The Jabok River
By: Rami Rachamim
(Our Guide in Israel!)
This week’s Torah Portion (“Vayshlach” – “And Jacob sent” – Gen. 32:3-36:43), contains one of the most important stories in Scriptures – Jacob’s experience at the Jabok Pass (Gen. 32:22-32). The story contains the very first the term/name “ISRAEL” is mentioned in the Word. The story defines the true biblical meaning of ISRAEL and its implications. Lastly, the story provides us with some insights concerning the times we are living in these days.
Jacob – The third forefather of the nation of Israel, pays much more than double for his past sins against his brother Esau. Far away from his homeland (Canaan, Israel, the place where he was born in, the place where he really belonged to), he has to work for 20 long years for Laban; in long and cold nights and hot days in the fields and, while being 10 times cheated in his wages (Gen. 31:38-41).
In God’s timing, Jacob is called to go back and possess what was legally his – God’s Promised Land. There, on his way back to that legal possession, being in great fear from his brother Esau, Jacob has a unique experience with the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham…
Just before dawn, still in the dark of the night, completely alone down in a dry riverbed, with no warning and no time to prepare, “a man wrestled with him ’till dawn” (Gen. 32:24).
What I would like to concentrate on in this teaching, is the new name and nature that “man” gave to Jacob that night: “Israel” comes from two Hebrew words: “Sara” (“Struggled”/“Quarreled”/“Wrestled”) and, “El” (“God”).
In the Bible “Sar” is mostly translated as “Prince” (Singular) or, “Sarim” (“Princes,” Plural), but sometimes also as “a commander” and “a captain” (Gen. 21:22 – Phicol was Abimelech’s “commander”, Hebrew, “Sar.” See also Gen. 37:36). In Modern Hebrew, “Sar” (Masculine) or “Sara” (Feminine) is a governmental ‘minister.’
We can see that the biblical meaning of “an Israelite” has to do with one who “Struggles”/“Wrestles” as well as “Ministering”/being “a Prince” with and for God.
Was this the first time Jacob/Israel “struggled” in his life? Was it the last time he did? The answer is a clear no! Jacob struggled with the very idea of collaborating with his mother’s idea to take the first-born blessings from his brother Esau (Gen. 27:11-13). As said above, he struggled for 20 years in Laban’s house; he struggled also while being back in his own land (see the following Torah Portions, which deal with the “loss” of his son Joseph and the great agony this brought upon him). Yes, most of Jacob/Israel’s life was not comfortable, calm or joyful, to say the least. One can see this towards the end of his life, and in his own words to Pharaoh (Gen. 47:9)!
The parallels and similarities between Jacob/Israel’s life to the life of his decedents, the nation of Israel, are many. The history of the nation of Israel is filled with many struggles:
They struggled as slaves in Egypt. They struggled in the wilderness for 40 long years. They struggled while in their Promised Land, to survive and keep possessing it. They struggled in Babylonia, to which they were exiled; they struggled while coming back from that 70 years exile and attempting to rebuild their land. They again struggled to keep possessing the land. They struggled to survive in yet another exile; this time a long one, of almost 2000 years amongst all the nations of the world. They struggled and are still struggling since over 100 years now, to build and possess their land once again… all of this while being through many trials, hardships, wars, tragedies, loss and so on!
Beloved family, what is going on in Israel these days, is nothing but the continuation of this very same story of struggle! Jews all over the world, especially in their God’s given Land, are struggling for their very existence as an entity, as a nation, and as GOD’S FIRST BORN SON (see Ex. 4:22)!
Yes, ONLY IN AND THROUGH STRUGGLES, will they eventually be where God wants them to be: His MINISTERS, His very representatives and the ones ruling together with Him over all the Earth! Moreover, Scripture show clearly that we – believers and followers of their Messiah Redeemer – are as well called to be ISRAELITES! We are all called to STRUGGLE in order to get in to our very calling, which is to rule and minister with Him over everything that He has created!
Some of us are still “at the Jabok River”. Some of us feel they are still “in exile”, some of us feel they are struggling even to keep their own God given possession (I.e., the very faith itself)! I personally am also, for many years in that “dry riverbed…” Yes, I need to strive and believe that I also am “just before dawn” and that the sun will indeed once again rise over me (Gen. 32:31); and until it does, I must continue the fight; I must continue the struggle until He gives me that “new name” and His blessing!
My beloved family in Yeshua, it seems to me that we – exactly like our forefather Jacob – were born to struggle. Yes, it seems to me that it is only through and by these very struggles that we are to grow “from glory to glory” in our relationship with “that man”, who is the only ONE who can truly make us pass successfully through the waters and fires of this life!
Life is not easy, and it will not be until He comes to redeem us from the mess this world is in these days. In fact, scripture clearly states that it will not be better, but worse, before His Glorious return! Until then, let us keep each other in prayers; let us help each other with whatever He has blessed us with! Let us not forsake our fellowship with one another, as we truly will need each other in the hard times ahead!
In His Love & Mercies!
Yosef Rachamim (Rami).