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B'resheet/Genesis 41:16 And Yosef answered Pharaoh saying, "Not in me! G-d will answer Pharaoh's peace."
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The verb is used twice in this verse; at the beginning to describe Yosef's action: an apocopated Qal 3ms prefix form with a vav-conversive - and he answered - and in the second part to predict G-d's action: a full Qal 3ms prefix form - he will answer. The root is one of two homonyms; the first, used here, has a set of meanings to do with making responses: to answer or respond, to give testimony, to speak, announce or declare; the second, clearly not in view in this context, means to be afflicted or humbled, to be placed under labour or oppression. Yosef provides an immediate answer to Pharaoh's question, "Can you interpret my dream?" by assuring Pharaoh that although he, Yosef, cannot, G-d can and will.
The word is a compound of three parts: , an adverb meaning 'not' or 'nothing', , a preposition meaning 'to', and the suffix for 'me'. It appears with a number of different suffices in the Hebrew Bible to mean "not me" or "not in us", and can also have the sense of "not me alone" or "not by myself". The commentators produce a variety of ideas to explain what Yosef meant.
TheSforno comments on Yosef's reply: "It is G-d who will respond. He will cause (or teach) me to answer properly", while Rashi expands the text slightly to say, "that is beyond me; the wisdom to interpret dreams is not mine. Rather, 'G-d will respond'; He will put a response in my mouth, for Pharaoh's welfare". The Rashbam paraphrases Yosef's words: "it is not based on my intelligence, but God who will inform me how to interpret your dream", in order to stress that the forthcoming interpretation is not a matter of Yosef's own skill, intelligence or political acumen. Bechor Schor goes a step further to separate the mechanical interpretation of the dream - as if it was like reading a text - from the provision of the meaning: "I can only explain the dream, but I have no control over whether the dream predicts good or bad; this is up to G-d". Targum Onkelos, in typical fashion, rewords Yosef's statement, "Not from my wisdom, but from before the L-rd the peace of Pharaoh will be answered", in order to remove unacceptable closeness or communication between G-d and man in general and Pharaoh (a non-Israelite) in particular! Sarna points out - as at this point although we, the readers, have heard the dream, but Yosef has not - "It is not that Joseph knows the interpretation of the dreams in advance; rather, he is convinced that the sudden turn of events that has brought him from the dungeon into the presence of Pharaoh is providential for him. And he believes that he will receive a dream interpretation from G-d that will entirely satisfy Pharaoh."
The meaning of the last part of Yosef's answer is also unclear. Literally, "G-d will answer the peace, welfare or well-being, of Pharaoh", it doesn't offer a natural reading. The question about the meaning of the dreams was asked by Pharaoh, not by his peace, and the use of an abstract concept as a direct object of the verb "to answer" is uncomfortable. Sarna connects this to the well-known phrase (Psalm 122:6), which although the verb means 'ask' or 'enquire' and a literal approach might suggest "Ask the peace of Jerusalem" as if the question is to be directed to some ethereal concept, is translated by all the versions as "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem". Sarna suggests that in both cases a preposition such as 'after', 'concerning' or even 'with' helps to understand the text. We would then hear Yosef say, "G-d will answer concerning Pharaoh's peace", so that G-d's answer will restore Pharaoh's equilibrium and bring him peace.
What brings us peace? Where is our security - in who do we trust when the world is shaking and turning upside down? Yeshua warned the disciples that the time running up to His return would be recognised by "hearing of wars and rumors of wars ... For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes" (Matthew 24:6-7, NASB). Certainly these things have been happening throughout history, but our current age has both a significantly higher number of these incidents and the communication technology so that everyone does hear about them. Do we trust in our friends or our pastor, perhaps in our parents, spouse or family? Surely not in our government! Who is capable of answering our questions in a meaningful and consistent way and restoring our equilibrium?
The Scriptures provide the answer. The Psalmist wrote, "Call upon Me in time of trouble; I will rescue you" (Psalm 50:15, JPS). Jeremiah described his experience of G-d: "I have called on Your name, O L-RD, From the depths of the pit. Hear my plea; Do not shut Your ear to my groan, to my cry! You have ever drawn nigh when I called You; You have said, "Do not fear!" You championed my cause, O L-rd, You have redeemed my life" (Lamentations 3:55-58, JPS), while the Psalmist echoes, "In distress I called on the L-RD; the L-rd answered me and brought me relief. The L-RD is on my side, I have no fear; what can man do to me?" (Psalm 118:5-6, JPS). As these people of the past turned to G-d, sought Him out, called upon Him, trusted their very lives into His hands, they proved that He exists, that He is interested in the affairs of every single person and that He has the answers that matter. Notice the rise in confidence and faith as they realise that G-d is there for them and as He acts in their situations. So much so that the last psalm continues: "The L-RD is my strength and might; He has become my deliverance. The tents of the victorious resound with joyous shouts of deliverance, the right hand of the L-RD is triumphant! The right hand of the L-RD is exalted! The right hand of the L-RD is triumphant!" I shall not die but live and proclaim the works of the L-RD" (vv. 14-17, JPS). Not only has G-d saved His people and preserved their lives, but He has given them a testimony to share with everyone around them: God saves! Look what He has done for me!
Can we answer the big questions of our age? What will happen to the global economy? When will the wars end? Will there be a nuclear war or catastrophic accident? Will the oil run out? Can we feed the starving nations? No, we can't answer those questions and we know in our hearts that none of the politicians or so-called world leaders can either; this disturbs our peace and equilibrium, it shakes us up and makes us wonder whether we are safe and what we ought to do. It is G-d alone who has all the answers we need; it is G-d who provides both the global solutions and the local action plans. In Messiah, everything will be resolved and everything will be put right. We don't know exactly what He is going to do or when, but we trust Him to reveal His purposes at the right time and in the meantime, we get on with what we can do right now, implementing the Kingdom of G-d from the grass roots upwards, in our own back yards and neighbourhoods. One person, one family, one life at a time.
Further Study: Daniel 2:20-23; Psalm 116:4-7
Application: Do you trust in G-d or are you weighed down by the endless prognostications of the so-called experts and politicians? Today would be a good day to make sure that you are hearing your news from the Good News and start rejecting the propaganda from the pit!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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