Parasha #9

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 Parashah #09: Vayeshev (He continued living)

(Genesis 37:1 – 40:23)

Additional Readings:
Amo. 2:6-3:8; Act. 7:9-16

Previous parashah recap We ended last week’s Parasha with the death of Rachel, Reuben going into fornication with one of his father’s concubine, and the genealogies of the Edomites.

  • Gen. 37:1 – We start today’s portion of the Torah by being told that Jacob decided to stay and dwell where Isaac his father did before him. In the land of Canaan which goes with the name of today’s parasha.

  • Gen. 37:2 – The word ‘history’ of Jacob is actually meant to be ‘generations’. This makes more sense as we see that from this point on very little is mentioned about Jacob. Instead we read the story of Jacob’s sons and grandsons: 3 generations again!

  • This parasha tells us the start of Joseph’s story, with an interlude in chapter 38 about the story of Judah.

  • It is obvious that there was generational dysfunction in the family of Isaac. Jacob took over from Esau and became first. There was also favouritism going on as Isaac preferred Esau while Rebecca preferred Jacob. Eventually Jacob had to flee because Esau wanted to kill him for taking his birth right.

    In Gen. 37:3 we see the same pattern repeating itself; Jacob loved Joseph more than all the other children; so much that he even made him a special coat.

  • Gen. 37:2 – Joseph gave a bad report about the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, and they all hated him, including Leah’s sons. The bitterness spread to the others even though no wrong was done to them personally; this lines up with Heb. 12:15

  • God gave Joseph the gift of dreams and interpretation of dreams. 1 Cor. 12:7-10 tells us of the nine gifts of the spirit, but they are not the only gifts we can get from The Lord. Dreams and interpretation of dreams are two of the other gifts. Throughout the old testament there are over 100 gifts the Lord can give to His people.

  • Sometimes, when the person is unrefined, God’s gifts can put us in trouble, like with Joseph’s dreams which got him into trouble with his brothers. In any other family this may not have affected the brothers in such a way; but there was already an account of a younger brother (Jacob) ruling over the older (Esau), and so they knew it was a serious matter. They therefore had a solid foundation for their anger (even if not justified).

  • Something a lot of people don’t realise is that Joseph was not such a good man. He clearly had interpretation of his dreams, so why did he need to tell his brothers and rub it in their faces? He had an issue of pride. In the rest of the story we see his trials and tribulations change him and break his pride; he learns to be humble.

  • Gen. 37:9-11 – Jacob rebuked Joseph, not for the dream, but for the way he presented it, with pride. For God resists the proud (Pro. 3:34 LXX; Jam. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5) and is never prideful Himself, seeking to be instead well pleased with His children, never proud of them (Gen. 17:1; 48:15 LXX; Mat. 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; etc.).

  • Again we see a pattern repeating itself – Joseph’s brothers plot to kill him, just like Esau did with Jacob.

  • Gen. 37:3 – In the Septuagint it says Jacob made a coat of many colours; in other translations is says a long sleeved robe; the ISV says a richly embroidered tunic. The Hebrew word is ‘pas’ which is a rare word meaning a ‘long robe’. The root of this word also means palm of the hand. What this means is that the coat was made of many small palm-like patches sown together. It is possible that each patch was a slightly different colour, but this is not certain. According to traditions, the Semitic leaders wore robes with lots of colours.
    The robe given to Joseph was a royal, costly garment made for leadership; this reinforced to the brothers that Joseph was about to take over their inheritance.

  • Then Joseph had another dream showing that his parents would bow down to him too, but Jacob wasn’t pleased to hear it and therefore rebuked Joseph which in turn justified his brothers in their hatred of him. For even their dad, who loved him so much, told him off for what they saw as a delusion of grandeur, and the pride going with it didn’t help Joseph’s case. But as said before Joseph was not rebuked for the dream but for the way he presented it, for Jacob kept the dream in mind (v.11). This shows that God had for design to make Joseph the family leader. Looking back we can see that Jacob was meant to marry Rachel first and he got tricked by Laban. Joseph and Benjamin were the children born out of love, whilst the others out of duty. Joseph being the first born out of love. So Jacob giving the coat to Joseph was not out of line. The main problem was that Jacob couldn’t share his love equally between his children. He couldn’t put in his head that they were all, equally, blessings from God.

  • One day the opportunity presented itself to do something about it and the brothers acted upon it. As Joseph was looking for them, sent by his father to do so, the brothers spotted him from afar and decided to kill him (like Esau and Jacob, like Cain and Abel). Fortunately Reuben, the first born, was against killing him, so he protested and invented a ruse to save Joseph. He convinced his brothers to dump him in one of the empty deep caves around being used as water cisterns and to let him die there. Like this he could come back later on and rescue him.

  • Why did Reuben protect Joseph when he also hated him? That was because Reuben was the eldest, which meant he was in charge, and if something went wrong it would be on his head, as his reaction and comment showed later on. So it was not out of love that he protected Joseph, but only out of concern for himself.

  • Joseph is thrown in the cistern and Reuben goes for a while (probably checking on the flocks). During this time Judah decides that it’s a bad idea to kill their brother for there’s no gain in it for them and he’s their own flesh and blood too. So seeing some Medianites merchants, he convinced his brothers to sell Joseph to them as a slave for a bit of money (silver in the Masoretic texts, gold in the LXX).

  • Gen. 37:29-30 – Then when Reuben comes back Joseph is gone and his distress is not so much about what happened to his brother but more about how he can present it: Where can I go now, or how can I show up when I’m the one responsible for all here and the blame will fall on me…

  • So the brothers decide cover what happened by making Jacob believe that Joseph was devoured by wild beasts (they used his garment and dipped it in the blood of a male goat).

  • Jacob recognising the garment and falling for the lie goes into deep mourning and just wants to die, and no one can comfort him.

  • Here the brothers represent the 12 tribes of Israel – Joseph was betrayed by his brother (Judah) for money. This also lines up with the 12 disciples, where Jesus was betrayed by Judas for silver.

    Joseph saved his brothers in the end – that is the same as what Jesus did. Through his trials, everyone was saved. Joseph was an archetype of Christ. Everything that happened in the story of Joseph, pointed toward Christ in the future.

  • During that time Joseph is taken captive into Egypt, sold to the captain of Pharaoh’s guards Potifar. Or so we are told, but reading the NETS bible we see that Potifar was a chief butcher for Pharaoh. When checked in both original languages we find that it’s actually the case, he was either a chief butcher or a chief cook!

  • After being taken as slave, Joseph received another gift – prosperity. No matter what he did or where he went, he prospered. This is also an old testament gift.
    There are many people who are very gifted but never prosper because they take all the glory and credit for themselves and move in pride; this brings a curse. But Joseph didn’t move in pride; instead he kept thanking God for his prosperity, which brought even more increase, to the point where Joseph went from being a slave, to being put in charge of everything.

  • Gen. 39:6-12 – this has an important lesson for us. When someone tries to entice us into any sin, we have to follow Joseph’s example. First, we must refuse and state why we do so. Make it clear to the person that what they are doing is sin, or looks like sin, as in appear evil (1 The. 5:22), and you do not want to partake in it. Then you stand your ground and resist any pressure they may put on you. Then if they still persist, you must try to avoid that person at all costs, just like Joseph did, (2 Cor. 6:14-18, Rom. 16:17-19, 2 Tim. 3:1-5). If you end up getting cornered like Joseph did, don’t give in; you may even need to run away or call for help. There’s a law in the old testament that says if a person is forced, and they didn’t call out for help, they are guilty. But if they tried to call for help, they are not guilty. We must try everything we can to resist sin, no matter what the consequence, for it is better to die righteous, than to live in sin (Mat. 10:28, Luk. 12:4-5).

  • When an unrighteous person is convicted of their sin, it is not uncommon for them to slander the righteous and try to get them in trouble; just like what Potifar’s wife did to Joseph. We must be prepared to face this kind of persecution when standing our ground. It’s a way to somewhat lessen the conviction they feel about their own doing, for if the righteous is found guilty that would surely mean, in their twisted mind at least, that they, the wicked, aren’t so bad at all, they find themselves justified, for they aren’t in jail so they aren’t too bad guys.

  • Gen. 39:20 – Joseph was put in jail, a special jail for Pharaoh’s prisoners, because Potifar’s wife invented a story about Joseph trying to rape her and how she made him run by calling out for help, which by the way seems to be an attempt to make herself seen as righteous but twisting the events in her favour in pleading, knowingly or not, the Torah of God (Deu. 22:23-27; Rom. 2:12-15). Yet even there, he continued to prosper and was made the supervisor of the jail. Another gift of the Lord is having favour in the sight of men (Pro. 3:4, 1 Sam. 2:26) – If we live righteously, we will find favour with men, even though many may hate us.

  • Then at some stage during Joseph’s ordeal, 2 officials were thrown in jail for having offended Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s personal cupbearer and his baker. God gave both of them dreams that Joseph interpreted for them.

  • Gen. 40:8 – The gift of interpreting dreams may be upon someone, but God is the one who gives the interpretation. By Joseph saying what he said, he remained humble and gave the glory to God. No matter what gift we are given, we must remember that the Lord gives and takes away (Job 1:21, 1 Sam. 2:6-7), it belongs to Him, not us. We are only entrusted with gifts to help others, but if we start taking the glory for ourselves and moving in pride, He can take them away.
    Both dreams meant that in 3 days from the time of their dream they’d be released and presented to Pharaoh, the cupbearer to be reinstated in his job, the baked to be hanged with the birds eating his body. Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him and talk to Pharaoh about his case but he completely forgot about him.

  • Now let’s go back to the middle of this parasha where normally the story of Joseph is interrupted to give us an account of the life of Judah.
    Gen. 38
    – Judah married Shua (meaning wealth) and had 3 sons:

    1. Er – meaning watchful;

    2. Onan – meaning strong;

    3. Shelah – meaning petition or request.

  • Gen. 38:7 – Many people believe the law only came into action with Moses; But we know that without law, there is no conviction of sin (Rom. 5:13), and therefore there can be no punishment. So why did God kill Er? We are told Er was wicked, evil in the eyes of the Lord. Sin cannot be imputed if there is no Torah but here we see that Er was killed by God on account of his wickedness. But a standard, a measure is needed to declare someone wicked, and for that wickedness to bring the Divine judgement of death upon the person being so it means that instructions were given and broken. So as this scripture says for sin to be imputed it meant that the Torah was already there. Since we know that God is good and righteous, we must conclude from this scripture, that instruction/Torah was existing prior to the time of Moses. If not, God could not have killed Er for his sin. Likewise, He could not have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; Nor could He have sent the flood in Noah’s time. The instructions of God have been present right from the very start. God instructed Adam in the garden. When Moses came along, the law became written; Before that, it was only passed on (oral law).

  • Let’s look at the story of Jonah, and of Sodom and Gomorrah – through Jonah, God warned the people of Nineveh to turn from their sins, and they did. Did God do the same with Sodom and Gomorrah? Did he send someone to warn them of their sins? In a way He did; Lot was a righteous man living amongst the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and when they wanted to rape the angels, Lot resisted, yet the people refused to do the right thing. On the other hand, the people of Nineveh were not aware of their sins at first.
    God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8), He will not destroy you if you are not aware of your sin; He will bring it to your attention in one way or another. In the mean time you will still suffer the curses of your sin, but once it is brought to your attention, you have a choice to make, and if you choose to stay in sin, there is no more grace period. Nineveh chose to turn away from their sin, and God spared them, but a century later, they were destroyed for moving back into sin. God did not send someone to warn them again, because this time they knew.

  • What happened with Onan is even more telling. Since Er was married with Tamar and that he was killed before having children, Onan, the second brother, was told to go have sex with Tamar to keep the line of Er alive. And because Onan had sex with Tamar but did everything to avoid making her pregnant on the account that the child wouldn’t be his, God killed him. For that was a wicked in the eyes of the Lord.

  • Gen. 38:8 – this is part of God’s instructions and is found in the Law of Moses also (Deu. 25:5). A ‘duty’ comes from an instruction; one that was already in place. That specific instruction has to do with resurrection – To give an inheritance to the one who will be raised back up to life; to make sure that the lines are preserved for the inheritance; to make sure that at the resurrection, all the lines the Lord wants as righteous, will be there. This instruction is also seen in the time of Jesus (Mar. 12:19-27), Jesus never said the instruction was done away with; He said God is the God of the living, not the dead. It’s no longer about marriage, but about who will be brought back to life; it’s about the line of succession. The raising of the seed is in light of the resurrection, for when all are risen to see their posterity with them, to have their posterity has inheritance.

  • Now because Judah feared that his last son would be wicked too, he didn’t give him to Tamar as he said he would and as he should’ve done. So out of despair she schemed to get that seed to raise.

  • Gen. 38:24 – Tamar disguised herself as a temple prostitute and became pregnant – without law there is no punishment for sin – in the Law of Moses, harlotry was punishable by death. But the instruction must have been in place long before the time of Moses because Judah knew about it, and was ready to kill Tamar for her actions. He didn’t because Tamar had the tokens he gave her shown to him and that brought back the entire event in his memory. Tamar did sin, but Judah was also in sin, one preceding hers because he broke the instruction of the Lord, and lied to Tamar; he never gave his youngest son to her like he pledged he would, therefore Tamar did what was necessary in order to fulfil her duty (to go forth and multiply and carry on the line). So Tamar’s sin was the result of Judah’s in the first place. For sin will always breed sin and spread from a person to another. It’s important to note here that Tamar wasn’t right to do what she did, it’s still called sin. There were other ways she could have tried, like talking to Judah as he passed by… But Judah couldn’t go into accusing her for he was the one from whom all originated in the first place.

  • Tamar ended up giving birth to twins. One of them being the forefather or Boaz, who married Ruth, who became the forefather of king David, who was the forefather of Yeshua the messiah. Tamar was not punished for her sin; she was vindicated because she respected the law, in the spirit of the law, but she still suffered for her sin, because she ended up with no man at all for the rest of her life, and no more children either (this is a form of a curse to look into, being unable to marry, ending with no children, or being limited in them due to the lack of spouse or willingness from the spouse).

  • In the stories of Judah and Joseph, we see that the Lord stays with those who keep their trust in Him. In Judah’s story, we learn a more valuable lesson from looking at Tamar, not Judah. Even in despair and gloomy circumstances, the Lord will cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28) and we can trust that as long as we are willing, He will finish the work He starts in us (Php. 1:6).

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