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B'resheet/Genesis 43:18 And the men were afraid for they were brought to the house of Yosef
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Here are Yosef's brothers on their second trip to Egypt to buy grain - because of the famine in most of the then known world - and to redeem their second oldest brother, Simeon, who has been held hostage against their return by the Grand Vizier of Egypt. Bringing with them their youngest brother, Benjamin, to comply with the Vizier's demands, the brothers are ignorance of Yosef's identity, so still have the way they treated him on their consciences, added to the rather more immediate matter of the money with which they purchased grain on their first visit having been found in their packs on the way home. The brothers have arrived in Egypt and presented themselves to the Vizier, but before having an opportunity to speak, they have been whisked away by the Vizier's steward and taken to his house. Since the Vizier's order to do this was given in Egyptian, they have no idea that they have been invited for lunch and fear that a far less pleasant prospect awaits them there.
This little cameo of the brothers is painted in three little phrases of two words each. The trope marks sound a sharp staccato: the first word of each pair begins with a munach conjunctive accent and ends with a disjunctive accent: a r'vi'i, a zarka and a segola. The zarka is a lesser disjunctive than the other two, so that using parentheses in the same way as for mathematics, the words are grouped like this:
(and-they-were-afraid > the-men) ( (for > they-were-being-taken-to) (the-house-of > Yosef) )
It reads: the men were afraid (pause) for they were being taken, to the house of Yosef (longer pause). Perhaps we might imagine a shorter and longer tat-a-tat on a drum in the pauses; background music heightens the tension in the story.
The first phrase starts with a verb - , the Qal 3mp prefix form of the root , to be afraid or to be anxious (Davidson), with a vav-conversive prefix to denote past tense sequential action; "and they were afraid". It is important that it is spelled with two consecutive yod characters rather than one, which would make almost no difference to the pronunciation, otherwise the root would be , to see, making the whole text, "and the man saw that they were being taken to the house of Yosef", an equally plausible but less tense reading. The second phrase ends with the other verb in the text: , the Hophal 3mp affix form of the root , to come or enter, in the causative stems, to bring or be brought; "they were being brought". They were afraid and were being brought, somewhat against their will and very much against their sense of trepidation, to Yosef's house.
Rashi explains why they were alarmed: "It was not the practice of the others who came to buy grain to lodge at Yosef's house, but rather in the hostelries that were in the city. [Therefore] they became frightened because they feared this was only to put them in prison." The Vizier had demonstrated his willingness to imprison people at the end of their last visit, when Simeon had been off to a prison as a hostage, while the rest of them were sent home. Nahum Sarna confirms this: they were frightened "because they alone, of all the buyers of grain, are singled out for this treatment." He adds what Rashi did not know, that "the brothers are probably aware of the fact that high Egyptian officials maintained private dungeons in their homes." This can be seen from other nearby verses in the Yosef story in B'resheet (39:20; 40:3,7; 41:10); the last showing that Yosef himself was held in prison on Potiphar's own property and under his guard, rather than in a public gaol.
The brothers' subsequent conversation shows that they fear the worst, as they try to explain to the steward about their money from the last visit, assuring him that they were not trying to defraud the Egyptian treasury and have brought it back again with them on this trip. If not assured by his words - "All is well with you; do not be afraid. Your G-d, the G-d of your father, must have put treasure in your bags for you. I got your payment" (43:23, JPS), ending with a recognised legal phrase denoting full settlement - they must have been somewhat cheered by the appearance of Simeon, their brother, brought out to join them. Nevertheless, they prepare for the Vizier's arrival - "They laid out their gifts to await Yosef's arrival" (v. 25, JPS) and get ready "to bow to the ground before him" (v. 26). Despite the steward's words, they still feel the need to offer an explanation to the Vizier and, in the back of their minds, they have Yosef on their conscience and the consequences of having to go home without Benjamin are weighing heavily upon them. They feel condemned before they have even said anything.
The Jewish world remains very aware of the sense of having to answer to a higher authority, hearing the words of the prophet, "By myself I have sworn; from My mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance'" (Isaiah 45:23, ESV) and reformulating them in the Aleinu prayer, which comes at the end of each of the three daily prayer services, looking forward to the day, "when all humanity will call on Your name,and the earth's wicked will all turn to You. All the world's inhabitants will realise and know that to You every knee must bow and every tongue swear loyalty. Before You, L-rd our G-d, they will kneel and bow down and give honour to Your glorious name. They will all accept the yoke of Your kingdom, and You will reign over them soon and for ever" (ADP, 142-143). The early church too formed its liturgy from the same point, proclaiming, "in honour of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow - in heaven, on earth and under the earth - and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is ADONAI - to the glory of G-d the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11, CJB).
Rav Sha'ul also coupled Isaiah's verse more explicitly with the theme of judgement, when he wrote to the community in Rome: "For we will all stand before the judgment seat of G-d; for it is written, 'As I live, says the L-rd, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to G-d.' So then each of us will give an account of himself to G-d" (Romans 14:10-12, ESV). While the phrase "every knee" is universal - it applies to every man, woman and child that has ever lived and will ever live on this earth - even those who are followers of Yeshua will be judged - "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10, ESV). There is no get out clause for those who have already bowed the knee to G-d! This the testimony of the apostles from the earliest times concerning Yeshua: "He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by G-d to be judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42, ESV).
But are we to be like the brothers, with matters on their consciences, trying to make peace with the steward before the Master comes? Are we supposed to live in a permanent state of fear, never having the confidence to raise our eyes and engage with Yeshua? Rav Sha'ul tells us "there is no longer any condemnation awaiting those who are in union with the Messiah Yeshua" (Romans 8:1, CJB). Do you hear the good news? When we are in Messiah, in good-standing and relationship with G-d through Yeshua, there is no condemnation. We may be in awe of Him, we may bow before Him, but there is no condemnation. Unlike the brothers, who were afraid when they entered Yosef's house, we are not to be afraid when we enter Yeshua's presence. There can and must be a reckoning when the Master returns - Yeshua's own parable about the talents makes that very clear - but we are to look forward to that time, when we lay before Him the fruit of our lives in His hands and receive our reward. Unlike the brothers, who had no idea that roasted meat was on the menu for lunch, fearing instead that they were the ones about to be roasted, we can have confidence knowing that we have favour and acceptance with G-d in the Beloved.
Instead of fear, our lives are to be marked by rejoicing as the Psalmist says: "You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11, ESV). This is a quiet and confident joy, trusting in Yeshua and what He has done for us, rejoicing that He has called us into His service and enjoying His presence in our lives. "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only G-d, our Savior, through Messiah Yeshua our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 24-25, ESV).
Further Study: Matthew 25:31-32; Luke 12:4-5; Psalm 21:1-6
Application: Do you experience joy when you come into G-d's presence or think about Him, or are you fearful, expecting the worst? It is time to take off the hat, the sunglasses and the old macintosh and embrace the joy of G-d's kingdom and rejoice before Him. Do it today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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