20221224 Parashat Miketz – Agent of Salvation
Torah Portion Genesis 43:26-34
Haftarah Zechariah 3:6-10
Brit Chadashah Acts 10:24-33
The tenth reading from the book of Genesis is named Miketz, which means “the end.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream” (Genesis 41:1). The portion begins with Pharaoh’s portentous dreams, Joseph’s interpretations and his subsequent rise to power over Egypt. When a famine strikes the land of Canaan, his brothers come to Egypt seeking grain, but they do not recognize Joseph, who engineers a means by which he can test their character.
The story of Joseph is a multi-faceted tale of hubris, jealousy, hate, betrayal, success, seduction, unjust imprisonment, and finally redemption. But there is also an underlying story of a man who wronged by his family and how he reacted to it. Joseph was sold into slavery by his older brothers at the age of 17. His life was like a roller coaster ride for 20 years. Joseph eventually became the second most important man in Egypt. Egypt was the most powerful nation in the world at that time so that would make Joseph, the former slave and ex-convict the second most powerful man in the known world.
Against that backdrop we see a drama unfold that could have destroyed a family and the future nation of Israel. When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt a second time to buy grain during the massive famine that engulfed the entire Mediterranean area, they had no idea what they were getting into. They again came face to face with the brother that they had wronged some 20 years earlier. Joseph recognized his brothers, but since he was dressed in the fashion of an Egyptian ruler, they had no idea who he was.
Joseph had arranged to eat a meal with his brothers. It would be the first time he saw Benjamin in 20 years.
Genesis 43:26-30 When Joseph came home, they brought him the offering in their hand into the house, and they bowed down to the ground to him.
Then he asked if they were well, and said, “Is he well—your elderly father that you told me about? Is he still alive?” “Your servant, our father, is well,” they said. “He’s still alive.”
Then they knelt and bowed down. Then he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother whom you mentioned to me?”
Then he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” Then Joseph hurried out because his compassion grew warm and tender toward his brother so that he wanted to cry. So he went into an inner room and wept there.
Joseph had manipulated events in order to force his brothers to bring Benjamin with them. Now that he had all of his brothers together he had the perfect opportunity to throw them all in prison for their evil deeds. All but Benjamin were guilty, were they not? And yet, there was something far different inside Joseph. Most men would have relished the opportunity for revenge. But Joseph wept.
Most men would harbor deep seated hatred for those who had caused him so much pain. But Joseph wept.
There was nothing in Joseph’s heart and mind as important than his family. These men had abused him terribly 20 years ago and Joseph’s response was to cry.
Joseph now knew that the God of Abraham, Isaac and his own father Jacob had directed his path in order for him to be the agent of salvation for his family. Instead of hate and revenge, Joseph showed nothing but love and forgiveness.
Yeshua has been called Mashiach ben Yoseph, Messiah son of Joseph for the many parallels between their lives. Yeshua lived a sinless life, resisting many temptations.
He taught us the power and necessity of forgiveness.
Matthew 5:22-24 But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be subject to judgment.
And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca’ shall be subject to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be subject to fiery Gehenna.
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go.
First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
Yeshua is telling us that our offerings, our good deeds, our piety are not acceptable if we don’t make things right with our brother. Brother in this context can mean family, friends, acquaintances in the Congregation. Our relationship with our neighbors, our fellow man is important. It is the second most important commandment of God.
Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul, taught us in Galatians.
Galatians 5:13-15 Brothers and sisters, you were called to freedom—only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Torah can be summed up in a single saying: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not destroyed by one another.
Again in His letter to the congregation in Rome Rav Shaul gives us some good advice.
Romans 12:9-18 Let love be without hypocrisy—detesting what is evil, holding fast to the good. (10) Be tenderly devoted to one another in brotherly love; outdo one another in giving honor.
(11) Do not be lagging in zeal; be fervent in spirit. Keep serving the Lord, (12) rejoicing in hope, enduring in distress, persisting in prayer, (13) contributing to the needs of the kedoshim, extending hospitality. (14) Bless those who persecute you—bless and do not curse. (15) Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. (16) Live in harmony with one another; do not be proud, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own eyes. (17) Repay no one evil for evil; give thought to what is good in the eyes of all people. (18) If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people.
I like that last verse. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people.” Your relationship with people often depends on you. I realize that some folks are just not easy to get along with. You have to walk on eggshells when you are around them. But that is what we are called to do. That is part of that living sacrifice that Romans 12:1 calls us to be.
With those thoughts in mind let me go on to the hard part of this teaching.
Both within and outside the Messianic Movement today are people that have decided that they will no longer celebrate Christmas. The reasons for such a stance are varied and generally settle on these main points.
- Disagreement on the actual date of Yeshua’s birth. Possible dates include Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, Shavuot, and 1 Nisan.
- Christmas merged with an older pagan holiday to coincide with the Winter Solstice.
- Christmas trees are falsely maligned as objects of worship as described in Jeremiah 10, or pagan sexuality.
- Santa Claus has replaced Jesus as the reason for the season.
There may be other reasons than those enumerated, but for our purposes today those are sufficient.
Do we know the real date for the birth of the Messiah? There are many theories and calculations as to when he was born. Does His possible birth on December 25 or during Sukkot, or Rosh Hashanah or even in the springtime affect your salvation? If Yeshua was born on the 4th of July, would any of us be less redeemed and covered by the Blood of the Lamb? No it would not. The date of Yeshua’s birth is not a salvation issue.
Some point out that Christmas was chosen on December 25 to coincide with the Winter Solstice, which is celebrated by many non-Believers. While that may be true, does that in an of itself make Christmas a ‘pagan’ holiday? I would ask you to consider the names we ascribe to the days of the week. All the days of the week use names honoring some ancient deity. Are we pagans because we use those names? No!
What about the names of the months? Our calendar is based on a Roman calendar that was established around 753 BCE. Seven of the twelve months are named after Roman gods or Roman emperors.
However, it’s not just the Gregorian calendar that reflects false gods, but the Hebrew calendar shows blatant compromise as well. Does being born in one of those months make you a pagan? Obviously not.
Many people point to Jeremiah 10 as a prohibition against Christmas trees. Let’s look at what it says.
Jeremiah 10:2-4 Thus says Adonai: “Do not learn the way of the nations or be frightened by signs of the heavens—though the nations are terrified by them. (3) The customs of the peoples are useless: it is just a tree cut from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman with a chisel. (4) They decorate it with silver and gold, and fasten it with hammer and nails so it won’t totter.
If you take these verses literally you see a person cutting down a tree, carving it into an image, and then gilding it with gold and/or silver. The Asherah poles in ancient Canaan, and possibly, the totem poles of the Pacific Northwest are examples of that. No one that I know of “worships” a Christmas tree. Many are thrown away or disassembled and stuffed in a container after Christmas. Strange way to treat a god.
The last point is one to which I thoroughly agree. Santa Claus and the whole Santa Claus culture has highjacked what should be a wonderful time of celebrating the birth of our Messiah. Growing up, Santa Claus was never part of our culture.
So what do we do about all this? What should be our reaction?
Nowhere in the Bible is Christmas mentioned. Neither are there any instructions as to how to celebrate Hanukkah or Purim. And yet, we observe them.
Christians who celebrate the birth of the Messiah on 25 December do so out of a desire to honor the Messiah. Do they have it all right? Can we as Jews, Messianic Jews, or grafted-in Believers say with certainty that our form of worship is perfect? I would say not.
Joseph, after 20 years in Egypt had an Egyptian name. His wife was the daughter of an Egyptian priest. He had two sons from a pagan wife. Joseph dressed like an Egyptian. He walked and talked like an Egyptian, and yet he was still tied to his Hebrew family. His family was important enough to risk his position to embrace them.
How important is your family today? Are you willing to cast them aside because they celebrate Christmas like every other Jesus-loving Christian? How are you ever going to win your family to the True salvation of Messiah with an arrogant attitude of superiority because we worship on the Sabbath?
We don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter because of Santa Claus and the easter bunny. You will never win them over by saying they are pagans. No, you win them over by showing your love for them. Remember that time when Jesus said he came to bring a sword that would divide families? Well He didn’t mean bringing war to family gatherings and holidays. Be like Joseph, the agent of salvation for his family.
Outside of your relationship with Yeshua HaMashiach, there is no relationship more important than your own family. Please don’t ostracize your loved ones because they don’t believe like you do. We have both ends of the spectrum here at TOL. There are families that came out of a particular denomination, and yet they still retain a loving relationship with their families and former congregants. Do they have different beliefs? Absolutely they do. But they still show love to each other.
Sadly, we have some folks who are so dogmatic about what they NOW believe, they cannot show love and tolerance to their own family members: refusing to gather with them during this Christmas season, refusing to have anything to do with their loved ones. With all my heart I am asking you, if you fit into that description, please reconsider. God gave us our families for a reason. You may be the only one who can bring them to salvation. Be that agent of salvation for your family
I think Paul had it right.
1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win over the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that by all means possible I might save some.
Our objective is not to show off our “superior” style of worship. Our major purpose is to win the lost at any cost.
In this dual season of Hanukkah and Christmas may the light of the Messiah shine through each of us.