VAYETZE (And He departed) Gen. 28:10–32:2; Hos. 11:7–14:10; Matt. 3:13–4:11
Jacob had just just received an amazing blessing from his father Isaac that included the words that he would be blessed with “…heaven’s dew and earth’s richness, an abundance of grain and new wine,” and that “…nations would serve and bow down to him and to his descendants. (Gen. 27:28–29).
These words resounding in Jacob’s mind must have been too great a thing to synthesise at once, since it was coupled with the need to flee for his life due to threats from his brother Esau. And so, in accordance with his mother’s instructions he set out to his city of ancestry, Haran alone on a long journey to Mesopotamia, way up in northern Syria where he would stay with his uncle, Laban and find a wife for himself from among his people. His journey was long and arduous, with no creature comforts to lesson the harshness of his travels. Nothing would have made much sense for Jacob. Outwardly, it would appear that he was going backwards away from the land of Canaan promised as an inheritance to his forefathers. How did his current situation align to the blessings he had just received from his father?
God, who knows our deepest needs and innermost thoughts, came to Jacob in a dream that night and it was here that Jacob’s life took a radical turn for the better. “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” (Gen.28:12)
Standing at the top of a ladder that reached into the heavens, with angels going up and down it, God promised Jacob the same inheritance He had given to Abraham and Isaac—the land upon which he lay: “And, behold, the LORD stood beside him, and said: “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in 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.” (Gen.28:14-15)
It is based on these biblical promises that the title deeds given by God to Israel are clear and unambiguous. If you have any argument with it, take it up with God! But, His promise goes far beyond and is based upon His relationship with His people, and therefore the primary issue supersedes even territorial rights.
Jacob went to sleep a troubled man but awoke from his dream filled with a new understanding and relationship with the living God; he called the place Bethel or Beit–El (House of God). Jacob’s transformation had begun!
One puzzling question that many people ponder over is to ask why God chose Jacob?’ Jacob was unlike Noah: righteous and perfect in his generations who walked with God. He was unlike Abraham, who left his land and birthplace in obedience to God’s call and known as the “Friend of God”. Unlike Isaac, he never offered himself up as a sacrifice. Yet, the Jewish people are defined for all time as Jacob’s descendants, the children of Israel.
Why Jacob? It was to demonstrate that his unexpected encounter with God was not based upon anything meritorious, but entirely on grace. He was the person who in the middle of his journey through life received the supreme revelation that “Surely the LORD is in this place-and I did not know it!” God has a habit of choosing the things that the world despises and rejects, to confound them and demonstrate that He can use any person at any time to fulfil His purposes when He chooses. This is the same amazing grace that John Bunyan discovered in his famous hymn.
Sometimes, our deepest spiritual experiences come when we least expect them, when we are closest to despair. It is then that the masks we wear are stripped away and we reach the point of maximum vulnerability. It is then that we find ourselves at a cross-roads where we must make a choice: to throw in the towel or cling desperately to God as though our very lives depended upon it. And in that place of barrenness we will then discover something beyond precious. The Psalmist described it perfectly: “The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps.34:18). “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Ps.51:17) “God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).
Do we have the courage to receive this because so often we find God not only in a beautiful place of inspirational worship or sweet fellowship with others, but also in the midst of a journey, alone at night. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for You are with me.” The most profound spiritual experience is when we discover the supernatural peace of God in the knowledge that we are not alone – when He takes us by the hand and shelters us in His arms of love and embraces us and speaks our name – when He lifts us when we fall, forgives us when we fail, heals our wounds with a kiss of Divine love weeping tears with us as we cling to Him with nothing else left to hold on to. Though others may lose faith in us, and though we may even lose faith in ourselves, God never loses faith in us and He will always remain our Abba Father who boasts before the whole of Heaven about us. He never focuses upon our imperfections and failures but upon our potential as we give Him permission to transform us from glory to glory.
There is a place for a broken heart in our lives, for deep within is buried the light of God that becomes the moment for a new beginning.
We are approaching the season of Hanukah, a time associated with Divine miracles. One of the major themes of Hanukah is light and we are introduced with this in an unlikely sense with this torah portion of ‘Va’etzei’ (‘and he left…’) With just the smallest cooperation on our parts, when we allow God, even a glimmer of light, a crack in the door, He will invade our lives and transform us into His likeness in ways that we dare not even dream about! He makes impossibilities, possibilities, something only He alone can do! From Jacob (‘trickster’) he became Israel (‘Prince of God’ or ‘He wrestled with God and prevailed’). From the status of little more than a pagan and a nobody, God transformed him step-by-step into a Patriarch. From a no-hoper, God gave him a new beginning, a second-chance and used the very same deceitfulness that Jacob employed against others to rebound upon him in order to rebuild that clay pot into something meet for the Masters use. But, it was a slow and painful process:
There are additionally a couple of other direct references to the story of our patriarch Jacob in the NT which help provide us with a better understanding of things. The first is Heb 12: 16-17: “16 Also see to it that there is no immoral or godless person—like Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal. 17 For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected. He found no chance for repentance, though he begged for it with tears.” In rabbinic tradition, all these negative character traits and more are fully exposed.
Trampling underfoot God’s treasures is a serious thing. Never in all of history was something so valuable purchased for so little – to sell-out for “a pot of stew” in a moment of weakness led to eternal consequences for Esau without possibility of a reversal. The Bible is full of examples like this (Judas Iscariot) but with Esau we see one of the strongest. Yeshua said: ”For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21).
What was Esau’s sin? It was to treat common something that was sacred. He forfeited an inheritance of inestimable value, in exchange for satisfying his carnal desires – God’s inheritance that had first been established and promised to Abram in Gen.12:3. The covenant birthright contained both physical promises and spiritual promises: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
And in Rom. 9:11-15: “Yet before the sons were even born and had not done anything good or bad—so that God’s purpose and choice might stand not because of works but because of Him who calls— 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” (Gen.25:23) 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Malachi 1:2-3) 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For to Moses He says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy!”
Finally, we find a direct link between the calling of Nathaniel and the story of Jacob
In John 1:47-51:
“45 Philip found Natan’el and told him, “We’ve found the one that Moshe wrote about in the Torah, also the Prophets — it’s Yeshua Ben-Yosef from Natzeret!” 46 Natan’el answered him, “Natzeret? Can anything good come from there?” “Come and see,” Philip said to him.47 Yeshua saw Natan’el coming toward him and remarked about him, “Here’s a true son of Isra’el — nothing false in him!” 48 Natan’el said to him, “How do you know me?” Yeshua answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Natan’el said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Isra’el!” 50 Yeshua answered him, “you believe all this just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than that!” 51 Then he said to him, “Yes indeed! I tell you that you will see heaven opened and the angels of God going up and coming down[a] on the Son of Man!”
Yeshua made a stunning prophetic comment to Nathaniel which is easily overlooked unless we understand the context which is contained here in this torah portion. Nathaniel (also known as Bartholomew) who was a Galilean himself, from Cana made a derogatory statement about the notorious town of Nazareth where Yeshua had grown up. This was because Nazareth, as a cross-roads and trade route for travellers, was intermingled with both Jews and Gentiles something unthinkable for the Judeans, those from Jerusalem. But, what was more significant was that Nazareth held a reputation for being a feeding ground for radicals.
Nathanael had not never met Yeshua yet Yeshua claims to have already known him. He commended Nathanael for being cautious. Was Yeshua just another one of the Nazareth radicals? Instead of being offended by his cynical comments, Yehsua honoured him: ”Behold, there is an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (v. 47). Here, Yeshua made a direct reference to the patriarch Jacob describing him as an honest “Israel” rather than a deceitful “Jacob.”
Nathaniel, by now puzzled and intrigued, asked Yeshua “How do you know me?” Yeshua then spoke these mysterious words to him: “Before Philip I called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” What did He mean by this that caused Nathaniel to respond, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Isra’el!”
Yeshua had spoken something into the heart of Nathaniel which pierced his heart to such an extent that it changed his life irrevocably. The fig tree symbolises biblically the Jewish nation. It was a favourite tree which Jewish people would seek God in prayer under its shelter – not in public places to be seen by others, but in quiet privacy. We can only speculate what Nathaniel was actually praying that caused him to make such a response but it was something that pierced his heart and caused him to make this amazing declaration.
Sometimes God speaks a rhema word that pierces our hearts yet it would appear insignificant to any other person because our God treats us as individuals uniquely and personally. It was when Yeshua spoke Mary’s name that she recognised Him. It was when Jesus touched the blind man that He received His healing. It was when Yeshua told Matthew simply to leave his tax booth and follow Him, that Matthew unhesitatingly responded.
Yeshua went on to tell Nathaniel: “…You believe all this just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than that!” 51 Then he said to him, “Yes indeed! I tell you that you will see heaven opened and the angels of God going up and coming down on the Son of Man!”
Yeshua now clarified HIs reference to Jacob’s ladder with the angels who were descending and ascending, implying that He himself is the ladder by which all future generations could discover redemption through Him and be transformed from Jacobs’ to Israel’s (‘Princes of God’ ‘overcomers’). Though we were ‘achor le achor’ we now see Him,’paneem le paneem’ changed from glory to glory!
By the end of his life Scripture tells us that, “21 By faith as he was dying, (Jacob) blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and he bowed in worship while leaning on the top of his staff.” (Heb 11)
Jacob started life as a ‘trickster’ but ended as a hero of faith and one of the 3 patriarchs of the Jewish people. God transformed him from a nobody into a somebody and the same is true for us.