Shabbat, January 7, 2017
My Torah portion was Beresheet (Genesis) 45:1-3:
Now Joseph could no longer restrain himself in front of all those who were standing by him, so he cried out, “Get everyone away from me!” So no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. But he gave his voice to weeping so that the Egyptians heard, and Pharaoh’s household heard. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were unable to answer him because they were terrified at his presence.
Joseph suddenly hollers for everyone to leave, and then he weeps—with gut-wrenching power, so that everyone he didn’t want to hear him could hear anyway. Then the brothers are terrified—not just surprised or shocked, but downright terrified! These are pretty intense emotions, wouldn’t you say?
Since Genesis is usually pretty compact in its story-telling, why call attention to such emotions here? Though many people (let alone Bible scholars) shy away from displays, God wants us to know that He understands our emotions—and God is good with it. You can cry to God.
V’eemru? (And let us say?) The Ruach Kodesh wants us to learn how to elevate our emotions rather than bury them!
When it says that Joseph couldn’t restrain himself, the commentator Adam Clarke notes that the Hebrew “is very emphatic; it signifies to force one’s self, to do something against nature, to do violence to one’s self.” Imagine what discipline it took for Joseph to keep his composure and a straight face when he first saw his brothers again—let alone when he twisted his brothers through his tests. How many of you could do it?
Today’s portion begins with Judah’s passionate plea on behalf of Benjamin. When Judah and his brothers had first come down to Egypt, Joseph devised an elaborate test for them. It was vile what they’d done—selling their brother into slavery and telling their father a lie about wild animals killing him—for years they had lived a lie. Have any of you lived a lie? For years? It’s amazing what capacity people have for covering up lies… ever since the fig leaves in Eden. Yet Messiah Yeshua said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Joseph’s test of his brothers was good and redemptive, because in the end it produced redemption, reconciliation and restoration for the brothers. V’eemru? Isn’t that how we all feel about God’s tests? Through Joseph’s restraint and outburst, the Bible shows us how to direct our intense feelings for good. Just seeing his brothers again, bowing down before him in Egypt, was a test – he could have gloated.
Joseph had sent them off with grain, and ordered his silver cup secretly stashed in a sack, Ben’s bag. Joseph’s steward caught up to them, and finds the cup in Benjamin’s bag. The cup exposed is a test. The brothers could have let the steward drag Benjamin back to his doom—just like little Joe. After all, their Dad had been favoring Ben, just like he had Joseph…. Then this governor of Egypt had favored their Benjamin with 5 times as much as any of them. So would they still be resentful? Yet this time, they all tore their clothes and went back to Egypt with their little brother.
Then Judah pleaded before the Egyptian ruler for his brother and his father, concluding in 44:32-33: “For your servant became pledge for the boy with my father saying, ‘If I don’t bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before my father all my days.’ So now, please let your servant remain as my lord’s slave in the boy’s place, and let the boy go.” This time, instead of selling his brother into slavery, Judah was ready to lay down his life for him!
Similarly, Yeshua laid down his life for all his brothers, all slaves to sin. Philippians 2:7 says of Him, “He emptied Himself —taking on the form of a slave.” Yeshua took the rap for us!
When Joseph heard Judah express his willingness to become a slave, for his father and his father’s favored son, his self-restraint broke; he cries out for all his Egyptian court to leave and then gives his voice to weeping—no holding back any longer! There comes a time to express emotions. Yet Joseph had elevated his emotions with his restraint—processing how he felt in prayer before God.
Maybe while in prison all those years, Joseph had wept tears of sorrow over how he had been treated. Yet he neither buried his feelings, nor debased them into resentment ready to boil over in revenge. There’s a way to deal with emotions that energizes and elevates your soul. V’eemru? When Joseph wept, was it with tears of grief or tears of bitterness? Rather, he wept with tears of joy! Judah and the older brothers protected Benjamin, his father’s favored son; his father was still alive!
Then there’s the reaction of the brothers. When Joseph declares to them, “I am Joseph!” How many of you would expect them to be surprised, or shocked? Maybe that was part of it, but the Bible says that “his brothers were unable to answer him because they were terrified at his presence.” Terrified, because they all knew how they’d treated Joseph, now the mighty suzerain of Egypt.
Yet for many years they had suppressed the truth, with a story about Joseph being mauled by wild animals. Judah even alludes to this story in his little speech, where he recounts Jacob saying (44:28) ‘He must have been torn to shreds’—without mentioning he’d misled his father with this hoax. People can come to believe their own stories, even if they are lies, rather than deal with reality. Right? The brothers react with shock and terror—because suddenly their cover-up has been exposed!
I recently had a dream. People were walking around in a grey and shifting world, or thought they were, but computer programs were controlling what they were experiencing. How many of you have seen commercial virtual reality headsets, or experienced them? Is it cool?
How many of you have seen The Matrix? In that movie, computers control all of what people perceive, so that that the illusions of the program become their reality. In my dream, programs were controlling what people perceive as reality—and then disorienting and shocking them by shifting what they perceived. Suddenly a sidewalk would bend down at an angle.
In an amusement park or virtual reality headset that you can take off, a little disorientation can be fun, but if you cannot control or escape what you perceive, the disorientation can become terror. That’s what happens when people bury feelings associated with a trauma, and these feelings resurface at different times (you may not know why)—distorting reality-like a sidewalk bending sideways.
That’s the opposite of Joseph’s self-restraint, processed through prayer and transparency before God. That’s what his brothers did, living in a lie, and then constantly trying to bury it. Do you know anyone who told an untrue story about something he did or that happened to him, and eventually came to believe the lie? Then the distortion controls how this person perceives reality. For such a person—and there are lots of such people around us— I recommend Transformational Prayer Ministry (see Tim and Beckie Basehore) or Deliverance Ministry (see Nancy Hahn).
Joseph is able to embrace his brothers with tears of joy, asking them (in 45:4-5) to draw near to him, and reassuring them, “I am Joseph, your brother—the one you sold to Egypt,” he said. “So now, don’t be grieved and don’t be angry in your own eyes that you sold me here—since it was for preserving life that God sent me here before you.”
Seeing their shock, he assures them that he really is Joseph, your brother—the one you sold to Egypt. Joseph is completely at peace with what has happened, for it was God’s purpose to preserve life. Yet for all Joseph’s reassurance, his older brothers still need to do some more processing.
In Genesis 50:17, after Jacob dies, the brothers come back to Joseph, beseeching him, “Please forgive … the transgression of your brothers and their sin because they treated you wrongly.” For trust to be restored completely, the brothers needed to confess their transgression and their sin against Joseph and ask him to forgive them, falling down before him, humbly, even as his slaves.
Again Joseph weeps, and tells them, “Don’t be afraid. For am I in the place of God?” Again he assures them that what they meant for evil, God planned for good. Though we might consider this scene an after-thought, the brothers really needed this re-assurance.
Sometimes we do, too. V’eemru? God designed our human emotions—not for evil (when they are misdirected or distorted) but for good. V’eemru? Shame, guilt, anger, fear-God designed all these, for a purpose, as well as contentment, confidence, courage, joy, peace and passionate love.
Indeed, Yeshua the Messiah, fully human as He was, experienced emotions, never burying them but elevating them with restraint—processing how he felt in prayer before God—and then expressing them rightly at appropriate times.
When he came to the tomb of Lazarus, where Martha and Miriam were mourning, Yeshua wept with load groans, expressing His total compassion for this family whom He loved, and for all who experience the sorrow of the loss of a loved one.
Or when Yeshua came to Jerusalem for the last time before His suffering and death, He cried over the city—not tears of joy but intense disappointment, pent up in His heart for centuries:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her!” How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your House is left to you desolate!”
Can you hear the cry of God’s heart—such disappointment over their rejecting the prophets He had been sending His people, and now His beloved Son, the promised Messiah! Yes, feel it!
Just as the brothers had despised and rejected Joseph, his father’s favored son, so our fathers in every generation have despised and rejected Yeshua—just as Isaiah 53 foretold—the Father’s favored Son, by His own flesh and blood, the house of Israel!
Then there is the emotion of the mother hen longing for her chicks, His children to return to Him.
Then there is the anguish of the prophetic vision, seeing what will soon happen to Jerusalem, when the Romans would come and destroy it with fire and throw down the stones of the Temple.
All these feelings Yeshua expressed vehemently yet with restraint. For He also knows a day is coming, foretold in Zechariah 12:10, when God will “pour out on … the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication, when they will look toward Me whom they pierced. They will mourn for him as one mourns for an only son and grieve bitterly for him, as one grieves for a firstborn.” In that day, the leaders of Israel and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will behold Yeshua, will mourn with all the intensity of a sorrow that has been pent up for centuries in the heart of Messiah.
There is a time for tears of grief, tears of repentance, and tears of reconciliation. V’eemru? Messiah Yeshua is passionate in His feelings about you. V’eemru? Are you passionate in your feelings about Him?
Questions for Breakout Discussion
What emotions do Joseph and his brothers express in this portion? How many of you are surprised at their open display of feelings?
You’ve all heard the story of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery…. How do you feel about what happened? What if that happened to you?
OK, time for some transparency. Have any of you have ever despised a relative or so-called friend-enough to want to get rid of him or her?
Then the older brothers lied to their father about what happened to Joseph. What was the lie?
Do you know anyone who lived with a lie, for years? What does that feel like?
How can trusting in untrue narratives distort reality or relationships?
In John 8:32, Yeshua says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” How does this word apply to lies we tell to ourselves?
When you are going through times of testing, how many of you struggle with intense feelings?
What kind of feelings? How could times of testing be God’s plan to expose self-deception?
What should you do about it?
How do you feel about Judah offering himself as a slave in Benjamin’s place? How do you feel about Yeshua offering Himself as a slave in your place? Have you accepted Yeshua’s offer? (Make sure.)
Why did Joseph restrain his feelings with his brothers? Why did he break his self-restraint and weep? How did Joseph’s restraint elevate his soul?
When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, what was their reaction?
If you had covered up a lie for years, how would you feel if it was suddenly exposed?
How can trusting in untrue narratives distort reality or relationships?
How do you feel about my dream about programs controlling what people perceive as reality—and then disorienting them? How is this disorientation similar to when buried emotions are exposed?
How was the way Joseph processed his emotions different from the way his brothers processed theirs? Why was Joseph completely at peace with his brothers?
Why did his brothers need to do some more processing? What did they eventually do? Though it may seem like an after-thought, why was this step an important part of the story of Joseph and his brothers?
In Transformational Prayer Ministry, you start with a strong negative emotion and the circumstance that triggers it; then the Holy Spirit helps you to remember the lie you told yourself in the past about feelings associated with a past experience; and finally the Lord reveals the truth about that situation, from His perspective. How could such a ministry be helpful to you?
How many of you would agree that God designed our emotions? Then why do many people have trouble dealing with them?
Does Yeshua show strong emotions? Does Yeshua demonstrate how to direct emotions for good?
As David Harwood taught us recently, God in Messiah Yeshua is passionate in His feelings for you.
Why is it important to grasp this truth, deeply?
Are you passionate in your feelings about Him?
This sermon and questions may not to be reprinted in whole or in part without the express written consent of Messianic Rabbi Glenn D. Blank of Beit Simcha. Your generous support for our ministry and building project is appreciated!
Scripture references are mostly from The Tree of Life Version (TLV) though occasionally other versions. Verse citations provide Jewish numbering, with Christian numbering in parentheses.