Thoughts on Parashat Miketz

This week’s Parsha is Miketz, Genesis 41:1-44:17. It continues the account of Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt that the LORD will use to ensure the continuance of the Abraham’s lineage through Jacob and his twelve sons, though for most of this narrative Jacob and his sons believe there are only eleven sons. The narrative begins with Pharaoh having some really weird dreams that his own diviners cannot decipher. Joseph is brought in from prison after his former cellmate, the royal cupbearer, explained to Pharaoh Joseph’s divining talents. Joseph was summoned and Pharaoh explained the situation. Then Joseph who had had enough of dealing with visions in his own strength, informed Pharaoh that he could not interpret the dream, only God could and that He provide Pharaoh with understanding and peace (cf. 41.15-16). After Joseph passed on the LORD’s interpretation, Joseph was elevated to the position second only to Pharaoh. Pharaoh noted, “Can a man like this be found, one in whom is God’s Spirit” (41.38)?

The next part of the story is familiar to us; there were seven years of abundant harvest during with Joseph arranged to collect one fifth of everything to be set aside for the coming famine. When the famine came, Egypt was not only prepared to care for themselves, but was able to supply, at a cost, to the those in the surrounding lands – one of which was Jacob’s family. Interestingly, Jacob knew that there were provisions in Egypt, but instead of leaving the land to which the LORD had brought him, he sent his sons to buy the needed supplies. So begins a series of tests that Joseph discretely arranged for his estranged brothers to see if they had changed or if they were still somewhat conniving.

The brothers soon discovered that karma truly is a bitch. Let me explain before throwing this away. Surfing the net I came across the following explanation by Anurag Balagam: Today’s decision affects tomorrow’s life; People call it karma! People usually take the word “bitch” in a wicked or vile sense. But here’s what it means is “a difficult or unpleasant situation or thing” or “a nightmare.” And it is within a nightmare that the brothers found themselves. They had escaped judgment for their misdeed against both Joseph and their father only to realize suddenly that their past decisions and actions were coming back to haunt them – possibly with a vengeance. After finding the purchase price of their provisions back in their sacks, a condition arranged by Joseph to test his brothers,

each man said to his brother, “We’re truly guilty for our brother. We saw the distress of his soul when he begged us for mercy, but we didn’t listen. That’s why this distress has come to us.” …  So he said to his brothers, “My money has been returned! Look, it’s in my bag.” Their hearts sank. Trembling, each one turned to his brother and said, “What is this that God has done to us?” (Genesis 42.21 & 28)

Sadly, as concerned as they were, when they returned home they did not come clean with Jacob concerning Joseph and then hoped against hope that they would not have to go back to Egypt. Unfortunately for them the famine continued, and they had to return to Egypt and their hidden brother Joseph. This time, however, with Benjamin to prove their story and hopefully free Simeon who had stayed behind as a guest/hostage against their return. Same scenario happened again—provisions bought, funds returned— only this time with Joseph’s divination cup (Genesis 44.2 & 5). Being setup once again, and caught, Benjamin seemingly was to be imprisoned. Now for the cliffhanger – the story does not end until next week’s parsha – so stay tuned!

This week’s Haftarah, Zechariah 2.14-4.7, is normally read with Behaalotecha, Numbers 8.1-12.16 which begins with the LORD commanding Aaron to position and setup the menorah which stood in the outer sanctum of the tabernacle opposite the Table of the Presence. These instructions concerning the menorah come immediately before the cleansing and consecrating of the priests for their service. The Haftarah begins

“‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will live among you’—it is a declaration of Adonai. ‘In that day many nations will join themselves to Adonai and they will be My people and I will dwell among you.’ Then you will know that Adonai-Tzva’ot has sent me to you. Adonai will inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land and will once again choose Jerusalem. (Zechariah 2.14-16)

Israel had been from exile and returned to the land, and the LORD’s presence had returned to dwell among them. The land and the people were rededicated to the LORD. While the “rededication” aspect of this passage is one which connects the Haftarah to Chanukah, the last verse connects it ever more. The victory of the Maccabees and of Israel over the Greco-Syrians should not have happened. Israel was badly outnumbered. (Sound familiar?) But they were victorious anyway. Why? Because the victory was

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Ruach!” says Adonai-Tzva’ot. (Zechariah 4.7)

Just as the LORD told King Jehoshaphat years before when Israel faced another seemingly unbeatable enemy,

“Listen all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat. Thus Adonai says to you, ‘Do not be afraid or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.’” (2 Chronicles 20.15)

The Psalmist says it even better

My help comes from Adonai, Maker of heaven and earth. … Adonai will protect you from all evil. He will guard your life. Adonai will watch over your coming and your going from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121. 2 &  7-8)

Whether our situation is of our own making or just something that this fallen world tosses at us, we can rest in the assurance that the LORD, who keeps Israel will keep you and me as we continue to walk in His ways (Psalm 128.1).

Chag Semach

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.