Shabbat, December 6, 2014
How many of you have ever had a falling out with a family member or a friend or fellow congregant? Did that broken relationship cause you some anguish? Did you find yourself avoiding that person? Have a got a story for you? (I feel like singing… Veggie Tales… OK, hold the cucumbers!)
Here’s what I read from the Torah parasha, from Beresheet (Genesis) 33:8–10 (from the TLV):[Esau said:] “What do you mean by this whole caravan that I’ve met?”
So [Jacob] said, “To find favor in your eyes, my lord. But Esau said, “I have plenty, my brother, do keep all that belongs to you. Yet Jacob said, “No, please! If I have found favor in your eyes, then you will take my offering from my hand. For this is the reason I’ve seen your face—it is like seeing the face of God —and you’ve accepted me!”
So finally, after 21 years away from home—dreading meeting the brother who’d threatened to kill him, because he “stole” his brother’s blessing, Jacob finally meets Esau. Then Jacob says something very curious: “your face—it is like seeing the face of God!” What did he mean by that? What was it about seeing his dreaded brother’s face that was so awesome?
Let’s step back a bit. What famous episode happened in this portion, the night before Jacob met Esau?
Yes, Jacob had wrestled all night with someone….
Beresheet (Genesis) 32:25 says, “Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”
Who was this man who jumped Jacob? Tradition says he was an angel—Hosea 12:4 does say, “Yes, he wrestled (or struggled) with the angel and prevailed.” But which angel? Just any angel?
When Jacob asks to know His name, the angel refuses. Who was that mysterious angel?
As soon as that angel left (presumably he didn’t just walk away, but vanished), Jacob says, in Beresheet (Genesis 32:31), “So Jacob named the place Pen’el, “for I’ve seen God face to face, and my life has been spared” [or, “my soul has been delivered].”
That morning, Jacob limps over the river, faces up to Esau and says, “It is like seeing the face of God—and you have accepted me!” Is anyone hearing an echo?
If we step back a bit further, we can see what this whole wrestling match meant within Jacob’s soul. What was Jacob doing all alone that night? Genesis 32:3 says that Jacob had sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau. Jacob knew that as soon as he crossed the Jordan River, to claim the land of his fathers that HaShem promised him, he was going to have to face his brother Esau, who swore to kill him, 21 years prior. And then in Genesis 32:6, he learns from his messengers that Esau is coming to him 400 men! Oy vey!
Genesis 32:7 reports that Jacob was stressed out! How many of you have stressed out about meeting someone with whom you’ve had a falling out?
So Jacob does something wise. He prays to God, reminding God of the promises He made to him and his fathers, and that it was God’s idea to tell Jacob to “Go back to your land and your family,” and in Genesis 32:11, appealing, “Deliver me, please, from my brother’s hand, from Esau’s hand, for I’m afraid of him….”
Jacob had been struggling with this fear of his brother for a long time…. When the man jumped him, Jacob might even have thought at first, “It’s Esau!” or one of his men. By the end of the wrestling match, somehow Jacob was ready to face his brother—because he had struggled with someone greater, and prevailed.
Well, sort of. The angel ended the match by touching Jacob’s hip, knocking out his hip socket, making him limp the rest of his life. You may wonder, why did the angel of God bother wrestling all night? We’ll come back to that question in our breakout discussion.
Then there’s another question to ponder. Is there anyone that you’ve struggling with in your heart for a while, someone who threatened you, or hurt you, or abused you, took advantage of you, or abandoned you? Do you need to come to the end of that struggle, so you nave shalom in your heart? Maybe it’s a family member, or someone who once was part of our mishpochah, or even with God?
Ever since Jacob, Jews (and others) have had these struggles. Consider Joseph and his brothers—all the jealousy and hatred and the long process of reconciliation…. Or consider Yeshua and Peter—the betrayal before the rooster crowed and the restoration on the beach.
In Genesis 32:28, the angel gave him a new name, Israel, “for you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” Though Jacob never came close to pinning his adversary, the prophet Hosea says he did prevail. Why? Because he met God face to face, and got His blessing.
Sometimes the way to find shalom is to struggle with God until He touches you—even if it hurts. Job asked God a lot of tough questions .God never really answered the questions: He didn’t need to. But Job, like Jacob, got something better—he heard God’s voice; he met God face to face. Ultimately, a relationship with God is the answer to all our questions. V’eemru? (And let us say?)
The next morning, Jacob prepares Esau a caravan of offerings. You might think, was that necessary?
Actually, Jacob was wise to do it. In Matthew 5:23–24, Yeshua instructed his disciples, and us, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
Is there any point in offering anything to God if you have animosity toward your brother in your heart? God wants an offering of an undivided heart—a shalom offering. V’eemru?
For as 1 John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” If any of you are struggling with this proposition, than struggle with God until you have shalom!
For Jacob sent a caravan of offerings to his brother, not merely to humor him, was to honor him. Honoring is an excellent strategy for making peace with your brother or sister. That may seem hard to do, honoring the one who hates you, even giving your own stuff away. Yet that is just what Yeshua bid us to do, in Matthew 5:44, “I say to you, love your enemies, [bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you,] and pray for those who mistreat you.”
And it works! That’s how Yeshua and his disciples have won the hearts of many people. So Yeshua loved the Samaritan woman at the well. Then a harvest of Samaritan souls came to see.
So Yeshua loved a hated tax collector up in a tree. Then he who had stolen much restored much.
Loving when it’s hard can be a powerful witness. V’eemru? Once we were all enemies of God, yet God so much wants to make shalom with us. So He came for us, dying for us on a tree, loving us when we didn’t love Him, didn’t even know Him. God wants to give you more than you ever deserved, and bless you—a future and a hope!
Now that’s what He wants us to do. Yeshua has commanded: “Love you enemies; bless them; do good to them; pray for them. Honor them; tell them how much you appreciate them, give your stuff and yourself away to them, sacrificially—for isn’t what Yeshua has done for you?
As Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” If it means humbling yourself in order to honoring the one has trouble you, could you do it? Or by blessing the one who cursed you, praying for the one who mistreated you, could you do it? Could you do it, with God’s help?
After they parted ways, Esau & Jacob never fought again. Pray that their descendants be like the fathers!
Now, what did Jacob mean, when he said to Esau, “I’ve seen your face—it is like seeing the face of God”? —and you’ve accepted me!” Let’s discuss…
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Discussion Questions for Breakout Sessions (or Reflection)
When a man started wrestling with Jacob, who might he have thought it was, at first?
Who did it turn out to be?
Why did this powerful angel bother wrestling with Jacob all night, before finally touching his hip?
Why is it that some questions cannot be answered with reasons, but only with a relationship with God?
Why did Jacob offer a caravan of offerings to Esau? Was that necessary?
What Jacob finally saw Esau again, what did he say to him? What did he mean by that?
How can seeing the face of a dreaded enemy become like seeing the face of God?
Is there anyone that you’ve struggled with in your soul for a while—someone who hurt you, or took advantage of you, or abandoned you? Can you share it with your neighbor? (You might want to leave names out when you talk about the other person. Why? You also might want to pray.)
Why is honoring the one you’re at odds with a good strategy for reconciliation? Illustrations?
Have you learned anything today about how to live at peace with everyone? Will you do it?
Is there any application in the reconciliation of Jacob & Esau to the situation in the Middle East today?
Consider Isaac & Ishmael. Though Ishmael teased Isaac, and was sent away, did the two half-brothers remain enemies? What is the lesson for their descendants?
What about us—who have been called to the ministry of reconciliation?
What can we as followers of Yeshua do about this situation?