Mikkeitz

Mikkeitz

At the end

Genesis 41:1-44:17
1 Kings 3:15-4:1

“God Honors Faith”


by Mark Huey

Mikkeitz, which is being considered as the Torah portion for this week, continues the narrative about the life of Joseph in Egypt. Joseph finally realized the manifestation of his dreams about his brothers bowing before him. Since being cast into a pit by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt, Joseph had to endure false accusations from Potiphar’s wife, which eventually landed him in an Egyptian jail. Yet, from our previous reading, V’yeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23), Joseph’s faith, in the “word” he discerned from the dreams he had received as a youth, had “tested” him and continued to keep him looking to the Holy One for guidance and comfort (Psalm 105:19).

As this parashah unfolds, it is Joseph’s God-given ability to interpret dreams that ultimately placed him second to Pharaoh, prior to the Almighty using a regional famine to force the sons of Jacob to travel to Egypt from Canaan in search of food. The underlying irony weaved throughout these circumstances is the apparent lack of faith exhibited by the sons of Jacob, as they encountered their inquisitions before the concealed Joseph. The Psalmist summarized an outline of these events centuries later, as all of these circumstances were designed by the Almighty to eventually teach the brothers wisdom, which culminated in a great trust and faith in Him. They would finally be able to understand that the Lord was ultimately in control of the circumstances of their lives:

“And He called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, He himself was laid in irons; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him. The king sent and released him, the ruler of peoples, and set him free. He made him lord of his house and ruler over all his possessions, to imprison his princes at will, that he might teach his elders wisdom” (Psalm 105:16-22).

In turning to our Torah reading, we are once again reminded of the plight of Joseph, as he languished in the jail reserved for the prisoners of Pharaoh and other high ranking officials. From last week’s parashah, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams had been recognized by the cupbearer, as Joseph accurately interpreted the fatal dream of the baker and the restorative dream of Pharaoh’s wine steward (Genesis 40). However, for two full years, the cupbearer did not honor Joseph’s request to plead for his release from the jail (Genesis 40:14). So, we see how Mikkeitz opens with Pharaoh’s description of a puzzling dream:

“He restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing by the Nile” (Genesis 40:21-41:1).

Dreams received and the God-given ability to interpret dreams were a significant part of Joseph’s life, and his specific walk with the Lord. As we later discover (Genesis 41:46), Joseph had spent some thirteen or so years either enslaved or incarcerated in Egypt, and he had not yet realized the dream he had of ruling over his family. Still, when given an opportunity while in jail to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer, he confidently acknowledged his God as the source of dream interpretations (Genesis 40:8).

After a two year stint continuing to ably serve the chief jailer, another opportunity to seek God for an interpretation of dreams presented itself. This time, the dreams were experienced by the demanding Pharaoh, who reflexively sought an interpretation from his magicians and wise courtiers without any success. Finally as we read, the forgetful cupbearer, possibly seeking favor with Pharaoh after the failure of the wise companions, remembered the Hebrew youth who had properly interpreted his own dream:

“Now in the morning his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh. Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, ‘I would make mention today of my own offenses. Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. We had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. And just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him.’ Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer’” (Genesis 41:8-16).

Once again, without apparent hesitation when asked, Joseph did not take credit for his ability to interpret dreams—but from the onset told Pharaoh that perhaps God would give him the interpretation. Joseph continued to display a consistent reliance upon the God of his fathers, for whatever ability he had been given to interpret dreams. Joseph illustrated the universal principle that God honors those who honor Him, as specifically delineated several centuries later to the Prophet Samuel, and eventually affirmed by Yeshua the Messiah to His Disciples:

“Therefore the LORD God of Israel declares, ‘I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever’; but now the LORD declares, ‘Far be it from Me—for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed’” (1 Samuel 2:30).

“If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26).

For the Lord’s Divine purposes, faithful Joseph found himself in a unique position to interpret some dreams that had confounded the wise officials of Egypt. Upon hearing Pharaoh’s description of the disturbing dreams, Joseph confidently told Pharaoh that his two dreams were from God, and promptly stated a God-revealed interpretation, while offering a practical solution to the impending famine:

“Now Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind will be seven years of famine. It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do. Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land. So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe. Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about. Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it. Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine.’ Now the proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants. Then Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?’ So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.’ Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’ Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put the gold necklace around his neck. He had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, ‘Bow the knee!’ And he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt’” (Genesis 41:25-44).

In a providential twist, Pharaoh—who was considered to be a god by his subjects—intently listened to the interpretation and advice of Joseph. Contrary to the many societal prejudices toward the Hebrews (Genesis 43:32), Pharaoh concluded that the wise and discerning youth, in whom the “divine spirit” resided, was just the right person to handle the imminent threat to the future of Egypt. Joseph’s faith in the Almighty, and his bold declaration that gave honor to God before the imperial Pharaoh, resulted in God honoring Joseph with positional authority within Egypt second only to the Pharaoh! This is a most-significant example of what happens when one places faith in God—for all of us to consider—especially in contrast to the seemingly faith-starved brothers who sojourned to Egypt, primarily to seek physical sustenance. Yet, the Almighty also had a plan for the other sons of Jacob. In due time, they would eventually recognize the providential hand of the Lord in their encounters, with an “anonymous” Egyptian purveyor of grain—their brother Joseph—who remained a faithful servant of the ultimate Provider.

From this point, Mikkeitz records how Joseph went about his life, administrating Egypt’s food crisis (Genesis 41:47-49), marrying a daughter of an Egyptian priest (Genesis 41:45), and fathering two sons (Genesis 41:50-52).

Dreams Come True

The realization of Joseph’s dreams now come center stage, when his brothers have to make their way down into Egypt, in order to buy food to survive. Joseph’s brothers did not recognize that they were bowing to the brother they once wanted to kill, but instead, sold into slavery. On the other hand, Joseph recognized his brothers, but rather than revealing himself, he decided that he was in an opportune position to take revenge on his brothers if so inclined.

One can only imagine what must have been going through Joseph’s mind and heart as he confronted his needy brothers. If Joseph had been harboring some hatred for his brothers’ actions toward him, this would have been the perfect time for him to execute judgment. However, because Joseph was wise, discerning, and in tune with the will of God—he inherently knew because of his faith in the Lord that vengeance was His. The Almighty had already honored Joseph with incredible favor and power before the Egyptians. What was he to do with these circumstances? Joseph did, initially, speak to his brothers harshly. However, in the back of his mind he had to remember the dreams about his brothers bowing to him, and so he must have wondered how was he to respond to the event finally taking place. So, rather than take immediate forceful action, Joseph decided to use the occasion to have his brothers experience the fear of death—something he had endured years earlier when these very brothers had threatened to kill him. By accusing his brothers of being spies in Egypt—a capital offense justifying certain execution—Joseph was wisely using these circumstances to teach his brothers some life changing lessons:

“Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, ‘Why are you staring at one another?’ He said, ‘Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy some for us from that place, so that we may live and not die.’ Then ten brothers of Joseph went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, ‘I am afraid that harm may befall him.’ So the sons of Israel came to buy grain among those who were coming, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also. Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, ‘Where have you come from?’ And they said, ‘From the land of Canaan, to buy food.’ But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him. Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, ‘You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land.’ Then they said to him, ‘No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies.’ Yet he said to them, ‘No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!’ But they said, ‘Your servants are twelve brothers in all, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive.’ Joseph said to them, ‘It is as I said to you, you are spies; by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here! Send one of you that he may get your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. But if not, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.’ So he put them all together in prison for three days” (Genesis 42:1-17).

In this extraordinary interchange, Joseph had to be struggling with his emotions as he recognized his brothers—while noticing that Benjamin was not among them. But rather than reveal his identity, he put his brothers on the defensive, by claiming that they must be spies searching out the undefended lands of Egypt. The brother’s subject-changing retort indicated that their youngest brother Benjamin was alive, remaining in Canaan with his father. In addition, because they did not know the fate of the brother they had sold into slavery, they assumed that he was dead. Once again, imagine what Joseph must have been thinking when he heard these revelations from his brothers who were passionately attempting to defend themselves. On the other hand, the emotional tables were being turned on the brothers, as the false allegation that they were spies could result in their execution:

“Now Joseph said to them on the third day, ‘Do this and live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.’ And they did so. Then they said to one another, ‘Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.’ Reuben answered them, saying, ‘Did I not tell you, “Do not sin against the boy”; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood.’ They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them.  He turned away from them and wept. But when he returned to them and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes” (Genesis 42:18-24).

Initially, Joseph was going to send one brother to retrieve the youngest brother. But after three days of letting the ten brothers stew and ruminate over their predicament in the prison, the Egyptian prince ironically referenced God when he altered his edict. Joseph’s comment, that he had a “fear of God,” should have been a thought-provoking remark to the brothers—especially since there was a blatant void of references to God on their behalf. Then, in a searching attempt to comprehend their dilemma, the eldest son Reuben spoke to his brothers and directly tied the maltreatment of their brother Joseph to their dire circumstances. Apparently, while in confinement fretting over their personal destiny, the brothers were reminded of their nefarious actions toward Joseph years earlier—and were connecting the two. It appears that the brothers were finally beginning to recognize the consequences of their actions. The measured wheels of eternal justice were beginning to turn—as the brothers’ consciences were being stirred—as the deeply buried thoughts of past actions were being considered, given their current life-threatening situation:

For the remainder of our parashah, the Lord continued to use the judicious decisions of Joseph regarding his brothers, to painstakingly bring his brothers closer to recognizing His providence. Despite the emotional pain of watching and listening to his brothers discuss private matters among themselves—since unbeknownst to his brothers he understood their language—Joseph ventured forth with his objective to teach his brothers a lesson. If revenge was ever in his mind, the thought of restoring his family eventually overwhelmed him, as he had to turn away in order to weep before ordering the incarceration of Simeon, the secondborn son. Nevertheless, the trials of the brothers were just beginning, as God was using Joseph’s actions to get his brother’s attention. This would ultimately reveal to them that the Holy One was in careful control of the affairs of limited, mortal people.

Motivating Fears

Fear of loss is a prime motivator, especially when one senses life-threatening loss. In the case of Joseph’s brothers on their journey back to Canaan, they had to initially consider the loss of Simeon—but upon discovering their money in their satchels, the fear for their own lives became even more paramount. In their trepidation, they wondered what had been happening to them, an indication that they were beginning to view things with God somehow being involved in their affairs. In fact, given their new predicament that would have turned them from not only being spies but also thieves—they were starting to understand that there were consequences for their sinful actions, whether actual or perceived. The Lord was definitely using these events to get their collective attention. But to complicate matters, the brothers were going to have to convey all that had happened during their trip to Egypt to their father Jacob, who continued to grieve over the loss of Joseph years earlier:

“Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain and to restore every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. And thus it was done for them. So they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed from there. As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money; and behold, it was in the mouth of his sack. Then he said to his brothers, ‘My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack.’ And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’ When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, ‘The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly with us, and took us for spies of the country.  But we said to him, “We are honest men; we are not spies. We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no longer alive, and the youngest is with our father today in the land of Canaan.” The man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me and take grain for the famine of your households, and go. But bring your youngest brother to me that I may know that you are not spies, but honest men. I will give your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’” Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks, that behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed. Their father Jacob said to them, ‘You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.’ Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, ‘You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you.’ But Jacob said, ‘My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow’” (Genesis 42:25-38).

Now to heap additional worries on Jacob after the loss of Joseph, the news that Simeon was in custody—coupled with the potential loss of Benjamin if the brothers were ever going to extricate Simeon from jail—was too much to bear. In a sign that the brothers were beginning to mature and take responsibility for their actions, Reuben spoke up and offered a rather bizarre hyperbolic prescription to his father Jacob for taking Benjamin to Egypt, in order to secure the release of Simeon. Obviously, the trade of killing two grandsons for a son was beyond the pale, figuratively speaking. Jacob categorically rejected the offer, but reminded his sons that his grief continued for his favored son Joseph. Certainly by this point in the account, all of the brothers were dealing with their consciences over the actions that had been taken years ago—but the recognition that God was involved in these matters, was beginning to seep into their thoughts.

Judah Emerges

There is one thing about God that is consistent: when He has a use for someone in His Kingdom’s work, He never lets up on the crucible of affliction, until His chosen vessel is properly formed for His usage. In the case of the brothers who would father the nation of Israel, the trials with the regional famine in Canaan did not cease, and consequently, they were once again forced by the lack of sustenance to venture back to Egypt in need of food. However, since they knew that the demanding Egyptian viceroy meant what he said about their younger brother, they were forced to compel their father Jacob to allow Benjamin to travel with them against Jacob’s will. To complicate matters, the sons were also concerned that they would be considered thieves, because the money they had originally taken to Egypt the first time was surreptitiously placed back in their sacks.

The fear of retribution by the Egyptians for what appeared to be outright theft was a given. As a result of these challenges, it is interesting to note that the emergence of Judah, as a spokesperson and leader for his generation, commenced in full earnest. Genesis ch. 43 details the second journey to Egypt, and specifically records the dialogue between Judah and Jacob (now referenced as Israel), as the critical need for food for his entire family must have overcome Israel’s fear of losing Benjamin to the Egyptians:

“Now the famine was severe in the land. So it came about when they had finished eating the grain which they had brought from Egypt, that their father said to them, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’ Judah spoke to him, however, saying, ‘The man solemnly warned us, “You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.” If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you do not send him, we will not go down; for the man said to us, “You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.”’ Then Israel said, ‘Why did you treat me so badly by telling the man whether you still had another brother?’ But they said, ‘The man questioned particularly about us and our relatives, saying, “Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?” So we answered his questions. Could we possibly know that he would say, “Bring your brother down”?’ Judah said to his father Israel, ‘Send the lad with me and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, we as well as you and our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame before you forever. For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice.’ Then their father Israel said to them, ‘If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Take double the money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was a mistake. Take your brother also, and arise, return to the man; and may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Genesis 43:1-14).

The earlier proposal to offer Reuben’s two sons had fallen upon deaf ears (Genesis 42:37), so Judah had to reiterate the need to bring Benjamin to Egypt, in order to at least secure an audience with the Egyptian viceroy. Finally, after reviewing what must have been discussed multiple times with Israel, Judah offered to take full responsibility for the safe travels and return of Benjamin to Canaan. In the event that did not occur, then Judah would take the blame permanently. Apparently, whatever was said given the circumstances, Israel conceded to Judah’s request, and Israel advised that the brothers take double the money and a number of local delicacies to perhaps assuage the demands of the Egyptian prince holding Simeon. Finally, the elderly Israel implored God Almighty to have the Egyptian overlord grant compassion on the brothers and release not only Simeon, but allow the safe return of Benjamin.

After all these years detailing the lives of Jacob and his sons, we as readers are finally finding a mention of the Lord by him. This indicates that Jacob/Israel surely called upon the God of his fathers, for help in trying circumstances. But, this was something that was sorely missing from his sons’ actions recorded. The sons of Jacob/Israel returned to Egypt, and they followed their father’s advice:

“So the men took this present, and they took double the money in their hand, and Benjamin; then they arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph. When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his house steward, ‘Bring the men into the house, and slay an animal and make ready; for the men are to dine with me at noon.’ So the man did as Joseph said, and brought the men to Joseph’s house. Now the men were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph’s house; and they said, ‘It is because of the money that was returned in our sacks the first time that we are being brought in, that he may seek occasion against us and fall upon us, and take us for slaves with our donkeys.’ So they came near to Joseph’s house steward, and spoke to him at the entrance of the house, and said, ‘Oh, my lord, we indeed came down the first time to buy food, and it came about when we came to the lodging place, that we opened our sacks, and behold, each man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full. So we have brought it back in our hand. We have also brought down other money in our hand to buy food; we do not know who put our money in our sacks.’ He said, ‘Be at ease, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.’ Then he brought Simeon out to them. Then the man brought the men into Joseph’s house and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their donkeys fodder. So they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon; for they had heard that they were to eat a meal there. When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present which was in their hand and bowed to the ground before him. Then he asked them about their welfare, and said, ‘Is your old father well, of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?’ They said, ‘Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.’ They bowed down in homage. As he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, he said, ‘Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?’ And he said, ‘May God be gracious to you, my son.’ Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother, and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he controlled himself and said, ‘Serve the meal.’ So they served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is loathsome to the Egyptians. Now they were seated before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, and the men looked at one another in astonishment. He took portions to them from his own table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. So they feasted and drank freely with him” (Genesis 43:15-34).

Here, we see that Joseph was continuing to conceal his identity, as God was continuing to administer life-altering lessons to his brothers through Joseph’s decisions. After receiving his brothers as welcomed traders, then releasing Simeon and finding out that his father remained in good health, it is noted that the brothers continued to bow in the presence of Joseph. Their fear of potential conflict remained in their minds.

The most dramatic moment is recorded shortly after Joseph saw his younger brother Benjamin, after years of separation. The long-sought reunion, not yet completed with Joseph revealing his identity, describes the deep emotional aspects of Joseph’s character. Within a few minutes of seeing his brother, Joseph had to remove himself from the group and consoled himself after a period of weeping. Joseph has had a significant period of time to dwell on what he was going to do with his brothers if and when they returned to Egypt. Now that Benjamin was with them, there were some hints extended that reveal some distinct preference for the youngest brother. After serving his brothers and giving Benjamin five times the portion of others, the brothers are at apparent ease with the man who had the power to determine their fate.

The Benjamin Test

The final turn of events, which brought the brothers to the point of emotional exhaustion, is captured in the concluding section of Mikkeitz. Here, we find that Joseph had one more ruse to play on his brothers—in order to determine if they were truly repentant for the actions they had taken over the years, to lie to their father Jacob/Israel about his being sold into slavery. Joseph knew that his brothers, were very concerned about the welfare of their youngest brother Benjamin. Joseph was aware that his father continued to grieve for not only him, but also feared the loss of Benjamin. Somehow, Joseph knew that testing his brothers with the loss of Benjamin, was just the right move to bring them to their knees before the Lord. So, an opportunity presented itself, with the blame placed on Benjamin for the theft of his cup—as Joseph had his house steward arrange the circumstances:

“Then he commanded his house steward, saying, ‘Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain.’ And he did as Joseph had told him. As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, ‘Up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, “Why have you repaid evil for good? Is not this the one from which my lord drinks and which he indeed uses for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.”’ So he overtook them and spoke these words to them. They said to him, ‘Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing. Behold, the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks we have brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.’ So he said, ‘Now let it also be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be innocent.’ Then they hurried, each man lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. He searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city. When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him. Joseph said to them, ‘What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?’ So Judah said, ‘What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found.’ But he said, ‘Far be it from me to do this. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father’” (Genesis 44:1-17).

When the discovery was made that Benjamin had Joseph’s goblet in his sack, the brothers were mortified—and to display their concern, they tore their garments. Not only were they going to lose the company of Benjamin, but the added worry of reporting this to Jacob/Israel totally overwhelmed them with grief. Judah, who had now become the recognized speaker for the group, confessed before the angry Joseph that they were collectively speechless without any excuses whatsoever. But interestingly in the maturation of Judah, he concluded that God had found out the iniquity of the brothers.

Since the iniquity of the brothers was not thievery—because the purported thefts were not valid—was Judah referring to the act years earlier of selling their brother Joseph into slavery? The guilt and shame of those actions could surely bring forth the punishment that they justifiably deserved. Judah was beside himself, but he had to conclude that God was finally bringing justice to fruition. The added knowledge, that Judah had promised a safe return of Benjamin to his father, had to drive him into despair.

Joseph actually gave Judah and his brothers a little cynical relief, by stating that the only person, who needed to be retained as a slave, was the one who had his goblet. Obviously, because this directed the punishment upon Benjamin, the brothers were overwhelmed with emotions, which led to a resolution that only a Sovereign God could have arranged. Our Torah portion abruptly ends with no stated solution.

God Honors Faith

Mikkeitz offers Torah students and readers a contrast to consider, between Joseph and his brothers, as the Holy One used the forced enslavement of Joseph and the excursions of the sons of Jacob into Egypt—to depict how different individuals react to life circumstances. Behind the scenes, He accomplished His will. Later, Joseph would be able to tell his brothers, that “as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). However, when presented life challenges are witnessed in Mikkeitz, we have to let the story build, and steadily crescendo as Joseph will eventually reveal himself to his brothers who sold him away.

As we read and contemplate what has been recorded for our instruction, we can either seek to follow the example of faithful Joseph, who had a genuine fear of the Lord honoring Him throughout his life—or follow the complicated examples of his brothers, who through other situations had to painstakingly learn that God was ultimately in control. In the case of Joseph, he was not only honored by his contemporaries, but most importantly is permanently honored by the Holy One as the unique person chosen to save Israel from the regional famine. On the other hand, the brothers were fulfilling their supporting roles as sons of Jacob/Israel, but they are not necessarily all remembered for great feats of trust in God.

In your meditations this week, consider the different choices made by each brother and the results of their choices. Hopefully, we will all choose to follow the example of Joseph, who saved Israel. Ultimately, whether millennia ago or the decisions we make every day—choices have not only temporal consequences, but eternal ones as well. The ultimate choice we must all make is to acknowledge the Savior of Israel, Yeshua the Messiah, who grants us eternal salvation and cleansing from all sins and faithless acts!

Remembering Biblical and Jewish Holidays as a Messianic Believer – December 2017 OIM News


Update

December 2017

As a student of world history, coupled with years of Bible study, significant fifty-year jubilee (Leviticus 25:10-13), seventy-year, and/or centennial anniversaries, regarding Israel and particular Jerusalem, can be a compelling reminder that the Holy One is ultimately orchestrating, or at the very least, allowing the affairs of humanity to proceed with His promises fulfilled. In a unique way, keen observers can detect the handiwork of the Almighty, as distinctive mileposts litter the dusty and bloodied trails of mankind’s steps and missteps down through the annals of time. Such is the case when one revisits the noteworthy actions that have taken place over the millennia regarding the place on Earth where God said He would place His name:

“But when you cross over the Jordan and settle in the land that ADONAI your God enables you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you, you will dwell in safety. Then the place ADONAI your God chooses to make His Name dwell, there you are to bring all that I command you—your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes, the offering of your hand, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to ADONAI” (Deuteronomy 12:10-11, TLV).

“Since the day that I brought My people out of the land of Egypt, I did not choose a city out of all the tribes of Israel in which to build a House that My Name might be there. Nor did I choose any man to be a leader over My people Israel. But I have chosen Jerusalem that My Name would abide there and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel” (2 Chronicles 6:5-6, TLV).

For centuries, many faithful followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have viewed world affairs through a prism that reflects the uniqueness of Israel’s prophesied destiny, and Jerusalem’s exclusive claim to be where the Creator God has placed His Name on the globe He created. Hence, it did not escape our attention this past Summer when we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem on June 7, 1967 from the Jordanians, as the Six Day War was commemorated. In fact, because this day was so significant to the State of Israel, the Israelis have an annual state recognized holiday and celebration called Yom Yerushalayim on the 28th of Iyyar.

In addition, this past month, on November 2, the one-hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration was also remembered. Shortly thereafter, a century ago, during the final year of World War I, British General Edmund Allenby began the assault against the Ottoman Turks to capture Jerusalem. The Battle for Jerusalem began on November 17, 1917 and ended with Allenby leading his troops into Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate on December 11, 1917. Thus this month it has been 100 years (or two jubilees) since these historic events took place. Might this be another one of the signposts regarding Israel and Jerusalem that God is making evident to Biblically astute observers?

Providentially, this month, the President of the United States has just recognized that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, with plans to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the next few years. This action in and of itself is going to have untold consequences, perhaps negative and positive. However, there has been a recognizable pattern down through the centuries, when a country or people group blesses the Jewish people. Since 1948 (seventy years ago this coming May 12, 2018) when the State of Israel was reconstituted as a sovereign nation on the land promised to Abraham and his heirs, the U.S. has been its strongest and most outspoken supporter. As a result, God’s discernable blessings have flowed and ebbed, contingent upon how America responds to Israel’s needs, as noted in the following passage from Genesis:

“Then ADONAI said to Abram, ‘Get going out from your land, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. My heart’s desire is to make you into a great nation, to bless you, to make your name great so that you may be a blessing. My desire is to bless those who bless you, but whoever curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3, TLV).

We are thankful that the current leaders of our country are making declarative statements to the other nations of the world that at the very least, they are cognizant of what the Holy Scriptures state and want to support the right of the Jewish people to maintain their existence in the Land promised to them millennia ago. As a result, I believe the promised blessings to our country will be obvious to all with the eyes to see and the ears to hear. May we all pray to that end!

This month continues our ongoing series of articles on The Messianic Walk. J.K. McKee has written an importance piece, entitled, “Remembering Biblical and Jewish Holidays as a Messianic Believer.” It goes through the weekly and annual cycle of the appointed times, how they are often approached by Jewish Believers who have come to faith in Israel’s Messiah, and by non-Jewish Believers called into the Messianic movement and embracing their Hebraic and Jewish Roots. You will be blessed, as we discuss both our family’s experience, from an evangelical Protestant background, in becoming Messianic—but also our experience in serving in congregational leadership, in common cause and unity with our Jewish brothers and sisters in Yeshua.

We want to especially thank those of you who have faithfully supported our efforts over the years! We continue to need your financial support in order to dedicate the time and energy required to continue in the work that the Lord has assigned us. We particularly need many of you to sign up for a regular monthly contribution via PayPal at www.outreachisrael.net. We thank you for your 2017 year-end giving!

Finally, as we approach Chanukah this month, we want you to take advantage of our ministry’s Messianic Winter Holiday Helper publication, giving copies of this book to family and friends and your home congregational libraries. Each of us needs a more complete understanding of Winter holiday commemorations—especially so we can alleviate unnecessary tensions with those who are doing some less-than-Biblical things. Chag Sameach Chanukah!

Blessings, Mark Huey


Remembering Biblical and Jewish Holidays as a Messianic Believer

by J.K. McKee

Each of us tends to be a person of habit, and there are ongoing daily, weekly, and annual cycles which tend to give focus and meaning to our lives. Certain days appear on the calendar which have importance to us. We may look forward on a certain day each week, to eat at a particular restaurant having a special. We may look forward to the weekend, to simply relax and not work. We may look forward to a birthday, an anniversary, or a day when something extremely important took place in our individual or family’s lives.

People in today’s Messianic movement have a different life cycle, than those many others who claim faith in Israel’s Messiah. While we have our birthdays and anniversaries like other people—the Jewish and non-Jewish Believers who compose today’s Messianic community, follow a different cycle throughout the week and throughout the year. For many Jewish Believers in Yeshua, being a part of the Messianic movement has been a significant lifeline, especially given the past history of many Jewish Believers who had become part of Christianity. Only until the past century or so, it was normative for Jewish Believers to assimilate into non-Jewish Christianity, its religious holidays, its customs, and for the children of Jewish Believers to quickly forget about their Jewish heritage. After all, it was thought that being Jewish and receiving Jesus meant that one became a Christian and stopped being a Jew. Today, with the Messianic Jewish movement, this is thankfully no longer the case. Not only it is a very Jewish thing to believe in Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah—but it is entirely acceptable to do Jewish things like remembering Shabbat, the festivals of the Torah, and the historical commemorations of the Jewish people.

A significant number of the non-Jewish Believers, whom God has specially called into the Messianic movement at this point in time, have often been led by Him to remember Yeshua in the Biblical feasts. A passage like Colossians 2:17, which speaks of how the appointed times have shadows of the substance of the Messiah, and how various Torah instructions portray elements of His redemptive work, really speak to the hearts and minds of non-Jewish Believers. These are people who want to live more like Yeshua and His Disciples, recognizing themselves as “fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s family” (Ephesians 2:19, CJB/CJSB). As followers of Israel’s God and Israel’s Messiah, and as a part of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13), what God has specified for His people and what He has done in the history of Israel, bears supernatural importance.

What does it mean for today’s Messianic people to regularly remember the Biblical appointed times and holidays in Scripture, as well as various commemorations from Jewish history and tradition? Many Jewish Believers see a magnanimous fulfillment of these things, wondering how their ancestors and family members continue to miss the Messiah. Many non-Jewish Believers feel that they had been robbed from past spiritual experiences, which did not include the appointed times of Leviticus 23 and other remembrances, and they can run into significant conflicts with their family and friends over why they are not necessarily observing previous engagements any more.

The Weekly Shabbat

For many Jewish homes, especially more religiously observant ones, the work week culminates in the remembrance of the weekly Sabbath or Shabbat. The Erev Shabbat family dinner is a huge centerpiece in the Jewish community, so much so that many non-religious Jews still think it is important to light candles, break challah, recite blessings, sing songs, and gather around the table together. For those who are followers of Israel’s God, the Erev Shabbat meal is important for maintaining the relationship between not only family members, but also with the larger Jewish community and with its God. This of course is carried over into the actual Sabbath day, frequently with morning services held at one’s local synagogue or temple, including traditional liturgy, Hebrew canting from the Torah, and a message that is typically delivered from the weekly Torah portion.

The Messianic Jewish Shabbat experience, while varied, does rightly incorporate a great number of the edifying traditions witnessed in the Synagogue. It is important that families get together once a week, and share a meal. It is vital that we all come together corporately in worship. And as Messianic Jews remember traditional prayers and customs, sometimes from their own childhood—Yeshua the Messiah being the center of the Shabbat rest, and identifying a number of the Jewish Sabbath traditions originating during Second Temple times, brings great joy and elation to them.

Non-Jewish Believers in the Messianic movement, observing Shabbat, is frequently a sight to behold. Many eagerly embrace Shabbat and its theme of rest—because they know that all human beings need rest! Admittedly for some, attending Shabbat services is little more than going to “Saturday church.” Yet, for many others, their introduction to Shabbat may have begun when a Messianic Jewish friend invited them into their homes for an Erev Shabbat dinner, and then they got hooked. Others, per the theological traditions of their Protestant heritage, may have looked at Sunday as a proper Sabbath day, including a prohibition on conducting in commerce, but appreciate that they now have embraced Shabbat with the fullness and richness that is seen in Judaism.

The Fall High Holidays

Jewish people of generally all varieties, take some notice of the high holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. For the observant, the time period leading up to and around these days is most vital, to make sure that any sins or errors of the previous year, and faults committed against others, are resolved. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are times, for religious Jews, where they believe that God is indeed looking at their hearts, and actively determining where they stand before Him. It is a very serious time for prayer, contemplation, and entreating the Lord for His mercy. Jewish people, who are nominally or non-religious, still tend to make an effort to attend some synagogue service for one or both holidays.

People in the Messianic community, because of affirming Yeshua of Nazareth as the prophesied Redeemer of Israel—while surely admiring customary Jewish approaches to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur—have a much different orientation toward these two high holidays, precisely because we believe that He has been sacrificed for our sins. While it is useful and appropriate that we all try to make amends for the errors we have committed toward our neighbors, and come in corporate confession and repentance as congregations and assemblies—we do not sit in a service, with some angst hanging over us about our sins not being fully taken care of. Instead, we come together in praise of what the Lord has done for us, and we entreat Him for the salvation of Israel and the world. This is especially appropriate, given how many conclude that on a future Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement will be significant events to take place in association with the return of the Messiah to Planet Earth, and the defeat of His enemies.

Following the high holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Traditionally in the Diaspora Jewish community, a sukkah or tabernacle is constructed in one’s back yard or at one’s synagogue, where families will often spend time for meals, and invite their friends for socializing. This is also the frequent way Sukkot is observed in the Diaspora Messianic Jewish community, although congregations can make Sukkot a time where there are special teachings or special functions to attract a larger audience. In North America, at least, the Feast of Tabernacles does tend to take place within the Fall, corresponding to various harvest themed activities that one may encounter in the local community.

The Fall holidays of the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles tend to be a major season when Messianic Jewish congregations make a considerable effort to reach out to the larger Jewish community with the good news. Messianic Jewish congregations often advertise to the Jewish people in their city—especially those who may only tend to visit a synagogue once or twice a year—that their congregation not only has Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur services, but that they are free! In many Jewish synagogues, members have to actually pay for their seats—yet Messianic congregations have been especially set up for Jewish non-Believers to come, visit, and be presented with the good news of Israel’s Messiah.

Non-Jewish Believers, whom God has directed into the Messianic movement, tend to have different approaches, or even reactions, to the Fall holidays. Many simply appreciate the reverence, traditional prayers and liturgy, and overall seriousness of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Focusing on one’s individual and corporate standing before God and others is actually therapeutic. And certainly, praying that the Jewish people come to faith in Yeshua, and that the world can experience shalom, is also most vital. At the same time, just as Messianic congregations can have a “flood” of Jewish visitors for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, there can also be many Christian visitors. But, rather than focus on some of the holy themes and prayers of these high holidays, these people tend to rather be focused on being present for what they think might be the season for “the rapture.” Unfortunately, their interest is not so much on entreating the Lord for His mercy toward the unsaved, and His concern that His people be accomplishing His Kingdom purposes.

Most Messianic Jewish congregations holding Sukkot activities do something similar to what is witnessed in the mainstream Synagogue. They are likely to have a sukkah on the congregational property, and they may have some event or major gathering open to the public—which more than anything else gives the congregation significant exposure. A number of congregations and/or Messianic ministries will hold various week-long retreats at a rural campground. (More frequently than not, this is a feature of the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement.) It can be witnessed that attendance at one’s Messianic congregation might be down, because people are off attending some Sukkot function. Regardless of how Sukkot is remembered by your local assembly, make sure that it is a welcoming time, where people notice the presence of the sukkah, they can fellowship, worship the Lord, and truly experience community.

The Winter Holidays

The Winter holiday season is frequently a very tense time of the year, for people within the broad Messianic movement. A definite feature of the Jewish experience, during the month of December, is remembering the holiday of Chanukah, the Feast of Dedication. The events involving Chanukah are mainly recorded in the Apocryphal Books of 1-2 Maccabees, as it involved the resistance of the Jewish people against the Seleucid Greeks—who wanted to see them give up their Torah way of life and assimilate into Greek polytheism—and the subsequent rededication of the Temple after their defeat. In much of the Jewish tradition, the festival of Chanukah is a time when families gather to light the menorah, they eat special foods (often fried), and it is a time to demonstrate good will and happiness toward one another, often with the giving of gifts.

Messianic Jewish congregations observing Chanukah, often transfer over much of the Synagogue communal experience, although as the menorah is lit, Yeshua the Messiah will be emphasized to be the Light of the Word. Messianic teachings during Chanukah do appreciably tend to focus more on the historical record of the Second Century B.C.E. Maccabean crisis, the Books of Maccabees, various prophecies of Daniel, and actually what can be learned from the Maccabees’ resistance not only to apostasy from the God of Israel—but how there are vital connections to be made to the end-times, the future rise of the beast, and how Believers in Yeshua need to resist apostasy. And, for our overall Biblical Studies, it does tend to be discussed how the First Century Jewish Believers were affected by the social fallout of the Maccabean crisis, as it did play a role in some of the tensions that erupted between the Jewish, Greek, and Roman Believers, as the good news spread out into the Mediterranean. Overall, Messianic Believers tend to learn new things about how relevant the story of Chanukah actually is for our contemporary lives as Messiah followers today.

Huge controversies can and do erupt during the month of December, regarding how Messianic people are to approach the Christian holiday of Christmas, on December 25. Many Messianic Jews simply do not see Christmas as something Jewish, they do not see it as something for them, but if Christians observe it, they are not going to oppose them. Many Messianic people, particularly intermarried couples often keep both Chanukah and Christmas. Many other Messianic people, oppose Christmas, although for different reasons and with different levels of opposition. Some of this may simply come from December 25 not being a specified holiday in the Bible, or established by the Apostles. Others see Christmas on December 25 as a clear result of syncretism practiced by Christians of the Second-Fourth Centuries, where pagan holidays were reinterpreted and “Christianized” with Biblical themes. Many see Christmas on December 25 as outright paganism, Christmas trees directly prohibited in Scripture (i.e., Jeremiah 10:2-5), and most Christians serving the Kingdom of Darkness. And, a few others, noting some early opposition to Christmas by a number of the Protestant Reformers, see Christmas on December 25 as a symbol of corrupt Roman popery. Those who hold to all of these positions are likely to be found at your local Messianic congregation during the month of December.

All of us should be mature enough as adults to recognize that during the month of December, due to all of the nativity scenes and different Christmas carols, that more people are going to be presented with hearing about Jesus and some form of the gospel, than at any other time during the year. In spite of many of the questionable practices and origins surrounding Christmas, God has brought people to Himself during this time of year. Yet Messianic people should also be wise enough to recognize that the Savior declared today during the month of December, is broadly not the Messiah of Israel, who is returning to reign over Planet Earth from Jerusalem—but is instead a universal Christ of tolerance (for human sin). While many sincere Christian people have honored God in ignorance on December 25, Christmas on December 25 is not a God-honoring activity. Still, Messianic Believers who may observe Chanukah, do not need to be odious to Christian people during this time, creating unnecessary scenes. Wishing “Happy Holidays” when being told “Merry Christmas,” is entirely legitimate.

The Spring Holidays

Usually as the Winter is closing, or as early Spring begins, in North America, the Jewish community remembers Purim or the Feast of Lots. The main focus of Purim is to recall the events of the Book of Esther, and how God used individuals like Esther and Mordecai, to bring about His deliverance of the Jewish people from certain annihilation. The Messianic Jewish movement remembers Purim via many of the same customs and traditions as the Synagogue, and tends to rightfully use it as a time to focus on not only the necessary deliverance of the Jews—for without the Jews there would be no Messiah Yeshua—but also how we can stand against anti-Semitism in our own day.

Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread, where the deliverance from Ancient Israel from Egypt, the ten plagues, and the centerpiece of the lamb are recalled—is one of the most important features of anyone’s reading of the Bible. The significance that the Exodus story has had, not just in controlling redemptive and salvation themes throughout Holy Scripture, the self-identity of the Jewish people throughout history, but also many political and reforming movements in history, is quite staggering. Without appreciating the Passover and the Exodus, one is very much likely to not understand salvation history.

Within the broad Jewish tradition, extending back to Second Temple times, the story of the Passover has been remembered via the Passover seder meal. This mainly involves a retelling of the Exodus, the ten plagues upon Egypt, and incorporates the elements of unleavened bread, wine, and bitter herbs. The Passover seder has definitely been adapted throughout many centuries of Jewish history, often for the unique needs of diverse Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora. The Passover account alone should be compelling for all followers of the God of Israel. Yet, today’s Messianic Jewish movement has extended considerable efforts from its beginning, to make clear connections between the ancient Passover seder and the Last Supper meal held between Yeshua and His Disciples, before His sacrifice as the Lamb of God. The Last Supper was a Passover seder, although a very unique one, as the Disciples were being prepared to see their Lord executed in atonement for the sins of Israel, and indeed, all of humanity.

The Passover season is a significant time for the broad Messianic community, not only because of the critical need for us to rejoice in the sacrifice and resurrection of the Messiah—but because more people get exposed to the Messianic movement during Passover, than at any other time. While Messianic families, or groups of families, tend to often hold home Passover seder meals—inviting many guests—Messianic congregations tend to especially be keen on having a large communal Passover meal, sometime during the week of Unleavened Bread. This is often used as a dual-outreach, first to the Jewish community, as there are many non-religious Jewish people who can especially be reached with the good news during this time—knowing that Passover is, at least, a part of their cultural heritage. Secondly, evangelical Protestant interest in the Passover, has also been quite high over the past few decades. Wanting to understand the Last Supper as an actual Passover seder, as something that Yeshua did and should still be remembered (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7), has drawn many evangelical people into the Messianic movement, embracing their Hebraic and Jewish Roots.

Some tension can erupt in the Spring, over the approach that the Messianic movement has regarding the Christian Easter Sunday. Messianic people absolutely must affirm the centrality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah to our faith! Yet, there is considerable discussion and debate, even among evangelical Protestants, regarding the origins of the term “Easter.” Some think it comes from the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, others from the Teutonic Eostre. This is why in some churches, the terminolgy Resurrection Sunday has been employed. And thankfully for many evangelical Believers, their Resurrection Sunday is precisely about the resurrection of Yeshua, and not about the Easter Bunny or Easter eggs. Some people in the Messianic community can cause a scene with various Christian people, over their observance of Easter. At the same time, other Messianic people properly integrate a remembrance of Yeshua’s death, burial, and resurrection into their home and congregational Passover activities.

During the season of Unleavened Bread, a seven-week or fifty-day period called the Counting of the Omer begins, which leads up to Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks, Pentecost. For Ancient Israel in the Torah, the Feast of Weeks was originally an early harvest festival, but became quickly associated with the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. It was a key pilgrimage festival, noted in the First Century as being the time when the Holy Spirit was poured out (Acts 2). There are varied customs and traditions regarding how Shavuot is remembered, which can involve all-night readings of the Book of Ruth, and special teachings from the Mishnah tractate Pirkei Avot or Sayings of the Fathers. In the Synagogue today, Shavuot is a relatively minor festival, but in Messianic settings, the equal giving of both God’s Torah and God’s Holy Spirit, tends to be the focus of one’s commemoration.

Indeed, when one factors in the storyline from Passover to Shavuot, today’s Messianic Believers are presented with all of the key components of a person’s salvation. (1) Men and women are saved from their bondage to slavery via the blood of Yeshua the Lamb, just as Ancient Israel was saved from its bondage to Egyptian servitude via the original Passover lambs. (2) Believers in Israel’s Messiah are immersed in water, reminiscent of the Israelites led through the parting of the Red Sea. (3) Believers in Israel’s Messiah are to receive His charge for living lives of holiness and obedience, just as Ancient Israel was brought to Mount Sinai to be formally given the Torah. And (4) followers of Israel’s Messiah are to enter into His purpose, accomplishing the tasks of the Kingdom of Heaven, similar to how the Israelites were being prepared to enter into the Promised Land.

Remembering Biblical and Jewish Holidays

To any Messianic Jewish family, it is essential and imperative that the Biblical and Jewish holidays be observed. History is replete with too many examples, that when Torah institutions such as Shabbat, Passover, or Yom Kippur are overlooked or not remembered, among others, that Jewish people have a tendency to quickly forget their identity. The Hebrew Christian movement of the early Twentieth Century did not do a good job at emphasizing both the cultural and Biblical responsibility that Jewish Believers have to remember the appointed times. Even today, when Messianic Believers, think that it is acceptable to keep both Chanukah and Christmas, two opposing messages are affirmed. The Festival of Dedication has a theme of resisting assimilation to the world and its ways, whereas the syncretistic holiday of Christmas communicates that it is acceptable to take the ways of the world and “reinvent” them with Biblical themes.

Non-Jewish Believers have been entering into the Messianic community, in substantial numbers, since the 1990s—with the Biblical and Jewish holidays a significant magnet for them doing so. They often conclude that a short Sunday Church service, Christmas on December 25, and Easter Sunday, are spiritually anemic and not able to fulfill all of their needs. A weekly Shabbat rest, the appointed times of Leviticus 23, and edifying extra-Biblical commemorations from Jewish history are found to be very inviting! While there might be some good memories which linger, at times, of past family experiences—the future is embraced as one which not only ministers to the human soul on many more levels, but where one can have the genuine assurance of knowing that you are doing something that Yeshua (Jesus) did!

People being who they are, it has to be recognized that there can be a tendency to think of oneself as being a bit superior, as a Messianic Believer, involved with more Biblical things on a weekly and annual basis—whereas most of the worldwide Body of Messiah, at present, could not care that much about them. Proverbs 16:18 does need to remind some of us, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (KJV). Many who should be considering the value of the Biblical and Jewish holidays—be it Jewish Believers who have come to faith in Israel’s Messiah, perhaps rediscovering lost or forgotten parts of their family heritage, and non-Jewish Believers just now considering their spiritual heritage in the Tanach (Old Testament)—can find themselves turned off or even repelled, if we do not have the right attitude.

All of us can, for certain, have an edifying orientation when it comes to either the Sabbath, appointed times, or various extra-Biblical Jewish holidays. When Jewish people who need Yeshua, or evangelical Believers who need to grasp a hold of their Hebraic and Jewish Roots, see us—are they attracted to us, because they want to be a part of a loving and Spirit-filled community of Messiah followers fulfilling God’s tasks in the Earth? Do they feel genuinely welcomed and accepted by us, as they are wooed by the Lord to join with us, experiencing great blessings, and being part of the great things that He has in store for the Messianic movement in the days ahead? Do we, in our remembrance of these various holidays, actually live forth their substance in our lives of faith in Israel’s Messiah?

V’yeishev

V’yeishev

He continued living

Genesis 37:1-40:23
Amos 2:6-3:8

“A Dream-Based Faith”


by Mark Huey

The testimonies of the lives of Abraham’s descendants continue this week in our Torah reading, as V’yeishev turns from a considerable focus on the Patriarch Jacob, to a more explicit look at the generation of sons whom he raised. Particular attention is directed toward Jacob’s favored son Joseph with Rachel, who began to take prominence among his brothers. We also see some time spent detailing the various trials and exploits of Judah, Jacob’s fourthborn son with Leah. The contrasts between these two sons, who eventually become the leaders of their generation, are recorded to reveal how their respective walks with the Holy One were influenced and molded by the actions they took, in the circumstances of life that they individually encountered.

From a modern-day Messianic perspective, we recognize the foreshadowing of the Messiah Yeshua in the life of righteous Joseph, who was destined to save Israel, and we witness some of the character flaws that must be changed in the life of Judah, who was the direct ancestor of the Lion of Judah. Interestingly, two underlying themes, of murder and adultery, permeate a great deal of V’yeishev, and should be noted. These two vile sins, which originate in the heart and mind, were addressed in the First Century by Yeshua, as He elevated righteousness to more than mere actions (cf. Matthew 5-7). But before considering Yeshua’s teaching, let us review how a dream-based faith can instill a fear of the Lord, resulting in righteous living!

For Torah students seeking to understand how the Lord God is intimately involved in all of the situations of life, our Torah portion for this week is especially instructive. After all, this unique family chosen by God to pass on the blessings bestowed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—has serious challenges—just like every family that has ever existed. But because God is sovereign in the affairs of humanity, He is always able to work through the actions of individuals to accomplish His will.

If you will recall from last week’s reading, V’yishlach (Genesis 32:3-36:43), Jacob, who had been renamed Israel, had finally made his way south from Shechem through Bethel to the region around Hebron, where he pastured his large flocks of livestock over a considerable area. Israel had been blessed mightily with twelve sons and a daughter, despite the saddening loss of his beloved Rachel while she was delivering their youngest son Benjamin on the journey.

When we arrive at this week’s reading, V’yeishev, a number of years have passed. The narrative continues with a description of Joseph, now seventeen, interacting with his jealous siblings. The loss of Rachel had bereaved Jacob/Israel to the point of blatantly favoring Joseph, the firstborn son of his beloved wife, over his other brothers. Jacob gave Joseph a special garment, and had served as his scout, able to report on the activities of his brothers. This had some serious consequences, as we encounter a description of the animosity that had built up between the brothers—especially when the naive Joseph began to relay the dreams God had given him. These were not taken too well by his fellow brothers, being interpreted as a sign of his superiority:

“Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. These are the records of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, ‘Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.’ Then his brothers said to him, ‘Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?’ So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, ‘Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?’ His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind (Genesis 37:1-11).

Sibling rivalry has existed from antiquity, and is not new to us as modern people. Scripturally recorded evidence of sibling rivalry goes back to Cain and Abel, and in the past few Torah portions we have witnessed the examples of Ishmael and Isaac, and Esau and Jacob. The twelve sons of Israel, from four different mothers, certainly presented a complicated family situation.

The natural jealousies over birth order, as we read, were exacerbated by the children witnessing an obvious preference by Jacob for one wife’s children over the others. In this case, Jacob definitely favored the firstborn son of Rachel above his other sons. Not only had Jacob given Joseph a multi-colored tunic that set him apart from his brothers, but he was also having Joseph report on their activities as they pastured the herds. The resentment was evident as Joseph’s brothers began to harbor murderous hatred for Joseph. One can only imagine the derisive comments and conversations that must have taken place between the sons, who were either consciously or unconsciously seeking the adoration and approval of their father. However, by the time Jacob’s family was settled in the Hebron area, the sought approval of Jacob of his other sons was already eroding because of previous actions taken by the first three sons of Leah. Remember that Jacob/Israel was aware that his firstborn son Reuben had a sexual encounter with Bilpah (Genesis 35:22). Additionally, the murderous actions led by Simeon and Levi against the Shechemites had disturbed Jacob greatly, and put his entire family at risk, initiating the move south (Genesis 34:30). With these contemptuous actions having stigmatized the family, V’yeishev concentrates on the life of Joseph, the firstborn son of Rachel, and to a lesser extent Judah, the fourth son of Leah.

Joseph’s Dreams

Inspired dreams and visions are some of the ways that the Lord has communicated to the forbearers of our faith, as we have noted earlier in the life of Jacob, when he had a dream-vision on his sojourn to Paddan-aram at Bethel (Genesis 28:12-17). To a wide extent, the accounts of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s interactions with the Almighty, just have been known to Jacob’s sons. Joseph obviously believed that his two dreams were inspired by the God of his fathers, because for the balance of his life, these dreams and a steadfast fear of the Lord absolutely influenced his actions. A statement made in the Book of Psalms indicates that the very “word” which Joseph received in his dreams, “tested him,” until he recognized the fulfillment of his dreams as viceroy of Egypt when his brothers bowed before him (Genesis 42:6):

“He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, he himself was laid in irons; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him” (Psalm 105:6-19).

At some point in time as his brothers went about their business tending to flocks, Joseph had several inspiring dreams, which he immodestly recounted to them and his father. Joseph was only seventeen years old, when in a degree of tactlessness, he simply relayed what he must have thought to be Divinely inspired dreams. It is obvious by the reactions to his descriptions, that Joseph was inadvertently conveying that one day he was going to rule over his brothers. These revelations incensed Joseph’s jealous brothers to the point of wanting to murder him, and rid themselves of the “favored” son. But as we read, the conspiracy among the brothers was avoided as Reuben, and then Judah, intervene with alternative ways to keep their brothers from spilling Joseph’s blood:

“Then his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock in Shechem. Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.’ And he said to him, ‘I will go.’ Then he said to him, ‘Go now and see about the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock, and bring word back to me.’ So he sent him from the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. A man found him, and behold, he was wandering in the field; and the man asked him, ‘What are you looking for?’ He said, ‘I am looking for my brothers; please tell me where they are pasturing the flock.’ Then the man said, ‘They have moved from here; for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.”’ So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. When they saw him from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer! Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, “A wild beast devoured him.” Then let us see what will become of his dreams!’ But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands and said, ‘Let us not take his life.’ Reuben further said to them, ‘Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to his father. So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it. Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him. Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt. Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. He returned to his brothers and said, ‘The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?’ So they took Joseph’s tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, ‘We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son’s tunic or not.’ Then he examined it and said, ‘It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!’ So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, ‘Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.’ So his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard” (Genesis 37:12-36).

In this tragic set of circumstances, the epitome of a dysfunctional family is recorded. Here for all to study is the unapologetic description of how a group of siblings can scheme to first consider killing their brother, or given a change of plans, sell him into slavery. Providentially, the eldest son Reuben, perhaps understanding his responsibility as the firstborn son of Jacob, intervened with his brothers and talked them out of slaying Joseph. The text indicates that Reuben was actually trying to save Joseph from his brothers, who derisively removed the multi-colored tunic that must have enraged them.

It is difficult to not think back to the murder in the heart of Cain, who slew his brother Abel because of his jealousy. But this was a corporate act, rather than an individual one. These brothers were so consumed with jealousy, that they were willing to live with the knowledge of murdering their brother, knowing that each other was culpable. One wonders where their faith in, or fear of, the Holy One was, as they contemplated these options. Perhaps their actions years earlier when slaying the Shechemites had hardened them to a murderous spirit. But this was not about justifying their actions to protect the honor of their sister. This was to be blatant fratricide. Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt when he witnessed the murderous rage in the eyes of his brothers? Even when Judah, beginning to reveal a guilty conscience, came up with an alternative plan to throw Joseph into the empty pit—what must Joseph have been thinking as he laid helpless at the bottom of the pit, listening to the wrath of his brothers? Did this prompt Joseph to rethink through the dreams he had dreamed earlier, and wonder if they were indeed from God?

While simple physical survival must have overwhelmed his thoughts, there was something very special about Joseph and God’s plan for his life—and somehow Joseph innately knew it. Eventually God was going to use these deplorable events to send Joseph off to Egypt, for His Divine purposes to save Israel. But if you can put yourself in Joseph’s place, the emotions of fear and confusion about his brother’s animosity toward him, had to be excruciating. Yet, Joseph had to rely upon the Lord, and the dream that he must have believed was from Him. He held onto what he had been communicated by the Lord, hanging onto it through the trials he would experience.

The Brother Judah

As noted earlier, the different life experiences of the two sons of Jacob, who would eventually take prominence in their generation, are detailed for some curious comparisons. After the description of Joseph’s traumatic events with his brothers and being sold into slavery to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer and captain of the bodyguard (Genesis 37:36), our Torah reading shifts to an entire chapter (Genesis 38) dedicated to describing the problems that Judah encountered, as he departed from his brothers and married a Canaanite woman. Unlike the precedent established by his forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who married women who were from close relatives with a similar background, Judah fell into the trap of marrying a woman who came from the indigenous culture. Consider how Judah’s sons did displeasing things before the Lord, which apparently cost them their lives. Judah does not seem to be a father who was passing on a reverence for God to his progeny:

“And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her. So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er. Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan. She bore still another son and named him Shelah; and it was at Chezib that she bore him. Now Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life. Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also. Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, ‘Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up’; for he thought, ‘I am afraid that he too may die like his brothers.’ So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house. Now after a considerable time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and when the time of mourning was ended, Judah went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. It was told to Tamar, ‘Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.’ So she removed her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face. So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, ‘Here now, let me come in to you’; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, ‘What will you give me, that you may come in to me?’ He said, therefore, ‘I will send you a young goat from the flock.’ She said, moreover, ‘Will you give a pledge until you send it?’ He said, ‘What pledge shall I give you?’ And she said, ‘Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.’ So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and departed, and removed her veil and put on her widow’s garments. When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her.  He asked the men of her place, saying, ‘Where is the temple prostitute who was by the road at Enaim?’ But they said, ‘There has been no temple prostitute here.’ So he returned to Judah, and said, ‘I did not find her; and furthermore, the men of the place said, “There has been no temple prostitute here.”’ Then Judah said, ‘Let her keep them, otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I sent this young goat, but you did not find her.’ Now it was about three months later that Judah was informed, ‘Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is also with child by harlotry.’ Then Judah said, ‘Bring her out and let her be burned!’ It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, ‘I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.’ And she said, ‘Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?’ Judah recognized them, and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.’ And he did not have relations with her again. It came about at the time she was giving birth, that behold, there were twins in her womb. Moreover, it took place while she was giving birth, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, ‘This one came out first.’ But it came about as he drew back his hand, that behold, his brother came out. Then she said, ‘What a breach you have made for yourself!’ So he was named Perez. Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah” (Genesis 38:1-30).

There is one thing which is most sure about the Hebrew Tanakh: it does not try to hide the errant actions of its chosen people, allowing specific details to be recorded, hopefully for the instruction of generations to come. In this case, the failings of Judah as both a father and as a man were on full display. But in it all, one finds that these circumstances were perhaps used by God to make Judah the man that he needed to be.

Judah was the one who had suggested that his brothers sell Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders, rather than kill him. This hints of an emerging conscience that will mature as he aged. Perhaps he was feeling some remorse, keeping the lies about Joseph’s death continuing in the presence of Jacob, who still mourned for Joseph (Genesis 37:35). Continuing to lie and cover up a conspiracy can be trying, so to perhaps relieve his guilt, Judah left his brothers and began living in the regional culture, albeit with some recollection of how he was to conduct his life according to some family mores. What we find is that Judah did have a conscience which really bothered him, when he found out that it was he who impregnated Tamar. She was more “righteous” than Judah!

An arduous road, to being molded into a God-fearing leader among his siblings, began to show. Clearly, the Lord had a distinct plan for Judah, or these intimate details about his life would not have been included in Holy Scripture.

Joseph’s Challenges

The contrast between Joseph and Judah is certainly noticeable, as Genesis ch. 39 dramatically shifts back to Joseph’s predicament as a slave. Joseph was sold to Potiphar, and we witness how the Lord was definitely blessing Joseph in multiple noticeable ways. Joseph experienced some significant tests, as he continued to not only contend with the memories of the ill-treatment of his brothers, being sold into slavery—but was later falsely accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife. Notice how the references to the Lord or God emerge, as Joseph was obviously having to cling to the assurance that he had in Him:

“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the LORD was with him and how the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge. It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph; thus the LORD’s blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. So he left everything he owned in Joseph’s charge; and with him there he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.  It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?’ As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. She caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called to the men of her household and said to them, ‘See, he has brought in a Hebrew to us to make sport of us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I screamed. When he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled and went outside.’ So she left his garment beside her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with these words, ‘The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make sport of me; and as I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.’ Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, ‘This is what your slave did to me,’ his anger burned. So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper” (Genesis 39:1-23).

Perhaps one of the most memorable instances recorded about Joseph, during his service to Potiphar, is his desire to remain righteous and pure before the Holy One. When confronted by Potiphar’s wife to engage in adulterous promiscuity, Joseph responded with a question that clearly indicated that he had a genuine fear of the Lord:

“But he refused. He said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, with me here, my master gives no thought to anything in this house, and all that he owns he has placed in my hands. He wields no more authority in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except yourself, since you are his wife. How then could I do this most wicked thing, and sin before God?’” (Genesis 39:8-9, NJPS).

Despite the ill treatment by his brothers and being sold into slavery, it appears that Joseph was still clinging to his relationship with the Holy One with a righteous reverence. Clearly, whatever humanly justified bitterness toward others, that could have readily been transferred to God, was not evident. Instead, a fear of sinning against God compelled Joseph to flee the tempting circumstances, rather than indulging his flesh. Could this well known display of self control have been an example considered by the Apostle Paul, when he directed his disciple Timothy to flee from youthful lusts?

“Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

As a result of inadvertently leaving his garment behind, Joseph then endured the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife, which caused him to be cast into prison. Can you imagine what he must have been thinking, knowing that he had avoided sinning because of his faith in God—and yet, he received more ill treatment? There had to be something in Joseph’s mind and heart concerning his relationship with the Holy One, that prompted him to avoid willfully sinning.

Clearly Joseph’s eventual testimony, as a deliverer for the rest of His family, foreshadowed the ultimate salvation of Yeshua, the Righteous One to come. Obviously at a young age, Joseph had been touched by the Holy One through some dreams, for the trials that he was going to eventually endure. It would take some difficult challenges and circumstances for Joseph to be molded and positioned, so that he could eventually be in the right position at the right time, to save his brothers (cf. Romans 8:28). The Sovereign God of Creation is ultimately in charge of how things work out through His chosen vessels.

A Dream-Based Faith

What might we consider this week, from studying this Torah portion, which vividly recounts and contrasts some of the nefarious deeds of the sons of Jacob with some of the righteous actions of Joseph? How about reflecting upon personal accountability, and how we each should individually respond in our relationship with the Holy One? Our individual actions before the Lord, are being watched by Him as the Omnipresent and Omniscient One.

While we might not personally endure the ignominy that Joseph’s brothers have to bear for eternity, will each of us be held accountable for our actions, words, and even thoughts? Are our actions, words, and thoughts focused on the ways of the Lord—or something else? In V’yeishev we each have to confront the reality of murder in the hearts of Jacob’s sons, the sexual encounter of Judah with Tamar, and the rejection of sexual adventures on the part of Joseph when the temptation presented itself.

Murder and adultery are the two most evident sins depicted in our Torah portion. In the First Century, the standard to follow was raised considerably by Yeshua, in the teaching of His Sermon on the Mount. The Lord directed His hearers to consider some of the causes of murder and adultery, as being tantamount to people having committed the actual sins:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ [Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17] and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell…You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’ [Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18]; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-30).

Yeshua did not mince His words with hard to interpret explanations, but directed people on how murder and adultery are much more than just the physical acts. This is why it is absolutely vital that each one of us sincerely has a genuine fear of the Lord in order to arrest our thoughts, hold back our tongues, and certainly avoid sinful actions.

The great example of Joseph having had some dreams or words, that solidified his faith in the Holy One, is something that every Believer should seek to obtain and retain during the course of his or her life. Knowing beyond a shadow of doubt that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is observing each and every thought, word, and deed is something that assuredly engenders a sincere fear of Him. Whether one receives that assurance from a dream, a vision, a word, or most critically a salvation experience—it is absolutely necessary to walk in a way that truly pleases our Heavenly Father. We have the testimony of Joseph to consider, but what is most crucial is our individual testimony that the fear of the Lord is presently directing our life. For without a genuine fear of the Lord, our ability to understand and apprehend what the Scriptures discuss is severely limited:

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).

During the course of our lives, may we continually be able to fear the Lord in an even greater manner, as we seek to serve Him and see His Kingdom established!