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.