The name of this week’s parasha is Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” and covers Genesis 32:4 through 36:43. In continuing with the previous parasha, Jacob sends messengers to his brother Esau to gain Esau’s favor. They return with news that Esau is coming toward Jacob with 400 men. Jacob is terrified and divides the people and animals into 2 groups, thinking that if Esau attacks one group, the other may escape. Jacob prays to Adonai, recognizing Him as the God of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and states how unworthy he is of everything God has done for him. He asks for deliverance from Esau, referencing Adonai’s promise to bless him with numerous descendants.
Jacob selected animals to give to Esau and instructed his servants on presenting the animals to Esau, and they departed with the animals. Jacob later crossed the ford of the Jabbok with his family and maidservants and sent all his possessions after them.
While Jacob is alone, he wrestles a man until dawn. When the man realizes he can’t overpower Jacob, he touches the socket of Jacob’s hip, which injures Jacob. The man tells Jacob to let him go because it was dawn, but Jacob refused until the man blessed him. When the man asked Jacob his name and Jacob told him, the man changed his name from Jacob to Israel, because Jacob struggled with God and man, and prevailed. Jacob asked about the man’s name, but the man asked Jacob why and blessed him.
Although the man’s name isn’t mentioned, Jacob named this place Peniel, or ‘the face of God’, because he had seen God face to face and was still alive. We see later in Scripture that the man is identified as an angel, and is also identified as God, in that the prophet Hosea mentions God as the angel who wrestled with Jacob in Hosea 12. Based on this evidence, the man’s appearance has been argued as an example of a Christophany, or a preincarnate appearance of Messiah Yeshua. Jacob then limped away from Peniel due to his injury.
Chapter 33 describes the meeting between Jacob and Esau. Jacob prepares for an unpleasant meeting, but Esau enthusiastically greets Jacob and meets Jacob’s family and servants. After giving Esau some animals, Jacob refused Esau’s requests for Esau or some of his men to accompany them, and the brothers go their separate ways. Jacob eventually travelled to Shechem; after camping nearby Shechem, he bought some land from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, and set up an altar there to Adonai.
When Dinah, Jacob’s daughter through Leah, was visiting the women of that land in chapter 34, Shechem the son of Hamor, who was the ruler of that land, saw her and raped her. After violating Dinah, Shechem loved her and wanted to marry her, so he instructed Hamor to arrange the marriage. Jacob heard about this terrible crime but said nothing until his sons returned home with his livestock.
Hamor met with Jacob to discuss wedding terms. Dinah’s brothers were enraged by Shechem’s actions, but Hamor suggested Jacob’s family could unite with the people there and asked them to name their price. Jacob’s sons spoke deceitfully to Hamor and Shechem, saying they would approve this marriage if every male of that city was circumcised, and they would all become one people.
Hamor and Shechem agreed and told their townsmen of this plan, arguing they would eventually obtain the possessions of Jacob and his family, which the townsmen affirmed. 3 days after every male in the city was circumcised, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi attacked the city, killing every male and removing Dinah with the city’s animals, women and children. Jacob protested, but his sons referenced Shechem’s shameful treatment of Dinah.
God tells Jacob in chapter 35 to settle in Bethel and build Him an altar. After Jacob removed the idolatrous items from his group, they travelled to Bethel. Upon arriving at Bethel, Jacob built an altar there to Adonai.
After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God blessed him by reaffirming Jacob’s new name as Israel and including Jacob and his descendants in the blessings promised to his fathers. Adonai talked with Jacob and Jacob set up a stone pillar there, calling the place Bethel.
During the journey from Bethel, Rachel experienced a difficult pregnancy but gave birth to Benjamin before she died. Rachel was buried on the way to Ephrath (Bethlehem) and Jacob put a pillar over her tomb.
When Israel stayed in the region beyond Megdal Eder, Reuben slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel knew about it. Jacob’s 12 sons are listed with their mothers, and the chapter ends with the death of Isaac, who was buried by his sons Esau and Jacob. Chapter 36 concludes the parasha with a record of Esau and his descendants.
Parasha Vayishlach shows us that placing our trust in God brings blessings, while relying upon our own desires can bring serious consequences. Some of Jacob’s sons learned this lesson the hard way. Because of Reuben’s disgraceful behavior in sleeping with Jacob’s concubine, we see in Genesis 49 and 1 Chronicles 5 that he lost his blessing as the firstborn son. Simeon and Levi were next in line for the firstborn’s blessing, but they also lost this blessing in Genesis 49 due to their excessive retribution against Shechem and the men of his city.
Although Jacob had his flaws, he demonstrated his faith in God by holding onto Him regardless of the cost, and God blessed him with a new name and reaffirmed his inclusion in the blessings (which included many descendants) promised to Jacob’s fathers, Abraham and Isaac. And from the descendants of Jacob’s son Judah came the promised Redeemer-Messiah Yeshua! So, let’s trust in God by loyally following Yeshua as Lord and Savior, and experience the blessings He desires to give us!