Parashah Vayishlach (He Sent): Wrestling with God

Vayishlach (He Sent) וַיִּשְׁלַח

Genesis 32:3-36:43; Obadiah 1:1-21; Hebrews 11:11-20

“Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.”  (Genesis 32:3)

Last week, in Parasha Vayeitzei (And He Left), Yaacov (Jacob) left Beersheba to journey to Haran.  On the way to Haran, he stopped to sleep and saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder to and from Heaven.  God promised him that the land on which he lay would be given to his descendants.

In this week’s Parasha, Yaacov decides to return to the Holy Land with his family and possessions after a 20-year stay in Haran.  Returning is an act of faith, trust and hope since Yaacov desires to reconcile with his brother Esau, who is most likely still resentful that his brother stole his birthright.

When Yaacov learns that his brother is on the warpath with 400 armed men, he divides his family into two groups and sends them ahead across the ford of the Jabbok River and remains behind for the night (Genesis 32:22).

It is here, on the other side of the Jabbok, that Yaacov must confront his personal conflicts and fears alone.  And it is here that encounters a mysterious man (eesh) with whom he wrestles until daybreak.

“So Jacob was left alone, and a man [eesh] wrestled with him till daybreak.  When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’”  (Genesis 32:24–26)

When the sun begins to come up, this ‘man’ touches the hollow of Jacob’s thigh so that it is dislocated and asks Jacob to let him go.  Jacob, nevertheless, responds saying, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  (Genesis 32:27)

In response to Yaacov’s struggle, the “man’ changes Yaacov’s name to Yisrael (Israel) explaining that he had “struggled with God and with men and have overcome”  (Genesis 32:28).

A study of this passage in the original Hebrew reveals more meaning than what is apparent in English translations.

At birth, Yaacov was given a name derived from the Hebrew word for heel (ekev), because he grasped the heel of his twin brother Esau.  It seems like he was behind from the beginning, grasping for the blessing and the inheritance.

But after Jacob’s encounter with this ‘man,’ his entire character is changed as evidenced by his new name—Yisrael (Israel).  He was called Yisrael because this Hebrew word shares the same root (s-r) as the word for strive, struggle or wrestle.

The destiny of Yisrael is to struggle with God and with men, but also ultimately, to prevail.

Wrestling in Our Own Lives

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.  You need to endure, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.”  (Hebrews 10:35–36)

How often do we wrestle for the blessings of God in our lives?

This Parasha (portion of Scripture) speaks to us of the perseverance and endurance required of the people of God.

It’s tempting, after struggling and wrestling for what seems to be too long a time, to feel like ‘enough is enough’ and to let go of the confidence that God’s promises for our lives will come to pass.

But we must be like Jacob who refused to let go until he received his blessing.

Does wrestling for the blessing mean constantly fretting about situations in our lives?  On the contrary, this spiritual wrestling constitutes the struggle to remain at rest and peace, trusting in God—confident in the fulfillment of His promises.

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence you shall have strength.”  (Isaiah 30:15)

Just like Yisrael (Israel), it’s also our destiny to walk in triumph—whether we are born descendants of Abraham or grafted in to the family of God through Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).

Face to Face with God

“So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God [Elohim] face to face, and yet my life was spared.”  (Genesis 32:30)

Jacob (now called Israel) realizes that he had not engaged in a wrestling match with an ordinary man, but that this man was divine; therefore, he calls the place Peniel (face to God) because he saw God ‘panim el panim’ (face to face).

We understand that this man that Jacob wrestled with was Yeshua (Jesus), who, according to Yochanan (John) 1:1, was “in the beginning.”

Today, Jacob (Israel) still struggles with this Divine Man who is Yeshua the Messiah.

The Jewish people (Israel) do not believe that the Messiah is part of the Oneness of God, and because of that, they struggle with the belief that God could appear as the Messiah.

It’s the Jewish nature to struggle and fight.  We have always had to fight for our very existence, and today in Israel, we struggle to fend off our hostile Muslim Arab neighbors who would love to destroy this nation.

Daily life here in Israel seems to be a struggle, as well.  This is a small country with narrow streets and too many cars, where two try to squeeze into one parking space, and cars park on the sidewalks.

There’s a lot of pressure and tension here—it’s a way of life.  People are loud, and they seem to argue and debate about everything.  That, however, is people wrestling with people.

Wrestling with God is different and it also comes at a cost.  The man touched Jacob’s hip and it was strained.  Thereafter, Jacob walked with a limp.  He now needed to lean on a walking stick.

In our struggles with God, we also come forth forever changed, with a noticeable ‘limp’ in our walk, forever after needing to lean on God, and never again trusting only in our own understanding.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  (Proverbs 3:3–5)

So often, when we are going through trials, we crave fellowship and the comfort and wisdom of other Believers.  But there are times when we need to be alone with God.

During Jacob’s trial, he sent his wives and children to the other side of the stream out of fear of an encounter with Esau.  He was completely alone when he met God.

Likewise, when we are struggling, it’s often just Him and us—one on one, face to face.

Wrestling with Whom?

“After He had dismissed the multitudes, He went up into the hills by Himself to pray.  When it was evening, He was still there alone.” (Matthew 14:23)

Yeshua (Jesus) spent much time alone with God.  On one extended occasion when He was seeking God alone, he went into the Judean Desert for 40 days and nights.  It was there that He was tempted.

Scripture tells us that our wrestling matches are not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers of darkness.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the rulers of the darkness, and against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  (Ephesians 6:12)  

This is one reason why our struggling can become so painful: we are sometimes not quite sure what (or whom) we are wrestling with!

This was Job’s dilemma—Satan was causing his trouble, but did so with God’s permission.  And his pain was compounded by the insistence of his friends that he must have sinned for God to be punishing him so terribly.  They told him that if he would only confess his hidden sin, everything would be okay.

Although Job was a righteous and blameless man, even in God’s sight, He wrestled on several fronts—with God, with man, and with Satan—and even his wife!

If ever anyone was justified in giving up, it would have been Job.  Even his contentious, unbelieving wife, speaking for the enemy, advised him to give up and die.

“His wife said to him, ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity?  Curse God and die!’”  (Job 2:9)

Often, the enemy will use those closest to us to bring discouragement.  Still, Job continued—even through his grief, confusion, and pain—to remain steadfastly confident in his God.

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.”  (Job 19:25–27)

Getting Back on Our Feet After We Are Wrestled to the Ground

“For the enemy has persecuted my soul; He has crushed my life to the ground.”  (Psalm 143:3)

How do we know in a wrestling match when one of the opponents has lost?

Is it not when one of the wrestlers is pinned to the ground and cannot get up again?  Likewise, we have not lost if we become weary or discouraged, or even feel like giving up, but only if we fail to rise up again.

There are times when the enemy has us pinned to the mat.

We cannot be faulted for struggling with God, man, or Satan.  And it doesn’t matter that we have fallen.  We have not lost until we simply refuse to get up again.

“For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.”  (Proverbs 24:16)

God can and will raise us up, dust us off, and set our feet back on solid rock.

“The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down.”  (Psalm 146:14)

It’s by His grace that we continue to press onward with the battle cry, “Kadima!”  (Go forth!)

Why must we wrestle with God for the blessing?  There is a redemptive purpose in the struggle.

Surely, in Jacob’s case, the mysterious, divine man could have overpowered Jacob in a split second.  But in the struggle, Jacob’s nature was changed to inherit the promises of God.  He was not fit before the struggle.  So too, we must be trained in endurance in order to finish the race set out before us.

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Yeshua, the author and finisher of our faith….”  (Hebrews 12:1–2)

Putting Struggle into Perspective

“Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.  But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”  (Genesis 32:11–12)

Jacob struggled his entire life.

As a twin, he was born alongside a violent and conniving twin brother, Esau, who contended with him for the blessing and birthright.  For his own safety, he ran away from his brother who threatened to kill him for winning the battle.

Later, his father-in-law, Laban, tricked Jacob into marrying the firstborn daughter and coerced him into seven extra years of hard work for his wife Rachel.

Furthermore, Laban tried to cheat Jacob out of his wages several times.

As a father, Jacob suffered the heartbreak of his only daughter Dinah being raped.  And then to his dismay, in revenge, his sons Simon and Levi tricked the entire male population of Shechem into being circumcised and slaughtered them all while they were recovering!

Jacob’s (Israel’s) beloved wife Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin, just prior to the death of his father Isaac.

As if this were not enough, his 10 elder sons kidnapped Joseph and led Jacob to believe that his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal.

Yet, through the entire struggle of Jacob’s life, he never abdicated his destiny in God.

Wrestling with Real-World Issues

“They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”  (John 17:16)

Abraham and Isaac led separated, set-apart lives.  While Abraham did pray for Sodom and Gomorrah, he would not live among them.  His son Isaac walked away from the Philistines and would not mix with the inhabitants of the land.

But it was Jacob (Israel) and his children, engaged and struggling with the real issues of community life, who were entrusted with establishing the Jewish nation.  Jacob brought God into the world of commerce, politics and everyday life.

So, too, we are called to be in the world, but not of the world.  We walk a fine line and take cues from Yeshua (Jesus).

Yeshua did not separate himself from the common people, but was known as a friend of sinners.

Although we struggle and wrestle throughout our lives, we too can have an impact by bringing God into the real world in which we live.

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