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Shemot/Exodus 11:3 And the L-rd gave favour of the people in the eyes of the Egypt
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This text needs to be read in the context of two other passages: a promise and a narrated fulfillment. The promise is given to Moshe several chapters earlier at the Bush in parasha Shemot -
And I will dispose the Egyptians favorably toward this people, so that when you go, you will not go away empty-handed. Each woman shall borrow from her neighbour and the lodger in her house objects of silver and gold, and clothing, and you shall put these on your sons and daughters, thus stripping the Egyptians (Shemot 3:21-22, NJPS)
- while the fulfillment comes in the next chapter, in the same parasha as our text:
The Israelites had done Moshe' bidding and borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold, and clothing. And the L-RD had disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people, and they let them have their request; thus they stripped the Egyptians (Shemot 12:35-36, NJPS).
Our text, asIbn Ezra comments, "recounts that G-d fulfilled the promise He made to Moshe in 3:21", so that in Nahum Sarna's words, "the Egyptians willingly parted with their possessions."
In both cases, the NJPS choice of 'borrow' for the root is unfortunate, since it setsHaShem up for a charge of dishonesty. Were the Israelites essentially lying by only borrowing items that they and HaShem knew perfectly well they would not return, since they were essentially leaving Egypt on a one-way ticket? David Clines agrees that 'borrow' is one possible alternative, but lists "ask, require, demand" as equally possible meanings.1 Most English translations (e.g., ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV) follow this lead and translate the verses accordingly: "each woman shall ask of her neighbour" (ESV) and "they had requested from the Egyptians" (NASB). The Rashbam explains the request was for "an irrevocable and outright gift (as the Psalmist writes: "Ask it of Me, and I will make the nations your domain" (Psalm 2:8, NJPS). This is the plain sense and a refutation of the heretics. HaShem gave them favour - to give them in the form of a gift - the Israelites were the askers and the Egyptians gave them for the asking as a gift."
David Daube observes that our text and the the framing verses listed above (3:21-22 and 12:35-36) are informed by the "year of release" instructions found much later in the Torah (D'varim 15:1-11). Here, Moshe is telling the next generation of Israelites, who had not themselves been slaves in Egypt, about what happens when an Israelite slave reaches the end of his years of service. A slave is not only to be set free, but provided with everything necessary to start a new (free) life on a viable economic footing. The responsible slaveholder will act fairly, honestly and generously in respecting those rights.2
TheChizkuni sees this as well. Commenting on the phrase, "you shall not go out empty" (3:22) he says that this will happen "because they will endow you with a gratuity of three things: silver, gold and clothing, as in the case of the master's farewell to his freed servant (De 15:13-14), which was taken from the flock, threshing floor and winepress. An outright gift: jewels of silver and gold in place of the houses, fields and moveables the Israelites left behind." Terence Fretheim suggests that "the narrator comments that G-d had given the people favour in the eyes of the Egyptians - and hence the gifts must be genuine ..."3
Walter Brueggemann points out that "this is not a desperate, frantic, forced escape. For an instant, the exodus is pictured as an ordered, proper, regulated 'letting go'." Looking to later Israelite history, he adds that "the same construal is suggested for the exilic indenture in Babylon: 'Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at the hand of the L-RD double for all her sins' (Isaiah 40:2, NJPS)." 4 TheRamban almost inverts the oppressor-oppressed relationship by claiming that "G-d disposed the Egyptians favourably, so that they would not hate the Israelites on account of the plagues, but instead would increase their love and admiration for them, saying, 'It is we who are the wicked and the doers of violence, and you who deserve G-d's grace.'"
These ideas neatly segue into a point brought out by Thomas Dozeman. He starts by pointing to "the peculiar form of the motif of Israel's favoured status with the Egyptians. It does not occur in the expected form: 'Israel found favour in the eyes of the Egyptians'. Instead it states, 'Yahweh gave the Israelites favour in the eyes of the Egyptians'." The root , "to find" (Davidson) is used for the former, with 'Israel' as the subject of the verb. In our text, however, the root , "to give, appoint" (Davidson) is employed, with HaShem as the subject. We need to pay attention to who is performing the verb action, as Dozeman explains: "The traditional form implies that the favoured status of a person arises from his or her character. Noah (B'resheet 6:8) and Moshe (Shemot 33:12-13) find favour in the eyes of Yahweh because of their character and their conduct. But in [our text] Yahweh, not the Israelites influences the perspective of the Egyptians. The emphasis is not on the relationship between the Israelites and the Egyptians, but on the power of G-d to bring about reversal in the event of liberation."5 This is a very significant difference. The Israelites have not earned favour with the Egyptians; G-d has given it to them without their having to do anything about it at all - arguable, without the Israelites being able to do anything about it. Rabbi Hirsch tries to suggest that the Israelites so impressed the Egyptians during the three days of darkness (the ninth plague) with their honesty by not touching any of the Egyptians' possessions, that they were only to glad to give them whatever they wanted, but this is clutching at straws. Our text makes it very plain that, just as He said He would and then later records that He did, HaShem supernaturally gave the Israelites favour in the eyes of the Egyptians. This is all about G-d.
In the later days of the two kingdoms in Israel (Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern kingdom) the prophet Zechariah spoke of a time that was to come when the days of fasting would become festivals and days of rejoicing, when Jerusalem and the house of Judah would have favour in the eyes of the nations so that people from all over the world would come streaming to Jerusalem to pray and seek the favour of the L-rd G-d: "Thus said the L-RD of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold -- they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak and say, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you'" (Zechariah 8:23, NJPS). As we look back through history, it is hard to see anything like this. In the time of Yeshua's ministry, Jerusalem and the Temple enjoyed a significant prosperity and popularity throughout the Roman empire with a steady flow of pilgrims, sacrifices and money into the Temple, but even that didn't match Zechariah's vision. To bring about that vision will require an exclusive and supernatural work of G-d, to give such favour in the eyes of the nations and reverse centuries of persecution and anti-Semitism. But make no mistake: G-d can do it. Not only can He do it, but He has promised and - in due season - He will do it.
Luke speaks three times of people finding favour in his gospel. The first is Mary, when the angel comes to announce that she is to be the mother of the Messiah: "The angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with G-d'" (Luke 1:30, ESV). The other two both refer to Yeshua, during His early years following His presentation in the Temple - "When they had performed everything according to the Law of the L-rd, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favour of G-d was upon Him" (2:29-40, ESV) - and upon His return home after the visit to Jerusalem for Pesach when He was at bar mitzvah age: "And Yeshua increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with G-d and man" (2:52, ESV). In the first, Mary finds favour with G-d, what Dozeman would call the 'normal' way round. In the second, G-d's favour is on Yeshua - neither the normal or inverted form - while in the third, as Yeshua grows physically and in wisdom, He also grows in the favour of G-d and men: the former another neutral form, the latter another 'normal' form. We see Mary and Yeshua both being pleasing to HaShem and so earning His favour by what they do and say, by how they are obedient to His commandments. Only Yeshua receives favour simply because of who He is. We cannot say unmerited favour, because Yeshua did (and, of course, still does) merit the Father's favour, but the text doesn't suggest that He worked to earn it.
In the book of Acts, Luke tells us about the first congregation of Yeshua-believers in Jerusalem: "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising G-d and having favor with all the people. And the L-rd added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:46-47, ESV). Here the form seems clear: it was the behaviour and conduct of the people that gained - or earned - the favour of the people. The reward, coming from G-d, is that they grew in number as their lifestyle, joy, sincerity and faith earned not only respect but hearers. The apostle Peter writes to the believers about their behaviour under pressure or persecution: "For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with G-d" (1 Peter 2:20, ESV). Here again, the focus seems to be on the believers earning or meriting G-d's favour by their behaviour under adverse circumstances.
From here, I believe that we have to ask ourselves an important question: from where does our favour come today? Is this some that we do, that we earn by our behaviour, our grace and kindness to others, our even temper and generosity, by going the extra mile to 'love' others? Or is it something that is solely at G-d's disposal, to give us almost despite ourselves and of which we may be almost unaware? I think we can see that the Bible offers both, with an important qualification. If we deliberately set out to earn favour for ourselves, then firstly, I am fairly sure that our efforts will be largely wasted and, secondly, while they may succeed in gaining favour from our fellows, it will not earn any favour from G-d - in fact, quite the opposite. That said, I think the Bible shows that the process of 'favour' is a combination of us and G-d. When we try to serve Him well, honouring His name and simply and quietly serving our fellows without drawing any attention to ourselves, then we may genuinely earn favour at a human level but will be given favour beyond measure and ourselves - both with men and with G-d - by G-d. We will indeed find favour in His eyes. This is the treasure in heaven that Yeshua told His disciples to seek. When we have G-d's favour, it is obvious to all of those around us, whether they like it or not!
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 443.
2. - David Daube, The Exodus Pattern in the Bible, (London: Faber and Faber, 1963), pages 55-61.
3. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 131.
4. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), pages 351-352.
5. - Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), page 256-257.
Further Study: Zechariah 8:20-23; Acts 2:43-47
Application: How do you seek favour, and from whom? It is easy to be a people-pleaser, on the one hand, and a legalist, on the other. Why not ask Yeshua what would please Him today and then do it without trying to seek favour, just to show Him your love and obedience.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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