Vayigash (Then He Drew Near)
Genesis 44:18–47:27; Ezekiel 37:15–28; Ephesians 2:1–22
“Then Judah came near [Vayigash וַיִּגַּשׁ] unto him and said, ‘Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself.’” (Genesis 44:18)
In last week’s Torah portion, Pharaoh appointed Joseph administrator over all of Egypt in order to save the people of the nation from the coming famine. That famine affected much of the region; and because of Joseph’s wise stewardship, the nations looked to Egypt as a source of food.
When Jacob sent his sons to Egypt for grain, Joseph recognized them but did not reveal himself right away. He wisely tested their integrity through a series of character challenges.
Judah Reveals His True Character
This week, Parasha Vayigash begins with a plea from Judah, brother of Joseph, on behalf of his younger half-brother, Benjamin. A silver cup had been deliberately planted in Benjamin’s bag by Joseph, causing Benjamin to be in danger of having to remain a slave in Egypt.
Judah can’t bear to return to his father without his youngest brother, Benjamin. He knows that the grief his father will endure for doing so will probably kill him.
He, therefore, pleads with Joseph, saying, “Please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?” (Genesis 44:33–34)
Judah seems to realize that his family’s situation is related to the evil behavior of his brothers in selling Joseph, and he doesn’t want such evil to befall them again if Benjamin is now lost in Egypt.
This confession of sin accompanied by sincere remorse and turning from sin fulfills the Torah’s requirements for true repentance (teshuvah).
Judah approaches Joseph privately and explains how it was difficult to bring Benjamin with him to Egypt, since he is the only surviving son of Rachel, and his father is very attached to him. He explains that he guaranteed the boy’s safety and is desperate to take his place as a slave.
Joseph, no longer able to control his emotions after seeing his brothers’ repentance, cries out for everyone to leave except his brothers. He wants to be alone with them when he reveals his true identity.
“Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Make everyone go out from me!’ So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it.’” (Genesis 45:1–2)
As Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, he comforts them:
“I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Genesis 45:5)
God’s Sovereign Plan of Salvation Cannot Be Broken
In placing Joseph in charge of Egypt’s food supply, God wanted to do more than preserve the lives of the Egyptians and the nearby world from starvation due to a present famine.
By installing Joseph in a position of power to save his own family, God preserved the promise He made to Abraham, which included Israel being a blessing to the nations:
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2–3)
Specifically, this promise would be passed down through Isaac, not his brother Ishmael (Genesis 26:3–5); through Jacob, not his brother Esau (Genesis 28:14–15); and the promise of the Messiah would exclusively come through the line of Judah, not his other 11 brothers:
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor.” (Genesis 49:10)
The one to whom the sovereign staff of rule belongs is the Messiah.
God sovereignly chose Joseph to ensure that His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (not only of land but also of being a blessing to all nations through the Messiah) would be fulfilled through the line of Jacob’s son, Judah.
Why did God choose Judah?
Perhaps because he is the only brother who showed compassion toward Joseph, saving his life when his brothers wanted to kill him (Genesis 37:26–27). And as we saw earlier, he showed even more compassion toward Benjamin by offering to become a slave in his place.
Both of Judah’s acts foreshadowed what Yeshua (Jesus) would do for all of us spiritually.
“By this we know what love is: Jesus laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16)
In the end, neither envy, nor jealousy, nor murderous plots against Joseph in his early years could derail God’s love and plan of salvation for us—and the hatred against the Jewish People today still can’t derail it.
Jacob Reunites with Joseph
“And they told him, saying, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt.’ And Jacob’s heart stood still, because he did not believe them.” (Genesis 45:26)
In this Parasha, Jacob is reunited with his beloved son Joseph.
Imagine hearing that your favorite child, whom you thought had been killed many years ago, is actually a governor of the nation next door!
This perhaps reminds many of us of the shock that Yeshua’s disciples experienced when they were told that Yeshua was not dead, but alive. They had seen Him die and witnessed His burial; yet, here He was alive and well, walking about because death was unable to hold Him.
“When they heard that Yeshua was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.” (Mark 16:11)
Joseph invited his father and all of his brothers into exile in Egypt to save them from the famine in Israel.
Leaving the Promised Land was not easy. God, however, assured Jacob that it was right to accept his offer, even though it would begin 400 years of brutal slavery for Jacob’s descendants.
“Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, ‘Jacob, Jacob!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ So He said, ‘I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes.’” (Genesis 46:2–4)
During a previous famine, God instructed Jacob’s father, Isaac, to stay in the land, but in this instance God told Jacob to leave.
This shows us how important it is to listen for God’s voice and obey rather than simply go with whatever decision seem right to us or rely on a solution that worked in the past.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5–6)
Joseph was not only a powerful man, he was also an excellent provider. He brought his father and all of his brothers to Egypt where he made sure they were well looked after.
“Then Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with bread, according to the number in their families.” (Genesis 47:12)
Again, we can draw a parallel to Yeshua—the living bread (lechem chayim) who was born in Beit-Lechem (Bethlehem), the house of bread.
The bread that Joseph provided for his brothers sustained them during their lifetime, but the bread that Yeshua gives us sustains life eternally.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
Israel Reunites with Judah
The theme of this wonderful story of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, after so many years of being separated, continues in the Haftarah (prophetic reading), with the reunion of the northern and southern tribes of Israel upon their return from exile.
How did this split between the tribes of Israel happen?
After the reign of King Solomon, the nation of Israel split into the Southern Kingdom (represented by the tribe of Judah & Benjamin) and the Northern Kingdom (represented by the ten other tribes, which are collectively called Joseph, Ephraim, or simply Israel).
While both kingdoms sinned, Judah (Yehudah) returned from exile and still exists today as the Yehudim (Hebrew word for Jews). The ten northern tribes went into the nations and became “lost,” although some members of those tribes have returned.
Because of their idolatry, God broke the bonds of brotherhood between Judah and Joseph (Ephraim and Israel):
“Then I cut in two My other staff, bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.” (Zechariah 11:14)
According to Jewish thought, the animosity between Joseph and his brothers (all children of Jacob) foreshadows this later split between Judah and Benjamin with the other tribes of Israel (all children of God).
In an amazing prophecy, however, God promises that one day there will again be unity between them.
“Surely I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will join them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.”’ (Ezekiel 37:19)
To make sure there is no misunderstanding, God plainly explains this prophetic symbolism:
“Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.” (Ezekiel 37:21–22)
Of course, there is another reconciliation that God has brought about. Through Yeshua’s sacrificial death on the Roman execution stake—the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has also been destroyed, resulting in “one new man” out of the two.
Though divisions still do exist, God’s purposes are to reconcile us to Himself and to one another.
“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the execution stake, thereby putting to death the enmity.” (Ephesians 2:14–16)
There is an even greater reconciliation to come. If we look prophetically at this story of Joseph, we may see that just as Joseph said, “Ani Yoseph: I am Joseph, your brother,” likewise, Yeshua one day will say, “Ani Yeshua: I am your salvation, your brother and your Messiah.” Halleluyah!
When the Jewish people recognize Yeshua as their Messiah, there will also be a great reconciliation that will bring about life-giving change all over the world.
How we long for that great day!
“For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15)