Vayishlach (And He Sent)
Genesis 32:3–36:43; Obadiah 1:1–21; John 1:19–2:12
Last week, in Parasha Vayetze, Jacob (Yaacov) fled his home to escape his twin brother Esau’s wrath and went to Charan where his mother’s brother, Laban, lived.
On his way, God appeared to him in a dream in which he saw a ladder that reached from earth to heaven. On the ladder were angels ascending and descending. At its top, overseeing all, was the Lord, who renewed the Abrahamic covenant with Jacob.
In Charan, Jacob worked for 14 years in exchange for his wives Leah and Rachel, Laban’s daughters. He worked another six for his own flocks.
In the end, he managed, with great difficulty, to free himself from an unfair situation in which Laban had changed Jacob’s wages 10 times.
In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob returns to his ancestral home in the Holy Land with his wives, children and possessions after serving his conniving uncle for 20 years.
The title of this week’s Parasha, Vayishlach, comes from its opening verse, “Yaacov sent [vayishlach],” which refers to his sending malachim (messengers) to his brother Esau.
“Jacob sent [Vayishlach Yaacov] messengers [malachim] ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.” (Genesis 32:3)
This Hebrew word malachim can also mean angels, which God sends forth as messengers on earth to do His will.
Over 20 years have passed since the brothers last saw one another.
Before leaving home, Jacob had tricked his blind father into imparting the firstborn’s blessing to him by pretending to be Esau.
Jacob is worried that Esau is still angry about losing his blessing.
And it seems that Jacob is correct.
The messengers that Jacob sent out return to the camp, telling him that Esau is on his way with 400 armed men.
A Winning Strategy
Since Esau seems intent on killing him, Jacob devises a three-pronged strategy of prayer, tact and diplomacy, as well as preparation for war.
Jacob humbly seeks God in prayer and teshuvah (repentance), admitting that he is unworthy of the kindness and faithfulness that God has shown to him by pouring out His blessing of family and wealth.
He also admits he is afraid of his brother, but he asks God to save him, reminding Him of His promises (Genesis 32:9–12):
“But You have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’” (Genesis 32:12)
Jacob then sends a series of gifts to his brother in the form of herds of goats, camels, cows and donkeys.
The herds are placed in the hands of his servants who are provided with a strategic script to speak and sequence for the delivery of the herds that will hopefully disarm Esau’s wrath (Genesis 32:16–20).
Jacob also divides up his family and possessions into two camps to ensure the survival of at least some of them and sends them across the Jabbok River, an eastern tributary of the Jordan River.
“In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, ‘If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.’” (Genesis 32:7–8)
Wrestling with God
Finding himself alone that night, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious man (ish איש) until daybreak.
When the “man” cannot overpower Jacob, He touches the hollow of Jacob’s thigh so that it is strained. The angel asks Jacob to let him go, but Jacob wants something first—a blessing.
“I will not let you go until you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26)
Indeed, this man does bless him and changes his name from Jacob to Yisrael (Israel).
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” (Genesis 32:28)
Through this all-night wrestling match, Jacob comes face to face with the Divine. Because of that, Jacob calls the place Peniel, which means face of God.
“For I have seen God (Elohim) face to face, and My soul is preserved.” (Genesis 32:30)
We can understand from this wrestling match, that some struggles have a supernatural dimension.
And while we may at times wrestle with God and His messengers, more often we wrestle with evil.
The book of Ephesians highlights this concept, telling us to be strong in the Lord’s power since we wrestle evil spiritual forces.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
Coming into Maturity
Jacob’s wrestling match seems to take him full circle from an infant who struggled with his brother for the first time in the womb to a man who struggled for his blessing—first from his father and then from God Himself.
Jacob seems to have even wrestled himself into spiritual maturity.
With his new name comes a new identity—from Jacob, which means heel, supplanter or deceiver, to Israel, which can mean Prince of God or Righteous with God.
It also means He Wrestled with God.
Even today, the Jewish People, the descendants of Jacob, continue to wrestle over the identity of this Divine “man” (ish) who is perhaps a manifestation of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah.
Jacob’s strategy of praying before taking action brought about the desired results and Esau comes to his brother in peace.
This Parasha shows that over the years both Jacob and Esau had matured, and the old walls of recrimination, suspicion and hatred had been broken down. This resulted in at least a degree of reconciliation.
But although they are reconciled, and eventually bury their father in Hebron, they also go their separate ways with Esau settling in Seir (Genesis 36:8; Deuteronomy 2:12), and Jacob in the land of his father, Canaan (Genesis 37:1).
“Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob.” (Genesis 36:6)
Despite this reconciliation, the seeds of hatred seemed to have been deep in Esau, and throughout the centuries, alliances with the Edomites brought about, at best, superficial loyalty.
Hatred always seemed to bubble up within his descendants as violence toward Israel.
An Ancient Hatred
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom.” (Obadiah 1:1)
The prophetic reading for Vayishlach is from the book of Obadiah, which prophecies the restoration of Israel, as well as the judgment and destruction of Edom, the descendants of Esau.
In this very short book—only one chapter—Obadiah pinpoints the reason for Edom’s destruction—violence toward Israel!
“Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever.” (Obadiah 1:10)
That destruction will be so complete, Obadiah says, that there will be no survivors in the house of Esau (Obadiah 1:18).
There is a message here that we should not ignore: when we fail to repent of hatred, resentment and unforgiveness, it can poison or even destroy the next generations.
The prophet Ezekiel also warned that God would destroy Edom for its violence against the children of Israel and desire to possess the Holy Land:
“Because you harbored an ancient hostility and delivered the Israelites over to the sword … I will give you over to bloodshed and it will pursue you. … Because you have said, ‘These two nations and countries will be ours and we will take possession of them,’… You will be desolate, Mount Seir, you and all of Edom.” (Ezekiel 35:5–15)
God makes it completely clear in His word that the Promised Land belongs to the descendants of Jacob and not to the descendants of Esau, even though both were the sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham.
“Jacob will possess his inheritance.” (Obadiah 1:17)
Obadiah’s message is entirely relevant to the world today for Obadiah also warns the nations of judgment concerning Israel:
“The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.” (Obadiah 1:15)
Of course, this law of reciprocity does not only work in the negative—it also brings blessings: the God of Israel has promised to bless those who bless the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Genesis 12:3).
Still, there are those today who make a claim to this land; who say, “This land is ours and we will take possession of it and drive those Jews into the sea.”
Those who make such a boast are boasting against the Almighty God who does not take attacks and threats against Israel lightly.
God will accomplish His purposes in this land of His. Everything that He has promised to His people will be fulfilled.
“On Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy.” (Obadiah 1:17)