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B'resheet/Genesis 41:41 And Pharaoh said to Yosef, "See! I have set you over the whole land of Egypt."
Imagine the scene in the royal court room of Egypt. After Pharaoh, at the suggestion of his chief cup-bearer, has summoned a Hebrew slave from prison in order to interpret two vivid and disturbing dreams that Pharaoh has had during the night, this nobody - although he does look surprisingly Egyptian with a shaved head and face, wearing Egyptian clothes - has provided the interpretation and has then gone so far as to tell Pharaoh that he needs to appoint a famine-czar to oversee the process of storing grain during the years of plenty for the years of famine ahead. The court is shocked into silence, waiting for Pharaoh to condemn the impudence. Even Pharaoh seems taken aback; he is not accustomed to anyone telling him what to do, let alone Hebrew slaves. Pharaoh's mind turns the matter over - he didn't get to be Pharaoh and then keep that position without being a shrewd judge of character - and this slave does look very Egyptian. After a count of at least twenty - five more than even the boldest actor might pause before delivering a dramatic speech on stage - Pharaoh breaks the tension by breaking into a roar of laughter. If he had been Long John Silver, he would have burst out with something like, "Thunder and lightning, Jim lad, you're a chip off the old block!"
Then follows - quite probably to the horror of all the other assembled courtiers and officials, although they are of course all very careful to avoid showing it - is what Walter Brueggemann describes as a five part "enthronement of the one designated in the dream to rule: the royal proclamation (v. 41), the insignia of office (v. 42), public acclamation (v. 43) a royal name (v. 45), legitimacy by marriage (v. 45)."1 Our text is the first formal component after Pharaoh announces his decision and intention (vv. 38-40). Bruce Waltke points out that, "Pharaoh speaks three times without Yosef answering: first of his intention, second of his investiture and thirdly of his authority and approval. Yosef's silence reveals that Providence, not Yosef, arranges these honours."2
The phrase "over the whole land" attracts the attention of both classic and modern commentators. The Psalmist re-tells the story - "[Pharaoh] made [Yosef] lord of his house and ruler of all his possessions, to bind his princes at his pleasure and to teach his elders wisdom" (Psalm 105:21-22, ESV) - and attempts to show just far Yosef's reach was. Waltke observes that "the investiture is framed by this phrase, first by Pharaoh, then by the narrator"3 while Terence Fretheim agrees that "Pharaoh opens and closes with a formal statement of Yosef's authority (v. 41, 44)."4 We can see a similar setting of boundaries and authority in the commissioning of the prophet Jeremiah: "See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10, ESV)).
RabbiHirsch expands Pharaoh's words to provide Yosef with a moral compass: "Pharaoh said to Yosef: See, I have set you over the land 'for the well-being of the whole land.'" Yosef has been appointed for a purpose: he is over all the land so that all the land may benefit. No-one is to be disenfranchised from Yosef's food program; no area of the country is to be excluded or not able to draw from the food bank, even if it hasn't able to contribute during the years of plenty. The Radak adds, "Run the country in accordance with your intelligence." Pharaoh is relying on Yosef to do the job well, to thoroughly engage with all the details and make sure that everything happens properly; he is not just to give a few orders and sit back and take his eye off the ball. Emphasising the moral point again, the Sforno explains: "See that you do your best, for I have entrusted you with a great responsibility."
In the Hebrew text,Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew verb - the Qal affix 1cs form of the root , most often translated "to give", so here "I have given/set" - to the Aramaic form , strengthening the meaning "I have appointed". This emphasises that Yosef has not simply been given a fancy title and status as a reward for relieving Pharaoh's dream anxiety, but has been deliberately appointed to an intensely active role. The Rashbam points out that "the Hebrew uses a past tense: 'I have put you in charge', while the idiom means 'I am now putting you in charge'." This might be an example of the grammatical construction known as the affix of certainty; your appointment is so certain that although I am only doing it now, it is already a fixed thing. Nahum Sarna adds that "the function 'in charge of all the land' reflects the Egyptian title 'Chief of the Entire Land'" which is known from other ancient sources. We find the same use of the verb being used by Moshe when he delivers HaShem's final encouragement to the Israelites about to enter the Promised Land: "And the L-RD has declared today that you are a people for His treasured possession, as He has promised you, and that you are to keep all His commandments, and that He will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that He has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the LORD your God, as He promised" (D'varim 26:18-19, ESV).
There are five occasions in Yeshua's ministry when G-d speaks to or about Him. Two - at His baptism and the Transfiguration - are direct voices from heaven and are, so to speak, mid-stream. The other three are conducted through the agency of angels and act rather more like the framing effect of our text from the Torah. In the first of these, which is the appearance of the angels to the shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem when Yeshua is born, the angel says, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:10-12, ESV). Here, in sequence through those words, we find: full inclusion - "for all the people" - no-one is to be excluded or forgotten; the words 'saviour' and 'messiah' that touch on many prophecies from Scripture including Isaiah's famous words, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore" (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV), and "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the L-RD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD" (11:1-2, ESV); and the giving of a sign like the one given to king Ahaz, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14, ESV). This is not just an announcement, it is a coronation and enthronement, with a statement, a sign and a declaration of authority.
At Yeshua's resurrection, when the women went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away, they see one (or two) men in white (or dazzling) robes who tell them that, "He has risen; He is not here" (Mark 16:6, ESV) ... "Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee" (Luke 24:6, ESV), before directing them to "tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him" (Mark 16:7, ESV). Matthew picks up the story at the mountain in Galilee, where "Yeshua came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age'" (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV). These words bear a passing resemblance to Yosef's revelation of his identity to his brothers later in the Yosef narrative, "[G-d] has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt. Now, hurry back to my father and say to him: Thus says your son Joseph, 'G-d has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me without delay'" (B'resheet 45:8-9, NJPS). Luke carries on from the Mount of Olives, where Yeshua says, "'you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Yeshua, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven'" (Acts 1:8-11, ESV).
These two/three events form a frame around Yeshua's ministry: first announcing Him and setting out His identity, role and authority; then affirming that He has been given and retains all authority, "over the whole of creation" as Rav Sha'ul will later write - "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him" (Colossians 1:16, ESV) - and setting up the context for His return when "every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him" (Revelation 1:7, ESV). On that day, "He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips he shall kill the wicked" (Isaiah 11:3-4, ESV).
Do we hear and recognise G-d's words setting Yeshua in place as the L-rd of the whole earth? As Pharaoh gave Yosef all the necessary authority, so G-d the Father has given Yeshua all authority so that "at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11, ESV). In these increasingly fractious days, it is essential that we recognise the truth and place our trust, allegiance and faith in the right place. In the days of the book of Acts, the battle was between the Roman empire saying, "Caesar is lord of all," and the believers in Yeshua saying, "No, Yeshua is Lord of all." Today there are many forces fighting for our allegiance and prepared both to pay well for it and to crush people to get it. Yeshua warned the disciples to stand firm and to recognise what who the players are and what is at stake: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28, ESV). Today the challenge is no less vital.
1. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 333.
2. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 533.
3. - Ibid.
4. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 242.
Further Study: Isaiah 8:12-13; Romans 10:8-10
Application: Do you know who is who? Are you blinded by the smoke and mirrors of our modern world - read: the devil and his agents - or do you have a clear view of exactly who Yeshua is? Today is the time to be absolutely certain that you proclaim that Yeshua is of Lord of all!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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