The Reluctant Chosen

Ya’akov is on his journey of becoming a man of God. He has a lot of growing up to do, emotionally and above all spiritually; here is the man who while sleeping on the future Temple site is blissfully unaware of the presence of God, so spiritually deaf is he and as yet untrained in the ways of God. His life is hallmarked by his constant struggles with God and man; he is a man for whom rebellion seems logical and natural; compliance is a still unrealised hope.

Despite all this, to this man and his descendants was given the Land, the Inheritance and Promise; God CHOSE him over his brother – a sovereign choice from HaShem alone.  Ya’akov was no saint either!

God’s choice of Ya’akov connected him with the greater Promise and Land inheritance given in perpetuity to us, the Jewish people. The Land is important to God; that’s why even today some 4000 years later Israel is still in the news: the spiritual powers of evil are determined to prove God a liar. If Israel falls and is removed permanently from the hands of the Jewish people, then hasatan will have won, the universe will be rolled up and ended.

This distinction of being the Land of the Fathers resonates with the future too. as it was for Ya’akov, so too it will be ours and so God says with confidence that despite Ya’akov having to leave the Land, he will return again. God always brings His chosen ones back to the Land, home, once more.

And yet I am embarrassed. Why could I even say such a thing after declaring the glorious promise of the Lord about the Land and our fathers who believed it and dwelt there? Because even today, with the bloodshed across our Land, I’m left with the niggling itch at the back of my mind that we don’t deserve it. The issue of choice is not just a one way street; God has chosen us to be His people in His Land but we also have to choose Him to be our God. Our history is littered with times when we have chosen to walk contrary to our God. It is the choices that we make that determine whether we stay in the Land or not; we choose as the Torah says. The Land will always remain ours because God has willed it to be so but whether we remain as tenant holders is another issue.

I called this talk ‘the reluctant chosen’ because this pattern is established early with Ya’akov. His response to God as he heard the reiteration of the promises to him was this: if God came through, then Ya’akov would make HaShem his God.  This reveals a tendency to see this ‘relationship’ as a trade deal, an agreement beneficial to both sides; “you do your bit and I’ll do mine”. How different could it have been if instead of bargaining with God he had simply bent the knee and said “thy will be done”. But this reluctance to accept the complete rulership of the Lord was set and pursued throughout his life until finally he was so humbled that he did bend the knee but limped everyday to prove it.

Ya’akov sets out to achieve everything in his own strength and power. He strives with God and his fellow man, fighting both in his attempts to survive and to fulfil his calling and task. And it gets worse: his choices took him to a place of sin because he attempted at all times to walk in the flesh, to establish the rule of the Lord by his own strength and power. Like Ya’akov, we too find that this conflict with the Lord cannot be won. We struggle to achieve God’s will in our lives just as much as we struggle against sin if we insist on attempting to deal with it in our own strength. It is only by the power of God IN us that we have any ability to rise up to our calling and task, historically and personally. It is as we run out of resources and get to the end of ourselves that we truly bend the knee and experience His deliverance. How sad that so many of us have to get to that state first before we realise who really is in control of our lives. But still we deceive ourselves and continue to believe that if I only try that little bit harder I can see this through.

Today we find ourselves trying so hard internationally to justify our existence amidst the internal tatters of the Zionist secular dream. God has indeed brought us back once more, this time in unbelief as He said He would, and we are yet to replace the secular Zionism with a Torah, faith-filled Zionism. But we keep on trying; Ya’akov would have felt at home today in Israel.

Read Hoshea 12:2-6 and 14:1-3. Our national problem has been the Ya’akov problem. Israel has been as reluctant a chosen one as were our fathers, indeed as we are personally. Which one of us here today can say that we have truly followed the Lord single-mindedly and faithfully every day in every decision we’ve made? How many of us if we’re honest would admit to trying to survive spiritually by our own wits and abilities?

  1. Assyria will not save us: throughout our history we have consistently sought, by alliances and agreements, to survive, enlisting the support of nations greater than our own (or so we thought). The only dependency relationship you need is with the God of Israel.
  2. We shall not ride horses: depending on human strength and military might is a non-starter. I praise God that so many of the rockets this last week have been stopped by the Iron Dome shield, but there is actually only one shield of Avraham and He doesn’t need a barrage of rockets to protect us. I’m not saying we should not defend ourselves, but merely that it is not to be our reliance. If we trust in technology we fail to trust Him who can defend us. This is another facet to the nature of Ya’akov. He only really trusted in himself to get the job done.
  3. We will no longer call what we made with our own hands gods. This is ultimately self-worship: we made it so we must be pretty smart too. This breeds a pride of life and personal ability that ultimately sets us up for a fall, as Rav Shaul says.

All 3 of these areas delineate the pattern of Ya’akov: the self-made man who can do it all in his own strength.

Now you see why I am embarrassed. If it were not for our God, we would not exist at all and we would not even have our land. As Israel we have battled against God, failed to meet up to His high righteous standards and instead of repenting of this we now insist that everything is possible in our own strength and power. But self-reliance has no place in the Kingdom of God. Such attitudes cause me to be embarrassed because I recognise them in myself too, and I know they do not reflect the values and standards of the Kingdom. I fall short of God’s glory. And I don’t deserve His mercies and promises. But then neither did Ya’akov. Our hope is that as God’s chosen He will achieve in us what He achieved in Ya’akov, a full change of heart and spirit that is dependent upon God alone and not on ourselves. Then we shall have no more reason to be embarrassed. Then we shall once more dwell in the Land of promise as good tenants and rise to our calling as a light to the nations.

Parashat Vayetzei