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B'resheet/Genesis 42:1 And Ya'akov saw that there were rations in Egypt; and Ya'akov said to his sons, "Why are you looking at each other?"
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Famine has fallen on the land of Egypt, the famine predicted by Pharaoh's dream and interpreted by Yosef. The seven years of plenty have come and gone and the known world is now in the grip of a seven year famine. People and their livestock will be perishing for lack of food because the harvests have failed; there has been no rain and there is no pasture. The long, hot, dry summers have become endless and there is nothing to eat. Back in Canaan, the situation has become desperate. No-one is sure which way to turn, where food is to be found, or when the famine will come to end.
Into the situation steps Ya'akov. Old he may be, mourning his favourite sons Yosef for the past twenty years he has been, but you don't get to be a patriarch and head of the family for nothing. Ya'akov has seen, , or rather, as the next verse tells us - "'Now I hear,' he went on, 'that there are rations to be had in Egypt'" (B'resheet 42:2, NJPS) - he has heard that there is food in Egypt. The noun comes from the root , "to break, break in pieces" (Davidson), so is understood to be food that is rationed, held for emergencies or broken up - which indeed this is. The Egyptian people will sell their homes, their livestock and eventually themselves into slavery to Pharaoh over the course of the seven years in order to buy enough food to live - "it was [Yosef] who dispensed rations to all the people of the land" (42:6, NJPS) - and, by selling food to those of the other nations who came to buy - "all the world came to Yosef in Egypt to procure rations, for the famine had become severe throughout the world" (41:57, NJPS) - Egypt sucked all the wealth out of the surrounding countries and peoples.
We can hear the sting in Ya'akov's rebuke to his sons. The verb is the hitpa'el stem of the same verb as the first word, , to see. The hitpa'el stem makes the verb action reflexive or iterative; in this case both! Ya'akov's sons are just sitting around looking at each other. Perhaps, as theSforno suggests, they were each waiting for one of the others to make the first move. Saadia Gaon phrases it as "Why are you idle?" Nahum Sarna describes the brothers as "inactive and helpless." Why are they just sitting there, doing nothing? Other commentators wonder whether the inactivity is just a front, pretending to everyone else that they have enough to eat and don't need to go down to Egypt. The Rashbam has Ya'akov chide them, "Why are you putting up a front towards the people who actually do have all the grain they need? You are lingering here when you have no grain! Everyone else is going down to Egypt to buy grain, but you sit here doing nothing and pretend that you already have some."
In the particular case of Ya'akov and his family, "the famine in Canaan has created a problem and the brothers are reduced to 'looking at one another,' waiting for a solution."1 Gordon Wenham explains that "in this scene, Ya'akov reemerges as a major actor (hence the double mention of his name in verse 1) and he takes the initiative in sending his sons on a journey. Indeed, he implies that they are being indecisive when they could be away purchasing food. Here Ya'akov's authority is apparent: though old, he is still head of the family and his grown sons do as he bids."2 Bruce Waltke points out that "they are still a dysfunctional family, not helping each other out of their common plight."3 A formal diagnosis comes from Walter Brueggemann: "The deception of their father lies at the bottom of everything. The brothers have no room in which to act, no energy for imagination and no possibility of freedom. They are bound by the power of an unforgiven past, immobilised by guilt and driven by anxiety. Their guilt and anxiety can surface neither in the presence of their father nor in the presence of Yosef."4
There are a number of occasions in the Hebrew Scriptures whenHaShem challenges someone about their apparent inaction when they should know what to do. As the Israelites are leaving Egypt and have been pinned down by Pharaoh's army next to the Sea of Reeds, the people panic and Moshe tries to calm them with the assurance that HaShem is about to fight for them, when suddenly, HaShem breaks in and tells Moshe, "Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward" (Shemot 14:15, ESV). Enough time for talking already, get on with with it! As Joshua leads the people to take possession of the Promised Land, the Israelites are defeated when they attack the city of Ai. A distraught Joshua falls down before HaShem to pray and find out what might have gone wrong. HaShem's reply is forthright and immediate: "Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed My covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings" (Joshua 7:10-11, ESV). Don't just lie there, you need to sort this out: this is what happened! In both cases, action is needed and HaShem tells the leader to stop wasting time and get on with it.
Rav Sha'ul records a very similar experience when he is relating how he came to faith in Yeshua to the crowd in the Temple. After explaining how he had seen a great light and heard Yeshua speaking to him on the road to Damascus, his temporary blindness and being led into the city, he relates that a man called Ananias came to him and prayed for his sight to return. Ananias brought G-d's word of commission to be a witness and then urged Sha'ul, "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptised and wash away your sins, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16, ESV). What are you waiting for - be baptised right away; there is no time to lose! As James is later to write, "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (James 4:17, ESV). Sha'ul has been told what do, procrastination - putting it off or delaying - would be a sin.
James's words neatly bring the matter back to us. As the Psalmist says, "When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to Your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay to keep Your commandments" (Psalm 119:59-60, ESV). When he considers how to live, how he is getting on in his walk with G-d, he turns to G-d's ways and he makes sure to get on and do G-d's commandments without delay. Time has become something of an issue in these days; jobs - such as doing acts of charity and kindness, sharing the gospel and G-d's words of encouragement, putting out the chairs and serving in the kingdom - need doing now, not next week, when we get around to it or can't avoid it any longer. Yeshua told the disciples, "We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work" (John 9:4, ESV). There is a window of opportunity during which we can work with Yeshua, guided by the Ruach, to carry out G-d's purposes, but it will not always be open.
Rav Sha'ul reminds the Ephesians to "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the L-rd is" (Ephesians 5:15-17, ESV). The word 'walk' here means more that physical movement, so that we don't walk into lamp-posts or fall down man-holes in the pavement; it means the way we conduct our lives, the connections we make, the words we speak and the things that we do. All these things are to be done wisely, to made the best use of time - or, perhaps, not wasting time - for there is not much of it left. He repeats that instructions, stressing those who do not know Yeshua, to the Colossians: "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time" (Colossians 4:5, ESV). This was probably written from one of his prison cells, so it must be important and pressed upon him the need to make sure that they heard and understood.
So here's the point. We started with Ya'akov's sons who, for a variety of possible reasons, were prevaricating and trying to avoid doing the one thing that was necessary - going to Egypt to buy food - and were instead looking at each other, hoping that someone else would go. Next we saw Moshe and Joshua being told to stop wasting time and get on with what they needed to do. Finally, we heard Rav Sha'ul being told not to waste any time in being baptised to complete his rite of passage of becoming a follower of Yeshua. We have a host of things that need to be done before Yeshua returns, the most important of which is fulfilling Yeshua's instructions to make disciples. But, many of us often spend a lot of time arguing about it, putting it off, finding other less important things to do first - generally procrastinating and avoiding it altogether if possible. The time is now and rather than asking the L-rd to send more (read: other) workers into His harvest field, we need to recognise that we have already been sent and stop sitting on our thumbs hoping that someone else will do it for us. As James said: this sort of behaviour is sin. The L-rd has chosen, called and equipped you!
1. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 245.
2. - Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 405.
3. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 544.
4. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 333.
Further Study: John 12:35-36; Galatians 6:9-10; Revelation 3:15-19
Application: How often do we sit on our hands, looking around and doing nothing, perhaps like Ya'akov's sons, hoping that someone else will do it first? It is time to get up and do something - almost anything would be better than nothing - and obey our instructions to be about the Master's business. Speak to Him today and let Him know that you are both available and willing!
Comment - 12:51 13Dec20 Edward Bishop Sr.: When HaShem speaks, we are being called to action in His Kingdom and must answer and must act in accordance with His command. If it is to repentance, then Repent. If it is to service, then Serve. If it is to teach, then Teach. ACTION IS REQUIRED NOW! Bless the Holy One of Israel and respond immediately.
Comment - 07:12 14Dec20 MC: Thank you. I was greatly challenged about doing things now and not procrastinating.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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