Torah Reflection 07
Vayetze (Went out)
Genesis 28:10 to 32:3
Last week we ended with Jacob being sent away, with Isaac’s blessing, to find himself a wife out of his own ‘family’ in Padan Aram. That was the place from which his mother Rebekah had come. Esau, on the other hand, having missed out on the ‘blessing of the firstborn’ from Isaac, in colloquial terms, ‘spat the dummy’, and married a daughter of Ishmael. The gulf between the brothers was widening. Although the main division we see in our modern world is that between Isaac and Ishmael (with their respective family groupings), Esau, it seems, rebelliously joined the Ishmaelite group and is now recognised as the father of the Edomite nation (southern Jordan today).
Isaac and his family had settled just south of Beersheva. Jacob dutifully “went out” on his journey towards Haran, today in southern Turkey, the place where Abram dwelt after leaving Ur of the Chaldeans. It was a distance of just over 1,000 Km. !!! (Imagine walking from Sydney to Brisbane or Melbourne). Jacob lay down to sleep after a long day walking, and he had a dream. There wouldn’t be many who couldn’t relate the story quite well. But there a few observations which some may not be familiar with.
First, there was a ladder between earth and heaven. Angels of God were ascending and descending. Some commentators have seen significance in that order. That they first ascended indicates that their ‘station’ was on earth, presumably doing their allotted task among men. Were they reporting on their activity? Well we don’t know, but the concept is interesting.
Second, the LORD stood at the top of the ladder and addressed Jacob. “I am the LORD God of Abraham (Jacob’s grandfather) and the God of Isaac (his father); The land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants … and in you and your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; For I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”
Third, the content of God’s promise to Jacob is in almost identical terms to that which He had previously spoken to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and to Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5). It is for this reason that our God is frequently referred to as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. They were uniquely privileged to receive the “land promise” directly from God Almighty. And to each of them that promise was extended to their ‘descendants’. Pass it on!!
Fourth, Jacob has gained a bit of a reputation as a ‘tough negotiator’. Not least because of the ‘birthright’ deal he did with his older brother Esau! Some have even labelled him a “bit tricky!” And here again, as we have just noted, God had made an amazing promise to Jacob. In paraphrase “I’ll be with you wherever you go and I’ll bring you back again.” It’s a promise that many christians today hold on to as applicable to themselves. But it was not quite good enough for Jacob!! His response was to add conditions onto God’s promise. Jacob said, again in paraphrase “IF you stay with me, feed me, clothe me, look after me, and bring me back to my father’s house in peace, THEN You can be my God! AND if you do all that, of everything you give me, I’ll give a tenth back to You.”
The rest of our portion shows how God led him directly to the family of Laban, Rebekah’s brother. It begins with meeting some shepherds at the well where the sheep drank water each day. Those shepherds identified Laban’s daughter Rachel (who was a shepherdess) and so it was that Jacob later met Laban, Now, if the comment earlier about Jacob being “a bit tricky” was true, it is also true that in Laban, Jacob met his match! Please read the story to get the message! However, in spite of that, Jacob ended up with two wives, Leah and Rachel, lots of children, who would become leaders of the tribes of Israel, plenty of servants, and a large flock of sheep. But he was twenty years older than when he first met Laban!!!! Although Jacob and Laban parted in strained circumstances, the LORD also ensured that His promise to Jacob (see Genesis 31:24) remained intact.
But now we need to find the message for ourselves today from this fascinating account of Jacob’s twenty year search for his wife.
The first thing I note is that Jacob honoured his parents in undertaking the journey they had instructed him to make. It was not easy, and required patience, persistence, and hardship at times. But in so doing, he was blessed by having a life-changing encounter with the LORD. He met the wife of God’s choosing, and he became the father of the boys who headed the tribes of Israel, ‘the apple of God’s eye’.
The second thing I note is that, although his conditional acceptance of God’s promise seemed to be arrogant and presumptuous, he never-the-less kept his word to the LORD. He never forgot the faithfulness, love, and mercy of God in bringing him through those twenty difficult years.
The third thing I note is that all of us who have had an encounter with God, have received His promise to us, of never leaving us nor forsaking us. That is a priceless promise. BUT it comes with a responsibility. To order our lives in a manner which brings glory to His name. Keeping our part of the arrangement, as did Jacob. The LORD bless you as you seek to honour your covenant with the LORD.