Then he said, "Let me go, for the day has broken." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." (Bereshit/Genesis 32:26-28)
Upon Jacob's return to the land of his birth, he heard that his twin brother Esau, along with four hundred men, were on their way to meet him. Jacob was understandably apprehensive for Esau had sworn to kill him. Now, in Genesis 32:1-3, we read:
1 So Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him - vayifg’oo bo
íéä_à éëàìî åá-åòâôéå.
2 When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is God's camp" - äæ íéä_à äðçî
And he called the name of that place Mahanaim – ‘TWO CAMPS’.
íéðçî àåää íå÷îä-íù àø÷éå
3 Then Jacob sent messengers (vayishlach Ya’akov – íéëàìî á÷òé çìùéå)
before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
This sets the context for what follows in our portion and therefore, we need to examine these verses in a little more detail.
1). the angels of God met him - vayifg’oo bo - íéä_à éëàìî åá-åòâôéå
Vayifg’oo implies that this was a God-intended encounter; it was not happenstance.
2) Two camps – íéðçî – mechanim - literally, a pair of camps.
According to Rashi, there were two camps of angels:
i) those who ministered outside the Holy Land and
ii) those angelic beings who ministered within the borders of the Holy Land.
So Rashi says that this was a changing of the guard, so to speak. Furthermore, we can surmise that this encounter planted the seed for Jacob’s strategy to divide his family, servants and all his possessions into two camps. Rabbi David Feinstein suggests that menachim also alludes to Jacob's abundant growth, a condition which he was to describe in 32:11 as having his family, his children and his possessions including his herds and flocks, grown into “úåðçî éðù´- two camps (Gen 32:8). Genesis 30:43 says that when Jacob departed from Laban, he had “become exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys”.
3) íéëàìî – melachim - messengers
Now, the Hebrew word malach (messenger) can refer to an angelic or a human messenger; it is the same Hebrew word. When we read that the angels of God met him, these are divine messengers. When Jacob sends messengers to meet with Esau, these were human messengers.
And so, when we Jacob encountered these angelic messengers, what we can take from this is HaShem wanted to strengthen Jacob for the necessary encounter with his brother Esau. Jacob had unresolved issue in his relationship with his brother which had to be sorted out before he could fulfil his mandate to return to the Land and take up residency there.
Because of the imminent encounter with his sibling, the outcome of which was uncertain, Jacob sets in motion his strategy. Firstly, for the first time in his life, he cries out to HaShem in prayer. Then, perhaps embracing the idea of two camps, he divides his wives, children and herds into two camps; the camp of Leah and the camp of Rachael. The assumption here was that if Esau did approach with murderous intentions, then perhaps at least one camp would survive. He sent then across the Brook of Jabbok while Jacob waited for God’s answer to his prayers. And, alone, he encounters a ‘man’ with whom he wrestles all night.
In their commentary, FFOZ suggests that this mysterious visitor cannot be HaShem Himself. Rather, in the same way that in John chapter 1, the Son of God is called the ‘Logos’ – the Word – so too in Jewish theology, there exists the ‘memra’, who is similar to the Logos and manifest in this physical world. The idea that Jacob would overpower an angelic messenger or God Himself borders on being ludicrous, even though this is often how this incident is interpreted over the centuries.
However we understand this divinely orchestrated encounter, the emphasis is one of tenacity and perseverance on the part of Jacob, rather the identity of this mysterious ‘man’. In my view, the emphasis should rather be on Jacob’s resilience and fortitude. It is about pressing on to know the Lord (Hosea 6:3) or as Sha’ul articulates in Phil 3: 12-14:
‘Not that I have already obtained this or been perfected, but I press on if only I might take hold of that for which Messiah Yeshua took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself as having taken hold of this. But this one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the reward of the upward calling of God in Messiah Yeshua’.
Elsewhere, Paul says ‘I strive”. And, unless we retain the vision for the coming Kingdom of God and the return King Messiah – unless we are persuaded that this is our hope and destiny – we might well lack the tenacity to press on in the midst of adverse circumstances.
Jacob, apparently understood this principle and wrestled all night until he had received the blessing. But there was a cost involved. From that day onward, Jacob limped. Yeshua said that it is a narrow way and there is always a cost involved in following the Lord on this way.
The result of this divine encounter is a new humility in Jacob and a true personal relationship with the God of his fathers (see Bereshit/Genesis 32:20). Perhaps the most astounding aspect of all this is what God said to Jacob in response to his demand of blessing: "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed" (Bereshit/Genesis 32:28).
The blessing, summarized in his new name Israel, was due to his having striven and prevailed with people and God and especially, Jacob prevailed against circumstances that appeared impossible to overcome. Jacob did not merely endure which would be impressive in itself; he prevailed. Not survived, which would be pretty good in itself. But prevailed - as in he, a human being - overcame the obstacles that were divinely orchestrated to test his tenacity. HaShem spoke through Moshe Rabeinu in Deuteronomy *;2: “I have led you these 40 years in the wilderness to test you, to know what was in your heart”.
HaShem uses the storms and hardships that are an inherent component of life in this fallen reality, as opportunities to test and refine our faith.
Shimon says ‘do not think it strange because of the fiery ordeals that are to test you, as though something strange was happening to you’ (1 Peter 4:12). As I have previously suggested on numerous occasions, our heavenly Father is more concerned about our character than He is about our comfort!
Jacob persevered and was transformed into one of the giants of THE faith!
It is easy to confuse humility with passivity, and tenacity with arrogance. We may fear making mistakes along the way as if God is looking for perfection instead of faith. Perhaps the key to personal transformation requires a lot more tenacity on our part than we might think. I am reminded of Messiah’s concluding comments to each of the seven communities recorded in Revelations 1-3. The blessings and the promises are to those who overcome, to those who press on, to those who strive to lay hold of the upward call of God in Messiah Yeshua. We perish and become disillusioned if we do not have a vision for the return of our King and the coming Malchut Elohim – the Kingdom of God.