Vayetze (And He Left)
Genesis 28:10–32:3; Hosea 12:13–14:10; John 1:19–51; Matthew 3:13–4:11
“Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran.” (Genesis 28:10)
Last week, in Parasha Toldot, after Rebecca endured 20 childless years, Isaac prayed for her and she conceived. When the children jostled within her, the Lord told her that two nations were in her womb and the elder (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob).
This week’s Parasha is Vayetze (ויצא), which means and he left. It is the seventh reading in the book of Bereisheet (Genesis).
In Parasha Vayetze, Jacob (Yaacov) leaves his parents’ home in Beersheba. But he does not just leave; he runs for his life from his enraged brother, Esau, who is threatening to kill him after his father, Isaac, dies.
Similar to his grandfather, Abraham, who was called to leave his family and familiar surroundings in order to fulfill his destiny, Jacob leaves behind all the comforts of a warm and loving home—the security of all that is familiar to him—in order to fulfill his destiny as the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel.
On his first night, Jacob uses a stone for a pillow and sleeps on the hard ground, likely feeling alone and vulnerable.
But Jacob is neither alone nor truly vulnerable, and it is here that he dreams of a ladder that reaches from earth to heaven, with angels of the most High God ascending and descending on it.
Notice that the angels are first mentioned as ascending the ladder, which can be seen to indicate that they had been accompanying Jacob on his journey.
But this is no mere dream or vision; it is a visitation.
At the head of the ladder, overseeing the activities of the angels, Jacob observes God who speaks to him, ensuring that Jacob could not misunderstand the purpose of the event.
God identifies Himself as YHVH (יהוה), the God who entered into covenant with Abraham and Isaac. He confirms the significance of Jacob’s generational line to the original promise and passes the covenantal inheritance to Jacob, including the Land of Israel:
“The land where you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed [descendants].” (Genesis 28:13)
As Bible Believers, we must stand firmly on the solid rock of God’s Word that this special land of Israel belongs to the descendants of Jacob (Israel), the Jewish people, by Divine Covenant.
God’s Word is as true today as it was yesterday, and will be forever.
Jacob’s Ladder: Comfort in Our Loneliest Hours
“The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7)
Jacob’s ladder reveals that there is constant contact between Heaven and earth. It is a picture of the love and faithfulness of God.
The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph (א), looks something like a ladder. It is also the first letter of the Hebrew words Adonai (אדוני), Elohim (אלהים), Abba (אבא) and ahava (אהבה), which means love.
Make no mistake: God is Love. And because of God’s great love for us, He sent Yeshua (Jesus) to earth to be the ladder that bridged the gap between Heaven and Earth, providing the way to our Father.
Jacob’s ladder also reminds us that when we fear the Lord, we can expect God’s continued oversight of our lives and that angels will protect us from evil.
We may not see them, but by faith we can know that even if we are without human friends on a journey, we have unseen angelic beings with us to protect, help and encourage us.
A Vow Made in Gratitude
“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:17)
When Jacob awakes in the morning, he is fully in awe of God.
Before continuing on his journey, he takes the stone he used as a pillow and erects it as a pillar. He then pours oil on it, renaming the place Bethel (House of God).
He shows his sincere faith and gratitude for God’s presence and provision, vowing to give God a tenth of all that He will bestow on him.
“If [since] God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will give You a tenth.” (Genesis 28:20–22)
Returning to the Promised Land
“Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you.” (Genesis 30:25–26)
Fully confident that God is with him, Jacob continues on his journey to Paddan Aram, where he finds employment with his uncle Laban, and marries his daughters, Leah and Rachel.
Many years later, when Jacob finally desires to return to Canaan with his wives and children, his father-in-law, Laban, admits that he has been blessed financially for Jacob’s sake.
Laban, therefore, is in no hurry to let him leave.
Since Laban has grown wealthy through Jacob’s efforts, he promises now to pay him, and they come to an arrangement through which Jacob can keep the sheep and goats that are dark, streaked, speckled or spotted.
Through this arrangement, Jacob grows wealthy and comes to possess the strongest of the flocks, so Laban and his sons resent him.
Though Jacob now has a deep distrust of his father-in-law, who is constantly trying to cheat him, Jacob fully trusts in the Lord.
God has prospered him despite Laban’s efforts to rework any deal he has made with Jacob in order to increase at Jacob’s expense.
When the attitude of Laban changes toward Jacob, God tells him: “Return to the land of your fathers … and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3)
In obedience, Jacob packs up his family and all his possessions and leaves Laban without saying goodbye. He has faithfully served Laban for 20 years.
Laban pursues him, intent, it seems, to do him harm; however, God appears to him in a dream telling him to be careful what he says to Jacob.
When he finally catches up to Jacob, Jacob explains his sly departure: “Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac, had been on my side, surely you would have sent me away empty.” (Genesis 31:42)
Jacob knows that having God on his side has made all the difference—and we can know that, too.
When someone tries to cheat or mistreat us, or when someone does us harm over and over again, we can boldly declare, “If God be for me, who can be against me!” (Romans 8:31)
God in us is greater than any force that would try to come against us; therefore, we can live with strength and courage because having God on our side makes all the difference.
We can fully entrust ourselves into the hands of the One who is completely righteous and just. God will protect and defend us.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
Marriage As a Metaphor of God’s Love and Commitment
“Jacob fled to the country of Aram; Israel served to get a wife, and to pay for her he tended sheep.” (Hosea 12:13—according to Hebrew Bible, 12:12 otherwise)
For Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of France, Germany, and Eastern Europe and their descendants), the Haftarah portion of Vayetze begins with the mention of Jacob tending sheep in Aram for the love of a woman. (Hosea 12:12–14:10)
The Haftarah for Sephardi Jews (Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants) ends with that same verse. (Hosea 11:7–12:12)
The book of Hosea uses marriage as a metaphor to describe Israel’s relationship to God.
Jacob searched for that right person with whom he would establish a sacred marital bond. God also seeks those whose heart will be loyal and steadfast to Him.
Just as Jacob labored over sheep for the love of Rachel, God has labored for the love of the Jewish People. And just as Jacob brought his beloved bride to the Promised Land, God also brought Israel to the Promised Land through His prophet Moses.
Hosea prophesied the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Kingdom of Samaria), headed by Ephraim, at the hands of Assyria in the 8th century.
When the United Kingdom of Israel split after the death of Solomon, Jeroboam (c. 922–901 BC) did not want the 10 tribes under him to have religious ties to Jerusalem, the capital city of the rival Kingdom of Judah.
As an alternative, he built two places of worship, one at Bethel, where Jacob saw the ladder and the angels, and one in northern Dan.
Separated from the Temple system of worship that God had ordained, cult worship of Baal finally became an acceptable religion of the kingdom about 42 years later during the rule of Ahab (c. 869–850 BC).
The prophet Hosea confronts Ephraim’s moral decline into idolatry, including its trust in its own wealth and prosperity.
We must be very careful that we don’t set our hearts on riches when God blesses us with them, but keep God first place in our lives.
“If riches increase, set not your heart upon them…” (Psalm 62:10)
When God chooses to prosper us financially, we should remember to trust Him and not our financial resources.
“Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount warhorses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in You the fatherless find compassion.” (Hosea 14:3)
Even after the pronouncement of judgment, God implores Israel to return to Him.
That is the Hebrew meaning of the word for repentance—teshuvah—which means to turn away from sin and return to God.
It is derived from the root word shuv (שוב), which means to return.
“Return [shuv], Israel, to the LORD your God. Your sins have been your downfall!” (Hosea 14:1)
The Great Physician promised Israel that He will heal their backsliding and love them freely, despite their sins against Him.
“I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them.” (Hosea 14:4)
The prophet Hosea leaves no doubt about God’s love for Israel.