Torah: B’resheit (Genesis) 32:3-36:43
Haftarah: Obadiah 1-21
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 12:1-24
After his long exile with Laban, Jacob at last returns to the Covenant Land. However, he has yet one more trial to face before he can settle in peace, a trial that terrifies him as it approaches: He must face his brother Esau. After so many years, will Esau have forgotten his anger, or will the mighty hunter seek to slay Jacob for the birthright–and not only Jacob, but his entire family?
Jacob, for his part, acts very wisely. Not only does he send wave after wave of gifts to his brother to placate him, but he also divides his family into two camps so that even if Esau should decide to destroy them, there would be hope that at least one of them might escape the sword. Nevertheless, as he waits on the eastern side of the Jordan for his brother to arrive, he trembles in fear . . . until a stranger, the Angel of Hashem, appears and wrestles with him:
In the womb he took his brother by the heel;
and in his manhood he contended with God.
Indeed, he struggled with the angel, and prevailed;
he wept, and made supplication to him.
He found him at Bethel, and there he spoke with us,
even the LORD, the God of Hosts;
The LORD is his name of renown! (Hos. 12:2-5)
In the end, Jacob wins the blessing of the Messenger, and his name is changed to Israel–a name that means both “Wrestles With God” and “Prince of God.” Shortly thereafter, Esau appears, and the two brothers make their peace.
Only it isn’t a complete peace. In the Torah, in the sentence, “Esau ran towards him, embraced him, fell upon his neck, and kissed him . . .” the word “and kissed him,” vaychabqeihu, has dots above each of the letters. Most rabbis hold that Esau’s reconciliation to his brother was insincere. A few, like R. Shimon bar Yochai, believe that his embrace of his brother was sincere in that moment, but that the reconciliation was not to last.
That Esau retained some of his old hatred for his brother is found in the actions of his descendants. Though the children of Jacob were forbidden by the Most High to hate the Edomites (Deu. 23:7), the same was not true in return. From the time that Amalek attacked Israel on the road to Sinai (Exo. 17:8-16, cf. Gen. 26:12 & 16), the sons of Edom continually made war with Israel throughout our history. Because of this, Obadiah prophesied, Edom would be delivered to a full destruction.
Even in the time of Yeshua, the Eternal Hatred persisted. The Herods were Edomites (Idumeans), and never missed an opportunity to see themselves elevated over the Jews, continually politicking in Rome to be set up as kings of Judea. Herod the Great went so far as to slaughter the young boys of Bethlehem to dispense with a threat to his reign. Herod Antipas arrested John the Immerser for challenging the legitimacy of his marriage and eventually executed him. Herod Agrippa I briefly won the title “King of the Jews,” and tried to solidify his reign by persecuting the early Ekklesia. In his death in Acts 12 we can see a prototype of the Eternal One’s final judgment on Esau.
So who are the Edomites today? Since the days of Rome, when the red-cloaked Romans sided with the Idumean Herods over Judea, the Essenes and rabbis have connected the two. Indeed, many traditions assume that there was a genealogical line of Esau in Rome. That may well be and if so, we are ashamed to say that this prophetic hint (remez) extends also to the Christian Church and her treatment of the Jews. As Messianics, we pray for and work towards the day when a true reconciliation between these two brothers may be affected.
But there is another, more literal, seed of Esau whose hatred of Jacob does seem to be everlasting, and that is in the Palestinian Arabs whose leaders wage an eternal war against Israel from Gaza and the West Bank. To them, the Eternal One says,
All the men of your alliance have brought you on your way, even to the border. The men who were at peace with you have deceived you, and prevailed against you. Friends who eat your bread lay a snare under you. There is no understanding in him. (Oba. 7)
Indeed, when Israel was refounded as a nation in 1948, 650,000 Jews who were expelled by the Arab nations were taken in and settled into the tiny, impoverished country. None of the Palestinians were settled in Arab countries in return. Indeed, the Palestinians, exactly as the Holy One said they would be, have been deceived by their so-called “friends.” They are despised throughout the Middle-east, and have been relegated to being nothing more than weapons against the Jewish nation.
And yet the Torah endures, and we are still commanded not to abhor an Edomite. Neither may we hate the Palestinians. Instead we, like our father Jacob before us, must make every effort to make peace with them while also taking action to secure the lives of Jacob’s children in the face of a seemingly implacable foe.
And as we do so, we look to the Messenger of Hashem, our Messiah Yeshua, to wrestle with Israel until Israel also seizes hold of Him and refuses to let go until he has received His blessing.
- The Book of Obadiah (brighthub.com)
- Vayishlach (lukeford.net)
- Politics with a biblical pattern (religion.blogs.cnn.com)
- Jacob & Esau: The Real Story (lukeford.net)
- My family, the enemy (guardian.co.uk)