Shabbat Commentary

Friday, December 08, 2006 |  by Michael Schneider
“VA’YISHLAKH – And he sent (messengers)” Genesis 32:4–36:43; Obadiah 1:1-21


This week’s Torah portion begins with Jacob returning to the land of his parents after working for his father-in-law Laban. Upon his return, Jacob meets Esau who 20 years earlier sought to kill him.

Even though Jacob had excess riches, he was lacking one thing: peace with his brother. Once again he attempts to create his own way of avoiding conflict with Esau. He heard that 400 men were escorting Esau and “he was scared” (32:8). He divided the camp into two, using a typical military strategy, so that one camp would survive. This tactic is still used by Israel, the sons of Jacobs, today. This happens when we fear because we do not fully trust the Lord.

Jacob reminded God of his promise (32:10-11, 13): “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother…” he pleads. “But you have said… my descendants will be like sand of the sea…” So why was Jacob standing in great danger? Are these not similar situations believers face?

Jacob tried with all his wealth and riches to flatter his brother. He didn’t know God also had blessed Esau and changed his heart. Jacob sent his wives and children to the back of the camp for safety, but he stood up front all alone. It was when he thought everything was “under control” that he had an encounter with the Lord that night. Jacob wrestled with a Man who said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he [Jacob] said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (32:26).

Every believer needs to have this experience otherwise he will wrestle and struggle all his life. Man needs to let go of his life and allow the Lord to take control. Jacob needed to come to this point so God could rename him “Isra-El,” God will strive (for you). “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed (32:28).”

The deceitful and manipulative characteristics of Jacob turned into the fear of God. He was released from the fear of man and was able to meet his brother through trusting God.

The site was called Peniel, because “he saw God face to face” (panim means face and also refers to internally; 32:30). At the meeting with Esau the term “VaYera” (and he feared; 32:7) changed to “VaYare” (and he saw; 33:1).

In chapter 34, we read about Jacob’s daughter Dinah who was “violated” by Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, who then wanted to marry her (34:9, 21). The brothers of Dinah sought revenge, murdering the sons of Hamor after the men of Hamor had submitted to Jacob’s son’s wishes and were circumcised. They were killed in the pain of their circumcision.

Chapter 35 speaks about the cleansing of all idols influenced by pagan nations surrounding them in Bethel and of the death of Rachel during the birth of her second child, Benjamin. Just as when Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham, so Jacob and Esau buried their father Isaac at Hebron when he died at age 180.

Jacob and Esau, like Abraham and Lot, also had an abundance of flocks and herds, which became so great they needed to go their separate ways. Later we will see that one of Esau’s descendants, Amalek, would become Israel’s arch-enemy (36:12).

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