G-d’s hand is in it all
Vayeishev (And He Settled) B’resheet/Genesis 37:1-40:23
Haftorah Readings: Amos 2:6-3:8
Our Torah portion today deals with a large swath of Joseph’s life. It also includes one chapter devoted to Judah and an incident involving him and his daughter in law. I want us to spend time on each of these and see what they can teach us and how in some ways they are connected.
I will begin with Joseph. When we read this Torah section what is your first impression of Joseph and his life? He was the son of Jacob and his beloved Rachel. He was Jacob’s favorite son. However, he was not loved by his brothers. His father gave him a beautiful coat which also did not help the opinion of his brothers toward him. In Genesis 37:5-11 we read of his two dreams. Again these dreams were not accepted by his brothers. In his last dream even his father appeared to disapprove. However, in Genesis 37:11 it says Jacob guarded this dream, meaning he did not discount it.
Next his brothers took him and put him in a pit. This is covered in Genesis 37:18-36. Here we read of the brothers selling him to traders who took him to Egypt as a slave. When he got to Egypt Potiphar, a member of Pharaoh’s court, took Joseph into his house as a slave. There he quickly rose to be in charge of his master’s house. Soon Potiphar’s wife made advances toward Joseph, demanding he lie with her. He refused but was pursued the more by her. She finally took his robe as he ran from her. She told her husband Joseph had assaulted her.
Joseph was immediately sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. In prison he rose to be the person in charge. (Gen. 39:22-23) In time he had the opportunity to interpret the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants. When his interpretation came to pass, he asked the butler to remember him to Pharaoh when he was released. Our portion ends at Genesis 40:23 where we read that the chief butler had been released and restored to his position but did not remember Joseph’s request.
So as we read this story of Joseph’s life what stands out? If any of us had been him, how would we have dealt with all this hardship? To the average person his life would have seemed to be a failure, filled with events that kept getting more and more dire. Hold on to that thought for a bit and let’s look at chapter 38 of Genesis. In verse 1 we read where Judah “went down” from his brothers. As you remember, the story included in this chapter, is where he went in to a prostitute, who was actually his daughter-in-law, Tamar. He paid her with three of his personal items, his signet, his staff and his bracelet. Tamar became pregnant and was brought before Judah after he said she should be burned. She then showed him his signet ring, staff and his bracelet. He absolved her saying she was more righteous than him. (Genesis 38:26)
Now, after that lengthy introduction, we come to my point in it all. We have two men who handled life quite differently. One who seem to be constantly punished or forgotten for things he did not do, or being misunderstood for those things. Then we have one who had lived a life seemingly free of serious problems but in our portion, sinned with a woman he thought to be a prostitute.
There is a word used here that might help us. In Genesis 37:32 and later in 38:25 there are two Hebrew words used together. In fact these two places are the only time, in the entire Hebrew scripture, you will find these two words used together. In Genesis 37:32 Judah took the coat of Joseph, stained with blood, and showed it to Jacob and said, “Haker Na.” In English you might say, “Recognize please.” It is spoken again when Tamar confronts Judah with his items and says, “Haker Na.” You might say she was showing him evidence that was proof positive.
I’m sure Judah remembered his own use of these same two words when he used them speaking to Jacob about Joseph’s coat. Judah lived a life seemingly free of the consequences of his sin. While Joseph’s life seemed constantly in a turmoil caused by other people and their actions. He recognized G-d’s hand in everything. Judah only came to admit his sin when confronted by Tamar.
The first of these two words, haker, is used many times in scripture. It was used when Isaac did not recognize his son Jacob but thought him to be Esau. Genesis 27:23. Later in Genesis 42:7 it was used when Joseph recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him.
When we come to the Messianic Scriptures we can see this same situation arise, In John 20:14 we see when Mary went to the tomb after the resurrection and found Yeshua’s body no longer there in the tomb, she thought it had been stolen. Even when Yeshua spoke to her she thought He was the gardener. She could not “haker” or recognize Him. Maybe this was because of her grief or maybe her expectation was that He was dead and therefore that could not be Him. Again, we see this in John 24:4 where Yeshua came to the disciples while they were fishing. Finally, John came to “haker” Him as we can read in John 21:7.
My point in this lengthy teaching is that we are told to be ready, to be able to recognize or haker the hand of G-d working in our life as Joseph was able to do. We are encouraged to be alert, as Shaul tells us in I Thessalonians 5:6. We are to be able to recognize the Hand of G-d in our lives and also in our world.
Please read Romans 13:11-12 to see Shaul’s cry to us, to be aware, to be alert. We are to be ever alert to the moving of the Hand of G-d. Joseph did not fixate on what was happening to him but was able to focus on the fact that, if it was happening then G-d had a purpose. His challenge was to find that purpose. We are to do the same, not get caught up in what we see happening in the world or to us personally, but to search for G-d’s Hand in it all. It is so easy to focus on those things that seem to pull us this way or that, and keep us in turmoil, and miss the still small Voice of our Heavenly Father. Let Joseph be an inspiration to us. G-d is in control and is with us even in difficult times.