplate. After all, how many times during the course of life do people who profess faith in the Almighty find themselves in similar predicaments? While these times of depending upon the Lord do not necessarily have to be life threatening, most can identify with tests and trials that truly challenge our faith and trust in God. In the development of Jacob’s faith, one can definitely see it growing—but lifelong patterns to resort to cleverness or inherent strengths as humans are difficult to overcome. As Jacob would soon discover, it is at times like these, when the Lord showed up to help him get through the trial.
Jacob Renamed Israel
In V’yishlach, we see that Jacob was in quite a dilemma. He knew that his brother Esau was approaching with four hundred men, not knowing exactly what their intentions were. He had sent ahead servants and livestock to appease Esau, but there was no indication that Esau was satisfied with the overtures. The entourage had been strategically separated into two camps, so Jacob arose in the night and took his family across the river Jabbok, in order to await the arrival of Esau and his company. It was here in the dark of the night, that Jacob encountered a unique supernatural being. Not only did this figure have the ability to simply touch Jacob on his hip and dislocate it, but he also took the opportunity to rename Jacob:
“Then he commanded also the second and the third, and all those who followed the droves, saying, ‘After this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; and you shall say, “Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.”’ For he said, ‘I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’ So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp. Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 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.’ 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. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip” (Genesis 32:19-32).
During this struggle that ensued, Jacob likely was having to mentally wrestle with the thoughts of his future, and what would soon happen regarding his imminent encounter with Esau. What transpired in the night as Jacob struggled with the supernatural being, was that he showed himself to be a fighter—and for this reason he was renamed Israel or Yisrael, meaning “he contends with God” (TWOT). Jacob was given the name Israel “because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome”(Genesis 32:28, TNIV). This must have had some great significance to Jacob.
Jacob’s wrestling match during the night—when he was renamed Israel—was most definitely a defining moment in his life, as some serious future events were preparing to occur. Twenty years earlier on his departure from Canaan on the way to Paddan-aram, Jacob had a dream-vision of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder (Genesis 28:10-22). Now on the precipice of returning to the Promised Land, Jacob had an even more dramatic supernatural experience. Perhaps finally, after years of striving with God and with human beings, Jacob was ready to rely fully on God—with the assurance that God was in control of all of the circumstances he was facing?
Reunion with Esau
From the wrestling match at Jabbok with the supernatural being, Jacob was resigned to be at peace with his God. So, he simply went forth confidently with his plan to show proper respect to Esau, and he instructed his family to do the same:
“Then Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids and their children in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. 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, and they wept. He lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and said, ‘Who are these with you?’ So he said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the maids came near with their children, and they bowed down. Leah likewise came near with her children, and they bowed down; and afterward Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed down. And he said, ‘What do you mean by all this company which I have met?’ And he said, ‘To find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own.’ Jacob said, ‘No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably. Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me and because I have plenty.’ Thus he urged him and he took it. Then Esau said, ‘Let us take our journey and go, and I will go before you.’ But he said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die. 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.’ So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 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. 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 33:1-20).
By the time our Torah reading describes the meeting of Jacob with Esau, it is not explicitly clear what had changed the disposition of Esau toward his brother Jacob. Was it possibly the statements of the messengers bearing the gifts of livestock that softened Esau’s heart toward his brother? Was it finally greeting his brother, as they convened and took note of all of the wives and children that were an immediate part of Jacob’s entourage? Or, could it possibly have been the twenty-year interval where Esau had been blessed by a bevy of children himself (cf. Genesis 36)? Perhaps God had answered Jacob’s prayers for peace with his brother Esau?
Needless to say, Jacob was greeted a bit generously, and with what appeared to be a willingness for the two to learn how to live together in the same region. Esau seemed a bit overwhelmed by all of the news about his brother Jacob, and stated that he was already blessed and not in need of the bevy of livestock offered to Esau by Jacob. But after Jacob insisted, Esau accepted the gifts, and even offered to have the two families live together in the region around Seir.
Seir was south of where they were meeting, and east of the Jordan River. This was not the principal land promised to Abraham and Isaac, and so the newly renamed Israel insisted that his brother go on ahead, and he would follow in due time. But rather than heading south to follow Esau, Jacob instead headed west across the Jordan and toward Shechem, to retrace some of the same path he had taken twenty years earlier. In fact, as the text indicates, when Jacob and his family arrived back in the Shechem area, he actually purchased a piece of land from the Shechemites in order to settle down. He erected an altar there, naming the place El Elohe Israel.
The transformation of Jacob, into a man of faith, seems to have been completed. Not only has Jacob navigated a potentially disastrous confrontation with Esau, but now he was free to move back into the Land of Promise without fear of retribution. In an action that clearly indicated a sincere desire to fulfill his promise to the God of his fathers, Jacob actually erected an altar to worship God and names the place, “God, God of Israel.” Jacob was not only confident that God was with him as he overcame the fear of encountering Esau, but he was so moved by his return, that in a move to publically declare who he was serving—he built and dedicated an altar to his God. Jacob seemed to have transformed considerably in his trust and faith in the Almighty. But as is true with all who seek to serve God, the trials of life remain…
Israel’s Troubles in Shechem
While parents are not directly responsible for the actions of their children, they can be indirectly held accountable, whether they want to be or not. In the case of Jacob/Israel, he faced a significant trial as his children got involved with the Hivite population in the area where Jacob had initially decided to settle. Jacob’s daughter Dinah got sexually entrapped with Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, with some unintended consequences. The possibility of Israel’s family being absorbed into the local population was a problem that this incident and the subsequent actions brought to light:
“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. 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.’ 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 34:1-17).
A number of thoughts come to mind as one reads the account of the tragedies that would take place in and around the Shechem area. Jacob did not want his company intermingling with Esau’s company down south in the Seir area. Yet, with ten sons, a daughter, and attendant servants—how was Jacob/Israel going to avoid being absorbed by the more abundant indigenous population, even if he was wealthy based on the size of his livestock herds? So to make some distinctions, Jacob purchased some land and erected an altar to declare his allegiance to the God of Abraham and Isaac.
But the Hivites worshipped other gods, which was going to be a significant problem, especially if any intermarrying did take place. When Dinah got involved with Shechem, the relationship caused a challenge not only for Jacob—who remained silent without taking any immediate action—but also his sons, Simeon and Levi, who became very involved when they heard about the violation of their sister Dinah. In fact, the lack of response from Jacob is concerning, despite the fact that his presence when confronted by Hamor and Shechem is noted. But instead of responding to their pleas for Dinah’s hand in marriage, Jacob said nothing as Simeon and Levi interjected their concern over a marriage to an uncircumcised person. After all, a part of Israel’s walk of faith included circumcision of infant boys (Genesis 17:11-25). Apparently, after Abraham and Isaac were circumcised, the practice was continued with Esau and Jacob. Then the practice must have continued with the sons of Jacob, as they used this rite as the stated reason to stop the marriage of Dinah with Shechem. But there was a hidden motivation of vengeance to convince the Hivites to circumcise their men:
“Now their words seemed reasonable to Hamor and Shechem, Hamor’s son. The young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was more respected than all the household of his father. So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, ‘These men are friendly with us; therefore let them live in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters in marriage, and give our daughters to them. Only on this condition will the men consent to us to live with us, to become one people: that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock and their property and all their animals be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will live with us.’ All who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and to his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city. 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. 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 34:18-31).
Simeon and Levi had decided that they were going to avenge the humiliating treatment of their sister, and prevent the potential merger of the families. After three days, when the pain of the circumcision was great, the young men struck not only Hamor and his son Shechem, but massacred all of the men of Shechem! When their brothers discovered the action, they did not hesitate to plunder the city and ravage the inhabitants. What an horrific display of revenge by these young sons of Jacob.
Jacob’s silence is almost deafening. There is no recorded statement in the Biblical record that Jacob tried to stop the actions of his sons. It was only after the massacre had taken place that Jacob finally spoke to Simeon and Levi, with some serious concern about the ramifications of their vengeful acts. Jacob was mindful that the neighboring Canaanites and Perizzites would take great offense over the murder of their regional neighbors, and take up arms against the greatly outnumbered group of servants that were a part of Jacob’s entourage. Naturally, Jacob was extremely concerned about the survival of his family, and reprimanded Simeon and Levi accordingly. It was not until years later when Jacob/Israel bestowed blessings on his children, that we discover that there were definite negative consequences for this act of vengeance:
“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” (Genesis 49:5-7).
As you think through this tragedy and the consequences of settling near Shechem, is it possible that Jacob stopped in his return to Canaan a little prematurely, without going further south to relocate near the area around Hebron?
The Relocation Continues
Following the tragic events that took place in Shechem, God spoke to Jacob with instructions about his relocation. If you can picture the next move further south of Shechem that they were about to take, you find that Jacob and his entourage were once again on the ridgeline highway, leading south of Shechem through Bethel, where Jacob had his earlier encounter with God during his sojourn east some twenty years prior. God was bringing Jacob “full circle,” to the place where he had anointed a rock with oil (Genesis 28:16-19). It was here that some additional work was needed, in order to eliminate all association with other gods and idol worship:
“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. 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. 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. Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; it was named Allon-bacuth. Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. 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. 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. Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel” (Genesis 35:1-15).
God’s work with Jacob was not yet finished, because some of the people moving with him were still worshipping foreign gods, as indicated by all the items used for false worship. God spoke to Jacob, reminding him of his earlier commitment at Bethel, and told him to rid his entourage of any idolatrous items. After burying the amulets, Jacob returned to the place where he anointed the stone, and this time erected an altar to worship the Holy One, once again recognizing it as Bethel. Then to reaffirm the earlier encounter at Jabbok, when he was renamed Israel—the Lord not only restated the name, but also reminded Jacob about the blessings of Abraham and Isaac that Jacob/Israel had received. By this time in the life of Jacob/Israel, one would think that he was getting the message from God very loud and clear. But the vagaries of life continued, as the sojourn continued south toward the Hebron area. God is never finished with testing His chosen vessels until they die.
Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel was pregnant during the journey south, and she went into Jacob around Ephrath (Genesis 35:16-17). During the birth of her second son, she died and was buried (Genesis 35:18-20). The loss of Rachel must have saddened Jacob greatly, but rather than allowing Rachel’s dying name of Ben-oni (son of my sorrow) to remain, Jacob instead named his youngest son Benjamin (son of my right hand). The patriarch erected a memorial pillar at her burial site, and then settled in the area near the tower of Eder (Genesis 35:21). But Jacob/Israel’s troubles with rebellious children continued. In an act of disrespect toward his father, Jacob’s eldest son Reuben has sexual relations with Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). This ultimately resulted in Reuben forfeiting his birthright privileges, as noted in Jacob’s blessings uttered at his deathbed years later:
“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’” (Genesis 49:3-4).
A Wrestling Faith
While our parashah actually concludes with an extensive listing of the descendants of Esau (Genesis 36), the extended journey of Jacob comes to a close with him finally arriving in the Hebron area to bury his aged father Isaac:
“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).
It is difficult to specifically determine any additional moves that Jacob/Israel made during the remaining days of his sojourn in Canaan, but it is interesting to note that when his father Isaac died, there must have been at least a semblance of peaceful interactions with his brother Esau—or they probably would not have been able to come together for the burial of their father.
It is reasonable to conclude that Jacob struggled with the God of his fathers for most of his life. Even though there were considerable moments of revelation and experience—both direct and indirect with the Holy One—Jacob had to constantly contend with the challenges of life that are an example to all who study his life. God had obviously chosen him from the womb to receive the blessings of Abraham and Isaac, but just like every person born, his life journey was unique. Despite growing up in a family dedicated to the Holy One, Jacob had to personally learn how to trust in the Lord himself. Is this not the case for everyone who seeks the Lord?
As you think back and contemplate the sojournings of Jacob, perhaps you can identify with some of his trials. Maybe you grew up in a home where a relationship with God was modeled to you by your parents or relatives. As a result, you may struggle with your own personal relationship, because your interactions with God may not be as profound as those relayed to you by others. On the other hand, you might be the first one in your family to truly seek God, and have an assurance that He is truly the One who brings you salvation from your sin. Whatever your personal history includes, having some kind of struggles with God along the road of life, are just a part of everyone’s personal journey.
Whether your faith is tested with sibling rivalries, with rebellious children, when others treat you unfairly, when loved ones die, or by any number of life circumstances that come your way—know that God is always there to confide in and lean upon. In fact, the image of wrestling with God or clinging to Him is appropriate, given the desire of God-seekers to hold onto Him through the trials of life. Even the revered Moses used this imagery when he exhorted the Israelites in the desert to not only fear the Lord, but serve Him and cling to Him:
“You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21).
Surely, if you have sought the Lord and received assurance of your salvation because of belief in the atoning work of the blood of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus), then you have seen or experienced the work of God in your life. Perhaps you have even spent some time wrestling with God as He has tested your faith!
Despite the struggles of life that test our faith, may we all learn to cling to the Holy One as ultimately exemplified by Jacob who wrestled with his faith throughout his life. For our God is indeed the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and by their individual examples—we can learn to cling to the Holy One who promises eternal life through belief in His Son Yeshua, our Redeemer and the Rock of our salvation! (Click to Source)
 J. Barton Payne, “Yisrael, sarah,” in TWOT, 2:883.
Often, well-meaning, Israel-loving people will say to me, “I am Jewish now. I am grafted in.” I never, ever say anything close to, “No, you’re not Jewish.” I focus more on how grateful I am that they love God and pray for the Jewish people. However, it is interesting that the Church went from saying, “You can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus,” to, “All believers are Jewish.”
Which is it? What does the Bible actually say? I will make six statements and then seek to back each one up with Scripture, one blog post at a time:
- Jews who receive Yeshua remain Jews, just as a females remains female or a male remains a male, after coming to faith.
- Gentile simply means a member of the nations. When a member of the nations comes to faith, he does not become Jewish, but continues to be a member of his or her nation.
- However, Jewish and Gentile believers are equal in the sight of God. Jews are neither favored above Gentiles nor discriminated against, in regards to non-Jews.
- Salvation is free, but rewards in the kingdom are based on merit, not ethnicity. Intimacy with God is based on the desire and passion of the individual believer, not whether they are Jew or non-Jew, male or female, etc.
- Jewish and non-Jewish believers make up the One New Man—a mystery that was hidden in times past. Paul calls this the household of God. In this household, the Gentile believers become joint-heirs withJewish believers—without losing their own ethnicity and without replacing the Jewish people.
- Ethnicity is important to God, which is why non-Jewish believers do not become Jews or Israelis (Israelites) after coming to faith. They are called to stand in the gap for their nation.
Blog One: Jewish believers are still Jews
The early believers clearly had zero issues with the idea of being Jewish and believing in the Jewish Messiah. The question with which they wrestled was, “Can a Gentile believe in Jesus, without converting to Judaism?” The apostles, through their lives and teaching, give no hint of leaving Judaism. In fact, rumors were being spread about Paul teaching Jewish believers “to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs” (Acts 21:21). Paul, upon the advice of the Jerusalem apostles, went to the Temple to make a sacrifice so that, “everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.” (Acts 21:24)
Church Fathers turn against Jews
However, the Church Fathers in the second century began to teach that once a Jew comes to faith, he is no longer a Jew. Many were vicious in their accusations against the Jewish people. Peter the Venerable wondered about the humanity of Jews: Truly I doubt whether a Jew can be really human.
Ignatius Bishop of Antioch (98-117A.D.) – Epistle to the Magnesians
For if we are still practicing Judaism, we admit that we have not received God’s favor…it is wrong to talk about Jesus Christ and live like Jews. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.
They lined up to accuse the entire Jewish nation of killing Yeshua (forgetting that He laid down his life by His own free will for them.) Another, Justin Martyr taught that Christians were the true “Israelite race” and that the Hebrew Scriptures now belonged to the church exclusively. He did not believe you could be both Christian and Jewish. He also taught that circumcision was for judgement (as opposed to being there mark of the covenant of Abraham).
The purpose of [circumcision] was that you and only you might suffer the afflictions that are now justly yours; that only your land be desolated, and your cities ruined by fire, that the fruits of you land be eaten by strangers before your very eyes; that not one of you be permitted to enter your city of Jerusalem. (Click to Site)