A Few Thoughts from Vayishlach

Trusting and understanding HaShem’s plans for us can be challenging and misunderstood by us and others. A quick look back toward the end of last week’s parasha demonstrates what I am talking about. In Genesis 31:3 we read that HaShem commanded Ya’acov, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” With such a direct command, one might think that Ya’acov would have been at least comforted knowing that if he obeyed, HaShem would be with him. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead of packing for the homeward journey, saying good-bye to Laban—the father of his wives Leah and Rivka and the grandfather to Ya’acov’s children—Ya’acov stole away in secret, fearing the negative reprisal of Laban and his sons. Ya’acov seemingly forgot the promise he received some twenty years earlier,

“Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I promised you.”

Genesis 28:15

If it had just been this promise of care and restoration, Ya’acov could possibly have forgotten these words over time. However, there was more; Ya’acov actually negotiated with HaShem for a little better insurance coverage,

Then Jacob made a vow saying, “If God will be with me and watch over me on this way that I am going and provide me food to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in shalom to my father’s house, then ADONAI will be my God.”

Genesis 28:20-21

It would be safe to say that HaShem not only honored his promise recorded in verse 15, but equally honored Ya’acov’s vow in verses 20 and 21. Ya’acov had left his father’s house with little, worked 14 years for his wives and then work another six years taking care of Laban’s flocks at Laban’s request because he (Laban) saw that HaShem blessed all that he (Ya’acov) did, (see Genesis 30:27). In the end it’s written,

And the man grew exceedingly prosperous and had numerous flocks, along with female and male servants, camels and donkeys.

Genesis 30:43

But even with the blessing and care of HaShem, Ya’acov still was afraid of reprisal from Laban, a reprisal which may have come had HaShem not intervened,

But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Watch yourself—lest you say anything to Jacob, good or bad.”

Genesis 31:18

Laban apparently paid attention to the word of HaShem and after rather tense encounter, Ya’acov and Laban eventually separated amicably. 

This brings us to this week’s parasha, Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4 – 36:43 where Ya’acov is preparing to meet his brother Esav. Instead of trusting in HaShem to continue honoring his promise and Ya’acov’s vow—returning him to his father’s house in shalom — instead of rejoicing in the upcoming family reunion, Ya’acov was overcome by the fear that Esav still intended to kill him. Ya’acov began making plans to survive the imminent encounter with his brother Esav and tried to arrange things on his own to pacify his brother. Instead of trusting in God, Ya’acov became “extremely afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:8). The future words of the palmist would have helped Ya’acov, 

In God—I keep praising His word—in God I trust, I will not fear. What can mere flesh do to me?

Psalm 56:5

Or these words from the complier of Mishlei,

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but one who trusts in ADONAI will be kept safe.

Proverbs 29:25

I am not, by any means, suggesting that preparing for future situations or encounters is a bad thing or a lack of trust or faith. People buy insurance—home, car, and health—to cover situations they hope never happen. Without a doubt, this is good and proper practice. Ya’acov’s plan for a potential future attack by his brother was not wrong as he was counting the cost of a potentially dangerous encounter. Ya’acov’s error was not in the planning and preparation but in the motivation. Instead of trusting in HaShem and his promises, Ya’acov was “extremely afraid and distressed.” 

In 1 John we read, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and the one who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). It is said that the perfect love John spoke of implies a faith and trust in HaShem, that he has both the desire and the ability to provide care and for those who love him. This perfect love does not necessarily change the situation one finds themselves in, nor does it change the potential severity of the situation. What this perfect love does do, is change our focus from the situation to the One who has the power to get us through the situation. The classic passage which exemplifies this is from the psalmist,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me: Your rod and Your staff comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

“Even though,” גם כי (gam ki), in Hebrew can also mean “even when.” So, one could say “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…” indicating not if but when. Yeshua followed this line of thought when he told his talmidim (disciples) 

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

John 16:33

While we may not transverse the same situations as Ya’acov, it would behoove us to put our trust in Yeshua who is “the initiator and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Trusting in Yeshua does not mean we will never have problems, never be depressed, or plagued with anxiety. What it means is that Yeshua desires to assist us making it through the trials and challenges that plague our lives.

Life and occasionally life choices ensure that fearful, troublesome situations will come upon us. Therefore, we, with the assistance of the Ruach haKodesh, need to keep our hearts and minds focused on the Word of God, trusting that he will do what he has promised in our lives. Finally, we need to remember that whatever comes he will be there with us, seeing us through, to fulfill His Word in our lives.

* All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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