Parashat Toldot - November 18th

Toldot תולדות

Genesis 25.19—28.9

Genesis 25.21-26: “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebecca his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is thus, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’ When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came forth red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came forth, and his hand had taken hold of Esau's heel; so his name was called Jacob.”

In the previous parashah we saw that Abraham’s final mission in life was to find a wife for his son. Abraham knows that Isaac is the promised son and understands the importance of this task. More than that, Abraham understands the faithfulness of the one who stands behind this promise—God himself! He knows that it is the sovereign God who will bring the specific wife he has chosen for Isaac (Genesis 24.7). There is a direct link between this assignment and God’s promise of the land and a seed/descendant. This week’s parashah continues to describe the historical path through which God sends his salvation to all humanity. To our limited human understanding the path may seem crooked (“naftol”), but God’s understanding is perfect, and his paths are infinitely higher than ours.

First of all, divine intervention is needed for Rebecca to have children. It is only after twenty years of marriage and her husband’s prayers that Rebecca is able to give birth (25.21). But then she has two children, not just the one God had promised. More than that, it is not even the promised child who comes first. Jacob emerges holding on to his brother’s heel; the two are connected (25:26). It is as if there cannot be a Jacob without an Esau.

 

As we saw with the sons of Abraham, it is not the first born who is the son of the promise but his younger brother. This is God’s will and happens by his direct intervention (25.23). We are reminded again that God is sovereign, and his will and plan are perfect. We must only obey and submit ourselves to his will. This parashah teaches us that divine election is entirely a matter of God’s grace and sovereignty; it is never a matter of human righteousness.

The apostle Paul recognizes how contrary all this is to our human understanding. Commenting on the birth of Esau and Jacob, he says, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy.” (Romans 9.10-16.)

Genesis 25.29-34: “Once when Jacob was boiling pottage, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red pottage, for I am famished!’ (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”

Esau was born first. It was something he had no control over. It was a gift from God! But Esau despised this gift from God, and God was displeased (25.34; Romans 9.13). All of us have been given divine rights and gifts from God, and we must never “sell” them for any price or any supposed temporary advantage! Not even for the price of our lives. The same applies to the people of Israel. Some may say, “Is it really relevant that you are a chosen people,” or “Do you think that there is any benefit or meaning to being a Jew?” But God did choose a people to serve him and to establish his kingdom among them. Although all believers in the Messiah—Jew and Gentile—are the same in terms of salvation, none of us should “sell” the rights and calling God has given us. It would greatly displease God.

Genesis 26.4: “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give to your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves.” The Messiah is the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; he is the blessing promised to all nations. He will heal the curse of sin.

Genesis 26.12-30: We may see Isaac as a type of the Messiah, both as the direct promised descendant of Abraham, and also in his behavior. In Genesis 26.12-30 Isaac’s behavior shows him to be a man of peace. As he digs again the wells his father had once dug and then digs wells of his own, he is opposed by the servants of Abimelech. By their own statement (26.16), Isaac is stronger than they are. Even so, he chooses not to enter a confrontation with them. When they come to take a well he has dug, he just moves on to another place. He could have fought for his rights, but instead he chose the way of peace.

In the end, the same people who were making trouble for Isaac come to him and make the amazing statement (Genesis 26.28-29), “We see plainly that the Lord is with you . . . you are blessed of the Lord.”

The Messiah is the messenger of the peace of God. The prophet Micah told of one who had existed from eternity but who one day would be born of a woman in the town of Bethlehem. The conclusion of Micah’s messianic prophecy is the simple statement that “this one will be peace” (Micah 5.5). Isaiah (9.6) says one of Messiah’s titles is “prince of peace” (see also Zechariah 6.13). With this we may also connect a possible meaning of ‘shiloh’ in Genesis 49.10. While the exact meaning of the name is uncertain, some have suggested that it is related to the word shalev, meaning peaceable.

Jesus confirmed that this was indeed part of his mission. “I have told you this so that you will have peace by being united to me. The world will make you suffer. But be brave! I have defeated the world!” (John 16.33) And the apostle Paul tells us what is the essence of this peace of the Messiah: “Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus the Messiah” (Romans 5.1).

Those who follow the Messiah are also expected to be people of peace. Romans 12.18: “Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody.” See also Hebrews 12.14.

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Genesis 27.9: “Go to the flock, and fetch me two good kids, that I may prepare from them savory food for your father, such as he loves.”

When Rebecca told Jacob to go prepare “two good kids of goats,” we are reminded of the two goats that were sacrificed on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16.7-10), the only day of the year when two goats were offered. One of those two goats was sent to the mysterious “azazel.” When the 12th century Spanish rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra was asked the meaning of Azazel, he replied “You will understand when you are 33.” He related Azazel to Esau. Might he have been hinting at the full spelling of the name עשיו (Esau), which is ישוע (Jesus) with the letters shifted?

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Haftarah: Malachi 1.1—2.7

Malachi 1.6-14: God will only accept unblemished sacrifices. The Messiah will be perfect and righteous.

Shabbat Shalom!

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