The important things to know for today’s portion are
1) Jacob loved Rachel, his second wife, more than Leah, his first wife. Rachel and Leah are sisters.
2) Jacob made a vow to God as he was leaving the Land that if God would keep all of his promises to Abraham and Isaac and return Jacob to the Land of his fathers safely and having prospered while away, then God would be his God too.
3) Esau’s plot was to kill Jacob when he had completed mourning his father’s death and Isaac, their father, is still alive.
Jacob sends angels to Esau
Jacob knew he was going home and knows that his brother Esau may still be angry with him.
I think most people who have left home for any period of time can relate to Jacob’s hesitation. While we are away from home we change and become different people through our experiences and our maturing. We return home, whether to live or just to visit, to people who only knew us in the before, not the after. They don’t know the way we’ve changed and may respond to us the way they did before we left. Sometimes we find ourselves responding as we did before we left because in all of our growing up we might not have dealt with the issues that are brought out when we’re with our family.
Sometimes we find that those in our family haven’t changed the way we have and that can be challenging.
There is debate in the Rabbinic commentaries over whether Jacob sent human emissaries (“angels” are messengers) or actual spiritual angels to his brother Esau to test how he would respond to Jacob’s return. Jacob’s message was this:
To my lord, to Esau, so said your servant Jacob: I have sojourned with Laban and have lingered until now. I have acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks , servants, and maidservants and I am sending to tell my lord to find favor in your eyes.
The angels returned to Jacob with news that they had given his message to Esau and Esau was heading towards him with 400 men.
Jacob became frightened.
Why 400 men?
Was Esau coming to exact revenge on him? Did Esau want to take everything he’d just told him he was bringing back with him? And we are reminded that we are still dealing with Jacob who is looking out for himself because his plan reveals what is most near and dear to his heart.
Jacob’s plan for how to deal with Esau involved dividing up his family and his property and sending them out in waves so that Esau would have several groups to get through before Jacob himself was at risk.
Jacob’s prayer as he divided them was this
God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac; Adonai who said to me, ‘Return to your land and to your relatives and I will do good with you — I have been diminished by all the kindnesses and by all the truth that You have doe Your servant; for with my staff I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps. Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him lest he come and strike me down, mother and children. And You had said, ‘I will surely do good with you ad I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea which is too numerous to count.’
The next day
Jacob stayed the night there and woke the next day to prepare a tribute for his brother to send ahead of him. He sent as tribute:
30 nursing camels with their colts
40 cows and 10 bulls
He sent these off in droves, each with a different servant, and told them to stagger the droves and go ahead of him.
Each servant was told that when he encountered Esau and Esau asked who they belonged to and where they were going they were to say, “Your servant Jacob’s. It is a tribute set to my lord, to Esau, ad behold he himself is behind us.’
Jacob thought if he gave him enough tribute then Esau wouldn’t be as mad when they met and might forgive him.
The servants with the tribute left at intervals throughout the day.
That night he rose and took his wives, handmaidens and eleven sons, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After them he sent over his possessions.
Jacob stayed behind.
That night, while alone, Jacob wrestled with a man until the break of dawn. When the man realized he couldn’t overcome Jacob he struck him and dislocated Jacob’s hip socket. The man told him to let him go for dawn had broken, but Jacob refused to let him go until he blessed him.
The man said to Jacob, “What is your name?”
He replied, “Jacob.”
He said, “No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.”
Then Jacob inquired, and he said, “Divulge, if you please, your name.”
And he said, “Why then do you inquire of my name?” And he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel — ‘For I have see the Divine face to face, yet my life was spared.” The sun rose for him as he passed Penuel and he was limping on his hip.
And then there’s a note in the story that this is why Jews don’t eat the displaced sinew on a hip-socket.
What the what?
Jewish commentary acknowledges that this is one of the cosmic events in Jewish history. But just who is this man that Jacob wrestled with? And why did he acknowledge that he had seen the Divine?
Some Jewish scholars argue that he was fighting with Esau’s Guardian Angel. Some take this a step further and say that because Esau epitomized evil his Guardian Angel was Satan himself.
Christian scholars argue that this man was a pre-incarnate Jesus.
That is a huge difference and a lot of options.
All of these ideas also leave me with a ton of questions.
If the man is Satan then why does Jacob ask for a blessing? And why does he say he has seen the Divine?
If the man is Jesus then why is he worried about the sun coming up? He’s not a vampire who has to stay out of the sun — He is THE SON, the Light of the World.
And why wouldn’t Jesus be able to win in a fight with a mere man?
If the man is Esau’s Guardian Angel then how did he have the right to bless Jacob by changing his name?
I admit this story left me very confused for a very long time.
The High Holy Days
Then I studied the Fall Feasts and Festivals and some very fascinating things began to unravel for me.
As an overview, the Fall Holy Days begin approximately 30 days before Rosh Hashanah, during the month of Elul, when a call goes out daily to, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Yes, this is what John the Baptizer was announcing, and this was no doubt when he was announcing it.
During this time people are encouraged to get right with God and with their fellow humans. Make amends if you have wronged someone, offer forgiveness if they have wronged you. Examine your heart, mind and soul and seek out any darkness that you know you have been harboring and take it to the Lord in earnest prayer and repentance. This is also a time for mikveh — ritual immersion to symbolize being returned to the mother’s womb and cleansed through the waters of life.
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, but it is also a day of Judgment. It is the day that God sets the course of the year for His people. Three books are opened in heaven and they are examined. One is the Book of the Righteous. One is the Book of the Wicked. The third is the Book of the Undecided. These are all people who know God — those who have surrendered to him completely, those who have rejected him completely, and those who have not yet committed to one path or another. The Rabbi’s believe that most Jewish people — people who know God — are in the Book of the Undecided. At the close of Rosh Hashanah the Book of the Righteous and the Book of the Wicked are closed for their judgment has been given for the upcoming year. The Book of the Undecided stays open through the Days of Awe and is closed at the end of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is a day of Judgment for the Jewish Nation and they stand corporately before God and confess their sins as a community, repenting of the wrong they have done over the last year and acknowledging the wrong they will do over the next year, while acknowledging that God is bigger than man and expressing gratitude that He will bring yeshua (salvation) and atonement. At the close of Yom Kippur the Book of the Undecided is closed and their judgment is set for the upcoming year.
Sukkot comes shortly after and is a week long Festival that is used as a remembrance for the Jewish Nation of what it was like for them to live in tents in the Wilderness. It is also the week long sacrifices that are offered by Israel for the Nations — those who don’t know God at all and aren’t expected to.
The Break of Dawn
What does the sunrise have to do with anything in this story?
That question was answered for me when I began to study the words being translated and found that the word used here does speak to the sunrise, but the ancient root word being used also can speak to enlightenment, or the sun coming on in a person’s understanding.
Remember the Vow
When God told Jacob it was time to return to his family and the Land of Canaan he reminded Jacob of the vow he had made.
When Jacob prayed seeking protection when he encountered Esau he reminded God of the vow that he had made.
The vow was made to God of his grandfather Abraham and God of his father Isaac and said that if God protected him and prospered him while he was away from home, and returned him safely to the Land of Canaan, then he would be Jacob’s God too.
A time of personal reckoning
I am putting forth that it was time for Jacob to make good on his vow.
Jacob’s return to the Land of Canaan is begun when God reminds him of his vow and says it’s time to return. Like the call that goes out at the beginning of the month of Elul to, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jacob was reminded of his vow and told it was time that God would be returning him and fulfilling the conditions of the vow. It was time for Jacob to get right with God.
It’s also time to get right with your fellow man and after 20 years of deceiving each other Jacob and Laban were able to make a covenant to keep a respectful distance and leave each other alone Not quite reconciling for deep and intimate friendship, but reconciling nonetheless.
Jacob asks God to help him reconcile with Esau, but before that can happen Jacob needs to reconcile with God.
Who is the man?
I do believe that the man is Yeshua — the Hebrew name for Jesus that is not quite as weighted down with cultural baggage. I believe this because of information given to us in Revelation 5:1-9.
I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are You to take the [fn]book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
There is a lot more to unpack in this passage than fits within the purpose of this post, so let me stick with the relevant details.
In the Throneroom of God the one who was found worthy to open the book was the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has overcome in order to open the book. And the Lion appeared as a Lamb who after being slain sent the Seven Spirits of God out into the world.
The 4 Living Creatures are a reference to the standards of the camps of the Tribes of Israel as they were positioned around the Tabernacle during their time in the Wilderness.
What does any of this have to do with wrestling?
Some people need this story to speak to a physical wrestling. I believe it is speaking to a spiritual wrestling with the One who opens the books at the times of Judgment. I relate to this type of wrestling because it is how I wrestle with God, with ideas, with Truth. I won’t let go until I understand it. And even though it is mental and spiritual it is very physically exhausting. It involves my whole body, mind, soul, and spirit.
So what happened?
As with everything I am putting forth in this story, I am sharing how I have come to understand this story. I believe the text supports it. I believe it fits within the greater context of Scripture. By no means do I think I have it all figured out or do I believe that this understanding renders all others invalid.
What I propose occurred that night is this:
After the call to return to the Land and get right with God and his fellow men, Rosh Hashanah came and Jacob encountered the One who was worthy to open the Books and render Judgment from the Throneroom of God.
When the Book of the Righteous was opened, the One who opened it acknowledged that Abraham and Isaac were listed there, but Jacob was not. In order to fulfill his vow, Jacob needed to make God HIS God. It was time.
Jacob wrestled with this reality, the implications of what it all meant. What would happen to Rachel? How would it impact his family? His future? His children? Was it really important?
At times Jacob was strong in his flesh and refused to give in. This is what prompted the dislocation of the hip-socket. This act produced a more humble walk as he went forward in life. This is also what provoked the man to tell him to stop fighting because he had understanding — he had revelation and knew what he needed to do!
Finally Jacob was willing to surrender, but he insisted on receiving a blessing before he would let go. The man informed him that NOW his name was Israel. He now had the spiritual status to walk in the ways of his fathers and continue the covenant they made with God.
From this point forward in the story of Jacob, when the name Jacob is used it generally references something related to earthly experience and when the name Israel is used it generally references the spiritual status of the man and his descendants.
Jacob moved his name into the Book of the Righteous and then he stopped wrestling.
What happened next?
I will address this in the conclusion of this series tomorrow when we look at the impact this experience had on Jacob and the implications for his meeting with Esau and how that resolves.