Hidden Messiah: Parallels And Conclusions (i)

When we read the Bible in English, the whole story of the brothers returning to Joseph after the Benjamin “theft” – their speech, their repentance, and then Joseph revealing his identity – seems like one uninterrupted story. Not so in Hebrew, however. The Hebrew Torah, along with chapter divisions, also has divisions into Torah portions (Parashat Shavua) – and Parashat Shavua Miketz (the one I spoke about in my New Year post) suddenly ends in the middle of the chapter 44. The flow of the story breaks – there is an invisible dotted line, a pause, signifying that something very important is about to happen – then the next Torah Portion, VeYigash, begins with the words: Then Judah came near unto him .…[1] It is here, in VeYigash, that Joseph reveals himself to his brothers;  this move of Judah proves to be crucial. It is perceived as something preceding, and even causing, Joseph’s revelation.  Why is this?

Let us return to this story, but a day or two prior to this scene.  In Genesis 43, we see the brothers, now with Benjamin, standing before Joseph. Ten of them had already been here before and this whole scene must have been an unpleasant déjà vu for them. Only Benjamin, with open curiosity, examined this strange man about whom he had heard so much – and what about Joseph?

The description of Joseph’s feelings is acutely intense in Hebrew. Scripture says that when Joseph saw Benjamin he made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother  (כי-נכמרו רחמיו אל-אחיו)  and he sought where to weep.[2] This is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, expressions in the Tanach to describe the feelings which permeate a loving, compassionate person. For example, when King Solomon was determining the mother of the infant and made as if to have the child divided in two with a sword, it is said of the real mother: She yearned with compassion for her son [3] (נכמרו רחמיה אל-בניה). The word רחמיה/רחמיו can be translated as “womb” (that’s why it is translated as “heart”, or even “bowels” – the innermost part of us), but also as compassion, mercy, or lovingkindness – and it is the combination of these two definitions that describes this deep-down love that we see here.

Now try to imagine the bewilderment of the brothers when this Egyptian governor, right in the middle of their conversation, without any explanation and for no apparent reason, turns and strides quickly: Joseph made haste. The brothers are light years away from the real reason that compels Joseph to run from the room: he sought where to weep. Not one of them, including Benjamin, has the slightest idea what is really going on in the heart of this “aloof” lord. They do not see the heart-breaking scene that you and I do: and he went into his chamber and wept there.[4] They do not suspect what is happening with Joseph in this inner room, and for this reason the gap is truly great between how they perceive the circumstances, and what is really going on in the invisible reality of that chamber. Moreover, what does Joseph do upon leaving his chamber? The complete opposite of what we might expect, and what he himself probably deeply desired to do:  he washed his face so that his tears would not be seen – so there would be no trace of that love, and came out; and he restrained himself… (ויתאפק).[5] The word translated as “restrained himself” is the Hebrew word להתאפק, meaning to “hold back or control oneself”. We need to remember this word, “restrained” these tears of love that Joseph had to hold back – while reading the beginning of the next chapter:  And he commanded the steward of his house, saying … put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth of the youngest.[6] What?!! Why would he do that?

From math class in school, we remember that two points can be connected by an infinite number of lines but only one of them will be straight. This is exactly what we see in our story.  One point corresponds to what we have just read: and he went into his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he restrained himself…(‎  וַיִּ֙תְאַפַּ֔ק);[7] the other point is the story’s conclusion: then Joseph could not restrain himself…   (וְלֹֽא־יָכֹ֙ל יוֹסֵ֜ף לְהִתְאַפֵּ֗ק ) and he wept aloud…[8] These two points are connected by not one, but two lines. One visible, circuitous line – the view purposefully revealed to the brothers – follows the observable surface of the day’s events: the restrained emotion; Joseph’s instruction to put the cup into Benjamin’s sack; the brothers’ exit; the stop and the search; the return to the city; the conversation with Joseph; the speech of Judah sacrificing himself for Benjamin’s sake; and finally, the tears of Joseph, not restraining himself as he reveals his true identity to his brothers. There is a second line, however, one hidden and invisible to the natural eye, but visible to us as readers: the straight line directly connecting the Joseph who weeps in secret in the inner room with the Joseph openly sobbing violently, as he tearfully reveals himself to his brothers. Here, the tears of love that are held back and hidden at the first point, are revealed to their full extent at the second point, when Joseph could not restrain himself any longer.

Thus, we become witnesses to the conscientiously and purposefully built inconsistency between these two lines: between what the participants of the story see, and what the reader knows and sees. Moreover, we discover that the secret so thoroughly hidden from the story’s participants, but shown to us by the Author, is love.  Joseph loved Benjamin but until the very end of the story, this love is hidden from Benjamin himself, and also from his brothers. Only the reader, who is shown the tears of Joseph in his chamber, knows without a shadow of a doubt that everything that happened to Benjamin testifies to the special election and special love that has placed him in the center of the plan. Only the reader knows that both Joseph himself, and his love for his brother, has remained unchanged all along: the Joseph who causes Benjamin pain by putting the cup in his sack, loves him not a fraction less than the Joseph who weeps on his neck. The only difference being that, before Joseph had finished his plan with his brothers, he had to restrain himself, withholding his deep love for Benjamin. Joseph could not reveal himself to his brothers until his plan was complete – until God’s work in their hearts was finalized. Thus, this story reveals the character of God’s love like no other.

Now we can finally answer the question of why Yeshua forbade people to tell others about His Messianic identity.  Revealing that Yeshua was the Messiah to the Israelites would be similar to Joseph’s steward, having searched the brothers and found the cup in Benjamin’s sack, at that point, telling them how and why the cup got there. Joseph’s entire plan would have been ruined. The test created by Joseph could yield the desired effect only because neither Benjamin nor his brothers knew the truth at that moment. Similarly, the plan of the Lord was possible only because Israel did not know this plan. This necessitated that Yeshua would forbid the advertising of His Messianic identity. The story of Benjamin’s “theft” continued for a few hours; the story of Israel being “enemies for your sake” and “Christ-killers”, has lasted for two thousand years – inscribed on the bloodiest and most frightening pages of our history.

But how did this story of Benjamin end? What did cause Joseph to finally reveal himself? Here again, let us turn to the beginning of this week’s Torah portion (we will read it on this Shabbat, the first Shabbat of 2017): Then Judah came near unto him… In our next (and probably final)  chapter in this series, we will discuss Judah. Who does he symbolize, and what is foreshadowed by this whole scenario?[9]


[1] Gen 44:18

[2] Gen 43:30

[3] 1 Kings 3:26; the NASB translates this phrase as, ‘She was deeply stirred over her son.’

[4] Gen 43:30

[5] Gen. 43:31

[6] Gen 44:1-2

[7] Gen 43:30-31

[8] Gen 45:1-2

[9] The parallels between the story of Joseph and Benjamin and God’s plan with Israel, are explored in my book “If you are Son of God…” You can find this book (and my other books) on my website readjuliablum.com

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (26 comments)

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  1. Robin Dyess

    Your words here have spoken my heart! I have written them on my kitchen wall, to help establish the pattern for this year….for they are my hearts cry!!!

    Thank you for writing them! They blessed me as much as his teaching!


  2. David Hereford

    Julia, our Father’s love is so vast and unsearchable, yet He tells to “live” in it. You are helping me to live in His love and lay down any attempts to understand it.
    Thank you my sister!

  3. Izzy hussey

    I agree with Nick’s reply. I am a Christian who seeks to know all aspects of our God. This study was enlightening, thank you.

  4. Pip Corteen

    Beautiful exegesis Julia have sent it on to a friend. Thank you and I’m looking forward to my ebiblical course starting soon

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Pip! I am so glad you are starting this course, you will enjoy it greatly! Blessings!

  5. Antwi Felix Twum

    Hi Ms. Blum, I’m outstandingly benefiting from this story and I am grateful.
    May be, the reader in this scenario is that same steward who was ordered to hid the silver cup in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his grain money to terrorized the sons of Yakov, Yosef’s brothers.
    It’s obvious that until this day, Yosef had cast away the trust and reliability of his own family and grafted in the trust and reliability of the steward or the reader; otherwise, how could he confined in him to provoke his own family of fear and panic, or jealousy so to speak.
    So what happens to the “steward/reader” who knew or could see the latent tears of Yosef untill he could restrain himself any longer?

    1. Julia Blum

      Wow, this is an amazing question, Antwi! I thought about the steward many times: what did this steward feel or think in this story? However, I’ve never thought along those lines that you suggested: “May be, the reader in this scenario is that same steward who was ordered to hid the silver cup in the mouth of the sack of the youngest”! I think, it is worth a separate article, don’t you think so? It is an incredibly profound thought, and I am very grateful! Thank you so much!

  6. Susan Kroep

    Thank You very much Julia!

  7. jane z mazzola

    Many rich layers of understanding you have uncovered. Thank you, Julia.