Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Vayechi

Genesis 47:28 - 50:26; 1 Kings 2:1-12

The famous Dr Johnson once observed that when a man knows he has but a short time to live “it concentrates his mind wonderfully”. This Sidra contains a glowing example of that in the dying days of Jacob.

Here is a man who is confident of where he is going, at peace with the Almighty, and therefore able to put his house in order without agony or panic before he departs. He speaks of the future of each of his sons and their offspring in the land of Canaan, despite the fact that they are all at that moment in the land of a great world power and at its mercy. Here is Jacob’s faith in God’s promise. The Almighty had promised him the land of Canaan and he knew they would go there in God’s time. He therefore gives clear instructions for his burial there.

But Jacob’s vision is not limited to living in the land of promise. In that first vision (28:14) the LORD promised him  that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. Jacob’s eye is on this great hope for all the world and, under the guidance of the Spirit of the LORD, he speaks of the one who would come to achieve that great goal. In Jacob’s blessing on Judah he reveals that Judah will become the principal tribe, ruling the others, and he points to the climax of Judah’s rule with these words, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah ... until Shiloh come, and to him shall the obedience of the peoples be.”

“Shiloh” is clearly a personal name, as it later became a place name. The simplest and most obvious translation of the Hebrew is “until Shiloh shall come”, and the words point to the person who will achieve the goal of obedience to the LORD. The desired result of that obedience is strongly indicated by the meaning of the Hebrew root of Shiloh, shalah, which means to enjoy rest. God wants an obedient world to enjoy his rest. What he was about to give to the sons of Jacob - a land of rest - would one day be the inheritance of all who obey him, a world of rest.

Why some Jewish teachers get so hot under the collar in their opposition to the idea that Shiloh is a person - the Messiah - is a mystery to me. Do they not believe in a personal Messiah? What is there here for them to object to? The probable answer is that believers in Yeshua have pointed to it as a Messianic promise which was fulfilled in Yeshua, who was of the tribe of Judah, and that is enough for some Jewish commentators to become “anti-Messianic” even though the prophecy is quite consistent with their own views of the Messiah.

And yet there are a number of things in this Sidra which do seriously challenge Rabbinic teaching. To begin with, it is worth asking why Judah and not Joseph received the privilege of rule over the tribes. Was not Joseph the natural candidate? In what way did Judah excel Joseph? There can only be one answer to that and it lies in the offer he made to be Joseph’s slave in Egypt instead of Benjamin. It was the offer of his own life for his brother’s, for the sake of his father, which marked him out from his brothers and put him higher than Joseph. No Rabbinic comment I have seen deals with this question, but it is crucial for showing us what is important to the LORD and what Jacob obviously knew to be important. The concept of a Messiah who would suffer to save others fits well with this. And Yeshua has done just that.

And then, what prompted Jacob, in the middle of the blessings on his sons, to suddenly cry out, “I have waited for your salvation, O LORD!”? First of all, note that he was a man who already knew about God’s promise of salvation and he was waiting for it. But waiting for what? If “salvation” just refers to deliverance from enemies, we may be tempted to wonder what Jacob was so excited about. He was under no threat, nor was his family at that time. No, the salvation he is focused on is forgiveness of sin, victory over death, and the inheritance of everlasting life. Death was on his mind, and so was deliverance from its consequences.

But why does he cry out at just that moment, immediately after he has referred to Dan (judgement) as a serpent that bites the horse’s heels, causing the rider to fall backwards? We all know how certain words can trigger other thoughts, and it seems to me that this is what happened for Jacob. When you read of judgement, serpents, heels and suffering, what prior passage of the Scripture springs to mind? The answer is surely Bereshith 3:15. There we read a promise of the LORD to Adam and his wife - a promise well known to Jacob - of deliverance from the consequences of their sin. God was pronouncing judgement but, even so, there was hope: the serpent who had been instrumental in it all would be crushed by one of the woman’s “seed” but in the process that “seed” would himself suffer - his heel would be bruised. The language is all very similar. Surely, as Jacob uttered those words about Dan - and being himself about to die - his mind automatically went to a passage which he knew spoke of God’s promised salvation and he cried out to the LORD, expressing his hope in that salvation.

Death will meet us all one day, and beyond death is judgement. How do you respond to that? What is your hope of forgiveness and everlasting life? Jacob’s hope was rooted in what God had promised - one who would come and suffer. It is certain that he did not know the details of what lay ahead, but the principle is clear. How different to the rabbis, who oppose any idea of a person who suffers to save us from our sins. Who will you listen to, the patriarch Jacob, or those modern teachers who have rejected what he hoped in?

Shiloh has come. Two thousand years ago Yeshua was born of the tribe of Judah, his heel was bruised, so to speak, and now many from “the peoples” obey him. Will you repent and be among them?


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