Grafted In, Part 2
“And they that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee: for Thou, O Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee.”
Not too much is said about Isaac. The greatest moment in his life was on that altar (Genesis 22). It took great trust in God and his father Avraham to let himself be bound as a sacrifice on that altar. Isaac, (Yis’chak), was well aware of his miraculous birth and the promises that were going to be handed down to him one day. To this day, it is customary for the Jewish father to pass down traditions and beliefs to the next generation. It is also customary for the father to bless the children, and we see Avraham doing this, but not before he does his parental duty in finding Isaac a wife. Her name is Rebekah. Rebekah also has the same experience that Avraham had: she is asked to leave her homeland and her father’s house and go to a land that she was not familiar with. since the future of the covenant would come through Rebekah, her faith also would have to be tested. She agrees to go, and once again, we see this custom of blessing in Genesis 24:60, “And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, Become thousands of ten thousands, and may your descendants possess The gate of those who hate them.” We see Yis’chak returning from Beer-lahai-roi where he would later settle (Genesis 24:62). It was probably part of an oasis to which sheep-breeders would come for water and pasturage. It says that Yis’chak was out walking when he looked up and saw the caravan coming (verse 63). The Hebrew word here rendered as “out walking,” la-suach, is not clear in its meaning. The present rendering is based on the Arabic saha, meaning “to take a stroll.” Another tradition has Isaac chatting with his friends, a translation derived from the Hebrew siah, meaning “to talk.” This word siah can alternatively be translated as “a shrub,” which has led some to place him as strolling among bushes. The most popular rabbinic understanding has him praying or meditating. Whatever he was doing, he was going to meet Rebekah. Genesis 24;67 tells us, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; so Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” The act of taking Rebekah into his mother’s tent symbolized that she was the successor to Sarah as the matriarch of the family. Not too much is recorded about the first twenty years of their marriage. Issac appears to be just a transition between his father Avraham and his son Ya’akov. This lack of presence in the Scriptures certainly does not diminish his role as a patriarch and a pillar of the church. The scriptures tell us that Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah. She too was barren of children. This may have taken place to show that like his father, Isaac was a man of prayer and that God was a God who answers—and He did answer. Rebekah finds herself having much difficulty in her pregnancy, so she inquires of the Lord as to the problem going on inside of her (Genesis 25:22). Interestingly, Isaac and Rebekah lived in Beer-lahai-roi at the time; this was the same place that Hagar had her encounter with God when He revealed to her about her son. It’s here that Rebekah is told that she is having twins and that her younger son will receive the birthright. And so twins were born to Isaac. We will discuss these two boys later.
Genesis 26 starts by saying, “There was a famine in the land….” Here comes another test for Isaac His first impulse is to go to Gerar and then to Egypt, just as his father had done before him, but God intervenes and tells him not to go. God re-establishes His covenant now with Isaac, but only if he stays in the land. This meant to Isaac that he would have to trust God for food for his family as well as for his livestock. Could God still prosper him in times of famine? “Yes” Isaac travels in the region of Gerar during the time of the famine. Just like his father, he lies about his wife, calling her his sister; the similarities are so great between Avraham and his son. Both had to learn that honesty is the best policy. Isaac prospered and became very wealthy, but God kept him on course by allowing him to encounter many difficulties with the people of the region mainly over wells. Even though Isaac was asked to leave the region of Gerar, the king himself comes to see Isaac to make a treaty on behalf of the people. With Isaac’s wealth and fame, and being the son of Avraham (who was a powerful and well known man in these parts, and whose wells they were disputing over), the King of Gerar wanted to be sure that his kingdom was safe and that this powerful man would not retaliate against them in the future. So he comes to Isaac and makes a treaty with him, an alah; this is a curse which accompanies a treaty sealed by an oath. The men sit down to eat, which is the custom when making a treaty, and they both exchange oaths and the curses that go along with this treaty if either one should violate it. Isaac now moves to Beer-sheba, which is where Avraham settled after the episode with the binding of Isaac, where God visits him again and reaffirms the covenant one more time. As is the custom of his father, he builds an altar and calls out upon the name of the Lord. Finally, God blesses Isaac’s servants with a well that was not fought over, and he names the well Shibah. Isaac is walking in the covenant, a wealthy prominent person like his father Avraham, trusting God and living out the promises one at a time.
Three worldviews of Isaac
Judaism: 37 years old at binding
- Dedicated as a sacrifice and so could not leave the God-given land
- Oldest to live of all 3 patriarchs
- Name was never changed
- Blind in old age due to the tears of the angels at his binding falling in his eyes
Christianity: Isaac a type of Messiah
- Church stands on both the Son of Promise and father of the faithful
- Isaac = Liberty, Ishmael = Slavery
- Islam: Prophet of Islam
- Described as father of the Israelites and a righteous servant of God
- Isaac, along with Ishmael, important for Muslims for continuing to preach the message of monotheism after their father Abraham.
- Isaac‘s name is mentioned 15 times in Qur’an. the Qur’an states that Abraham received “good tidings” of Isaac, a prophet of righteousness, and God blessed them both.
- This is where we will leave Isaac and now concentrate on his two sons. The Scriptures say, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever” (Psalm 52:8). It is this olive tree that we are grafted into.
This is our heritage of trust.
Yis’chak: the Pillar of Trust
“And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Jacob was one of the twins born to Isaac and Rebekah. The name is derived from the Hebrew word akev, which means “heel.” This was very prophetic in fulfilling the prophecy of Genesis chapter three, which was the first Messianic prophecy. We now find out who “the heel” is that Satan would bruise. Jacob, “the heel,” would later become Israel. We see that the people of “the heel” were called to bring light to the darkness (which is contrary to the kingdom of Satan) and would suffer, and of course the Messiah Himself would come from “the heel” and would suffer. His Hebrew name, Ya’akov, stems from the Semitic root -k-v, meaning “to protect.” Shortened from Ya’akov-El, “May El protect,” the name Ya’akov is a prayer for protection for this newborn babe, and we see that this has been the prayer throughout the history of this people.
Jacob is a quiet man, quite the opposite from his twin Esau, but right from birth he knew what he wanted. Holding on to his brother’s heel at birth gained him the name “the supplanter” (Hosea 12:3). Did Jacob know from birth his destiny, or was he really a supplanter? If you recall, his mother was told the future of this child before he was born (Genesis 25:23). The struggle for seniority and favor carried into their adult lives. Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob. Scripture tells us that God also favored Jacob over Esau as Romans 9:11-13 tells us, “For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”
Just as it is written: “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” .
This brings us to the selling of the birthright (Genesis 25:29-34). The birthright belonged to the firstborn. The firstborn son, along with the firstfruits of the soil and the male firstling of the herd and flock, belonged to the Lord. The firstborn son had responsibilities and obligations to the family and to his father. He was second-in-command in the family circle, so he also had rights and privileges that the others did not have. He would receive the greater blessing from the father and receive a bigger portion of the inheritance (a double portion of the inheritance for the firstborn is documented at Mari and Nuzi in the Middle Assyrian laws and in biblical law, as Deuteronomy 21:17 says, “On the contrary, he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved wife, by giving him a double portion of everything that he owns, for he was the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.”
According to ancient Near Eastern documents, the father had the right to disregard the birth order in determining his heirs. In Genesis 49:3-4, 1 Chronicles 5:1, and Genesis 48:17-19 we see this to be true. We also see examples of this in documents from Nuzi, Alalakh, and Ugarit. An heir was also able to barter away his future inheritance. This transfer of inheritance rights is illustrated in a Nuzi tablet that records how a man parted with his future inheritance in return for three sheep received immediately from his brother. So we see Esau selling his birthright for some stew. We must note that Esau was well aware of the covenant blessings that would have been passed down to him; maybe he was not interested in the spiritual issues which allowed him to so easily give up his birthright. This could be why God favored Ya’akov over his brother.
The following is a sad example of what family life is like when we fail to communicate with one another. Isaac and Rebekah will take their favoritism to the grave. It is now time to give the parting blessings, and Isaac is determined to give his blessing to his elder son, but Rebekah knows that God has promised it to Jacob; so their failure to communicate creates a deception that each one of them will have to live with for the rest of their lives. Isaac asked Esau to prepare them a meal. This was closely connected with the act of imparting this final blessing. It was part of the ritual. Issac’s loss of vision was not only physical, but in this case spiritual as well. Rebekah and Jacob manage to trick Isaac into imparting the blessing to him and not to Esau. Isaac begins his blessing by saying, “May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth”
(Genesis 27:28). He blessed his son with nothing but the best of God. He blesses the fruit of the land and he blesses Jacob with political and military power and authority. He adds from the original covenant, “Cursed be those who curse you and blessed be those who bless you.” But to Isaac and Esau’s amazement, they find out that they have been had. Once a blessing is given, there is no taking it back. In verse 36, Esau resorts to bitter sarcasm that expresses itself in wordplay. He reinterprets the name Jacob, “to supplant,” and he makes a pun on the words bekhorah, “birthright,” and berakha, “blessing.” In using his father’s word laqach, “took away,” he uses the Hebrew stem l-k-h, which can mean “to take away,” or “to purchase.” He was actually saying that he sold his birthright, which apparently Isaac did not know. The lack of faith on the part of Rebekah and Jacob will now set up a lesson in faith for Jacob’s life. He flees for his life and never again sees his mother; but before he goes, Isaac confirms Jacob’s title to the birthright and he is recognized as the true heir to the Avrahamic Covenant. Unlike his brother, Jacob must not marry outside of the family. He travels to Paddan-aram, to his uncle’s house. During his travels, his journey of faith begins. His travels bring him to an unknown place where he spends the night. The Hebrew word used is makom, which is frequently used to insinuate a sacred site. While Ya’akov is sleeping, he receives a dream, a revelation. It was customary throughout the ancient world for someone to sleep in the area of a sacred temple in order to induce a deity to reveal its will, so the writer makes it clear that Ya’akov was not familiar with this place
Genesis 28:10-12 tells us, .”Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”
The Hebrew pronoun for “it” is identical to the pronoun for “him.” Therefore Genesis 28:12 could read, “And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on him. And behold the Lord stood above him.” Just as Abraham saw a glimpse of the Messiah in his life, Jacob now gets a glimpse of the Messiah when he sees the ladder with angels descending and ascending on it. Yeshua interprets the pronoun in Genesis 28:12 in the same way as He applies it to Himself when He says, “Truly I say to you, you will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
So where do we see Yeshua ascending and descending?
1 Peter 3:18-20
1 Timothy 3:16
Will descend again
Heaven opened up
God now comes on the scene of Jacob’s life. In his dream, he sees a stairway of ascending and descending angels. The Hebrew word sullam in this passage is rendered here as “stairway;” this is unique to the Bible. It may be derived from the stem s-l-l, “to cast up a mound,” or maybe it’s connected with the Akkadian word simmiltu, “steps.” Sullam could therefore be a ladder or a stairway ramp. The inspirational stimulus for the image seems to be a ladder of ascent to heaven known from Egyptian and Hittite sources in which both divinities and the souls of the dead are provided with ladders to enable them to ascend from the netherworld to the abodes of men and the gods. Another explanation lies in the Babylonian ziggurat, the temple tower familiar from the Tower of Babel story. God reveals Himself to Jacob by using His divine name YHVH to distinguish Himself from the pagan gods who were called El. Here God confirms Jacob as the third patriarch and the heir to the Avrahamic covenant. Once again, God gives His word that “the heel” Jacob and his descendants would be the recipients of the land on which he was sleeping. Amazed that God would still have anything to do with him, he names the place Bethel. He takes the stone he was sleeping on and erects a pillar. Pillars (matzevah) would be set up to honor different gods, and the Torah makes it clear that this is idolatry; however, there were some pillars that were set up which were not idols, such as for burial markers or as a memorial to witness an occasion. Here we see him setting up the pillar as a witness to the dream and God’s promises to him. He pours oil over it to dedicate it and makes it a sacred place by naming it. The symbolic act of anointing with oil was used in the ancient Near East when making treaties or business deals. We see Jacob making a vow as if this were the case between him and God. An eighth century BCE Aramaic treaty inscription from As-Safira in Syria terms each upright stone on which a treaty is inscribed a ntsh. This is the Aramaic cognate of the Hebrew word matzevah, both words being derived from the same stem n-ts-v. That Syrian text designates these identical stones as bty-lhy, “abodes of the gods,” when they serve as witnesses to the treaty.
It’s clear that matzevah is the generic term for an upright stone slab, irrespective of its function; beit Elohim, “God’s abode,” is a specific subcategory of the matzevah. It is so called because it symbolizes the divine presence that monitors the fulfillment or infraction of the terms of a treaty or vow. That the expression beit Elohim/El in this special, technical sense once had a far wider currency is proved by the fact that it found its way into Greek usage. Hellenistic writers mention “bethels,” baituloi, as certain sacred stones supposedly possessed by divine or demonic powers. Exodus 23:24 says, “You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their memorial stones in pieces.” There is plenty of evidence for a pagan god who would either have been believed to be the deified sacred stone or the watchful divinity thought to reside in the stone of testimony. Of course, in the mouth of Jacob the term beit’ Elohim means that the stone is a testimony to the Divine Presence.
It goes on to say that he gave a tithe. The institution of tithe-giving to temples and to royalty is well-attested throughout the ancient Near East. Avraham had earlier paid a tithe of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem. Ya’akov vows to pay a tithe to God for all of his future blessings. At this point, it is not known who Ya’akov will give this tithe to.
After this memorable experience, Jacob continues his journey. The literal translation is, “He lifted up his feet,” a phrase found nowhere else. Most likely it means that the going was now easier. Jacob comes upon a well, the same well that Avraham’s servant came upon; but the servant came with riches and a caravan, while Jacob was poor and all alone, the reason being that he could not receive from his father’s inheritance until he died. It was unheard of for a child to ask for his inheritance before his father died; this would have been disgraceful, as we see in the parable of the prodigal son. Jewish people love a good story, so should Yeshua have been any different? It wasn’t anything new or different that Yeshua spoke in parables. Rabbis in His day taught in this manner. In fact, the parables that Yeshua told were very common parables in that day, but Yeshua put a new twist to His stories. His had eternal meanings, and the endings were not always the way people thought they should end. Yeshua was a master storyteller, and He always held His audience’s attention; He always got a response. Let’s look at one parable in particular; we call it “The Prodigal Son.” It should be called “The Compassionate Father and His Two Lost Sons.” This age-old parable has been the topic of many sermons, but let’s place this story in its proper setting.
To get the true impact, we must look through Jewish eyes and hear through Jewish ears. These are the eyes and ears that heard it first. The Pharisees and scribes have just been complaining that Yeshua was eating with sinners, so Yeshua tells them a story.
He said, “A certain man had two sons. And the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my portion of my inheritance.’” In the Middle East, this statement would have been a great insult to the father. This was not heard of. No one in that culture would have ever said this to their father. It was like saying, “Father, I want you dead,” or as we would say, “Drop dead!” This would have brought great sorrow to this family. Because of their community living style, he would have been cut off from the community. We here in the west do not understand the impact of this request. But don’t run to the next line yet! You see, according to the traditions of the Middle East, the older son should have stepped in and dealt with his younger brother. This was his obligation to the family as the elder brother, but he remained silent. By now, Yeshua’ listeners are shocked. They can’t believe what they just heard. They thought for sure that this father was going to disown his son! Well, this story only gets worse. The father willingly divides the inheritance with a double portion going to the elder son. According to Jewish law, if a father wants to give his children their inheritance before he dies (an act that he would have initiated), they could not sell that property until he dies so that he could still make a living from it. The younger son in the parable did not even give his father that security!
Yeshua tells a parable in Matthew 21:28-32 about two other sons who were asked to work the vineyard. One said, “Yes,” but then didn’t go, while the other said, “No,” and later did go. It showed that it is never too late to make the right decision, and so could have these two sons, but their relationships with each other and their father were not good. The younger son leaves and goes far away from his family—so far away that now he is in a land that does not live like he lives: he is in a pagan land. “This son is not even living like a Jew! He is slopping pigs!” I can hear the crowd gasp as they heard Yeshua say it. Now, a great famine has brought him to poverty and even starvation. These pods that the pigs were eating were carob pods. These were identified as the food of the poor.
In Isaiah 1:20, the writer uses a play on words: chereb, which is a sword and charob, the food for the poor. Like Israel in the book of Isaiah, the poverty caused the son to repent. The saying, “When poverty causes the people to eat carob pods, then they seek God in repentance,” was a popular saying at the time of Yeshua. This is exactly what the boy did. He came to his senses. He repents due to his circumstances but not from his heart. The son now reveals his heart: “I will return to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned and am not worthy to be your son. Make me one of your hired servants.’” A hired hand was one who received pay, unlike a bondservant who did not. So this son devised a plan where he thought he could work for his father and receive pay but not be part of the family. He still thought of his father as a banker rather than a father.
There were several parables during Yeshua’ time that dealt with wayward sons and fathers calling their sons to come back home. Here are just a few titles: “The Compassionate Father and His Runaway Son,” “The Compassionate Father and His Lost Son,” and “The Compassionate Father and His Obstinate Son.” So we see that the audience was well-acquainted with what Yeshua was telling them. But in Yeshua’ parable, the Father does not try to convince the child to return; He just patiently waits for him. Now is the time for the father to make it right—yes, the father. In the Middle East, this son would have been cut off from the community. He would no longer have been accepted or allowed to live among them. So the father sees him in the distance far from the village and he runs out to him. First the younger son humiliates the father with his request; then the older son humiliates the father by not being the mediator for the family; finally, the father humiliates himself in the community by running out to the son. It was disgraceful for an elder person to run, but this father put aside his pride to accept his son back. This story is so full of tradition and customs that the crowd was on a roller coaster of emotions. They could not believe that this man would have accepted this boy back, and as a son, nonetheless. The younger son begins his speech, but he stops short of asking to be a servant because he truly repents when he sees his father’s actions toward him. The Rabbis believed that if you took the first step in repentance by making an opening as small as an eye of a needle that God would make the opening so wide that wagons full of soldiers and siege battlements could go through it. God is that loving. When people reject a relationship with their Creator, they, like the younger son, are saying to God, “Drop dead!” They want to travel to a faraway country and live their lives as if God did not exist. God, like this father, patiently waits for your return, always looking to see if you will take that first step toward repentance. Then He can run out to welcome you by putting on you His robe of Salvation, His ring which is the sign of the covenant, and shoes on your feet symbolizing that you are an heir and not a slave. So this father celebrates and calls the whole community together to show them that he has reconciled with his son and that they should accept him back. The father now has his younger son back, but what about the elder son who may not have left physically but left a long time ago in his heart?
The elder son looks at the father as his boss and himself as his father’s servant. He can not see that his father has a great love for him and that he has extended his grace to him all along knowing that he has no regard or respect for him as a father. Yeshua ends His story here. He lets His audience come to the conclusion for themselves.
So let us continue with Jacob. Once at the well, Jacob discovers that he is in the right place at the right time. He meets Rachel, his cousin. He kisses her. This is the only instance in the Bible of a man kissing a woman who is neither his mother nor his wife. Even until today, Orthodox Jews will not even embrace or shake your hand if you are not of their immediate family. Jacob is welcomed by Rachel’s father and even offered a job. Everything was going great for Ya’akov… or was it? God now begins to do His work in Jacob. His love for Rachel has caused him to make the ultimate sacrifice of working for Laban for seven years. The seven year service was in lieu of the “bride-price” known as mohar in Hebrew and terhatum and biblium in Akkadian. The groom would pay the father a set price for the loss of her service and offspring, which will now belong to him. The biblium consisted of a ceremonial marriage gift to the bride’s family. We see this in Genesis 24:53, when Avraham’s servant gave them gifts. Once a woman was betrothed, she had the status of a wife “.And the servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.”
Once the seven years end and the wedding ceremony is over, Jacob finds out what it is like to be deceived. The older sister had rights and privileges, one of which was being married first. What could Jacob say? He begins to see that same lesson that his father and grandfather had to learn: honesty is the best policy. The bridal week was seven days of feasting. This practice still remained during the second temple period, and even until today, many Jews celebrate for one week. It is known as sheva berakhot, named after the seven benedictions which are recited each day over a cup of wine after the festive meal. The perseverance of Ya’akov causes him to sacrifice another seven years for Rachel. God gives Jacob eleven sons and one daughter (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Dinah, and Joseph) during his stay in Haran.
Jacob is now ready to go back to his father’s home. God reassures him that He will be with him. Jacob’s patience and perseverance have paid off. God has blessed him with his family and with flocks and herds. Jacob consults his wives and they pack up and leave without saying goodbye. God was already beginning to prepare Jacob to meet his brother Esau. When Laban learns of their departure, he hurries to catch up with them. With God’s intervention, Laban does not retaliate, but makes a pact with Jacob So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me. (Genesis 31:44)
Let’s take a closer look at cutting a covenant
1. A Standing Stone
A covenant is marked with a monument. First Jacob set up a stone as a sacred standing stone (matzebah) as he had done at Bethel. It functioned as a monument to memorialize the covenant, and it may have served other ritual purposes, like the stone at Bethel.
2. An Altar
A covenant ordinarily requires an altar. Jacob told his relatives to gather stones. They piled them into a heap that functioned as an altar. An ancient Israelite altar consisted of a heap of uncut stones. Laban named the heap Jegar-sahadutha, which apparently means “witness-heap.” Jacob named it Gal’ed which means “witness-heap” in Hebrew. Laban said, “May this heap (gal) be a witness (ed) between you and me.” They set up a pillar and called it mitzpah, which means “watchtower” or “overlook.” Laban said, “May the LORD watch (tzafah) between you and me.” This etiology accounts for two place names in Transjordan: Gilead and Mizpah.
3. Terms and Conditions
A covenant includes terms and conditions binding upon both parties. During the ceremony, both parties formally rehearse the terms. In this case, Jacob and Laban agreed not to pass the witness heap into each other’s land to do one another harm. Laban made Jacob swear not to mistreat his daughters or take any other wives.
4. Invocation of a Deity
A covenant requires a deity to function as a warden, holding both parties responsible to their obligations and punishing them for breach of trust. Laban said, “May the LORD watch between you and me.” He said, “God is a witness between you and me.”
A covenant requires both parties to take an oath. Laban swore by “the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father.” Jacob swore by “the fear of his father Isaac.”
6. A Shared Meal
Jacob offered a sacrifice by cutting it up into pieces, thus we get the term “to cut a covenant.” A covenant ceremony concludes with a meal shared between the covenanting parties. Jacob hosted his kinsmen from Laban’s household. They ate of the sacrifices he had offered. The shared meal represents mutual good will between the two parties.
(We will see in detail later the covenant process at Mt. Sinai.)
Jacob returns to the land of his father just the way he left it: with the presence of angels (Genesis 32:2). He names the place Mahanaim, meaning “the two camps,” for Jacob divided everyone into two camps in preparation for meeting his brother. The location of Mahanaim has not been identified, but it has a history in the life of the Jewish people. It was one of the Levitical cities of refuge. Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, was crowned king there. David fled there when he was fleeing from Absalom, and in Solomon’s day it was a district capital. Even though Ya’akov knows that the angels of God are with him and that God Himself said He would protect him, Jacob was greatly frightened and filled with anxiety over meeting his brother. After he divides his family and flock into two camps, Jacob goes off to be by himself. He, like his father, was a man of prayer. He begins by identifying God with Avraham and Isaac. He reminds God of what He has said over the last twenty years, covering his exile from beginning to end. After establishing the facts with God (which was more for Jacob’s benefit than God’s), he gathers together an overwhelming gift for his brother and sends it ahead in waves so that his brother does not have time to really think about what is happening. Jacob crosses the ford of the Jabbok with his family and all his possessions, getting into position to meet his brother, not knowing how he will react. Again Jacobis left alone. Suddenly, a man appears on the scene, and he begins to wrestle with Ya’akov. Not knowing who he is wrestling with, he continues until daybreak. Finally he realizes that it must be one of those angels that appeared to him at Mahanaim and has been watching over them as they traveled. Jacob, a man of persistence, would not allow the man to leave him until he blessed him. The angel struck him on the hip bone, which caused Jacob to walk with a limp from that time on. The angel asks him his name and then proceeds to change his name to Yisrael. Just as his grandfather had a name change, so did he. Remember, names were significant and had great association with a person’s personality or destiny, so Jacob, who once was a supplanter, will now be Yisrael. The name Yisrael is associated with struggle and triumph in the face of overwhelming odds, but it can also mean “Prince of God.” A variant of the key verb in this passage yakol, meaning “strive,” or possibly “perseverance,” is found in Hosea 12:4, “In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel, and in his vigor he strove with God.” So in essence, Jacob was a man with great perseverance, and though his life was a struggle with many difficulties and problems, he prevailed and was granted victory. He was entitled a prince, a patriarch! This was certainly the highlight of Yisrael’s life. The man/angel could have been the archangel Michael whose name means “who is like God” and who is the defender of Israel. Yisrael names the place Peniel, literally meaning “Face of God.” The idea of seeing God’s face and living obviously goes this far back in time, for God told Moses explicitly that man can not see His face and live. Yisrael knows that he has been with God Himself and He has made a radical change in him. Now Ya’akov/Yisrael is ready to see his brother. Day breaks and Yisrael looks up and here comes Esau. Despite all his fears, Esau embraces his brother and the healing of the past begins. Yisrael, still not sure of his brother’s sincerity, denies his request to travel together, so they part their ways. Yisrael, now back in the land of Canaan, sets up an altar of thanksgiving to God who has brought him back safely. Arriving in Shechem, he purchases a portion of land hoping to settle there with his family. Yisrael, the one who must struggle with difficulties, does so once again as he finds himself with the misfortune that comes to his daughter Dinah Genesis 34:1-2 tells us, “Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. When Shechem, son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force.” Bringing disgrace to this family, her brothers take revenge, despite Shechem’s offer to marry her. Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s full brothers, devise a plan to slaughter all the men of this city. Yisrael, more concerned about his own well-being, addresses the issue with them, but the moral issue of what was done to their sister was more important to the brothers; yet God says, “Vengeance is mine.” On Yisrael’s death bed, he censors Simeon and Levi from his blessing for their acts of violence. Yisrael now leaves for Bethel as God commanded him. Jacob, after twenty years of serving Laban, now leaves with his wives and children and their livestock. This is like a scene from the Exodus. Like Moses leaving Egypt and heading out to return to Mount Sinai, Jacob is headed toward Bethel (the house of God), the place where he had the dream of the angels ascending and descending. This was the place where Jacob vowed to God that if He would protect him and prosper him and bring him back to this place, he would give Him a tenth of all he had. Well, the time had come, and Jacob was having his own exodus; but instead of Pharaoh pursuing him, it was his father-in-law. What Jacob did not know was that Rachel had taken her father’s idols; but what he did know was that they were returning to Bethel, the place he called the house of God. Genesis 35:2-3 tells us that Jacob instructs his household to put aside all foreign gods. He told them to purify themselves and change their garments. We also see this behavior in Exodus 19:10: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments.’” How important was all of this? Like at Mount Sinai, Bethel was a holy place.
Jacob knew that one could not enter into the house of God without renouncing any allegiance to any other god.
In today’s world, we do not think about idolatry, and yet Paul tells us that immorality, evil desires, and greed are all forms of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Basically, idolatry is anything that keeps you from walking in holiness and having an intimate relationship with God. It could be TV, sports, or the internet that keeps a person from prayer and God’s Word.
It’s like 1 John 2:15-16 tells us: “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world.”
Jacob tells his household to purify themselves. Paul tells the Corinthians in
2 Corinthians 7:1, “We must cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit.”
1 John 1:19 tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 Peter 1:22 says that obedience to the truth purifies our souls.
After telling his household to cast off their idols and purify themselves, Jacob tells them to change their garments. The Torah speaks a lot of changing our garments in relationship to purity. This can mean immersion/baptism.
Paul tells us to “lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).
He again tells us to “put on the Lord Yeshua the Messiah and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14).
We are to “lay aside the old self and put on the new, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth”
We are to “lay aside the old self and put on the new” (Colossians 3:9-10),
and we are to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience… and beyond all these things put on love” (Colossians 3:12-14).
How shall we prepare to enter the house of God? We must repent, be purified in Messiah, and change our garments, which is the taking off of the old self and putting on the new. As we know, Rachel did not take Jacob’s advice, and she lied to her father; and as the story goes, Jacob tells Laban, “Let the curse fall on whoever has your idols.” And so the curse fell on her and she died. The wages of sin is death. Let us prepare to go up to the house of the Lord by following not only Jacob’s advice but the Lord in whom we seek. Once again, Yisrael is fleeing the wrath of another. He remembers his vow to God, which he made in Bethel twenty years ago, and tells everyone to rid themselves of any foreign god. We see this same act of purification when the people were going to meet with God at Mt. Sinai.
Exodus 19:10 says, “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes” And when they were going to cross the Jordan into the promised land. “Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5). God does appear to Yisrael and once again blesses him. God also once again renames Ya’akov to Yisrael. He gives the blessing of fertility, nationhood, kingship, and territory. Yisrael is the true heir to the Avrahamic Covenant. Yisrael sets up a pillar and not only pours oil over it, but pours out a libation (Genesis 35:14). The Hebrew nesekh usually means a wine offering and is found nowhere else in Genesis.Yisrael now comes to a most difficult time: saying goodbye to Rachel. She is about to give birth to Israel’s twelfth and final son Benjamin, and in so doing, dies. Rachel, the one who Jacob persevered fourteen long, hard years for, is now dead.
This is where we will leave Yisrael. He is walking in the covenant of his forefathers. Scripture says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3), and “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:5). This was Jacob; the testing of his faith produced a man of character, perseverance, and hope: Yisrael.
This is our heritage to persevere.
Yisrael: the Pillar of Perseverance