A Few Thoughts on Vayigash

In this week’s parasha, Vayigash, Genesis 44:18 – 47:27, after a rather tense situation over Benjamin’s possible imprisonment, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. His first question is not about their well-being, but whether his father Jacob was still alive. The whole time his brothers just stood there in shock and fear; they were terrified, probably sure that retribution for their past deeds was about to be swift and decisive (Genesis 45:1-3). In the natural, how could they think otherwise? Joseph, however, was not operating in the natural, he was apparently in tune with the heart and mind of HaShem as seen in his explanation to them.

So now, don’t be grieved and don’t be angry in your own eyes that you sold me here—since it was for preserving life that God sent me here before you. For there has been two years of famine in the land, and there will be five more years yet with no plowing or harvesting. But God sent me ahead of you to ensure a remnant in the land and to keep you alive for a great escape. So now, it wasn’t you, you didn’t send me here, but God! And He made me as a father to Pharaoh, lord over his whole house and ruler over the entire land of Egypt.

Genesis 45:5-8

“So now, it wasn’t you, you didn’t send me here, but God!” Note, if you will, Joseph did not absolve his brothers of their actions. He chose to focus where it needed to be. The brothers were focused on immediate answers to THEIR situation, while Joseph was focused on HaShem and his plans. Two years of the prophesied seven-year famine had passed. Pharaoh’s appointment of Joseph as overseer of Egypt ensured that Egypt would survive the famine, but HaShem’s positioning of Joseph in Egypt guaranteed that his family would survive as well. 

Joseph’s words remind me once again of one of my favorite passages from the Nevi’im (the Prophets) in which Jeremiah shared this powerful prophetic word with those still in captivity and exile, 

For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalom and not calamity—to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

HaShem did not say things would be easy and stress free. He did say that he had plans for shalom for the captives. He did not say that there would be no struggles along the way or no consequences as a result of their disobedience. HaShem affirmed that they would have a future because it was in his plans for it to be so. For me, the flipside of the coin to Jeremiah’s passage is Rav Shaul’s words to the Yeshua-followers in Rome,

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

Try to imagine Joseph holding on to “all things work together for good for those who love God” while he forcibly joined the Ishmaelite caravan as a slave (Genesis 37:23-27) or while he was sitting in prison for honoring his Egyptian master and not having relations with his master’s wife. It is important to note that Rav Shaul, like Jeremiah, did not say that everything was going to be easy or stress free. He may have had in mind Yeshua’s words to his talmidim (disciples),

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

John 16:33

In this verse Yeshua expresses the desire that his talmidim, then as well as us today, have shalom. Remember that shalom is not the absence of conflict, pain, sickness, or suffering. Rather it carries the connotation of completeness, soundness, well-being, security… in the midst of all these seemingly negative aspects that can and often do infect our lives. 

I believe there is an important aspect of shalom that is brought to light in Yeshua’s words in John 16, an aspect that it appears Joseph fully embraced. Yeshua said, “so that in Me you may have shalom.” This is the phraseology in virtually every English translation I checked. Two things jumped forth, first the shalom is rooted in Yeshua, in Me and second is the qualifier, you may have shalom or peace. It does not say you will have shalom, but that you may have shalom. Just as Joseph made a choice to accept that his brothers’ actions were actually HaShem’s plan, “you didn’t send me here, but God,” we must also choose to accept the shalom provided by Yeshua. As we will see next week in the continuation of Joseph’s story, his brothers never quite got to the point where they were at peace with Joseph. Even though Joseph held no ill will toward them, they continued to fear a coming retaliation. This is evident in their lying to Joseph about their father Jacob’s last wishes (Genesis 50:15ff). 

Joseph set a three-fold example for each of us to follow. First, he chose to trust the ability of HaShem to work out his plans and purposes in Joseph’s life, wherever and however they might lead him. Second, as Joseph trusted in HaShem, he knew that eventually all things would in fact work for the good and according to HaShem’s purposes. And third, Joseph chose to live in the shalom of HaShem, secure in the knowledge that whatever happened, HaShem was in control. 

Bottom line, we live in a fallen, sin-sick world, and quite often bad things happen to good people – regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof. As Yeshua-believers we have a choice to make; either to live in the shalom provided by Yeshua – regardless of what this life throws at us— or to allow ourselves to be beaten down by the situations and circumstances of this world. I encourage all of us to decide to make the choice, or maybe to reaffirm the choice, to live in the shalom that Yeshua offers and trust that HaShem has a future and a hope for us. This choice will enable us to we walk out the rest of our life’s journey in hope.

* All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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