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The Destiny of the Sons of Israel and the Death of Jacob/Joseph - Torah Portion Vayechi

Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

“And he lived” - after bringing his family to Egypt Jacob lived 17 more years dying at the great age of 147. Joseph will also die in this parashah at the age of 110.

When Joseph learns that his father is ill he goes to his bedside with his two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob informs Joseph that these two boys will be as his own sons, each receiving an inheritance equal to that of his other sons. Joseph notices that Jacob places his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, the second born, instead of the firstborn son, Manasseh. While Joseph tries to correct this problem, Jacob stays the course. We see here the familiar twist of events where the biological firstborn son does not receive the firstborn inheritance of the family. This happened with Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and with the sons of David and the choice of Solomon as King. Even David was chosen by Samuel above all of his brothers to rule as king. In this week's haftarah portion we read of Solomon being chosen above the other sons of David. Adonijah's plan to overthrow Solomon cost him his life. When Adonai makes His choice, it stands! He sees the heart of individuals and not just the physical. In Jeremiah 31:9 Adonai states that Ephraim is my firstborn. We find that it is Ephraim who receives the double portion blessing from Jacob. Manasseh follows right on his heels in the blessing, Joseph gets the firstborn blessing and it theoretically flows right down to his sons. That is why the northern kingdom of Israel was known as the House of Israel or Ephraim. Ephraim was the largest tribe of the northern kingdom.

We can find the destiny of the sons of Jacob by the blessing that he pronounces over each of them before his death. He states that he will tell the sons what will happen to them in the “acharit-hayamim” (last days). These sons of Jacob, and their descendants, have seen these prophetic words come to pass down to the present day. So many lessons could be taught regarding these prophecies as well as the similar ones spoken over them by Moses. I will briefly highlight each son.

Reuben (Re'uven) – lost his firstborn status because he slept with Jacob's concubine, Bilhah, defiling his father. Reuben should have received three portions from his father as firstborn son: the birthright (largest portion of inheritance), the priesthood, and the kingdom. Because he sinned the birthright went to Joseph (through Ephraim and Manasseh), the priesthood to Levi, and the kingdom to Judah. See I Chronicles 5:1 for proof. Reuben fell and his descendants suffered the consequences as many times children follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Reuben desecrated the birthright which should have been held sacred. Reubenites would not have the excellency, or eminence, in the land. Reubenites never served as judge, prophet, or king. His instability, “as water”, came with a very high price. Although the birthright is stripped from him he is not stripped of a tribe's share in land inheritance. His portion of inheritance was to the east of Jordan. Reuben was the son of Leah.

Simeon or Simon and Levi (Shim'on and Levi) – two brothers who are tied together in mischief. It seems these two should have stayed away from each other. According to Rabbinical literature the two seemed to bring out the worst of each other. This seems to be their lot throughout history. Jacob wants nothing to do with their council. They both had bad tempers which led to the violence they carried out at Shechem. Simeon was also a part of the evil that sold Joseph into slavery so perhaps that is why Joseph keeps him as captive after the brothers first visit to Egypt. Historically, Simon was a tribe full of gross idolatry and apparently because of this their tribe dwindled down to be the smallest of all the tribes at the close of the wilderness journey (Numbers 26:14). The tribes of Simeon and Levi were indeed the smallest of the tribes during that time. Simon is totally omitted in the blessing of Moses in Deuteronomy 33 but some commentators believe that his blessing would once again coincide with that of his brother, Levi. Simon and Levi receive no distinct inheritance of land. Instead, they will be “divided and scattered” throughout the land of Israel. We see this when Joshua leads them into the promised land. Simon received towns and villages in the territory of Judah (Joshua 19:1). When they outgrew those cities they scattered throughout Israel, into the land of Edom and Ham, and into the northern kingdom of Ephraim (I Chronicles 4:39-43, II Chronicles 15:9, 34:6, ). Simeon seems to have been put under the tutelage of Judah, the biggest tribe of the southern kingdom. There seems to be intermarrying between these two tribes. The cities of Simeon were some of the first to be carried off into captivity when the southern kingdom was attacked. According to Jewish history Simeonites were said to be good warriors, teachers of the law, and scribes. Levi received only 48 towns in the various districts of the land. They were separated from one another. It is interesting that Jacob makes no mention of Levi and the priesthood in this blessing but only of his wicked anger and separation in the land. However, Moses in Deuteronomy 33:8-11 mentions Levi and the priesthood, and the fact that they would be the teachers of Israel. Yet, Moses makes no mention of Simeon at all. Could these brothers truly be linked together as teachers of Torah but in different manners? Notice in verse 11 of chapter 33 that it is stated, “bless, LORD, his substance, and accept the work of his hands: smite through the loins of them that rise against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again”. It would seem that Moses prays that the wickedness of the past in these sons be reversed and that Adonai not hold it to their account but instead bless them, and that none be able to rise against them in evil. Perhaps their “quick anger” days of wrath came to an end and now they would serve Israel instead. The sins of our past, although forgiven, can still come back to haunt us in the future. Although these two tribes may seem to be as one tribe in many respects, and even though they both may have arisen to be teachers of Torah to the people, they still received only town and villages and were divided and scattered throughout their history; even as Jacob stated. Sometimes we are made to suffer for our transgression only to see Adonai turn that suffering into blessings. It appears that, according to Ezekiel 48:24-25, Simeon will receive a land portion and not just cities during the Millennial reign of Messiah. They were the second and third sons of Leah.

Judah (Y'hudah) – oh wow, what can I say without writing a book about Judah? Judah was the fourth son of Leah and from him was to come the Messiah of Israel. All prophecies spoken over him by Jacob and Moses prophecy of the kingship of his descendants. Judah, not Joseph, became the protector over Benjamin throughout history. Judah became one of the largest tribes along with the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Judah and Joseph struggled with each other from early times. This struggle still continues. They are intrinsically linked together in the destiny of their people. It was Judah who spoke up to sell Joseph into slavery. It was Judah and Joseph who were at odds over what was to become of their younger brother Benjamin. It was Judah and Joseph who were at odds over one another until the kingdom split in half: Rehoboam was from Judah and Jeroboam was from Ephraim. They have had a lasting “jealousy and harassment” with one another which the LORD of heaven will bring to an end with the return of the Messiah, when both kingdoms (sticks) will once again become one in His hand (Ezekiel 37:14-28, Isaiah 11:13).

Zebulun (Z'vulun) – his name means “dwelling”. His descendants would be sea faring peoples. Not coincidentally his lot fell along the seacoasts close to Tzidon, on the Sea of Galilee; and of the Mediterranean Sea. Notice, this was by lot and not because of some prophecy made by Jacob hundreds of years before (Joshua 19:10). Zebulun was apparently good in commerce. In Rabbinic literature Zebulun and Issachar are said to have been very close. Issachar supposedly depended on Zebulun for financial support and Zebulun depended on Issachar for spiritual support. They were the last two sons that Leah bore to Jacob. Moses blesses both Issachar and Zebulun together.

Issachar (Yissakhar) – from the blessing of Jacob we see that Issachar was content to work the land and stay at home. He apparently renounced a warlike spirit and military achievement. Although he was born before Zebulun, his name is mentioned second. Some believe this is because Issachar sank into a subordinate position, as Jacob's blessing seems to indicate, and that he came to be a servant under tribute to his brethren. He would seem to be content with paying them for his protection.

Dan – he was the firstborn of Rachel's handmaid, Bilhah. Samson would arise from Dan and perhaps this is the allusion to “Dan will judge his people”. The first introduction of idolatry comes from the tribe of Dan (Judges 18:1-31). The tribe of Dan is not mentioned in Revelation 7:1-17. Due to the phrase by Jacob “I have waited for your salvation, O LORD”and the reference of a serpent biting the heel, many believe that the last days anti-Messiah will come from the tribe of Dan, ushering in the Kingdom of the Messiah and the promise of salvation from Genesis chapter 3. Danites were to be a people of boldness, strength, and courage, but just maybe, not always in a good way. Because there is much to be said about Dan, I will leave off here.

Gad – his name means troop. It seems that this whole poetic verse about Gad alludes to the fact that his descendants will be warlike; sometimes conquering and sometimes being conquered. This tribe passed over the Jordan at the head of the armies of Israel in Joshua's time. In Judges (10:7-8) and Jeremiah (49:1) we find that Moabites and Ammonites fought against them and had them under bondage at times. I Chronicles 5:18 denotes them as warriors. Although often attacked and plundered by enemies they were generally victorious in battle. Gad was the firstborn of Leah's handmaiden, Zilpah, the seventh son of Jacob. According to Jewish literature he was born on the tenth day of Marchesvan and lived 125 years.

Asher – his name means “happy or “blessed”. His land allotment was the seacoast between Tyre and Carmel. This was a very fertile portion of land thus rendering the words of Jacob's prophecy. King Solomon had food brought to him and his household from this land of Asher because it was abundant in wheat and oil. He was the 8th son of Jacob by Zilpah, Leah's handmaiden. According to Jewish literature Asher lived 123 years and was born on the 22nd day of Shevat. Anna in Luke 2:36 was from this tribe. It would have been in this territory that Yeshua turned water to wine at the wedding in Cana. There is much alluded to in this blessing, and that of Moses, that Asher and his descendants will be anointed and mature servants of Adonai.

Naphtali – his name means “to obtain by wrestling”. Two sisters, Rachel and Leah, struggled over birthing children to Jacob. He was the 6th son of Jacob, born to Bilhah, the handmaiden of Rachel. One important historical event that his descendants concern themselves with is the defeat of Jabin's host, and this is celebrated in the song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 4:5). His territory would also be a fertile plain and he will spread out. He “says beautiful words” - it would appear that this son of Jacob, and his descendants would became known for their eloquent speech and sage advice. This territory was the first to receive the gospel by Yeshua (Matthew 4:12-17), fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2.

Joseph (Yosef) – meaning “added or to be added” was the firstborn son of Rachel, Jacob's favorite wife. Like Judah there is much to be said about Joseph and I have already said much about him already. Apart from Judah, Joseph has more spoken over him that any of the sons. His blessing also flows down to his sons: Ephraim and Manasseh. He received the firstborn blessing, a double portion of all that Jacob had. As mentioned above he and Judah had continuing struggles. Judah was the dominant tribal leader of the southern kingdom and Joseph (Ephraim) was the dominant tribal leader of the northern kingdom. The descendants of Joseph will be the most fertile of all of Jacob's sons. They will become a “multitude of nations”. I will save this discussion for a later date.

Benjamin (Beinyamin) – this tribe in its early history was a warfaring people, engaging with the other tribes, and was almost exterminated. The prophecy denotes wolves/prey and the dividing of the spoil. Seems to be simple. However, the Targums apply this prophecy to the priests offering the daily sacrifices in the Temple twice a day. The temple stood in the land allotment of Benjamin. The dividing what was left and eating it would denote the portion for the priests. Jewish writers say he is alluded to as a wolfe because of his strength. Ehud, King Saul, and the Apostle Paul came from this tribe.

Something must be said about forgiveness, once again, in these scriptures. After the death of Jacob the brothers fear that Joseph will now take revenge out on them for what they had done to him by selling him as a slave. They devise a plan to make Joseph believe that his father had left parting words about their not taking out revenge on them. When Joseph learns of their fears he assures them that he holds no grudges against them. All has been forgiven. He turns it around to say that they meant evil for him but Elohim meant good for him and used it all to bring good to the whole family of Jacob. Many times people hold grudges against others and especially family members. This is very, very sad! Unforgiveness is like a cancer which eats the individual from within. Scripture states that we are to forgive one another even as Messiah has forgiven us. Truly, this is an issue that many people need to correct in their walk with HaShem.

At the death of Jacob and Joseph we find that their bodies are embalmed according to Egyptian practice. As per his request, Joseph and his brothers take the body of Jacob back to the cave at Machpelah and bury it alongside the patriarchs and matriarchs (except for Rachel). Before Joseph dies he requests for his body to be carried out of Egypt and back to Canaan when his people leave Egypt in the future. We read later on that this request was granted and they carry up Joseph's embalmed body and bury it near Shechem in a plot of land that had previously been purchased by Jacob. This land surrounding Shechem fell to the lot of Joseph as an inheritance.




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