Parashat Vayishlach

…(and he sent)

Torah: Gen 32:22-24 (H) -32 (E) Haftorah: Hos 12:1-6   MW: Rev 21:1-7

Face to face with God

This portion, along with the Akeidah is one of the key turning points in our history, a life changing encounter with the living G-d of Israel. Ya’akov is about to meet the G-d of his Fathers face to face, an encounter with G-d that would leave him both physically and spiritually changed for the rest of his life. This will be the second of the three major encounters with G-d for him, but this one will mark him and us, as Israel, for life. Behind him lay all the cunning tactics, Machiavellian strategies and manipulations, the fears and anxieties of a desperately controlled life that just might go off the rails at any minute. Ask anyone who lives like this and they’ll tell you they fear losing control all the time, and eventually of course something happens and they do. But now it was time to face up to G-d, the One who had called Ya’akov and chosen him despite himself. Yes, despite himself, his issues and problems, some of which were still in the future and as yet unrecognised by Ya’akov, G-d had called him.

After the encounter Ya’akov utters the most amazing sentence ever: I have seen G-d, face to face and yet my life has been delivered/preserved. Here is a man who is slow to grow in spiritual maturity, yet even he finally has to acknowledge G-d and that he has had this encounter with Him. And I doubt he was ready or prepared. This wasn’t part of his normal regular ‘prayer time’ or ‘time for Tefillah’ with whatever liturgical prayers – if any- they had, G-d had chosen this moment in time to meet with Ya’akov, and He was on schedule even if Ya’akov didn’t realise it. G-d just broke into his life and changed it forever.

We’re reminded of another man who had a powerful encounter with G-d, Rav Shaul. As he was blinded by the encounter with G-d on the way to Damascus, we read of the words spoken to him, why are you persecuting or fighting against Me? It wasn’t a one off event this ‘fighting or resisting G-d’, it had been going on over time, and finally the Lord says ‘enough’. So too with Ya’akov, he had been fighting G-d all his life, building in his own strength, relying on native wit and intelligence maybe, until finally the G-d against whom he fought revealed Himself that night to him. There was nothing Ya’akov could have done about it, he certainly hadn’t planned it. G-d simply broke into his life and revealed Himself. The right moment in time had arrived. And like Rav Shaul, it proved to be a moment that would change the course of Israel for all time.

As a result of this encounter with G-d, Ya’akov is left limping. Imagine for one moment that G-d would do this to you! Would G-d cause you to be physically impaired after an encounter with Him in that way? Surely G-d wouldn’t actually harm us to bring us to our spiritual senses? We can even wonder why G-d kept the fight going all night, and that Ya’akov persevered in the face of such a powerful opponent. But the injury raises difficult questions too. We are forced to draw the conclusion that indeed G-d would actually harm you if needed to bring you to obedience. Maybe we should be shocked by that. It doesn’t seem to fit the nice gentle loving G-d concept does it? Yet Ya’akov limped for the rest of his life. And what about Rav Shaul? G-d blinded him for 3 days, and even then we read in the second letter to the Jewish community in Corinth (2 Cor 12:7) that G-d gave him a thorn in the flesh, just like Ya’akov. It was the reliance on the flesh that caused this to come about, because it is only in the flesh, the strength of man that we boast. If we boast spiritually it has to be only in what G-d can do and does, not what we can.

Both of these men carried in their bodies reminders of their previous attitudes and approaches. Obedience was so important that they had to learn this lesson in their own bodies. Have you ever wondered why G-d is doing something in or with you? It hurts, causes pain, causes you to recoil physically or emotionally or mentally, and yet the outcome is for obedience. It is simply too easy to box G-d in and not see His hand at work in you simply because you deny Him the right to be in that area of your life. But for G-d there are no ‘no go’ areas in your life.

Meeting G-d is serious. And each and every one of us needs to ‘meet’ with Him at some point in our lives if we are to move from being a ‘Ya’akov’ to being a ‘Israel’.

Of course there are some rabbis over the centuries who have always maintained that this couldn’t have been G-d, that Ya’akov wrestled with his conscience or an angel. But if we have eyes to see the deeper reality here we can see the remarkable truth that brings the change in Ya’akov’s life, in Rav Shaul’s and ours. The Torah says we cannot see G-d, and that if we do we shall die. This, by any understanding of who G-d is, is true. So how do we understand passages like this? Do we interpret them away from the obvious and clear meaning? No, we do not have the ‘freedom’ or liberty to interpret in this way.

One thing is for sure, we shall all ‘see’ G-d. In the revelation given to Yochanan it makes it clear that we shall come face to face with Him, and some will die, instantly, the second and final death for all eternity. Yet some will not. Some CONTINUE into Life. In other words, they already have it before they encounter G-d at the end of their lives. The Scriptures talk about ‘passing from judgement into Life’ and that this happens as we accept the wonderful sacrifice brought by the sinless One, Mashiach Yeshua. As we encounter G-d in Mashiach Yeshua we die, and we are instantaneously revived unto life. Our old life passes and His new Life begins to flow through us. Ya’akov is the living proof of this. Yet the rabbis to be fair aren’t all wrong either. One of the reasons why they claim this cannot be G-d is that no unrighteous thing, human being can stand in the presence of a fully righteous G-d. This is true. But the internal logic is wrong. If a person was able to be transformed into being fully righteous, then we COULD stand in His presence! But the question remains then: how to be that righteous? As Shaul discovered that day when he met the Lord, there is a righteousness accounted to us apart from (but not instead of) works of the Torah (in which we fail), that of the same faith and trusting G-d for our salvation and deliverance as Avraham exhibited. As Ya’akov understood this he says ‘my life has been delivered’.

But the changes didn’t stop there. An encounter with G-d is day one. Both saw changes in their lives and messages. As we read through the life of Ya’akov it is clear that he now trusts G-d, has a deep faith, even if he at times still got things wrong. For the first time the Torah records for us in Gen 32 that Ya’akov prays, a solid plea of a man with a living relationship with the G-d of his Fathers. With Rav Shaul his message is also changed. If you analyse Rav Shaul’s writings you will see a definite pattern: pastoral advice, some application of Torah, but above all the ‘preaching of Mashiach’s sacrificial death’ (1 Cor 1:23) which he says is to Jewish people a stumbling stone and to Gentiles foolishness. Rav Shaul’s focus was not on lifestyle so much as his zeal to ensure that all his own people had heard of the wonderful name of Yeshua, and then having done that, to take that message to the nations too. As a Jew amongst Jews it was for him the crucial element, the life-giving element, the dynamis if you will, that motivated him every day. Both men knew that we stand by faith alone, both had their messages changed.

Finally, all 3 Patriarchs had an encounter with G-d and as a result either had their names changed (Avraham and Ya’akov) or were already named by G-d (Yitzchak). Let’s deal with Avraham and Ya’akov first. As a result of the encounter they became a new creation the new name reflected that. It was day one, as a man born again, a spiritual rebirth of the kind that Mashiach Yeshua taught so many years later. It is why Messianic Judaism teaches taking a new name on conversion and immersion. Your new name, if you are coming from a gentile background, represents your new nature, the new person you have now become. We have a reference to this in the revelation given to Yochanan (Rev 2:17), as we overcome a new name is given, just like Ya’akov. So what about Yitzchak? He was named by G-d even before his birth, just like Mashiach Yeshua. Yitzchak’s role was to be set apart from the outset, the son of promise, a man of faith as we saw in previous weeks. For him the akeidah, laying down in trust of his father’s words. So too, he becomes a type of Mashiach who would truly lay down His life for all.

So have we had that encounter with the living G-d? We Jews need it, and G-d is waiting for us. Maybe you’re fighting G-d, unable to accept what is happening in your life as being from Him, resisting His hand upon you, seeking to flee from Him? It’s time to open up and see that obedience is your calling. Coming face to face with

G-d is not to be feared but embraced, IF you have truly passed from judgement to life.