Torah Portion Vayishlach - Jacob wrestles with Elohim
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Genesis 32:4 (3)-36:43
Vayishlach means “and he sent”.
In 32:22-32 we find that Jacob wrestles with a man. Jacob will soon learn that this man is no ordinary man and the encounter will change his walk both physically and spiritually for the rest of his life.
Jacob makes the statement that he has seen Elohim face to face. He has had an encounter with God in the flesh. This would not have been a new concept to him nor to the Hebrews in the future. In the Aramaic Targums his visitor would have been referred to as "The Memra". If you want an "eye opening" experience of Biblical revelations then study what the Memra is. You can read our article here #memra.
The prophet Hosea declares in 12:4 "yea, he dominated the angel and prevailed; he wept and made supplication unto him; he found him in Bethel, and there he spoke with us; but the LORD is God of the hosts; the LORD is his memorial." (JUB)
The prophet further identifies this mysterious messenger as God in the flesh, the LORD of the hosts, and further declares that the LORD is Jacob's memorial and that he found him in Bethel. What additional insight can we learn from Bethel besides the fact that it was the first time that Jacob had a true encounter with the God of Abraham and Isaac, the God that was to be His God? Click here to read my additional post on this topic, Jacob's Ladder, Have we missed something in this story?
He now finds himself wrestling with Elohim and refuses to give up the fight, which will ultimately cause his hip to go out of joint. I am sure that the pain was real but Jacob prevailed in determination. He will not give up until he gets what he wants from Him. What did he want? A blessing! He did not want riches, he wanted a blessing. Jacob was about to meet his brother Esau and no doubt he feared for his life. In response Jacob gets his blessing in the form of a name change and he also gets a blessing that will change his life forever in the form of his hip being thrown out of socket. Jacob's walk, spiritually and physically, will be changed forever. Ancient Jewish literature records that Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
Jacob means heel catcher but his new name, Israel, means prince with God. It is stated that Jacob is a prince with God and with men and has prevailed. To prevail denotes a struggle. Jacob had been in a struggle with his brother and his father-in-law and truly he would be in a struggle for the rest of his life. Not only would Jacob be in a struggle for the rest of his life but his descendants would be in a struggle for millennial to come.
Jacob's persistence paid off with Elohim. Not only did he receive the blessing that he sought, but Yahweh promises him that he will prevail with man. Jacob's whole life had been a struggle. He had to struggle in the womb with his brother Esau. There are Hebrew teachers who believe that the reason that Jacob had hold of Esau's heel was because he was trying to keep him from crushing his head with his heel. (Going back to the prophecy in Genesis) Likewise, Jacob struggled over his birthright and for his wives. But here, YHVH promises in His blessing of Israel that “he shall prevail”. Just as he held on to God until he received his blessing, Jacob will prevail in all of his struggles with mankind. This blessing flowed right down to his descendants. The Israelites have had to struggle with mankind for survival for centuries. They have been hunted down, pierced through, burned out, sold out, driven out and mocked all over the world. But this promise to Jacob will not fail. HE SHALL PREVAIL! In all of his struggles; Egypt , Babylon, Assyria, Rome and even to this day, they are still “the apple of His eye”. Dispute it if you will, but ISRAEL will PREVAIL!
Christian and Jewish commentators are puzzled by the statement here that his name will be changed but that fact is also stated again a few chapters over in 35:9. This mention is strange because it doesn't even mention the earlier encounter when the name change was mentioned. Why?
Perhaps it could be because the first time Elohim was just letting Jacob know that he was going to have a name change which would solidify his standing with God. You see, the first time that Jacob had his encounter with YHVH in Bethel he made a promise that if He would bring him back to his homeland and keep him safe then He would not only be the God of his fathers but he would be HIS God.
Now, in chapter 35 we find that YHVH calls Jacob once again to go up to Bethel and make an altar. The first time Jacob was fleeing from his brother and was in distress, but this time he was returning after having made peace with his brother and after overcoming all the struggles he faced with Laban. He was returning to the place and now he had to keep a promise made to Elohim. He made his family get rid of their idols before going up to Bethel for the second time, because it is during this second visit to Bethel that YHVH becomes Jacob's God also. He would no longer be just the God of Abraham and Isaac but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, throughout the rest of scripture.
In Genesis 35:3, "And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of distress, and was with me in the way which I went".
Jacob had a vow to keep!
After ridding himself of all idols and making sacrifice to YHVH, Jacob sees the completion of his blessing. In 35:9-10, scripture states that God appeared to Jacob again, and blessed him. And then He changed his name.
A promise fulfilled, but Jacob had a part to play in its completion. He had to put away all idols, make that return trip to Bethel (and my article above makes a whole lot of sense here), and build an altar to the Most High God - His God!