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(Gen 12:1 - 17:27)

B'resheet/Genesis 13:2   And Avram [was] extremely heavy; in stock, in silver and in gold.

View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

This text describes Avram just after he has been sent away from Egypt where he had passed Sarah off as his sister and allowed to her to be taken into Pharaoh's household to protect his own life. The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem intervened and "afflicted Pharaoh and his household with mighty plagues on account of Sarai" (B'resheet 12:17, NJPS) so Pharaoh and his officials deported him: "Pharaoh put men in charge of him, and they sent him off with his wife and all that he possessed" (v. 20, NJPS). Avram, his wife, all that he possessed, and his nephew Lot, all went back up to the Negev; and this noun sentence1 is how the text now describes Avram. The word - an adjective from the root , "to be heavy, weighted, honoured, respected" (Davidson) - is translated here by almost all English Bibles as "rich". The adjective is followed by the qualifier , variously translated through the Hebrew Bible as very, exceedingly, or even excessively. Avram really is very rich, and not just in the usual ANE sense, namely livestock, but with precious metals. Nahum Sarna explains that "Avram enjoys great affluence, though how he acquired it is not stated. The possession of metals by pastoralists was particularly important in Canaan. In time of famine, silver and gold, being media of exchange, afforded a measure of security and protection. Although herding and animal husbandry would be their primary occupation, pastoral nomads would often supplement their resources by engaging in subsidiary gainful activities, including commerce."

In biblical language studies, context is everything. Just as here - associated with livestock, silver and and gold - can be translated 'rich', it has a very different meaning earlier in the parasha when Avram goes down to Egypt. There the text tells us that , the famine was severe (literally: heavy) in the land. Umberto Cassuto comments that, "The word is in antithetic parallelism to what is narrated at the commencement of the section: then Avram suffered because the famine was [heavy, severe]; now he is very [heavy, laden, rich] with possessions."2 Gordon Wenham adds, "The use of the same term in speaking of Avram's wealth and of the famine invites the comparison of his situation at the beginning of the two episodes. It seems likely that Avram is reckoned to have acquired this as a result of his Egyptian sojourn, perhaps by way of compensation. The Israelites were also given silver and gold before leaving Egypt: "objects of silver and gold ... And the L-RD had disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people ... thus they stripped the Egyptians" (Shemot 12:35-36, NJPS). So in this respect too, Avram's departure from Egypt foreshadows the Exodus.3

The word also needs a little explanation. Literally, in-the-livestock, Davidson gives the general meaning of "purchase, possessions, riches, wealth but chiefly consisting of cattle". Rabbi Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch makes an important distinction at this point: "In contrast to (from the root , to get, gain, acquire), moveable but lifeless property, is living property, which already by itself follows its master, is conscious of belonging to its owner and so is a person's real 'belongings'". What is Hirsch thinking about? Reflecting on the words used when Avram first answered G-d's call to leave Haran - "Avram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the wealth that they had amassed, and the persons that they had acquired in Haran" (B'resheet 12:5, NJPS) - Hirsch explains that "Back in the Land, Avram took up again his old profession, to summon men in the name of G-d." Casting Avram as a successful evangelist, Hirsch sees Avram becoming rich in converts to monotheism, who now worship the One True G-d. The Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno reconnects to the word 'heavy', commenting that "He was forced to lead (his flocks) slowly even though he was anxious to return quickly to the place of his altar, in that place to understand G-d and teach others as before." Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra echoes that, agreeing that "one with a large amount of possessions is weighed down by them and cannot travel fast."

But there are storm clouds on the horizon; wealth is not without its difficulties. Leon Kass observes that, "Avram's newly acquired wealth soon produces dangerous tension with his nephew, Lot, who has also become a prosperous herdsman."4 Neither is this just the question of livestock, as Bruce Waltke tells us: "Only the livestock can be attributed to the gifts of Pharaoh. By the mention of silver and gold, the narrator inferentially points to the L-rd as the ultimate Blesser, though the immediate cause may have been various sorts of commercial transactions. Precious metals afford a measure of security and protection in times of famine."5 Lot and his household are feeling squeezed, jealous and insecure. How will Avram handle the situation. As the narrative goes on to tell us, he gives Lot a free choice of where he would like to live and promises to go in the opposite direction. "Lot looked about him and saw how well watered was the whole plain of the Jordan, all of it ... So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they parted from each other" (B'resheet 13:10-11, NJPS). Avram is secure in G-d's current provision - he is now very wealthy - and future promise: that all the Land will one day belong to his descendants.

Walter Brueggeman connects and contrasts Avram with the wealthy man that Yeshua describes who had such productive fields and crops that he didn't have enough storage space to hold all the produce. In the same way as Avram's flocks and Lot's flocks had outgrown the available pasture, where was all the grain going to go?. "I know what I'll do," he decided, "I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and I'll store all my wheat and other goods there" (Luke 12:18, CJB). "The rich man in Yeshua's story had more and more and more until he squandered himself to death," Brueggemann comments; "Yeshua contrasts having 'treasures for self' and being 'rich towards G-d.'"6 In the division of wealth with Lot, Avram is not now anxious about his life - "what you will eat or drink; or about your body - what you will wear" (v. 22, CJB) - he is presented as the man of faith, content to rely on the promise of G-d and walk away. This is confirmed in the next chapter when he refuses any payment from the king of Sodom for recovering all his people and possessions (along with Lot) from the marauding kings and, on the contrary gives a tithe of everything he had to Melchizedek the king of Salem and priest of the Most High G-d. In Yeshua's terms, Avram acts as a man "rich towards G-d" (v. 21, CJB).

The challenge for us today is to consider whether our assurance and faith is conditioned upon our well-being. The matrix has two dimensions: one follows the word in the Avram narrative - are we wealthy or in famine; the other tracks Yeshua's parable - do we hoard our resources for self or are we rich towards G-d. There are four possible positions available: wealthy/hoard-self, wealthy/rich-towards-G-d, famine/hoard-self and famine/rich-towards-G-d. The hoard-for-self column speaks for itself and many people are and have been there. The hoard-for-self when in famine and rich-towards G-d when wealthy diagonal is probably where many people think they are; they need to harbour their resources for themselves and their families when there isn't much to go around, but they think they will be generous to others when their ship comes in and they have plenty to spare. The real challenge is to move our thinking into the rich-towards-G-d column, always being prepared to share, to trust G-d to provide what is needed even if we give some away, being generous whether we are in wealth or famine.

A second challenge, following Rabbi Hirsch's idea above, is to consider whether our riches are in people and relationships or in silver and gold. Are we always counting the pennies or rejoicing with the people? Are we giving of ourselves not only to make a difference to others, but to bring those others into relationship with G-d and adding them to our friendship circle to share and do life together as the people of G-d? A transformation of our hearts is necessary to allow these challenges to work out aright, "the word of Messiah dwelling in us, richly" (Colossians 3:16).

1. - A noun sentence is a sentence without a verb, usually implying the presence of some part of the verb "to be" for identity or equivalence when translated into English.

2. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Part Two, (Jerusalem, Magnes Press, 1984), 363-364.

3. - Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 296.

4. - Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2003), 259.

5. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 216.

6. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis Interpretation, (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), 131.

Further Study: Jeremiah 17:10-13; Proverbs 28:8; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10

Application: Which quadrant of the matrix are you in right now? Wealth or famine; hoarding or sharing? Have you allowed the Word of Messiah to dwell in and transform your heart?

Comment - 17:20 15Oct18 Niki Baker: Looking at the destruction on the panhandle of Florida, it is so easy to see nothing. We rebuilt twice from two hurricanes in a row. We did not loose everything but the flood destroyed part of our home and we needed to rebuild. The awesome part was having strangers, family and friends helping. Our neighborhood was there for each other and we pray more from the reality of destruction. Your writing helped to put all in place as it should be and that all is from Him and He will care for us. Our part is to be obedient and share ... it does come back.

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© Jonathan Allen, 2018

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