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!

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!

V’yishlach

V’yishlach

He sent

Genesis 32:3-36:43
Hosea 11:7-12:12 (A)
Obadiah 1:1-21 (S)

“A Wrestling Faith”


by Mark Huey

This week, our Torah portion Vayishlach continues the saga of Jacob’s life, as he learned to depend upon and have faith in the God of Abraham and Isaac. If you will recall from last week, the final separation from his father-in-law Laban concluded with a dramatic covenant that essentially placed a demarcation point at Mahanaim, which inclined Jacob to maintain his family’s march west toward the Land of Canaan, promised to him and his fathers (Genesis 31:51-32:2).

With the problems behind him resolved, there were problems in front of Jacob still looming. Jacob was still confronted with a tenuous reunion with his brother Esau, who twenty years earlier had threatened to kill him. Despite all of the blessings of a family, servants, and a bounty of livestock—Jacob had to be utterly petrified about what might take place. Assuming that his brother Esau was still holding a grudge against him, this week’s parashah opens with Jacob concocting a plan to thwart any evil intentions that Esau might have brought upon his family. Even though during the time he spent in Paddan-aram, Jacob’s faith had been surely maturing—as he witnessed the Lord honor His word and promises—we can see that Jacob was still depending upon his own strength and cleverness to avoid what he must have contemplated would be a difficult reception from Esau. In order to prevent a potentially life-threatening encounter, Jacob first sent messengers to Esau to determine the level of Esau’s animosity toward him. Upon the report that Esau was approaching with four hundred, Jacob devised a plan to avoid any anticipated confrontation with Esau by dividing his entourage into two camps, with his immediate family in one and the servants in the other. But then in an indication that Jacob was beginning to trust more fully in the God of his fathers, he turned to God in supplication, having sought the Lord’s protection from his brother:

“Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He also commanded them saying, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: “Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.’”’ The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; for he said, ‘If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.’ Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, “Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.”’ So he spent the night there. Then he selected from what he had with him a present for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, ‘Pass on before me, and put a space between droves.’ He commanded the one in front, saying, ‘When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, saying, “To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and to whom do these animals in front of you belong?” then you shall say, “These belong to your servant Jacob; it is a present sent to my lord Esau. And behold, he also is behind us”’” (Genesis 32:3-18).

In Jacob’s somewhat confessional prayer to God, he not only recognized God’s promises to him, but also his unworthiness to receive the blessings that have already been bestowed. Jacob’s genuine fear of Esau was so great that he had already made the decision to separate into two camps, but he was still reminding God of His promises to prosper him and make his descendants as many as the sand of the sea. The struggle to live by faith in the Holy One, or depend upon one’s own mortal strength, was waging mightily in Jacob. This is a great lesson for any Torah student to study and contemplate. After all, how many times during the course of life do people who profess faith in the Almighty find themselves in similar predicaments? While these times of depending upon the Lord do not necessarily have to be life threatening, most can identify with tests and trials that truly challenge our faith and trust in God. In the development of Jacob’s faith, one can definitely see it growing—but lifelong patterns to resort to cleverness or inherent strengths as humans are difficult to overcome. As Jacob would soon discover, it is at times like these, when the Lord showed up to help him get through the trial.

Jacob Renamed Israel

In V’yishlach, we see that Jacob was in quite a dilemma. He knew that his brother Esau was approaching with four hundred men, not knowing exactly what their intentions were. He had sent ahead servants and livestock to appease Esau, but there was no indication that Esau was satisfied with the overtures. The entourage had been strategically separated into two camps, so Jacob arose in the night and took his family across the river Jabbok, in order to await the arrival of Esau and his company. It was here in the dark of the night, that Jacob encountered a unique supernatural being. Not only did this figure have the ability to simply touch Jacob on his hip and dislocate it, but he also took the opportunity to rename Jacob:

“Then he commanded also the second and the third, and all those who followed the droves, saying, ‘After this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; and you shall say, “Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.”’ For he said, ‘I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’ So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp. Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.’ But he said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him and said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.’ Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip” (Genesis 32:19-32).

During this struggle that ensued, Jacob likely was having to mentally wrestle with the thoughts of his future, and what would soon happen regarding his imminent encounter with Esau. What transpired in the night as Jacob struggled with the supernatural being, was that he showed himself to be a fighter—and for this reason he was renamed Israel or Yisrael, meaning “he contends with God” (TWOT).[1] Jacob was given the name Israel because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome (Genesis 32:28, TNIV). This must have had some great significance to Jacob.

Jacob’s wrestling match during the night—when he was renamed Israel—was most definitely a defining moment in his life, as some serious future events were preparing to occur. Twenty years earlier on his departure from Canaan on the way to Paddan-aram, Jacob had a dream-vision of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder (Genesis 28:10-22). Now on the precipice of returning to the Promised Land, Jacob had an even more dramatic supernatural experience. Perhaps finally, after years of striving with God and with human beings, Jacob was ready to rely fully on God—with the assurance that God was in control of all of the circumstances he was facing?

Reunion with Esau

From the wrestling match at Jabbok with the supernatural being, Jacob was resigned to be at peace with his God. So, he simply went forth confidently with his plan to show proper respect to Esau, and he instructed his family to do the same:

“Then Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids.  He put the maids and their children in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. He lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and said, ‘Who are these with you?’ So he said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the maids came near with their children, and they bowed down. Leah likewise came near with her children, and they bowed down; and afterward Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed down. And he said, ‘What do you mean by all this company which I have met?’ And he said, ‘To find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own.’ Jacob said, ‘No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably. Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me and because I have plenty.’ Thus he urged him and he took it. Then Esau said, ‘Let us take our journey and go, and I will go before you.’ But he said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die. Please let my lord pass on before his servant, and I will proceed at my leisure, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord at Seir.’ Esau said, ‘Please let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.’ But he said, ‘What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.’ So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built for himself a house and made booths for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth. Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city. He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel” (Genesis 33:1-20).

By the time our Torah reading describes the meeting of Jacob with Esau, it is not explicitly clear what had changed the disposition of Esau toward his brother Jacob. Was it possibly the statements of the messengers bearing the gifts of livestock that softened Esau’s heart toward his brother? Was it finally greeting his brother, as they convened and took note of all of the wives and children that were an immediate part of Jacob’s entourage? Or, could it possibly have been the twenty-year interval where Esau had been blessed by a bevy of children himself (cf. Genesis 36)? Perhaps God had answered Jacob’s prayers for peace with his brother Esau?

Needless to say, Jacob was greeted a bit generously, and with what appeared to be a willingness for the two to learn how to live together in the same region. Esau seemed a bit overwhelmed by all of the news about his brother Jacob, and stated that he was already blessed and not in need of the bevy of livestock offered to Esau by Jacob. But after Jacob insisted, Esau accepted the gifts, and even offered to have the two families live together in the region around Seir.

Seir was south of where they were meeting, and east of the Jordan River. This was not the principal land promised to Abraham and Isaac, and so the newly renamed Israel insisted that his brother go on ahead, and he would follow in due time. But rather than heading south to follow Esau, Jacob instead headed west across the Jordan and toward Shechem, to retrace some of the same path he had taken twenty years earlier. In fact, as the text indicates, when Jacob and his family arrived back in the Shechem area, he actually purchased a piece of land from the Shechemites in order to settle down. He erected an altar there, naming the place El Elohe Israel.

The transformation of Jacob, into a man of faith, seems to have been completed. Not only has Jacob navigated a potentially disastrous confrontation with Esau, but now he was free to move back into the Land of Promise without fear of retribution. In an action that clearly indicated a sincere desire to fulfill his promise to the God of his fathers, Jacob actually erected an altar to worship God and names the place, “God, God of Israel.” Jacob was not only confident that God was with him as he overcame the fear of encountering Esau, but he was so moved by his return, that in a move to publically declare who he was serving—he built and dedicated an altar to his God. Jacob seemed to have transformed considerably in his trust and faith in the Almighty. But as is true with all who seek to serve God, the trials of life remain…

Israel’s Troubles in Shechem

While parents are not directly responsible for the actions of their children, they can be indirectly held accountable, whether they want to be or not. In the case of Jacob/Israel, he faced a significant trial as his children got involved with the Hivite population in the area where Jacob had initially decided to settle. Jacob’s daughter Dinah got sexually entrapped with Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, with some unintended consequences. The possibility of Israel’s family being absorbed into the local population was a problem that this incident and the subsequent actions brought to light:

“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. When Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her by force. He was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this young girl for a wife.’ Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in. Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. Now the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, ‘The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Intermarry with us; give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves. Thus you shall live with us, and the land shall be open before you; live and trade in it and acquire property in it.’ Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘If I find favor in your sight, then I will give whatever you say to me. Ask me ever so much bridal payment and gift, and I will give according as you say to me; but give me the girl in marriage.’ But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go” (Genesis 34:1-17).

A number of thoughts come to mind as one reads the account of the tragedies that would take place in and around the Shechem area. Jacob did not want his company intermingling with Esau’s company down south in the Seir area. Yet, with ten sons, a daughter, and attendant servants—how was Jacob/Israel going to avoid being absorbed by the more abundant indigenous population, even if he was wealthy based on the size of his livestock herds? So to make some distinctions, Jacob purchased some land and erected an altar to declare his allegiance to the God of Abraham and Isaac.

But the Hivites worshipped other gods, which was going to be a significant problem, especially if any intermarrying did take place. When Dinah got involved with Shechem, the relationship caused a challenge not only for Jacob—who remained silent without taking any immediate action—but also his sons, Simeon and Levi, who became very involved when they heard about the violation of their sister Dinah. In fact, the lack of response from Jacob is concerning, despite the fact that his presence when confronted by Hamor and Shechem is noted. But instead of responding to their pleas for Dinah’s hand in marriage, Jacob said nothing as Simeon and Levi interjected their concern over a marriage to an uncircumcised person. After all, a part of Israel’s walk of faith included circumcision of infant boys (Genesis 17:11-25). Apparently, after Abraham and Isaac were circumcised, the practice was continued with Esau and Jacob. Then the practice must have continued with the sons of Jacob, as they used this rite as the stated reason to stop the marriage of Dinah with Shechem. But there was a hidden motivation of vengeance to convince the Hivites to circumcise their men:

“Now their words seemed reasonable to Hamor and Shechem, Hamor’s son. The young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was more respected than all the household of his father. So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, ‘These men are friendly with us; therefore let them live in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters in marriage, and give our daughters to them. Only on this condition will the men consent to us to live with us, to become one people: that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock and their property and all their animals be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will live with us.’ All who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and to his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city. Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth. Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.’ But they said, ‘Should he treat our sister as a harlot?’” (Genesis 34:18-31).

Simeon and Levi had decided that they were going to avenge the humiliating treatment of their sister, and prevent the potential merger of the families. After three days, when the pain of the circumcision was great, the young men struck not only Hamor and his son Shechem, but massacred all of the men of Shechem! When their brothers discovered the action, they did not hesitate to plunder the city and ravage the inhabitants. What an horrific display of revenge by these young sons of Jacob.

Jacob’s silence is almost deafening. There is no recorded statement in the Biblical record that Jacob tried to stop the actions of his sons. It was only after the massacre had taken place that Jacob finally spoke to Simeon and Levi, with some serious concern about the ramifications of their vengeful acts. Jacob was mindful that the neighboring Canaanites and Perizzites would take great offense over the murder of their regional neighbors, and take up arms against the greatly outnumbered group of servants that were a part of Jacob’s entourage. Naturally, Jacob was extremely concerned about the survival of his family, and reprimanded Simeon and Levi accordingly. It was not until years later when Jacob/Israel bestowed blessings on his children, that we discover that there were definite negative consequences for this act of vengeance:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with their assembly; because in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel” (Genesis 49:5-7).

As you think through this tragedy and the consequences of settling near Shechem, is it possible that Jacob stopped in his return to Canaan a little prematurely, without going further south to relocate near the area around Hebron?

The Relocation Continues

Following the tragic events that took place in Shechem, God spoke to Jacob with instructions about his relocation. If you can picture the next move further south of Shechem that they were about to take, you find that Jacob and his entourage were once again on the ridgeline highway, leading south of Shechem through Bethel, where Jacob had his earlier encounter with God during his sojourn east some twenty years prior. God was bringing Jacob “full circle,” to the place where he had anointed a rock with oil (Genesis 28:16-19). It was here that some additional work was needed, in order to eliminate all association with other gods and idol worship:

“Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.’ So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.’ So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem. As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him.  He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother. Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; it was named Allon-bacuth. Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; you shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you. The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you.’ Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him. Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel” (Genesis 35:1-15).

God’s work with Jacob was not yet finished, because some of the people moving with him were still worshipping foreign gods, as indicated by all the items used for false worship. God spoke to Jacob, reminding him of his earlier commitment at Bethel, and told him to rid his entourage of any idolatrous items. After burying the amulets, Jacob returned to the place where he anointed the stone, and this time erected an altar to worship the Holy One, once again recognizing it as Bethel. Then to reaffirm the earlier encounter at Jabbok, when he was renamed Israel—the Lord not only restated the name, but also reminded Jacob about the blessings of Abraham and Isaac that Jacob/Israel had received. By this time in the life of Jacob/Israel, one would think that he was getting the message from God very loud and clear. But the vagaries of life continued, as the sojourn continued south toward the Hebron area. God is never finished with testing His chosen vessels until they die.

Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel was pregnant during the journey south, and she went into Jacob around Ephrath (Genesis 35:16-17). During the birth of her second son, she died and was buried (Genesis 35:18-20). The loss of Rachel must have saddened Jacob greatly, but rather than allowing Rachel’s dying name of Ben-oni (son of my sorrow) to remain, Jacob instead named his youngest son Benjamin (son of my right hand). The patriarch erected a memorial pillar at her burial site, and then settled in the area near the tower of Eder (Genesis 35:21). But Jacob/Israel’s troubles with rebellious children continued. In an act of disrespect toward his father, Jacob’s eldest son Reuben has sexual relations with Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). This ultimately resulted in Reuben forfeiting his birthright privileges, as noted in Jacob’s blessings uttered at his deathbed years later:

“Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch’” (Genesis 49:3-4).

A Wrestling Faith

While our parashah actually concludes with an extensive listing of the descendants of Esau (Genesis 36), the extended journey of Jacob comes to a close with him finally arriving in the Hebron area to bury his aged father Isaac:

“Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre of Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him” (Genesis 35:27-29).

It is difficult to specifically determine any additional moves that Jacob/Israel made during the remaining days of his sojourn in Canaan, but it is interesting to note that when his father Isaac died, there must have been at least a semblance of peaceful interactions with his brother Esau—or they probably would not have been able to come together for the burial of their father.

It is reasonable to conclude that Jacob struggled with the God of his fathers for most of his life. Even though there were considerable moments of revelation and experience—both direct and indirect with the Holy One—Jacob had to constantly contend with the challenges of life that are an example to all who study his life. God had obviously chosen him from the womb to receive the blessings of Abraham and Isaac, but just like every person born, his life journey was unique. Despite growing up in a family dedicated to the Holy One, Jacob had to personally learn how to trust in the Lord himself. Is this not the case for everyone who seeks the Lord?

As you think back and contemplate the sojournings of Jacob, perhaps you can identify with some of his trials. Maybe you grew up in a home where a relationship with God was modeled to you by your parents or relatives. As a result, you may struggle with your own personal relationship, because your interactions with God may not be as profound as those relayed to you by others. On the other hand, you might be the first one in your family to truly seek God, and have an assurance that He is truly the One who brings you salvation from your sin. Whatever your personal history includes, having some kind of struggles with God along the road of life, are just a part of everyone’s personal journey.

Whether your faith is tested with sibling rivalries, with rebellious children, when others treat you unfairly, when loved ones die, or by any number of life circumstances that come your way—know that God is always there to confide in and lean upon. In fact, the image of wrestling with God or clinging to Him is appropriate, given the desire of God-seekers to hold onto Him through the trials of life. Even the revered Moses used this imagery when he exhorted the Israelites in the desert to not only fear the Lord, but serve Him and cling to Him:

“You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21).

Surely, if you have sought the Lord and received assurance of your salvation because of belief in the atoning work of the blood of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus), then you have seen or experienced the work of God in your life. Perhaps you have even spent some time wrestling with God as He has tested your faith!

Despite the struggles of life that test our faith, may we all learn to cling to the Holy One as ultimately exemplified by Jacob who wrestled with his faith throughout his life. For our God is indeed the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and by their individual examples—we can learn to cling to the Holy One who promises eternal life through belief in His Son Yeshua, our Redeemer and the Rock of our salvation!


NOTES

[1] J. Barton Payne, “Yisrael, sarah,” in TWOT, 2:883.