- The readings for this week 24-30 December 2017 are called VaYechi—“And He [i.e. Jacob] Lived”
TORAH: Genesis 47:28—50:26
This week’s readings bring us to the end of the Book of Genesis.
They encompass the last seventeen years of Jacob’s life in Egypt, his blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, his final prophetic Word over his twelve sons, his death, the return of his body to Hebron for burial, and the life of Joseph in Egypt until his death there at the age of 110.
*Genesis 47:29. “Now if I have found favor in your sight, please…deal kindly and truly with me. Please do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers; you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.”
We have noticed in how many ways Joseph presents a picture of the coming Saviour, Yeshua. Here Jacob requests of him to “deal kindly and truly with me” and to “carry me out of Egypt to lie with my fathers”. As we have mentioned often, the words “kindly” and “truly” are chesed and emet—two words we have seen and shall see together often in the Torah. John 1:16-17 tells us, “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the Torah was given through Moses, but lovingkindness and truth (Modern Hebrew translation: chesed v’emet) came through Yeshua the Messiah.” As Joseph would in kindness and truth be faithful to take his father out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land where his fathers had been buried, so Yeshua carries those who entrust themselves to his chesed and emet out of the bondage of death and into the presence of His Father and the resting place of those who have gone before!
*Genesis 47:31b (NASB). “Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed.”
The Hebrew word for “bed” (mita) bears the same letters as the word for “staff” (mateh). The translators of the Greek Septuagint used in New Testament times (translated several hundred years earlier), chose the meaning “staff” here. This evidently is what is referred to in the New Covenant Scripture Hebrews 11:21, “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.” What is clear is that Jacob had become strong in worship and in faith (notice his attributions to God in 48:3; 48:9,11, 15-16; 48:20-21), and it was this which enabled him to deliver in holy authority the prophetic utterances of Chapter 49.
*Genesis 48:5. “And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.”
In fact, because of Reuben’s sin against his father (see I Chronicles 5:1-2), his birthright was transferred to Joseph, the first-born of Rachel, and thence to his two sons. Of these two sons, already here, even before Jacob delivers his blessing, Ephraim is named first. In the future his name would at times be used as a synonym for Israel, “For I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is my First Born” (Jeremiah 31:9).
*Genesis 48:7 (ESV). “As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way [from Bethel] to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).
In this brief mention of Rachel’s death, one senses the tenderness which Jacob still felt for her over forty years after her death (49:31 seems to show an affection which had grown also for the previously hated Leah). As has been pointed out, this passage, along with 35:19 and I Samuel 10:2, also point towards the location of Rachel’s tomb as being in the area of Benjamin (just northwest of Jerusalem) rather than southward, adjacent to Bethlehem as is held by Rabbinic tradition.
*Genesis 48:20. “By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!’”
This blessing is in many Jewish households still spoken today on Friday evenings by a father over his sons before the Erev-Shabbat meal.
*Genesis 48:21 (ESV). “Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers.”
“God will be with you!” Jacob had come to know and trust in Imannu-El.—the “With-Us God”. God had promised this to Jacob at Bethel (“Behold, I am with you and will guard you wherever you go…for I will not leave you…” 28:15), where Jacob promised that if He would be “with him” and guard him, and bring him back safely, he YHVH would be his God. There were many other times within his long life when he would be reminded of God’s presence with him (Genesis 31:3; 31:42; 32:24,28; 35:13). At Beersheba, where Jacob offered sacrifices before going down to Egypt, God had again spoken to him, “I will go down with you to Egypt…”(Genesis 46:4).
*Genesis 48:22. Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”
If the last part of these verses refers to an actual battle in which Jacob took part, it is not recorded in Scripture (Might Jacob have yielded up his weapons as a sign of peace, when purchasing the land in 33:19—a peace later violated by Simeon and Levi?). The Hebrew for this passage contains obscurities which continue to puzzle Biblical scholars into our own day. The main difficulties center around the words translated here “mountain slope.” The Hebrew words are shekhem ehad. Ehad means “one” and shekhemmay refer to a “shoulder”, or a “shoulder or ridge of a mountain”—or to the town of Shechem (Modern-day Nablus) itself.
Evidently Joseph understood it to mean a portion of land in the vicinity of Shechem, since he would over 400 years later be buried “at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph(Joshua 24:32).
Shekhem Echad also forms an idiom meaning “shoulder to shoulder” or “as one man”—and the future territories of inheritance for both Ephraim and Manasseh would come together at this point. This is obviously the meaning when these two words appear again in Zephaniah 3:9 (which some here see as prophesying the rebirth of the Hebrew language precedent to God’s restoring Israel to her land), “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one accord.
Genesis 49: 1-27
There are mysteries concerning the meaning or intent of much of the poetic prophecy released by Israel over his sons in Chapter 49. We shan’t presume to comment on all of these. Some of the difficulties lie in the exact meaning of the Hebrew text as we have it today; and there are mysteries regarding the interpretation of some of the prophetic words which Jacob speaks forth. Genesis 49:1 speaks of what will befall Israel in the “last days.” Perhaps this has bearing on the identity of the descendants of Jacob and their land in days still to come (This despite the fact that most Jews today have no idea from which tribe they are descended). Over 400 years after the release of these words, they were supplemented with further prophetic words by Moses (Deuteronomy 33). Perhaps, as with some words shown to Daniel (Daniel 12:9), some of these are “closed up and sealed till the time of the end.” As we read, let us pray that these words, sent forth by the Spirit will not return to God void (Isaiah 55:11), but will indeed accomplish what He pleases, and prosper that for which they were sent out!
*Genesis 49:5. “Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruel violence (Hebrew: hamas) their trade. Let my soul not enter into their secret council, their assembly my presence shun. For in their fury they slaughtered men, at their pleasure they tore down ramparts. Cursed be their fury so fierce, and their wrath so remorseless! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”
The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20); in the case of these two brothers, it produced senseless slaughter of many innocent men. It would also result in loss or dispersion of much of their future inheritance; Simeon’s territory would be enclosed within that of Judah, and Levi would have no separate territory at all.
*Genesis 49:10-11. “Judah is a lion’s whelp…The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.”
There has historically been great mystery surrounding this passage, part of it related to what exactly is meant by the Hebrew word transliterated “Shiloh”. It appears clear, nevertheless, that it is referring to One who is to come, to whom the “scepter” truly belongs, and who will be worthy of “the obedience of the people.” There seem to be further hints in the New Testament: Matthew 21:2-7 refers to a donkey tied with its colt upon which Yeshua would enter Jerusalem; Revelation 7:14 speaks of those whose garments will have been “washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb”; and Revelation 19:13 foretells One called “Faithful and True” clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, and His name is also called “The Word of God.”
PLEASE PRAY: for revelation in Israel that the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David” has come—and is coming again as King of Kings and Lord of Lords! (Revelation 5:5; 19:16).
*Genesis 49:29-31. “Then [Jacob] charged them and said to them: I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite…There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah…” Something in the way she is mentioned in this passage suggests that by the end of Leah’s life (and the many years following), she who had been hated (Genesis 29:31) had grown in Jacob’s affections, and indeed his love.
*Genesis 50:19-20. JOSEPH (To his brothers after the death of their father Jacob): “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
“For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Martin & Norma Sarvis
The readings for next week (31 December 2017—6 January 2018) are called Sh’mot—“Names”
TORAH: Exodus 1:1—6:1
HAFTARAH: Isaiah 27:6—28:13; 29:22-23