Study and Test the Entire Bible in a Year, Every Year
– Week 8 –
The scroll of the Torah/ Pentateuch is the oldest (other than Job) and most sacred of all our Scriptures. It contains the “five books of Moses”. The Hebrew name for the first one is B’reisheet (בראשית). It is also the first word of the book in the Hebrew text, as well as the name for the first Bible Study (the first week’s reading). B’reisheet means “in the beginning.” The first 12 Bible studies start in B’reisheet…
The eighth reading from the book of Genesis to Revelation is named “and he sent”, or Vayishlach (וישלח),in Hebrew. The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom” (Genesis 32:3 [verse 4 in Jewish-published Bibles]). Jacob prepares to meet Esau as he returns to the Promised Land, but first he has a mysterious encounter with an angel in the darkness, who changes his name to Israel. The portion follows Jacob’s adventures in the land of Canaan, including the loss of his beloved wife, Rachel. Continue the deep dive into understanding God’s Word below.
Learn the Bible in 52 Weeks. How It Works:
On the 1st day of every week (Sunday), I release the next week’s Bible study: It will take you all week to get through it if you even do. By the 7th day of the week, you should have finished it and met as a group to fellowship and discuss it in a HomeGroup. All of our subscribers gather on different days to discuss the Bible studies, so after the majority of our subscribers have finished their Sunday services, we update for the next week. More resources are available in the mobile app and website than you could get from seminary, for free.
You will also find study guides by chapter and advanced study of the original languages following the Bible study outline. While it is our belief that many of the letters of the New Testament were originally written in Aramaic and/ or Hebrew, the Greek texts are used for study even when there are known Hebrew manuscripts (eg. Mathew and Hebrews).
Quick Bible Audio & Text:
Listen to all the Bible study below or click the link to read them at biblegateway.com in your favorite translation:
Listen to all the Bible study below or click the link to read them at biblegateway.com in your favorite translation:
This Week’s Bible Outlines & Study Guides
- Penteteuch: Genesis 32:3-36:43
- Genesis 32:3 | Jacob Sends Presents to Appease Esau
- Genesis 32:22 | Jacob Wrestles at Peniel
- Genesis 33:1 | Jacob and Esau Meet
- Genesis 33:18 | Jacob Reaches Shechem
- Genesis 34:1 | The Rape of Dinah
- Genesis 34:25 | Dinah’s Brothers Avenge Their Sister
- Genesis 35:1 | Jacob Returns to Bethel
- Genesis 35:16 | The Birth of Benjamin and the Death of Rachel
- Genesis 35:27 | The Death of Isaac
- Genesis 36:1 | Esau’s Descendants
- Genesis 36:15 | Clans and Kings of Edom
- Prophets: Hosea 11:7-12:12, Obadiah 1:1-21
- Hos 11:1 | God’s Compassion Despite Israel’s Ingratitude
- Hos 12:2 | The Long History of Rebellion
- Oba 1:5 | Pillage and Slaughter Will Repay Edom’s Cruelty
- Oba 1:10 | Edom Mistreated His Brother
- Oba 1:17 | Israel’s Final TriumphGospels:Matthew 2
- Mathew 2 | Many Wise Men (Not 3) Follow His Star
- Letters: 1 Peter 2
- 1 Peter 1:3 | A Message of Living Hope
- 1 Peter 1:13 | A Call to Be Holy
- (Greek Audio) (Interlinear)Revelation 11
- Revelation 11:1 | Two Witnesses, Two Olive Trees and 2 Menorahs
- Revelation 11:15 | The Seventh Trumpet
- Revelation 11:19 | Temple of God in heaven was opened
- (Greek Audio) (Interlinear)
This Week’s Bible Study Commentary
As he prepared to face Esau, Jacob experienced a strange mystical encounter with God. He had sent his family, his servants and his possessions across a river ahead of him. He was about to follow when he was suddenly attacked by an assailant. Jacob wrestled the man through the night. The attacker turned out to be none other than the angel of the LORD.
Jacob wrestled with the angel through the night. He would not let the angel go. Jacob said to the angel, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26)
Rashi explains this name change as if the angel said, “No longer shall you be called Yaakov (Jacob), because they will no longer say that the blessings came to you by means of trickery (yakav, יעקב) and deceit. You shall be called Israel (ישראל), because you have been publicly authorized (sararah, שררה) to receive the blessing.”
The name Jacob represented Jacob’s life before encountering God, his old nature. The name Israel represented Jacob’s life after encountering God. It represented his new nature and new destiny.
A genuine encounter with God is life-changing. It is a sort of wrestling match. The apostles teach us that, through faith in Jesus/ Yeshua, we are born again as new creations. In Messiah we have a whole new identity. Paul speaks of our old identity as the “old self.” He declares that, for the believer, the “old self was crucified with [Messiah], in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin [transgressing the law]” (Romans 6:6,1 John 3:4). “Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Jacob’s Sukkah (tent)
The Bible’s cryptic reference to Jacob’s visit to “Succoth” hints about the Messianic Era and the final redemption. Jacob spent more than twenty years in Aram, a place in Mesopotamia. Jacob’s sojourn in Aram symbolizes the exile of God’s people from the land of Israel. His return to Canaan symbolizes the return of the ALL people from exile.
As Jacob and his family returned to the holy land, they descended the Jabbok Canyon and arrived at a location east of the Jordan called Succoth. Biblical geographers tentatively identify the site with a high mound called Tell Deir Alla on the plain north of the stream of the Jabbok:
Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built for himself a house and made booths for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth (booths, tents). (Genesis 33:17)
The Bible offers a brief story to explain the name Sukkoth: “Jacob built for himself a house and made booths (sukkot, סכת) for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth (i.e., ‘Booths’).” The Hebrew word sukkah (סכה) means temporary shelter, tent or hut. The name for the biblical festival of Sukkot (Feast of Booths) employs the plural form of sukkah.
Although Jacob did not build his booths to keep the festival by the same name, the LORD commanded his descendants to imitate him by building sukkot annually as a reminder of their journey to the Promised Land, during which they lived in huts and booths:
You shall live in sukkot for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in sukkot, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in sukkot when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:42-43)
Just as God led Jacob out of exile and brought him safely into the land of Canaan, so too He led Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and safely to the Promised Land. The construction of booths during the festival of Sukkot commemorates the journey.
The festival of Sukkot also foreshadows the future kingdom of heaven when the house of Israel and the house of Judah will dwell under the shade of the Almighty together. Then the LORD will establish Messianic Jerusalem and spread a canopy over the city: “There will be a sukkah to give shade from the heat of day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain” (Isaiah 4:1). In the Messianic Era, all nations will ascend to Jerusalem to hear the Torah and to worship the LORD at the festival of Sukkot. Then David’s fallen sukkah will be restored, and the kingdom of Esau will become the inheritance of the children of Jacob:
“In that day I will raise up the fallen sukkah (tent) of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,” declares the LORD who does this. (Amos 9:11-12)
Likewise, Jacob built sukkot (tents) and a house, foreshadowing the final redemption when the exiles of Israel will return to the Promised Land and the Messianic Era will commence. In that day, the nations will say, “Come let us go up … to the House of the God of Jacob” (Isaiah 2:3), as it says, “Jacob journeyed to Sukkot, and built for himself a house and made sukkot (tents).”
It cannot be overstated how important it is to understand that the book of Hosea is prophecies about the house of Israel, NOT the house of Judah. Our prophecy reading this week from Obadiah also is not prophecy regarding Jews other than discussing how God also has a dispute with Judah. Hosea and Obadiah are prophesying about specific people of today and comparing them to people in the past at the time of the prophecy. These prophecies are being fulfilled today.
We read in 1 Peter about the “grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus/Yeshua the Messiah.” We know from Scripture there are several things that must happen before this revelation occurs, but we also know that these words, are the very same as the very first words of the Book of Revelation that we read in Greek and English that we see here in verse 13 of 1 Peter which are “ἀποκαλύψει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ” in Greek. It is detailed in this book of the Revelation, what the revealing will entail, but in order to understand it we must learn about God’s calendar and feasts.
Birth Pains of Messiah
Before the coming of the Messiah, the earth will go through a time of trouble, tribulation, and calamity that can be compared to the labor pains of a woman about to give birth.
Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel died in childbirth, while giving birth to Benjamin. This was the time of our father Jacob’s trouble. Along similar lines, the prophet Jeremiah predicted a coming tribulation he called “the time Jacob’s distress.” The sages referred to the days of tribulation before the coming of the Messiah as the birth pains of Messiah (Chevlei Mashiach).
I have heard a sound of terror, of dread, and there is no peace. Ask now, and see if a male can give birth. Why do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth? And why have all faces turned pale? Alas! for that day is great, there is none like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s distress, but he will be saved from it. (Jeremiah 30:5-7)
Jeremiah’s prophecy may have been alluding back to our Torah portion. “The time of Jacob’s distress” that came “as a woman in childbirth” seems reminiscent of the travail and death of Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel. In that sense, Rachel’s travail alludes to the calamitous days of the birth pains of Messiah which Jeremiah calls the time of Jacob’s distress.
Jesus/ Yeshua told His disciples to expect wars, famines, and earthquakes during the beginnings of the messianic birth pangs. The time of trouble that Yeshua predicted descended upon the Jewish people a generation later. The destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem came after His death, resurrection, and ascension. One might say that the first coming of the Messiah can be compared to a mother who gave birth to a baby before she suffered through the pain of childbirth. The birth pangs came after the coming of Messiah: “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she gave birth to a boy” (Isaiah 66:7).
The visions in the book of Revelation symbolize Israel as a woman “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). This woman alludes to Rachel. The woman cried out, “being in labor and in pain to give birth” (Revelation 12:2). She gave birth to the Messiah. He was taken from her up to heaven, and the dragon (Satan) made war against her. This vision points toward the travails that came upon Israel in the generation after the ascension of our Master. Rome made war on Judea and Jerusalem. They destroyed the holy Temple and sent the people of Jerusalem into exile. The great travail came after the birth of the child.
The rabbis anticipate a future time of testing and tribulation just before the advent of the Messiah:
Rabbi Yochanon said, “In the generation of the coming of the Son of David, disciples of the sages will be few in number, and as for the others, they will see sorrow and grief. Many troubles and evil laws will be made, each new evil quickly coming before the other has ended.” (b.Sanhedrin 97a)
Before the Messiah returns, a second period of great travail will anticipate His second coming. The joy of His appearing will erase the memory of those dark days of trouble:
Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. (John 16:21)
This Week’s Hidden Aleph-Tav’s
In the Hebrew Scriptures there are hidden aleph-tav’s [את] that aren’t usually translated into English. But they are very enlightening when we read them in the Hebrew, especially because Jesus/ Yeshua said He WAS the aleph-tav. The את identifies covenant peoples, persons, places, things and titles pertaining to the ownership of property by יהוה Father through את Yeshua our Messiah. As you move through the Laws of Liberty (Torah) notice where the את is placed and where it is not placed. Paul declares in Romans 7:12 the TORAH (nomos) is Holy and the Commandments are Holy (Set apart), Righteous (Just) and Good (of Benefit). Following are the aleph-tav’s [את] we find in this week’s study:
Concerning Dinah…her name is only used 8 times in the Bible, 4 of which appears an את in front of her name and twice an את is in place of her name. The first time her name is used in Gen 30:21 at her birth it is clear that the scripture implies את names her. The first time we see an את in front of her name is when the scripture speaks of her being defiled by Shechem in Gen 34:5 and 13 so it is actually both Dinah and the את that are defiled, such is the strength of covenant with the Creator.
We see Dinah’s name replaced by the את in Gen 34:3 when Shechem says he loved את the young woman and spoke kindly to her…and in Gen 34:4 Shechem spoke to his father Hamor saying get me את the young woman to marry. The 3rd time the את is used in front of Dinah’s name is in Gen 34:26 when her brother’s Simeon and Levi kill both Shechem and his father Hamor and took את Dinah out of Shechem’s house…The last time in the Bible in Gen 46:15 we see a ואת used when speaking on the genealogy.
Bible Study for Kids
It’s sometimes hard to make the Old Testament fun for kids. Try these Children’s activities:
For Deeper Language Learning
Hebrew “Word of the Week” by Hebrew4Christians.com
Greek “Greek of the Week”
Beit-Lechem: The House of Bread
כִּי לֹא עַל־הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדֹּו יִחְיֶה הָֽאָדָם כִּי עַל־כָּל־מֹוצָא פִי־יְהוָה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
“…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of YHVH.”
It is strange that such a small city has made such an immense impact. Even by today’s standards, Bethlehem is little, with a population of approximately 25,000. Yet its name graces everything from the pages of newspapers and articles to hymnals and songs all over the world. Its history is amazingly rich and incredibly ancient. Bethlehem mentioned in the Amarna tablets (1300BCE), which recorded the correspondence between ancient Egypt and the Canaanites. The Matriarch Rachel is buried near there at Migdal Eder, and although its name means “House of Bread,” it experienced a famine forcing Naomi and her family to flee to Moab, triggering a series of events that lead to the marriage of the Moabitess Ruth to Boaz. This marriage lead to the most important genealogy in the history of humanity. Bethlehem is the birthplace of King David and the King Messiah himself,
“Now when Yeshua was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.When King Herod heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he asked them where the Messiah would be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is written through the prophet, ‘You Bethlehem, land of Judah, are in no way least among the princes of Judah: for out of you shall come forth a governor, who shall shepherd my people, Israel.”
The book of Matthew is quoting the Prophet Micah which says,
וְאַתָּה בֵּֽית־לֶחֶם אֶפְרָתָה צָעִיר לִֽהְיֹות בְּאַלְפֵי יְהוּדָה מִמְּךָ לִי יֵצֵא לִהְיֹות מֹושֵׁל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל וּמֹוצָאֹתָיו מִקֶּדֶם מִימֵי עֹולָם׃
“But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, being small among the clans of Judah, out of you one will come forth to me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old (mi’Kedem), from the days of old.”
The phrase ‘from days of old’ refers to the Six Days of Creation. The Talmud says,
“Seven things were created before the world was created, and these are they: The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. The Torah, for it is written, “The Lord made me [the Torah] as the beginning of his way.” Repentance, for it is written, “Before the mountains were brought forth,” and it is written, “You turn man to contrition, and say, Repent, ye children of men.” The Garden of Eden, as it is written, ‘And the Lord planted a garden in Eden from aforetime (mi’Kedem).” The Gehenna, for it is written, “For Tophet [Gehenna] is ordered of old.” The Throne of Glory and the Temple, for it is written, “You throne of glory, on high from the beginning, You place of our sanctuary.” The name of the Messiah, as it is written, “His [the Messiah’s] name shall endure for ever, and has existed before the sun!”
Pesachim 54a, Soncino Press Edition
Rashi, R’ Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040CE – 1105CE), commenting on Micah 5 states,
“and his origin is from of old: “Before the sun his name is Yinnon” (Ps. 72:17).
Rashi on Micah 5, cited at Chabad.org
The name ‘Yinon’ is spelled with the letters yud-nun-vav-nun. The Maharsha, R’ Shmuel Eidels (1555CE-1631CE), comments that these letters are an allusion to the name of yud-kei-vav-kei, as Jeremiah 23 states that the name of Mashiach is HaShem Tzidkeinu,
“Behold, the days come, says HaShem, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name by which he shall be called: HaShem our righteousness.”
The Talmud section called ‘the Boat’ comments,
“R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Johanan: Three were called by the name of the Holy One; blessed be He, and they are the following: The righteous, the Messiah and Jerusalem. [This may be inferred as regards] the righteous [from] what has just been said. [As regards] the Messiah it is written: And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness. [As regards] Jerusalem it is written: It shall be eighteen thousand reeds round about; and the name of the city from that day shall be ‘the Lord is there.’ Do not read, ‘there’ but ‘its name’.”
Bava Batra 75b, Soncino Press Edition
“For these things I weep; my eye, my eye runs down with water; Because the Comforter who should refresh my soul is far from me: My children are desolate, because the enemy has prevailed.”
Commenting on this passage, the Midrash identifies the name of the Messiah as Menachem, the Comforter, and speaks of his birth in Bethlehem,
“BECAUSE THE COMFORTER IS FAR FROM ME, EVEN HE THAT SHOULD REFRESH MY SOUL. What is the name of King Messiah? R. Abba b. Kahana said: His name is ‘the Lord’; as it is stated, ‘And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness (Jer 23:6).’ For R. Levi said: It is good for a province when its name is identical with that of its king, and the name of its king identical with that of its God. ‘It is good for a province when its name is identical with that of its king,’ as it is written, ‘And the name of the city from that day shall be the Lord is there’ (Ezek. XLVIII, 35). And the name of its king identical with that of its God, as it is stated, ‘And this is the name whereby he shall menachemtzemachbe called, The Lord is our righteousness.’ R. Joshua b. Levi said: His name is ‘Shoot’; as it is stated, “Behold, a man whose name is Shoot, and who shall shoot up out of his place, and build the temple of the Lord (Zech 4:12)”. R. Judan said in the name of R. Aibu: His name is ‘Comforter’; as it is said,” THE COMFORTER IS FAR FROM ME.” R. Hanina said: They do not really differ, because the numerical value of the names is the same, so that ‘Comforter’ (Menachem) is identical with Shoot (Tzemach). The following supports the saying of R. Aibu: “It happened that a man was plowing, when one of his oxen lowed. An Arab passed by and asked, “What are you?” He answered, “I am a Jew.” He said to him, ”Unharness your ox and untie your plough’ [as a mark of mourning].’ Why? ‘ he asked. ‘Because the Temple of the Jews is destroyed.” He inquired, “From where do you know this?” He answered, ”I know it from the lowing of your ox.” While he was conversing with him, the ox lowed again. The Arab said to him, ”Harness your ox and tie up your plough, because the deliverer of the Jews is born.” ”What is his name?” he asked, and he answered, “His name is (Menachem) “Comforter”. ‘What is his father’s name? He answered, ‘Hezekiah.’ Where do they live? ‘ He answered, ”In Birath Arba, in Bethlehem of Judah.”
Lamentations Rabbah 1:51, Soncino Press Edition
The Jerusalem Talmud, in Berachot 25b, echoes this tradition closely, but says,
מן בירת מלכה דבית לחם יהודה
“From Biryat Malka in Beit-Lechem of Yehudah”
Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachot 25b
“But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, being small among the clans of Judah, out of you one will come forth to me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth
are from of old (mi’Kedem), from the days of old.”
The prophet Micah tells us Messiah is from ‘mi’Kedem’ (from the ancient, or from the East). The term mi’Kedem indicates the location of the Garden of Eden,
“HaShem Elokim formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. HaShem Elokim planted a garden eastward (mi’Kedem), in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”
Mashiach is coming from the Garden of Eden to Bethlehem. R’ Yosef Gikatilla (1248 CE – 1305CE) connects these two verses in Sharei Orah, revealing a deep understanding of the word Kedem,
“…the Sphere KeTeR, which is called EHYE, preceded everything, and all the Spheres were contained in it before the world was created, and when it ascended in thought to create the world the mysteries of the Spheres were revealed from the hidden dimension of KeTeR, therefore it was called KeDeM, which precedes everything, for it is the Sphere from which all the mysteries of the other Spheres are revealed. Let me explain.
And YHVH ELoHIM planted a garden from KeDeM.
The essence of what was planted in the garden was planned in EDeN and planted in the garden. This means that: The plantings are planted in the garden and the garden is planted in EDeN which is the essence of the true and complete unity. From where are the plantings, the garden and EDeN revealed? From KeDeM, from the highest KeTeR. “And YHVH ELoHIM planted a garden in EDeN” – from where did he plant? From KeDeM. And all is now explained. Thus it is intimated:
One whose origin is from KeDeM, from the days of the world.
His origins are most certainly from KeDeM, for it is from KeDeM that the emanation of thought and the essence of the revealing of the Spheres came forth.”
Sha’are Orah, Gates of Light, R’ Yosef Gikatilla, Translated by Avi Weinstein, HarperCollins Publishers, pg. 362
R’ Chaim Kramer of the Breslov Research Institute explains,
“…Keter (Arikh Anpin), is the loftiest Partzuf. But, the ARI writes, Keter actually has two levels, a lower level corresponding to Arikh Anpin and an upper level, the intellect of Arikh Anpin, which corresponds to Atik. . . The connection between Mashiach and Atik is learned from Daniel’s vision: “A man came and he approached [the level of] the Ancient of Days…” Rashi explains this will refer to Mashiach, who will minister justice to the entire world. . . Atik includes all time and space – yet transcends it all. The soul of Mashiach “resides” in within Atik, and it is from this level that all his powers will be drawn. And, since he transcends time and space, Mashiach can transcend every transgression ever committed and rectify it – for since he can transcend everything ever done, he can bring each person to a state prior to his having sinned. . . With the power inherent in this exalted level, Mashiach will be able to bring the world to a state of perfection.”
Mashiach, Who, What, Why, How, Where, When, by Chaim Kramer, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 209
Pesikta Rabbati says,
“You find that at the very beginning of creation of the world, the king Messiah had already come into being, for he existed in God’s thought even before the world was created.. . where is the proof that the King Messiah existed from the beginning of God’s creation of the world? The proof is in the verse, ‘And the spirit of God moved, words which identify the king Messiah, of whom it is said, “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (Isa 11:2).
Pesikta Rabbati 33.6, Yale University Press, translated by William Braude, pg. 641-642
Yeshua said on the night before he returned to the Garden,
“Now, Father, glorify me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world existed.”
BREAD FROM HEAVEN
When one is about to eat a meal that includes bread, the traditional blessing is said,
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ
“Barukh atah HaShem, Elokeinu Melech HaOlam, ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.”
“Blessed are you, O HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
“Come, eat some of my bread, Drink some of the wine which I have mixed!”
The Midrash Rabbah identifies the bread,
“Bread” refers to the Torah, as it says, ‘Come, eat of my bread (Prov.9:5)”
Midrash Rabbah 70:5, Soncino Press Edition
Before the sun was created, even before the Six Days of Creation,the Messiah existed. He came from the Garden to Bethlehem. He was brought forth from the earth, resurrected, in a Garden (John 19:41). It is he who reveals to us this secret,
אָנֹכִי הוּא לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים
“I am the Bread of Life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”
כֹּה אָמַר יי קֹול בְּרָמָה נִשְׁמָע נְהִי בְּכִי תַמְרוּרִים רָחֵל מְבַכָּה עַל־בָּנֶיהָ מֵאֲנָה לְהִנָּחֵם עַל־בָּנֶיהָ כִּי אֵינֶנּוּ׃
“Thus says HaShem, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
The prophet Jeremiah wrote this heartbreaking passage at the inception of the Babylonian Exile. Over 500 years later, Matthew apparently applied this text to his own era in one of the opening texts of the New Testament,
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent out, and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under, according to the exact time which he had learned from the wise men. Then that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; she would not be comforted, because they are no more.”
This account has come under attack by skeptics for a number of reasons. One initial objection is that there is no evidence that the children in Bethlehem were slaughtered, and surely such an atrocious act would have made front page news. This assumption fails in its application of an argumentum ex silentio, an argument of silence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, especially after 2000 years. Bethlehem itself was a relatively small town and the number of children slaughtered has been estimated to be in the tens or twenties. Despite its unspeakable nature, it was relatively small on the scale of Herod’s more notorious assassinations. Such a heinous act is in perfect accord with the historic understanding of his brutal character. He killed his own wife, even his own children, and his barbarity was as famous as his architecture. There is one relatively late text that seems to suggest that Herod’s act did not escape notice. The ancient Roman writer Macrobius (395 CE- 423 CE) , who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries, wrote the following words,
“Cum audisset inter pueros quos in Syria Herodes rex Iudaeorum intra bimatum iussit interfici filium quoque eius occisum, ait: Melius est Herodis porcum esse quam filium.”
“When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered to kill, his own son was also killed, he said: ‘It is better to be Herod’s pig, than his son.”
Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, Saturnalia, Book II, Chapter IV:11
Rachel’s Tomb circa 1934.
The second criticism of Matthew is that Jeremiah 31:15-17 is not a Messianic prophecy and does not predict the death of the children in Bethlehem. As stated above, Jeremiah’s words were written at the beginning of the Galut Bavel (Babylonian Exile) and in the midst of the ashes of Solomon’s Temple. Exiles would pass by the grave of Rachel on the road to servitude, and Jeremiah poetically drew upon the history of Israel and its geography to inspire repentance and even hope. While all of this is true, the position that this passage is not Messianic and has no connection to what Matthew is writing misunderstands the profound nature of Matthew’s midrash. Not only has its significance eluded skeptics, but even Christian commentators as well.
Was Matthew wrong, or was he pointing to something deeper than the surface understanding? The passage absolutely refers to the exile and beyond. Yet, the Babylonian exile is a part of a much larger exile process, which is exile from the Garden of Eden. Let us discover the secrets that Matthew is alluding to in his quotation of Jeremiah 31.
In Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43), Rachel dies and is buried on the way to Ephrat, which refers to Bethlehem, as Genesis says,
“Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrat (the same is Bethlehem).”
Ramban says regarding the location of Rachel’s Tomb,
“…now that I have been privileged to come to Jerusalem (praise be to the good and beneficent G-d!), I have seen with my own eyes that there is not even a mil (about 5/8ths of a mile) from Rachel’s tomb to Bethlehem.”
Ramban on Genesis, Mesorah Publishers pg. 245
The words of Genesis regarding the location of the Kever Rachel, the Tomb of Rachel, are echoed by the Messianic prophecy in Micah chapter 5,
וְאַתָּה בֵּֽית־לֶחֶם אֶפְרָתָה צָעִיר לִֽהְיֹות בְּאַלְפֵי יְהוּדָה מִמְּךָ לִי יֵצֵא לִהְיֹות מֹושֵׁל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל וּמֹוצָאֹתָיו מִקֶּדֶם מִימֵי עֹולָם׃
“But you, Beit-Lechem Ephratah, being small among the clans of Judah, out of you one will come forth to me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of ancient times, from the days of old.”
Like Genesis before it, the preceding chapter of Micah, speaks of Migdal Eder,
“And you, O Tower of the Flock (Migdal Eder), The stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”
According to Micah, the Messiah is coming to vicinity of the burial place of Rachel. The Targum Yonatan paraphrases,
“And Jakob proceeded and spread his tent beyond the tower of Eder, the place from whence, it is to be, the King Meshiha will be revealed at the end of the days.”
Targum Yonatan to Genesis 35
The voice of Rachel’s cry shakes the very foundations of Creation. Ramban writes,
“I have seen that Yonasan ben Uzziel . . . says, “A voice is heard in the heights of the universe…,” and he translates the whole verse as talking about the Jewish nation.”
Ramban on Genesis, Mesorah Publishers, pg. 245
Midrash Rabbah says,
“AND RACHEL DIED, AND WAS BURIED IN THE WAY TO EPHRATH (35:19). What was Jacob’s reason for burying Rachel in the way to Ephrath? Jacob foresaw that the exiles would pass on from thence, therefore he buried her there so that she might pray for mercy for them. Thus it is written, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah… Rachel weeping for her children…”
Genesis Rabbah 82:10, Soncino Press Edition
Jeremiah’s passage, though difficult and painful, contains a distant glimmer of hope,
“Thus says HaShem, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. Thus says HaShem: “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded,” says HaShem, “and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. ‘There is hope for your latter end,’ says HaShem ‘and your children shall come again to their own border.”
It is well known within Judaism that there is one person who can end the exile: The Mashiach.
The pain of Rachel during childbirth is a consequence of the curse upon Eve,
“To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain, you will bear children…”
During this painful birth, Rachel seems to foretell the birth of ben acher, another son. In the midst of her death, a prophesied child was born.
וַתִּקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמֹו יֹוסֵף לֵאמֹר יֹסֵף יי לִי בֵּן אַחֵר׃
Map of the Twelve Tribes. Click for higher resolution. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Credit: Wiki Commons, Malus Cortas and Kordas.
“She named him Yosef, saying, “May HaShem add (yosef) another son to me.”
Benjamin was fulfillment of Rachel’s prayer. He is unique among all the sons of Jacob in that he never bowed to Esav, and he is the only one born within the holy borders of Eretz Yisrael. It is in his territory that the Temple stood upon Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, the Heart of the world. He was born near Beit-Lechem,
“They traveled from Beit El. There was still some distance to come to Ephrat, and Rachel travailed. She had hard labor. When she was in hard labor, the midwife said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid, for now you will have another son.”
Rachel’s birth pains symbolize the era immediately preceding the coming of the Redeemer, called the chevlei Mashiach, the birth pains of the Messiah. Rachel herself is linked to the Imma Tata’ah, the Kallah (Bride),as Revelation says,
“A great sign was seen in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child. She cried out in pain, laboring to give birth.”
This imagery is drawn from the dream of Yosef,
“He dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, ‘Behold, I have dreamed yet another dream: and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.He told it to his father and to his brothers. His father rebuked him, and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves down to you to the earth? His brothers envied him, but his father kept this saying in mind.”
Jacob = Sun
Rachel = Moon
Twelve Stars = Twelve Tribes
Yaakov’s question to Yosef was incredibly powerful, if not painful, as the mother of Yosef was dead. How would this be possible, unless she were resurrected? The Zohar says of the Shekinah, whom Rachel symbolizes,
“The Faithful Shepherd said, “At that time (there will come) pangs and pains upon the woman in childbirth, that is, the Shekinah … And through these pains, which will make her cry out, seventy supernal Sanhedrins will be aroused, until her voice reaches the Lord … And from those voices which she gives forth … her womb opens — and her womb consists of two houses – to give birth to two Messiahs … and she bends her head betwixt her knees; her head is the Middle Column and her two thighs are Eternity and Majesty … and from there are born two Messiahs. In that time the forests will be denuded, and the Serpent will pass from the world.”
Zohar, Ra’aya Mehemna, 3:67b-68a, cited in the Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai, pgs 129-130
Mashiach ben Yosef is hinted at in this verse in Genesis 30 regarding the ben acher, another son, that is given to Rachel,
“This ultimate confrontation between Joseph and Esau is alluded already in the very birth of Joseph when his mother Rachel exclaimed, “G d has taken away my disgrace” (Genesis 30:23): with prophetic vision she foresaw that an “anointed savior” will descend from Joseph and that he will remove the disgrace of Israel. In this context she called his name “Yossef, saying ‘yossef Hashem – may G-d add to me ben acher (lit., another son), i.e., ben acharono shel olam – one who will be at the end of the world’s time, from which it follows that ‘meshu’ach milchamah – one anointed for battle’ will descend from Joseph.”
Chabad.org, Mashiach in Halacha, Appendix II, J. Immanuel Schochet
SON OF SUFFERING
Rachel before her last breath proceeded to name her son, Ben Oni, the Son of My Sorrow. Rashi explains,
“Ben Oni. This means son of my pain. (בן צערי)”
Rashi on Genesis 35, Vol 1, Mesorah Publishers, pg 395
Immediately, without hesitation, Jacob changes Ben Oni’s name to Benjamin, meaning ‘the Son of the Right Hand.’ Psalm 110 says,
נְאֻם יי לַאדֹנִי שֵׁב לִימִינִי
“HaShem says to my master, ‘Sit at my right hand (limini), until I make your enemies your footstool for your feet.”
This dual aspect of Benjamin speaks of the dual aspect and paradox of Mashiach. He suffers greatly to atone for Israel, and yet he is to be exalted, even to the right hand of HaShem. As Mashiach is the yechida of Israel, whatever happens to Mashiach will happen to Israel. If Rachel’s naming of Ben-Oni predicted the coming Galut (Exile), then Jacob’s naming of Benjamin looked forward to coming Geulah (Redemption).
Kol HaTor, the Voice of the Turtledove, an explosive book written by R’ Hillel Shklover, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, says,
“All the above-mentioned aspects are in the line of Yosef ben Rachel, from the land; thus this chapter speaks about Rachel – Rachel who weeps for her children. “Refrain your voice from weeping … they will return from the land of the enemy” refers to the exodus from exile, “your children will return to their border” refers to the immigration (ascent) to Zion.”
Kol HaTor 2.1, Translated by Rabbi Yechiel Bar Lev and K. Skaist, YedidNefesh.com
The Zohar illuminates the relationship of Rachel’s weeping and the coming of Mashiach,
The Messiah…lifts up his eyes and beholds the Fathers (Patriarchs) visiting the ruins of God’s Sanctuary. He perceives mother Rachel, with tears upon her face; the Holy One, blessed be He, tries to comfort her, but she refuses to be comforted (Jer. 31:14). Then the Messiah lifts up his voice and weeps, and the whole Garden of Eden quakes, and all the righteous and saints who are there break out in crying and lamentation with him…All through the seven days the Messiah shall be crowned on earth. Where shall this be? ‘By the way’, to wit, Rachel’s grave, which is on the cross-road. To mother Rachel he will give glad tidings and comfort her, and now she will let herself be comforted, and will rise and kiss him.”
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Section 2, Page 8a-b
The imagery of Matthew chapter 2 is profound and haunting. As the women of Beit-Lechem wept for their children, collectively they were personified by Rachel Immeinu, the symbol of the Knesset Yisrael, weeping for the tears of exile and death of her children. Their voice is one voice. And it is in this place, Beit-Lechem, that the King Messiah was born, an answer to her cry. She will accept his comfort and he will wipe away all the tears of the children of Israel. May it be soon in our days. Amein.
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