Vayechi (And He Lived)
Genesis 47:28–50:26; 1 Kings 1:1–12; 1 Peter 1:1–9
“When the time drew near for Israel [Jacob] to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, ‘… promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.’” (Genesis 47:29–30)
In last week’s Torah portion, Yehuda (Judah) pleaded with Yosef (Joseph) to take him as a slave instead of his youngest brother, Benjamin. Joseph was so moved that he revealed his identity to his brothers and brought his father Jacob and all his family to Egypt.
This week, the Torah and Haftarah portions share the somber thread of endings—the end of Jacob’s life, the end of Joseph’s life, and the last words of King David before his death.
Jacob prepares for the end of his life by securing Joseph’s promise that he would not be buried in Egypt, but that his bones would be carried back to the Land of Israel.
Even though he and his family thrived in Egypt, Jacob had not forgotten God’s covenant promise to give the Land to him and his descendants forever. Despite all the bounty with which God had blessed Jacob in Egypt, he had treasured God’s covenant promises in his heart.
As the end of his life drew near, he made sure that even the very burial of his bones would be a statement of the promises and trustworthiness of God for the generations to come.
“Then Israel [Jacob] said to Joseph, ‘I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. And to you, as one who is over your brothers, I give the ridge of land I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow.’” (Genesis 48:21–22)
Jacob Imparts the Blessings to Ephraim
“I never even expected to see your face again, Joseph, and now God has even allowed me to see your offspring.” (Genesis 48:11)
In this Parasha, Yaacov (Jacob) imparts his blessings to his sons, pronouncing the patriarchal blessings over Yosef’s sons first.
As powerful as Yosef is, he can’t control his father Jacob’s blessings. When he presents his sons before Jacob (Israel) to receive the blessing, Jacob surprises him by crossing his hands to place his right one on Ephraim’s head and his left on Manasseh’s.
This was the reverse of Yosef’s expectation, since Manasseh was the firstborn and therefore, the rightful heir of the blessing of the firstborn.
“When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, ‘No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.’” (Genesis 48:17–18)
Joseph thought his father had simply made a mistake, perhaps due to his old age, but Jacob (Israel) purposefully put Ephraim before Manasseh.
This is something of a parallel to Jacob’s life, since Jacob was given the blessing of the firstborn even though his brother Esau was his elder brother.
Furthermore, Jacob’s father Isaac also received the blessing over his elder brother, Ishmael.
We don’t know why Jacob bestowed the blessing of the firstborn upon Ephraim. Perhaps God had spoken to Jacob, as He had spoken to his mother Rebecca saying, “The elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
Since that word was spoken while the children were yet in her womb, before they were even born, it’s evident that God made this choice on the basis of divine election, and not on the basis of merit.
The father’s blessing is so important and powerful! Even today, every Friday evening, observant Jews bless their sons with the same blessing Jacob spoke over Ephraim and Manasseh.
There seems to be a connection between the name Ephraim, which comes from the word pri, meaning fruit, and the blessing he receives. The destined fruit of Ephraim is to be m’loh hagoyim, which can be translated as a multitude of nations or Gentiles. (Genesis 48:19)
Likewise, Avraham (Abraham) also received a promise that he would be the father of many nations besides Israel. (Genesis 17:5)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
Against all natural reason, Jacob (Israel), being divinely led, blesses the younger son, Ephraim, with his right hand.
May we also be led by the Spirit in all our decisions and be radically obedient, even when it goes against our natural understanding, since the word of God tells us to trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding.
There are other places in Scripture where the younger child is blessed over the elder ones.
Moses was the second born and yet was called to lead Israel.
David was so young and insignificant in his father Jesse’s eyes that he was not even considered worthy of election. Jesse didn’t even call him in from the fields when Samuel came calling to see which of Jesse’s sons would become the next king of Israel after Saul.
God’s blessing is on all His children, but certain ones have distinct destinies and callings.
There is so much the Word has to say about God’s destiny on specific children, even before they are born—even before they are formed in the womb!
For instance, God said to Jeremiah, “Before you were formed in the womb, I chose you; I set you apart before you were born, I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
God may choose our children before they are ever born and appoint them to do great and mighty exploits for Him and for the sake of His Kingdom.
Jacob Blesses His Sons
“Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.” (Genesis 49:1)
Although Jacob blesses each of his sons, this aging father still holds past issues, even on his deathbed, against some of them.
Jacob recalls his firstborn, Reuven’s sin of defiling his father’s bed by lying with his concubine.
Because of his lack of character, Reuven forfeited the rights of the firstborn. Even though he possesses dignity and excellence, his instability becomes his undoing.
“Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.” (Genesis 49:4)
From God’s perspective, moral character is more important than hereditary rights.
We may possess great gifts and potential, but we must work to strengthen our character as well, that we may be stable enough to inherit the blessings that come along with excellence and power. When Jacob (Israel) blesses Judah (Yehuda), he singles him out by giving him the most prominent blessing. He calls him a ‘lion’s whelp’ and the emblem of kingship is given to the tribe of Judah (the ruler’s staff). (Genesis 49:8–12)
In fulfillment of this Messianic promise of the Coming One, Yeshua (Jesus) was born of the line of David, Judah’s first king. He, the ‘Lion of the Tribe of Judah’ (Revelation 5:5), is the eternal ruler and His kingdom shall never end.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. … The increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne.” (Isaiah 9:6–7)
“Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.” (Genesis 49:7)
In this Parasha, Jacob curses Simeon and Levi’s uncontrolled anger, which caused them to kill many innocent men in the matter of Shechem’s rape of their sister.
We may note that it was their sin he curses, not their person. In the course of time, the curse took effect. The Simeonites were eventually intermingled with the tribe of Judah, and the Levites were dispersed among the other tribes of Israel.
“The second lot came out for the tribe of Simeon, clan by clan. Their inheritance lay within the territory of Judah.” (Joshua 19:1)
Sometimes there are unavoidable consequences for sin, despite forgiveness. Still, we wonder if it possible that even this great man of God held unforgiveness in his heart?
That theme of unforgiveness seems to appear in this week’s Haftarah portion (prophetic portion of Scripture), where David also brings up an unhealed offense, and on his deathbed, asks his son to deal with it. (1 Kings 2:5–9)
“Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. …Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.” (1 Kings 2:5–6)
Isn’t it somehow tragic that such a great man of God—mighty King David of Israel, a man after God’s own heart—passes into eternity with vengeance in his heart and on his lips?
Joseph’s Brothers Fear Revenge
After Jacob is buried in the cave that Abraham had purchased as a burial site at Machpelah, Joseph’s brothers begin to fear him.
They worry that he might still be holding a grudge against them and might now take revenge.
But this is not the case. Joseph shows himself to be a true man of God and foreshadows the mercy of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).
Once again, he reassures his brothers saying, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19–21)
Not only does Joseph promise not to harm then, but he also promises to do them good and to care for them and their children.
Joseph was able to look beyond the transgressions of others and see God in the situation. He understood forgiveness.
Learning from Joseph’s Example
“Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and He will deliver you.” (Proverbs 20:22)
We are exhorted in the Word not to return evil for evil but to overcome evil with good. We can trust our Amazing God, that whatever any person may do against us, He has the power to transform it for good.
Oh, how marvelous is forgiveness. It not only sets free the person who wronged us, but also sets us free from a root of bitterness that defiles many. (Hebrews 12:15)
Still, too many of us hold onto offences and grudges even unto the very last day of our lives.
In fact, the ultimate test for each of us may very well be our willingness to forgive those we feel have wronged us, and to move forward with God, living in His Spirit. Or will we choose to allow difficulties and sorrows to harden our hearts to God, to others, and to life itself?
For if we can’t forgive, not only will our Father not forgive us, but we will close ourselves to the abundant life He has in store for us.
Joseph’s End and the Promise of God
“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Genesis 50:24)
Like his father before him, Joseph approaches the end of his life with an inner assurance that the promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were unfailing.
As a demonstration of that faith, he makes his brothers solemnly vow that his bones will not be left in exile in Egypt, but that they will be carried back to the Promised Land when God delivers the Jewish People out of Egypt.
“And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” (Genesis 50:25)
There has always been a remnant of Israel that believes the promises of God.
The refrain of Jewish people in exile has been consistent over time:
“How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem as my greatest joy!” (Psalm 137:4–6)
Like Jacob and Joseph, that remnant has believed that one day the Jewish People will return to their land and treasured God’s faithfulness to His promise in their hearts.