V’yechi

V’yechi

He lived

“Blessing Israel”

Genesis 47:28-50:26
1 Kings 2:1-12


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s parashah, V’yechi, brings us to the end of the Book of Genesis. For twelve weeks, this first book of the Torah has instructed readers about the Creation of the universe and Planet Earth, to an emphasis upon the one family which was chosen to be God’s representatives to humanity at large. From Adam to Noah to Abraham and finally Jacob, the Almighty has progressively demonstrated how He works through specific individuals in order to accomplish His will and purposes. Now as Genesis comes to a close, the Patriarch Jacob, inheritor of the covenants and blessings bestowed upon Abraham and Isaac, is now in a position to extend those same blessings to his progeny who will give rise to the future nation of Israel.

Many critical lessons should be understood from this week’s Torah portion. After all, we witness how Jacob is in a unique position to not only bless his sons, but also prophetically declare much of the future intention of his offspring. Great lessons for followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can be imparted by the graphic example of extending one’s blessings upon children. Consider how the author of Hebrews indicates that by following the example established by his father Isaac, Jacob exhibited the great faith that he had in the God who was not only faithful to his fathers—but now to him as his life was ending:

“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:20-21).

In many respects, the concept of faithfully blessing one’s children and offspring, in order to pass on the blessings you have received from God, is reinforced and categorically established by the actions described in V’yechi. Thankfully, faithful men and women of God who have inherited these blessings throughout Biblical history—have been responsible for passing them on to people like us today, who clearly reap the benefits of the original blessings imparted to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We should have great confidence in the Lord that we will see them continue to be passed on to future generations!

The Double Blessing

As you begin to study and reflect upon some of the details of this Torah portion, you should be able to pick up on some of the subtle statements which indicate how Jacob, just like his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac, was gifted with prophetic insight about the future of his children and their offspring. Jacob was 130 years old when he arrived in Egypt, and he lived there for seventeen years until his death (Genesis 47:28). During his time spent in Egypt, Jacob was surely able to reflect upon his life experiences, including his reunion with the presumed-deceased Joseph, and how events had led him to his final days outside of the land promised to him and his descendants. No doubt as he considered all of life’s trials and tribulations, he thought about his twelve sons and how they had behaved and acted over the years. He probably remembered some of the dreams that Joseph had shared with he and Rachel years earlier in Canaan, and now how he had witnessed their fulfillment. As he approached death, Jacob desired to finalize his estate.

Jacob was very preoccupied about his final resting place. As his body began to fail, he was compelled to commit Joseph to a pledge to return his remains to the Land of Canaan:

“When the time for Israel to die drew near, he called his son Joseph and said to him, ‘Please, if I have found favor in your sight, place now your hand under my thigh and deal with me in kindness and faithfulness. Please do not bury me in Egypt, but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.’ And he said, ‘I will do as you have said.’ And he said, ‘Swear to me.’ So he swore to him. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed” (Genesis 47:29-31).

Jacob had a very special relationship with the God of his fathers. The various encounters he had with Him over the years, and now the opportunity to be circumspect, forced him to conclude that it was imperative that he have his body laid to rest in the tomb of his fathers. After all, he might have reasoned, he knew of how his father Isaac had placed his grandfather Abraham in the tomb Abraham himself had purchased in Machpelah,[1] and then he in turn had placed Isaac in that same tomb.[2] Because Jacob had also been promised Canaan as an inheritance, it would only be natural for him to be laid to rest in the same tomb. Since Joseph ostensibly had the power to fulfill his request, Jacob secured a vow from Joseph.

Once this request was insured, Jacob was probably content to finish off the days of his life. We soon discover that as the number of Jacob’s days were coming to a close, he now went into action to repeat many of the actions that he had witnessed his father Isaac perform decades earlier. Jacob understood the important principles of the birthright blessings. After all, some of the most memorable events of his life centered around the challenges of the one who would receive the birthright inheritance and the blessing of Isaac. Of course, we remember that in the case of Jacob and Esau, in spite of the fact that Esau was the elder son, Jacob received both the birthright blessings and the leadership blessings for his generation.[3] Now as death approached, Jacob had the opportunity to pass blessings and important words onto his sons, and as we also see, his grandsons—with each of the words containing an important prophetic theme.

The issuing of the double portion blessing is first extended. As we should keep in mind, Jacob has had a very full life that included multiple wives and multiple concubines. It was the son of Rachel, the beloved Joseph, whom Jacob designated as the heir of these distinct birthright blessings. As we read in this account, Joseph had two sons, and we witness that Jacob actually adopted them as his own. By in essence making them his own, he passed the double portion blessing onto Joseph’s two grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim:

“Now it came about after these things that Joseph was told, ‘Behold, your father is sick.’ So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him. When it was told to Jacob, ‘Behold, your son Joseph has come to you,’ Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed. Then Jacob said to Joseph, ‘God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and He said to me, “Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.” And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance. Now as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow, in the land of Canaan on the journey, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).’ When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, ‘Who are these?’ And Joseph said to his father, ‘They are my sons, whom God has given me here.’ So he said, ‘Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.’ Now the eyes of Israel were so dim from age that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them close to him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘I never expected to see your face, and behold, God has let me see your children as well.’ Then Joseph took them from his knees, and bowed with his face to the ground. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right, and brought them close to him. But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the first-born. And he blessed Joseph, and said, ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name live on in them, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth’” (Genesis 48:1-16).

In this classic passage, the birthright blessings of Jacob are extended to the two sons of Joseph. But in a somewhat confusing manner, due to the inspiration of the moment, the younger son Ephraim actually received the greater blessing that is typically extended to the elder son of each generation. Somehow during this intriguing moment of blessing, Jacob was prompted to cross his arms and place his right hand upon the head of Ephraim. As Jacob placed his name, and the names of Abraham and Isaac upon these two young boys, he declared some truly awesome privileges. He stated that the two of them will grow into a multitude in the midst of the Earth (Genesis 48:16). But then we see that Joseph was somewhat confused, wondering if his elderly father had made a mistake about to whom he was extending his blessings:

“When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him; and he grasped his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not so, my father, for this one is the first-born. Place your right hand on his head.’ But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know; he also shall become a people and he also shall be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.’ And he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you Israel shall pronounce blessing, saying, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!”’ Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh” (Genesis 48:17-20).

The Patriarch Jacob, although aged, was not confused with what he was doing at all. He categorically declares, “I know, my son, I know,” so as not to be misunderstood. Jacob was able to see into the future, to not only see what was going to befall his two grandson’ descendants, but also bless them according to the preeminence that they would each inherit. This was a very powerful event in the life of the emerging nation of Israel, as it would have a resonating effect once the Israelites took possession of the Promised Land and established themselves as a kingdom. The ramifications of this blessing and Jacob’s other declarations undeniably continue until this very day. They are all a part of God’s great plan of redemption for the world, but most especially how we believe today that the restoration of all Israel has begun to take place via the presence of the Messianic movement.

Blessing Our Own

What can we learn from these rich and “loaded” verses as Genesis comes to a close in our Torah examination? What principles and insight must we embrace that will be beneficial as we bless our children with great love and affection, but most especially model them a dynamic walk of faith in the Messiah Yeshua?

It is important for us to truly understand the power of blessing. All parents are responsible for the next generation and the continuation of the faith that has been passed down to them. If you are a parent, you truly need to grasp a hold of the benefits of blessing your children—no different than how you might regularly tell your spouse “I love you” on a daily basis.

We have seen the Holy One bless Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then in turn the Patriarchs bless their children. Of course, as we have read the blessings throughout the Book of Genesis, we are quick to note that all of the Patriarchs were Divinely guided in the proclamation of their blessings over their various offspring. Whether it is Abraham blessing Isaac or Ishmael, or Isaac blessing Jacob or Esau, or Jacob blessing his sons and grandsons—the one constant thing that you will note is that each of these parents were uniquely tuned in to what God’s will was for the respective children. Each one listened and heard the still quiet voice of the Lord, as He communicated the blessings and the future determined for their children. They in turn, at the proper times, were then able to pass on the blessings to the succeeding generation. You might imagine what the sons of Jacob/Israel thought when they heard that he was “summoning” them to come and hear what would befall them in future:

“Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, ‘Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what shall befall you in the days to come[4]’” (Genesis 49:1).

The expectation to hear a 147 year-old father declare his final words over you had to have been one of the most significant highlights and events of their lives. The Patriarch Jacob, as we know, gave each of them powerful and formative words that would declare forth much of the destiny and future accomplishments of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Genesis 49:1-28). Perhaps we should take this pattern to heart, and in a similar way desire to pass our blessings down upon our own children. Each parent, who has made the effort to truly train up godly sons and daughters (Proverbs 22:6), should be able to have a special moment near the end of his or her life, delivering some final words of admonishment.

But one of the challenges we each have is that we do not know the day or hour of our departure from this world. Even though there is a certain degree of wisdom to store up your insights and wisdom for the end of your days—to perhaps give your children a peek at what you see them doing in the future—in the interim it is also extremely beneficial to bless your children (or for that matter, any loved one or close friend) on a regular basis. In the event that you are not able to have some special, final moments with a son or daughter, be sure to impart enough to them in your regular interactions! This is why the Jewish people have taken to heart the admonition given to Joseph and the people of Israel, about blessing their children like Ephraim and Manasseh:

“And he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you Israel shall pronounce blessing, saying, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!”’ Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh” (Genesis 48:20).

The traditional Jewish prayer, usually recited on Erev Shabbat, is to declare that the material blessings of the double portion which was given to Ephraim and Manasseh, is to now be manifested in the current generation. It is customary for fathers to say this prayer over their sons, followed by them declaring a similar blessing over their daughters that they might inherit the blessings of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah.[5] In Conservative Judaism both parents, father and mother together, will often jointly declare these blessings.[6] By declaring these blessings over their sons and daughters, faithful Jewish people pass on a godly and most encouraging tradition that finds its root not only in our Torah portion—but very early in the Bible itself. The benefits to the children being regularly blessed every week are surely unimaginable!

If there is anything you might want to consider this week as you reflect upon V’yechi, you might want to really think about blessing your children. Let your sons and daughters know how much you care for them, and how much potential you see in them being exercised. Blessing children for good works accomplished has a far greater return than condemning them for opportunities missed, or reminding them of their past failures and shortcomings. Receiving statements of blessing from parents is something that most children truly cherish and never forget! On the other hand, the accounts of those who do not receive statements of blessing are often filled with feelings of regret and remorse, for not hearing comforting and loving messages of appreciation from parents.

While you are developing a habit of blessing your children, you might be considering the important words that you will want to impart as you continue to age and approach death. Leaving children with a legacy and a hope for their future is quite a blessing in itself. It is also quite possible that as your relationship with the Lord becomes closer, He just might impart to you—through His still small voice—a vision of what your children will be doing in the future. Then you, like Jacob, might have the opportunity to place a blessing for a hope and a future upon your descendants.

As the Lord has blessed us through the life of Jacob and the legacy his sons, may we continue to bless Him through our perseverance in the things of the faith that we have received. And by faith, may we like Jacob, pour out His blessings upon our children so that all of our families will be blessed!

Of course, if you have no children of your own, or even if you do have children—make regularly blessing all people you know a regular habit. Encouraging extended family members, close friends, and various acquaintances with the love of the Messiah Yeshua is surely something that each of us needs to do. We do not know if the last time we might see a particular person might really be the last time, so we need to make every effort possible that we have left them with a positive impression from the Father’s heart! The love that parents have toward their sons and daughters is to surely be extended to all who need a special touch from Him.


NOTES

[1] Genesis 25:9.

[2] Genesis 35:29.

[3] Genesis 27:1-41.

[4] Heb. b’acharit ha’yamim; followed by the CJB rendering “in the acharit-hayamim.”

[5] J.H. Hertz, ed., The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, revised (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1960), pp 402-403; Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz, eds., The Complete ArtScroll Siddur: Nusach Sefard (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1985),pp 384-385.

[6] Jules Harlow, ed., Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2007), 311.

V’yigash

V’yigash

He approached

“Positioning for Restoration”

Genesis 44:18-47:27
Ezekiel 37:15-28


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, V’yigash, is a relatively short reading that deals principally with the reunion of the sons of Jacob/Israel, as Joseph in his capacity as the Egyptian viceroy reveals himself to his brothers as the one they cast away into slavery. This occurs through a series of deliberate steps, Divinely designed to bring repentance and reconciliation to the entire family. In surveying V’yigash, Torah readers and students should be able to consider its overriding theme of restoration between family members and God, which is something that surely permeates much of the Holy Scriptures. Most especially not to overlook is how not only are the various brothers reconciled, but Joseph is also reunited with his father Jacob, and the family is relocated to the land of Goshen where they were protected from the ravages of famine. In an ironic twist, we see how these followers of Abraham’s God begin to appreciate His sovereign hand of protection, which preserved them and their emerging progeny, in spite of their propensity to often be guided by the dictates of their sinful hearts.

If you think about the events described in V’yigash, and place yourself in almost any of the principal parts in the drama that unfolds—you will not be able to miss the obvious reality that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is certainly about fulfilling His covenantal promises to His chosen people. How else can you explain all of the unique circumstances? As the brothers are circumstantially forced to seek sustenance from Pharaoh’s grain reserves in Egypt, little did they realize that it was their brother Joseph who was providentially placed in a position to be their protector, deliverer, and ultimate provider. The one who was sold into slavery and disposed of, is now most literally the family’s only hope for survival.

Interestingly, as you ponder the various scenes described between Joseph and his brothers, Joseph and his father and the Pharaoh, and ultimately Joseph and the inhabitants of Egypt as the famine rages on—you might pause to consider whether there might be any significant, prophetic future implications of what occurs. Certainly, the Jewish Rabbis have done precisely this in centuries past, when they discerned that the right Haftarah portion for V’yigash was Ezekiel 37:15-28. They knew that the prophesied restoration of all Israel in the future is definitely one of the primary things that the Jewish community needed to consider, as God will be faithful to fulfill His covenantal promises. When the Sages heard or read the prophecies of Ezekiel, which described a future time when Judah, Israel/Ephraim/Joseph, and their various companions would be reunited and restored to the Holy Land—they were somehow piqued of how Joseph revealed himself to his brothers while in Egypt.

As Messianic Believers today, who are having to consider V’yigash and its message that undoubtedly carries implications beyond the history of the Pentateuch—what do we really need to be focusing on? Might there be something important that will illuminate current developments in the emerging Messianic movement, and the restoration to Israel that is truly prophesied to occur according to the Scriptures?

The Rise of Judah

You should recall that in last week’s Torah portion, Mikkeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), we witness that Judah had begun to assert himself as the spokesperson and leader of the brothers who remained in Canaan. When Jacob issued his concern about the lack of food, it was Judah who spoke for the brothers:

“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”’” (Genesis 43:1-3).

As the dialogue continued and the discussion about how to overcome some of the challenges of complying with the demands of the Egyptian official (unknown by them to be Joseph) ensues, it was Judah who magnanimously offered himself as “surety” for the life of Benjamin:

“And 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;[1] 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’” (Genesis 43:8-9).

Here in an act of self-sacrifice and protection on Judah’s part, we can see definite clues when a future son of Judah, Yeshua the Messiah, will offer Himself up for the sins of the world. As Mikkeitz ended, Judah definitely took the lead among his brothers. With the narrative describing “Judah and his brothers,” Yehudah v’echayv, we find him in charge of the negotiations with the viceroy of Egypt (Joseph):

“When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him. And 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’” (Genesis 44:14-16).

When V’yigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27) begins, we find again that it was Judah who continued in the dialogue with the yet unrevealed Joseph. The clear rise and preeminence of these two brothers would manifest itself later in how the nation of Israel implanted in the Promised Land will have two main components to it, being largely known as Judah (later Judea) and Joseph (or Ephraim, after Joseph’s youngest son):

“Then Judah approached him, and said, ‘Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh’” (Genesis 44:18).

As this interaction took place, it was Judah and Joseph who discussed the challenges that faced Jacob, who still grieved over the loss of his son Joseph (who he thought was dead). The dialogue proceeded and Judah eloquently described the pain of watching his father suffer the loss of his beloved son, and how he would suffer more if the brothers did not return with the youngest, Benjamin (Genesis 44:19-34). Most importantly, it was Judah who declared to Joseph that he alone would offer up his life for the life of his brother Benjamin (Genesis 44:30). Here at this critical juncture, Judah was the one who attempted to acquire a degree of mercy from the shrouded Joseph toward his family.

Viewing the events in Mikkeitz and into V’yigash, one can find that the two brothers Judah and Joseph emerged into taking some very prominent roles in their generation. What they did appropriately complimented the other, as together they assured the survival of the future of the nation of Israel. Many readers have concluded that the unique characteristics of Judah and Joseph include prophetic foreshadowings of later events and occurrences throughout God’s plan of salvation history.

Joseph Recognizes God’s Hand

At the point when Judah declared his willingness to offer his life for that of his brother Benjamin, this was when Joseph finally broke down and could no longer withhold himself. Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. Was this a result of Joseph witnessing how his brother Judah, the one who had originally suggested that he be sold into slavery (Genesis 37:26-27), had matured into a man of compassion? Whatever the actual reason or combination of factors, the emotional reality of what Joseph was witnessing was too difficult for him to contain:

“Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, ‘Have everyone go out from me.’ So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please come closer to me.’ And they came closer. And he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life’” (Genesis 45:1-5).

It is most interesting how the Lord molded both Judah and Joseph through completely different circumstances, into the figures of their generation—who would later symbolize the future divisions of Israel that will eventually be reunited in the end-times. Joseph understood beyond a shadow of doubt that it was God Himself who was responsible for all of the episodes of his life, which positioned him into the place to be a preserver of the family of Israel. His statements clearly made this known:

“And now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve lifeAnd God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, “God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay”’” (Genesis 45:5, 7-9).

Joseph recognized that it was God who had orchestrated the affairs of his life to position him to be the viceroy of Egypt, and be the ultimate deliverer of the family of Israel when the famine strikes. Joseph, whose rise to prominence came through the trials of affliction coupled with the blessing of God to interpret dreams, was no doubt the son who was used by Him to salvage Israel at this point in time.

What does the example of Joseph revealing himself as God’s appointed deliverer communicate to us, as Twenty-First century men and women of faith? Have you ever received an inkling from the Lord that you will be placed in an important position in the future, to help someone or communicate something critical to those needing direction? How many of us might complain about some of the ups and downs of the growth and development of the Messianic movement, not realizing that we have to have a long term perspective, and that some of the things we say—be it explaining who Yeshua is as the Messiah to Jewish friends, or the importance of our Hebraic Roots to Christian colleagues—are to be kept to ourselves until the appropriate time?

How much patience and forbearance do you think a man like Joseph had to possess in order to ably handle his brothers? How much do you think you might need in handling various situations and circumstances in life?

A Supernatural Union

Certainly, the prophecy of Ezekiel 37:15-28, which composes the Haftarah selection for V’yigash, has come to be emblematic of the ultimate reunion and restoration to God’s people as promised by Him. Torah students are reminded year after year that the final restoration of Israel is a prophetic expectation not to be overlooked or ignored. How this involves today’s Messianic movement, particularly with Jewish Believers coming to faith in Yeshua the Messiah in great numbers, and many evangelical Christians embracing their Hebraic Roots, is one which has provoked a wide number of responses. While there are many details in this prophecy that need to be explored by readers, the undeniable theme of Ezekiel’s oracle is how a great supernatural unity is to transpire, one which ultimately represents God’s sovereignty and cannot be broken by any mortal:

“The word of the LORD came again to me saying, ‘And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it, “For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions”; then take another stick and write on it, “For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.” Then join them for yourself one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. And when the sons of your people speak to you saying, “Will you not declare to us what you mean by these?” say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will put them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.’ And the sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. And say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms. And they will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God. And My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances, and keep My statutes, and observe them. And they shall live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons, and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant shall be their prince forever. And I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever”’” (Ezekiel 37:15-28).

As we contemplate this prophecy, we are reminded that its fulfillment can by no means be an instantaneous event. Instead, as it transpires, then the people ask: Will you not show us what you mean by these?” (Ezekiel 37:18, RSV). This question indicates almost as many perplexing thoughts that must have been the initial reaction of the sons of Jacob/Israel, as Joseph revealed himself to them in Pharaoh’s courtyard.

I would submit that if we have begun to actually witness the final stages of Israel’s restoration in our day, that this question has been answered in a large number of ways: some good and some not so good. Some do not know what to do, and so they choose to ignore the relevant Biblical passages. Others have entered in, have over-simplified things, and have opportunized things quite a bit. And still, others have tried to develop the patience needed to recognize that the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom is something that can only occur in the Father’s perfect timing, and have tactfully done the best they can in living forth the prophecy’s ethic of unity.

Let us be those who truly seek His face, and are given the gifts and temperance needed! May we each possess the discernment to know what our place may be in the anticipated restoration of Israel, so that the Lord can use us to help it along at the appropriate season, rather than deter it through any ungodly flesh patterns that cause confusion.


NOTES

[1] Or, “I myself will guarantee his safety” (NIV).

Mikkeitz

Mikkeitz

At the end

“Remembering God’s Favor”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week our Torah portion concentrates on the continuing trials and tribulations of Joseph, the dreaming son of Jacob, who was positioned by the Holy One to be the means of deliverance for his family. Throughout Mikkeitz, we are informed of how God may use dreams and visions to communicate various things regarding future events to His people. The passage also illuminates the interactions between Joseph and his siblings, with different episodes that reveal how the Lord will use these vivid circumstances to mold the successive generations into a nation of priests for His own possession (cf. Exodus 19:6).

As you consider the various interactions recorded in this parashah, it is apparent that the Almighty is intimately involved in the minutest details of the different exchanges. You realize that Joseph, the principal actor in this familial drama, received God’s favor and peace as a direct result of his pleasing ways. Torah students can once again be reminded that, like Joseph—if we walk in obedience to God and are sensitive to His direction—we can also receive His blessings.

Impetuous Dreamer

With the continuing narrative of Genesis largely focusing on Joseph in Mikkeitz, his godly character is further revealed. We should remember that as a young man Joseph had some rather impressive dreams that, when shared with his brothers, did not exactly win him some admirers (Genesis 37:1-11). In fact, as we should all remember from last week’s Torah portion, V’yeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23), when he told his brothers about his revelation—their jealousy and wrath toward him was exacerbated:

“Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:5).

Now as we continue to learn more about Joseph, we should be increasingly convinced that he, through his chronicled actions, in many ways exemplified the type of character that is most pleasing to the Holy One. Remember that Joseph had a very unique relationship with and deep awe for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This was clearly evidenced when the temptation came to have relations with Potiphar’s wife:

“And 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?’” (Genesis 39:7-9).

Joseph refused the offer to sleep with Potiphar’s wife, and the consequences of her lies, about him trying to rape her, sent him to jail under false pretenses (Genesis 39:14-20). Here was a “man of God” who did the right thing, and yet he suffered the injustice of prejudicial lies. Many readers at this point in the account begin to marvel at the righteousness of Joseph, often because there is no record given of Joseph trying to defend himself.

We do see, however, that Joseph was given great favor when he was imprisoned (Genesis 39:21-23). Joseph was later given the ability to interpret dreams (Genesis 40), and was actually called upon to interpret the dreams of the Egyptian Pharaoh (Genesis 41:1-37). Joseph’s servitude, be it as a slave or as a prisoner, was only something that was temporary—in order to prepare him and position him for what was to come.

Release from Captivity

At the beginning of Mikkeitz, the Egyptian Pharaoh has a very perplexing dream about seven fat cows and seven sick cows, and seven plump ears of grain and seven withered ears of grain. This dream was so provoking that the Pharaoh’s various magicians and counselors did not know what to do with it:

“Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing by the Nile. And lo, from the Nile there came up seven cows, sleek and fat; and they grazed in the marsh grass. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly and gaunt, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. The ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. Then Pharaoh awoke. He fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain came up on a single stalk, plump and good. Then behold, seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them. The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a 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” (Genesis 41:1-8).

The Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer, interestingly enough, told him that there was a Hebrew youth in prison, who relayed his own dreams to him accurately, who might be able to help (Genesis 41:9-13). The Pharaoh called for this young man, Joseph, explaining his dilemma. Joseph said that only his God could give Pharaoh the answer he needed:

“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 41:14-16).

The Pharaoh recounted his dream to Joseph about the fat and sick cows (Genesis 41:17-21) and the plump and withered ears of grain (Genesis 41:22-24). Joseph explained the meaning of the dream to Pharaoh, and how seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine would come to Egypt. Within his explanation was a solution for making sure that Egypt survived the lean time that would be coming:

“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” (Genesis 41:25-37).

Joseph pointed Pharaoh to his God as the Source of the answer to his dilemma and confusion (Genesis 41:16, 28). He did not try to take credit for himself. In response to his interpretation of the dream and the advice given to Pharaoh, the young Hebrew Joseph was actually appointed his viceroy responsible for implementing the plan of rescue for Egypt, and ultimately much of the known world. Joseph became second only to the Pharaoh in all of Egypt:

“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 41:38-44).

Are we at all recognizing a pattern? Joseph did not fall into temptation, in spite of the difficulties that he had endured. When given the opportunity, he gave God all the credit for not only the dreams, but also the ability to interpret the dreams. Joseph’s reward was being promoted to the second most powerful ruler in Egypt. Even Pharaoh recognized that within Joseph was the presence of the “divine spirit”[1] (Genesis 41:38). While Joseph had the favor of the Pharaoh, he only had it because he more importantly had the favor of God. Clearly, Joseph had a very intimate relationship with God, and it was his natural and innate desire to give Him all of the glory. The pagan Egyptians present acknowledged that this Hebrew was surely one who was unique!

Joseph as Pharaoh’s Right Hand Man

Joseph’s life pattern of giving God all of the credit did not depart as he wielded the power given to him in Egypt. When he was given a wife (Genesis 41:45-47) and he named his sons, he gave them names with the thoughts of God being preeminent in his mind:

“And Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.’ And he named the second Ephraim, ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’” (Genesis 41:51-52).

Manasseh and Ephraim were both names that describe the actions which Joseph attributed to his relationship with God. First, in the name Manasseh or Menasheh, his firstborn son, he gave God credit for allowing him to forget and probably forgive the issues between him and his siblings. Next, he declared, in the name of Efrayim his second son, that it was God who made him fruitful in the land of his affliction. By naming his two sons these things—sons which he had surely not expected to ever have—one can see how Joseph was cognizant that God was intimately involved in his life. Years later, he confronted his brothers about why they had not brought their youngest brother into Egypt, and made this declaration:

“Do this and live, for I fear God” (Genesis 42:18).

Here is a statement that reflected what was in Joseph’s heart. He had a genuine fear of God. While older and wiser, the original young dreamer who now witnessed the realization of his dreams was still the same Joseph. When the famine hit, and Joseph’s brothers had to travel to Egypt in order to purchase some grain, it was Joseph with whom they had to negotiate (Genesis 42:1-44:17). While there are some unique circumstances here, including Joseph’s own ploy to see the youngest brother Benjamin brought to Egypt (Genesis 42:13-15, 19-20; 43:29), things were being orchestrated so that he could reveal himself to his brothers at the right time. In the past, Joseph had made the hasty mistake of immediately telling his brothers about his vision, incurring their jealousy (Genesis 37:5-11). Now, with the direction of the Lord, Joseph was in control of the circumstances, waiting to show himself as the eleven brothers’ long lost sibling.

As the Psalmist would describe it centuries later, two things occurred in Joseph life. First, Joseph had to witness the personal tests of God, before he was able to experience the fulfillment of the words or the dreams that he had received. Secondly, Joseph was able to be positioned to teach his elder brothers some wisdom (cf. Psalm 110:10):

“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 105:17-22).

Joseph used his powerful position in Egypt to steadily bring his brothers into a recognition that the God of their father Jacob/Israel was indeed involved in the minutest of details regarding the affairs of humanity. Many in Joseph’s office of leadership would have likely seen their former enemies—brothers or not—tortured and painfully executed. Joseph did not at all do this. As Joseph taught his brothers great lessons about the benefits of sibling love, Judah emerged as the spokesperson and leader of his generation. When the crisis over Benjamin purportedly “stealing” the cup for divination erupted (Genesis 44:1-15), it was Judah who verbalized the omniscience of God in these circumstances:

“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’” (Genesis 44:16).

It was at this point that Judah, who originally and most ironically suggested that Joseph be sold into slavery and not killed (Genesis 37:26-27), completely established himself as the one brother willing to give his life for his brother Benjamin. We know from later Biblical history that the tribe of Judah was not only that from which King David was born, but also the Messiah Yeshua Himself. Of course, the willingness to offer one’s life for another is ultimately—and most importantly realized—in our Lord Yeshua who gave His life for all (cf. John 15:13).

At Peace with Your Enemies

We understand in more detail from future Torah readings that Joseph was indeed a very wise and merciful man, who in spite of the challenges he faced in early life, had great peace with those who had done him harm. Whether it was his brothers, Potiphar’s wife, the forgetful cupbearer, or any of the Egyptian officials who might have been jealous of a Hebrew being placed in such a powerful position—the Biblical text indicates that for the most part, Joseph’s enemies were at peace with him and his life was persevered. I know that I am reminded of a later proverb, which asserts a very profound principle about how the Lord responds to those whose ways please Him:

“When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7).

Is this not what we read has happened to Joseph? Joseph’s obedient ways pleased the Lord, and as a result His favor was bestowed upon him as his enemies were at relative peace with him. In next week’s Torah portion, V’yigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27), we will see how Joseph actually does reveal his true identity to his estranged siblings, and there was reconciliation. This week, however, it is rather striking how the pagan king of Egypt—regarded as a god no less—seemingly capitulated to the wisdom granted to Joseph by the True King of Kings.

Looking at Mikkeitz’ associated Haftarah (1 Kings 3:15-4:1), we are directed to another dreaming man who had great wisdom and who was also declared pleasing in the sight of the Lord. Just before Solomon dealt wisely with the two prostitutes, with one of them who had lost her son (1 Kings 3:16-28), the testimony of Solomon’s request for discernment and the ability to understand justice, is recalled:

“And it was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. And I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. And if you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.’ Then Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream” (1 Kings 3:10-15).

Of course, from our knowledge about the history of Solomon’s rule, we are reminded that the united nation of Israel was at peace with its enemies. Once again, the pleasing ways of Solomon, at least before he began walking after other idols and gods (cf. 1 Kings 11:4), allowed the Holy One to keep Solomon and Israel largely at peace with its national enemies during his reign.

Favor and Peace

What is it we can learn from this week’s Torah portion that can be directly applied to our own walk with the Messiah of Israel? How about the simple axiom that Joseph learned the ways of peace, as he conducted his life in accordance with the will of God? When he lived in a way that pleased His Creator and gave Him all the glory and credit, Joseph received His favor and had peace with his enemies.

Is it possible that God’s favor and peace are available to all of His children? Most assuredly they are! But God’s favor and peace are most likely to be granted upon His children when they are obedient to His Word and they truly are thankful for the life He has given them.

If one strays from obedience, as Solomon did later in his life, the consequences of disobedience can have devastating results. Instead, one should be encouraged that righteous people like Joseph have modeled for us the right example of faithfulness. Today, many of us may be able to identify with someone like Joseph who had many challenges in his life. In spite of the pain of sibling rejection and being sold into slavery, to the injustice of false accusations that resulted in imprisonment for two years—Joseph remained faithful to his God. Somehow throughout all of the tests and trials, he inherently knew that the relationship he had with the Creator was most important.

Joseph understood God and he loved God. Through it all, Joseph realized that God had appointed him for His Divine purposes—so that at the end of his life, he could deliver this testimony regarding what he saw God doing with him, through all the events he experienced:

“But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And 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 50:19-20).

Hopefully, each of us can gain this type of perspective as we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (cf. Philippians 2:12). Perhaps, when we encounter various tests and trials, we will be able to choose to handle the circumstances of life in an obedient way that pleases the Holy One of Israel. In doing so, then similar to Joseph, we will be able to receive the favor and peace with our enemies that results from walking obediently and faithfully in His ways.

May we joyfully give the Father all the praise, honor, and glory that He deserves for His mercy toward us. May the Lord be blessed for the favor and peace He grants us!


NOTES

[1] Heb. Ruach Elohim.

V’yeishev

V’yeishev

He continued living

“Conflict and Faith”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

In much of the Holy Scriptures, we witness how God often uses conflict to accomplish His will. Just witness how there is a contrast between elements such as light and darkness, good and evil, the Heavens and the Earth, and the flesh versus the Spirit—with them frequently being at odds.[1] As the Creator of time, space, and matter—God’s purposes for Planet Earth are subject to the immutable laws of the natural and spiritual realms and dimensions He fashioned. Every created thing has a purpose and a reason for existence, regardless of our mortal ability or inability to fully comprehend the minute or grandiose details of His grand design. This reality came into focus when I meditated upon the sibling rivalry among the sons of Jacob/Israel, which is detailed for us in this week’s Torah portion.

Conflict between people is one of the primary results of human beings inheriting a fallen sin nature in Adam (cf. Romans 5:12ff), and every Bible reader should be innately aware of the first fratricide in how Cain murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-15). For some reason, I could not help but reflect upon a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes, which seemed to permeate my thoughts, as I contemplated the various conflicts and acts of oppression described in V’yeishev:

“Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun. I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:1-4).

I had a difficult time considering the perspective of Qohelet, who concludes that it is actually better for a person to have never existed, than for those who have seen all of the evil activity and oppression that is performed under the sun. Is life really this futile? The challenge, for those of us seeking to know God, is recognizing how the ills of this world are largely things that fallen people have brought on themselves—and that we all require Him for salvation and guidance. The words of Ecclesiastes are often presented from the perspective of what a life without God would be: not something that we would probably want to have.[2]

The main focus of V’yeishev this week is the early life experiences of Joseph. Within our parashah, we clearly see how the Eternal God allows the natural inclinations of humankind to accomplish His purposes for His chosen ones. Joseph had a unique problem, as he was the favored son of his father Jacob, and this obviously fomented great jealousy and hatred in the hearts of his brothers:

“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” (Genesis 37:3-4).

This human emotion, which is common to all people, eventually resulted in Joseph being sold to the Ishmaelite traders from Midian, who in turn took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, captain of the Pharaoh’s bodyguard (Genesis 37:18-36). It is very true that after being given a revelation by the Holy One, that Joseph’s lack of maturity in zealously expressing his dreams to his brothers, could very well have precipitated and enhanced their rage to dispose of him (Genesis 37:5-11)—a lesson to all in that we must be very careful and tactful when we think the Lord has communicated something special to us, and we think we can then go out and share it. But in spite of this, Joseph did nothing so abominable so as to merit his other brothers’ hatred, and with it a dastardly plot to murder him. If anything, I would suggest that Jacob’s preference toward Joseph, as being the firstborn child of his beloved Rachel, caused more of the problems than anything else. For Joseph’s brothers, their thoughts must have been that if he were removed from the scene, they would be able to garner more of their father’s love and attention.

We know from previous readings over the past few weeks how Jacob, or Israel, was himself a somewhat “conflicted” individual. Although Jacob knew he had inherited the blessings of his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac—and even had some rather unique first hand encounters with the Lord—he still retained various human frailties. The emotions of love and adoration, exemplified in fondness, were difficult for him to hide. By displaying preferential treatment toward Joseph, we can only conclude that the hand of God was able to let the cruel actions of the brothers and various others to accomplish His will. These dealings ultimately positioned Joseph into a place to save the entire family of Jacob/Israel in the future years:

“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).

The Torah relates that despite the potential negative impact of sibling betrayal and being sold into slavery, Joseph’s masters visibly recognized the blessing of his God upon their servant and prisoner. Joseph was blessed as a slave who served in Potiphar’s stead, and even after being falsely accused of trying to rape Potiphar’s wife and being imprisoned,[3] Joseph found favor in the Egyptian prison:

“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” (Genesis 39:2-4).

“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 39:21-23).

In spite of his various trials, Joseph maintained a relatively positive attitude about the life circumstances he encountered. Was it faith and confidence expressed in his childhood dreams, or was it his faith in the God of his fathers, that sustained him during these tumultuous times? Perhaps it was a combination of these things, but nevertheless, Joseph knew that he had a special relationship with the Almighty, as he certainly recognized the blessings of favor among his superiors. When Joseph had the opportunity to interpret some dreams while in prison,[4] he appropriately gave the glory to his God—as the only One who can give a mortal being the true comprehension and interpretation of dreams:

“Then they said to him, ‘We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.’ Then Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please’” (Genesis 40:8).

From this statement you might conclude that Joseph had a personal relationship with the Holy One that allowed him to speak so directly and confidently: “Are not solutions from God?” (Alter). The intimacy that Joseph undeniably had to have, with the Heavenly Father, is surely something that each of us needs to heed! We are not going to be sold into slavery, and are probably not going to be falsely accused and thrown into prison. But we all need and require incredible patience, faith, and maturity in our lives—and these things can only come by us being sensitive to the will of God.

If there is one thing that we should all learn to appreciate about the various episodes related to us in this Torah portion, it is the fact that God uses our common fallen nature to achieve His goals for His Creation. We might not always understand the complex relationship of how our free will choices and His sovereignty work together. At times in our lives, we may think that we have complete control over our destiny, but later in retrospect recognize that events transpired by the Father’s doing after all. As limited beings, we have to each recognize how God is providentially in control of the ultimate outcome. While human conflict is one of the ways that His purposes are realized—and none of us inherently like conflict—events that do not seem to go our way are to drive us to Him, so that He might mold and fashion our faith and character.

God knows the beginning from the end, and as the Creator of time, He is not limited by anything to fulfill His purposes. It is for this main reason why I encourage Messiah followers to study the Torah. Within Moses’ Teaching, we can review the foundational stories and accounts of what God’s plan for His Creation truly is. We witness how bad circumstances later turn out to be good, and how evil intentions can ultimately be shifted around into a key stage toward a nation’s very survival.

What main lesson can you learn from reviewing V’yeishev? Do you identify more with Joseph, Jacob/Israel, or Joseph’s envious brothers? How much faith do you have in the Holy One that terrible events or various tragedies are necessary in order for you to truly seek Him and rely upon Him? How might our Torah portion for this week allow you to more fully understand the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8:28?

“[W]e know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Regardless of what happens in your life, allow events and circumstances to draw you ever closer to Him!


NOTES

[1] For a useful handle on this, and a discussion of why physical matter is ultimately not inherently evil, consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website “Dualism.”

[2] Consult the author’s thoughts on Ecclesiastes in the chapter “Sukkot Reflections on Ecclesiastes,” appearing in the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics. Also consider the entry for the Book of Ecclesiastes in A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[3] Genesis 39:11-18.

[4] Cf. Genesis 40:1-23.

V’yishlach

V’yishlach

He sent

“Jacob’s Maturation (Part 2)”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

When considering last week’s Torah reading, V’yeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:2), the continuing account of this week’s reading, V’yishlach, naturally came to mind. Within V’yeitzei, we encountered the life of Jacob for approximately twenty years, and noting the itinerary, Jacob goes from Bethel to Mahanaim. For the next period of Jacob’s life that is covered in V’yishlach (Genesis 32:3-36:43), we witness the return trip beginning at Mahanaim and ending at Bethel. During this significant move, we see how Jacob had largely gone from being from a young, inexperienced, brash, and fleshy man—to a mature elder, who in spite of his humanity, had become tempered and seasoned in his walk with God. In many respects, most of us can identify with the process of Jacob’s maturation, as he moved toward being more spiritually inclined. Let us see what additional maturation and seasoning takes place during this critical chapter of his life.

As Jacob began his return back to the Land of Canaan, the narrative informs us that he expected some kind of violent confrontation with his estranged brother Esau (Genesis 32:3-23). Jacob had just endured his final parting from his father-in-law, Laban (Genesis 31). Later Jacob found himself the presence of angels, who have come to prepare him on the next leg of his journey (Genesis 32:1-2). He noted the angelic host, but named the place Machanayim, meaning “two camps” (BDB),[1] which seems rather odd if Jacob was surely serving the God of his grandfather Abraham and of his father Isaac—as all of those present together should be considered the camp of God. There seemed to have been something going through Jacob’s mind with the two-camp separation from Laban, followed by the camp distinction of his family and the host of angels. Such a division continued when Jacob prepared himself to encounter Esau, and he made the point of dividing his family and possessions into two camps:

“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 [l’shnei machanot]; for he said, ‘If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape’” (Genesis 32:7-8).

Jacob had surely obeyed the request of the Lord to begin a return home to the Promised Land (Genesis 31:3), but in dividing out his family, and in sending messengers ahead to Esau with various gifts (Genesis 32:3-5), you do not get the impression that Jacob completely trusted in God. There was still an internal struggle that ensued between the mortal Jacob, and the Jacob who needed to place his life completely in God’s hands. Just read Jacob’s honest prayer before the Lord, as he confessed his various limitations:

“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”’” (Genesis 32:9-12).

It is recorded here that Jacob thought that he was innately unworthy or too small to be favored of God.[2] In more modern-day vernacular, we might think that Jacob was coming to the end of himself, realizing God’s ultimate sovereignty over his affairs. Having sensed the tension rising, as Jacob attempted to placate his brother Esau with various gifts, he had no choice but to turn toward the Holy One for protection and deliverance. Jacob had not seen Esau for quite some time, and admittedly thought that his anger toward him has not subsided.

If you have ever heard or read someone’s prayers, which implore for God’s intervening help, you detect the person has at least had to begin believing that only God and His power—rather than human strength and ability—can really provide what is needed. Here, Jacob goes back in his memory to remind the Lord about the promises from years before. Jacob pulled out all the stops. He realized that His needs were beyond his own ability. But still, his plan was to separate his family into two different camps, in order to prevent the possibility of loss of all to a revengeful Esau.

Jacob’s Wrestling Match

Even though he had just cried out to God, Jacob implemented his plan. He sent the livestock on ahead to appease his brother Esau (Genesis 32:13-21). Being left with the family, he began to follow the herds and came to the Jabbok River crossing. He sent his wives, concubines, and children across the river ford and stayed back to spend a night alone contemplating what was soon going to happen (Genesis 32:22-23). This was the infamous night that Jacob probably came to the “end of himself,” realizing that he must trust in the God of Abraham and Isaac. This was the significant moment when he stayed up all night wrestling with a supernatural being, and Jacob had his name changed to Israel:

“Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. And 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.’ And 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” (Genesis 32:24-31).

Many conclusions have been drawn throughout history from this incident when Jacob was finally at a point in his life, being ready to turn all of his inclinations of self-sufficiency over to God. It should not be surprising that many readers have concluded, or at least suggested, that the “Man” (NKJV) who wrestled with him, was actually a pre-incarnate Yeshua.[3] The main event, though, is that Jacob wrestled all through the night with this supernatural being, until he received a desperately sought blessing: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). All that had to happen to Jacob, was a distinct “touch” to Jacob’s hip to dislocate it, creating a life-long limp.

When the requested blessing finally came, it came in the form of Jacob being renamed Yisrael, for the distinct reason, “you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28, TNIV). In the thought of J.H. Hertz, “The name is clearly a title of victory; probably ‘a champion of God’. The children of the Patriarch are Israelites, Champions of God, Contenders for the Divine, conquering by strength from Above.”[4] Those who follow after Jacob—now Israel—are to be those who conquer in God’s power, led by Him, and who actively accomplish His purposes, clearly something with future missional intentions (cf. Philippians 3:14). To remember what had transpired during the monumental evening, Jacob named the site of his encounter Penu’El or “face of God” (BDB),[5] because “I have seen God face to face and I came out alive” (Genesis 32:31, Alter).

Oddly enough, the plan to send the livestock ahead and split up the camp, proceeded as conceived. Eventually, we find that Esau’s heart had already been softened toward his brother Jacob:

“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[6], and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4).

Jacob, now renamed Israel, humbled himself before his brother Esau, and bowed seven times. A weeping brother, who appeared to be delighted when the reunion occurred, was quite gracious toward him. They kissed and the past basically seemed to be behind them.

Previously in Genesis 27:16, we see how Jacob had ably deceived his father Isaac, by his mother “put[ting] the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck.” Further, as a part of Isaac’s “blessing” of Esau after Jacob had stolen the birthright, he was told, “And your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you will break his yoke from your neck” (Genesis 27:40). Richard Elliot Friedman ably points out how here in Genesis 33:4 that reconciliation occurs “as Esau runs and embraces Jacob and ‘fell on his neck.’”[7] Referencing Genesis 27:26, and how while deceiving Isaac, Jacob was asked, “Please come close and kiss me, my son,” Nahum Sarna concludes,

“Esau’s undoubtedly sincere kiss—he seems genuinely moved by Jacob’s extravagant gesture—signals the conclusion of the chain of events precipitated by that other kiss, Jacob’s deceitful kiss, recounted in 27:27,[8] which played a crucial role in the original blessing.”[9]

While Jacob wanting to give gifts to Esau did come as a result of some faithlessness, they were able to communicate to Esau that Jacob was generous and that he ultimately loved his brother. The sovereign God enabled some degree of peace to be established between the two brothers, and Esau was introduced to members of Jacob’s family (Genesis 33:5-8). Enough time had obviously transpired for Esau to forget much of the past, as he told Jacob, “I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own” (Genesis 33:9). While Jacob no longer had to worry about Esau desiring to murder him, and some degree of rapprochement was achieved, it was understandable that Jacob would still be rather cautious in his dealings with him.

But what does this mean in regard to Jacob’s dealings with God? Although Jacob may have had a cathartic moment with the Holy One at Peniel, he did still evidence a slight lack of faith in wanting to make sure that Esau was happy (Genesis 33:10-11). While the trials and tribulations in Jacob’s life had been used to tenderize him and make him more sensitive to the will of the Almighty, completely turning oneself over to Him did not happen instantaneously. Jacob did not immediately return home after this scene.

Return to Bethel

Jacob had been instructed by the Lord shuv al-eretz avotekha, “Return to the land of your fathers” (Genesis 31:3). Simply coming across the Jordan River and settling in the Shechem area, did not comply with God’s request for him to return. In spite of this, Jacob was far closer to where he needed to be then where he had been, and we do see that Jacob was now far more compliant with the patterns established by his ancestors for correctly worshipping and serving God:

“And 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. And 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 33:17-20).

After settling for a season in Succoth, Jacob moved across the Jordan River and up the valley to the land around Shechem. There he purchased a piece of land and settled. Jacob/Israel erected an altar (mizbeiach), naming it El Elohei Yisrael, meaning God, the God of Israel. Jacob not only named the altar, but gave it the designation of his new name, Israel, that he had received after his all-night wrestling experience. The spiritual maturation process was slowly taking hold, as Ya’akov was identifying himself more as Yisrael.

But if we follow the account, we find that Jacob probably should have continued down the mountain highway, back into the land of his fathers, further south around Hebron and Beersheba. It is not until after calamities befall Jacob and his children in the land around Shechem via the incident with Dinah (Genesis 34), that the Holy One spoke to him once again, and commanded him to move south:

“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’” (Genesis 35:1-4).

Here we see some clues that Jacob was not quite ready for the trip south until after the incidents in Shechem had already occurred. Apparently, he still was allowing the household idols that Rachel and others had absconded from Laban (Genesis 31:30, 32) to continue to be in his midst. Jacob had not cleaned house. He certainly was moving in the right direction on the road to return, and was growing spiritually by worshipping the Lord at the altar in Shechem. But as we can see from the problems that erupted in the Shechem area, there were still some residual problems associated with him not entirely depending upon God. He had stopped in Shechem and began to intermingle with the Shechemites. There is no recorded directive from God for Jacob to settle in the Shechem area. This could have been a potentially devastating situation as the problems associated with Dinah erupted.

Jacob’s sons, led by Simeon and Levi, took advantage of the men of Shechem after they had all agreed to join in with Jacob by performing circumcision rites that would allow them to identify with Abraham (Genesis 34:22, 24-25). The carnage was unreal, as they were caught totally unaware while experience great pain after the operation, being unable to really defend themselves. The murder of the Shechemites by his sons, made Jacob and his family odious in the sight of those in the region:

“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 shall be destroyed, I and my household’” (Genesis 34:30).

Something needed to be done, and this occurred when the Holy One spoke to Jacob and told him to move to Bethel, where he should build an altar and settle:

“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’” (Genesis 35:1).

After all the years Jacob had been gone, his life was coming full circle. He was away in order to start his family. Now he had spent a season in Shechem, after finally coming back into the land west of the Jordan. Shechem turned out to be a disaster for him and his family, and now he was commanded by God to return to Bethel. Interestingly, the Holy One protected him on his final trek south to the place where he saw the angels ascending and descending on the ladder:

“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. And 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…Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. And 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. And 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. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a libation on it; he also poured oil on it. So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel’” (Genesis 35:5-7, 9-15).

This is an interesting passage that continues to show us that Jacob/Israel was maturing in his role as the inheritor of the blessings that were first bestowed upon Abraham and Isaac. Here as he returned to Bethel, God confirmed that his name is Israel, further describing many of the elements of His promises regarding posterity and the Land. As this encounter with God concluded and He departed, Jacob set up a pillar of stone, poured a libation on it, and anointed it with oil. This is a similar procedure that occurred many years before as he was departing the Land (Genesis 28:18). Is it possible that on his spiritual journey, Jacob was slowly learning more of the techniques to properly worship the God of Abraham and Isaac (cf. Exodus 29:38-40)?

Certainly, we are observing Jacob come back home—but more significantly Jacob transition from being a fleshly young man to now a maturing father and emerging leader. But as all who have been on a spiritual journey to maturity can attest, the trials of life continue, to further develop and refine godly character traits within us.

Just after this time at Bethel, Jacob continued on with his family down the road toward Hebron:

“Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor. And it came about when she was in severe labor that the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear, for now you have another son.’ And it came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder” (Genesis 35:16-21).

Jacob was forced to endure the loss of his beloved Rachel on the road to Hebron, which no doubt had to serve as another critical step in his maturation process. Interestingly, “Jacob” put up a pillar to commemorate the place where Rachel was buried (Genesis 35:20), followed by “Israel” pitching his tent by the tower of Eder (Genesis 35:21). The text seems to be bouncing back and forth between naming him “Jacob,” and then followed by “Israel.” Is this a subtle way that the text communicates how Jacob/Israel might have still been struggling with ways of the flesh, versus ways of faith?[10]

We read a little further and discover that it is while Jacob’s family was living near the tower of Eder, that Reuben had sexual relations with his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22). “Israel” is the one who finds out about it. We know from further on that this act had serious consequences for Reuben, who in fact, lost his birthright privileges (Genesis 49:3-4).

Finally, Jacob made it back to the tents of his father Isaac near Hebron. It is here that his journey, for this part of his life, came to a close. He returned soon enough for Isaac to die, and for Esau and Jacob together to bury him:

“And 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. And 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).

As our Torah portion ends, we find that Jacob/Israel was finally settled in the area that had been promised to him and his descendants. His father Isaac had passed away. His brother Esau had moved away. And now Jacob took up his promised position as the leader of the family that would ultimately get much larger and eventually emerge into the nation of Israel.

Our Maturation

Having just read through V’yeitzei and V’yishlach in the past two weeks, we can definitely witness how Jacob had to mature, being seasoned by the various encounters and experiences he lived through. In many respects, he had modeled for those who will come after him, a life that began with a focus on self and self-interest—and steadily shifted toward a life focused on God and His will. Jacob epitomized the struggle that we have all had at one point or another.

It is encouraging to read that Jacob was ultimately known as a man of faith. Even after all of his conniving and struggles that he had to endure through, when the author of Hebrews lists great figures of faith, Jacob is listed among them:

“By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21).[11]

The Patriarch Jacob/Israel is remembered by future generations for his faith to bless his sons and grandsons after him. May we all finish this life and have a testimony of such faith, being known as those who to our dying day were witnessed as worshipping the Holy One. Then and perhaps only then, we will surely be able to pass on a testimony of significant spiritual transformation to our progeny!


NOTES

[1] BDB, 334.

[2] The Hebrew verb qaton is actually used in Genesis 32:10, appearing in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice), meaning “be small, insignificant” (BDB, 881).

[3] Cf. John Calvin: Genesis, trans. and ed. John King (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), pp 200-201; D. Stuart Briscoe, The Preacher’s Commentary: Genesis, Vol 1 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987), pp 260-261.

[4] J.H. Hertz, ed., Pentateuch & Haftorahs (London: Soncino Press, 1960), 124.

Defined as either “Ēl persisteth, persevereth” (BDB, 976) or “El fights” (HALOT, 1:442).

[5] BDB, 819.

[6] Heb. v’yipol ‘al-tzava’rav v’yishaqeihu v’yiv’khu.

Editor’s note: Be cautious and rather critical of teachings circulating in the Messianic community, which give too much significance to the notational dots over the verb v’yishaqeihu, “and kissed,” in Genesis 33:4. Generally speaking, it is attested in textual studies, how such dots,

“[M]ay have originated in the pre-Masoretic period to indicate letters of words that were considered questionable but left in the text. Similar points are used in this manner in the Dead Sea manuscripts and in early Samaritan manuscripts. It is striking that many of the letters and words thus marked are lacking in the Septuagint and Syriac translations of the Bible, and also from the Samaritan Pentateuch” (Page H. Kelley, Daniel S. Mynatt, and Timothy G. Crawford, eds., The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 153).

In the scope of Rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 33:4, it is thought that the “dots over each letter of this word, [serve as] an exegetical device that calls attention to hidden allusions. The Sages disagree regarding the significance of the dots in this verse. Some hold that Esau’s kisses were sincere; but R’Shimon bar Yochai says that, although it is an immutable rule that Esau hates Jacob, at that moment his mercy was aroused and he kissed Jacob with all his heart (Rashi)” (Scherman, Chumash, 177; cf. Sarna, in Etz Hayim, 203 making reference to Genesis Rabbah 78:9). Esau’s kissing Jacob might have been sincere, or might not have been sincere.

It is quite possible that the dots over v’yishaqeihu carry an important meaning for readers of the Masoretic Hebrew text, inscribed by its editors and copyists. These would serve to point out something significant, no different than how today within English we might mark something with an asterisk *, an at sign @, or a pound/number sign #. There is no evidence, though, that the dots over v’yishaqeihu were ever of Mosaic origin, and they would instead date much closer to the First Century B.C.E.-C.E.

[7] Richard Elliot Friedman, Commentary on the Torah (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 114.

[8] “So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed’” (Genesis 27:27).

[9] Sarna, in Etz Hayim, 203.

[10] Editor’s note: While advocates of the JEDP documentary hypothesis would no doubt propose that usages of “Jacob” and “Israel” in such close proximity to one another in Genesis 35:20-21, point to different sources being employed in the composition of the Pentateuch, we have good cause to reject this. Immediately prior in the text, the narrative details much of the reason and destiny associated with Jacob being renamed Israel (Genesis 35:9-12). Rather than vs. 20 and 21 coming from two different “sources,” a conclusion that Jacob has yet to fully transition in his character, over to being Israel, is entirely reasonable.

For further consideration, consult the relevant sections of A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[11] Editor’s note: The author of Hebrews here relies on the Greek Septuagint in his view of Jacob “leaning on the top of his staff.” The Hebrew Masoretic Text of Genesis 47:31 reads with rosh ha’mittah or “head of the bed,” whereas the Greek LXX has epi to akron tēs hrabdou autou, “on the top of his staff.” These differences may come from the fact that the vowel markings for the Hebrew MT are Medieval in origin, and without them the Hebrew word for “staff,” matteh, is spelled with exactly the same consonants, mem, tet, and heh, as mittah or “bed.” The LXX follows the point of view that Jacob was leaning on his staff as he blessed his sons.

In the scope of meaning, this is a rather small point, but some in the Messianic community have used it to discount the reliability of Hebrews. For further discussion, consult the entry for the Epistle to the Hebrews in A Survey of the Apostolic Scriptures for the Practical Messianic, and the commentary Hebrews for the Practical Messianic, by J.K. McKee.

V’yeitzei

V’yeitzei

He went out

“Jacob’s Maturation (Part 1)”

Genesis 28:10-32:2
Hosea 12:12-14:10 (A); 11:7-12:12 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As you prepare to read through this week’s Torah portion, V’yeitzei, you may conclude, as I have, that both this parashah and next week’s parashah (V’yishlach: Genesis 32:3-36:43) together, are a two-part rendition of the main substance of the life of the Patriarch Jacob. The Torah specifically dedicates about nine chapters to describing the main experiences of the life of Jacob—largely trials and tribulations—as he developed from a young man in laboring to start a family, to being a more tempered and seasoned elder who would finally reunite with his brother Esau to bury their father Isaac.

V’yeitzei covers approximately twenty years in the life of Jacob as he departs for Haran,[1] and then after laboring for his father-in-law Laban,[2] begins his return back to Canaan.[3] In V’yishlach next week, we encounter the intensity when Esau and Jacob are brought back together,[4] and we see some of the challenges Jacob’s family has living in the Shechem area,[5] before they ultimately turn south back to Hebron.[6]

During this first score of years detailed in V’yeitzei, Jacob marries Leah[7] and Rachel,[8] takes on Zilpah[9] and Bilhah[10] as concubines, and he fathers eleven sons[11] and one daughter.[12] It is during this two-decade period of Jacob’s life when he experiences some rather dramatic encounters with the Creator God, which begin to solidify his relationship with Him. Here for all to read, are some chronicled events that give one a sense of Jacob’s real humanity and mortal limitations.

On the Road of Escape

Jacob is one of the unique characters in the Scriptures who exemplifies the common dichotomy present in each person, the struggle that too often—and most unfortunately—ensues between a natural inclination toward the flesh and a desired inclination toward the Divine (cf. Romans 7:14-25). On various levels, I would submit that the life of Jacob is something that all of us can identify with, as we each have had times in our lives when putting ourselves in the complete will and care of God has been most difficult. Jacob, after all, had to leave the relative comfort and security of his home, under the threat of retribution from his brother Esau, and was in desperate need of assurance that what he did and where he was to go were for a bigger purpose. The immediate need for Jacob to actually escape from Esau’s vengeance, certainly factored in to his decision to obey his parents’ direction to head eastward to find a wife from their relatives in Paddan-aram:

“So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. And may God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you; that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham’” (Genesis 28:1-4).

But what about the promises bestowed upon Jacob as the heir of God’s previous promises made to his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac (cf. Genesis 27:27-29)? Now with Jacob as the recipient of the birthright and the blessing, would God be able to fulfill these promises if he relocated outside of Canaan? Certainly, the thought might have arisen that perhaps some things would be altered as a result of the ongoing problems with Esau. We later see that in contrast to Abraham, who simply moved when God told him to, how young Jacob did not have his grandfather’s faith.

From the very beginning of his moving eastward on the road to Haran, Jacob had an encounter with the Lord, as the angelic host appeared on a ladder just after his departure from Beersheba, at Bethel or Luz:[13]

“And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you’” (Genesis 28:13-15).

Jacob surely had a very inspiring encounter with the Almighty and His angels! In this scene it is recorded how God will be faithful to the promises He gave to Abraham and Isaac before him, including: the inheritance of the Promised Land, a vast multitude of descendants, and that future blessings to the nations will come through Jacob. God’s final declaration is: Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15, NJPS). In categorical terms, God affirmed to Jacob that everything was under His control, and that He would not only be with him during his trip eastward—but that He would safely return him back to Canaan to complete all of the promises which have been made. Apparently, Jacob was convinced that he has heard from the Most High, because his actions reflected convictions that were laced with awe and reverence:

“Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on its top. And he called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz” (Genesis 28:16-19).

Jacob’s action, especially in renaming the location Beit-El or “house of God” (BDB),[14] speaks for itself. But, it is also followed by a rather significant vow he took:

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’” (Genesis 28:20-22).

Here, as Jacob moved forward on his journey eastward, he had an intimate encounter with the Creator. He saw a ladder appear, and a portal opens up into Heaven with supernatural beings going up and down. Jacob recognized this spot as being “the house of God,” a place where His presence had appeared. Yet, where you would expect his grandfather Abraham to have simply praised the Almighty or have expressed great thanks for witnessing this, Jacob instead made an “if/then” vow with God: “If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear…” (Genesis 28:20, NJPS), v’hayah ADONAI li l’Elohim or “then the LORD will be my God” (Genesis 28:21).

Jacob’s Audacity!

When I read in the narrative how Jacob said, “…then the LORD will be my God” (Genesis 28:21), in light of the surrounding events regarding his encounter with the Almighty and Heavenly host, a number of thoughts came to my mind:

  • How could Jacob make this statement to the Lord?
  • Did Jacob not understand who he was truly addressing?
  • Did Jacob not believe in God’s promises that were already made regarding his welfare?
  • Can you actually imagine making a conditional bargain with the Creator?

Certainly by the words that Jacob uttered, he knew that he had been in the bone fide presence of God. But to then move from a contrite state of encountering His holiness and magnificence, to putting conditional demands on Him, appears to be quite audacious and presumptuous. When people know that they have just encountered the sheer glory and awesomeness of God, they should naturally have the faith to realize that He is all powerful! Is it possible that the conditional statement “…then the LORD will be my God,” is a major clue regarding the relative spiritual immaturity of young Jacob?

Perhaps this is a vivid indication that Jacob was used to striking deals or controlling various situations—and could even have been used to getting his own way. After all, he had been the favored child of Rebekah, and he traded a bowl of lentil soup to his brother Esau for the privileges of the firstborn (Genesis 25:27-34). Before departing for Padan-haram, Jacob had deceived his father, and essentially stole the blessing which Isaac would have otherwise given to his brother Esau (Genesis 27:1-29). One really wonders, in lieu of his past experiences, whether Jacob’s vow in Genesis 28:20-22 was really made with any serious thought, contemplation, or consideration for the consequences of his commitment.

Later within the Torah, specific instruction is codified about the significance of making vows (Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21). In His Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua the Messiah has to emphasize how by the First Century C.E. making oaths and vows had been severely abused (Matthew 5:33-37). But here in V’yeitzei, with little progress made on his journey east—after hearing a reiteration of Divine promises made to his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac—Jacob decided to strike a “bargain” with the Lord. If the Lord “performed” for Jacob by providing him with food, clothing, and protection, then Jacob would make Him his God. This sounds like a very carnal practice for someone to be doing. We can only speculate as to the specific reasons why this was Jacob’s reaction to the great theophany he witnessed.

What we do not need to speculate about is that Jacob had quite a few things to still learn about his Creator. Jacob lacked the faith of his grandfather Abraham, because limited human beings take a significant risk when they put conditions on an Eternal God. Rather than live forth His purpose for their lives via His direction, those who operate in faithlessness tend to think that they can manipulate God into following their own will. Unless quickly remedied and fixed, this can result in one having to experience some serious consequences—certainly in terms of Earthly refinement and seasoning if the Lord is going to use you for something beyond yourself.

In reading V’yeitzei, it is not difficult to detect that Jacob had a great deal to learn and still must mature. During the next twenty years, as he would labor under the watchful eye of Laban and begin his family, his fleshly and mortal inclinations would be challenged through a variety of distinct experiences, as he was doubtlessly forced to understand more about the God of Abraham and Isaac. Jacob would have to learn—largely “the hard way”—that it is the Sovereign One who alone was ultimately in control of his life and destiny. It will only be at the right point in time, though, when God would remind him that it is time to return to Canaan (Genesis 31:3).

Many of us in life today fail to place ourselves entirely in the hands of God, or will go through times when we doubt that He is there. Jacob never denied God, but he was certainly faithless at times. God was never faithless, because otherwise He would not be God. If you can at all identify with some of the early experiences of Jacob as he left his home, then I would encourage you to take some comfort in a few of the final words of the Apostle Paul, as he was exhorting his friend Timothy who would have to continue in the work of ministry after he passed on:

“It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

Just as we have learned in our Torah portion this week, once you have been in the presence of God—do not try to bargain with Him! Respect your Creator, and cry out to Him that you may never forget His faithfulness toward you.


NOTES

[1] Genesis 28:10-22.

[2] Genesis 29:1-30:43.

[3] Genesis 31:1-32:2.

[4] Genesis 32:2-33:17.

[5] Genesis 34:1-35:22.

[6] Genesis 35:23-29.

[7] Genesis 29:21-27.

[8] Genesis 29:28.

[9] Genesis 29:24.

[10] Genesis 29:29.

[11] Genesis 30:1-24.

[12] Genesis 30:21.

[13] Genesis 28:19.

[14] BDB, 110.

Toldot

Toldot

History

“Generational Choices”

Genesis 25:19-28:9
Malachi 1:1-2:7


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Over the past few weeks, Torah readers have witnessed several parashot focusing on the life of Abraham and his progeny. This week the saga continues, as some of the trials of Isaac are detailed. Interestingly, the title of “History” or “Generations” (Toldot) can give one pause to consider many of the realities, and perhaps uncertainties, of family growth. While we can notice how the descendants of Abraham began to multiply, we should take greater notice of how Abraham had passed on the knowledge of his relationship with the God of Creation and His promises to his progeny.

In Toldot, we clearly see how the Almighty was establishing His chosen people among the nations of the world through His choice of Isaac, and later Jacob. It is instructional for us to learn that, as modeled, how all of us make generational choices is critical for furthering the truths we have inherited through God’s blessings originally promised to Abraham millennia ago.

Last week, if you will recall, our Torah portion Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) actually concluded with a brief description of Abraham’s death and his burial, by what the text specifies as “his sons”:

“And these are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. And Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael [Yitzchaq v’Yishma’eil banyv] buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife” (Genesis 25:7-10).

This is an interesting depiction of Abraham’s internment, because if you will recall, following the death of Sarah, Abraham married Keturah and had six additional sons:

“Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. And she bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah…Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east” (Genesis 25:1-2, 5-6).

Here we see the names of six additional sons, yet Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, and only gave gifts to his other sons (Genesis 25:6). This was a critical decision Abraham made as he was approaching his death. Abraham knew that God had promised the inheritance of the Land of Canaan to his son by his wife Sarah (Genesis 17:19, 21). Abraham also remembered that God had made some promises to Ishmael, in order for him to be fruitful and be a great nation (Genesis 17:19-21).

There are no recorded promises made to the other six sons, so when Abraham’s death approached, he gave them some gifts and sent them eastward. By the time Abraham died, Ishmael had probably already fathered many of the twelve sons that were expected (cf. Genesis 25:16-18). When you couple these grandsons with the six sons from Keturah, was Abraham at all concerned about a potential threat to Isaac and his children? Keep in mind that although Abraham was told by God that he would be fruitful (Genesis 22:17), the example of his lack of judgment in fathering Ishmael via Hagar is one that is not looked at that favorably throughout the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 4:25).

Even though Ishmael was present at the burial of Abraham, the fact that Abraham continued to favor Isaac, and gave all that he had to him (cf. Genesis 25:5), indicates that Abraham lived his final years in close proximity to Isaac and Rebekah, so that the inheritance of livestock and goods could be completed. Even though Abraham had a second family, as it were, with Keturah, preference was definitely made toward Isaac, the son of promise. I would submit that the most important thing in Abraham’s mind was to impart to Isaac and his children the special relationship that he enjoyed with the God of Creation.

The Next Generation

One of the main features of our parashah this week is how Isaac and Rebekah had to wait twenty years, before she became pregnant with the twins Esau and Jacob. Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah:

“Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife” (Genesis 25:19-20).

A few verses later we see that Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born:

“And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them” (Genesis 25:26).

Having been married for twenty years, Isaac and Rebekah lived together childless. They also got to experience the stigma and disappointment of being childless, which in the Ancient Near East would often be viewed as something less than a misfortune. Even in more modern times, while some married couples may choose to wait a number of years before starting a family, they normally do not expect to have to wait two decades!

In many ways, Isaac and Rebekah having to wait was a repeat of some of the pain endured by Abraham and Sarah, as they waited a seemingly interminable amount of time before the birth of Isaac (cf. Genesis 18:11-12). Perhaps when the whole family got together, Abraham may have comforted Isaac and Rebekah with stories of how he and Sarah had to wait for Isaac to be conceived. If this took place, could they have been cautioned not to make the mistake of forcing God’s timing, as was the case with the pregnancy of Hagar that produced Ishmael (cf. Genesis 16:3)?

The Scriptures do not give us any great detail about what transpired during the two decades Isaac and Rebekah waited for their own children, but we do know that in God’s time, Isaac’s entreaties for a pregnancy were answered as Rebekah became pregnant with twins (Genesis 25:21). But, even after a twenty-year wait for children, Rebekah’s pregnancy appeared to have complications. From the very womb, the twins inside of her are said to have been struggling for dominance. Rebekah’s pleas to God were answered when He spoke to her about the situation:

“But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is so, why then am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger’” (Genesis 25:22-23).

In what appear to be some very intriguing words, Rebekah wanted to know why “the children clashed together[1] within her” (Alter). She received an answer to her plea from God, and many Bible readers—especially those who follow current events in the Middle East with the Israeli-Arab conflict—feel that Genesis 25:22-23 definitely informs them about this. Perhaps a bit more significant for the narrative here, Rebekah would have been relieved to receive an answer from the Holy One that the conflict she felt during her pregnancy was by His design, and not because of anything that she did. Similarly, if you have ever heard the voice of the Creator respond to one of your urgent pleas, then you are likely able to recall His response whenever you need guidance and encouragement.

In a moment of great stress, the Lord told Rebekah that within her womb were two peoples who were already struggling with one another. Can you imagine what she thought when she delivered her two boys, and the first one came out ruddy and hairy, with his younger brother actually grabbing the firstborn child’s heel?

“Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them” (Genesis 25:25-26).

Certainly as a follower of Abraham and Isaac’s God, she had probably heard about the curses that were first uttered to the serpent, Eve, and Adam in the Garden of Eden. Recall what God’s first promise of the Messiah to come actually was:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).

What was God communicating to His followers when He said that the seed of the woman would “bruise him on the heel”? In the scene of Esau and Jacob’s birth, the younger son being born held on to the heel of his older brother. Having just experienced the pain of childbirth, one can only imagine what Rebekah might have thinking. We may never know for certain what went through Rebekah’s mind, but we do know from the rest of the Biblical narrative that the line of Jacob eventually gave rise to the Messiah (Matthew 1:2ff; Luke 1:33). And as the Apostle Paul attests, women are to take special note of how they are to “be saved through the child-bearing[2]” (1 Timothy 2:15, YLT), Yeshua, a direct reference back to Genesis 3:15.[3]

Further on in Toldot, the twins are described in contrasting tones:

“When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:27-28).

We see an interesting picture here of the distinctions between these two children of Isaac and Rebekah, and how their parents treated them. Esau was “a skillful hunter, a man of the open country” (NIV). On the other hand, “Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents” (RSV). It appears that Esau was the “stronger” of the two, or at least was more outgoing as a warrior/gatherer, while Jacob spent time in tents attending to various household chores.

As Esau and Jacob grew up together, Rebekah certainly witnessed the obvious differences between her two sons. The older son was a man after the flesh (cf. Hebrews 12:16), and the younger was inclined to remain at home. Within a period of time, a challenging dichotomy developed in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. It is stated that Isaac loved Esau, because he had “a taste for wild game” (Genesis 25:28, NIV). On the other hand, it is stated that Rebekah loved Jacob.

Rebekah had been given a very strong word from the Lord during her pregnancy that “the elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23, RSV). She knew that Jacob was definitely more inclined to household responsibilities. She was living in the reality that Isaac, the firstborn son of Abraham and Sarah, was to receive the promises of God. She could definitely have thought that the promises to Abraham and Isaac were ultimately going to be bestowed upon Jacob, the younger of the twins. After all, she had imbedded in her memory: Was not the older to serve the younger?

Birthright Transfer

Continuing in the narrative of our Torah portion, we encounter more, which specifically informs us about the character of Esau and Jacob. A very unique event occurred, confirming how Esau was largely a mortal man after the flesh, with little concern for spiritual matters. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a meal. Even if Jacob’s intentions were not entirely honorable in this scene, Esau’s actions in agreeing to the transaction were neither wise nor responsible, either:

“And when Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.’ Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ And Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’ And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me’; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright’” (Genesis 25:29-34).

Some Jewish Rabbis think that this event took place at the time of Abraham’s burial,[4] but there is no direct Biblical evidence that indicates this as the specific time when Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. What should grab our attention a little more is why Esau agreed to sell his birthright for a meal. What does it mean when “Esau came in from the field and he was famished” because he says “I am about to die” (Genesis 25:29, 32)? Is this just because Esau was out hunting too much? Or had Esau gone out and committed some ungodly deeds, stirring up some problems for himself? Jacob was obviously at home conducting his affairs, and for some reason or another might had an inclination that if Esau were given the birthright, he might have either misused or squandered it.

In securing Esau’s birthright of the firstborn for a meal, Jacob was treating Esau in a manner consistent with a second meaning derived from his given name Ya’akov,[5] which can mean “supplanter” (Genesis 27:36). Here at this propitious moment, Jacob sold his brother a bowl of soup, knowing that Esau would give him his birthright:

Apparently, this transaction is considered by God to be valid, because Esau verbally swore to Jacob that the birthright was to be his (Genesis 25:33). How powerful can spoken words be, which reveal what is truly in one’s heart (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45)? Is it possible that Rebekah had revealed to her son Jacob, that as the younger his older brother would serve him? Or is it possible that while Jacob conducted his affairs in the family tents, that he decided he wanted to inherit the birthright blessings? He certainly knew the (irresponsible) inclinations of his twin brother Esau. Did Jacob have a plan of eventually taking the birthright from Esau? We do not know for sure. When Jacob offered a meal to his brother, Esau notably did not refuse, having readily (and stupidly) accepted the proposal for the exchange.

In the First Century, the author of Hebrews admonishes his audience why Esau could accept the exchange without any immediate reservations. Esau is specifically considered to be an ungodly and immoral man, who was quite foolish and who made a rash decision:

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Hebrews 12:16-17).

This view of Esau being a base man of the flesh is seen earlier in the works of the Jewish philosopher Philo. He describes Esau as an evil man, versus Jacob who was wise and who concerned himself with virtue:

“Now that the wicked man is destitute of a city and destitute of a home, Moses testifies in speaking of that hairy man who was also a man of varied wickedness, Esau, when he says, ‘But Esau was skillful in hunting, and a rude man.’ [Genesis 25:27.] For it is not natural for vice which is inclined to be subservient to the passions to inhabit the city of virtue, inasmuch as it is devoted to the pursuit of rudeness and ignorance, with great folly. But Jacob, who is full of wisdom, is both a citizen and one who dwells in a house, that is to say, in virtue. Accordingly Moses says of him, ‘But Jacob is a man without guile, dwelling in a house’” (Allegorical Interpretation 3.2).[6]

Although Jacob was by no means imperfect, it is ultimately Esau who is to be considered to be an immoral or godless person (cf. Genesis 28:6-10). Because Esau did not have a spiritual inclination toward his Creator, he despised his birthright (Genesis 25:34). Esau was willing to sell it to satisfy some momentary hunger or cravings. The ArtScroll Chumash perhaps validly notes, “For what did he give up his precious birthright?—for a pot of beans!”[7]

The Blessing of Isaac

A number of years later, with Esau and Jacob a bit older, Esau now had an interest in securing the blessings of his father Isaac. But as the narrative details, he had already been inclined to intermarry with some of the local women, and was a practicing polygamist:[8]

“And when Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:34-35).

The marriages of Esau to Judith and Basemath were grievous for Isaac and Rebekah to witness: “they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (RSV). Probably realizing how Abraham’s servant had to be sent back to his home country to select a wife for Isaac (cf. Genesis 24:1-7), the two parents understood how important it was for their sons to at least try to marry someone who had a similar background. They knew that they had inherited the blessings via the marriage of Abraham to Sarah, and in their hearts they wanted the same blessings for their sons. But Esau had married local women, who were undoubtedly involved in the worship of other gods and other unacceptable practices. Yet, with this in mind, it is interesting that as Isaac was growing old, he was still inclined to give Esau a chance to receive his blessings (Genesis 27:1-4). Even if Esau had displeased his parents in his marriage choices, he still remained their son and they still loved him.

As Isaac’s eyes began to fail him, he thought he was going to die, and so in a last minute appeal to his son Esau, he made the request of one final savory meal: “prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die” (Genesis 27:4). Isaac does tell Esau that before he died, he wanted to bless him. Of course, as the record indicates, Rebekah overheard this request and she went into high gear to circumvent the bestowing of Isaac’s blessing on Esau (Genesis 27:5-14). She probably remembered the clear words from God “that the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23), and so now in a very premeditated way, Rebekah decided that she would intervene to see that Jacob receives the blessings of Isaac instead.

Without going into great detail, we should all know that the deception was successful and that Isaac blessed Jacob as he would a firstborn son (Genesis 27:15-29). In essence, the successful trade of the birthright status years earlier, had now come full circle as the firstborn blessings, usually designated for the one actually born first, was bestowed upon Jacob rather than Esau. Right after Jacob had stolen his brother’s blessing, Esau returned to prepare the meal his father actually wanted, so that he might receive the firstborn blessing (Genesis 25:30-31). Instead, he found out that he was too late (Genesis 25:32-34), and he cried out for restitution with a gut-wrenching plea:

“Then he [Esau] said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob [Ya’akov], for he has supplanted [aqav] me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.’ And he said, ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’ But Isaac answered and said to Esau, ‘Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?’ And Esau said to his father, ‘Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.’ So Esau lifted his voice and wept” (Genesis 27:36-38).

Esau was crushed. He finally realized that he had not only lost his birthright to Jacob, but now the grand blessing of his father Isaac had also been taken away from him. His weeping was an indication of great human sorrow. In his mercy and love toward his son, Isaac did bestow a word upon Esau—but only after he realized that the blessing of Abraham, which he had inherited, was already passed on verbally to his son Jacob. Isaac was not about to change what had already been stated over Jacob and his descendants, and so he can only tell Isaac this:

“Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, ‘Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, and away from the dew of heaven from above. And by your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck.’ So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 27:39-41).

(I do not know about you, but I do not honestly know if I would have really wanted something like this pronounced over me…)

Generational Blessing

Realizing that it was Esau’s intention to murder Isaac (Genesis 27:42-45), Rebekah again decided that she knew best, recognizing how the best thing for Jacob was for him to relocate out of the region. She knew how she could get Isaac to agree to this. Rebekah implored her husband Isaac, blaming her frustration on Esau’s wives from the daughters of Heth, to send Jacob back to the old country to secure a wife from among her relatives:

“And Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?’ So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. And may God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you; that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham’” (Genesis 27:46-28:4).

We see here from Isaac how the blessing of Abraham was bestowed upon Jacob: “may El Shaddai bless you, make you fruitful and make you numerous, and may you be a congregation of peoples[9]” (Genesis 28:3, ATS). Isaac himself did not know when he would again see Jacob, so he passed on this final blessing before Jacob left. Of course, no one at the time realized that Isaac would live to a ripe old age of 180, and that his two sons would have to reunite to bury him (Genesis 35:28-29).

Considering the Generational Choices

What have we learned, as we are reading about the early generations of the family chosen by God to be a major example of faithfulness toward Him?

First, we witness that the Lord challenges each generation with trials that are designed to test our faith. Whether it is waiting upon God’s blessing for opening the womb, or being sent into hostile territory to deal with the ravages of famine (Genesis 26:1ff), the ability to trust in God for His plan and provision is imperative. As we have seen in recent weeks, both Abraham and Sarah—and now Isaac and Rebekah—have dealt with these challenges in different and yet similar ways.

Next, we can see that each generation has some critical choices to make in order to help insure that the blessings of the Holy One are passed down to succeeding generations. We are modeled the concept of encouraging our children to marry spouses from people with the same faith and relatively familiar backgrounds, so they can have the best chance of marital success. Abraham did this for Isaac in retrieving Rebekah to be his wife (Genesis 24). In a like manner, Jacob was sent to Rebekah’s family to secure a wife (Genesis 27:46-28:2). By following this pattern, each successive generation made choices for their children that increased the probability that their descendants perpetuated the truths regarding the God of Abraham and His promises.

For those of us living today, it is our responsibility to heed the successes and failures of those who have preceded us, notably the examples of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Sarah and Rebekah. Just like these spiritual forbearers, we should be ever conscious of the need to make good generational choices, as we are given responsibility for those who come after us. We should be positively influencing the future choices of our offspring. Among the many things this involves, is there anyone better equipped to advise and encourage the next generation about marital choices than the parents who raised them? Of course, in order to assist in this process, the one Torah commandment that deals specifically with the direct relationship between children and parents, should be inculcated into each successive generation:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12; cf. Deuteronomy 5:16).

May we all take an active interest in the lives of our children, and also other young people in the community of faith who look to us as mentors. Let us do so by not only giving them upstanding marital advice and council, but most especially exemplifying what it means to have a dynamic relationship with the God of Israel through His Son, Yeshua the Messiah. In so doing, it will not only be the faithfulness of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs that they are guided by, but most importantly the faithfulness of the One who died for our sins and has provided us full reconciliation with the Father![10]


NOTES

[1] Heb. ratzatz.

[2] Grk. dia tēs teknogonias.

[3] For further reading, consult the article “The Message of the Pastoral Epistles” and the commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[4] Cf. Scherman, Chumash, 127.

[5] Cf. J. Barton Payne, “aqav,” in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:691-692.

[6] Philo Judaeus: The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, trans. C.D. Yonge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 50.

[7] Scherman, Chumash, 128.

[8] For a review of this subject in the Bible, consult the article “Is Polygamy for Today?” by J.K. McKee.

[9] Heb. qehal amim.

[10] Consult the article “The Faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah” by J.K. McKee.

Chayei Sarah

Chayei Sarah

Sarah’s Life

“Respecting the Local Customs”

Genesis 23:1-25:18
1 Kings 1:1-31


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, entitled Chayei Sarah or “Sarah’s life,” begins by mentioning the death of the Matriarch Sarah, and how Abraham mourned for her passing:

“Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her” (Genesis 23:1-2).

Even though the title of our parashah is “Sarah’s life,” the bulk of the narrative is actually devoted to the events that follow her death. As the beloved wife of Abraham, often regarded to be among the principal matriarchs of the faithful followers of the One True God, she is held in high esteem throughout the Scriptures. The respect shown to Sarah has been given not only for her godly qualities, but also for her character traits. The author of Hebrews mentions Sarah as an important figure of faith, as she and Abraham were seeking a country and city that reached beyond this Earth:

“By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:11-16, NIV).

Examining Chayei Sarah, we find that we are at a period in time when the life of Sarah comes to a climax. As the wife of Abraham, Sarah had witnessed and participated in an extraordinary series of events with a man to whom God chose to guarantee special promises. He took his responsibility very seriously, and although his imperfections and lack of patience had resulted in a premature copulation with the handmaiden Hagar, resulting in the birth of Ishmael—at the ironic suggestion of Sarai—his true love and partner for life was undeniably the faithful Sarah. Now as she predeceases him, Abraham desires only the best available burial site (Heb. qever)[1] in the land that he was promised by God.

At her death, Abraham and Sarah were residing in the environs of Hebron in Canaan, which was then dominated by the Hittites. Noah said that descendents of Canaan would be “slaves” or “servants” (Heb. evadim) to the descendents of Shem:

“When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9:24-27).

As a result of this word, some from the local Hittite population, including the elder servant Eliezer of Damascus, were certainly included among Abraham’s many servants. Whether the Hittites were literal “slaves” of Abraham and Sarah or not is important, because there is certainly an indication that they had an innate recognition that Abraham was a blessed man of the Creator God, to whom they needed to defer a great deal of respect. Read the following statements of honor that were bestowed upon Abraham by his neighbors at the time of Sarah’s death:

“‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’ The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’ So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth” (Genesis 23:4-7).

By referring to Abraham as “my lord” (Heb. adoni) and declaring that he was “the elect of God among us” (NJPS), it is apparent that the indigenous population understood that Abraham had a unique connection with the Almighty. You also might note that Abraham treated his neighbors with great respect, declaring that he was a sojourner,[2] bowing before them and honoring the local inhabitants. This mutual respect pays great dividends as Abraham elicits his good will to secure a revered burial site for his beloved Sarah. There is no indication that Abraham was trying to “convert” his neighbors, except those who had become a part of his household, to join him in the worship of his God. Apparently, this “stranger” who crossed over the Jordan and became the first Hebrew (cf. Genesis 12:1-3),[3] conducted his life in such an exemplary manner that he gained a degree of admiration from his neighbors. This is a worthy example to pass on to us as his spiritual descendants, who likewise worship his God, and who should be conducting their lives properly in whatever environment we happen to live.

Obviously, the natives were aware of the great wealth that Abraham had accumulated during his lifetime. But the status achieved through wealth did not affect his treatment of his hosts in their native land. Abraham was still humble and respectful enough to display sincere humility, by deferring to many of the local customs and accepting their norms for conducting affairs. The blessing of assets consisting of flocks and servants indicates that he had received great tangible favor from the Almighty. But what is most admirable—and certainly recognized by the Hittites—was his genuine respect for others no matter where they stood in society. This attitude is confirmed many times throughout his life, especially when we are given glimpses of his interactions with Eliezer.

In an interesting exchange of comments, the negotiations were such that Abraham utilized the favor of the local people to approach the owner:

“So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, ‘If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site’” (Genesis 23:7-9).

We then see that when Ephron heard the initial open-ended offer, he tried to save face in deference to Abraham’s favor among the locals, by back-handedly stating that he would make the transfer of ownership as a gift to the “prince of God” (Heb. nesi Elohim; Genesis 23:6, ESV):

“Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, ‘No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.’ And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there.’ Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead’” (Genesis 23:10-15).

In a clever, but apparently customary way, Ephron with witnesses present was able to place a price on the property without directly asking for compensation. Even though the price was a ridiculously high sum, Ephron was able to appear magnanimous, while still establishing the amount. But Abraham, knowing the local customs, understood in his grief what was being communicated. Without hesitation, he weighed out the purchase price before witnesses and consummated the transaction:

“Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard” (Genesis 23:16).

Four hundred shekels of silver may not sound like a tremendous amount of money given Abraham’s means, and so we should not be surprised to see how later Jewish interpreters attempted to exaggerate this a bit. The Talmud describes that these were large shekels that had the weight of 2,500 ordinary shekels (b.Bava Metzia 87a). According to this, the price that Abraham really paid for the burial cave of his wife was one million ordinary shekels of silver.[4] This interjection does seem a bit extreme, but we cannot totally blame various Jewish Sages for wanting to emphasize “Abraham’s love for Sarah,”[5] as the burial site of Abraham and Sarah is one of the three holiest sites in Judaism, along with the site of the Temple and Joseph’s tomb.

Even if four hundred shekels is all that was paid, this is a considerable sum of money for such a small plot of real estate that would only be used for one purpose. But Abraham had his priorities right, and we can conclude from the lack of negotiations and hesitation, that the Lord wanted this generous sale recorded for future generations to consider. Incidentally, He was also responsible for the prosperity that Abraham enjoyed in order to come up with the required sum!

As we consider the life, death, and final burial place of Abraham and Sarah this week, we have some serious things to consider concerning our own personal faith and how we interact with others. If we are relative outsiders in a community of people, will we show them respect and defer to some of their local customs? In Messiah Yeshua, we are told that one’s ethnicity or social background do not matter (Galatians 3:28). We have the important responsibility as members of the Body of Messiah to be generous to others, and if necessary, even show respect to “the pagans” we encounter just like Abraham did. Do we do this? Do we demonstrate the goodness of the God we serve through our attitudes—even if we may be shortchanged or even “shafted” sometimes?

The rewards for us demonstrating the good character of God in the world are not just being blessed by Him in our lives today. It especially includes our knowing that the ultimate blessing will come when His Kingdom is restored and the rule of Heaven comes to Earth, something that the Patriarchs eagerly anticipated:

“And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:15-16).

May the Heavenly City always be our focus as we seek to serve the Lord and testify of His goodness until the end of our strength and days!


NOTES

[1] The Hebrew term qever and its related verb qavar, are to be differentiated from Sheol, which regards “a subterranean place, full of thick darkness (Job 10:21, 22), in which the shades of the dead are gathered together” (H.F.W. Gesenius: Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, trans. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979], 798), in which there is some degree of consciousness (cf. Isaiah 14:9ff).

[2] Heb. ger-v’toshav anokhi immakhem (Genesis 23:4).

[3] The word for “Hebrew” is Ivri. As B.J. Beitzel notes, “It is suggested that ‘ibrî derives from the root ‘br, ‘cross over, go beyond’” (“Hebrew (people),” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. et. al., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988], 2:657).

BDB, 720 states that Ivri comes from the root word ever, meaning “one from beyond, from the other side,” “used to distinguish Isr[aelites] from foreigners,” or “from beyond the Jordan,” which has generally come to mean “one who has crossed over.”

[4] Nosson Scherman, ed., et al., The ArtScroll Chumash, Stone Edition, 5th ed. (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2000), 109.

[5] Ibid.

V’yeira

V’yeira

He appeared

“Difficult and Hesitant Questions”

Genesis 18:1-22:24
2 Kings 4:1-37 (A); 4:1-23 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, V’yeira, gives us yet another peek into the exemplary life of the Patriarch Abraham. Strong emphasis is placed on how he conducted his life and handled some of the major challenges among the people he encountered. In our reading, we see how the Lord appeared to Abraham in the form of three men, announcing to him how Sarah will have a son,[1] and we are informed from this episode how hospitality is a hallmark of Abraham’s character. Abraham has such an intimate relationship with God, that he feels comfortable enough to implore Him for mercy for any righteous inhabitants living among the perversion found in Sodom and Gomorrah.[2] After the judgment issued upon Sodom and Gomorrah,[3] Abraham’s migrations in the Negev desert and ultimate settling in Beersheba are chronicled, with details about his interactions with Abimelech.[4] During this time, we are told about the birth of Isaac and his circumcision on the eighth day,[5] Sarah’s laughing reaction to the birth,[6] and Sarah’s issues with Hagar the mother of Ishmael.[7]

One of the most significant scenes witnessed in V’yeira is the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18), commonly called the aqedah[8] in Jewish theology. This is often highlighted by commentators because it is probably the most trying test issued to Abraham by God. Believers in the Messiah of Israel obviously make a connection between Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac, and our Heavenly Father offering up His only Son, Yeshua, for the sin of humanity (cf. Hebrews 11:19). As you can imagine, there are some important things that you can meditate and reflect upon as you study the Torah this week.

These various scenes are certainly instructional, as we should focus our attention on Abraham’s life experiences, and consider to what degree we are affected or influenced by them. One particular issue encountered in V’yeira this week is a bit providential, as we read about the figure of Lot and the Divine judgment enacted upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

Why is the scene of Sodom and Gomorrah so important? I believe it is important to consider this week, primarily because of what is currently transpiring in our world. This week there is presently a dispute over a planned Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem (12 November, 2006). Here in the United States, we have heard allegations issued against an American congressman and a prominent evangelical pastor, associated with homosexual discrepancies. Recognizing the fact that we really are having to read about Sodom and Gomorrah, you have to wonder if God is trying to get our collective attention about an issue that affects every human being. When the Lord originally told Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28), this was intended to occur between one man and one woman coming together in a monogamous marriage relationship (Genesis 2:24).[9] Anything that skews this, be it men and women engaged in homosexual activities—or even unmarried men and women engaged in heterosexual activities—undeniably mars the Creator’s original intent.

Within modern Israel, the forces of evil are working overtime to discredit, denounce, and disgrace—if not eliminate—what is supposed to be a Torah-centered Jewish culture. The challenge, of course, is that the State of Israel was largely founded by secular Jews, whose main concern was to establish a country run by Jews and for Jews,[10] but whose laws are not always informed by either the Torah or Jewish religious law and tradition. Homosexuality is not a crime in modern Israel, unlike Ancient Israel.

The debate over whether or not the homosexual community in Israel can rally this week occurs in proximity to us reading not only about the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, but the reasons why God thought it necessary to decimate the two cities. In a country that upholds the Hebrew Scriptures as some basis for its existence, what does this say about the Israelis? To an extent, it says that people who live in Israel are no different or any less sinful than those living in the Jewish Diaspora, or anyone else on Planet Earth for that matter. The homosexual issue is fairly black and white when we read about it in the Scriptures, without room for any shrouded “gray” opinions. God does not mince any words when He declares that homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22). As much as we may believe that the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) has atoned for the sin of homosexuality (cf. Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 9:12)—and that God loves homosexual people—it is still absolutely unacceptable.

The more you review the history of humanity, and in particular the Bible, it is reasonable to conclude that every generation from Adam and Eve to the present has a degree of wickedness and perversion—which continues to be passed down and compounded generation after generation. Consider the fratricide of Cain (Genesis 4:8), the devolution of man’s reason to always think evil that precipitated the Flood (Genesis 6:5), the rebellion of Nimrod at Babel (Genesis 11), and many other sins and crimes against the Creator that are too numerous to list. While many sinful activities are often only manifested in the form of negative or mean-spirited attitudes, from one person or group of people toward another—physical sins which merit some kind of high penalties or capital punishment understandably get our attention. Certainly, when the world of humankind is devastated by an ecological disaster like the Flood in Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32), or cities like Sodom and Gomorrah are laid waste by a sudden catastrophe like in V’yeira, the need to recognize their significance cannot be overstated!

When we start reading Genesis 19 and the actions that take place in Sodom, with Lot and the angels who visit him (Genesis 19:1-3), what immediately jumps out at us is how sexually decrepit a society like Sodom really was. No one’s privacy, especially in the most intimate of areas, is at all respected.[11] The angels as newcomers go to Lot’s house, and people from all over the city encroach on Lot’s dwelling—demanding that they be sent out to them for their physical indulgence:

“Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them’” (Genesis 19:4-5).

It is difficult to imagine that all from the city gathered to have relations with “the strangers.” The Hebrew describes this as kol-ha’am m’qatzeh or “all the people from the extremity” (YLT). Whether this represents all of those in Sodom going to Lot’s house, or those from all sectors of Sodom is unimportant. The fact of the matter is that when the messengers arrived at Lot’s house, word got out that some visitors were in town, and this spread all throughout the city. A huge mob of sexually debauched men were ready to encroach upon them, screaming “Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them!” (NLT). Even if we disapprove of homosexual activities today, most gays and lesbians in the Twenty-First Century do not act like this, and tend to maintain a high degree of sensibility.

As bad as the sinful behavior was in Sodom, Lot had not been tempted to become a homosexual during his time in the area, unlike most of the people. This is noted by a comment that comes forth from the lusting crowd as Lot prepares to protect his guests:

“‘Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ But they said, ‘Stand aside.’ Furthermore, they said, ‘This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.’ So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door” (Genesis 19:8-9).

Lot’s relatively new residency in Sodom allowed him to still be considered an “alien” or “foreigner” (HCSB)[12] in the community. Despite the threat of physical harm against him, Lot stood his ground and protected his visitors. Oddly, Lot was willing to sacrifice his two virgin daughters to the mob, rather than allow his two visitors to be sexually violated. Whether he actually would allow them to take his two daughters, or that this was a cue from him to God’s messengers standing by to employ some supernatural powers, cannot be known. The homosexuality of Sodom was so bad, though, that Lot’s daughters were refused.

The morning after Lot protected his visitors, they told him that the city would be judged. Lot was to take his family away from the city in order to avoid certain death and damnation along with the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. At this point, we find that “righteous Lot” actually hesitated before departing[13]:

“Then the two men said to Lot, ‘Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it.’ Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, ‘Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.’ But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting. When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.’ But Lot said to them, ‘Oh no, my lords! Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.’ He said to him, ‘Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the town was called Zoar. The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar” (Genesis 19:12-23).

We find that Lot not only hesitated when warned to flee, but that the messengers actually had to grab his hand and the hands of his wife and daughters in order to lead them away from the city. How could “righteous Lot,” who so bravely protected these two angels from certain gang rape by the men of Sodom, been reluctant to leave Sodom? We might think that despite the obvious perversion of the Sodomites, Lot had become comfortable or tolerant of their abominable acts. Maybe he just had too much property and holdings in the city to easily leave. Or, is there something else we can conclude from the account of Genesis 19? Here we find that when the messengers arrive in Sodom, they find Lot in the gate:

“Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground” (Genesis 19:1).

The fact that Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom is significant. In ancient times, the gate of a city was where the elders or leaders of a community customarily spent their time discussing various political, economic, judicial, military, and various other matters. Of course, in the Ancient Near East all of these matters were closely entwined, as many cities were generally responsible for protecting themselves from marauders from without, and dissension from within. Here at the gate, the well being, and if necessary, the survival of the city was debated and discussed, with decisions agreed upon and implemented.

Since the text mentions that Lot was actually sitting at the city gate of Sodom, it is fair to conclude that Lot was among the leading or influential voices of the city. It is possible that in some way Lot was trying to reform Sodom—in spite of the difficulty—by his testimony of the Living God that he served. No doubt, Lot would have naturally received some respect among his peers from the incident that had transpired a number of years earlier, when Sodom was overrun by the allied kings, who plundered the city (Genesis 14). One notable event took place after Abram had rescued Lot and his family from the ransacking armies. Abram told the king of Sodom that his God was responsible for delivering Lot:

“The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.’ Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, “I have made Abram rich.” I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share’” (Genesis 14:21-24).

Whether this testimony to the king of Sodom elevated Lot in the estimation of the Sodomites is not known, but the record remains that Lot was among those gathered at the gate of Sodom when the angels arrived. I think that it is possible that Lot was doing his best to communicate the holiness of the Most High God to his neighbors (even if he did make mistakes like trying to give his two virgin daughters to the mob). Perhaps Lot already had a history of demonstrating a degree of righteousness when he was condemned for being a judge over the Sodomites (Genesis 19:9). He certainly advocated heterosexual unions, as his daughters were betrothed to the young men of Sodom (Genesis 19:12). When you combine these insights with the fact that Abraham’s request for salvation for the righteous of Sodom (Genesis 18:27-32), resulted in only Lot’s family being spared, we see compiled together something that is both encouraging as well as sobering. Lot was surely considered “righteous,” but he definitely had made some serious errors. Let us not forget how the very reason that Lot ended up in Sodom was so there would be no division with his uncle (Genesis 13:8-12).

There is certainly a great deal of drama witnessed from what transpires in Genesis ch. 19, the scene of the angels going to pull Lot and his family from the sinful locus of Sodom, followed by God’s judgment via fire and brimstone. We immediately think that Lot living in this town has made him one who was totally compromised with the world and its ways. To a degree, Lot certainly was. But we need to temper this with recognizing how ultimately, the Apostle Peter actually refers to Lot as a righteous man, who personally suffered because of the lawless activities he saw occur around him:

“[A]nd if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:7-10).

From the Creation of the world and the Fall of humanity, there have been significant problems with “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Sin manifests itself on many different levels, but the scene of something like Sodom and Gomorrah, and its homosexual roots (cf. Romans 1:20-32), are not easily forgotten. While there are any number of severe sins to be considered, all worthy of extreme judgment according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), what we read about in V’yeira is to be taken as a sign of a much more severe judgment to come to those who are unrepentant (2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7; cf. Revelation 21:8).[14]

How do Messiah followers today react to this, who largely live in Western societies where traditional sexual mores are being assaulted on so many different levels? How are we to respond to the growing number of men and women who proudly declare to willing media outlets their sexual preferences? While the Scriptures testify that this is not a new thing among humans, what should we be doing in the various “gates” where the Lord has us uniquely positioned?

The only answer I can give you—beyond maintaining our own personal integrity—is to simply point people to the eternal redemption that is found only in Messiah Yeshua. We must demonstrate this by our faithfulness to the Lord and to His ways every day. Our behavior must be impeccable. Our prayers should be for the salvation of those who are turned over to the lust of their flesh, rather than to harshly condemn their actions. Consider some of the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, living in the midst of a culture that looked quite favorably on homosexual and lewd heterosexual activity. He urges restraint in how we may judge and condemn other people:

“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4).

Let me recommend that we do not judge or eternally condemn the homosexuals in Jerusalem, or the congressman or pastor of recent note—or anyone for that matter engaged in any unacceptable sexual activities (gay or straight). We need to instead pray for their salvation, deliverance, and complete repentance.

The fact is, my friends, each one of us at one point or another in our lives, has at the very least had inappropriate sexual thoughts (cf. Matthew 5:28). Some of you have been involved in pre-marital sexual activities, have been caught in an extra-marital affair, or may have had issues involving pornography. If we look at gay and lesbian sin as somehow being worse than unacceptable heterosexual activities, then we have not at all been fair. Furthermore, even if we have been relatively sexually pure in our lives, this does not mean that there might not be other areas which need improvement. If we are sexually pure, but we are thieves or swindlers, we have still violated God’s Law and are condemned by it. If we are faithful in the marriage bond, but treat our spouse with verbal contempt and abuse, we have broken Torah.

Consider the list of sins summarized by the Apostle Paul, which litters every sector of human culture all over the globe—in both ancient times and up until today:

“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:28-32).

These sins and their commensurate penalties should cause us all to seriously pause for a moment and make sure that we have our accounts in order with the Lord. Too frequently in today’s Messianic community, the only sins that tend to stir people can be when we think of various Christians who do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath/Shabbat, the appointed times of Leviticus 23, or eat kosher. The sins that got First Century Jews stirred up about the pagans around them were actually those of idolatry and lewd sexuality (Wisdom 14:12; 2 Maccabees 6:4). Is it possible that in desiring to see “Torah” restored to God’s people, some of today’s Messianic teachers and leaders have an unbalanced emphasis? Are we not to be appropriate beacons of upstanding behavior in all areas of life?

The very fact, that in our time many formerly conservative Christian denominations and churches have embraced the homosexual agenda,[15] has been a cause for many individuals to return to a spiritual foundation in the Old Testament or the Tanakh. While there have always been Christian theological traditions which have respected the Law of Moses for ethical and moral instruction, today’s Messianic movement has the unique capacity to give such Believers much more in terms of their Hebraic Roots, and in really living like our Jewish Savior Jesus and His Apostles. How might Messianic Believers like you and I be positioned, either now or in the near future, to answer their questions as they are convicted by the Holy Spirit that they need to commit themselves to a faithful reading of Moses’ Teaching every week?

I urge you to take this before our Heavenly Father in prayer, as He refines you for some important service in the days to come!


NOTES

[1] Genesis 18:1-16.

[2] Genesis 18:17-33.

[3] Genesis 19:1-29.

[4] Genesis 20:1-18; 21:22-34.

[5] Genesis 21:1-8.

[6] Genesis 21:6-7.

[7] Genesis 21:9-21.

[8] Cf. Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature (New York: Judaica Treasury, 2004), 1105.

[9] Cf. Mark 10:7-8; Mathew 19:5; 1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31.

[10] If you have never done so, do be sure to read through, at one point or another, Theodor Herzl’s seminal work, The Jewish State (1896).

[11] It is useful to remember that while there was a high degree of homosexuality present in Sodom and Gomorrah, many of those who were homosexual were probably bisexual, at least for the purposes of having children.

[12] Heb. verb gur.

[13] The verb appearing in Genesis 19:16 is mahah, appearing in the Hitpael stem (intensive action, active voice), meaning “hesitate, tarry, delay” (HALOT, 1:552).

[14] For an analysis of the false teaching known as annihilationism, consult Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), and the article “Why Hell Must Be Eternal” by J.K. McKee.

[15] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website “Romans 1:26-27.”

Lekh-Lekha

Lekh-Lekha

Get yourself out

“Go Forth and Receive Blessings”

Genesis 12:1-17:27
Isaiah 40:27-41:16


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Perhaps one of the most often quoted and well known Torah passages, about the unique relationship between the Eternal Creator and Abraham—often considered to be the “father of faith” (cf. Romans 4:11-16)—is found in the opening passage of the parashah we are considering this week:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran” (Genesis 12:1-4).

Here in the command to “Go forth,” Abram is called out of the relative luxury of Ur, as he is one who was firmly embedded in the local culture with his extended family. We get the impression that he was a well-to-do businessman, living in a city adjacent to the lower Euphrates River (modern-day Iraq) as it flowed into the Persian Gulf.

Without any apparent or recorded hesitation, Abram was commanded by the Holy One to leave his home and relocate to a more remote location, at the age of seventy-five and without a physical heir to his estate. When we encounter God’s request as Bible readers, we think that this must have been met with some skepticism, or at least curiosity. Yet, Abraham responded obediently, and for the next century from the Torah’s record (cf. Genesis 25:7), it is abundantly clear that Abram/Abraham was a unique man whose impact upon the future generations of those who have sought the Creator is immeasurable in human terms.

Great lessons for God’s people today can be appropriated as we read about and significantly consider the exemplary life exhibited by Abraham. Throughout his experiences with God, he was asked to simply follow Him, and step out in complete and total trust and faith. Unlike those of later times, who had the collective wisdom and communal history of hearing about how the Lord had interacted with their people in the past, Abraham was having to chart unknown territory. God simply interjected Himself into Abraham’s life, and he had to place his total confidence into this unseen Deity. The Holy One was undoubtedly testing Abraham’s heart to confirm that he was going to be entirely loyal to Him. His wholehearted belief in the words and promises of God is summarized in how his trust (Heb. verb aman) was considered to be righteousness:

“Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. And He said to him, ‘I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it’” (Genesis 15:6-7).

This critical juncture in Abraham’s life describes that he absolutely believed in the Almighty and took Him at His word. His confidence to recognize that the Creator had his best intentions in mind, in transplanting him from his home country to a relatively unknown and unseen Promised Land, had to be immense. It is not like when any of us has to move from one city to another city, or one region to another region, when already we have a fairly good idea about the place we are relocating to. Abraham knew nothing about where he was going, except what God had told him. He heard the voice of the Lord and believed without any hesitation.

Time and again throughout the course of history, followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have had to respond to whether or not they are truly going to serve Him. They face various tests and trials permitted by Him, as they are forced to demonstrate their loyalty and obedience to the Lord and His ways. The examples of how this works are seen throughout the Scriptures, and are too numerous to list—but just about everyone who has expressed a belief in God has had to go through some kind of testing at one point or another in their life. The challenge for each of us is to simply pass the tests, just like Abraham—because having to repeat a test because of unbelief, or even disobedience, is never something that anyone wants to do. Therefore, it is critical for God’s people to develop an inherent faith component that gains encouragement and fortitude from examples like that of Abraham.

In Genesis chs. 15&16 we read about how Abram’s trusted servant Eliezer of Damascus will not be his heir,[1] the agreement struck with God between the animal pieces,[2] the cohabitation with Hagar giving birth to Ishmael,[3] and God’s announcement that Sarah will give birth to a son.[4] Genesis 17:1-8 summarizes what has become known as the Abrahamic Covenant, including God’s promises to multiply Abraham’s seed, making him fruitful, and giving Him the Land of Canaan for perpetuity:

“Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.’ Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’”

Genesis 17 is doubtlessly loaded with so many things to digest, that all I can do is stand amazed at its future implications for the generations that followed! When we study the life experiences of Abraham, and the others who came after him, I am greatly encouraged that I am doing the right thing when I consider what the Torah teaches me about faith. The author of Hebrews later asserts how Believers in the Messiah of Israel have a tremendous cloud of witnesses behind them in history, whose previous life examples are to serve as a testimony of how we are to continue the legacy they began:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Yeshua, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

The life of faith is not often something easy for any generation to demonstrate. Even today, knowing that the Savior has come and has been sacrificed for human sins, each of us still has to step out in total confidence and place ourselves in the Lord’s hands. As important as it is to live forth the proper actions of faith, it is ultimately our belief in Yeshua’s accomplished work at Golgotha (Calvary) that ultimately reckons us righteous:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).

When the Sages considered an appropriate Haftarah selection for this Torah reading, they focused on some words from the Prophet Isaiah. Here, in another often known and beloved passage, Isaiah speaks about how God provides strength and vigor to those mortals who look to Him for deliverance. God’s people are to wait upon Him, as they seek after Him for provision and steadfastness:

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:27-31).

I find this to be a beautiful passage, which gives those pursuing God hope that there is a way and a time for everything! May we be found trusting, faithful, and patient when we need to go forth in order to receive the blessings of our faith and obedience to Him. Perhaps more importantly, may we be able to pass on a positive legacy to those who come after us, that they should likewise seek the Lord in all things.


NOTES

[1] Genesis 15:1-6.

[2] Genesis 15:7-21.

[3] Genesis 16:1-6.

[4] Genesis 16:7-16.