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B'resheet/Genesis 4:20 And Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those dwelling in a tent and with livestock.
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Early genealogies are keen to give us lots of detail about all sorts of people. In this case, Adah is one of the wives of Lamech, the fifth generation after Cain, and Jabal is her son. The text isn't exactly clear as to whether Jubal, his brother, is a younger brother or a twin. In the Hebrew text, their names differ by only one vowel: and . Their genealogical line is lost in the flood and they are not mentioned in the biblical text again, so at the first glance they might not seem the most interesting characters to hear about. However, we know that the Torah doesn't use its words without good purpose, so let's take a close look and see what we can learn.
Rashi tells us that Jabal "was the first of those who graze animals in deserts, and he would dwell in tents, a month here and a month there, because of pasture for his flock. When the pasture would be exhausted in one place, he would go and pitch his tent in another place." Nahum Sarna describes this bluntly as "the archetypal pastoral nomad." What is so unusual about this? David Kimchi explains that "Jabal was the first who took his animals into the wilderness and lived there in a tent; those before him who raised animals kept them near the city." This then seems to represent a shift from urban living to a rural or wilderness existence.
Needless to say, not all the commentators agree. RabbiHirsch says that while "this is usually taken to refer to the life of nomads, we find "dwelling in a tent" used referring to Ya'akov (B'resheet 25:27) as being just the opposite of the open air life. Now is also used in its original meaning of buying and selling, earning, acquiring. So it is possible that Jabal was the first merchant ... the substantial dealer in the market, consonant with city culture, in contrast to Abel was described as " keeper of sheep" (4:2), the more nomal shepherd. Sarna agrees that 'livestock' is more comprehensive than 'sheep': "It includes all types of livestock as 'the livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks' (Shemot 9:3, NJPS) makes clear. The notice indicates an awareness that the rise of animal husbandry was a major step forward in human history."
Another keyword in the verse describing Jabal is - normally translated 'father'. Jabal was the 'father' of those who dwelt in tents among their livestock.Ibn Ezra suggests that while it certainly does literally mean 'father', "that word (in all its different forms) is used to mean the first, the master." Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew to the Aramaic - which Drazin and Wagner render as "the chief, the first"; Michael Sokoloff prefers "master, teacher."1 Significantly, Onkelos repeats that substitution for all three brothers, even though the third (in verse 22) doesn't actually use the word 'father'. What might Onkelos be trying to tell us? Umberto Cassuto explains: "The word father here has both the literal meaning of forebear - that is, the children and children's children continued to practice his occupation - and also the teacher and founder of the customs, practices and ways of life of a given class."2 The Bekhor Shor suggests that "Lamech taught his three sons these trades because they could not support themselves by farming due to the curse of Cain."
Now we have it. The Torah is telling us that Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-cain were fathers in the sense that they were the progenitors of skills, patterns and habits that were followed by subsequent generations. This is why these men are important: they make great leaps in the development of society. Jabal founded animal husbandry; Jubal enabled the articulation and expression of music; and Tubal-cain forged or sharpened the skills and technology of metal-working. All three were significant advances in civilisation. Although their genealogical lines may have been lost in the flood, many of the their skills were surely employed in the building and mission of the ark. Those same skills must have been sufficiently well known by Noah and his sons that they didn't need to be re-invented after the flood, but simply spread as mankind spread from Noah's descendents.
The title 'father' was used in an honorific way in ancient Israelite society. The relationship between Elijah and Elisha was clearly that of a master and his disciple, yet when Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, "Elisha saw it and he cried, "My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces" (2 Kings 2:12, ESV). Later in Elisha's ministry, when he had led the army of the Arameans into the city of Samaria because they had been blinded, the king of Israel said to him, "Father, shall I strike them down?" (6:21, ESV). Later still, at the end of Elisha's life, he was visited by King Joash of Israel, who "wept over him and cried, 'Father, father! Israel's chariots and horsemen!'" (13:14, NJPS). A 'father' was a person of respect, someone from whom you learned, someone who had the right - regardless of the normal rank or relationship between you - to tell you what to do. A 'father' was someone whose example you followed, whose rules you obeyed, whose sayings you quoted - your role-model, your standard.
This, then is the background to the conversation Yeshua had with many of the Jews in Jerusalem who had come to believe that He was the Messiah. It started when Yeshua said, "If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32, ESV). Disciples that were serious about being disciples would abide in their master's words; this meant that they did what he said, they obeyed his instructions. But the crowd insisted that as children of Avraham they had never been slaves. No, Yeshua replied, slaves to sin, because His word finds no place in them - "I speak of what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have heard from your father" (v. 38, ESV). They answer that Avraham is their father - meaning physical ancestor, they are the blood-line descendants of Avraham, but Yeshua responds, "If you are Avraham's children, do the deeds of Avraham" (v. 39, ESV). By their behaviour, their actions, they show that although they may be descendants of Avraham, they are not behaving like him: Avraham is not their 'father'; instead, Yeshua explains, "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies" (v. 45, ESV). By their refusal to hear and accept Yeshua's words, by their attempts to kill Him, they show who their 'father', their role-model or exemplar is: the devil. "He who is of G-d hears the words of G-d; for this reason you do not hear, because you are not of G-d" (v. 47).
Naturally, the question that follows for each of us is: who is our 'father'? Habit, custom, tradition, human nature - all these will encourage us to think, do, say and act out what our 'father' does for we have learned from him. In turn, we model our 'father' for those who follow us, whether that is in a craft or business, in family life, or even in everyday encounters and conversations. How many times has your spouse heard you say something and commented that, "You sounded just like your father!" The latter, of course, most often applies to our physical fathers, but makes the point that - often subconsciously - we copy those who have taught, influenced and shaped us. They live on, so to speak, in us.
But taking that an important step further,we need to ask ourselves: what we are teaching? What habits, attitudes and practices do we propagate and teach others? Rav Sha'ul told Timothy, "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Messiah Yeshua" (2 Timothy 1:13, ESV); encouraging the Philippians to "join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (Philippians 3:17, ESV). How can he say that? Because as he tells the Corinthians, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Messiah" (1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV). Sha'ul's 'father', his exemplar, is Yeshua, just as Yeshua perfectly modelled Father G-d: "the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise" (John 5:19, ESV). Sha'ul commends the Corinthians because "you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you" (1 Corinthians 11:2, ESV). Yeshua told His disciples, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9, ESV). When people look at you, do they see Yeshua - they should if we are truly following Him!
1. - Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Palestinian Aramaic, 2nd Ed., (Ramat-Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan University Press, 2002), page 512.
2. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Part One - From Adam to Noah, (Jerusalem, Magnes Press, 1978), page 235.
Further Study: John 12:44-45; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-3
Application: How good are you at following your 'father' Yeshua? Are you a good representation of Him to others around you, or is the likeness hard to see in you? Ask the Master Coach for some lessons to develop your characterisation of Him to be more faithful each day!
Comment - 14:48 26Sep20 Joshua VanTine: A beautiful drash to begin the new cycle of Torah readings. As we moved from Jabal and brothers learning to live creatively within Cain's curse, what a contrast, to the impact of the "father" particularly in Elisha's life being a beacon to seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. The sowing and reaping of Elisha HaNavi in this pursuit as a disciple made him such a "father" in due course. Following on that Rav Sha'ul encouragement of Timothy is a powerful example for us in the example we do set. Our Rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth is just extraordinary.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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