Parashah 9: Vayeshev (He continued living)

Parashah 9: Genesis 37:1-40:23

“Ya’akov continued living in the land where his father had lived as a foreigner, the land of Kena’an” (Genesis 37:1).

The history of Jacob begins with the life Joseph who is 17 years old.  In Hebrew, each letter has a numerical value.  For example, alef = 1 while tav = 400.  The word chai means ‘life’ and has the numerical value of 18.  In Jewish tradition, it is believed that a person’s ‘real life’ begins at 18. For an event like a bar mitzvah or a wedding, money is given in values of 18 to say mozel tov meaning ‘congratulations’ or ‘good luck.’ Joseph being only 17 hasn’t even really begun to live so these are the events that start his and Jacob’s life history.

The Scripture says Isra’el, not Jacob, loved Joseph more than his brothers because he was a son of his old age. This alludes to a spiritual love that superseded Jacob’s  physical love for his son.  Because of this special connection, Isra’el gives his son a kethoneth passim or long-sleeved robe.   The King James Version of the Bible translates kethoneth passim as a ‘coat of many colors,’ lending to the Christian tradition that it was a colorful coat.  Though it could have been multi-colored, it is more likely that it had only a few colors or stripes.  Whatever its appearance, this special garment separates Joseph from his brothers, feeds their jealousy and makes them hate him even more.

‘Coat of many colors,’  brings to mind a rainbow, the sign of the covenant Elohim made with Noah.  There is also a circular emerald green halo around the throne of Elohim.   Emerald was one of the  gemstones in the high priest’s breastplate for the Tribe of Judah.  Green can represent new life and a fresh anointing.  Though Joseph was one of Isra’el’s sons, he was not of the lineage of Judah from where the Messiah would come. Joseph will pass through the hardships safely and be restored to his brothers, but  to reach the destination, he is sent on a journey of faith and forgiveness that will testify to Isra’el throughout all their generations.  It is through Joseph and the great injustices he suffered that the concept of a suffering Messiah or Messiah ben Yosef became a prophetic voice.   

Speaking Words …  and More Words

Joseph’s deep connection to his father Isra’el gives him a spiritual bent.  He has dreams and visions from Elohim.  However, because of his youth, he talks too much about them with his brothers.  Words have power.  Words bring life or they bring death.  Words can be full of truth or they can deceive.  Words have the ability to build up and encourage or tear down.  Kind and compassionate words soothe the soul while cruel, jabbing words pierce the heart and leave scars (Proverbs 12:18).  There are many words in this parashah that take place between Joseph and his brothers.  These words create the plot for the events that happen to Joseph and the sons of Isra’el.

The first account of Joseph’s words are the evil report he brings his father about his brothers while they are tending sheep.  His words fuel the already sizzling fire that Jacob began by having a favorite son and giving him a unique gift.

After Joseph receives his robe,  his brothers“couldn’t even talk with him in a civil manner” (Genesis 37:4).  Words were turning into knives and piercing their souls.  Without regard to what was transpiring in his brothers’ hearts, Joseph tells them about his dreams and his brothers “hated him still more for his dreams and for what he said” (Genesis 37:8).

The Hebrew word for ‘hate’ is sinah andimplies an exceedingly strong dislike toward a person.  Sinah uses the Hebrew letter ‘shin’ as does semikah which refers to laying one’s hands on a sacrificial animal transferring the sins of the person to the animal before its blood is poured out.  Semicah is related to smichut and the ordination of a priest.

Joseph becomes the substitute sacrifice for his brothers’ sins when they lay hands on him and sell him to foreigners.  They dip his special robe in the blood of a male goat and present it to their father.  Eventually, the sacrifice brings forth repentance, forgiveness and restoration with his father and his brothers, Isra’el. 

Yeshua’s Jewish brothers lay hands on him and demand his death.  Foreigners take him and decide his fate: death on a cross.  The blood of his sacrifice is poured out and presented to his Father.   His sacrifice begins the process of repentance, forgiveness and restoration of his brothers, Isra’el, back to their Father which will only be fully realized when Yeshua returns to Jerusalem.

Hebrew Word Pictures

Words or d’varim – דברים – dalet, bet, resh, yod, mem

the door to the house head, the finished work of chaos 

Hate or sinah – סינהsamech, yod, noon, hey

to twist a finished work of life revealed

Jacob also sins through his lack of works.   When he has the opportunity to rebuke Joseph for talking about his dreams and the jealousy that is being created between him and his brothers,“he kept the matter in mind” (Genesis 37:11).  

A Hebrew word in that phrase is shomer which means ‘to guard or watch.’  Rather than dealing with an issue that grows with each spoken or unspoken word, Jacob decides to ‘watch and see what happens.‘   The consequences are enormous for himself and his entire family in the ensuing years.

“Who can stand before jealousy?” (Proverbs 27:4)

Yosef had a dream which he told his brothers …. He said to them, “Listen while I tell you about this dream of mine.  We were tying up bundles of wheat in the field when suddenly my bundle got up by itself and stood upright; then your bundles came, gathered around mine and prostrated themselves before it” (Genesis 27:5-7).

“He had another dream which he told his brothers: “Here, I had another dream, and there were the sun, the moon and eleven stars prostrating themselves before me” (Genesis 37:9).

Joseph has two dreams.  He believes the dreams are prophetic, but lacks the wisdom to wait until they come to pass before sharing them with his brothers.  His brothers become angry. They do not want to ‘bow down’ to their 17-year-old foolish teenage brother.  Though they interpret the dreams correctly, they interpret them in the wrong time frame which takes them down a path of life they could never have imagined.   

While tending their sheep near Dotan (Two Wells), the brothers’ jealousy of Joseph grows so intense they plot to kill him.  When they see him walking through the valley, they decide the time is right to deal with this dreaming brother.  Reuben, the eldest and the one responsible for his brother’s safety, puts forth an alternative to murder, “We shouldn’t take his life.  Don’t shed blood.  Throw him into the cistern here in the wilds, but don’t lay hands on him yourselves” (Genesis 37:22). He intended to pull Joseph out of the cistern and take him back home to his father. 

Joseph is stripped of his robe and thrown in a dry cistern.   While they were eating their dinner and listening to their brother cry for help, some Ishmaelites rode by on camels on their way from Gilead to Egypt.  They were heading south on a trade route carrying aromatic gum (spices), healing resin (balsam), and myrrh or ladanum (opium).   Judah decides it would be better if they sold their brother rather than kill him so they sell him for ½ pound of silver shekels to their distant relatives. 

Aromatic spices were an important part of Arabian trade between ancient nations.   Spices were used for healing as well as religious ceremonies.  Caravans brought these valuable spices, used for cosmetics and perfumes, from East Africa and the southern Arabian kingdoms along desert routes to Egypt. 

Gilead was known for its medicinal salve, an extremely fragrant healing balm.   After Isra’el came out of captivity and took control of the Promised Land, Gilead became part of the land inheritance and they took over the balm trade.  The prophet Jeremiah speaks of the ‘balm of Gilead’ when he looks at the sins of Isra’el and wonders how a people who trade in ‘healing balm’ could be so spiritually sick with idols (Jeremiah 8:22).

Myrrh is the name of a resin which is used in embalming.  The myrrh mentioned in this passage is probably the Hebrew word lot.  The shrub produces pink flowers and is known also as the Rock Rose.  It is very fragrant and valued as a perfume.  The rich brown resin, labdanum, also comes from the Rock Rose.

Together the brothers decide to kill a male goat and dip Joseph’s robe in its blood.  When they return home, they give the coat to their father who believes the story that his son has been ripped to shreds by a wild animal. Jacob, not Isra’el, mourns many days for his son.

Joseph’s brothers never considered how selling their brother will wound their nepheshim (souls) or the nephesh (soul) of their father.  They soon realize they will need more than the fragrance of perfumes to cover the stench of their sin.  A healing balm will never heal the guilt of the iniquity in their hearts.

When Joseph arrives in Egypt, the Ishmaelites sell him to Potiphar, one of the Pharaoh’s officials.

“Now the Patriarchs grew jealous of Yosef and sold him into slavery in Egypt.  But Adonai was with him; he rescued him from all his troubles and gave him favor and wisdom…” (Acts 7:9-10).

The Righteousness of Tamar

Genesis 38 relates events that happened to Judah after the time that Joseph was sold into slavery.  It could be speculated that because of the events with Joseph, Judah leaves his brothers and family and settles with a man named Hiran, an Adullamite, in the hill country near Beit-Shemesh (House of Sun).  He sees the daughter of Shua (Saving) and desires her.  They marry and have three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah.

When Er is of marrying age, Judah finds him a wife whose name is Tamar.  Because Er is an evil man from Elohim’s perspective, He kills him (Genesis 38:7).  In order for Er to have children and preserve his lineage, Judah sends his second born, Onan, to sleep with Tamar.  Onan, knowing the child would not be his, spills his semen on the ground.  This is also evil from Elohim’s perspective and He kills Onan (Genesis 38:10).  Shelah is not old enough to be married so Judah tells Tamar to stay in her father’s house as a widow until his youngest son is of marrying age.

Giving a brother to his brother’s widow is called ‘levirate marriage’ and protects the generation of childless men by establishing the name of the deceased for generations.  Judah was following a Middle Eastern custom that centuries later would  become part of Torah in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. 

“Time multiplies” and Judah’s wife dies.  After his time of mourning ends, he and his friend Hirah go to Timnah to be with the sheep shearers.  Tamar hears that Judah has finished mourning but still has not sent Shelah to her.  She devises a plan.

Sheep-shearing time involved immoral Canaanite activities.   The Canaanite religion worshipped the god of fertility through prostitution. Sexual immorality invariably led to idolatry.   Hard-working shepherds, after finishing a hot, tiring week among the sheep, would come into town to find a temple prostitute.

Tamar knew about these activities and prepares herself for it.  She takes off of her widow’s clothing and completely covers her face with a veil.  She really doesn’t want to play the harlot and keeps a small sense of modesty.   She is trying to establish the name of her deceased husband and carry on the royal line of his father.  By wearing a veil, Judah wouldn’t recognize her and her plan might succeed.   She goes and sits at the gate to the entrance of Einayim which is on the road to Timnah (Forbidding).

Judah arrives at the gate and sees Tamar who is veiled.  He believes she is a prostitute and asks to have sex with her.  She wants to know what he will pay and he offers her a kid from his flock of goats.  She asks for a guarantee until the goat is sent and requests his seal with its cord and the staff that he is carrying.  He relinquishes the items for a night of fornication.  They have sex and after Judah leaves, Tamar removes her veil, puts on her widow’s clothing and returns to her regular routine.   

There is a lot of symbolism in this account.  The name of the town Einayim means ‘eyes.’  Tamar is keeping her eyes on Judah because he has behaved wrongly and did not send Shelah to her.   She knows he is an unfaithful man and requests a guarantee so she has leverage.  Judah has ‘eyes’ for a woman he believes is a prostitute.  His eyes are veiled so  he doesn’t even recognize  his daughter-in-law nor the fact that prostitutes don’t veil themselves.  Elohim’s eyes are keeping watch over Judah and Tamar because their union will bring forth the child who will continue the royal family line of Judah.

According to a midrash on the pledge, Tamar asked for three specific items through divine inspiration: the seal, the cord, and the staff. Judah’s seal was unique only to him and was used for sealing contracts.  Requesting the seal was symbolic of taking part in royal line. The descendants of Judah through Tamar would be kings over Isra’el beginning with King David and King Solomon through Jehoiachin and Zedekiah until King Yeshua.

Judah’s cord is symbolic of the blue cord in the tzizit (fringes) though the command for wearing them had not yet been given to Isra’el.  Tzizit was a braiding of eight cords that were to be put on the corners of one’s garment as a reminder to obey the commandments of Elohim Numbers 15:37-39).      

Judah’s staff was symbolic of the ‘anointed one’ who would come from the union of Judah and Tamar.  He would be the Shepherd of Isra’el, the guardian of Elohim’s flock.

When Judah brings the goat to the ‘prostitute,’ she is nowhere to be found.  As he asks around the city, no one has any idea who he is talking about since there had been no ‘temple prostitute’ sitting at the gate.  This put Judah in a very awkward and embarrassing situation both personally and morally.  The midrash suggests his embarrassment for not being able to locate his personal items was punishment for selling Joseph into slavery.   He concludes it is better to allow the woman, whoever she was, to keep the items rather than to draw attention to himself. 

Three months pass and Judah is told that his daughter-in-law has been acting like a whore and is pregnant. He is furious because she is ‘betrothed’ to his son and has committed adultery.  He wants her brought to him and burned alive.

The Targumim suggests that Tamar was a descendant of Melchizedek and thus of a priestly lineage.  Being burned alive, according to Leviticus 21:9, is the consequence for the daughter of a priest who prostitutes herself.  Whether or not there is truth to her relationship with the King of Righteousness,  Judah requires death for her immoral behavior. She sends Judah a message with the three items she has held in pledge.

“I am pregnant by the man to whom these things belong.  Determine, I beg you, whose these are – the signet, the cords and the staff” (Genesis 38:25).

Judah realizes immediately that Tamar acted more righteously than he has because she did not publicly disgrace him.  When he receives the pledge items,  he has to decide whether to admit his guilt and save Tamar’s life or sacrifice Tamar to preserve his honor.  He allows Tamar and live.  Tamar goes into labor and delivers twins.  One of the babies pushes out his hand and the midwife ties a scarlet thread to it.  He pulls his hand back in and the other baby is born first who is named Perez.   The second boy out of the womb  with the scarlet thread is named Zerach.  Though Yeshua comes through the lineage of Perez, the scarlet thread symbolizes salvation which will come through the bloodline of the Tribe of Judah.

Hebrew Word Pictures

Tamar (Fruit of a Date Palm)תמרtav, mem, resh

the sign of the might covenant’s head

Perez (Breaking Out) פרזpeh, resh, zayin

the source of the head that divides

Zerach (Scarlet) זרחzayin, resh, chet

the divided head protects


Tamar is the second woman in Scripture to veil herself and give birth to twins.  The birth of twins was rare in Biblical times and was considered to be a special gift from Elohim.

Joseph’s Life in Egypt

In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the Captain of the Guard as his servant.  Joseph is put in charge of Potiphar’s household and entrusted with all his possessions.  Potiphar puts such faith in Joseph’s ability and integrity that he has no concern for anything except the food he eats.

“Adonai blessed the Egyptian’s household for Yosef’s sake; Adonai ‘s blessing was on all he owned, whether in the house or in the field” (Genesis 39:5).

Joseph is well-built and handsome.  After some time, Potiphar’s wife realizes she is attracted to him.  She asks him to sleep with her, but Joseph stands against her temptations and maintains his integrity (Genesis 39:9).

She continues to coerce him to break his will, but not only does he continue to refuse her, he keeps his distance from her.  After being rejected too many times, she grabs his robe, but he flees leaving his robe in her hand.  Feeling completely humiliated, she uses the robe to discredit Joseph’s moral standard and integrity.  

“This Hebrew slave you brought us came in to make a fool of me.  But when I yelled out, he left his robe with me and fled outside” (Genesis 39:17-18).

In Genesis 14:13, Abram is referred to as a Hebrew.  The Biblical word ivrit or ‘hebrew’ means to ‘traverse or cross over a boundary.’  The word can also mean ‘sojourner’ or one who doesn’t travel, but makes his home as a stranger in a foreign land. 

Some believers from the nations refer to themselves as Hebrews when they begin to understand the Torah is valid for today.  A true Hebrew, like Abraham, crosses over from a world of darkness into the light of life making them a ‘sojourner’ in the world.  Joseph is a sojourner in a foreign land with foreign customs. He is a true Hebrew. 

“But Adonai was with Yosef, showing him grace and giving him favor in the sight of the prison warden” (Genesis 39:21).

Joseph is put into prison, but Elohim is still with him.  Even after the false accusations and losing his authority in Potiphar’s home, the prison warden makes him supervisor over all the prisoners – and Joseph prospers.

The Cupbearer and the Baker

Pharaoh becomes angry with his cupbearer and baker.  They are sent to prison and put into the custody of the captain of the guard.   The captain of the guard puts Joseph in charge of these two men, to watch over them and be their attendant while confined.

One night both men have dreams.  When Joseph sees them in the morning they look sad.  When he asks why,  they tell him they had disturbing dreams with no one to interpret them.

“Don’t interpretations belong to God?  Tell it to me please” (Genesis 40:8).

Joseph has learned a valuable lesson that he is now able to put into practice.  Dream interpretations do not belong to him, his father or even his brothers.  They belong to Elohim and will serve His purpose whether the time is near or in the distant future.  He has learned that it is important to wait on Elohim and His timing or there will be serious consequences. 

“Then the chief cupbearer told Yosef his dream: ‘In my dream, there in front of me was a vine,  and the vine had three branches. The branches budded, then it suddenly began to blossom, and finally clusters of ripe grapes appeared. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, so I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and gave the cup to Pharaoh’” (Genesis 40:9-11).

Joseph listens to the dream and gives the interpretation.  The chief cupbearer will be restored to his position after three days.  Joseph requests that when he is reinstated he would mention Joseph’s name to Pharaoh.  Joseph explains that he was kidnapped from his people and has done nothing wrong.

It is understandable that Joseph would want out of prison.  He is innocent of all crimes committed against him.  Yet, what would he do if he was released?  He would still be a slave in Egypt and wouldn’t be able to return to his family.  Elohim still has some work to do in Joseph’s life.  In order to accomplish His purposes, Joseph has to remain in prison and wait for Elohim’s ‘appointed time’ to be released.

“When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Yosef, “I too saw in my dream: there were three baskets of white bread on my head.  In the uppermost basket there were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds ate them out of the basket on my head” (Genesis 40:16-17).

The baker was disappointed with the interpretation and hoped Joseph was wrong.  Three days later, on the birthday of the Pharaoh, the cupbearer is called back into the presence of the king.  The baker, however, is hanged.

Yeshua, Tribe of Judah

“In Beit-Lechem of Y’hudah,” they replied, “because the prophet wrote, ‘And you, Beit-Lechem in the land of Y’hudah, are by no means the least among the rulers of Y’hudah; for from you will come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Isra’el’” (Matthew 2:6).

But you, Beit-Lechem near Efrat, so small among the clans of Y’hudah, out of you will come forth to me the future ruler of Isra’el, whose origins are far in the past, back in ancient times”(Micah 5:2).

“Everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. So Yosef, because he was a descendant of David, went up from the town of Natzeret in the Galil to the town of David, called Beit-Lechem, in Y’hudah, to be registered, with Miryam, to whom he was engaged, and who was pregnant” (Luke 2:3-5).

“One of the elders said to me, “Don’t cry. Look, the Lion of the Tribe of Y’hudah, the Root of David, has won the right to open the scroll and its seven seals. Then I saw standing there with the throne and the four living beings, in the circle of the elders, a Lamb that appeared to have been slaughtered. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the sevenfold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth.  He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of the One sitting on the throne.  When he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down in front of the Lamb. Each one held a harp and gold bowls filled with pieces of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people;  and they sang a new song, “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals; because you were slaughtered; at the cost of blood you ransomed for God persons from every tribe, language, people and nation. You made them into a kingdom for God to rule, cohanim [priests] to serve him; and they will rule over the earth” (Revelation 5:5-10).

Haftarah (Readings from the Prophets)

Amos 2:6-3:8

B’rit Chadashah (New Testament Readings)

Acts 7:9-16

Midrash Vayeshev: Judah, Tamar and Joseph

Discuss possible prophetic allusions (or reasons) why the account of Judah and Tamar comes between the selling of Joseph into slavery and the continuation of his life in Egypt. 

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