Torah – Genesis 32:3-36:43 Haftarah – Obediah 1:1-21 Brit Chadashah – Hebrews 11:11-20; Matthew 26:36-45
Vayishlach is Hebrew for he sent. I highly encourage you to read and study all of the above listed verses as this portion is packed with a lot of great lessons just waiting to be found. For the purposes of this study, we will look at one topic found in the following verses.
Genesis 32:24-31, “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” 27 So He said to him, “What [is] your name?” He said, “Jacob.” 28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with G-d and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell [me] Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why [is] it [that] you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen G-d face to face, and my life is preserved.” 31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.” (NKJV)
This is quite possibly the most famous wrestling match of all time! In fact, it may very well be the most intriguing match of all time as a result of the deliberate masking of the persons identity whom Jacob wrestled through the night.
As always, it is important for me to mention at the outset here that the plain meaning of the text is indeed exactly what was meant, and is exactly what happened during this encounter. That being said there are always deeper layers of the onion, so to speak. So let’s peel back a few layers and see some of the ideas about who this mysterious person is.
The ideas presented come from the sages and other scholars and are not original thinking on my part. Some say the stranger was an angel. This is a reasonable possibility in that in the past we have seen where angels, or malech appear as men. All you have to do is recall Abraham’s encounter with the three strangers that approached his tent. The Messianic perspective is that the pre-incarnate Messiah was accompanied by two angels. The same two angels who went on to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
There are those who believe the stranger was Esau, Jacob’s estranged brother who came during the night. They cite that when we look into the faces of those we have wronged, it is like looking into the face of G-d. Hence, Jacob’s statement above where he says he has seen the face of G-d and survived! While this is not my favorite explanation, it at least explains why the stranger had to leave before the sun rose. In the daylight, it would have revealed Esau’s identity.
There are those who believe this entire encounter is nothing more than a metaphor for Jacob wrestling with his conscience. On some levels, this is a good lesson and we could make good application from this. While this may be good food for thought and contemplation, it seems to diminish the actual event.
My personal favorite way of looking at this section is as follows. Could it be that the pre-incarnate Messiah appeared to Jacob? Again this would not have been the first time He appeared to man. We know Jacob was afraid of his brother and was likely crying out to G-d. Jacob certainly understood and demonstrated one thing for certain. He absolutely believed that this person who showed up had great power and authority. This is demonstrated by the fact that he refused to let Him go until He blessed Jacob. Jacob also allowed Him to change his name and had the power to with one touch place Jacob in a state of permanent disability of sorts. Once again, I’ll point out that Jacob declared that he had seen the face of G-d. Instead of the metaphorical way that some say it was said, could it have been literal? Perhaps this is why the stranger was veiled by night so that His face could not been seen so that Jacob may live!
Whatever you take away from this lesson I hope you at least grab onto the concept of wrestling with G-d. Sometimes the circumstances of life leave us in a place where perhaps a little desperation sets in and we finally become convinced that nobody but G-d can save us! It is in this place that we can learn from Jacob. In those times, we need to reach out, grab a firm hold and refuse to let go until we receive that which we need.
May we all learn to lay a firm hold upon G-d an never let go. Shalom!