Children of Faith

Torah Portion: Vayishlach (Genesis 32:3-36:43)
Gospel Reading: Heb. 11:1-12:2; Gal. 3:26-29
Commentary by: Chris Knight

In this week’s portion we read of Jacob and his return to the promised land. As we read about his journey home, we notice that Jacob is in great fear; fear of his brother Esau. I can only imagine what might have been going through his mind after all these years of being separated from his family. “Is Esau still planning to kill me!? What could happen to my family!? Will I ever truly get to see the inheritance promised to me through Abraham and Isaac!?” Jacob had many reasons to be afraid for his life and his future in the land of Canaan. However, he also had the greatest reason to have no fear and to be at peace!

When Jacob learns that his brother Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred of his men, Jacob decides to cry out to God! I believe there is something beautiful and exemplary about what we read in Genesis 32:9-12 where it says, “And Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,” 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, “I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.”’”

Although Jacob has not been the greatest of examples in any of our readings so far, this prayer of Jacob’s is one that we can learn a lot from. Jacob realizes that his safety, his future, and his inheritance come only from God. Jacob, in a moment drenched in fear and panic, cries out to God by recalling the promises that were made to him. He admits that these promises are not earned on his own merit nor is he deserving of the great mercies of the Most High but rather that it is God’s faithfulness to His Word and His promises that are the source of comfort and protection.

This theme is not exclusive to Jacob. We have seen it before in Genesis, in the life of Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. In fact, as noted in Genesis, as well as Paul’s writings, it was trusting in the promises of God that was the basis of Abraham’s righteousness before God. We read in Genesis 15:1-6, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’ 2 But Abram said, ‘Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ 3 Then Abram said, ‘Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!’ 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ 5 Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ 6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”

As we know from our readings of Genesis, Abraham was no more perfect than Jacob was. Abraham was also a man who struggled at times with fear, unbelief, and sin. However, Abraham was a man who continued to stand on the promise and it is through this very same promise that we, today, can have hope and joy! We too, like Abraham and Jacob, must learn that it is not our own strength, our own righteousness, or our own merit in which we can rely, but instead, it is the faithfulness of God through the compassionate gift of His son and our Messiah, Yeshua.

The author of Hebrews gives us an extensive account of the role models of this faith in chapter 11. He concludes his list of the examples of faith with the words in Hebrews 12:1-2 where he states, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Yeshua, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Just as each and every one of our forefathers had to trust in the promises of God, many of them never seeing them come to fulfillment in their lifetime, we must also trust that God will forever be faithful when we turn to Him and trust in Him. Why? Because of the same promise He made to Abraham, of which, we are also partakers through the Messiah! Paul explains this in Galations 3:26-29 where he says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Messiah Yeshua. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Messiah have put on Messiah. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. 29 And if you are Messiah’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

I think it safe to say that the scriptures are consistent and clear in their message of trusting in the Word of our Lord. Just as Jacob had every reason to live in fear, we are also bombarded daily and on all sides by threats, fears, challenges, obstacles, terrors, and the worries of everyday life. I believe the question and true test is how we respond to this never ceasing onslaught of worry. Will we choose to wallow in fear and hopelessness? Will we resort to a faith in self; trusting in our own righteousness, knowledge, strength, ability, or skill? Or… will we look to the example of the fathers of our faith? Will we pray the prayer of Jacob? Will we realize that it is not by power nor by our own might but it is by the faithful mercies of God and the steadfastness of His Word that we can have peace, security, joy, comfort, and hope in this ever turbulent world in which we live.