1 Kings 3:15-4:1
by Mark Huey
Mikkeitz, which is being considered as the Torah portion for this week, continues the narrative about the life of Joseph in Egypt. Joseph finally realized the manifestation of his dreams about his brothers bowing before him. Since being cast into a pit by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt, Joseph had to endure false accusations from Potiphar’s wife, which eventually landed him in an Egyptian jail. Yet, from our previous reading, V’yeishev(Genesis 37:1-40:23), Joseph’s faith, in the “word” he discerned from the dreams he had received as a youth, had “tested” him and continued to keep him looking to the Holy One for guidance and comfort (Psalm 105:19).
As this parashah unfolds, it is Joseph’s God-given ability to interpret dreams that ultimately placed him second to Pharaoh, prior to the Almighty using a regional famine to force the sons of Jacob to travel to Egypt from Canaan in search of food. The underlying irony weaved throughout these circumstances is the apparent lack of faith exhibited by the sons of Jacob, as they encountered their inquisitions before the concealed Joseph. The Psalmist summarized an outline of these events centuries later, as all of these circumstances were designed by the Almighty to eventually teach the brothers wisdom, which culminated in a great trust and faith in Him. They would finally be able to understand that the Lord was ultimately in control of the circumstances of their lives:
“And He called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, He himself was laid in irons; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him. The king sent and released him, the ruler of peoples, and set him free. He made him lord of his house and ruler over all his possessions, to imprison his princes at will, that he might teach his elders wisdom” (Psalm 105:16-22).
In turning to our Torah reading, we are once again reminded of the plight of Joseph, as he languished in the jail reserved for the prisoners of Pharaoh and other high ranking officials. From last week’s parashah, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams had been recognized by the cupbearer, as Joseph accurately interpreted the fatal dream of the baker and the restorative dream of Pharaoh’s wine steward (Genesis 40). However, for two full years, the cupbearer did not honor Joseph’s request to plead for his release from the jail (Genesis 40:14). So, we see how Mikkeitz opens with Pharaoh’s description of a puzzling dream:
“He restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing by the Nile” (Genesis 40:21-41:1).
Dreams received and the God-given ability to interpret dreams were a significant part of Joseph’s life, and his specific walk with the Lord. As we later discover (Genesis 41:46), Joseph had spent some thirteen or so years either enslaved or incarcerated in Egypt, and he had not yet realized the dream he had of ruling over his family. Still, when given an opportunity while in jail to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer, he confidently acknowledged his God as the source of dream interpretations (Genesis 40:8).
After a two year stint continuing to ably serve the chief jailer, another opportunity to seek God for an interpretation of dreams presented itself. This time, the dreams were experienced by the demanding Pharaoh, who reflexively sought an interpretation from his magicians and wise courtiers without any success. Finally as we read, the forgetful cupbearer, possibly seeking favor with Pharaoh after the failure of the wise companions, remembered the Hebrew youth who had properly interpreted his own dream:
“Now in the morning his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh. Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, ‘I would make mention today of my own offenses. Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. We had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. And just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him.’ Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer’” (Genesis 41:8-16).
Once again, without apparent hesitation when asked, Joseph did not take credit for his ability to interpret dreams—but from the onset told Pharaoh that perhaps God would give him the interpretation. Joseph continued to display a consistent reliance upon the God of his fathers, for whatever ability he had been given to interpret dreams. Joseph illustrated the universal principle that God honors those who honor Him, as specifically delineated several centuries later to the Prophet Samuel, and eventually affirmed by Yeshua the Messiah to His Disciples:
“Therefore the LORD God of Israel declares, ‘I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever’; but now the LORD declares, ‘Far be it from Me—for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed’” (1 Samuel 2:30).
“If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26).
For the Lord’s Divine purposes, faithful Joseph found himself in a unique position to interpret some dreams that had confounded the wise officials of Egypt. Upon hearing Pharaoh’s description of the disturbing dreams, Joseph confidently told Pharaoh that his two dreams were from God, and promptly stated a God-revealed interpretation, while offering a practical solution to the impending famine:
“Now Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind will be seven years of famine. It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do. Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land. So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe. Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about. Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it. Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine.’ Now the proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants. Then Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?’ So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.’ Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’ Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put the gold necklace around his neck. He had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, ‘Bow the knee!’ And he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt’” (Genesis 41:25-44).
In a providential twist, Pharaoh—who was considered to be a god by his subjects—intently listened to the interpretation and advice of Joseph. Contrary to the many societal prejudices toward the Hebrews (Genesis 43:32), Pharaoh concluded that the wise and discerning youth, in whom the “divine spirit” resided, was just the right person to handle the imminent threat to the future of Egypt. Joseph’s faith in the Almighty, and his bold declaration that gave honor to God before the imperial Pharaoh, resulted in God honoring Joseph with positional authority within Egypt second only to the Pharaoh! This is a most-significant example of what happens when one places faith in God—for all of us to consider—especially in contrast to the seemingly faith-starved brothers who sojourned to Egypt, primarily to seek physical sustenance. Yet, the Almighty also had a plan for the other sons of Jacob. In due time, they would eventually recognize the providential hand of the Lord in their encounters, with an “anonymous” Egyptian purveyor of grain—their brother Joseph—who remained a faithful servant of the ultimate Provider.
From this point, Mikkeitz records how Joseph went about his life, administrating Egypt’s food crisis (Genesis 41:47-49), marrying a daughter of an Egyptian priest (Genesis 41:45), and fathering two sons (Genesis 41:50-52).
The realization of Joseph’s dreams now come center stage, when his brothers have to make their way down into Egypt, in order to buy food to survive. Joseph’s brothers did not recognize that they were bowing to the brother they once wanted to kill, but instead, sold into slavery. On the other hand, Joseph recognized his brothers, but rather than revealing himself, he decided that he was in an opportune position to take revenge on his brothers if so inclined.
One can only imagine what must have been going through Joseph’s mind and heart as he confronted his needy brothers. If Joseph had been harboring some hatred for his brothers’ actions toward him, this would have been the perfect time for him to execute judgment. However, because Joseph was wise, discerning, and in tune with the will of God—he inherently knew because of his faith in the Lord that vengeance was His. The Almighty had already honored Joseph with incredible favor and power before the Egyptians. What was he to do with these circumstances? Joseph did, initially, speak to his brothers harshly. However, in the back of his mind he had to remember the dreams about his brothers bowing to him, and so he must have wondered how was he to respond to the event finally taking place. So, rather than take immediate forceful action, Joseph decided to use the occasion to have his brothers experience the fear of death—something he had endured years earlier when these very brothers had threatened to kill him. By accusing his brothers of being spies in Egypt—a capital offense justifying certain execution—Joseph was wisely using these circumstances to teach his brothers some life changing lessons:
“Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, ‘Why are you staring at one another?’ He said, ‘Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy some for us from that place, so that we may live and not die.’ Then ten brothers of Joseph went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, ‘I am afraid that harm may befall him.’ So the sons of Israel came to buy grain among those who were coming, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also. Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, ‘Where have you come from?’ And they said, ‘From the land of Canaan, to buy food.’ But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him. Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, ‘You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land.’ Then they said to him, ‘No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies.’ Yet he said to them, ‘No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!’ But they said, ‘Your servants are twelve brothers in all, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive.’ Joseph said to them, ‘It is as I said to you, you are spies; by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here! Send one of you that he may get your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. But if not, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.’ So he put them all together in prison for three days” (Genesis 42:1-17).
In this extraordinary interchange, Joseph had to be struggling with his emotions as he recognized his brothers—while noticing that Benjamin was not among them. But rather than reveal his identity, he put his brothers on the defensive, by claiming that they must be spies searching out the undefended lands of Egypt. The brother’s subject-changing retort indicated that their youngest brother Benjamin was alive, remaining in Canaan with his father. In addition, because they did not know the fate of the brother they had sold into slavery, they assumed that he was dead. Once again, imagine what Joseph must have been thinking when he heard these revelations from his brothers who were passionately attempting to defend themselves. On the other hand, the emotional tables were being turned on the brothers, as the false allegation that they were spies could result in their execution:
“Now Joseph said to them on the third day, ‘Do this and live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.’ And they did so. Then they said to one another, ‘Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.’ Reuben answered them, saying, ‘Did I not tell you, “Do not sin against the boy”; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood.’ They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them. He turned away from them and wept. But when he returned to them and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes” (Genesis 42:18-24).
Initially, Joseph was going to send one brother to retrieve the youngest brother. But after three days of letting the ten brothers stew and ruminate over their predicament in the prison, the Egyptian prince ironically referenced God when he altered his edict. Joseph’s comment, that he had a “fear of God,” should have been a thought-provoking remark to the brothers—especially since there was a blatant void of references to God on their behalf. Then, in a searching attempt to comprehend their dilemma, the eldest son Reuben spoke to his brothers and directly tied the maltreatment of their brother Joseph to their dire circumstances. Apparently, while in confinement fretting over their personal destiny, the brothers were reminded of their nefarious actions toward Joseph years earlier—and were connecting the two. It appears that the brothers were finally beginning to recognize the consequences of their actions. The measured wheels of eternal justice were beginning to turn—as the brothers’ consciences were being stirred—as the deeply buried thoughts of past actions were being considered, given their current life-threatening situation:
For the remainder of our parashah, the Lord continued to use the judicious decisions of Joseph regarding his brothers, to painstakingly bring his brothers closer to recognizing His providence. Despite the emotional pain of watching and listening to his brothers discuss private matters among themselves—since unbeknownst to his brothers he understood their language—Joseph ventured forth with his objective to teach his brothers a lesson. If revenge was ever in his mind, the thought of restoring his family eventually overwhelmed him, as he had to turn away in order to weep before ordering the incarceration of Simeon, the secondborn son. Nevertheless, the trials of the brothers were just beginning, as God was using Joseph’s actions to get his brother’s attention. This would ultimately reveal to them that the Holy One was in careful control of the affairs of limited, mortal people.
Fear of loss is a prime motivator, especially when one senses life-threatening loss. In the case of Joseph’s brothers on their journey back to Canaan, they had to initially consider the loss of Simeon—but upon discovering their money in their satchels, the fear for their own lives became even more paramount. In their trepidation, they wondered what had been happening to them, an indication that they were beginning to view things with God somehow being involved in their affairs. In fact, given their new predicament that would have turned them from not only being spies but also thieves—they were starting to understand that there were consequences for their sinful actions, whether actual or perceived. The Lord was definitely using these events to get their collective attention. But to complicate matters, the brothers were going to have to convey all that had happened during their trip to Egypt to their father Jacob, who continued to grieve over the loss of Joseph years earlier:
“Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain and to restore every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. And thus it was done for them. So they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed from there. As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money; and behold, it was in the mouth of his sack. Then he said to his brothers, ‘My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack.’ And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’ When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, ‘The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly with us, and took us for spies of the country. But we said to him, “We are honest men; we are not spies. We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no longer alive, and the youngest is with our father today in the land of Canaan.” The man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me and take grain for the famine of your households, and go. But bring your youngest brother to me that I may know that you are not spies, but honest men. I will give your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’” Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks, that behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed. Their father Jacob said to them, ‘You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.’ Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, ‘You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you.’ But Jacob said, ‘My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow’” (Genesis 42:25-38).
Now to heap additional worries on Jacob after the loss of Joseph, the news that Simeon was in custody—coupled with the potential loss of Benjamin if the brothers were ever going to extricate Simeon from jail—was too much to bear. In a sign that the brothers were beginning to mature and take responsibility for their actions, Reuben spoke up and offered a rather bizarre hyperbolic prescription to his father Jacob for taking Benjamin to Egypt, in order to secure the release of Simeon. Obviously, the trade of killing two grandsons for a son was beyond the pale, figuratively speaking. Jacob categorically rejected the offer, but reminded his sons that his grief continued for his favored son Joseph. Certainly by this point in the account, all of the brothers were dealing with their consciences over the actions that had been taken years ago—but the recognition that God was involved in these matters, was beginning to seep into their thoughts.
There is one thing about God that is consistent: when He has a use for someone in His Kingdom’s work, He never lets up on the crucible of affliction, until His chosen vessel is properly formed for His usage. In the case of the brothers who would father the nation of Israel, the trials with the regional famine in Canaan did not cease, and consequently, they were once again forced by the lack of sustenance to venture back to Egypt in need of food. However, since they knew that the demanding Egyptian viceroy meant what he said about their younger brother, they were forced to compel their father Jacob to allow Benjamin to travel with them against Jacob’s will. To complicate matters, the sons were also concerned that they would be considered thieves, because the money they had originally taken to Egypt the first time was surreptitiously placed back in their sacks.
The fear of retribution by the Egyptians for what appeared to be outright theft was a given. As a result of these challenges, it is interesting to note that the emergence of Judah, as a spokesperson and leader for his generation, commenced in full earnest. Genesis ch. 43 details the second journey to Egypt, and specifically records the dialogue between Judah and Jacob (now referenced as Israel), as the critical need for food for his entire family must have overcome Israel’s fear of losing Benjamin to the Egyptians:
“Now the famine was severe in the land. So it came about when they had finished eating the grain which they had brought from Egypt, that their father said to them, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’ Judah spoke to him, however, saying, ‘The man solemnly warned us, “You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.” If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you do not send him, we will not go down; for the man said to us, “You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.”’ Then Israel said, ‘Why did you treat me so badly by telling the man whether you still had another brother?’ But they said, ‘The man questioned particularly about us and our relatives, saying, “Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?” So we answered his questions. Could we possibly know that he would say, “Bring your brother down”?’ Judah said to his father Israel, ‘Send the lad with me and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, we as well as you and our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame before you forever. For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice.’ Then their father Israel said to them, ‘If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Take double the money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was a mistake. Take your brother also, and arise, return to the man; and may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Genesis 43:1-14).
The earlier proposal to offer Reuben’s two sons had fallen upon deaf ears (Genesis 42:37), so Judah had to reiterate the need to bring Benjamin to Egypt, in order to at least secure an audience with the Egyptian viceroy. Finally, after reviewing what must have been discussed multiple times with Israel, Judah offered to take full responsibility for the safe travels and return of Benjamin to Canaan. In the event that did not occur, then Judah would take the blame permanently. Apparently, whatever was said given the circumstances, Israel conceded to Judah’s request, and Israel advised that the brothers take double the money and a number of local delicacies to perhaps assuage the demands of the Egyptian prince holding Simeon. Finally, the elderly Israel implored God Almighty to have the Egyptian overlord grant compassion on the brothers and release not only Simeon, but allow the safe return of Benjamin.
After all these years detailing the lives of Jacob and his sons, we as readers are finally finding a mention of the Lord by him. This indicates that Jacob/Israel surely called upon the God of his fathers, for help in trying circumstances. But, this was something that was sorely missing from his sons’ actions recorded. The sons of Jacob/Israel returned to Egypt, and they followed their father’s advice:
“So the men took this present, and they took double the money in their hand, and Benjamin; then they arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph. When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his house steward, ‘Bring the men into the house, and slay an animal and make ready; for the men are to dine with me at noon.’ So the man did as Joseph said, and brought the men to Joseph’s house. Now the men were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph’s house; and they said, ‘It is because of the money that was returned in our sacks the first time that we are being brought in, that he may seek occasion against us and fall upon us, and take us for slaves with our donkeys.’ So they came near to Joseph’s house steward, and spoke to him at the entrance of the house, and said, ‘Oh, my lord, we indeed came down the first time to buy food, and it came about when we came to the lodging place, that we opened our sacks, and behold, each man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full. So we have brought it back in our hand. We have also brought down other money in our hand to buy food; we do not know who put our money in our sacks.’ He said, ‘Be at ease, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.’ Then he brought Simeon out to them. Then the man brought the men into Joseph’s house and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their donkeys fodder. So they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon; for they had heard that they were to eat a meal there. When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present which was in their hand and bowed to the ground before him. Then he asked them about their welfare, and said, ‘Is your old father well, of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?’ They said, ‘Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.’ They bowed down in homage. As he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, he said, ‘Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?’ And he said, ‘May God be gracious to you, my son.’ Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother, and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he controlled himself and said, ‘Serve the meal.’ So they served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is loathsome to the Egyptians. Now they were seated before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, and the men looked at one another in astonishment. He took portions to them from his own table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. So they feasted and drank freely with him” (Genesis 43:15-34).
Here, we see that Joseph was continuing to conceal his identity, as God was continuing to administer life-altering lessons to his brothers through Joseph’s decisions. After receiving his brothers as welcomed traders, then releasing Simeon and finding out that his father remained in good health, it is noted that the brothers continued to bow in the presence of Joseph. Their fear of potential conflict remained in their minds.
The most dramatic moment is recorded shortly after Joseph saw his younger brother Benjamin, after years of separation. The long-sought reunion, not yet completed with Joseph revealing his identity, describes the deep emotional aspects of Joseph’s character. Within a few minutes of seeing his brother, Joseph had to remove himself from the group and consoled himself after a period of weeping. Joseph has had a significant period of time to dwell on what he was going to do with his brothers if and when they returned to Egypt. Now that Benjamin was with them, there were some hints extended that reveal some distinct preference for the youngest brother. After serving his brothers and giving Benjamin five times the portion of others, the brothers are at apparent ease with the man who had the power to determine their fate.
The final turn of events, which brought the brothers to the point of emotional exhaustion, is captured in the concluding section of Mikkeitz. Here, we find that Joseph had one more ruse to play on his brothers—in order to determine if they were truly repentant for the actions they had taken over the years, to lie to their father Jacob/Israel about his being sold into slavery. Joseph knew that his brothers, were very concerned about the welfare of their youngest brother Benjamin. Joseph was aware that his father continued to grieve for not only him, but also feared the loss of Benjamin. Somehow, Joseph knew that testing his brothers with the loss of Benjamin, was just the right move to bring them to their knees before the Lord. So, an opportunity presented itself, with the blame placed on Benjamin for the theft of his cup—as Joseph had his house steward arrange the circumstances:
“Then he commanded his house steward, saying, ‘Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain.’ And he did as Joseph had told him. As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, ‘Up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, “Why have you repaid evil for good? Is not this the one from which my lord drinks and which he indeed uses for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.”’ So he overtook them and spoke these words to them. They said to him, ‘Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing. Behold, the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks we have brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.’ So he said, ‘Now let it also be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be innocent.’ Then they hurried, each man lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. He searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city. When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him. Joseph said to them, ‘What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?’ So Judah said, ‘What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found.’ But he said, ‘Far be it from me to do this. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father’” (Genesis 44:1-17).
When the discovery was made that Benjamin had Joseph’s goblet in his sack, the brothers were mortified—and to display their concern, they tore their garments. Not only were they going to lose the company of Benjamin, but the added worry of reporting this to Jacob/Israel totally overwhelmed them with grief. Judah, who had now become the recognized speaker for the group, confessed before the angry Joseph that they were collectively speechless without any excuses whatsoever. But interestingly in the maturation of Judah, he concluded that God had found out the iniquity of the brothers.
Since the iniquity of the brothers was not thievery—because the purported thefts were not valid—was Judah referring to the act years earlier of selling their brother Joseph into slavery? The guilt and shame of those actions could surely bring forth the punishment that they justifiably deserved. Judah was beside himself, but he had to conclude that God was finally bringing justice to fruition. The added knowledge, that Judah had promised a safe return of Benjamin to his father, had to drive him into despair.
Joseph actually gave Judah and his brothers a little cynical relief, by stating that the only person, who needed to be retained as a slave, was the one who had his goblet. Obviously, because this directed the punishment upon Benjamin, the brothers were overwhelmed with emotions, which led to a resolution that only a Sovereign God could have arranged. Our Torah portion abruptly ends with no stated solution.
Mikkeitz offers Torah students and readers a contrast to consider, between Joseph and his brothers, as the Holy One used the forced enslavement of Joseph and the excursions of the sons of Jacob into Egypt—to depict how different individuals react to life circumstances. Behind the scenes, He accomplished His will. Later, Joseph would be able to tell his brothers, that “as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). However, when presented life challenges are witnessed in Mikkeitz, we have to let the story build, and steadily crescendo as Joseph will eventually reveal himself to his brothers who sold him away.
As we read and contemplate what has been recorded for our instruction, we can either seek to follow the example of faithful Joseph, who had a genuine fear of the Lord honoring Him throughout his life—or follow the complicated examples of his brothers, who through other situations had to painstakingly learn that God was ultimately in control. In the case of Joseph, he was not only honored by his contemporaries, but most importantly is permanently honored by the Holy One as the unique person chosen to save Israel from the regional famine. On the other hand, the brothers were fulfilling their supporting roles as sons of Jacob/Israel, but they are not necessarily all remembered for great feats of trust in God.
In your meditations this week, consider the different choices made by each brother and the results of their choices. Hopefully, we will all choose to follow the example of Joseph, who saved Israel. Ultimately, whether millennia ago or the decisions we make every day—choices have not only temporal consequences, but eternal ones as well. The ultimate choice we must all make is to acknowledge the Savior of Israel, Yeshua the Messiah, who grants us eternal salvation and cleansing from all sins and faithless acts! (Click to Source)
by Mark Huey
The testimonies of the lives of Abraham’s descendants continue this week in our Torah reading, as V’yeishev turns from a considerable focus on the Patriarch Jacob, to a more explicit look at the generation of sons whom he raised. Particular attention is directed toward Jacob’s favored son Joseph with Rachel, who began to take prominence among his brothers. We also see some time spent detailing the various trials and exploits of Judah, Jacob’s fourthborn son with Leah. The contrasts between these two sons, who eventually become the leaders of their generation, are recorded to reveal how their respective walks with the Holy One were influenced and molded by the actions they took, in the circumstances of life that they individually encountered.
From a modern-day Messianic perspective, we recognize the foreshadowing of the Messiah Yeshua in the life of righteous Joseph, who was destined to save Israel, and we witness some of the character flaws that must be changed in the life of Judah, who was the direct ancestor of the Lion of Judah. Interestingly, two underlying themes, of murder and adultery, permeate a great deal of V’yeishev, and should be noted. These two vile sins, which originate in the heart and mind, were addressed in the First Century by Yeshua, as He elevated righteousness to more than mere actions (cf. Matthew 5-7). But before considering Yeshua’s teaching, let us review how a dream-based faith can instill a fear of the Lord, resulting in righteous living!
For Torah students seeking to understand how the Lord God is intimately involved in all of the situations of life, our Torah portion for this week is especially instructive. After all, this unique family chosen by God to pass on the blessings bestowed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—has serious challenges—just like every family that has ever existed. But because God is sovereign in the affairs of humanity, He is always able to work through the actions of individuals to accomplish His will.
If you will recall from last week’s reading, V’yishlach (Genesis 32:3-36:43), Jacob, who had been renamed Israel, had finally made his way south from Shechem through Bethel to the region around Hebron, where he pastured his large flocks of livestock over a considerable area. Israel had been blessed mightily with twelve sons and a daughter, despite the saddening loss of his beloved Rachel while she was delivering their youngest son Benjamin on the journey.
When we arrive at this week’s reading, V’yeishev, a number of years have passed. The narrative continues with a description of Joseph, now seventeen, interacting with his jealous siblings. The loss of Rachel had bereaved Jacob/Israel to the point of blatantly favoring Joseph, the firstborn son of his beloved wife, over his other brothers. Jacob gave Joseph a special garment, and had served as his scout, able to report on the activities of his brothers. This had some serious consequences, as we encounter a description of the animosity that had built up between the brothers—especially when the naive Joseph began to relay the dreams God had given him. These were not taken too well by his fellow brothers, being interpreted as a sign of his superiority:
“Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. These are the records of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, ‘Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.’ Then his brothers said to him, ‘Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?’ So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, ‘Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?’ His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind” (Genesis 37:1-11).
Sibling rivalry has existed from antiquity, and is not new to us as modern people. Scripturally recorded evidence of sibling rivalry goes back to Cain and Abel, and in the past few Torah portions we have witnessed the examples of Ishmael and Isaac, and Esau and Jacob. The twelve sons of Israel, from four different mothers, certainly presented a complicated family situation.
The natural jealousies over birth order, as we read, were exacerbated by the children witnessing an obvious preference by Jacob for one wife’s children over the others. In this case, Jacob definitely favored the firstborn son of Rachel above his other sons. Not only had Jacob given Joseph a multi-colored tunic that set him apart from his brothers, but he was also having Joseph report on their activities as they pastured the herds. The resentment was evident as Joseph’s brothers began to harbor murderous hatred for Joseph. One can only imagine the derisive comments and conversations that must have taken place between the sons, who were either consciously or unconsciously seeking the adoration and approval of their father. However, by the time Jacob’s family was settled in the Hebron area, the sought approval of Jacob of his other sons was already eroding because of previous actions taken by the first three sons of Leah. Remember that Jacob/Israel was aware that his firstborn son Reuben had a sexual encounter with Bilpah (Genesis 35:22). Additionally, the murderous actions led by Simeon and Levi against the Shechemites had disturbed Jacob greatly, and put his entire family at risk, initiating the move south (Genesis 34:30). With these contemptuous actions having stigmatized the family, V’yeishev concentrates on the life of Joseph, the firstborn son of Rachel, and to a lesser extent Judah, the fourth son of Leah.
Inspired dreams and visions are some of the ways that the Lord has communicated to the forbearers of our faith, as we have noted earlier in the life of Jacob, when he had a dream-vision on his sojourn to Paddan-aram at Bethel (Genesis 28:12-17). To a wide extent, the accounts of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s interactions with the Almighty, just have been known to Jacob’s sons. Joseph obviously believed that his two dreams were inspired by the God of his fathers, because for the balance of his life, these dreams and a steadfast fear of the Lord absolutely influenced his actions. A statement made in the Book of Psalms indicates that the very “word” which Joseph received in his dreams, “tested him,” until he recognized the fulfillment of his dreams as viceroy of Egypt when his brothers bowed before him (Genesis 42:6):
“He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, he himself was laid in irons; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him” (Psalm 105:6-19).
At some point in time as his brothers went about their business tending to flocks, Joseph had several inspiring dreams, which he immodestly recounted to them and his father. Joseph was only seventeen years old, when in a degree of tactlessness, he simply relayed what he must have thought to be Divinely inspired dreams. It is obvious by the reactions to his descriptions, that Joseph was inadvertently conveying that one day he was going to rule over his brothers. These revelations incensed Joseph’s jealous brothers to the point of wanting to murder him, and rid themselves of the “favored” son. But as we read, the conspiracy among the brothers was avoided as Reuben, and then Judah, intervene with alternative ways to keep their brothers from spilling Joseph’s blood:
“Then his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock in Shechem. Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.’ And he said to him, ‘I will go.’ Then he said to him, ‘Go now and see about the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock, and bring word back to me.’ So he sent him from the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. A man found him, and behold, he was wandering in the field; and the man asked him, ‘What are you looking for?’ He said, ‘I am looking for my brothers; please tell me where they are pasturing the flock.’ Then the man said, ‘They have moved from here; for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.”’ So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. When they saw him from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer! Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, “A wild beast devoured him.” Then let us see what will become of his dreams!’ But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands and said, ‘Let us not take his life.’ Reuben further said to them, ‘Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to his father. So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it. Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him. Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt. Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. He returned to his brothers and said, ‘The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?’ So they took Joseph’s tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, ‘We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son’s tunic or not.’ Then he examined it and said, ‘It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!’ So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, ‘Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.’ So his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard” (Genesis 37:12-36).
In this tragic set of circumstances, the epitome of a dysfunctional family is recorded. Here for all to study is the unapologetic description of how a group of siblings can scheme to first consider killing their brother, or given a change of plans, sell him into slavery. Providentially, the eldest son Reuben, perhaps understanding his responsibility as the firstborn son of Jacob, intervened with his brothers and talked them out of slaying Joseph. The text indicates that Reuben was actually trying to save Joseph from his brothers, who derisively removed the multi-colored tunic that must have enraged them.
It is difficult to not think back to the murder in the heart of Cain, who slew his brother Abel because of his jealousy. But this was a corporate act, rather than an individual one. These brothers were so consumed with jealousy, that they were willing to live with the knowledge of murdering their brother, knowing that each other was culpable. One wonders where their faith in, or fear of, the Holy One was, as they contemplated these options. Perhaps their actions years earlier when slaying the Shechemites had hardened them to a murderous spirit. But this was not about justifying their actions to protect the honor of their sister. This was to be blatant fratricide. Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt when he witnessed the murderous rage in the eyes of his brothers? Even when Judah, beginning to reveal a guilty conscience, came up with an alternative plan to throw Joseph into the empty pit—what must Joseph have been thinking as he laid helpless at the bottom of the pit, listening to the wrath of his brothers? Did this prompt Joseph to rethink through the dreams he had dreamed earlier, and wonder if they were indeed from God?
While simple physical survival must have overwhelmed his thoughts, there was something very special about Joseph and God’s plan for his life—and somehow Joseph innately knew it. Eventually God was going to use these deplorable events to send Joseph off to Egypt, for His Divine purposes to save Israel. But if you can put yourself in Joseph’s place, the emotions of fear and confusion about his brother’s animosity toward him, had to be excruciating. Yet, Joseph had to rely upon the Lord, and the dream that he must have believed was from Him. He held onto what he had been communicated by the Lord, hanging onto it through the trials he would experience.
As noted earlier, the different life experiences of the two sons of Jacob, who would eventually take prominence in their generation, are detailed for some curious comparisons. After the description of Joseph’s traumatic events with his brothers and being sold into slavery to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer and captain of the bodyguard (Genesis 37:36), our Torah reading shifts to an entire chapter (Genesis 38) dedicated to describing the problems that Judah encountered, as he departed from his brothers and married a Canaanite woman. Unlike the precedent established by his forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who married women who were from close relatives with a similar background, Judah fell into the trap of marrying a woman who came from the indigenous culture. Consider how Judah’s sons did displeasing things before the Lord, which apparently cost them their lives. Judah does not seem to be a father who was passing on a reverence for God to his progeny:
“And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her. So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er. Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan. She bore still another son and named him Shelah; and it was at Chezib that she bore him. Now Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life. Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also. Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, ‘Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up’; for he thought, ‘I am afraid that he too may die like his brothers.’ So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house. Now after a considerable time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and when the time of mourning was ended, Judah went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. It was told to Tamar, ‘Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.’ So she removed her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face. So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, ‘Here now, let me come in to you’; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, ‘What will you give me, that you may come in to me?’ He said, therefore, ‘I will send you a young goat from the flock.’ She said, moreover, ‘Will you give a pledge until you send it?’ He said, ‘What pledge shall I give you?’ And she said, ‘Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.’ So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and departed, and removed her veil and put on her widow’s garments. When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. He asked the men of her place, saying, ‘Where is the temple prostitute who was by the road at Enaim?’ But they said, ‘There has been no temple prostitute here.’ So he returned to Judah, and said, ‘I did not find her; and furthermore, the men of the place said, “There has been no temple prostitute here.”’ Then Judah said, ‘Let her keep them, otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I sent this young goat, but you did not find her.’ Now it was about three months later that Judah was informed, ‘Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is also with child by harlotry.’ Then Judah said, ‘Bring her out and let her be burned!’ It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, ‘I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.’ And she said, ‘Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?’ Judah recognized them, and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.’ And he did not have relations with her again. It came about at the time she was giving birth, that behold, there were twins in her womb. Moreover, it took place while she was giving birth, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, ‘This one came out first.’ But it came about as he drew back his hand, that behold, his brother came out. Then she said, ‘What a breach you have made for yourself!’ So he was named Perez. Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah” (Genesis 38:1-30).
There is one thing which is most sure about the Hebrew Tanakh: it does not try to hide the errant actions of its chosen people, allowing specific details to be recorded, hopefully for the instruction of generations to come. In this case, the failings of Judah as both a father and as a man were on full display. But in it all, one finds that these circumstances were perhaps used by God to make Judah the man that he needed to be.
Judah was the one who had suggested that his brothers sell Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders, rather than kill him. This hints of an emerging conscience that will mature as he aged. Perhaps he was feeling some remorse, keeping the lies about Joseph’s death continuing in the presence of Jacob, who still mourned for Joseph (Genesis 37:35). Continuing to lie and cover up a conspiracy can be trying, so to perhaps relieve his guilt, Judah left his brothers and began living in the regional culture, albeit with some recollection of how he was to conduct his life according to some family mores. What we find is that Judah did have a conscience which really bothered him, when he found out that it was he who impregnated Tamar. She was more “righteous” than Judah!
An arduous road, to being molded into a God-fearing leader among his siblings, began to show. Clearly, the Lord had a distinct plan for Judah, or these intimate details about his life would not have been included in Holy Scripture.
The contrast between Joseph and Judah is certainly noticeable, as Genesis ch. 39 dramatically shifts back to Joseph’s predicament as a slave. Joseph was sold to Potiphar, and we witness how the Lord was definitely blessing Joseph in multiple noticeable ways. Joseph experienced some significant tests, as he continued to not only contend with the memories of the ill-treatment of his brothers, being sold into slavery—but was later falsely accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife. Notice how the references to the Lord or God emerge, as Joseph was obviously having to cling to the assurance that he had in Him:
“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the LORD was with him and how the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge. It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph; thus the LORD’s blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. So he left everything he owned in Joseph’s charge; and with him there he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?’ As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her. Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside. She caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called to the men of her household and said to them, ‘See, he has brought in a Hebrew to us to make sport of us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I screamed. When he heard that I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled and went outside.’ So she left his garment beside her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with these words, ‘The Hebrew slave, whom you brought to us, came in to me to make sport of me; and as I raised my voice and screamed, he left his garment beside me and fled outside.’ Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, ‘This is what your slave did to me,’ his anger burned. So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper” (Genesis 39:1-23).
Perhaps one of the most memorable instances recorded about Joseph, during his service to Potiphar, is his desire to remain righteous and pure before the Holy One. When confronted by Potiphar’s wife to engage in adulterous promiscuity, Joseph responded with a question that clearly indicated that he had a genuine fear of the Lord:
“But he refused. He said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, with me here, my master gives no thought to anything in this house, and all that he owns he has placed in my hands. He wields no more authority in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except yourself, since you are his wife. How then could I do this most wicked thing, and sin before God?’” (Genesis 39:8-9, NJPS).
Despite the ill treatment by his brothers and being sold into slavery, it appears that Joseph was still clinging to his relationship with the Holy One with a righteous reverence. Clearly, whatever humanly justified bitterness toward others, that could have readily been transferred to God, was not evident. Instead, a fear of sinning against God compelled Joseph to flee the tempting circumstances, rather than indulging his flesh. Could this well known display of self control have been an example considered by the Apostle Paul, when he directed his disciple Timothy to flee from youthful lusts?
“Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
As a result of inadvertently leaving his garment behind, Joseph then endured the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife, which caused him to be cast into prison. Can you imagine what he must have been thinking, knowing that he had avoided sinning because of his faith in God—and yet, he received more ill treatment? There had to be something in Joseph’s mind and heart concerning his relationship with the Holy One, that prompted him to avoid willfully sinning.
Clearly Joseph’s eventual testimony, as a deliverer for the rest of His family, foreshadowed the ultimate salvation of Yeshua, the Righteous One to come. Obviously at a young age, Joseph had been touched by the Holy One through some dreams, for the trials that he was going to eventually endure. It would take some difficult challenges and circumstances for Joseph to be molded and positioned, so that he could eventually be in the right position at the right time, to save his brothers (cf. Romans 8:28). The Sovereign God of Creation is ultimately in charge of how things work out through His chosen vessels.
What might we consider this week, from studying this Torah portion, which vividly recounts and contrasts some of the nefarious deeds of the sons of Jacob with some of the righteous actions of Joseph? How about reflecting upon personal accountability, and how we each should individually respond in our relationship with the Holy One? Our individual actions before the Lord, are being watched by Him as the Omnipresent and Omniscient One.
While we might not personally endure the ignominy that Joseph’s brothers have to bear for eternity, will each of us be held accountable for our actions, words, and even thoughts? Are our actions, words, and thoughts focused on the ways of the Lord—or something else? In V’yeishev we each have to confront the reality of murder in the hearts of Jacob’s sons, the sexual encounter of Judah with Tamar, and the rejection of sexual adventures on the part of Joseph when the temptation presented itself.
Murder and adultery are the two most evident sins depicted in our Torah portion. In the First Century, the standard to follow was raised considerably by Yeshua, in the teaching of His Sermon on the Mount. The Lord directed His hearers to consider some of the causes of murder and adultery, as being tantamount to people having committed the actual sins:
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ [Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17] and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell…You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’ [Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18]; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-30).
Yeshua did not mince His words with hard to interpret explanations, but directed people on how murder and adultery are much more than just the physical acts. This is why it is absolutely vital that each one of us sincerely has a genuine fear of the Lord in order to arrest our thoughts, hold back our tongues, and certainly avoid sinful actions.
The great example of Joseph having had some dreams or words, that solidified his faith in the Holy One, is something that every Believer should seek to obtain and retain during the course of his or her life. Knowing beyond a shadow of doubt that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is observing each and every thought, word, and deed is something that assuredly engenders a sincere fear of Him. Whether one receives that assurance from a dream, a vision, a word, or most critically a salvation experience—it is absolutely necessary to walk in a way that truly pleases our Heavenly Father. We have the testimony of Joseph to consider, but what is most crucial is our individual testimony that the fear of the Lord is presently directing our life. For without a genuine fear of the Lord, our ability to understand and apprehend what the Scriptures discuss is severely limited:
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).
During the course of our lives, may we continually be able to fear the Lord in an even greater manner, as we seek to serve Him and see His Kingdom established! (Click to Source)
Genesis 18:1 – 22:24
18.1. And the LORD* appeared to him in the plains of Mamre and he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. 2. And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and there were three men standing by him. And when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and he bowed toward the ground 3. and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, do not pass by, I pray You, from Your servant:4. let a little water, I pray you, be brought and wash your feet and rest yourselves under the tree.
5. And I shall get a morsel of bread and comfort your hearts for you. After that you will pass on, for that is why you have come to your servant.” And they said, “So do as you have said.” 6. And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it and make cakes.”
7. And Abraham ran to the herd and fetched a good, tender calf and gave it to a young man and he hastened to dress it. 8.And he took butter, milk, and the calf which he had dressed and set it before them, and he stood by them under the tree and they ate.
18:9. And they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “There – in the tent.” 10. And He said, “I shall certainly return to you at this time next year and, see, Sarah your wife will have a son.” (Rom. 9:9) And Sarah listened in the tent door, which was behind him. 11. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well up in age: the manner of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself saying, “After I have grown old will I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” 13. And the LORD* said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Will I, who am old, of a surety bear a child?’ 14. Isanything too hard for the LORD*? (Matt. 19:26, Luke 1:34) At the time appointed I shall return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (Rom. 9:9) 15. Then Sarah denied it saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
18:16. And the men rose up from there and looked toward Sodom and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way. 17. And the LORD* said, “Will I hide from Abraham that thing which I am about to do, 18. seeing that Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation and all the nations of the earth will be blessed in him? 19. For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him and they will keep the Way of the LORD*, to do acts of loving kindness and judgment, so the LORD* may bring upon Abraham that which He has spoken of him.” 20. And the LORD* said, “Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great and because their sin is very grievous, 21. I shall go down now and see whether they have done everything I told them, which has come to Me. And if not, I shall know.” 22. And the men turned their faces from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD*. 23. And Abraham drew near and said, “Will You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24. If there are fifty righteous within the city will You also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are there?
25. Far be it from You to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked and that the righteous should be like the wicked: far be that from You. Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” 26. And the LORD* said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I shall spare the entire place for their sake.” 27. And Abraham answered and said, “Behold now, I, who am but dust and ashes, have taken upon me to speak to the LORD*. 28. If by chance there will lack five of the fifty righteous, will You destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And He said, “If I find forty-five there, I shall not destroy it.” 29. And he spoke to Him yet again and said, “If by chance there will be forty found there?” And He said, “I shall not do it for forty’s sake.” 30. And he said to Him, “Oh do not let the LORD* be angry, and I shall speak: If by chance thirty will be found there?” And He said, “I shall not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31. And he said, “Behold now, I have taken upon myself to speak to the LORD*: If by chance twenty will be found there?” And He said, I shall not destroy it for twenty’s sake.” 32. And he said, “Oh please, let not the LORD* be angry, and I shall speak yet but this once: If by chance ten will be found there?” And He said, “I shall not destroy it for ten’s sake.”
18:33. And the LORD* went His way, as soon as He had left speaking with Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
19.1. And two angels came to Sodom in the evening and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. And when Lot saw them he rose up to meet them and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground. 2. And he said, “Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house and tarry all night and wash your feet and you will rise up early and go on your way.” And they said, “No. But we will stay in the street all night.” 3. And he pressed upon them greatly and they went in with him and entered his house and he made a feast for them and baked unleavened bread and they ate.
19:4. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both old and young, all the people from every quarter. 5. And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so we can know them.” 6. And Lot went out to them at the door and shut the door behind him 7.and said, “I pray you, brothers, do not behave so wickedly.
8. Behold now, I have two daughters who have not known a man: let me, I pray you, bring them out to you and you do to them as is good in your eyes. Only to these men do nothing, for therefore they came under the shadow of my roof.” 9.And they said, “Stand back!” And they said again, “This one came in to sojourn and he thinks he is a judge. Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” And they pressed sore upon the man, Lot, and came near to break the door. 10. But the men put forth their hand and pulled Lot into the house to them and shut the door. 11. And they struck the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves to find the door. 12.And the men said to Lot, “Do you have here any besides yourself? Sons-in-law, your sons, your daughters, and whoever you have in the city, bring them out of this place, 13. for we will destroy this place, because their cry has become great before the face of the LORD*, and the LORD* has sent us to destroy it.”
19:14. And Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who married his daughters, and said, “Get up, get out of this place, for the LORD* will destroy this city.” But he seemed like one who teased to his sons-in-law. 15. And when the morning came, then the angels hastened Lot saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters that are here, so you will not be consumed in the iniquity of the city.” 16. And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand and upon the hand of his wife and upon the hand of his two daughters. The LORD* had pity on him and they brought him out and set him outside the city. 17. And it was, when they had brought them out, that he said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you! Do not stay anywhere in the plain! Escape to the mountain, so you will not be consumed.” 18. And Lot said to them, “Oh, not so, my lord. 19. Behold now your servant has found favor in your sight and you have magnified your loving kindness, which you have shown to me in saving my life. And I cannot escape to the mountain, lest something bad overtake me and I die. 20. Behold now, this city is near to flee to and it is a little one. Oh, let me escape there, (is it not a little one?) and my soul will live.” 21. And he said to him, “See, I have accepted you concerning this thing also, that I shall not overthrow this city of which you have spoken. 22. Quick! Escape there, for I cannot do anything until you have come there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.
19:23. The sun had risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar. 24. Then the LORD* rained brimstone and fire from the LORD* out of heaven upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah. (Rev. 14:10; 20:10; 21:8) 25. And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain and all the inhabitants of the cities and that which grew upon the ground.
26. But his wife looked back from behind him and she became a pillar of salt.
19:27. And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD*, 28. And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the plain and there it was! The smoke of the country went up like the smoke of a furnace.
19:29. And it was, when God destroyed the cities of the plain that God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelled.
19:30. And Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the mountain and his two daughters were with him, for he feared to stay in Zoar and he lived in a cave, he and his two daughters. 31. And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on the earth to come in to us according to the statute of all the earth. 32. Come, let us make our father drink wine and we will lie with him so we can preserve our father’s seed.” 33. And they made their father drink wine that night and the firstborn went in and lay with her father, and he did not perceive when she lay down, or when she arose. 34.And it was the next day that the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, last night I lay with my father. Let us make him drink wine this night also, and you go in and lie with him, so we can preserve our father’s seed.”
35. And they made their father drink wine that night also and the younger arose and lay with him, and he was not aware when she lay down or when she rose.
19:36. Both the daughters of Lot were thus with child by their father. 37. And the firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moab to this day. 38. And the younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon to this day.
Abraham Again Calls Sarah His Sister
20.1. And Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, the south, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. 2. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech (Avimelekh) king of Gerar sent for and took Sarah. 3. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are but a dead man for the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4. But Abimelech had not come near her and he said, “Lord, will you slay also a righteous nation? 5. Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister?’ And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.” 6. And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I AM knows that you did this in the integrity of your heart, for I AM also withheld you from sinning against Me, therefore I did not let you touch her. 7. Now therefore restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live, but if you do not restore her, know that you will surely die, you and all that are yours.”
20:8. Therefore Abimelech rose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their ears, and the men were very much afraid. 9. Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And bywhat have I offended you, that you have brought a great sin on me and on my kingdom? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.” 10. And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see that you have done this thing?”
20:11. And Abraham said, “Because I thought, ‘Surely reverence for God is not in this place and they will slay me for my wife’s sake.’ 12. And yet indeed she is my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. 13. And it was when God caused me to wander from my father’s house that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness which you will show to me: at every place where we will come, say of me, He is my brother.’”
20:14. And Abimelech took sheep, oxen, men servants, and women servants and gave them to Abraham and restored Sarah his wife to him. 15. And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you. Stay wherever it pleases you.” 16. And to Sarah he said, “Behold I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver: here, it is eye-covering for you, for all that are with you and you are vindicated before all.”
20:17. So Abraham prayed to God and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his maid servants and they bore children. 18.For the LORD* had closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
Sarah and Isaac
21.1. And the LORD* visited Sarah as He had said and the LORD* did for Sarah what He had spoken. (Gen. 18:10) 2. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. (Heb. 11:11) 3.And Abraham called the name of his son that was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 4. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5. And Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
21:6. And Sarah said, God has made me laugh, so that all who hear will laugh with me. 7. And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah should be given children to nurse? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” 8. And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast the day that Isaac was weaned. 9. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scornful. 10. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son, for the son of this bondwoman will not be heir with my son, with Isaac.” (Gal. 4:30, Heb. 11:17)
21:11. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son. 12. And God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed in your sight because of the lad and because of your bondwoman. In all that Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice because your seed will be called in Isaac. (Rom. 9:7, Heb. 11:18) 13. And of the son of the bondwoman I shall also make a nation, because he is your seed.”
14. And Abraham rose up early in the morning and took bread and a skin-bottle of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder and the child, and sent her away. And she left and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. 15. And the water was spent in the bottle and she put the child under one of the shrubs. 16. And she went and sat down opposite, a good way off, about a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not see the death of the child.” And she was sitting opposite him and lifted up her voice and wept. 17. And God heard the voice of the lad, and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be in awe! God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. 18. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him in your hand, for I shall make a great nation of him.” 19. And God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled the bottle with water and gave the lad a drink.
21:20. And God was with the lad and he grew and lived in the wilderness and became an archer. 21. And he lived in the wilderness of Paran and his mother took a wife for him out of the land of Egypt.
21:22. And it happened at that time that Abimelech and Fikhol the chief captain of his army spoke to Abraham saying, “God is with you in all that you do. 23. Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my son, or with my son’s son, but according to the kindness that I have done for you, you will do to me, and to the land in which you have sojourned.” 24. And Abraham said, “I shall swear.” 25. And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away. 26. And Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing: neither did you tell me, but I heard of it just today.” 27. And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them to Abimelech, and both of them made a covenant. 28. And Abraham set seven ewe-lambs of the flock by themselves. 29. And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What do these seven ewe-lambs mean that you have set by themselves?” 30. And he said, “For you will take these seven ewe-lambs from my hand, so they may be a witness to me, that I have dug this well.” 31. Therefore he called that place Beer-Sheba because both of them swore there.
21:32. Thus they made a covenant at Beer-Sheba, then Abimelech and Fikhol the chief captain of his army rose, and they returned to the land of the Philistines
33. And Abraham planted a grove in Beer-Sheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD*, Eternal God. 34. And Abraham stayed in the Philistines’ land many days.
The Ultimate Test
22.1. And it happened after these things that God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham.” And he said, “Here I am.” 2. And He said, “Now take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love! Get yourself into the land of Moriah! Offer him there as an offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you!”
3. And Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son, and split the wood for the offering and rose up and went to the place of which God had told him. 4. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. 5. And Abraham said to his young men, “You stay here with the donkey and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” 6. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it upon Isaac his son, and he took the fire in his hand and a knife, and they went, both of them together.7. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father.” and he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8. And Abraham said, “My son, God will see to it, providing a lamb for a burnt offering for Himself.” so they went, both of them together. 9. And they came to the place which God had told him about, and Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. 10. And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
22:11. Then the angel of the LORD* called to him out of heaven and said, “Abraham. Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12. And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad! Do not do anything to him! For now I know that you revere God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me.”
22:13. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behind him there was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14. And Abraham called the name of that place “The LORD* Will See to it” as it is said to this day, “The LORD* Will Show Himself on the mountain.”
22:15. And the angel of the LORD* called to Abraham out of heaven the second time 16. and said, “By myself I have sworn,” says the LORD*, “For because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17. that I shall greatly bless you, and I shall multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand on the seashore, (Heb. 6:14; 11:12) and your seed will possess the gate of his enemies, 18. and in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed because you have obeyed My voice.”
22:19. So Abraham returned to his young men and they rose up and went together to Beer-Sheba and Abraham stayed at Beer-Sheba.
22:20. And it was after these things that it was told Abraham saying, “Behold, Milkah has also borne children to your brother Nahor, 21. Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22. Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel. 23. And Bethuel begot Rebeccah (Rivkah).” These eight Milkah did bear to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24. And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore also Tebah, Gaham, Thahash, and Maachah. (Click to Source)
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by Mark Huey
By the time one turns to the third Torah reading, Lekh-Lekha, the recorded story of humanity indicates how the Almighty God has had direct contact with certain noted individuals. Despite the fact that considerable history is covered in a relatively short space (Genesis chs. 1-11), we see that after the scrambling of the languages to encourage migration (Genesis 11:7-8), there remained a growing population in Mesopotamia. As Genesis 11 closes, the genealogical trails recorded narrow down to one chosen family, and eventually one individual in Abram/Abraham, who will dominate a great deal of the Scriptural message for future generations (Genesis 11:27-32). Noting the significant amount of faith demonstrated by Abraham, the Apostle Paul would call him in the First Century, “the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).
Abraham and his family were natives of the Mesopotamian city of Ur (Genesis 11:28), located in what is today Southern Iraq. Located adjacent to the Euphrates River, Ur was undoubtedly an important commercial center, which received a wide amount of trade extending down into the Persian Gulf. While Lekh-Lekha informs us of how Abraham’s family, presumably including his father Terah and others, had some kind of connection with the Creator God—it is also true that idolatry was rampant in their native land. As Genesis 11 concludes, we find that Terah, his son Abram with wife Sarai, and grandson Lot, departed Ur and moved northward, ultimately settling in Haran on the way to Canaan (Genesis 11:31). Why they settled in Haran is unknown, but it was here where Terah died and left his oldest son Abram with his estate, and perhaps the inclination to continue the journey to Canaan with his wife and nephew.
It is at this juncture that the account turns dramatically to the voice of the Lord commanding Abram to leave not only his country, but his relatives and his father’s house, in order to journey to a special land that He was going to show him:
“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’” (Genesis 12:1-3).
At the time of this command from the Lord, Abram was seventy-five years old and childless (Genesis 12:4-5). He had been an obedient son in leaving Ur. The Lord obviously had His eye upon Abram, and when this dramatic communication came, he must have been overwhelmed with fear. Not only was Abram commanded to leave all of the comforts of his country, but he was given a significant blessing that has been repeated numerous times down throughout the ages (i.e., Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8).
Can you imagine hearing this list of blessings from the Creator God? Here was a seventy-five year old man, who was living in what seems to be a remote part of upper Mesopotamia, who heard that the Almighty was going to make him—a childless husband—into a great nation (l’goy gadol, Genesis 12:2). On top of promising Abram many descendants, God said that He would bless Abram, and make his name great, in order to be a blessing to others. Also stated is how those who blessed Abram would be blessed, and that those who cursed him would be cursed. Perhaps the most important remark made is v’nivreku b’kha kol mishpechot ha’adamah, “and all the clans of the earth through you shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, Alter). In spite of the complications of his being reared in Ur, with its many temptations and having seen many other gods worshipped, Abram knew who this One God was, and heeded His word when it was delivered.
Upon hearing the audible voice of God, and the incredible blessings communicated, Abram was required to exercise some faith or trust in this promise. Abram not only embarked on his journey forward from Haran with his wife Sarai, nephew Lot, and their accumulated possessions—but upon arriving in the Land of Canaan, we see that the Lord appeared to him with another promise, which is that his descendants would be given this land. Abram’s response was to build an altar and worship the Lord, confirming how he was dedicated to the Creator God and wanted his fellow travelers to recognize his faithfulness:
“Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 12:5-8).
Upon arriving in the land of Canaan, the faith that Abram had demonstrated in God began to be tested. Almost immediately, Abram had to survive a regional famine (Genesis 12:10), which required him to actually relocate to Egypt in order to find food for his entourage. While in Egypt, Abram had to contend with the possibility that the Egyptian Pharaoh would admire the beauty of his wife Sarai, and want to include her in his harem. This dilemma caused Abram to take some measures that seem somewhat contradictory to him being a man of faith, indicating that Abram did have a few faults:
“Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev. Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife”; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.’ It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house” (Genesis 12:9-15).
Departing Canaan, after all of the promises delivered from the Almighty, had to be difficult. After all, God had dynamically affirmed to Abram significant promises to give his descendants such territory. They arrived in Canaan, there was a famine, and to complicate matters, the only known source of food was in Egypt. The customs of the Egyptians were known to Abram, who feared that knowledge of his marriage to Sarai was going to jeopardize his personal survival. Rather than introduce Sarai as his wife, Abram chose to refer to her as his sister, being less than honest. One might justifiably ask why a man of God would subject his wife to such an ordeal.
It is detectable that there was a lack of trust on the part of Abram, in telling Sarai to say that she was his sister. While the ruling Pharaoh thought that Sarai was only Abram’s sister, he was treated well and was given livestock and servants from him (Genesis 12:16). We further see how a plague hit the Pharaoh because of him keeping Sarai, who then found out that Sarai was Abram’s wife. Consequently, Abram and his company were escorted out of Egypt (Genesis 12:17-20).
To many modern-day followers of the Holy One, the actions of Abram in Egypt are quite perplexing. The person commonly regarded to be “the father of the faith,” was not sternly admonished for his decisions in the Scriptural text. Did God condone Abram’s actions in telling Sarai to call herself his sister, considering the real possibility of Abram’s execution by Pharaoh? While speculation has surely been offered over the centuries by both Jewish and Christian readers, the key promise delivered by God (Genesis 12:1-3) would undoubtedly have to override whatever human or mortal actions might intervene. It would be fulfilled no matter who would try to stop it. Abram would have multitudes of descendants. If he were killed by the Pharaoh, then it would prove that the Creator God was untrustworthy.
Still, one can only imagine the conversations that took place as Abram and Sarai, after the uncomfortable situation in Egypt, journeyed back east toward the Negev and Canaan (Genesis 13:1). They might have had additional wealth and an expanding entourage of servants (Genesis 13:2-4), but there was still a growing faith and trust in the God they served that needed to develop further.
Upon Abram’s return to the place of the altar he had originally built (Genesis 13:3), he must have worshipped and praised the Holy One for guiding him and his family through the famine ordeal. But another challenge was looming. With the additional wealth and expansion of herds belonging to both Abram and Lot, the herds needed to be separated so that both growing families could find sufficient grazing land. Rather than the elder Abram choosing where to ultimately settle, and sending Lot on his way, Abram elected to let his nephew have the choice on where he desired to raise and graze his herds (Genesis 13:5-12).
Abram had to have absolute trust in the Lord, as he deferred to Lot’s decision on where he wanted to relocate. Lot was naturally attracted to the lush and abundantly watered land in the valley of the Jordan. But, Abram was totally content in Lot’s decision, because after all, God had promised the land of Canaan to his descendants. As Lot moved himself to Sodom, there is a narrative prompt informing readers how “the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD” (Genesis 13:13).
As Abram and Lot went on their separate ways, and Abram began to establish himself within this new land—the only major remaining challenge was the thought of descendants and for him and the aging Sarai. As the two of them got older, the likelihood of the two of them bearing children was becoming an issue. So to perhaps ease some of their concerns, the Lord once again confirmed to Abram that he was doing the right thing. The Promised Land would be theirs for perpetuity, and they would have great numbers of descendants:
“The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.’ Then Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD” (Genesis 13:14-18).
After hearing about the magnitude of his descendants, and surveying the land through its length to breadth, Abram decided to relocate from his perch along the heights between Bethel and Ai, to further south to some land near Hebron (Genesis 13:18). Upon arriving in his new location, faithful Abram acknowledged the blessings of the Lord, and built another altar to worship and praise Him. After having received God’s blessings of favor in the land, surviving through a famine in hostile Egypt, being sent back to Canaan with additional wealth, and resolving the growing disputes with Lot’s herdsmen—Abram was now in the area where he ultimately would reside and be buried. Yet, Abram would be significantly tested, as his nephew Lot encountered trouble in Sodom.
Wars in the Middle East are not just a recent occurrence, but have been present throughout history. A regional conflict erupted between various local kings, with the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah caught up in the fighting (Genesis 14:1-9). In the midst of the fighting, the two cities were vacated (Genesis 14:10) and looted by the invaders (Genesis 14:11). Lot was actually one of those who was taken prisoner, as he was living in Sodom. Upon hearing about Lot’s capture, faithful and loyal Abram took rescuing actions to save Lot and his family from certain demise:
“They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom. Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people” (Genesis 14:12-16).
Despite difficult odds, the aged Abram saw that an expedition, or in modern-day terms a “strike team,” was assembled to go rescue his nephew. Obviously, Abram did not need to risk his own life and those of his companions to save Lot—but by faith in the Lord, and displaying some skill, Abram not only defeated the marauders, but returned to Sodom with some booty and prisoners of war (Genesis 14:16). At this point in our Torah portion, we see a definite peek into the faithful heart of Abram:
“Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ He gave him a tenth of all. 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 14:17-24).
Interestingly, the king of Sodom, and the king of Salem, Melchizedek, went out to greet Abram upon his return. The contrasting actions of these two kings is indicated by the disposition of their hearts. The reluctantly grateful king of Sodom wanted some of the spoils of war, but requested only the prisoners, seemingly being generous in not wanting the goods taken. Abram was not impressed, as he simply requested that those who fought be rewarded with a legitimate division of the spoils taken.
On the other hand, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, was obviously a follower of the One True God, the same as Abram. It is understood by Abram’s response to the praise bestowed upon the Most High God, that he knew how he and Melchizedek both honored and worshipped the same God. By giving Melchizedek a tenth of his spoils, Abram established a precedent for what developed into the process of the tithe to be given to the Lord. Abram did not want to be yoked to the wicked king of Sodom in any way, but instead, wanted all to know that his allegiance, praise, and worship were to the Lord, the One who had led him on his successful expedition to rescue Lot. As we can see, the faith of Abram was becoming more apparent as revealed. Abram’s special relationship with the Holy One was becoming obvious to all in the region.
Following the rescue of Lot, the nagging problem of what to do about children still remained for Abram and Sarai. This couple did not have a physical heir, and the biological clock was surely continuing to tick, as their servant Eliezar of Damascus was the only recognized heir. Had not God promised a physical heir? If so, would this even be possible at such a late stage in their lives?
God was surely pleased with Abram’s handling of the various testing events he had experienced. In His mercy to Abram, He saw that the concern of children for Abram and Sarai was unrelenting. Upon returning from the encounters with the two kings, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision, and specified much more than the surety of Abram having a physical heir. Abram is stated to have been reckoned righteous because of his belief in the Holy One:
“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.’ Abram said, ‘O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.’ Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:1-6).
The word of Genesis 15:6, “And he trusted in HASHEM, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (ATS), is one of the most important verses in the entire Bible for understanding the relationship of people to their Creator. In Genesis 15:6, the verb aman is employed, which in the Hifil stem (casual action, active voice) is defined by CHALOT to regard “rely upon (God)” and “believe in” Him. The Septuagint rendered this with the verb pisteuō, “to trust, trust to or in, put faith in, rely on, believe in a person or thing” (LS). While it is most common to see Genesis 15:6 rendered with some form of “believe” in English Bibles, it is not outside of the realm of possibilities to render it with “have faith.” It is upon this critical verse, Genesis 15:6, that James and Paul would both appeal to emphasize a life of trust in the Heavenly Father (James 2:23; Galatians 3:6; Romans 4:3, 20-22).
One of the biggest mistakes that many of today’s Christians can make, when encountering the Tanakh or the Old Testament, is thinking that it presents us with a God who demands that His people work to earn their salvation. While God surely does expect good works and actions of His people, the thrust of Genesis 15:6 is that belief/trust/faith in Him is what reckons a person righteous as one of His own. Abram was confronted with a situation, in being promised by God multitudes of descendants, where he must have had many doubts about it ever taking place. He and his wife were both elderly people! Yet, much of his human uncertainty had to have been overcome—as he placed himself entirely in God’s hands—because we are told how “Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6, NLT). The Apostles would later apply Genesis 15:6 to a life of required faith and trust that people must not only place in the Heavenly Father, but in His Son sent to die to atone for sinful humanity.
Within Lekh-Lekha, we see how Abram and Sarai concluded that they would not be able to conceive a child, due to Sarai’s advanced age. Instead, Sarai recommended that Abram take her handmaiden Hagar to conceive a child. Perhaps, they must have thought, the physical heir from Abram’s loins need not come from Abram’s wife herself. So, the two of them resorted to a local, Ancient Near Eastern, pagan practice. And, while Abraham and Hagar were able to conceive a child, it notably resulted in Sarai despising Hagar:
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight. And Sarai said to Abram, ‘May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me’” (Genesis 16:1-5).
Was the act of Abram impregnating Hagar an act of faith, or of faithlessness? It is noted later that God would actually bless Ishmael (Genesis 17:20), and that from Ishmael would come forth a great nation. Yet in his letter to the Galatians in the First Century, the Apostle Paul would use the analogy of Hagar conceiving Ishmael, to dissuade the new, non-Jewish Believers from being circumcised as proselytes (Galatians 4:21-31). Abram impregnating Hagar has never had a great reputation in the Holy Scriptures, and it is a negative lesson from which all are to learn. Rather than Abram and Sarai waiting to let a child be naturally conceived via their normal sexual relations—they instead force things by having Abram impregnate Sarai, by which a less-than-legitimate child would be born. While Abram is indeed to be regarded as “the father of faith,” he was human and did not always act according to faith.
Lekh-Lekha concludes as an eternal covenant was made with Abram (Genesis ch. 17), as the Lord once again appeared to and spoke to him. Abram was not only promised that from himself would come “a multitude of nations,” hamon goyim (Genesis 17:4, 5), but it is here when Avram was renamed Avraham or Abraham. Not only would a plentitude of descendants come forth from Abraham, but a child of promise would come forth from the womb of Sarai, renamed Sarah:
“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.’ God said further to Abraham, ‘Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations’…Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before You!’ But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him’” (Genesis 17:1-9, 15-19).
A physical reminder, circumcision of the foreskin of the male sexual organ, would be issued upon those who would be the beneficiaries of the covenant cut between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:22-27). While physical circumcision is to be regarded as a badge of honor upon those who practice it, as it connects a man to the Patriarch Abraham—circumcision can also be a badge of dishonor, considering all of the unfaithful acts that can be committed with the male member. Both faithful acts to God, and less-than-faithful acts, are seen demonstrated by Abraham in our Torah portion. Both faithful and unfaithful acts have been demonstrated by those men in history who have been physically circumcised (cf. Romans 2:25-29).
Lekh-Lekha is a rather comprehensive Torah reading, with many events witnessed that will inform those studying the remainder of the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Students receive an incredible overview of key trials that ultimately led the chosen Abraham, to be regarded as “the father of faith.” Abraham was uniquely selected by God for this role. While he had his faults, Abraham proved that he was a man who had to place great confidence in his Creator, as the challenges he faced steadily grew. Abraham has left us an example that has stood the test of time. The author of Hebrews lauds the faith of Abraham and Sarah, as they are noted as persons who acted upon the steadfast trust that they placed in the God who called them, not quite knowing what was going to occur or where they were specifically going:
“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE [Genesis 15:5-6; 22:17]” (Hebrews 11:8-12).
As you have reviewed the testimonies of Abraham and Sarah, while these two were not perfect people, they did walk by faith and they are examples that we are to follow as Believers in Yeshua. This is because born again Believers, by faith, are to be those who look beyond this temporal realm to the eternal. Hebrews 11:16 says that “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.”
By contemplating the faith and actions of Abraham, we should each be inspired to walk in a manner that exhibits trust in the Lord, and a secure belief in the reliability of His Word and promises. A clear result of this trust are to be actions of obedience generated when we hear the voice of the Lord, and we serve Him in the world. Perhaps, as we edge closer and closer to the return of the Messiah Yeshua—which certainly requires great faith (cf. 2 Peter 3:4)—a few of us may demonstrate a faith of greater proportions than Abraham? If this is at all possible, then this would also mean that the mistakes made by Abraham must be quantitatively avoided. (Click to Source)
 William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, the Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988), 20.
 LS, 641.
Isaiah 54:1-55:5 (A); 54:1-10 (S)
by Mark Huey
Perhaps one of the most compelling testimonies of faith and belief in God, witnessed from the opening chapters of Genesis, is the life of Noah. The example of Noah, in association with the disastrous judgment of the Flood brought upon the world, is something from which we all need to take significant instruction. While the tests and challenges faced by Noah have been praised and heeded by followers of the Creator God down through the ages since, our second Torah portion also records some significant unfaithful acts, of those many human beings who have rebelled against the Holy One and suffered the consequences of sin. These contrasting examples continually remind Torah students that there are two distinct paths people can choose to follow.
As we each contemplate the multiple centuries of early human history condensed into the chapters of Noach, it is critical to note that distinctions, between the faithful and the faithless, have never really changed to our present day. People will either have faith in the Almighty God, and follow His instructions and directions for living as communicated—or they will demonstrate a breach of faith, and disregard His instructions and directions for living. The consequences of what one chooses really do matter, because the final destiny of every person is determined by either his faith in the Almighty or his denial of Him. So, with these points already recognized as a premise, let us examine our parashah for this week with these sobering thoughts in mind.
The closing words of our previous Torah portion, Bereisheet (Genesis 1:1-6:8), describe the nearly complete dissatisfaction that the Creator God had with humanity, given how civilization had gotten progressively worse. The Lord decreed that He actually needed to blot out—exterminate—the human race because of its wickedness:
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:5-8).
It is difficult to imagine that the Creator God had this amount of grief over His creation of humankind, and that He was sorry that He had ever done it. What He had previously decreed as tov meod, or “very good” (Genesis 1:31), had now become something significantly riddled with wickedness and sin. Seeing that kol-yetzer machshevot l’bo raq ra, “all purpose (of) thoughts his heart only evil” (Genesis 6:5, editor’s wooden rendering), “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5, NIV). God was absolutely distressed about what had befallen human civilization, and drastic action had to be taken. Obviously, falling from the status of being “very good,” to God wanting to exterminate the human race, must have been very distressing.
As our Torah portion for this week opens, we see that there was one individual who found favor in God’s sight: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). What needs to be immediately recognized here is how the Hebrew chein or “favor,” was translated by the Greek Septuagint as charis or “grace.” There is certainly grace in the Old Testament! The favor or grace of God has always been a characteristic of Him.
Why was Noah (and his family of course) the only person who found grace in the sight of the Creator? In the narrative from Bereisheet last week, some information is given to readers about the birth of Noah, which appears to give us some clues as to the tasks the Lord intended him to fulfill. Upon Noah’s birth, it is communicated that his father Lamech named him Noach, because he was one who would be able to provide some sort of rest:
“Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son. Now he called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed.’ Then Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years after he became the father of Noah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years, and he died. Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Genesis 5:28-32).
Why would Noah provide rest from how, “Out of the ground which the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands” (Genesis 5:29, RSV)? Does this have to do with the promised seed that was anticipated to come (Genesis 3:15)? Does this have to do with the destiny that Noah was supposed to fulfill? If so, why did Lamech regard the ground as “cursed”? Did this come as a result of the Fall, or could it have been the result of human sin and how difficult life had become for those still seeking to follow the Creator God?
There are many questions that can be asked about why Noah was named Noah, as what Noah did is considered and probed by each of us from this week’s Torah portion. We need to stay away from far-fetched speculation or guessing, and stick to what is communicated to us about Noah’s character and belief. Noah was one of a select line of people, who in spite of the growth of sin throughout the world of humanity, remained in communion with the One True Creator. As Noah found favor or grace in His sight, he was regarded as righteous (tzadiq) and blameless (tamim), walking with Him. Because of Noah’s faithfulness to God and His ways, he was given what must have seemed to be an impossible task to fulfill. Noah would have the job of building an ark that would rescue the animals associated with humanity from the deluge, and he followed the instructions that God gave him:
“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. As for you, take for yourself some of all food which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.’ Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did” (Genesis 6:8-22).
Reading what Noah was told, its implications for how human civilization had truly fallen into great evil, and how Noah obeyed—is truly daunting. There are definitely debates over what much of this meant for the participants, how the ark was built, and how the Flood actually took place as an ecological disaster, in contemporary Jewish and Christian theology. The main point, of course, is that sin had to be judged, Noah had to rescue what would survive, and above all how Noah—who among all the people of the world, still had faith in God—kept faith in God.
The test of faith for Noah, in what God had commanded him, would have had to be extraordinary. Yet, Noah labored on the ark project with his sons, and presumably also his wife and their wives—possibly without any other help (Genesis 7:5-6). Noah faithfully obeyed the instruction of the Lord, and also had to endure the ridicule of his contemporaries, who no doubt chided him for what must have seemed to them an utter folly. In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is regarded as “a preacher of righteousness.” Even if this is rendered as “a herald of righteousness” (ESV), with no verbal declarations really made—we can know that Noah’s actions in obeying God’s command that he build an ark, surely spoke for themselves. The author of Hebrews would attest in the First Century, how Noah was a great example of faith, as he had obeyed God and prepared the ark, and in the process he condemned the sinful world around him:
“By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
Apparently, God in His infinite wisdom, chose to condemn the unbelieving world that had broken faith with Him, by Noah’s lengthy construction project. God wanted to show how keeping faith with Him is absolutely necessary, in order to be spared from His righteous and holy judgment. We see how after the Flood takes place, the waters recede, and Noah and his family were given the job of repopulating the Earth, that a special covenant was made between Noah and the Lord. Most notably, God promised to never judge the Earth again with such an ecological catastrophe as the Flood:
As a reward for Noah’s faithfulness, the Lord established a permanent covenant with Noah and his descendants. This, in essence, reiterated the covenant that was first established with Adam, but now had some additional statements regarding the preciousness of blood, prohibitions against murder, and promises to never flood the Earth again with a visible covenantal sign notable by the rainbow:
“And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man. As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.’ Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, ‘Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ And God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth’” (Genesis 9:1, 6-17).
Following the great disaster of the Flood, and given the job for humanity to literally “start over,” Noah, his sons, and their future descendants would never have to fear another flood of water destined to wipe out civilization. But in spite of the knowledge of the Flood, which would not only make its way into the record of Holy Scripture, but also many Ancient Near Eastern mythologies—human civilization at large has had extreme difficulty remaining faithful to the Creator God, and staying away from the torrent of evil that caused the Flood in the first place!
The narrative of Noach, while dominated by the account of the Flood, does continue on. Noah’s descendants had children, and they began to repopulate Planet Earth (Genesis 10). From God’s perspective, He desired humanity to expand around the globe, but there was still a problem present within the hearts of people. Would people keep faith in Him as the Creator, obeying His direction—or would people break faith in Him, following their own devices for living? The great contrast between the faithful and the unfaithful is evident in the testimony we see of Nimrod, who was a mighty hunter, and who founded his own kingdom (Genesis 10:8-10).
In the account of what transpired at Babel, the epitome of the unfaithfulness of fallen humanity is witnessed. Nimrod and his followers disobeyed God’s specific commands to populate the Earth, by not only building a great city, but making the effort to build a tower that would reach up into Heaven itself. God’s response to this action was to confuse human language, so that people would not be able to easily communicate with one another, and they would have no choice but to spread abroad into different linguistic and ethnic communities:
“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’ The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:1-9).
God was certainly not pleased with the actions of Nimrod and his cohorts. If they kept on building their great tower, the observation of the Lord was actually, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (NJPS). The building of a tower to reach up into Heaven, into the realm of the Creator, would mean what? Going into Heaven to demand a supernatural place of authority alongside of God? Going into Heaven to actually overthrow God? Obviously, either one of these was impossible to do, but human ingenuity and unity for rebellious activities against the Creator was epitomized by the Tower of Babel. So, God confused the languages of people, and forced those at Babel to disband and separate, spreading out across the Earth.
In the scene of the Tower of Babel, a definite example of faithlessness—demanding one’s own will in defiance of God’s will—is crystal clear. People can either keep faith in God, and obey His directions, or they can break faith with God and suffer the consequences. Our Twenty-First Century generation needs to surely heed the example of the Tower of Babel and what it represents for global unity, because we largely have no significant language barriers to overcome. The barriers and divisions we have are political, ideological, and economic. Yet, if human civilization were ever to put some of these aside, what might this communicate in terms of our relationship with the Creator? Obviously for people who are faithful to our Heavenly Father and the Messiah Yeshua, it is said, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). When it comes to those who are unfaithful to the Holy One, we see something more like, “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed” (Psalm 2:2). Such will be what takes place when the antimessiah/antichrist finally arrives onto the scene of history.
Naturally, many skeptics, in today’s faithless world, will disparage and ridicule the account of the Flood and the Tower of Babel, just like they will mock the account of Creation and the Fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden. But, we need to take comfort in knowing that mocking God and His Word are to be expected, as the End of the Age approaches, and as Believers await the return of the Messiah. The Apostle Peter communicated,
“[T]hat you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.’ For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:2-7).
Without wanting to read too much into Peter’s statements above, other than Peter describing how the account of the Flood has significant importance for those who will face the end-times, we can safely deduce that there will be a generation of supposed Bible Believers who will mock the message of Holy Scripture. These will be people who will assume that since life has gone on as it always has gone on, that there will be no Second Coming of the Messiah, and with it the complete arrival of the Kingdom of God on Earth. Just as the Flood came suddenly and swiftly, judging a generation of sinful people—so will the end-times suddenly and swiftly judge the final generation when it finally arrives. The Messiah Himself spoke of the days leading up to His return, as being like the days of Noah:
“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37-39).
While sudden judgment will come upon the sinful world in the time leading up to Yeshua’s return, we should all be very mindful of how much of what occurred in the time leading up to the Flood will be repeated on some level. There is nothing more horrifying than considering the great evil that was perpetuated in human hearts and minds (Genesis 6:5-7). While in the pre-deluge society, people could probably have only killed other people with primitive weapons of war—today the stakes are immensely higher. The means to kill people are significantly more advanced and more lethal, as humanity does possess the legitimate ability to suffer self-extinction. Just this past Summer (2011), when my daughter Maggie was at her CORTRAMID training for the Navy, she spent three days aboard a nuclear ballistic missile submarine, with enough firepower to wipe out the population of half the United States. While an Ohio class submarine with Trident II missiles is intended to be a weapon of deterrence, under the careful control of a responsible government that will only launch nuclear missiles as a last resort—think about all of the rogue states and leaders and groups out there, who would love to have weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, given the prophetic reality that we read about in Scripture, such weapons will be used at one point or another by someone.
While each of us must have a steadfast faith in the God of Creation, to believe in His Word, that there was a real Flood that wiped out humanity in Noah’s day, and that we are to learn lessons for the end-times—how much faith do we have to display in recognizing that the Sovereign Lord Himself presently withholds the full force of evil from being unleashed on Planet Earth? Why has there not been a nuclear bomb detonated in a city, since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945? Why has there not been another 9/11 terrorist attack since 2001? Should we not be grateful for the level of “peace” that was present throughout the Cold War?
As we peruse the Torah this year, with the theme of faith in mind, there is no better admonition for us to consider, than how the Apostle Paul once said, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Yeshua the Messiah is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6). At some point in the future, and we are already seeing it grow today, the evil and sin of the world will reach a point like that manifested in the time of Noah. The people of the world will fall into the two distinct categories (1) of being faithful to God, and (2) being unfaithful to God. While there will surely be more than just the eight righteous who were spared from the Flood (1 Peter 3:20), the need for us to make sure that there are hundreds of millions of righteous people who possess faith in Yeshua is great!
Examine yourself and make sure that you are among the faithful! Make sure that you have a resting faith, in not only the written Word of God—but most importantly in the atoning work of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)! Be sure that you are faithful to the Lord, and that you can pass whatever tests are to come! (Click to Source)
 Grk. dikaiosunēs kēruka.
 Consult the article “Encountering Mythology: A Case Study From the Flood Narratives” by J.K. McKee.