In last week's Torah portion we saw Ya'akov (renamed Israel) going back to his homeland. By that time he had twelve sons who were to become the twelve tribes of Israel. His father Yitz'chak (Isaac), our second Patriarch, died at the age of 180, and Ya'akov (our third Patriarch) and his twin brother, Esav, buried him.
In this parashah beginning in Genesis 37 we find Israel's (formerly known as Ya'akov/Jacob, Genesis 32:28) son Yosef (Joseph) as an object of jealousy for his brothers who realized that their father loved Yosef more than any of them. After revealing a series of dreams that seemed to indicate Yosef would eventually be their leader in some way, his brothers plotted to kill him - but ultimately sold him to the Goyim (Gentiles) after his oldest brother Reuven insisted they simply throw him into a cistern. Reuven planned on rescuing him later, but the story took a turn when the brothers decided to sell Yosef to a passing caravan which took him on to Egypt. Take a look at how the story unfolds:
Genesis 37: 1 Ya'akov continued living in the land where his father had lived as a foreigner, the land of Kena'an. 2 Here is the history of Ya'akov. When Yosef was seventeen years old he used to pasture the flock with his brothers, even though he was still a boy. Once when he was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, he brought a bad report about them to their father. 3 Now Isra'el loved Yosef the most of all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long-sleeved robe. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they began to hate him and reached the point where they couldn't even talk with him in a civil manner.
5 Yosef had a dream which he told his brothers, and that made them hate him all the more. 6 He said to them, "Listen while I tell you about this dream of mine. 7 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." 8 His brothers retorted, "Yes, you will certainly be our king. You'll do a great job of bossing us around!"And they hated him still more for his dreams and for what he said. 9 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."
10 He told his father too, as well as his brothers, but his father rebuked him: "What is this dream you have had? Do you really expect me, your mother and your brothers to come and prostrate ourselves before you on the ground?" 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. 12 After this, when his brothers had gone to pasture their father's sheep in Sh'khem, 13 Isra'el asked Yosef, "Aren't your brothers pasturing the sheep in Sh'khem? Come, I will send you to them." He answered, "Here I am." 14 He said to him, "Go now, see whether things are going well with your brothers and with the sheep, and bring word back to me." So he sent him away from the Hevron Valley, and he went to Sh'khem, 15 where a man found him wandering around in the countryside. The man asked him, "What are you looking for?"
16 "I'm looking for my brothers," he answered. "Tell me, please, where are they pasturing the sheep?" 17 The man said, "They've left here; because I heard them say, 'Let's go to Dotan.'" Yosef went after his brothers and found them in Dotan. 18 They spotted him in the distance, and before he had arrived where they were, they had already plotted to kill him. 19 They said to each other, "Look, this dreamer is coming! 20 So come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these water cisterns here. Then we'll say some wild animal devoured him. We'll see then what becomes of his dreams!" 21 But when Re'uven heard this, he saved him from being destroyed by them. He said, "We shouldn't take his life. 22 Don't shed blood," Re'uven added. "Throw him into this cistern here in the wilds, but don't lay hands on him yourselves." He intended to rescue him from them later and restore him to his father.
Jealousy can make one do strange things. Cain killed Abel over jealousy because God had accepted Abel's sacrifice and not his own (Genesis 4). Psalm 106 tells us the Israelites in the wilderness became jealous of Moshe and Aharon who were being used mightily by YHWH Himself. In the Gospels we see that the Pharisees were jealous of Y'shua - and their jealousy eventually nailed Him to the stake. In Galatians 5:19-21 we see that jealousy is considered a "work of the flesh." And here, in this parashah, we see the jealousy of Yosef's brothers driving them to the point of wanting to kill him. However, because YHWH was with him, they ended up selling him into slavery in Egypt, instead.
Genesis 37: 23 So it was that when Yosef arrived to be with his brothers, they stripped off his robe, the long-sleeved robe he was wearing, 24 and took him and threw him into the cistern (the cistern was empty; without any water in it). 25 Then they sat down to eat their meal; but as they looked up, they saw in front of them a caravan of Yishma'elim coming from Gil'ad, their camels loaded with aromatic gum, healing resin and opium, on their way down to Egypt. 26 Y'hudah said to his brothers, "What advantage is it to us if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?
27 Come, let's sell him to the Yishma'elim, instead of putting him to death with our own hands. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh." His brothers paid attention to him. 28 So when the Midyanim, merchants, passed by, they drew and lifted Yosef up out of the cistern and sold him for half a pound of silver shekels to the Yishma'elim, who took Yosef on to Egypt. 29 Re'uven returned to the cistern, and, upon seeing that Yosef wasn't in it, tore his clothes in mourning. 30 He returned to his brothers and said, "The boy isn't there! Where can I go now?
31 They took Yosef's robe, killed a male goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 Then they sent the long-sleeved robe and brought it to their father, saying, "We found this. Do you know if it's your son's robe or not?" 33 He recognized it and cried, "It's my son's robe! Some wild animal has torn Yosef in pieces and eaten him!" 34 Ya'akov tore his clothes and, putting sackcloth around his waist, mourned his son for many days. 35 Though all his sons and daughters tried to comfort him, he refused all consolation, saying, "No, I will go down to the grave, to my son, mourning." And his father wept for him. 36 In Egypt the Midyanim sold Yosef to Potifar, one of Pharaoh's officials, a captain of the guard.
Verse 36 above kicks off a whole wonderful series of events for our hero, Yosef as we will see in future chapters. The story of Yosef bears some astounding similarities to Yeshua.
In Genesis 38, Moshe (recorder of the Torah) briefly veers from the story of Yosef to show us what happened in the life of Yosef's brother, Y'hudah (Judah). In this chapter we once again see that YHWH "chooses" certain people, in spite of their humanity and their imperfections and shortcomings.
In this story we see Y'hudah take a wife who gives birth to three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. YHWH viewed as evil Er (the oldest son who had a wife named Tamar), and He killed him. Y'hudah then ordered Onan to take Tamar as his wife so the bloodline could be continued, but Onan had other ideas, and so YHWH killed him, too:
Genesis 38: 6 Y'hudah took a wife for 'Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But 'Er, Y'hudah's firstborn, was evil from ADONAI's perspective, so ADONAI killed him. 8 Y'hudah said to Onan, "Go and sleep with your brother's wife - perform the duty of a husband's brother to her, and preserve your brother's line of descent." 9 However, Onan knew that the child would not count as his; so whenever he had intercourse with his brother's wife, he spilled the semen on the ground, so as not to give his brother offspring. 10 What he did was evil from ADONAI's perspective, so he killed him too.
Read on - the story gets even more bizarre!
Genesis 38: 11 Then Y'hudah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, "Stay a widow in your father's house until my son Shelah grows up"; for he thought, "I don't want him to die too, like his brothers." So Tamar went and lived at home with her father. 12 In due time, Shua's daughter, the wife of Y'hudah, died. After Y'hudah had been comforted, he went up to be with his sheep-shearers in Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the 'Adulami. 13 Tamar was told, "Your father-in-law has gone up to Timnah to shear his sheep." 14 So she took off her widow's clothes, completely covered her face with her veil, and sat at the entrance to 'Einayim, which is on the way to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah had grown up, but she still was not being given to him as his wife.
15 When Y'hudah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, because she had covered her face. 16 So he went over to her where she was sitting and said, not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, "Come, let me sleep with you." She answered, "What will you pay to sleep with me?" 17 He said, "I will send you a kid from the flock of goats." She said, "Will you also give me something as a guarantee until you send it" 18 He answered, "What should I give you as a guarantee?" She said, "Your seal, with its cord, and the staff you're carrying in your hand." So he gave them to her, then went and slept with her; and she conceived by him.
Please note that prostitutes in those days covered their faces. (Ironically, Muslims force their women to cover their faces....)
Genesis 38: 19 She got up and went away, took off her veil and put on her widow's clothes. 20 Y'hudah sent the kid with his friend the 'Adulami to receive the guarantee items back from the woman, but he couldn't find her. 21 He asked the people near where she had been, "Where is the prostitute who was on the road at 'Einayim?" But they answered, "There hasn't been any prostitute here." 22 So he returned to Y'hudah and said, "I couldn't find her; also the people there said, 'There hasn't been any prostitute here.'" 23 Y'hudah said, "All right, let her keep the things, so that we won't be publicly shamed. I sent the kid, but you didn't find her."
24 About three months later Y'hudah was told, "Tamar your daughter-in-law has been acting like a whore; moreover, she is pregnant as a result of her prostitution."Y'hudah said, "Bring her out, and let her be burned alive!" 25 When she was brought out, she sent this message to her father-in-law: "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." 26 Then Y'hudah acknowledged owning them. He said, "She is more righteous than I, because I didn't let her become the wife of my son Shelah." And he never slept with her again.
We weren't told why Y'hudah hadn't given his youngest son to Tamar to be her husband, but it's interesting to note that Tamar took matters into her own hands in order to keep the bloodline going!
At this point it is important to mention that, before Yeshua came into the world as our Final Sin "Sacrifice"/Offering, YHWH used to kill disobedient people (as in the case of Y'hudah's first two sons, above). If you'll remember, He also killed the sons of Aaron in Leviticus 10:1-3 for daring to alter YHWH's commands concerning offerings. Since Yeshua's death, however, we see no more instances (with the exception of Annanias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-10 who were killed by the Spirit of YHWH for lying regarding the money for selling the property). Our Judgment, however, will come on Judgment Day, and that is why we must all strive to follow YHWH's commands to the best of our ability.
Moving on to Genesis 39 where we return to the life of Yosef, who by that time had become the slave of an Egyptian named Potifar: Yosef pleased his master so well that he was eventually made manager of the household, and made wealthy in his own right. Unfortunately, Potifar's wife was attracted to Yosef and did her best to seduce him - actions which he steadfastly rebuked.
Genesis 39: 11 However, one day, when he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men living in the house was there indoors, 12 she grabbed him by his robe and said, "Sleep with me!" But he fled, leaving his robe in her hand, and got himself outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his robe in her hand and had escaped, 14 she called the men of her house and said to them, "Look at this! My husband brought in a Hebrew to make fools of us. He came in and wanted to sleep with me, but I yelled out loudly. 15 When he heard me yelling like that, he left his robe with me and ran out." 16 She put the robe aside until his master came home. 17 Then she said to him, "This Hebrew slave you brought us came in to make a fool of me. 18 But when I yelled out, he left his robe with me and fled outside." 19 When his master heard what his wife said as she showed him, "Here's what your slave did to me," he became furious.
20 Yosef's master took him and put him in prison, in the place where the king's prisoners were kept; and there he was in the prison. 21 But ADONAI was with Yosef, showing him grace and giving him favor in the sight of the prison warden. 22 The prison warden made Yosef supervisor of all the prisoners in the prison; so that whatever they did there, he was in charge of it. 23 The prison warden paid no attention to anything Yosef did, because ADONAI was with him; and whatever he did, ADONAI prospered.
So, it seems whatever Yosef did, ended up well, and he always came back, stronger than ever - even after the following happened:
Genesis 40: 1 Some time later it came about that the Egyptian king's cupbearer and baker gave offense to their lord the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh became angry with his two officers the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. 3 So he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison, in the same place where Yosef was kept. 4 The captain of the guard charged Yosef to be with them, and he became their attendant while they remained in prison. 5 One night the two of them, the king of Egypt's cupbearer and his baker, there in prison, both had dreams, each dream with its own meaning. 6 Yosef came in to them in the morning and saw that they looked sad. 7 He asked Pharaoh's officers there with him in the prison of his master's house, "Why are you looking so sad today?"
8 They said to him, "We each had a dream, and there's no one around who can interpret it."Yosef said to them, "Don't interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please." 9 Then the chief cupbearer told Yosef his dream: "In my dream, there in front of me was a vine, 10 and the vine had three branches. The branches budded, then it suddenly began to blossom, and finally clusters of ripe grapes appeared. 11 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." 12 Yosef said to him, "Here is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office: you will be giving Pharaoh his cup as you used to when you were his cupbearer.
14 But remember me when it goes well with you; and show me kindness, please; and mention me to Pharaoh, so that he will release me from this prison. 15 For the truth is that I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and here too I have done nothing wrong that would justify putting me in this dungeon." 16 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." 18 Yosef answered, "Here is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. 19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head from off of you -he will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you."
20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, he gave a party for all his officials, and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his officials. 21 He restored the chief cupbearer back to his position, so that he again gave Pharaoh his cup. 22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Yosef had interpreted to them. 23 Nevertheless, the chief cupbearer didn't remember Yosef, but forgot him.
In next week's parashah, Yosef's luck will change for the better!