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B'resheet/Genesis 24:1 And Avraham was old, well on in years and the L-rd had blessed Avraham in everything.
There are three phrases in this verse. The first is the two-word phrase , "and Avraham was old". is the Qal 3ms affix form of the root, "to be an old man/woman" or "to become old"; the former makes most sense here. The normal word order - verb, subject - is inverted to emphasise the start of a new paragraph in the narrative. The second phrase, , literally "he has/had come in/into the days", is an idiom implying great age. Gordon Wenham points out that "this phrase typically prefaces the last deeds or words of some great man" and cites Joshua (Joshua 23:1-2) and David (1 Kings 1:1) as other examples of its use.1 The last phrase of the verse also shows inverted word order, this time to indicate the change of subject: this action is being performed byHaShem.
The last word of the verse inspires numerous comments from the Jewish commentators. "In everything"; what could it mean?Abravanel asks whether , "in all" really means "in everything". A later verse, when Avraham's servant is describing his master's wealth to Rivkah's family back in Haran - "The L-RD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become rich: He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and asses" (B'resheet 24:35, NJPS) - lists may signs of wealth, but not every possible thing. Nahum Sarna rightly points out that "Avraham's wealth is to be a decisive factor in gaining consent both to the marriage and to the bride's journey to a distant land", but yet we know that this verse is only the start of a block of narrative concerned with finding a suitable bride for Avraham's son, Yitz'khak. As the rabbis explains: "There was nothing in this world that he lacked or needed but to marry his son Yit'khak to a suitable wife" ( Radak); "He had wealth, property, honour, long life and children - everything a man could want except for grandchildren to inherit his high status" ( Ramban).
Rashi, who usually sticks pretty closely to the p'shat or plain meaning of the text, takes the unusual step of noting that "The gematria of 'in everything' equals that of 'son'.2 Once he had a son, he had to get a wife for him." Avigdor Boncheck explains the significance of Rashi's comment: "The Torah uses the word because this reflects the deeper significance of having a son in Avraham's eyes. For him a son was everything! See his words to HaShem: 'Behold, You have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir' (15:3, ESV). We see that without a son Avraham has nothing, since all he acquired in his lifetime, both materially and spiritually, will pass over to his servant. Nothing will be left to the house of Avraham - neither seed nor possessions." Rashi's grandson, the Rashbam, comments that "it was time to marry off his son if he wanted to do so during his lifetime. He was not sending his servant to get a wife from his own family for lack of women in Canaan who would want to marry him. The L-rd had blessed him in all things and everyone would want to marry Yitzkhak." Yitz'khak would be a good catch for any local girl.
So that brings us back to the start of the verse as it introduces this narrative block: Avraham is now very old. Sarna again: "Avraham's awareness of his extreme old age lends urgency to his quest for a wife for his son." RabbiHirsch considers that, "this introductory sentence contains the summary of the life of Avraham. His life's work was finished, he had nothing more to strive for and to achieve, his one worry would be concerning his son and the household he would leave behind him." Did that worry make him discontent? Was he, in spite of all HaShem's blessings, uneasy and restless? Was he unable to be at peace because Yitz'khak was not married, so the path to the next generation was not yet in place? Hirsch contnues: "If we understand these words rightly, they mean to say that Avraham's happiness was due to the fact that G-d blessed him in and with everything. A man can be blessed with all prosperity, can be given everything and still he, in himself can remain unhappy. Everything that he has prospered, but he himself is not joyful, does not grow, does not blossom internally. But Avraham did feel himself blessed and blossomed through all his blessings."
In His longest piece of contiguous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 12:22-31), Yeshua spoke about the blessings that are ours in G-d's provision for our material needs, and the way to be content - not worrying - by trusting in G-d's sufficiency and faithfulness. This culminates in the promise, "Seek first the kingdom of G-d and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33, ESV). This is an attitude and a direction: being content in what G-d provides and, while recognising that issues will arise that need to be processed - sometimes with significant urgency - knowing that everything is in the plan, purpose and gift of G-d. When asked by soldiers - and the pay of soldiers in ancient times was not always what might be considered appropriate today - how they should behave, Yeshua's cousin John told them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages" (Luke 3:14, ESV).
Rav Sha'ul had seasons of severe challenge during his years of ministry on the road, sharing the good news of the kingdom of G-d with the Gentile world. He told the Philippians that "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need" (Philippians 4:11-12, ESV). This came not from himself, from any inner reserve or strength of character he had (much though that might have been), but because he acknowledged the source of blessing and provision: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (v. 13, ESV). He mentions contentment again when writing to the Corinthians: "For the sake of Messiah, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV). Having his attention and motives focused in the right place - as Yeshua said, above - is the key to Sha'ul's ability to rest in and experience G-d's blessings: "G-d is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work" (9:8, ESV). Notice how he uses the word 'sufficiency'; Sha'ul didn't live in a place, surrounded by wealth and servants, but he had everything he needed. More - and hear this well - he knew that he had everything he needed and was content with what he had. You can see this clearly as he tries to explain his reasoning to his disciple, Timothy: "Godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content" (1 Timothy 6:6-8, ESV).
This, then, is what Avraham had discovered and we need to re-learn for ourselves today: being content with what G-d provides, knowing that He has provided everything and more in Messiah Yeshua and "how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32, ESV). It could be argued that, in the rampantly consumerist culture we inhabit today, we have a more difficult time of it than Avraham. In some respects, perhaps: iPhone or Galaxy?, Audi or Landrover?, hardback or paperback - and do all the covers match? We do have technology and material blessings and choices of which Avraham never dreamed (or perhaps that should be: of which he never had a nightmare!), but as our text and the rest of this narrative block hint and a reading of the whole of the Avraham story reveals, Avraham did know significant challenges that have never entered our lives; "Take your son, your only son, whom you love ..." (B'resheet 22:2) for example. Yet Avraham did not falter; as Gordon Wenham comments to our text: "though Avraham was often promised that he would be blessed ... this is the first time that the narrator explicitly comments that he has been blessed."4 In all his challenges, in spite of not always getting it right, Avraham lived a life of faith and was blessed.
Peter writes that this position can be ours as well, as we trust G-d: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of G-d, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7, NASB). It is founded not on who we are or what we do, think or imagine, but on who G-d is, what He has already done for us and Yeshua's promises, as the Scripture says: "be content with what you have, for He has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you'" (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).
1. - Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50 Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 140.
2. - The gematria of a word or phrase is calculated by adding up the value of the letters in the text as if they were numbers. In this case, b'kol(bet + chaf + lamed, 2 + 20 + 30 ) has the same numerical value as ben (2 + 50), 52.
3. - Avigdor Bonchek, What's Bothering Rashi Volume 1, B'resheet, New York, Feldheim, 1997, page 56.
4. - Wenham, page 140.
Further Study: Psalm 112:1-3; Ephesians 1:3-6
Application: How can you move to experience G-d's faithfulness and provision in your life today? Why not have a word with the QuarterMaster General to see what is on His menu for you right now!
Comment - 11:43 02Nov18 Caroline: I believe this drash enriches my understanding of what the L-rd G-d is saying.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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