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

Dr Clifford Denton.

Vayechi: Genesis 47:28-50:26.

30th December 2023/Tevet 18

And Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days.” Genesis 49:1

Picture by Helen McNeill

This week, we come to the end of Genesis. The Hebrew Bible appropriately calls this foundational book of all Scripture Bereshit (In the Beginning). The name Genesis relating to birth also relates to the general message of the book. We have in this book an outline of the beginning or birth of the family of faith.

If we live through faith in Yeshua, it is our family as well as that of natural-born descendants of Israel. This is the same faith that Abraham had, who is our father of faith in the sense of being our model, leading us to Yeshua and to our Father in Heaven, by which we are counted among the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) – grafted in (Romans 11).

Many people these days are keen to trace their family tree, to establish their unique identity. Believers in Yeshua have their natural family tree but also their biblical family tree. It is important for us to read Genesis as our own family history, as well as an account of the beginnings of the Nation of Israel.

Over the last twelve weeks, we have studied the beginning of the entire family of mankind through the lives of Adam and Eve, and then through their offspring who survived the great Flood, the family of Noah. We have studied the beginning of the separation, from the ways of the world, of a chosen family, the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the process, we have been introduced to what it is to live the life of faith, and to walk with God in the manner of the Hebrews. In particular, we have studied, from this Book of the Bible on which all else is founded, that the structure of God’s covenant community is based on the principle of family.

Yet the picture of this ancient family is far from perfect. God’s covenant with Abraham was unconditional, so whatever pain Jacob’s family has brought in the Chapters of Genesis and throughout succeeding history, has been borne by our faithful God who will fulfil all His promises. Ultimately, this is through the suffering of His Son Yeshua. Had Jacob’s sons known the pain that Yeshua one day would suffer for the redemption of all who seek to live by faith and belong to Jacob’s extended family, would they have been more careful in their lives at that time? Hard to say, since the power of our sinful flesh is very strong. Indeed, we may judge in hindsight what the sons of Jacob did, so explicitly recorded in the Scriptures, but what if the detail of our own lives was so recorded?

That is why we must learn lessons from what we read in the Scriptures and apply them. Soon we will come to study Moses’ explicit teaching of God’s ways. We need to be careful how we approach the Law of Moses, as it is called, but this too is important. However, we will leave that until later.

Occasionally we have an insight into the lives of those who were able to stand more firmly in the ways of God. They encourage us to persevere and not allow our sinful flesh to determine the character of our walk through life.

Ezra, for example, on meditating on the Torah of God, had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments (Ezra 7:10).

Micah understood what God expects of us: He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

James (Chapter 1, Verse 23) saw the Torah as a mirror which reveals what we are like. Just as when we look in a mirror and see our natural face and want to use the mirror to make ourselves more presentable, so we look into the Torah to understand how our inner beauty can be improved with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah defined the character that God looks for: on this one will I look:
on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word
. (Isaiah 66:2)

As we read this week’s portion from the first Book of Torah, let’s keep such things in mind. It is appropriate to grieve to some extent when we read the prophecies of Jacob over his sons, recalling that at the heart of the prophecies was understanding of the character of the sons which we discern through their lives.

A number of things weave together as we analyse our emotions as we read this account, relating to Jacob’s family and also to how it reflects on our own lives. Above all is the wonderful grace of God now revealed through His Son Yeshua, fulfilling, despite all, His covenant promises.

We can consider the power of true blessing. When God blesses, whether directly, or through the words spoken by His servants, the words have life and power. This is not just for the moment, but into the future. Isaac’s blessing of Jacob was both for that time and for all time as it is lived out through his sons. Likewise, when Jacob called Joseph to him to bless his sons, each in a particular way, his hands were carefully placed on each particular son who was to be blessed.

Then we come to the prophecies over each of the sons prior to Jacob’s death. These prophecies had lasting intent too. They were also called blessings, in light of the fact that there was spiritual power in the words Jacob spoke.

How do we respond to this? We can do well to learn from the Jews, the descendants of Judah, who have traditions which are founded on these same Scriptures. During Sabbath meals there is the moment when children are blessed by their parents when the father lays hands upon his children.

The traditional blessing said for a son, asks God to make him like Ephraim and Manasseh, the two children who, it is assumed, lived peacefully together.

Ye’simcha Elohim ke-Ephraim ve hee-Menashe

May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe

The blessing for daughters asks God to make them like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. These four women are the matriarchs of the Jewish people.

Ye’simech Elohim ke-Sarah, Rivka, Rachel ve-Leah.

May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

If we meditate upon all that took place at this time of blessing and prophecy, we too can be inspired as to how to consider the day-by-day wellbeing of our own children when their character is developing and how this bears relevance to their future. Jacob’s ultimate responsibility as heir to covenant responsibility, was to guide his children into their future. Indeed, his last act on this earth was the priority of blessing his children. Surely his journey through life was also through a path of prayer for his children.

Similarly, our covenant responsibility requires us to be in daily prayer on behalf of our family, seeking spiritual authority to bless and to look forward with them into a future that is in harmony with God’s purposes for them. This surely can be a path of peace and harmony, not one where we are constantly limiting damage caused by the world around, our spiritual adversary and the natural tendency to fall into sin. In realism, we may have to face problems, of course. The formative years of our children could not be a more important time for us to walk with them as God walks with us. They must grow in freedom to learn but in the safety of love and blessing.