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B'resheet/Genesis 39:3 And his master saw that the L-rd was with him and all that he was doing, the L-rd was causing to prosper in his hand.
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Our verse seems neatly formed into two separate phrases: "and his master saw thatHaShem was with him" and "and all that he was doing, HaShem was causing to proper in his hands." The atnakh accent (under the tav in the last word on the first line of the text above) is a major disjunctive accent, second only to the sof pasuk end-of-verse marker. Let's go with that for now and see where it takes us. In the previous verse, the narrator tells us that "HaShem was with Yosef" (B'resheet 39:2) and Rabbi Hirsch explains that "for Yosef, isolated, expelled and thrown out into such surroundings, the special care and protection of G-d was necessary. That was why G-d was always near and with him. If 'G-d was with Yosef', that could only have been because Yosef was with G-d." More succinctly, the Bekhor Shor tells us why this special care was necessary: "to keep him from becoming impure now that he was among the nations."
In the first phrase, we hear of Potiphar, the Egyptian courtier and steward to Pharoah, who had bought Yosef as a slave. He, Yosef's master, saw - the verb is the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , to look or see, with a vav-conversive, so the next narrative event in the story: "and he saw" - that HaShem was with Yosef.Targum Onkelos, is its usual drive to avoid anthropomorphism, changes the Hebrew words , "HaShem was with him", to the Aramaic , "the memra/word of HaShem supported him." Either way, this puzzles Nechama Leibowitz, who asks, "how could it happen that his master, an Egyptian idolater, should see that HaShem was with Yosef? How could Yosef's master conclude that Yosef's success and the source of all the plenty in his house came from the One G-d of his slave?" Taken simply as a following but disconnected statement, the second phrase of the verse doesn't help us to answer these questions.
Perhaps we should bring the two phrases together; then Yosef's success or prospering becomes the means by which Potiphar could see that HaShem was with Yosef. Hirsch again: "When his master saw that 'G-d was with him' and made everything he did succeed - this was the first revelation of G-d in any Egyptian circle." TheKli Yakar even goes as far as re-designating the following 3ms pronoun: "All that he (i.e. the master) did, the L-rd caused to prosper in his hand (i.e. through the hand of Yosef alone)." Nahum Sarna is rather more pragmatic: "Yosef's competence in fulfilling his duties is visible proof to the master of divine support for his slave." The verb translated "causing to prosper", , is the Hif'il ms participle of the root , "to advance, flourish, prosper" (Davidson). The same verb is used three times in the story of Avraham's servant fetching Rivkah to be a bride for Yitz'khak: "The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the L-RD had prospered his journey or not" (B'resheet 24:21, NJPS), "The L-RD, before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you and prosper your way" (v. 40, NJPS) and "O L-RD, the G-d of my master Abraham, if now You are prospering the way that I go" (v. 42, NJPS).
So far, so good. The evidence that Potiphar needed was right in front of him. HaShem blessed everything that Yosef did; Potiphar saw it happen and realised that there was more than human skill or efficiency involved - Yosef was being blessed by the divine. Bruce Walkte observes that "though Yosef's situation had changed drastically, G-d's relationship with him remained the same. ... This entails that Potiphar knew Yosef's religious convictions."1 We can see the same principle at work when Abimelech, the king of the Philistines came to Yitz'khak to ask for a non-aggression treaty. Abimelech and his team of advisors said: "We now see plainly that the L-RD has been with you" (26:28, ESV). What had they seen - how did they know that? Because, in the middle of a season of famine, Yitz'khak had sowed and reaped a hundredfold and dug wells and found water. They had seen the way that Yitz'khak was blessed: beyond reason, beyond climate and despite them!
Going back to , "HaShem was with him,"Rashi suddenly takes a new twist. Instead of relating this to the visible signs of prosperity, Rashi comments: "The Name of Heaven was fluent in his mouth." What on earth does this mean? A Rashi commentator adds, "that is, that he would regularly refer to G-d in conversation." Avigdor Bonchek starts to unpack this with a question: "Was Potiphar a prophet? Was he even a believer in G-d? Of course not. How, then, did he see that G-d was with Yosef? Because Yosef told him so! Whenever Yosef prospered at an endeavour, he said , Baruch HaShem! He took no credit for himself, but, instead, he thanked G-d. Potiphar heard and made note of it. And he heard Yosef speak this way often, because 'the name of G-d was fluent in his mouth.'"2 Rashi deduces that the reason Potiphar knows about the G-d of Israel is because Yosef was always talking about Him, whenever anything happens. Rav Shaul does the same when he writes to the congregations in Corinth - "I give thanks to my G-d always for you because of the grace of G-d that was given you in Messiah Yeshua" (1 Corinthians 1:4, ESV) - and Thessalonica: "We give thanks to G-d always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers" (1 Thessalonians 1:2, ESV).
Seeing or hearing, it would appear, is believing. Sha'ul wrote about the gift of prophecy being used in a congregation: "If all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship G-d and declare that G-d is really among you" (1 Corinthians 14:24-25, ESV). This is powerful: hearing the words of G-d being declared and spoken out, the truth being announced, tells an observer that G-d is in the midst of His people and brings him to confession, repentance and relationship with G-d! When Yeshua healed the eyes of the man who had been born blind and gave him his sight, the man's testimony before the Sanhedrin was just that: "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25, ESV). No matter what else was going on, whatever accusations were being levelled against Yeshua, how much noise other people were making, one thing was crystal clear and unmistakable: he could see. That is the testimony on which we depend and it becomes ours when our eyes are opened and we see who Yeshua is. This is what happened to Thomas, who said, "Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe" (20:25, ESV). Just eight days later, Yeshua stood with the disciples again and said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe" (v. 27, ESV). Believe what you see in front of you and know the truth! Thomas responded, "My Lord and my G-d!" (v. 28). He knew; he had seen; he believed.
And what of the future? How will people know, in the difficult days to come before Yeshua returns, that we belong to Him? The prophet says, "Thus says the L-RD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you'" (Zechariah 8:23, ESV). Notice how a physical connection follows the audible connection. What they will hear convinces them that G-d is with an individual. That person must be talking about G-d, blessing G-d, or in some way have the name of G-d in their mouth. More, the behaviour of that person must be consistent with the character of Yeshua - as He told the disciples - "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35, ESV). We are being conformed to the image of Yeshua for that very reason: that others may see us and believe. They may not like what they see and there may be consequences, but those aren't our responsibility. What is down to us is our obedience and attitude - our willingness to go and do whatever the Master requires so that His message may be seen and believed. Then our Master will know that G-d is with us and He will cause whatever we do to prosper in our hands!
1. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 520.
2. - Avigdor Bonchek, What's Bothering Rashi Volume 1, B'resheet, (New York, Feldheim, 1997), page 100.
Further Study: Jeremiah 1:6-10; Isaiah 45:14; 1 John 3:14-16
Application: Is the work of your hands prospering in the kingdom of G-d? Are you seeing people coming to faith in Yeshua, people being discipled and growing in the knowledge and love of G-d? Is the name of G-d fluent in your mouth? Speak to the One who knows how to help those who are "slow of speech and slow of tongue" (Shemot 4:10) to unblock their lips and declare His praise!
Comment - 12:22 22Nov21 Janet Gray: Amein, amein. May the Glory of HaShem be revealed in His people. Even in me!!!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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