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B'resheet/Genesis 4:26 Then it was begun to call on the name of the L-rd.
At first glance, the Hebrew text seems quite straightforward. However, the verb - the Hophal affix 3ms form of the geminate root , nominally to pierce or wound - causes some difficulties. This is the only time in the Hebrew Scriptures that the Hophal voice is used, making it something ofhapax legomenon and consequently difficult to translate. Here and in all the major English translations, it is taken as 'begun', so that the impersonal passive 'he' is translated in phrases such as "In those days, men begun". The ancient commentators, however, being aware that in the Pi'el, Hi'fil and Niphal voices, the verb takes on the meanings of "to profane, pollute or define" and noticing that the adjective is usually taken as 'profane' or 'corrupt' in Ezekiel 21:30(25) and 'profaned' or 'defiled' in Vayikra 21:7 and 21:14, argue over whether our text should be translated "Then calling on the name of the L-rd became profane". Targum Onkelos changes the text considerably to "In [Enosh's] days people were lax in praying in the name of the L-rd", implying that idolatry or falling away from G-d had become a problem. Gunther Plaut makes the opposite suggestion that, "the antediluvians are pictured as being close to G-d, whom they know by name."
As the verse of our text starts with the record of Seth naming his son Enosh, an example of paronomasia by using the verb "to call" twice in parallel phrases - Cassuto points out that "there is a parallelism of both language and theme here: a human being is called by a name suited to him, Enosh; and G-d is called by a name befitting Him,HaShem"1 - the Midrash offers a number of alternatives (B'rehseet Rabbah 23:7) for the text. "Rabbi Simon said: they rebelled to call on the name of the L-rd", as if they were calling their idols by the Divine Name, thus violating HaShem's sovereignty, while "Rabbi Aha said: You engaged in idolatry and gave yourselves Divine names", thus trying to elevate themselves to the level of HaShem. In both cases, this would be a misuse of the tetragrammaton name of G-d. However, against this idea is that there are no so-called Yawhistic names - beginning "yeho/yo" or ending "yah/yahu" - recorded in the Torah before the time of Moshe; his mother Yocheved being the first possibility (Sarna).
Hirsch suggests an ingenious solution to the profane/begun dilemma. Not liking 'begun' because it implies that the ancients had some knowledge of or relationship with HaShem, which would run contrary to the decline in the state of mankind leading to the flood, but reluctant to accept that the Divine name could ever have been used for idols, he cites his teacher who proposed that the necessity of calling on the Divine Name became necessary in those days because of the decline. "Until then, it was superfluous, as it will ultimately be once again in the future - 'And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the L-RD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the L-RD' (Jeremiah 31:34, ESV)." He then uses the last phrase "call on the name of the L-rd" in the sense of summoning or challenging people in HaShem's name. "The object is not the mere teaching or knowledge of G-d, it is recognition of submission and devotion to Him, to pay Him homage ... a clear understanding of the relation of man to G-d and the demands which this relation makes." This is supported by the Sforno, who explains that, "the righteous of the generation began to expound the Name of HaShem to the public in order to refute the beliefs of idolaters."
One of the hallel psalms, (ESV), uses the phrase "call on
the name of the L-rd" twice in parallel verses:
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the
name of the L-RD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!
Here, the Psalmist has public acknowledgement of the L-rd in view - public recognition of the L-rd's authority and status - in a ceremony in the Temple, thanking the L-rd and proclaiming His salvation. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, G-d explains that in the future, the descendants of Jacob will make that acknowledgement as a people in several ways: "This one will say, 'I am the L-RD's,' another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, 'The L-RD's,' and name himself by the name of Israel" (Isaiah 44:5, ESV). What matters is not the name, but the act of articulation where other people can hear, and choosing to accept the sovereignty of G-d. From the speaking out follows praise!
Rav Sha'ul picks up the phrase - quoting from the prophet Joel's vision of the Spirit being poured on all flesh (Joel 3:1-5) - to say that "everyone who calls on the name of the L-rd shall be saved" (Romans 10:13, ESV). But how will people call? And upon whom will they call? Putting to one side the egregious claims of the various sacred name cults2, it is important that people's hearts are directed towards the G-d is Israel, the G-d of the whole universe. Sha'ul goes on: "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (v. 14, ESV). If you do not know that there is a G-d, how can you call upon Him? The Bible tells us that "[G-d] has given human beings an awareness of eternity; but in such a way that they can't fully comprehend, from beginning to end, the things God does" (Ecclesiastes 3:11, CJB), so there is something inside everyone that tells us that there is more than just this physical life. To join up the pieces, though, someone needs to preach - to share the good news of the gospel of the kingdom. That is why Isaiah has said, "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 God!" (Isaiah 40:9, JPS). Someone has to go to where they can be heard and shout out so that everyone can hear: "Here is G-d - look no further, He is here; this is the One for whom you have been looking and waiting." But there is still one piece missing: can anyone just go up a mountain and shout? Sha'ul asks, "And how are they to preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:15, ESV). Isaiah again: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your G-d reigns'" (Isaiah 52:7, ESV). It is a matter of being sent, of being commissioned and instructed, of hearing G-d's voice "Go!" Sha'ul finishes the piece - "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Messiah" (Romans10:17, ESV). Not only must the messenger be sent, but he must share the word of Messiah, through which the Ruach can quicken and convict, raise faith and convert.
That, then, is the context into which Yeshua shares His Great Commission with the disciples: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19, ESV). They - and successive generations of disciples - must 'go', meaning that they (that is 'we') have been sent into all nations, so that they can proclaim the good news of the kingdom - that there is a G-d, that He really does reign, and that He wants all men everywhere to repent and come into relationship with Him - so that people will hear the words of salvation, the word of Messiah, be quickened in faith and be saved. Are we all so called and sent? Absolutely, the text is quite unambiguous. Many will say, "But I'm not an evangelist" and turn into a jelly and hide when the minister asks for volunteers to do door-to-door work. That's fine; evangelism is one of the five ministry gifts given to the church (in Ephesians 4:11) and each local expression of church will have some folks who exercise that gift, while others will not. But we are all called to "give an account for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15, NASB), when the need arises. In that is great blessing, sharing good news, peace, happiness and salvation. And we are all called to begin!
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part One - From Adam to Noah, Magnes Press Jerusalem 1978
2. - Sacred name cults suggest that calling on the name of the L-rd can only be done if you know exactly what the name of the L-rd is and how it should be spelled and pronounced. G-d is clearly bigger than such petty nit-picking and will respond to anyone who calls on Him, almost no matter what name or language they use, provided that they call with their heart and are genuine in their appeal to His mercy and grace.
Further Study: Zephaniah 3:8-9; Psalm 105:1-3; Galatians 3:2-5
Application: Can you find the words to bless a neighbour or colleague with something of the hope you have? Why not ask someone to help you practice and find a way that works for you? Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and help you to feel comfortable, despite your fears, with making a beginning today.
08:03 14Oct14 Roy: It is good to be reminded that we are not all evangelists but that we have a duty to make known the Good News. Are the words of Messiah better understood in the phrase "Go into all the world" as "In your going ..." meaning that in leading your life as a follower of Yeshua, people notice a different approach/attitude and are curious enough to ask why. Isn't there a famous saying "wherever you go preach the good news and if necessary use words"? Thanks again Jonathan for some helpful and challenging insights in His word!
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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