Light from the Sidra

Vayigash ('And he came near...'). 27th December 2014. 5th Tevet 5775

Torah: Genesis 44:18-47:27. Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28

Unexpected saviours

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made about the Bible is to think of it as a collection of simple stories for simple folk. Another serious error is to see the 27 books of what Christians call the New Testament as having no relationship to the 39 books in the Hebrew canon. We might as well say the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible – the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings –have no relationship to each other. The Bible was written over a period of 1,400 years by people as diverse as shepherds and kings, soldiers and statesmen, fishermen and rabbis but there is one theme that runs through the Tanakh and the New Testament and that is the salvation of God.

In the Hebrew Scriptures salvation invariably comes from the most unexpected of places and through the least likely of people. Between Genesis and Ezekiel a pattern forms that reveals the way in which God saves. In this week’s Torah and Haftarah readings the tribes of Israel – in particular Joseph and Benjamin – are reunited, and the repentance of the tribes results in blessings that overflow to the Gentiles.

In Genesis the fledgling nation of Israel – and the world also – is saved from starvation by Joseph, while in Ezekiel the people of Israel are saved from their sins and live in peace under the rule of their shepherd king the Messiah. In that day, says Dr. J.H. Hertz, ‘God’s Divine Presence will be clearly among them when they are true to their vocation as a Holy People. And thus too will Israel be the means of revealing God to the nations.’

In Genesis Joseph is the prototype saviour. Although apparently insignificant, despised and rejected by his own family, he paradoxically rises to become their ruler and benefactor. Israel’s saviour-king David – who features in Ezekiel – fulfils a similar role in Scripture. He was the youngest of his brothers, a dutiful son but an insignificant shepherd despised by his brothers. Nevertheless, God anointed David – the despised and rejected ‘root out of a dry ground’ – to be the shepherd of Israel and the one who would weld the disparate tribes of Israel into one great nation.

Moses fitted into the same pattern. As someone once observed, Moses spent forty years as a ‘Somebody,’ forty years as a ‘Nobody’ and forty years discovering how God could make a ‘Nobody’ into a ‘Somebody.’ At the age of eighty, Moses emerged from forty years as a shepherd in the desert to become Israel’s deliverer and, through the covenant of Sinai, the unifier of the nation. Because the Jewish people today almost universally revere Moshe Rabbeinu, it is easy to overlook the fact that for most of his life one of Israel’s greatest figures was an outsider, rejected by his contemporaries.

In the days of the Judges, HASHEM saved his people through a series of insignificant and flawed personalities. The cack-handed Ehud was the man who smuggled a dagger past unsuspecting guards in order to successfully assassinate Eglon, the Moabite equivalent of Jabba the Hutt. Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, lulled Israel’s oppressor Sisera into a false sense of security by allowing him into her boudoir – the one place Barak and his Israelite soldiers would have never dreamed of looking for him – before nailing his head to the ground. Gideon, the youngest in a household that belonged to the most humble clan in lowly Manasseh defeated innumerable Midianites with a motley band of 300 men. Jephthah, the black sheep of a family that had thrown him out on his ear, became the saviour of the nation. Finally, the physically strong but morally weak Samson accomplished his greatest victory and delivered Israel through the sacrifice of his own life. Even during the exile, Haman’s evil conspiracy to exterminate the Jews was frustrated from an unexpected source, a young Jewish girl from the harem of the most powerful ruler in the world.

In his book Unexpected Messiah, Roman Catholic writer Lucas Grollenberg attempts to absolve the Jewish people of the charge of rejecting their Messiah by claiming that the messianic prophecies of the Tanakh are misleading. It is certainly true that the Jewish people do not bear exclusive responsibility for the death of Jesus but denigrating the Hebrew prophets in order to prove that is the wrong way of going about it.

According to Ezekiel and the later prophets, Israel’s greatest deliverer the Messiah would fit into the pattern established at the time of Joseph. It is strangely ironic that many Jewish people think of David only as the powerful leader of Israel and forget his lowly origins. David, like Joseph, rose from obscurity to exaltation. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the future Messiah as ‘a root from arid ground; he had neither form nor grandeur; we saw him but without such visage that we could desire him. He was despised and isolated from men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness. As one from whom we would hide our faces; he was despised and we had no regard for him’ (Isaiah 53:2-3).

The Messiah was destined to be rejected by his own people but ‘the desire of HASHEM would succeed in his hand. From his very own toil he will see and be satisfied. With his knowledge My servant, the righteous one, will make multitudes righteous…’  (Isaiah 53:10-11).

Can you see the pattern? Imagine a Messiah born, like David, in the Judean backwater of Bethlehem, despised and shunned, rejected by the very people he came to save. Imagine a deliverer who, instead of being outwardly imposing, appears to be the epitome of weakness, a man of suffering, a deliverer who paradoxically accomplishes the salvation of Israel through his sufferings and death. A Messiah who brings peace through his own tribulations and saves Israel from the Satan and from their own sins.

When Joseph’s brothers repented of their sins against him, he freely forgave them. When David returned from exile following Absalom’s rebellion he forgave his enemies who repented. Whenever Jewish people recognise the sin of rejecting the true Messiah and turn to him, he forgives and receives them as his true brothers.

Rabbi Hertz observes that the promise of national unity in Ezekiel 37:23 is ‘not merely political reunion, but spiritual regeneration.’ Through Jesus the Son of David there is spiritual regeneration, inner cleansing, salvation from sin and true shalom.

What do you think of Jesus? Do you reject him as Joseph’s siblings rejected their brother before they recognised him for who he was? Or do you still need to repent and receive Messiah the Son of Joseph and Son of David as your Saviour, Deliverer and King? At the very least, shouldn’t you at least be prepared to investigate this further? I have a book called More Than a Carpenter that I’d like to send you. It’s short. It’s written simply. It’s my free gift to you. All you have to do is email me at

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