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B'resheet/Genesis 42:19-20 If you are honest ... and your words will be true and you will not die
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These are Yosef's words to his brothers; Yosef, who might be pardoned a little wariness and skepticism with the men who had so hated him that they had sold him to a band of passing slave traders! is a plural adjective from the root , which has a variety of meanings around being fixed, established, confirmed; is used as an adverb to mean "thus, so, rightly", and the adjective form is usually translated as "upright, true, honest". The context here is the brothers' first trip to Egypt, at the behest of their father, to buy grain because of the famine in Canaan; Yosef knows who they are, but they will not know his identity until the show-down at the end of their second visit. Yosef has accused them of being spies, and after keeping them in prison for three days is now giving them an opportunity to bring Benjamin down to Egypt to "verify" their story about their family origins and their intentions in Egypt.
The root includes the meanings "to be firm, true, faithful" and is the source of the word , steadiness, truth, faithfulness which is the word most frequently used in the Hebrew Scriptures for "faith". It is fascinating that the Torah - in Yosef's mouth - links the truth of the brother's vows with them staying alive.Sforno comments - as Yosef's about to send the brothers back home - that Yosef is implying, "for even in Canaan I can have you put to death if you do not return" to verify your story; the power of Yosef's Egyptian arm can reach that far!
Rashi amplifies the phrase, "your words will be verified" by connecting it to two other verses. The first is the response that the woman accused of adultery has to say before the Priest when she accepts the imprecations of the curse of the water of bitterness upon herself: "And the woman shall say, 'Amen, Amen'" (B'Midbar 5:22, NASB) - may it be so; she is accepting the trial by ordeal, trusting in the L-rd to vindicate her against her husband's suspicions: may the water of bitterness show that I have not been unfaithful. Rashi's second illustration comes from Solomon's prayer of dedication when the temple has been built and the Ark of the Covenant has been brought in; Solomon stands before the altar in the presence of all the people and prays, "Now therefore, O G-d of Israel, let Your word, I pray, be confirmed which You have spoken to Your servant, my father David" (1 Kings 8:26, NASB). This echoes David's own words: "Now therefore, O L-rd G-d, the word that You have spoken concerning Your servant and his house, confirm it forever, and do as You have spoken" (2 Samuel 7:25, NASB). Both David and Solomon are saying in essence: let Your word come true, let Your word be proved true by Your fulfillment of it.
Yeshua addresses the issues of our words and our actions being consistent in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's gospel. After reminding His audience that G-d requires people to keep their vows, and pointing out what nonsense it is to suggest that a vow must be kept if sworn on some holy object, but may be broken if sworn on some other - perhaps not so holy - object, He tell us that a simple 'Yes' or 'No' should be enough. When we have made a commitment - given our word - we need to make sure that we always follow through and do what we have said we will. (Matthew 5:33-37)
But there is another side to this that Yosef's original words to the brothers reveal: "If you are men of truth, your words will be true and you won't die." True words validate that a person is true. We have focussed so far on validating our words by our actions, but anyone can do that on occasion. Yosef is challenging his brothers about whether they are true people: established, firm, reliable, men of integrity. The answer to his question will come later when, at the crux of the story, Judah steps forward and offers to take Benjamin's punishment for stealing Yosef's cup, so that their father will not loose another son. It is at this point that Yosef can see that the brothers - well, some at least - have become men of truth and honour. To use a modern example, parents (rightly) urge their children not to watch 18/R-rated movies, citing Rav Shaul: "In conclusion, brothers, focus your thoughts on what is true, noble, righteous, pure, lovable or admirable, on some virtue or on something praiseworthy" (Philippians 4:8, CJB), but then have a few 18/R-rated DVDs sitting on their own shelves that they don't watch in front of the children - thus completely undermining their admonitions because the words are not coming from the parents' own practice. The words themselves are true, but they do not come from a place of truth. G-d calls us not only to speak the truth, but to speak it from a heart and mind of truth; a life of truth committed to Him.
Further Study: Psalm 119:57-60; Jeremiah 11:4b-5
Application: How consistent is your life with what you say? Can G-d use you to speak to people because you will speak from truth? Now is the time to "break up your fallow ground" (Jeremiah 4:3) and allow the L-rd to move in your life.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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