The name of this week’s Parasha is Vayeshev, which means “and he settled.” It covers Genesis 37:1-40:23, and provides us with several important events in the lives of Jacob and his family, who are now dwelling in the land of Canaan. Unfortunately, Jacob favored Joseph over the rest of his sons, which caused the brothers to resent Joseph. Joseph was given a special robe by his father. Making matters worse, Joseph told his brothers and father about a dream he had that they would one day bow to him. They didn’t believe him and Joseph’s brothers’ hostility grew towards him. However, Jacob made a mental note of the significance of the dream.
One day Joseph was sent at his father’s request to look for his brothers. When he caught up to them at Dothan, they saw him coming from a distance and planned to kill him, but Reuben intervened and offered a compromise of throwing Joseph in a cistern. He did this to keep Joseph alive so that he could return Joseph to Jacob. When Joseph arrived at his brothers’ location, they seized his robe and threw him into the empty cistern.
A short time later, Joseph’s brothers saw a group of Ishmaelites heading toward Egypt and were persuaded by Judah to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites; however, before they could do so, Joseph was found by a group of Midianites, who sold him to the Ishmaelites for 20 silver shekels.
When Reuben came to the cistern and saw that Joseph was missing, he was grieved and went to his brothers in desperation. The brothers took Joseph’s robe and covered it in goat blood, and brought it to Jacob for identification. Jacob recognized the robe and assumed that Joseph had been killed by an animal, and began to grieve deeply. The deceitfulness and cruelty of Joseph’s brothers would cause their father years of suffering. Meanwhile, Joseph was sold in Egypt to Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh.
In chapter 38, the focus shifts from Joseph to Judah and his family. Judah was married to the daughter of Shua the Canaanite and had 3 sons. He found a wife named Tamar for his first son Er, but Er was killed by Adonai due to his sin. Judah then gave Tamar to Er’s younger brother Onan to fulfill his obligation to his dead brother’s wife by Levirate marriage. However, Onan refused to honor his brother by procreating with Tamar, and for this wickedness was killed. Judah sent Tamar to live with her father because he was afraid that somehow Tamar would also cause the death of Shelah, the youngest and only surviving son.
After Judah’s wife dies, he mourned her death. Sometime later, he went to shear his sheep in Timnah, accompanied by his friend Hirah the Adullamite. When Tamar heard of this, she dressed up like a prostitute, guised in a veil, and went to Enaim, which was on the way to Timnah. She did this because Judah’s son Shelah was an adult but had not been given her in marriage.
Judah saw Tamar and assumed she was a prostitute. He didn’t recognize her because of her veil. He wanted to sleep with her, and so they agreed on a price – a young goat from Judah’s flock. As collateral, she took Judah’s ring, chord, and staff until he would send the goat. After they slept together, Judah left and later sent Hirah with the goat to make the exchange for his possessions, but she was long gone and no one knew anything about a “prostitute” there.
Three months later Tamar was discovered to be pregnant, and was accused of immorality. Judah ordered her to be burned to death, but quickly changed his mind when Tamar showed the possessions used as collateral and said that she was pregnant by the man who owned these items. He declared that she was more just that him, because he hadn’t fulfilled his word to give her to Shelah as a wife.
Tamar’s pregnancy resulted in twin boys, and during delivery, one of the boys stretched out his hand. He was declared the eldest when the midwife tied a red string on his wrist, but he withdrew his hand and his brother came out first. The firstborn was named Perez, which means “breach”, and the second-born with the red string on his wrist was named Zerah, meaning to “rise” or “come forth”.
In chapter 39, Joseph’s story is resumed. He is a slave in Egypt and living in Potiphar’s home, and does such an exemplary job that he is trusted to care for everything that Potiphar owned. Potiphar saw that Adonai was with Joseph and was responsible for Joseph’s success, and as a result, everything that Potiphar owned was blessed. Even in tough circumstances, Adonai can use us for His glory!
Potiphar’s wife noticed Joseph as well, but for much different reasons. She tried to seduce Joseph several times, but he refused her advances and said that he would not sleep with her because adultery is a sin before Adonai. One day when she grabbed him by his cloak and tried to seduce him, he ran away, leaving the cloak. Humiliated, she held onto the cloak and showed it to her servants, and to Potiphar, and lied by claiming that Joseph had attempted to seduce her. As a result of this lie, Potiphar had Joseph imprisoned, but once again Adonai blessed Joseph and made him successful in the prison by causing the warden to put him in charge of the other prisoners.
In chapter 40, Pharaoh became angry with his cupbearer and baker and threw them in prison. Joseph was assigned to look after them. After some time there, one day Joseph noticed they looked unhappy and asked what was wrong. They replied that they each had a dream but didn’t know what the dreams meant. Joseph said that interpretations belonged to God and asked them to tell him the dreams.
The cupbearer described his dream as three branches that sprouted grapes, and the cupbearer took the grapes and crushed them in Pharaoh’s cup. Joseph interpreted the dream to mean that the cupbearer would be reinstated to his job in three days, and he asked the cupbearer to plead his case with Pharaoh, because Joseph was wrongly imprisoned.
The baker then told Joseph his dream of three baskets of bread on his head, and although the items in the top basket were for Pharaoh, the birds ate them out of the basket. Joseph replied that the three baskets stood for three days and at that time the baker would be hanged by Pharaoh, with the birds eating him.
The parasha ends with these events happening just as Joseph described them – after three days, the baker was hanged and the cupbearer was reinstated to serve Pharaoh. Unfortunately, the cupbearer forgot all about Joseph and Joseph remained in prison.
There are several applications in this passage that we can use for our lives. Just because we’re in difficult situations, even when it’s not our fault, doesn’t mean that Adonai has abandoned us or doesn’t love us. It’s often during our most difficult times that His love for us is shown through His provision and grace, and this was demonstrated in Joseph’s life. Joseph could have complained and sulked because of his hardships, but he trusted in Adonai and was used by Adonai to bless others, and was honored and respected as a result. When things are at their worst, we would be wise to patiently wait upon Adonai’s timing and to trust in His goodness.
We also see in this passage that in spite of human sin and disobedience, Adonai’s plan and purpose will be accomplished. Joseph’s brothers thought that they were getting rid of a huge nuisance by selling him as a slave, but Adonai would later use Joseph to save them and his family during the famine in Canaan. Joseph’s dreams came true despite his brother’s actions and intentions, and in God’s grace, worked to their benefit!
It is true that Judah disobeyed God and violated his promise when he didn’t give Tamar to Shelah in Levirate marriage. It is also true that Judah brought shame to himself when he unintentionally slept with her. But we see how God is able to bring good out of bad situations. Their firstborn son, Perez, would become an ancestor of David and that also put him in the genealogy of our wonderful Messiah Yeshua, which we see in both Matthew and Luke.
To honor God means to walk in obedience. For you and me, it means we need to transfer our loyalty to Yeshua, the Messiah whom God sent. And He will turn even our failures into victory!