Messianic Education Trust
    Vayigash  
(Gen 44:18 - 47:27)

B'resheet/Genesis 45:8   ... as a father to Pharoah and as a master for all his house and as a ruler in all the land of Egypt.


Yosef is here speaking to his brothers as he discloses to them who he really is. The brothers have made a second food-purchasing trip to Egypt; Yosef had his cup slipped into Benjamin's sack and the brothers have been brought back as thieves in disgrace and Judah has spoken for him and offered to stay in prison in Egypt to ransom Benjamin for the sake of their father. Yosef then reveals his identity: not the grand vizier of Egypt, although he is that as well, but their long-lost brother, sold into slavery twenty years ago. After assuring his brothers that it was G-d who sent him down to Egypt rather than them (see Vayigash 5766), Yosef explains here the position in which G-d has placed him.

is translated literally, "as a father to Pharaoh", but since Pharaoh is clearly of age, this must have a figurative meaning. Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi, perhaps quoting the Midrash (Beresheet Rabbah 93:10), suggests that it means "as a colleague and as a patron", while Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra and Saadia Ga'on suggest "as a teacher". Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch, pointing out that "the fundamental meaning of (from the root , to want, to be willing), is the one who has the veto, so that without his agreement, nobody else may do anything", proposes "counsellor". The Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno suggests, "as an advisor" with the whole phrase meaning "an advisor to the king ... appointed over his house ... to conduct matters of state". Drazin and Wagner wryly observe that "the biblical metaphor 'father' renders Joseph's role obscure." Nahum Sarna states that "no such title is known from ancient Egypt. The closest to it may be 'father of god', in which 'god' may be the king/pharaoh. But its precise usage is in dispute."

In several biblical passages, "father" is used as a title of honour for a prophet, a king or a high administrator: when Elisha sees Elijah being taken up to heaven, he cries out "My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" (2 Kings 2:12, ESV); when he is about to jeopardise being healed from leprosy by refusing to wash in the Jordan, the servants of Naaman tell him, "My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, 'Wash, and be clean'?" (2 Kings 5:13, ESV). While King Saul is hunting David to kill him, and David has cut the corner off Saul's robe, he still acknowledges his place as king and cries to him, "See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it" (1 Samuel 24:11, ESV).

Yeshua spoke of this usage of respect: "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ" (Matthew 23:8-10, NKJV). What could He mean? The Roman Catholic church gives its priests the title 'father' and is roundly condemned by many in the Protestant churches for violating Yeshua's command. But is that what Yeshua is really addressing? Did Yeshua want to strip away the titles of respect and acknowledgement of role that had been in use by the Jewish people for many hundreds of years? The role-title 'father' is clearly appropriate within families between children and their father; to remove this would detract significantly from the Bible's many pictures of Father G-d, not least the prayer format that Yeshau taught the disciples to use that starts, "Our Father, who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2-4) and His own relationship with the Father, such as "Father, the hour has come" (John 17:1). As well as Yosef above, Job too describes himself acting in the role of father outside his own biological family: "I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know" (Job 29:16, ESV). Stephen refers to "our father Avraham" (Acts 7:2), a phrase that we use many times in our liturgy, while Rav Sha'ul also refers to "our father Yitz'khak" (Romans 9:10).

The context seems to indicate that Yeshua didn't mean these words to be taken literally; after all He Himself appoints the disciples as teachers - "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV). Rav Sha'ul spoke of his own appointment - "I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher" (2 Timothy 1:11, ESV) - and the giving of offices within the church: "And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11, ESV). Even the common titles used by people every day - Mr. and Mrs. - are abbreviated and gendered forms of the word 'master'. What, therefore, is Yeshua really trying to say?

The larger context of Yeshua's words shows that they are referring to the Scribes and Pharisees of His day. Although they "sit on the seat of Moshe" (Matthew 23:2), Yeshua claims that their lives are a sham, a facade put on for public consumption: "they preach but do not practice ... they do all their deeds to be seen by others" (vv. 3,5 ESV. He goes on: "they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others" (vv. 6-7, ESV). The section closes with Yeshua instructing, "The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (vv. 11-12, ESV) There is nothing wrong with learning, teaching or other professional occupations and having the status of those qualifications acknowledged; Yeshua is talking about the way people use their titles in a social context to generate status.

Yeshua Himself set the standard. When addressed as "Good Teacher", He quite sharply riposted by asking, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except G-d alone" (Mark 10:18, ESV). After He had fed the five thousand, "Yeshua knew that they were on the point of coming and seizing Him, in order to make Him king; so He went back to the hills again" (John 6:15, CJB) - He avoided public acclamation and position. Earlier in His ministry, after doing a number of miracles in Jerusalem at Passover time, many people claimed to believe in Him, but He "was wary of these believers. He understood people and didn't need anyone to tell Him about human nature. He knew what people were really like" (2:24-25, GWT). He rejected fair-weather friends and popularity. In what is widely taken as a fragment of liturgy from the earliest days of the church, Rav Sha'ul points out that:

Though He was in the form of G-d, He did not regard equality with G-d something to be possessed by force. On the contrary, He emptied Himself, in that He took the form of a slave by becoming like human beings are. And when He appeared as a human being, He humbled Himself still more by becoming obedient even to death - death on a stake as a criminal! Therefore G-d raised Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above every name; that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow - in heaven, on earth and under the earth - and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is ADONAI - to the glory of G-d the Father. Philippians 2:6-11, CJB

Yeshua now occupies the role that Yosef foreshadowed as grand vizier in Egypt. He has the highest position possible, second only to Father G-d when He rules from His throne, with full and absolute delegated authority. G-d has placed Him in that position deliberately with the specific intention of bringing everything together in submission to Him, placing everything under His feet, so that He (that is, Father G-d) may be glorified in the Son. This is the good news that the prophets foretold, that G-d announced to our people long ago: "Ascend a lofty mountain, O herald of joy to Zion; raise your voice with power, O herald of joy to Jerusalem -- Raise it, have no fear; announce to the cities of Judah: Behold your G-d! Behold, the L-rd G-D comes in might, and His arm wins triumph for Him; see, His reward is with Him, His recompense before Him" (Isaiah 40:9-10, JPS).

Further Study: Isaiah 12:2, 35:3; Malachi 3:1; John 12:13-15

Application: Do you really know who Yeshua is? Have you grasped the magnitude of what G-d has done in reaching out to us in Yeshua? Ask Father G-d to reveal this in a new way to you today!

© Jonathan Allen, 2012



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