This week’s parasha is entitled Vayechi, meaning, “and he lived.” It covers Genesis 47:28-50:26 and this completes the book of Genesis.
Israel and his sons were now living comfortably in Egypt, though due to the ongoing famine, the Egyptians were impoverished in their own land.
It is interesting to note that Joseph spent the first 17 years of his life with his father before being sold into slavery. Now Jacob would spend the last 17 years of his life in Egypt with Joseph, who held such a lofty place of honor, and what a wonderful seventeen years these would be!
Israel called for his son, Joseph, and had him swear to honor his last request. Jacob requested to be buried in the promised land of Canaan, in the cave of Machpelah, which Abraham had purchased for Sarah when she died.
Machpelah was also the place where Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah were buried. Joseph swore to this oath to honor his father’s request.
Chapter 48 opens as Joseph is informed that his father’s health had taken a turn for the worse. So, Joseph goes to see him, taking along his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Israel said to Joseph, “Adonai the all-sufficient one, appeared to me at Luz and said, ‘I will make you a great people and nation. Your descendants will own this land forever.’
Your two sons that were born here in Egypt, Ephraim and Manasseh, will be counted as my own sons.”
The untimely death of Jacob’s wife, Rachel made it impossible for Jacob to have any more children by her. For that reason, Jacob now adopts Joseph’s children as his own and makes them sons of Israel. Remember: Rachel was Joseph’s mother.
So, these two sons of Joseph will be treated as sons of Jacob when it comes to the birthright blessing. Joseph was upset, however, when his father reversed his hands in order to put the primary blessing on Ephraim, the younger one, instead of Manasseh, the older. But Jacob had heard from God and knew exactly what he was doing.
And so, for the fifth time in the book of Genesis, we see a divinely-ordained reversal of the birth order. Adonai chose Abel, not Cain; Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau; Joseph, not Reuben; and now He would choose Ephraim over Manasseh.
Jacob said to Joseph, “I have given you one portion of land above your brothers.” If we took a Bible map of the locations of the tribes in Israel, we would easily see the fulfillment of this blessing centuries later.
The birthright also included a second component; namely, that the recipient would have the high honor of being an ancestor of the Messiah.
This was unique to Jacob’s family lineage; no other family in the human race could have this Messianic distinction.
In the ancient world, the one to receive this birthright blessing was normally the firstborn son. In Jacob’s family that would have been Reuben.
However, Scripture tells us that Reuben forfeited his claim to the birthright when he lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine.
And since Reuben forfeited the birthright, it would pass to another son of Jacob. Joseph would receive this double-portion part and Judah the tribal leadership part.
Chapter 49 opens with Jacob on his deathbed. Knowing that his time was drawing near, he summoned all his sons. “My sons,” he said, “come here to me, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the future.” These would not merely be the sayings of a dying saint, but the oracles of an inspired prophet.
The benedictions in these patriarchal blessings by Jacob are rich in imagery. Five of the sons are portrayed with features of various beasts. Judah is compared to a lion, Issachar to a donkey, Dan to a serpent, Naphtali to a deer, and Benjamin to a wolf.
Also, in other imagery, Joseph is compared to a branch and tree, Simeon and Levi to instruments of cruelty, and Reuben to the instability of water.
After these blessings, Jacob again expressed to his twelve sons his desire to be buried in the tomb of his fathers, which Joseph had already promised by oath to perform.
He then drew his feet into the bed and took his last breath. Jacob was 130 years of age when he went down to Egypt, and 147 when he died.
Joseph instructed that his father’s body be embalmed for burial. All of Egypt mourned for Jacob for two and a half months.
An escort of Egyptian officials served as an honor guard as Jacob’s body was carried back to Canaan. This would be Joseph’s first time back in his homeland in 39 years.
After Jacob’s burial, Joseph’s guilt-ridden brothers fear that he would seek retribution. Joseph reassures them that he has no such intention, especially since Adonai had brought so much good out of the situation.
Joseph and his brothers and their families continued to live in Egypt. Joseph told his brothers, “Soon I will die but Adonai will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
Joseph’s final request was that he also be buried in Canaan. Finally, we learn that Joseph died at 110 years of age. His request for burial in Canaan would be honored, but not for several centuries.
And so, we have concluded of the book of Genesis. What lessons can we take from this parasha?
Some see Jacob’s words to his sons as punishments. But we need to remember that rebukes and reprimands are often blessings in disguise. They are given to us for our good and for our well-being.
They are often our best and most needed blessings. Therefore, endure discipline; God is treating us as sons and daughters. If we are not occasionally disciplined by Him, then He is not our father.
Through this discipline comes a strengthening of our faith so that we may draw closer to the living God, and by doing so, we more adequately reflect his Son, Yeshua our Messiah, to those around us.
Jacob’s eyes were dim, but he could see a very long way; he could see to the coming of, Shiloh, the Messiah.
Messiah, for our salvation, was born in Bethlehem, and died on the cross at Calvary. He descended into the grave; he trod the lowest valleys of shame and grief. He drank the deepest cup of wrath and torment.
For us, He grappled with all the powers of darkness and broke the chains of death, hell and the grave. Then, He ascended to heaven, and now sits on the right hand of God our Father. For accomplishing all this, He now reigns, prays and makes intercession on high for us.