Parshat Vayigash

The Blessed Shepherds (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

This week we will finally have a catharsis for the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, forgave them for selling him to slavery and reunited with them and with his younger brother Benjamin. Joseph sends his brothers back to Canaan to retrieve their old father Jacob. Jacob is completely overwhelmed by the good news that his beloved son Joseph is still alive and the whole family begins their journey to Egypt to meet the lost son, Joseph, and save themselves from the famine. All the names of the descendants of Jacob that went down to Egypt are mentioned, altogether seventy people (Genesis 46:8-27). The last stop of Jacob in Canaan is Beersheba, where God turns to him: “…Jacob! Jacob!” “Here I am,” he replied.  “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there” (Genesis 46:2-3). The revelation of God in Beersheba, the southern border of the land of Canaan, connects Jacob to the edge of the Promised Land and to his ancestors Abraham and Isaac, who lived in Beersheba as shepherds for many years and departed from here to the Jerusalem to express their faith and confidence in God.

This week I want to take you to Biblical Beersheba. In 2005 UNESCO declared Beersheba, along with two other biblical sites, Megiddo and Hatzor, as world heritage sites. In Beersheba you will see a fortified city from the days of the Kingdom of Judea, mainly from the 9th to 6th centuries BC, with walls, gates, streets, Houses, storerooms, a governor’s palace, a well-developed water system to collect floodwaters, 200 feet deep well, and even a ruined altar (this is not, of course, Jacob’s altar). During the visit to Beersheba, take a look at the surrounding area and you will see the neighboring Bedouin tribes who lived until just a few decades ago as nomads and shepherds. In the Bible, shepherds are seen as worthy leaders and as a source of blessing, and this is also true in the New Testament, where no prominent figure actually worked as a shepherd.

Jesus never visited Beersheba and did not really mention it in his teachings, but he did see himself as a shepherd: ” I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ” (John 10:11). Jesus ordains a spiritual leadership of seventy men, just like the number of the house of Jacob: “After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go” (Luke 10:1). This section  describes how Joseph saved the Egyptians from starvation (Genesis 47:15-19), How Joseph empowered Pharaoh the ruler of Egypt (47:23), how Pharaoh appointed Joseph’s brothers ministers of his livestock (47:6) and how Pharaoh was blessed by Jacob himself (47:10), that the Nile will rise at his feet And he water the land of Egypt, according to Jewish commentators. All this while the Egyptian hated this family of shepherds: “…for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians” (46:34). Like Jacob and his seventy men family who bless Egypt in their presence despite the ingratitude of the Egyptians, so too did Jesus and his seventy men seek to bless Israel and mankind: ” And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).


Itamar Ben David

 

Itamar Ben David is a professional tour guide and educator. He is one of the most popular Travelujah guides providing valuable biblical, historical and modern day insight on the land of Israel to Jewish and Christian groups and exclusive private tours. He has guided famous media personalities such as Larry King, congressmen and other VIP clients. He and his wife live in Jerusalem.

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