Seeing the Face of God | Vayishlach
By Teri Furr
Vayishlach: “and he sent”
This week’s portion focuses on one of the patriarchs of our faith—Jacob. The story of his life is portrayed throughout many chapters of the book of Genesis. He first appears in a previous Torah portion (Parashat Toldot || Genesis 25:19 – 28:9) when Rebecca is pregnant and feels Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, struggling with each other in utero. It is helpful for us to recount some of the early events of Jacob’s life as we setup this week’s musings.
The twins’ struggle continues after birth, with Jacob becoming his mother’s favorite, while Esau (the firstborn) becomes Isaac’s favorite. Jacob convinces Esau (the hunter) into selling him his birthright for a bowl of soup. Years later, Jacob masquerades himself as Esau and deludes his father (Isaac) into giving him Esau’s firstborn blessing. Instead of facing the consequences of his misbehavior, Jacob flees to escape his brother’s wrath and journeys to live with his uncle Laban. While on his pilgrimage, Jacob has a dream in which angels go up and down a ladder connecting earth to heaven, and then God appears renewing the covenant He had made with Abraham.
At Laban’s house, Jacob reaps the deception he has sown throughout his life, and goes from deceiver to deceived—in another case of one sibling posing as another. This sets the trajectory of Jacob’s life for the next many years. After marrying both Leah and Rachel and serving Laban for 20 years, the time arrives for Jacob and his family to move on.
This is where we pick up for this week’s portion …
Jacob has some unfinished business to handle with his older brother, who (as far as he knew) still harbored a deep-seated grudge. In chapter 32, Jacob makes plans in anticipation of a hostile encounter. He divides his family and flocks into two camps, so that if Esau attacked one, the other might escape and survive. He also sends an elaborate gift ahead of him (in several parts) to ameliorate his brother.
But God also had unfinished business to transact with Jacob. I am so thankful that, in spite of our rebellion and sinful nature, God is committed to the shaping of our souls. This was certainly true in Jacob’s life.
Jacob had sent his family on ahead and he was now alone that night. ‘A man’ appears out of nowhere and starts wrestling with Jacob—in a match that would persist until daybreak. Jacob gets the upper hand, so the ‘man’ touches Jacob at the place of his thigh socket and instantly dislocates his leg. But Jacob persists. Just as he held tenaciously to the heel of his older brother at birth, he refuses to let go of the man. Aware of the supernatural nature of his opponent, Jacob insists upon a blessing. As a result, his name is changed from Jacob (‘deceiver’) to Israel (‘wrestles with God’).
There are multiple theories—and even great debate—about the identity of the man. The most common explanation is that the man was an angel. Some believe, however, that Jacob was wrestling with his own conscience … while others say he was wrestling with Esau himself. Whatever the case, the match ends with Jacob naming the place of his struggle Peniel (‘the face of God’); and saying, ‘I have seen God face-to-face, yet my life has been preserved.’
I find this fascinating, as there is great profundity found in each supposition of the man’s identity. Like Jacob’s dream with the angelic ladder, perhaps God was ‘connecting heaven and earth’ by confronting the strongholds in Jacob’s life. Perhaps it was time for Jacob to wrestle with his own conscience. Perhaps it was time for Jacob to face the spirit of deception operating in his life. Perhaps it was time for Jacob to feel the weight of the wrong he had done against Esau …
Perhaps for any of us to see God face-to-face, we must wrestle out the parts of our character that keep us from looking like Him.
In Hosea 12:3-4 the prophet affirms (some 600 years later) that within the struggle, Jacob was having an encounter with God—“In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there.”
Jacob’s name, ‘deceiver,’ did characterize much of his life, but God changed his identity that day. Because he was willing to reckon with God alone, Jacob became one to whom God made (and fulfilled) promises. Despite Jacob’s faults, God chose him to be the leader of a great nation, which still bears his name today. Jacob’s life is a testimony that God is not looking for perfection … but He is looking for those who willingly yield themselves to the transformational work that comes from seeing the face of God.
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About the Author
Teri Furr is a wife, mom, and minister of the gospel. She is an executive pastor at The Refuge church and has been traveling, preaching, and teaching for over 20 years as a part of the great duet for her life (King Solomon wrote over 1,000 songs, but the one he called the ‘Song Of All Songs’ was a duet between the Bridegroom King and His beloved). She believes the Lord’s favorite song is the one that we join in with Him to release a sound into the earth. You can learn more about her ministry on www.TeriFurr.com
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