"Jacob Wrestling With the Angel" by Rembrant

Genesis 32:4–36:43: Face up to your past, so Mashiakh can purge it

When we examine ourselves and purge evil from our hearts, it costs us something. But we receive the forever blessing as a result.

There are two hidden stories we will discover in the Torah section וישלח Vayishlach (“and he sent,” Genesis 32:4–36:43). The accounts of Ya’akov‘s wrestling the Heavenly visitor then facing Eysau fit with the judgment on the rapist in Shechem to teach how God’s Mashiakh purges our pasts, so we can overcome.

Ya’akov was now 60 years old after his 20-plus-year exile from the land of his birth. At this time, Ya’akov’s oldest son, Reuben, is 12 years old, and Yosef is 5 at most. All Ya’akov‘s children are young. The fact that Rivkah never sent for Ya’akov all these years tells us that Eysau’s anger was still hot and murderous. Ya’akov returned home because God sent him back, not because Rivkah called him back.

“He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my lord Eysau: ‘Thus says your servant Ya’akov, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now;” (Genesis 32:4 NASB)

Ya’akov is buttering up Eysau and telling Eysau that he does not possess a lot of territory or a large army.

Two camps and a Heavenly beatdown

Ya’akov separated his family and possessions into two camps and then he prays to God.

“Ya’akov said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eysau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. “For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’”” (Genesis 32:9–12 NASB)

God usually speaks to Ya’akov in visions and dreams, not face to face as He did with Abraham before Sodom or with Moses.

The answer to Ya’akov’s prayer is basically to send an angel to Ya’akov to beat him up, literally. The angel was wrestling with Ya’akov on roughly equal physical terms, but the angel was not getting the upper hand.

If one person touches another person’s hip, it will not dislocate. The angel had to “cheat” by touching his hip socket and dislocating it to prevail in the wrestling match. This is when he realizes he was not wresting a mere man. He realizes that he has seen God face to face and won.

Facing up to your past

This angel is transferring authority, and it’s hiding in plain sight. Ya’akov is trying to appease Eysau’s “face,” with all the gifts sent ahead.

Ya’akov later tells Eysau that seeing his face was like seeing the face of God.

The Hebrew word for face is “panim.” This passage (Genesis 32:31–33:10) has one message, which is one can see in the chiastic structure of this chapter. The middle verse carries the message:

“Then Eysau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” (Genesis 33:4 NASB)

Ya’akov had his fight with Eysau via the angel rather than fighting the literal Eysau later. Eysau’s response in Genesis 33:4 is the answer to Ya’akov’s prayer. God took Eysau’s anger away from him and placed it upon Himself. Ya’akov had to deal with Eysau’s anger, but Eysau didn’t have to deal with his own anger anymore.

Foreshadowing the Day of Atonement

God always has a plan and he plans ahead of time. Although the Torah, as it was revealed to Moses, didn’t exist yet, the themes of the holy days can be found throughout the five books of Moses.

There are several themes you will find throughout.

In this story, there are many themes related to the LORD’s appointment called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement:

  • Two camps: One dies, one lives. Ya’akov didn’t know which camp might die and which might survive. Just as both goats have to be equal and one doesn’t know until the last moment the destiny of each.
  • Ya’akov also faced the threat alone, just as the High Priest has to do all the atonement alone.
  • On the Day of Atonement, if a High Priest is unworthy, God kills him, but we see here that Ya’akov was found worthy and acceptable.
  • Ya’akov presented all his family to Eysau, just as the High Priest presents all the people of Israel to God after their sins are taken away.
  • Ya’akov and his family wanders away from Eysau after he presents his family to Eysau, just as the goat that is sent away, wanders away alone.
  • Immediately after, they are living in tents, just as Sukkot follows the Day of Atonement. This picture is all about Atonement. Why did God put Atonement imagery in this story? Ya’akov is seeking to be reunited with or at one with his brother, his heritage, his family again.

Purging Shechem of wickedness

Then Ya’akov and his family went to Shechem and were living in tents nearby. At that time, erected an altar there and called it El-Elohe-Israel.

When they are in Shechem, Dinah, Leah’s daughter, meets up a young man named Shechem, who was the prince of the house of Hamor. He is a kidnapper and rapist and yet he was the most respected man in that town, which shows us that the town itself wasn’t worth much.

Just as Hamor was a silent observer of this story, Ya’akov keeps silence until the end. Part of the reason for Ya’akov’s relative silence is because of Ya’akov’s age. He is an elderly man, too old to put up any kind of fight. His sons are old enough now to start learning how to lead their own families so this is an opportunity for them to learn how to lead, although they take care of the situation differently than Ya’akov would have done.

Ya’akov did not know of the son’s circumcision conspiracy. I also suspect that Ya’akov’s sons thought that the men of the city would refuse to be circumcised and that would end Shechem’s desire to have Dinah as his wife. The sons didn’t know that all the men of the entire town would actually go along with the circumcision.

The sons didn’t have to kill the men of the entire city. They could have simply killed Shechem for his crimes, taken Dinah and left. Carrying out their bloodlust on the entire city was not something Ya’akov would ever approve.

However, Ya’akov’s sons, by killing all the men in Shechem, purged the area of its wickedness. This is a small taste of what is to come after Moses brings the children of Israel back to Canaan.

This purging process is important because God used it to get Ya’akov to move the family to Bethel.

The purging didn’t stop with the men of Shechem, Ya’akov also purged the evil in his own family before they go to meet God.

“So Ya’akov said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Ya’akov all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Ya’akov hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.” (Genesis 35:2–4 NASB)

Moses tells the descendants of Yisra’el the same thing when they approach the mountain to meet God. Ya’akov and Moses are symbolic of the same kind of man, who is supposed to purge evil from the household and prepare them to hear God’s instructions. Moses received the 10 commandments and Ya’akov received the blessing from God.

I suspect at this point, Ya’akov has found the household idols that Rachel had stolen from Laban he has them purged out of his household. Then we see that Deborah, Rivkah’s nurse, dies in Beth-el. Deborah represents Padam-Aram, where Ya’akov‘s ancestors originated. Her death ends his connection to Padam-Aram. The purging of the idols of Padam-Aram also separates Ya’akov from his ancestry forever.

Rachel dies in childbirth shortly after they left Beth-el. She gives birth to a son, who she named Ben-oni (son of sorrow), but Ya’akov changes his name to Benyamin (son of forever). Rachel’s death was the death of someone Ya’akov loved very much. God also lost someone He loved very much: His Son, Yeshua.

This sorrowful event, resulted in the death of a beloved person but that death created a son who was to be a son forever.

God’s way are easy but elaborate at the time. He repeats Himself over and over again so we have more opportunities to learn His lessons from Adam and Eve onward.

In the end of Vayishlach, we meet the descendants of Eysau and the Horites. The families of Eysau and the Horites intermarried so often that their families combined into one family. We will meet some of them later as we continue our Torah study.

Summary: Tammy.

Banner image: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, “Jacob Wrestling With the Angel,” Wikimedia Commons, c. 1659

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