Parasha Vayechi (And He Lived): The Scepter of Judah

Vayechi (And He Lived)    וַיְחִי

Genesis 47:28–50:26; 1 Kings 2:1–12; Luke 4:31–5:11

Parashah Name  – 12 Vayechi, וַיְחִי

Last week, Jacob came to Egypt with his sons and their families and was reunited with his beloved son, Joseph.

For over 20 years, he had believed that Joseph had been killed by wild animals while he was on a mission to check on his older brothers.  Instead, he found him alive in Egypt as viceroy, second only to Pharaoh.

In this week’s Parasha, Vayechi, Jacob lives his final 17 years in Egypt.

Vayechi begins, however, with Jacob entreating Joseph to swear that he will not bury him in Egypt, but carry his body back to the Promised Land.

Although God had prospered Jacob and his family in Egypt, it was not home.  Jacob did not forget God’s covenant promise to give him and his descendants the Land forever.

God of the Living

Although Vayechi means and he lived, this Torah portion highlights Jacob’s closing years, as well as his death.

This is in keeping with the Judaic belief system that the deceased righteous do not die but continue to live on eternally.  In fact, the Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, states that “Jacob never died.”

Yeshua actually eluded to something similar when he said, “Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”  (Mark 12:26 –27)

Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) provides profound comfort to those of us who think that we have already “blown it” and cannot aspire to the same heights of spirituality as our forefather Jacob.

He said that those who would hear His word and follow Him would by their faith have eternal life:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  (John 5:24)

And similar to the way Joseph sustained his family and all of Egypt through the famine by providing life-giving bread, Yeshua is the Living Bread that came down from Heaven and sustains us forever:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.  This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”  (John 6:51)

The Scepter of Judah

At the end of Jacob’s earthly life, the question of succession and inheritance arose—who would inherit the spiritual leadership of the people of Israel?

Reuven, the firstborn, was disqualified because of his impulsiveness, which was demonstrated in his laying with his father’s concubine, Bilha.  (Genesis 35:22)

Simeon and Levi were also disqualified because of their cruel anger as demonstrated by their mass revenge murder at Shechem.  (Genesis 34:25–26)

Although Jacob pronounced a blessing over all of his sons while on his deathbed, he reserved his highest blessing for his favored son, Joseph.

Still, even Joseph was not appointed the next leader since his brothers’ hatred may have compromised the unity that is so necessary for keeping the tribes of Israel together.

Since the older brothers were disqualified from the birthright inheritance, the mantle of leadership passed to Judah (Yehudah), and Jacob declared this Messianic prophesy while blessing him:

“The scepter will never depart from Judah, nor a ruler’s staff from between his feet, until the One comes, who owns them both, and to Him will belong the allegiance of nations.”  (Genesis 49:10)

This passage reveals several things about the Messiah, who Genesis 22:18 had already declared would be a male descendant of Abraham:

  • He would be a descendant of Judah.
  • He would be a King.
  • His rule would extend beyond Israel to include the entire world.

Yeshua Fulfills Jacob’s Messianic Prophecy

Interestingly enough, this Messianic prophecy has a temporal element.

It reveals that Judah’s kingly authority would remain until Messiah comes.  In fact, the Talmud confirms that Judah’s ability to pronounce capital sentences was lost about 40 years before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, which indicates their loss of authority.

About that same time, Yeshua (Jesus) began His ministry, and only a few later, the Romans murdered Him on the execution stake.

While the first coming of Yeshua fulfills Jacob’s prophecy, at this time it is only partially fulfilled since only the Gentiles and about one percent of the Jewish People have received Him.

When He comes the second time to assert His Kingship, all the Gentiles and Jewish People will entirely submit to His authority.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem….  Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see Me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”  (Matthew 23:37–39)

They will submit to Him because Yeshua, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed.”  (Revelation 5:5)

Pronouncing the Blessing

“So he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’”  (Genesis 48:20)

At the close of Jacob’s life, Jacob pronounced a blessing that forms the basis of how Jewish people bless their sons.

Even today, every Friday evening, observant Jewish people bless their sons with the same blessing Jacob spoke over Ephraim and Manasseh:  Ye’simcha Elohim ke-Ephraim ve hee-Menashe (May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh)

[Note:  The traditional blessing for daughters is May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.]

Blessing our children, especially on Friday evening as we have a festive meal, light the candles, break bread (challah) together and usher in the holy Sabbath day, is a beautiful custom filled with meaning.

But why would we bless our sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh?  What was so special about them?

The traditional explanation is that they were the first Jewish brothers that did not fight.

They break the pattern of sibling rivalry seen throughout Genesis:  Ishmael versus Isaac, Esau versus Jacob, and Leah’s sons versus Joseph.

It is thought that Jacob switched his hands, blessing the younger Ephraim with the blessing of the firstborn to emphasize that there was no rivalry between them.

Another explanation is offered by Rabbi Shimshon Rafel Hirsch (19th century Germany).

Ephraim and Manasseh were raised outside the Land of Israel, in Egypt, a highly secular, ungodly society that served many false gods and practiced sorcery and witchcraft.

These two boys, however, born to a Hebrew father and an Egyptian mother, maintained their faith in the God of Israel as the one true God and went on to establish their own tribes of Israel.

We cannot always guarantee that our children will not be exposed to a negative or ungodly environment.

We can, however, give them our blessing to be like Ephraim and Manasseh, or like Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, and Leah, who maintained ethical and righteous behavior despite being surrounded by a culture hostile to God.

There are so many influences competing for the hearts, minds, and souls of our children.

May God give us wisdom, grace and strength to impart faith to our children, that they may set their hope in God and keep His commandments, walking in righteousness, kindness, and justice.

Haftarah Vayechi (Prophetic Portion)

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah.”  (Genesis 49:10)

In the prophetic portion, we see that the blessing of leadership that Jacob imparted to the tribe of Judah has continued with the ascent of David to the throne.

This portion also echoes the theme of Jacob’s parting instructions to his sons.

As King David nears the end of his life, he secures Solomon’s succession and delivers to him his parting charge to keep God’s ways:

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said.  “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires:  Walk in obedience to Him, and keep His decrees and commands, His laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses.  Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.”  (1 Kings 2:2–3)

This charge is similar to the one that God declared to Joshua when the mantle of leadership passed to him after the death of Moses:

“Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law My servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  (Joshua 1:7–8) 

It also reverberates through the charge given to every young man at his bar mitzvah, the Jewish coming of age ceremony:  “Now you are a man—be strong and stay faithful to God.”

In the end, one of the highest responsibilities of parenthood, and perhaps all adults in general, is to teach the next generation the ways of God, passing the torch of faith through the generations.

“He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands.”  (Psalm 78:5–7)

With this Parasha, we end the book of Genesis (Bereisheet) with the words chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek!  Be strong, be strong and let us be strengthened!

This is a collective encouragement spoken at the end of each of the five books of Moses to spur us on to the next book and continue our study of the Word of God.

Indeed, God’s Word has all the life, power, and anointing we need to lead a prosperous and successful life.  But we need to be lifetime learners of His Word, and renew our minds through its transforming power.

It is only through the Word that we can understand what His will is and resist the pull of our own flesh and the world.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)

Prev
Next