Parashah 9: Vayeshev (He continued living)

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 (Ya’akov) begins with the life Joseph (Yosef) who is 17 years old. In Hebrew, each letter of the alphabet 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 ‘life’ begins at 18. For an event like a bar mitzvah or a wedding, money is given in values of 18 as a way to say mozel tov meaning ‘congratulations’ or ‘good luck.’ Joseph at 17 hasn’t even really begun to live, so these are the events that start his and Jacob’s life history.

The Scripture states that 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 This alludes to a spiritual love that superseded Jacob’s physical love for his son.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 translates kethoneth passim as a “coat of many colors,” lending to the Christian tradition that it was a multi-colored striped coat. Though it could have been multi-colored, it is more likely that it had only a few colors or stripes. This special garment’s unique appearance 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 Noach. There is also a circular emerald-green rainbow 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 from the lineage of Judah, the Messianic line. Joseph will pass through hardships safely and be restored to his brothers, but in order to reach his destination, he will be sent on a journey of faith and forgiveness that will testify to Isra’el throughout 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 is his spiritual inclination. 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 an already sizzling fire that Jacob began by having a favorite son and giving him special attention and a unique gift.

After Joseph receives his robe, his brothers “couldn’t even talk with him in a civil manner” (Genesis 37:4). Words turned into knives and pierced 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 and implies 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 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 of Joseph’ and the blood of the goat brings 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 be fully completed when Yeshua returns to set up his Messianic Kingdom.

Hebrew Word Pictures
Words or d’varim – דברים – dalet, bet, resh, yod, mem
– the pathway to the family, the highest authority, mighty finished work

Hate or sinah – סינה – samech, yod, nun, hey
– support the finished work of life, revealed

Jacob also sins through his lack of words.  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).  

In that phrase is the Hebrew word shomer which means ‘to guard’ or ‘watch.’  Rather than dealing with an issue that metastasizes with each spoken or unspoken word, Jacob takes a ‘wait and see’ attitude. The consequences are enormous for himself and his entire family in the ensuing years. (His similar lack of action after Dinah was raped created another travesty for his family; the brothers took vengeance against the men of Shechem.)


“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 foolish teenage brother. Though they interpret the dreams correctly, they interpret them in the wrong time frame which leads 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 that they plot to kill him. When they see him walking through the valley, they decide the time has come to deal with their dreaming brother. Reuben, the oldest, 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 into a dry cistern. While the brothers are eating their dinner and listening to Joseph cry for help, some Ishmaelites ride by on camels on their way from Gilead to Egypt. They are 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; 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 from East Africa and the southern Arabian kingdoms along desert routes to Egypt where some would even be used for cosmetics, perfumes, and embalming.

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 also known as the Rock Rose. It is very fragrant and highly valued as a perfume. The rich brown resin, labdanum, also comes from the Rock Rose.

Together the brothers kill a male goat and dip Joseph’s robe in its blood.  When they return home, they give the stained garment 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 consider how selling their brother will wound their nefeshim (souls) or the nefesh (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 17-year-old Joseph arrives in Egypt, the Ishmaelites sell him to Potiphar, one of 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

The account between Judah and Tamar comes between Joseph being sold to the Ishmaelites and being bought as a slave in Egypt (Genesis 48). Some speculate that because of the events surrounding Joseph being sold into slavery, 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 a son 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 known as ‘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 passes and Judah’s wife dies. After his time of mourning ends, he and his friend Hiran go to Timnah (Forbidding) 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 rituals.   The Canaanites worshiped 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 knows about these rituals and prepares herself .  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 might not recognize her and her plan may succeed. She goes and sits at the gate to the entrance of Einayim (Eyes) which is on the road to Timnah.

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 quickly 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 life.

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 son 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 making binding 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, King Solomon through Jehoiachin and Zedekiah until King Yeshua.

Judah’s cord symbolizes the blue cord in the tzizit or ‘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 points to the ‘anointed one’ who would come from his lineage.  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.  He asks about her around the city, but no one has any idea who he is talking about since no temple prostitute had been sitting at the gate. This puts 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 Malki-Tzedek 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 righteously because she did not publicly disgrace him. When he receives the pledge items,  he must decide whether to admit his guilt and save Tamar’s life or sacrifice Tamar to preserve his honor. He allows Tamar to 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, born first, 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. At some point in time, Judah returns to his family and is with his brothers when they go to Egypt for grain.

Hebrew Word Pictures
Tamar (Fruit of a Date Palm) –תמר – tav, mem, resh
– the mighty sign of the highest authority

Perez (Breaking Out) – פרז – peh, resh, zayin
– source of the highest authority divided

Zerach (Scarlet) – זרח – zayin, resh, chet
– dividing the highest authority protects

Selah
Tamar is the second woman in Scripture who veils herself and gives birth to twins.  The birth of twins was rare in ancient times and was considered to be a special gift from Elohim.

Joseph’s Life in Egypt

In Genesis 14:13, Abram is referred to as a Hebrew.  Hebrew comes from the Hebrew word ivrit and means to ‘traverse or cross over a boundary.’  The word can also mean ‘sojourner’ or one who makes his home as a stranger in a foreign land. 

Some gentile believers refer to themselves as Hebrews when they ‘cross over’ and 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 has now become a sojourner in Egypt –– a foreign land with foreign customs.

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 for 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. Potiphar’s wife is attracted to him.  After some time, she tempts 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 he not only continues to refuse her, he keeps his distance from her.  After being rejected too many times, she grabs his robe, and he flees her presence leaving his robe in her hand.  Feeling completely humiliated, she uses the robe to discredit Joseph’s moral standard and integrity to her husband, “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).
Joseph is thrown into prison, but Elohim remains with him. Even after the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife and losing his authority in Potiphar’s home, the prison warden sees Joseph’s value and makes him supervisor over all the prisoners; and Joseph prospers.

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

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 agitated.  When he asks them why, they tell him that they each 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 puts 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 the importance of waiting 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 the cupbearer is reinstated, he would mention his name to Pharaoh.  Joseph explains that he had been kidnapped from his people and has done nothing wrong.

It is understandable that Joseph would want out of prison.  He is innocent of all the 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 chosen 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 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).

©2018 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved.  No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing. For a hard copy of this Torah portion, the weekly readings of the Prophets and New Testament, and springboard for midrash, please purchase Open My Eyes: Wonders of Torah.

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