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B'resheet/Genesis 9:19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole world dispersed
The second half of this verse obeys the normal Hebrew word order: the subject - , "all the earth" or "the whole earth" - following the verb - , a Qal Affix 3fs form to agree with its subject. The root is , "to break, dash in pieces, to disperse or scatter, to disperse themselves" (Davidson) and is essentially an active verb; it was the peoples who dispersed themselves, who spread out from the place where the ark came to rest and Noah their father settled and planted a vineyard.Targum Onkelos, on the other hand, uses the Aramaic itpa'al stem to switch the voice of the verb from active to passive: - they were dispersed over the whole earth. Instead of the whole earth dispersing from them, they are dispersed over all the earth; the focus changes from the people to G-d who disperses them and takes the active role to ensure the population of the whole earth.
TheSforno comments that although Ham - the wicked son, because he had humiliated his father - was among them, yet because they were all sons of Noah, and all had been blessed by G-d when they came out of the ark: "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land" (9:1), the result was that all three sons experienced the spreading out, the blessing of progeny, increase to fill the world. Because G-d had already given the blessing, its fulfillment was not dependent on the behaviour of the individual sons; as a group the blessing was still worked out. So it has always been with our people; both in biblical times, as the Bible's narrative shows, and in the two millenia since, that despite our mixed behaviour and obedience to G-d - consider the secular Jews, the humanist Jews and even the Buddhist Jews - still G-d blesses us as a people, still the Jewish people are a blessing to the nations, still the Jewish people are overweight in the world ranks of scientists, doctors, lawyers, human rights activists, the arts and the caring professions. It is not of ourselves, but of G-d, who fulfills His promises through us and sometimes despite us!
Hirsch points out that the verb is also the root for the noun , a hammer, an object that breaks into pieces. A hammer is a tool that can be used for beating out metal to spread it out thinly, to make a covering and effect a design. In the context of the first communities of believers, this illustrates G-d's purposeful dispersion of the people around the Land so that they had to move away from their natural centre in Jerusalem. The book of Acts records that, "starting from that day, there arose intense persecution against the Messianic community in Yerushalayim; all but the emissaries were scattered throughout the regions of Y'hudah and Shomron" (Acts 8:1, CJB). This was the way that G-d caused the gospel to spread throughout the Land of Israel - He used the persecution as a hammer to break the holy huddle into pieces and to spread it out over all the villages and towns so that all the Jewish people - where Yeshua Himself had been ministering and proclaiming the Kingdom of G-d in recent years - would have an opportunity to hear and respond to the good news. The narrative tells us that, "those who were scattered announced the Good News of the Word wherever they went" (Acts 8:4, CJB). A little later on, we can see how far the dispersion had reached: "Now those who had been scattered because of the persecution which had arisen over Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch; they spoke G-d's word, but only to Jews. However, some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, when they arrived at Antioch, began speaking to the Gentiles too, proclaiming the Good News of the L-rd Yeshua. The hand of the L-rd was with them, and a great number of people trusted and turned to the L-rd" (Acts 11:19-21, CJB). Not only were physical boundaries crossed, but religious and spiritual boundaries were also crossed as the message was spread out to the Gentiles.
The Scripture uses two contrasting pictures to describe G-d's word and the effects that it has. One, hinted at already, is that of fire and a hammer: "'Isn't My word like fire,' asks Adonai, 'like a hammer shattering rocks'" (Jeremiah 23:29, CJB); the other is of water: "For just as rain and snow fall from the sky ... so is My word that goes out from My mouth" (Isaiah 55:10-11, CJB). Both fire and water are devastatingly powerful forces in nature, destroying and demolishing families, homes, businesses; every facet of life can be swept away and disrupted. At the same time, the water picture also speaks of a gentle encouraging or nurturing action: "watering the earth, causing it to bud and produce, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater" (Isaiah 55:10, CJB), as G-d provides the means for life and growth. So it is with our lives: sometimes G-d needs to break us up and scatter us further afield in order to increase our effectiveness, to reach more people, to stop us becoming inward-looking; but once dispersed, we need the means of growth so that we may bring forth a crop for the Kingdom. Cycles, then, of growth and change should be expected in our lives, but behind it all the steady plan and purpose of G-d, moving us on and growing both us and others "until we all arrive at the unity implied by trusting and knowing the Son of G-d, at full manhood, at the standard of maturity set by Messiah's perfection" (Ephesians 4:13, CJB).
Further Study: Matthew 10:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2
Application: Are you in a dispersal phase or a growth and consolidation phase? Either way, know that the hand of G-d is upon you, moving and shaping your life according to His good will and purpose. Be aware of His hand upon you today and ask Him to show you where you are and how you can co-operate with Him to accomplish the best in your life.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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