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B'resheet/Genesis 9:7 And you: be fruitful and multiply; swarm on the earth and multiply in her.
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Gerhard von Rad poses a question: "Under these altered conditions [after the flood], did the first command of creation 'be fruitful' (B'resheet 1:28), still hold? Did the creature which had fallen from G-d's first estate still have G-d's will on its side?" He then gives a positive answer: "Yes. G-d, in spite of everything, has renewed this command for this generation too ... it pleased G-d to speak as His first word a word of blessing on the new aeon. G-d still wills procreation and increase of humanity."1
Accordingly, we can see in our text four imperative verbs:
and a repeat of the second verb in the fourth
place: . These are all the Qal mp
imperative forms of their respective roots. The first,
, is from the root
, "to produce offspring, bear fruit, bring
forth",2 here: "be fruitful!" The second (and fourth),
, comes from the root
, "to be many, multiply,
increase",3 with a simple vav prefix 'and', here "and
multiply!" The third, , is from of the root
, "to swarm, team, abound, be
prolific"4 here simply 'swarm'. We should notice too how the
trope marks group the words: the atnakh accent under the second verb
(third word) in the verse marks the major break in the verse, the half-way
point. The first verb (second word) has a mercha accent, starting a
phrase. The same accent occurs under the third verb (fourth word), tightly
pairing it with the tipcha under the fifth word, while the last two
words (including the fourth verb) are coupled together with a maqqef
accent like a hyphen. We could lay the verse out like this:
The first pairing exactly matches the command given by G-d to the human beings He had created "in His image, in the image of God" (B'resheet 1:27, NJPS) as He blesses them and says to them, "Be fruitful and multiply" (v. 28). The third verb, however, is not used of mankind during the creation account, but one day earlier when God said (literally) "Let the waters swarm with swarming things, creatures of life" (v. 20). It is usually only used with man when his actions resemble those of water creatures, worms and insects, multiplying rapidly and forming huge numbers: swarms! RabbiHirsch comments that, "the use of , to swarm, represents a swarm of the most manifold different kinds of men. It would accordingly be a description of a diversity and infinite variety of human races, and moreover on the earth and by the earth, under the influences of the differences of the various lands ... Noachide mankind is given the mission to spread all over the world, and under the most diverse conditions and influences of climate and physical nature of the countries, to become Men and develop the one common real characteristic of Man; a diversity and a multiplicity which appeared to us in the above connection as G-d's new plan for the education of mankind."
Many of the commentators point out that the block of regulations in verses 1-7 are framed by very similar commands: "Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth" (9:1, NJPS) ... "Be fertile, then, and increase; abound on the earth and increase on it" (v. 7, NJPS). Leon Kass, for example, says that, "the law is presented wrapped in a blessing; indeed, it seems to be an integral part of the blessing. Two similar injunctions 'to be fruitful and multiply' frame the entire legislation. They make absolutely clear the law's paramount interest in promoting human life ... no concern is more appropriate or more urgent that the growth and protection of life."5 Or, as Terence Fretheim puts it, "This blessing language stresses that, in the midst of death and destruction, G-d wills life."6 Others - such asRashi - claim that "the first time it was said (i.e. verse 1) is was for a blessing; here (i.e. verse 7) it is as a command." Chizkuni claims that both were commands, but "the command in verse one was for humans, while this verse concerns the other creatures." David Kimchi suggests that the repetition is because "there were so few of them when they came out of the ark that this had to be emphasised," while the Ramban tries to have his cake and eat it: "The straightforward sense is that this is a commandment, repeated with different words for emphasis. They should make efforts to increase the population. Or it may mean that they are to settle the entire world."
Despite differences over why the command is repeated and why our text uses the image of swarming, it seems clear that not only has the command originally given to Adam to "be fruitful and multiply" been re-issued to Noah and the post-flood generations, but that this speaks of G-d's concern for the value, preservation and promotion of human life - life made in His likeness. Umberto Cassuto explains that "the conclusion of the address reiterates the blessing with which it began and corroborates it. The word 'you' stands, as it were, in antithesis to the 'I' of the Speaker: 'I', on my side [G-d declares], have set forth your primary rights and duties, which serve as the foundation of human social life; and 'you', on your side, will be able to live securely in the shadow of My paternal care, be fruitful and and multiply on the earth, and bring forth abundantly therein in order to renew the life of mankind. 'You' fulfil your part, and 'I' shall fulfil mine."7 G-d's words tell us that He has given mankind the responsibility of multiplying and filling the earth - and the list of the seventy proto-nations in the next chapter shows how effective that was in multiplying not only numbers but diversity and variety in skills, location, foods, clothing and appearance. Secure in their mission and G-d's favour upon it, as theAbravanel comments, "you have no reason not to beget children."
Looking in a different direction, our text is the third time that God links the words 'fruitful', 'multiply' and 'earth' in this parasha, the fifth time that He does it in the Torah so far, and the last timeHaShem does it in the whole of the Tanakh.8 G-d's blessing upon His creation and His call on man to nurture and protect the creation are very foundational, very primal. They are incumbent upon all mankind, to be stewards of and partners with the non-human creation to cause it too to flourish and grow, to reproduce according to its kind and to be a witness of G-d's handiwork in the universe.
Pointing to Yeshua's words in Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount - "For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all" (Matthew 6:32, ESV) - as evidence of G-d understanding and providing for all human need, Walter Brueggemann comments that "G-d unqualifiedly aligns Himself with every human person as of ultimate value to Him. The heavenly Father is faithful." Then switching to Luke's account, he adds: "The ultimate valuing of every human person is echoed in the statement of Yeshua, 'Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Luke 12:7, ESV)."9 The care G-d takes lest Cain should be killed by anyone, the very clear Noachide commitment that G-d will require a reckoning for every human life and the implication that man should establish courts and a justice system to prevent murder (see B'resheet 9:5-6), will be explicitly affirmed in the Sinai commandment "You shall not murder" (Shemot 20:13, NJPS) and the following Torah legislation about homicide and manslaughter, deliberate and accidental killing.
Life is important to G-d. Moshe tells the Children of Israel, "Choose life" (D'varim 30:19), that they may live. Each individual life is important to G-d, from the moment of conception - "My frame was not concealed from You when I was shaped in a hidden place, knit together in the recesses of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed limbs; they were all recorded in Your book; in due time they were formed, to the very last one of them" (Psalm 139: 15-16, NJPS) - to the end of our days. Not one life is created, nor does one end without G-d's presence and knowledge: "In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:10, ESV), "It is I who put to death and give life" (D'varim 32:39, NASB). The kingdom of G-d grows and multiplies as we share the life of Yeshua - bringing life where there was death - and helping others to choose life when they hear His words.
Yeshua comes to bring life, to enable us to be fruitful and to multiply his kingdom. He said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10, ESV). We need to hear His words and not the words of the enemy, who only bring death. He gave us the task of being His "witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8, ESV), to share His words of life so that "whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24, ESV). As we say in the Jewish world, at every simchah: L'Chaim - To Life!
1. - Gerhard von Rad, Genesis Old Testament Library, (London, SCM Press, 1972), page 131.
2. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 365.
3. - Clines, page 411.
4. - Clines, page 478.
5. - Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2003), page 175.
6. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 80.
7. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Part Two - From Noah to Abraham (Jerusalem, Magnes Press, 1984), page 128.
8. - These words are only said by HaShem in B'resheet1:22, 1:27, 8:17, 9:1, 9:7.
9. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 83.
Further Study: Hosea 6:1-3; John 20:29-31
Application: How can you share life with someone today? Will it be by words or actions, with a smile or pat on the back, a touch of the hand, sharing lunch or talking over coffee? Hear the command for yourself: be fruitful and multiply on the earth! Ask the Spirit to guide you and bring people your way and go for it! If you know Yeshua, you have the words of life!
Comment - 01:40 18Oct20 KCB: Please pray your application for me. And I will too.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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