Developing the Theme of Family through the Torah Portions. Number Eleven.

Dr Clifford Denton.

Vayigash: Genesis 44:18-47:27.

23rd December 2023/Tevet 11

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph; does my father still live?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. Genesis 45:3

Picture by Helen McNeill

We consider family on two levels in this week’s Torah portion. Both relate to the family of God gathered from all nations across all history. Genesis covers the formative days of the family of Jacob (Israel), the foundation on which the entire family of God is built.

On one level is the reuniting in Egypt of Jacob, his sons, their wives, and children;  seventy in number.

As we consider the theme of family through the entire Bible, we do well to consider what we read from a Hebraic perspective. Too much Bible teaching has been passed on to the Christian Church through a Greek philosophical mindset where we tend to seek immediate logical answers to all our questions. The Hebraic approach to life is a walk with God, step by step, a day at a time, sometimes a season at a time. Joseph went down to Egypt with a vision that was one day to be fulfilled, but no-one except God knew how. Through the valleys and hills of life, the vision was eventually fulfilled as his brothers were finally humbled before him. What a hugely poignant moment it was when Joseph wept aloud and drew his brothers near (Genesis 45:1-4). This poignancy resulted from pent up emotions over fifteen years since they were parted in Canaan.

A further Hebraic perspective comes to light when Joseph said, 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) When Joseph was sold into slavery in Canaan, murderous intent, followed by scheming and lying, were among the sins of the brothers. How could this be seen as an intended purpose of God? Yet neither Joseph’s nor our walk with God is according to human logic. Hebraically, there is more than one face to truth. At one and the same time, it was human sin that brought Joseph to Egypt, but it was also God’s plan being fulfilled. God’s purpose in allowing and using the situation was an infinitely higher purpose that could over-ride even the gross sins of the brothers. Joseph was given the insight to perceive this. He also had the love and forgiveness of God for his brothers. His joy was that he was the means of uniting his family.

Jacob had lived a long and hard life (130 years that were few and evil, as he told Pharaoh – Genesis 47:9). He too had a promise from God, but one that he could only wait to see fulfilled in God’s way. A multitude of emotions must have swept over him when he heard that Joseph was still alive, but the joy for his entire family to be reunited surpassed them all.

Family is the building block of the covenant family of God, Who would have thought that He would therefore bring a famine across Egypt, Canaan and other surrounding lands to ensure that the unity of Jacob’s family was preserved? This shows  how important this is to God.

The second level in which we can read this account, relates to the wider family of God. Jacob returned to Beersheba to stand before the altar of sacrifice there prior to the journey to Egypt (Genesis 46:1). God renewed His promise to make a great nation from Jacob’s family. God had in mind both the preservation of the seventy members of Jacob’s family and also the multiplication of his family according to the covenant first made with Abraham and Isaac.

The family of Jacob (the nation of Israel) has indeed grown throughout the world, to encompass believers from both Israel and the Gentile nations. The mystery of how God has done this has continued to unfold over many centuries, with the deeds of mankind submitted into the purposes of God, just as in the account we read in Genesis. Furthermore, God’s plans continue to unfold as the types and shadows of covenant history are fulfilled in Yeshua HaMashiach.

History is being outworked in and especially through all families chosen by God. We too are inheritors of the covenant promises given to Abraham. We too must seek to walk our Hebraic journey with God. We do well to take our call seriously and minimise the tension caused by the human interactions that come even in close-knit families, by submitting to God for our part in His continuing purposes. Often, the promise we have personally been given may seem difficult to attain, but we must trust in God for His timing and fulfilment. Like Joseph, we will be able to look back and see how God can use our journey through the valleys and hills of life to achieve His purposes. Like Jacob, who met with God in Beersheba, we too must have our time and place where we meet with Him sometimes alone, but also together as a family.

Ultimately, we will also realise that we have a part in the great community of faith who will be reunited with our Saviour Yeshua one day. What a day that will be when we see the joy in our Saviour’s face, fulfilling what Joseph’s life symbolised. Days of trial are growing all around us but let us persevere towards the promise and the purpose of Yeshua’s own sacrificial life being completely fulfilled.

There is an old hymn that begins:

There are loved ones in the glory,
Whose dear forms you often miss;
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss?

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
In a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?

Just as with Jacob, who grieved over his lost son Joseph, what grief there would be if there was one missing from our family circle when Yeshua gathers His covenant family. What joy there will be if our own family is complete on that great day. There is no greater priority for fathers, mothers and children than to find God’s best plan for the day when the great consummation of history takes place.