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B'resheet/Genesis 39:2 And the L-rd was with Yosef; and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian.
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The verse starts with a small word: - the Qal prefix 3ms form of the root , to be, in a vav-conversive construction - literally "and he was". This is variously used in the Hebrew Scriptures as an event marker, to move on to the next point of significance in a narrative sequence, but also has its simple meaning. It occurs three times in this verse, once at the start of each phrase, which attracts the attention of the commentators. DonAbravanel notes that, "the word is repeated three times in this verse to emphasise G-d's providence in every aspect of Yosef's life", while the Sforno explains that this was necessary, "to save him from his enemies". Rabbi Hirsch goes further, adding that "For the other brothers, grown-up men, at home and in company with father and family, no special care of G-d was required, but for Yosef, isolated, expelled and thrown out into such surroundings, the special care and protection of G-d was necessary. If "G-d was with Yosef", that could only have been because Yosef was with G-d."
The particle is most commonly used in biblical Hebrew as the DDO (definite direct object) indicator, to show which noun is the direct object of the verb, rather than its subject. Here, it takes its secondary use, as the preposition, 'with'. The text tells us thatHaShem was with Yosef. This is far too much for Targum Onkelos, who changes it to "The Memra/word/wisdom of HaShem was with Yosef", but Rashi takes a different approach, commenting that this means that "The Name of Heaven was fluent in his mouth", that he was always speaking of and to HaShem. In fairly typical manner, the Ramban disagrees, saying, "On the contrary, the next verse says, 'His master saw that HaShem was with him' as in the verse 'We now see plainly that the L-RD has been with you' (B'resheet 26:28, JPS)"
Nahum Sarna makes a couple of significant comments at this point. Firstly, noting that the name , HaShem, is only used in this chapter of the Yosef story and then only in the narrative text and never in speech, he comments that "the preference for the proper name of the G-d of Israel, rather than the generic , Elohiym, is determined by an underlying intent to emphasise that the unfolding events in the odyssey of Yosef are key elements in G-d's plan for the people of Israel." Sarna has his eyes on the bigger picture, how G-d continues to move in Yosef's affairs throughout the several chapters long Yosef story block, making his second point that the phrase "HaShem was with Yosef ... appears four times in this chapter, forming a literary framework within which the narrative is encased. The repetitious use of the phrase imparts coherence and meaning to what superficially appear to be merely random events."
Yosef is doing well at his job. The word in the second phrase can be translated 'prosperous', 'successful' or even 'wealthy'1. TheSforno appears to play that down, suggesting that Yosef was "attaining whatever was required of him". Connecting to the use of to signal HaShem's special provision, Sarna proposes that "the phrase expresses the idea that innate gifts of intelligence and skill cannot achieve fruition without divine support." No matter how clever or practiced Yosef may be, HaShem needs to be involved to bring those abilities to their fullness. Hirsch comments that the root speaks about "progress towards the goal, overcoming obstacles. Yosef was a man who brought everything he undertook to a happy conclusion". Rav Sha'ul seems to agree on both fronts: "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of G-d in Messiah Yeshua" (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV).
Yosef, then, was working hard and well for his master, Potiphar. So much so thatNechama Leibowitz says, "Yosef did not begin work as an ordinary slave in the field, among other slaves. In other words, he worked near his master and mistress in functions in which he could distinguish himself." There was a quality about him that Potiphar could see, that he liked and that he wanted to be managing his affairs so that he too would prosper. Just as Yosef's father Ya'akov brought prosperity in twenty years service to Laban, now Yosef is bringing prosperity to the house of Potiphar. Be that financial wealth, proper order, smooth and timely functioning, we don't know; it may simply have been that everyone started smiling, but Potiphar saw it, liked it and rewarded Yosef by promoting him to the highest position in the household.
The prophet Zechariah looks forward from the sixth century BCE, shortly after the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, to the end times and says, "In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold -- they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak and say, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'" (Zechariah 8:23, JPS). What qualities are going to be displayed that will cause this reversal in popularity for Jewish people? What will bring the Jews from being the outcasts of the world, those supposedly cursed to wander forever for the crime of deicide - crucifying the Messiah - to being recognised as the chosen and blessed people of G-d and being sought after so that some of their favour with G-d may rub off on those of the nations?
In the Jewish case, the answer is simple and was given by Moshe centuries before during his long speech to the Israelites waiting on the plains of Moab to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land: "I have imparted to you laws and rules, as the L-RD my G-d has commanded me, for you to abide by in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, 'Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people'" (D'varim 4:5-6, JPS). When the Jewish people are faithful to the covenant, living faithful lives in the land that G-d has given us, keeping all the commandments faithfully - not as a matter of legalism or to try and earn His favour, but in response to and as part of G-d's love for us - then all the nations will see and understand the special relationship between G-d and His people Israel.
And what about Gentiles? What about those called to be in relationship with G-d in Messiah Yeshua? Here too the answer is simple enough for those that will see it. During the Pesach seder known as the Last Supper, Yeshua used the illustration of the vine. "I am the true vine" (John 15:1), He told the disciples, "I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who stay united with Me, and I with them, are the ones who bear much fruit; because apart from Me you can't do a thing" (v. 5, CJB). "I must be with you and you must be with Me", He said "if we are to see fruit - and that is what My Father desires - you must stay with Me." How does that happen? "If you keep My commands, you will stay in My love - just as I have kept My Father's commands and stay in His love" (v. 10, CJB). Isn't that amazing - exactly the same formula: faithfully keeping Yeshua's commandments as part of a love relationship. And Yeshua's commands? Yeshua summed it up neatly when challenged: "'You are to love ADONAI your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.' This is the greatest and most important mitzvah. And a second is similar to it, 'You are to love your neighbor as yourself.' All of the Torah and the Prophets are dependent on these two mitzvot" (Matthew 22:37-40, CJB). At the Supper, He affirmed, "This is My command: that you keep on loving each other just as I have loved you" (John 15:12, CJB). Gentiles are not, of course, obligated to all the Jewish particularity of Torah, but many of the commandments are sure to be kept - in spirit if not in letter - if love for self and neighbour are held together.
We will prosper and it will be obvious to others that G-d is with us when His name is on our lips, when we are in right relationship to Him and when we respond to His love for us by faithfully keeping His commandments and obeying the prompting of His Spirit. This may well not be direct financial prosperity - G-d never promised us that - but it will be a growth and richness of character and grace far beyond what money can buy or the world offer. Press on towards the goal of Yeshua's call on your life!
1. - Strange as it may seem to us today, perhaps more acquainted with with black slavery or modern slavery, in ancient times - providing that their work for their master was done well and on time, and that there was no conflict of interest - slaves could own property, trade in their own right and amass wealth. This is one of the ways that slaves could become free, by earning enough money in their own businesses to buy their freedom from their masters.
Further Study: Romans 8:6-8; Luke 9:61-62; 1 Corinthians 9:24-26
Application: Are you prospering in your life? Do you know godly success in what you do and blessing for the people you meet and with whom you share life? Focus today on the strength of your connection to Yeshua, for in Him is your life and your blessing.
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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