Parashah 9: Vayeshev (He continued living)

Parashah 9: Genesis 37:1-40:23

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

The history of Ya’akov in this parasha begins with the life Yosef (Yosef) 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. And, for an event like a bar mitzvah or a wedding, money is given in values of 18 to symbolize good luck. In a sense, Yosef being only 17, he hasn’t even really begun to live yet and so these are the events that start his life history.

The Scripture says Isra’el (not Ya’akov) loved Yosef more than his brothers because he was a son of his old age. This suggests there was a spiritual love that superseded Ya’kov’s physical love for his son.  Because of this special connection Isra’el gives his son a kethoneth passim or long-sleeved robe.   Though the King James version of the Bible translates this as a ‘coat of many colors’, there is some speculation that it may have been striped more than multi-colored.  Whatever its appearance, this special garment separates Yosef from his brothers and makes them hate him even more.

When I think of colorful, I see a rainbow which reminds me of the covenant God made with Noah after the flood.  I also think of the circular halo around the throne of God which is emerald green.  The emerald was also a gemstone in the high priest’s breastplate for the Tribe of Y’hudah.  Green can represent new life and a fresh anointing.  Though Yosef was one of Isra’el’s sons, he was not of the lineage of Y’hudah from where the Messiah would come.  Yet, it is through Yosef and the great injustices that he suffers that the understanding of a suffering Messiah or Messiah ben Yosef is grounded.  Like Yeshua, Yosef passes through the hardships safely and is redeemed, set on a journey that of faith and forgiveness that will testify to Isra’el through all their future generations.

Speaking and Words

Yosef is very spiritual.  He has dreams and visions from God.  However, because of his youth, he talks 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 davarim or words in this portion of Scripture that occur between Yosef and his brothers.  These words create the plot for the events that happen to Yosef and his brothers. 

Hebrew Word Pictures

Words or devarim – דברים – dalet, bet, resh, yod, mem

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

The first account of Yosef’s words are the evil report that he brought his father about his brothers while they were tending the sheep.  His words fuel the already sizzling fire that Ya’akov began by having a favorite son and giving him a special gift.

After Yosef receives his robe,  his brothers “couldn’t even talk with him in a civil manner” (Genesis 37:4).  Words were turning into knives piercing their souls.  Without regard to what was transpiring in his brothers’ hearts, Yosef 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’ in this passage is sinah.   It implies and exceedingly strong hatred toward a person.  The letter samech is used in the Hebrew word semikah which refers to the laying on of the hands of a sacrificial animal in a blood ritual. It was the way of sanctifying a priest.  Yosef becomes a victim who is sacrificed by his brothers as they sell him to foreigners.  They dip his robe in the blood of a male goat and present it to their father.  Eventually, his sacrifice brings forth a life to his brothers, his father, and himself.   Yosef becomes part of the royal priesthood with his High Priest being Yeshua.

Hebrew Word Pictures

Hate or sinah – סינה – samech, yod, nun, hey

to prop up by a finished work, life behold

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

In the Hebrew, the words are shomer which means ‘to guard or watch’.  Rather than dealing with an issue that grows with each spoken or unspoken word, Ya’akov decides to ‘watch and see what happens.‘   The consequences are enormous 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).

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

While tending their sheep near Dotan meaning ‘two wells’, the brothers’ jealousy of Yosef grows so intense that they plot to kill him.  When they seem him coming through the valley, they decide the time is right to deal with their 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.”  He intended to pull Yosef out of the cistern and take him back home to his father. 

Yosef is stripped of his robe and thrown in a dry cistern.   While they were eating their dinner and listening to the teen 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).   Y’hudah 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 this ‘balm of Gilead’ when he looks at the sins of Isra’el and wonders how a people who trade in ‘healing balm’ 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.  This 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 they decide to kill a male goat and dip Yosef’s robe in its blood.  When they return home, they give the coat to their father who believes their story that his son has been ripped to shreds by a wild animal. Ya’akov, not Isra’el, mourns many days for his son.

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

Yosef’s Life in Egypt

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

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

Yosef is well-built and handsome.  After some time, Potiphar’s wife realizes she is attracted to him.  She tells him to sleep with her, but Yosef 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 him by his robe, but he flees leaving his robe in her hand.  Feeling completely humiliated, she uses the robe to discredit Yosef’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, Avram 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’ and one who doesn’t travel, but makes his home as a stranger in a foreign land. 

Many in the Messianic faith refer to themselves as Hebrews when they come into the understanding that torah is still valid for today.  As Psalm 119:105 reads, “They Word is lamp to my feet and a light to my path” so it is that torah lights the pathway for those who follow Yeshua.  A true Hebrew, like our father Avraham, crosses over from a world of darkness into the light of life making them a ‘sojourner’ in the world.  Yosef is in a similar position.  He is a sojourner in a foreign land.

Hebrew Word Pictures

Torah or torah–תורה– tav, vav, resh, hey

– behold, the covenant seal that joins to the head

The smaller word ‘light’ is found in the middle of torah

Light or or – אור – alef, vav, resh

–the first strength that joins to the head

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

Yosef is put into prison, but Yahweh is still with him.  Even after the false accusations and losing his authority in Potiphar’s home, the prison warden makes him supervisor of all the prisoners and Yosef 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 Yosef in charge of these two men, to watch over them and be their attendant while confined.

One night both men dreamed.  When Yosef saw them in the morning they looked sad.  When he asked why,  they told 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).

Yosef 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 God and will serve His purpose whether the time is near or far.  It is important to wait on God and His timing or there are 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).

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

It is understandable that Yosef would want out of prison.  He is innocent of all crimes committed against him.  Yet, what would he do if he was let out of prison?  He would still be a slave in Egypt and couldn’t return to his family in Canaan.  Yahweh still has some work to do in Yosef’s life.  In order to accomplish His purposes, Yosef has to remain in prison and wait for God’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. 17 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 probably very disappointed with the interpretation and hoped Yosef 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.

Y’hudah and Tamar

Chapter 38 relates events that happened to Y’hudah at the time that Yosef was sold into slavery.  It could be speculated that because of the events with Yosef, Y’hudah leaves his brothers and family and settles with a man named Hiran, an Adullamite, in the hill country near Beit-Shemesh (House of Sun).  While there, he sees the daughter of Shua (Saving) and desires her.  They get married and have three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.

When Er is of marrying age, Y’hudah finds him a wife whose name is Tamar (Date).  Because Er is an evil man from God’s perspective, He kills him (Genesis 38:7).  In order for Er to have children and preserve his lineage, Y’hudah sends his second born, Onan, to sleep with Tamar.  Onan, knowing the child would not be his, spills his semen on the ground.  This, too, is evil from God’s perspective so He kills Onan (Genesis 38:10).  Shelah is not old enough to be married so Y’hudah 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 generations of childless men by establishing the name of the deceased for generations.  Y’hudah was following a Middle Eastern custom that centuries later would  become part of torah in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. 

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

Sheep-shearing time involved immoral activities.   Hard-working shepherds, after finishing a hot, tiring week among the sheep, would come into town to find a 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 little sense of modesty.   After all, she is trying to establish the name of her deceased husband and carry on the royal line of his father.  Plus, by wearing a veil, Y’hudah wouldn’t recognize her and her plan may succeed.   She then goes and sits at the gate to the entrance of Einayim (eyes) which is on the road to Timnah. 

Y’hudah arrives at the gate and sees Tamar who is veiled.  He believes she is a prostitute and asks to have sex with her.  She asks him 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 sex.  They sleep together and after Y’hudah 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.  First, the name of the town Einayim meaning eyes.  Tamar is keeping her eyes on Y’hudah because he has behaved wrongly and did not send his son Shelah to her.   She knows he is unfaithful and takes from him a guarantee so she has leverage.  Y’hudah has eyes for a woman he believes is a prostitute.  His eyes are veiled as he doesn’t even recognize  his daughter-in-law, nor the fact that prostitutes don’t veil themselves.  God’s eyes are keeping watch between Y’hudah and Tamar because their union will bring forth the child who will continue the royal family line of Y’hudah.

According rabbinical thought, Tamar asked for three specific items through divine inspiration: the seal, the cord, and the staff.   Y’hudah’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 Y’hudah through Tamar would be kings over Isra’el beginning with King David and King Solomon through Jehoiachin and Zedekiah until King Yeshua.

Y’hudah’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 were a braiding of eight cords that were to be put on the corners of one’s garment to remind the Israelites to obey the commandments of God.  One of the cords was a unique color of blue representing the heavens where Elohim dwells (Numbers 15:37-39).      

Y’hudah’s staff was symbolic of the anointed one who would come from the union of Y’hudah and Tamar.  He would be the Shepherd of Israel, the guardian of God’s flock.

When Y’hudah sends the goat to the woman, she is nowhere to be found.  As he asks around the city,  the people have no idea who he is talking about as there had been no ‘temple prostitute’ at their gate. The religion of the Canaanites was so corrupt that prostitution was a part of their worship of the god of fertility.

Immorality would invariably lead to idolatry.   Not finding the ‘temple prostitute’ and being told that no such person existed, placed Y’hudah in a very awkward and embarrassing situation both personally and morally.  He concludes that it’s better to allow the woman, whoever she was, to keep the items than to draw attention to himself. 

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

There is a midrash that suggests 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,  Y’hudah requires death for her immoral behavior.  She sends Y’hudah a message with the three items she has held in guarantee.

“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).

Y’hudah realizes immediately that Tamar has acted more righteously than he has because she did not publicly shame him.  When Y’hudah 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 and eventually she goes into labor and delivers twins.  One of the babies pushes out his hand and the midwife ties a scarlet thread to it.  He then pulls his hand back in and the other baby is born first.  The first boy is named Perez meaning ‘Breaking Out’.   The second boy, with the scarlet thread is named Zerach meaning ‘Scarlet.’

Hebrew Word Pictures

Tamar or Tamar –תמר – tau, mem, resh

the first life force of the covenant sign

Perez or Perez – פרז – peh, resh, zayin

the mouth or source of the head that cuts or pierces

Zerach or Zerach – זרח – zayin, resh, chet

the piercing of the head protects

Tamar is the second woman in Scripture to veil herself and then give birth to twins.  Covering oneself with a veil has always been considered an act of modesty, the reward for which seems to be the blessing of twins. The birth of twins was rare in in Biblical times and considered to be a special gift from God.

Haftarah (Readings of the Prophets)

Amos 2:6-3:8

B’rit Hadashah (New Testament Readings)

Acts 7:9-16

Midrash Vayeshev:  Jacob and Isra’el

Jacob has made peace with his flesh when it comes to Esau, but now he is immersed into the spiritual Isra’el.  Read through the parashah and other Scriptures and consider the differences between the name Isra’el and Jacob.  For example, Reuben sleeps with Isra’el’s concubine, not Jacob’s.  Several verses later, Jacob, not Isra’el, comes home to visit his father who lives in Hebron.  When Isaac dies, it is Jacob, not Isra’el who helps Esau bury their father.  The Tribulation is called ‘the time of Jacob’s trouble, not the time of Isra’el’s trouble.

©2013 Tent Stake Ministries 

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