Dr Clifford Denton.
Vayetze: Genesis 28:10-32:2.
25th November 2023/Kislev 12.
And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You. (Genesis 28:22)
Picture by Helen McNeill
The Kingdom of Heaven is founded on relationships, which depend on interaction with one another. Relationships in God’s Kingdom are strengthened by the principle of giving and receiving.
In this week’s Torah Portion, we continue to learn from Jacob’s life and with reference to other Scriptures. We travel with him to Padan Aram. He goes there alone and returns to Canaan with his family. He meets God on the way and God’s covenant commitment to him is confirmed, bringing forth Jacob’s response. We can learn from this about our own relationship with God, who will meet with us too and bring us into His covenant blessings. Like Jacob, our response must be to give back to God from what He gives us. How can a family respond to God together, as Jacob’s family would have needed to learn, following Jacob’s personal commitment?
We introduced a reference to Ephesians 5 and 6 in last week’s Torah portion. It is good also, at the beginning of this study, to read this again, and have Paul’s teaching in mind for our own family as we consider Jacob and his family. These chapters of Ephesians present the wonderful design of God’s family but also highlight the spiritual battle to attain and maintain God’s purposes.
The Apostle Paul wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians. He had studied under Gamaliel, one of the prominent Rabbis of his day, and was taught the principles of Torah as well as anyone has been. Then, after he encountered the risen Lord on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), he understood the truths of Torah from a much deeper, more spiritual, and life-giving way. He knew of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, their call and journey of faith with God. He could trace the theme of relationships with God and among God’s people through all the biblical history of Israel, and he could put them in the perspective of the New Covenant. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians comes to a climax in Ephesians 5 and 6, where relationships between God and mankind are patterned and established in believing families. The spiritual battle highlighted in Ephesians 6 shows the reality of our need for a close walk with God to strengthen this most wonderful and precious foundation of the believing community – family! We seek to act as one in our family before God.
What can we learn from Jacob?
Central to our study is Jacob’s meeting God at Bethel, when God promised He would be with him and bless him and his descendants. Yet difficulties were in store in Padan Aram – the beginning of Jacob’s troubles. We are not told of the nature of the spiritual battle in Jacob’s day. We do know that our spiritual adversary was in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and that spiritual conflict would be with the human race from the Fall until the full restoration through Yeshua (Genesis 3:14-19). We have glimpses of satan’s devices in the Tanach (Old Testament), for example in the Book of Job and in Isaiah 14:12-17. As far as Jacob’s struggles go in our Torah portion, first with Esau and then with Laban, we see it only from the position of human interaction, so we can only guess if and where satan had a part to play. These were early days in God’s redemptive covenant plan, but also days when foreign gods were recognised, so we should not be surprised at Laban’s household idols and Rachel’s seeing them as a valuable commodity (Genesis 31:19). Many such idols from those days have been dug up by archaeologists and are in museums today. They are often grotesque and convey images which we would associate with demons – false gods, the work of satan. So perhaps satan was involved in some of Jacob’s struggles, especially if his relationships became strained at times, as is so for many people. Were his struggles against the powers of darkness, just as ours are?
Jacob’s commitment to a strong relationship with God is important for us to study, to help us know how to fulfil James’ injunction to submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
It is the strength of God’s Covenant promise that ensures a pathway through this fallen world for God’s chosen people. The blessing given to Jacob by Isaac (Genesis 28:3-4) had spiritual strength, and the covenant made first with Abraham, then Isaac and renewed with Jacob at Bethel was immutable (Genesis 28:13-15). God was faithful and was with Jacob in the acquisition of flocks of sheep and goats, despite what we would judge as scheming on Jacob’s part as well as on Laban’s. Jacob had many struggles despite God’s covenant faithfulness.
God’s ways are so far above ours that we can barely understand how the twelve tribes of Israel, who would inherit the covenant promises, were begun in the womb of not just Rachel, but also of Leah and two maidservants. Yet we understand that God was with Jacob even in the most intimate times of relationship with his wives. His frustration shown in Genesis 30:2, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”, is a clue to the way Jacob understood the part God took, just as with Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebekah.
At Bethel a transaction took place between Jacob and God. Just as with Abraham, a journey of faith began out of deepening relationship. Referring again to Ephesians 5 and 6, such relationship is offered to all of God’s people. Relationship is two-way. We see this from the immediate response of Jacob at Bethel, after God spoke to him – Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:20-22) Here was Jacob’s commitment – giving back to God from what He had given him. This is one of the responses to God that strengthens our relationship with Him. It is an important biblical principle that began with Jacob and was passed on to his descendants, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, in Moses’ time.
On the one hand is God’s faithfulness. On the other hand, is the struggle on our part to maintain our relationship with Him – our personal walk, in the fulness of His peace. We can see from Jacob’s life that, despite his commitment to give back to God struggles were not avoided – rather like our own strong intentions which can fade in the business of life and in the spiritual battle. Tithing is a response to God’s blessing to us. Relationship is two-way and giving back to God from what He gives to us is part of the Kingdom principle of giving and receiving to build our relationship.
Tithing was customary in the days of the patriarchs. Abraham knew this when he tithed to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20). Indeed, tithing is a prominent theme in the Bible. We do not know how Jacob gave to God. Later in the Torah we know about sacrifices and offerings in the Tabernacle and Temple, but this incident precedes the teaching of Moses. It is a heart response after an encounter with the Living God. Such heart response can fade, and with it can come a distancing from God. It is not always easy to know how to give to God. In our day we don’t burn up our offerings to God, as offerings were made from the flocks of Israel on the brazen altar, but God will show us ways of giving to Him by giving to His Kingdom purposes. Tithing can be ritual and empty, or it can be from the heart and in true fellowship with God, as Jacob intended it to be.
Here then is a challenge to us in our families out of this week’s Torah portion. However, we consider Jacob’s journey with God, we know that the weakness of the flesh and the pressures of our spiritual adversary distract us from a perfect relationship with God if we allow them. Jacob’s immediate response in his commitment was to give a tithe back to God. It was a heartfelt beginning for him but also one that must be maintained on our journey through life, as we seek to stay in relationship with our Heavenly Father. Above all, the order and unity of our families is precious to God. How, together, can our family give to God from what He has given us as our heartfelt expression of commitment to relationship with Him? How, do we give to God, when He is in Heaven, and we are on earth? A matter for prayer, surely. But there will be a way unique for us that will be a contribution to deepening fellowship with God and the resulting security in His covenant blessings.
To strengthen the significance of this question, the Book of Malachi could be read alongside our Torah portion this week. Malachi is about the community of Israel – the family of Jacob – whose relationship with God had become distant. The evidence was in broken families. The call to recover that relationship was sent by God through His Prophet – “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say,
‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse,
For you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”
The curse of Torah was taken by Yeshua on the Cross (Galatians 3:13), but the principle of giving and receiving is still a biblical principal when we consider development of relationships. Giving to God must be a heart issue as it was initially for Jacob – a response to God’s calling us into His covenant family. How each family can give to God is a matter of prayer between them and God. Fellowship with God, His blessings on our family, even in the most intimate of moments, is precious, and most important to attain and maintain. Let us take this to prayer moment by moment and day by day. Our spiritual adversary seeks to spoil our relationships in our family and with our Father in Heaven. We must take every opportunity for our relationships to remain strong especially in these days of intensifying spiritual conflict.