Fox Byte 5775 #12: VaYechi (And He Lived)
The timeless appeal of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is in its depiction of selfless love. Cyrano’s bigger-than-life character captures our attention instantly. How could it not? He is a man’s man – no one wields a sword as brilliantly, nor as judiciously, as this noble French warrior whose sense of right and wrong guides him to uphold the cause of those less fortunate. Yet Cyrano is a sensitive soul, the greatest poet of his day, and one quick to win the confidence of the ladies. Even though his overly large nose draws immediate notice, Cyrano himself is larger than this one glaring defect, and in fact capitalizes on it to win greater acclaim and honor. But it is that defect which keeps Cyrano from the desire of his heart: the beautiful Roxane. Thinking himself unworthy of her, he keeps his distance, and this is the root of the tragedy that unfolds.
When Christian, a handsome cadet, newly assigned to Cyrano’s company, meets Roxane, he cannot help but fall in love. Sadly, the young man has no skill in the art of courtly romance, and thus must ask Cyrano’s help in wooing her. Cyrano agrees, seeing in Christian an avenue for communicating his heart to Roxane, even if she will never know the truth. The plan works. Cyrano’s words and Christian’s good looks win Roxane’s heart, and the two young lovers are married just as the army goes off to war. Christian dies a hero’s death, and the broken-hearted Roxane retires to a convent to live out her days in mourning. Cyrano visits her frequently, bringing news, yet never revealing his secret. Then one day assassins make an attempt on Cyrano’s life, wounding him mortally as he is on his way to see her. Knowing he is dying, he asks Roxane if he might read aloud the last letter she had received from Christian before his death. The words of course, were Cyrano’s; it was but the last of many letters he had penned on the battlefield in Christian’s name, but with his own heart. As Cyrano recites the letter’s contents, evening draws on and Roxane realizes it has become too dark to read the words. Then she understands, just as Cyrano breathes his last, that it was he, not Christian, who had been writing to her all along. With this new understanding, she exclaims, “Je n’aimais qu’un seul être et je le perds deux fois!” And while the translation may not be exact, the meaning of her words is clear: “I have only had but one love, and yet have lost him twice.”
God, like Roxane, has but one love, and He has already lost that love twice. Yet the tale of His love’s return is bound up in the account of the 14 blessings Grandfather Jacob pronounces over his sons at the end of his life.
It should be a peculiar thing to hear that Jacob blessed 14 men rather than 12. There are, after all, only 12 Tribes of Israel. Or are there? Yes, there are only 12, but one of those tribes gets two portions. That is the tribe of Joseph, the son whom Jacob chose to receive the birthright. The birthright brings with it a double portion, which is why, according to Genesis 48, Jacob blessed Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, before he blessed everyone else. To ensure that Joseph had a double portion, Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh as his own sons, making them equal to their uncles, and ensuring that they had the responsibility and honor of carrying the family name, Israel. As the Scripture explains:
Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance. (Genesis 48:5-6 NASB)
Notice that in his pronouncement, Jacob specifically names Reuben and Simeon, his two oldest sons. It almost seems like Ephraim and Manasseh are being named as replacements for their uncles. And in fact that is exactly what Jacob is doing. As we see in Genesis 49, Jacob has some harsh things to say about his older children. He calls Reuben “unstable as water” and disqualifies him from the birthright because he had defiled his father’s marriage bed (see Genesis 35:22). Then he turns on his next two sons, Simeon and Levi, calling them “instruments of cruelty” because of their cold-blooded slaughter of the men of Shechem (see Genesis 34). Jacob’s “blessing” over them is that they would be dispersed and scattered in Israel. And then comes Judah, the man who had led the others in selling Joseph into Egypt (Genesis 37:25-28). Was he worthy of the birthright after such a perfidious act? No, and neither were any of the others who had taken part in the scheme. Yet Jacob had something else for Judah, as we shall see.
In truth, Jacob could have given the birthright to whomever he chose. It was, after all, his alone to give. It did get easier in that his wives and his sons influenced his choice by their actions – or perhaps by their actions confirmed the choice he had already made. However it worked out, Jacob conferred the birthright on his two foreign-born grandsons, granting them full rights and privileges along with their native-born uncles. By his decree Ephraim and Manasseh ceased being Egyptian and became as completely Hebrew as their uncle Judah. More than that, Jacob’s actions vested the family name in his grandsons, ensuring that their uncle’s identity would not be complete apart from them.
Then Jacob did something to seal this identity issue: he split the inheritance between his two chief sons, Joseph and Judah. Joseph would have the birthright, and always would be the more numerous and wealthier, just as Jacob prophesied:
The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name live on in them, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. . . By you Israel will pronounce blessing, saying, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!” (Genesis 48:15-16, 20 NASB)
Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; its branches run over a wall. The archers bitterly attacked him, and shot at him and harassed him; but his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), from the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers. (Genesis 49:22-26 NASB)
But that was not the end of the matter. Someone had to rule over this family, and for that task Jacob selected Judah:
Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. He ties his foal to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; he washes his garments in wine, and his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are dull from [darker than] wine, and his teeth white from milk. (Genesis 49:8-12 NASB)
What follows in the rest of the entire Bible is the fulfillment of these two prophetic blessings over Jacob/Israel’s chief heirs. One is destined to rule, and from him comes not only the King, but the Messiah Who will save the entire earth. Another is destined to lead, but his path is to gather the nations of the earth and position them for redemption through Messiah. These two distinct but indispensable roles are all too often muddled in our understanding, and in that we have a tragedy of undisclosed identity and unrequited love greater than Cyrano’s. For we know that from Judah came Messiah Yeshua, yet the assumption all these many ages is that Judah alone bears the identity of Israel. If Judah alone were all of Israel, then there would be no hope for the nations. The Jewish people, Judah’s descendants, fulfill the role of holding fast to God’s oracles and His special blessings, as the Apostle Paul explains:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren [the Jews], my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:1-5 NASB, emphasis added)
If these things are given to the Jews alone, then what hope is there for anyone else? Notice in particular what Paul says about the covenants, the many sacred pledges YHVH God has entered into with His people. The Almighty has not made any covenants with the nations, but only with Israel. This includes the “New” or “Renewed” Covenant so highly regarded (and rightly so) by the church:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NASB, emphasis added; see also Hebrews 8:8-12)
Notice that God specifies who is invited into this covenant: Israel and Judah, the Two Houses who together constitute the entire House of Israel. There are no other nations mentioned in this covenant. To put it another way, Jeremiah does not mention any Gentiles in the New Covenant. And this gets to the great problem and potential tragedy. If Gentiles are to be included in this covenant, then somehow they have to become part of Israel. Yet if Israel consists entirely of Jews, then there is no other way for Gentiles to be saved than by becoming Jews. But does the Scripture say this?
There is no salvation outside the nation of Israel, but the nation of Israel is far more than the Jewish people. That is the great mystery of the Gospel of which Paul writes. Messiah Yeshua has made it possible for all people to become part of Israel, starting with those descendants of Joseph and his brethren who have been scattered into the nations for millennia. By faith in Yeshua we become “grafted in” to the nation. We cease being Gentiles and become Israelites, fellow heirs with the “natural born”, our Jewish brethren. This is what Paul means when he writes of the “One New Man” in Messiah, and when he explains that those who come to faith in Messiah become part of the Commonwealth of Israel.
In writing about this to the believers in Rome Paul says something peculiar:
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” “This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-27 NASB, emphasis added)
The Christian interpretation of this passage has held that the “partial hardening” (or “blindness”) of Israel refers to Jews not recognizing the identity of Messiah. That certainly is true; the revelation of Messiah’s identity is something that comes only from God Himself (see Matthew 16:16-17). However, there is another blindness and hardening: the blindness of non-Jewish Israel to their own identity, and the hardening of their hearts toward their brethren of Judah. For nearly 2,000 years Christians have defined themselves as something other than Jews, which is true, but as something different from Israel, which is not true. Jews have been quite happy to go along with and strengthen this misperception in the belief that they might lose their distinctive identity if all these non-Jews come into the nation of Israel. And yet that is precisely what God intends.
When Paul writes about the “fullness of the Gentiles” coming in, he is not writing about a specific number of people to be saved. His comment is tied to the next point: “and so all Israel will be saved”. In other words, somehow every part of Israel, both Jews and non-Jews, will be saved. The entire nation will be reassembled under Messiah, Son of David. Regardless what their specific ancestry, by virtue of their profession of faith in Messiah Yeshua, these non-Jewish Israelites are grafted back into the nation of Israel. That is the unmistakable lesson of Romans 11 and Ephesians 2. When Paul writes about the “fullness of the Gentiles” in Romans 11:25, he uses the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew phrase melo ha-goyim (מְלֹֽא־הַגֹּויִֽם). The phrase appears in Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, when he says of them:
“I know, my son, I know; he [Manasseh] also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 48:19 NASB, emphasis added)
The understanding from this and related Scripture is that Ephraim, the birthright tribe which bears the name of the House of Israel, has the mission of carrying the seed of Abraham into the nations (Gentiles) of the world. They do this by bringing the testimony of salvation in Messiah Yeshua, and thus fulfilling the promise of God’s covenant with Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:13-29). Then, at the end of the age, Messiah will gather again all the tribes, joining Israel/Ephraim with Judah and restoring the whole nation to the land, just as Jeremiah says:
For thus says the LORD, “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise and say, ‘O LORD, save Your people, the remnant of Israel.’ Behold, I am bringing them from the north country, and I will gather them from the remote parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together; a great company, they will return here. With weeping they will come, and by supplication I will lead them; I will make them walk by streams of waters, on a straight path in which they will not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn.” (Jeremiah 31:7-9 NASB, emphasis added)
And so it is that the fate of the sons of Israel is bound up in one another. The ruler, Judah, has always been known to us. He is handsome and strong, and has proven himself resilient and valiant in every trial. The birthright holder, Joseph, has been hidden, but his faithfulness, strength, and prosperity have always upheld the nation. That is precisely what Joseph did as Grand Vizier of Egypt, sustaining his father’s household even when they did not know who he was. Nevertheless, the family remains broken and incomplete, and its strength dispersed. When the sons of Israel are reassembled, their strength together will be greater than the sum of their parts. Until then, the world is missing a key ingredient not only to the salvation of all Israel, but to the salvation of the nations as well. But the day of their awakening has dawned.
In the twilight shadows of this age, as the True Bridegroom has suffered great wounds on behalf of His Beloved, she is finally beginning to understand the mystery of His love letter.
חְַזַק חְַזַק וְנִתְחַזֵק
Chazak Chazak v’nitchazek
Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!