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B'resheet/Genesis 37:13 "Are not your bothers pasturing in Shechem? Go and I will send you to them." And he said, "Here I am."
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Ya'akov opens the text by speaking to his favoured son, Yosef. Why does the Torah, which is usually economic with its words where possible, record Yosef's response and why does he respond in such a positive way. The ancient rabbis tell us that it was to show the relationship between Ya'akov and his son. "Rabbi Tanhum said in Rabbi Berekiah's name: He [Yosef] treated him [Ya'akov] with honour, in accordance with the reverence due to a father from his son. Rabbi Hama ben Rabbi Hanina said: Our ancestor [Ya'akov] was ever mindful of these words and was consumed with remorse [lit. his bowels were cut up]. 'I knew that your brothers hated you and yet you answered me: Here I am'" (B'resheet Rabbah 84:13). Building on this, the later commentators point out the degree of commitment and obedience that Yosef shows by executing his father's instruction both so quickly and so vocally.
The question of hatred comes, of course, from earlier in the chapter where we read, "But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him" (B'resheet 37:4, ESV). Literally, the Hebrew says, "they could not talk to him of peace". Friedman comments: "it is ironic that Ya'akov sends Yosef out to ask about the brothers' peace". RabbiHirsch feels that Ya'akov is at least partly aware of the situation and is trying to pull things back together: "Ya'akov feels the breach between Yosef and his brothers, and does not want it to grow, and at the same time wants to test Yosef's feelings towards his brothers, so at first he gives him no special errand, but simply says: I think it would be better to send you out to the flocks, to be with the others. Yosef is at once ready to go. His conscience is quite clear. He has no idea of wishing to be king or dictator."
Nahum Sarna expresses surprise about the situation. "In view of the relationship between Yosef and his brothers, Ya'akov's action is surprising and Yosef's ready response no less so. Clearly the brothers had hitherto successfully disguised their true feelings and, indeed, there is no record of their having uttered any threats against Joseph." Clearly, he feels that both Ya'akov and Yosef have done the wrong thing as the narrative is later to show. How could Ya'akov misjudge his sons so badly and how could Yosef go so far from his father's protection - it was probably about five days journey on foot - when he knew there was trouble brewing. While the father's instructions are difficult to explain in that light, theRamban suggests that for Yosef this was a simple matter of obedience and respect: "Yosef, out of respect for his father, strengthened himself to go after his brothers to a distant place, and he did not say 'How shall I go when they hate me?'" Yosef couldn't object without appearing at least to want to disobey his father, or suggest that Ya'akov didn't know what he was doing, so he simply swallowed hard, answered brightly to conceal his discomfort, and set off. Rashi tersely sums up: "This denotes humility and enthusiasm. He was enthusiastic to do the bidding of his father, even though he was aware that his brothers hated him."
Yeshua told a parable about a father who had two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). The father asked one to go and work in the vineyard, but he declined; yet later on, he changed his mind and went and did as he had been asked. In the meanwhile, the father asked his other son to go and work in the vineyard, but although he said that he would, in practice he never got there. "Which of the two", Yeshua asked, "did the will of his father?" Of course his audience instantly replied that even though he had initially said, 'No', it was the first son because he was the one who actually turned up in the vineyard and did as the father had asked. The second son's lip service failed to convert into action.
Using almost identical words,HaShem commands honour or reverence for parents, in both the major versions of the Ten Commandments: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the L-RD your G-d is giving you" (Shemot 20:12, ESV) and "Honor your father and your mother, as the L-RD your G-d commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the L-RD your G-d is giving you" (D'varim 5:16, ESV), as well as the shortened version: "Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father" (Vayikra 19:3, ESV). Society in the Ancient Near East was founded upon certain cultural norms and behaviours, such as hospitality, generosity and giving honour and respect to parents and the elderly. After all, if you are twenty and your grandfather is seventy, he is fifty years closer to Mt. Sinai than you are. The writer of Proverbs said, "The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their grey hair" Proverbs 20:29, ESV).
Yeshua Himself went through the process of submitting to His Father. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the gospels recall that He prayed, not once, but twice, that He might not have to experience the cross. His physical state is recorded: "in great anguish He prayed more intensely, so that His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44, CJB); having gone some way ahead of the disciples, he knelt on the ground and prayed intensely that the moment might pass. Nevertheless, hear His words: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39, ESV) and the second time: "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done" (v. 42, ESV). A request that He might not have to do this, yes, but complete submission to the Father's will, even though Yeshua knew fully what it entailed. Just as Yeshua honoured and obeyed the Father throughout His ministry, now at this moment of supreme challenge, He submitted to the Father's predetermined plan and purpose so that "in every respect he was tempted just as we are, the only difference being that he did not sin" (Hebrews 4:14, CJB).
How do we respond when G-d asks us to go outside out comfort zone in order to do something that He has asked? Finance is often a particular area of conflict: are we willing to give our money to serve kingdom needs and priorities? Many people set boundaries; they will give ten percent of their net income, or perhaps ten percent of their gross income, and no more. Others say that the kingdom of G-d is beyond tithing - as if that were only a Jewish principle - and give only what they have already determined. Still others will give more, but are obviously unhappy about being asked and take up an offence against those making the request. We have, of course, all been asked at times in inappropriate or manipulative ways, but setting those aside, the question remains: do we give in a G-d-honouring way?
Another contentious area is the resolution of disputes or disagreements within the body of Messiah. Matthew 18:15-18 provides a clear and unambiguous framework for resolving disputes. Talking to other people, either at all, or without the previous steps having been carried out, is clearly forbidden and makes resolution much more difficult. Yet many find it impossible to follow these simple rules; they insist on sharing their hurt or indignation with others outside the situation, often passing it off as information so that those others can pray intelligently for them or about the situation. Other people find it hard to confront someone with whom they are in conflict, feeling intimidated or reluctant; this allows the hurt to multiply and risks developing resentment or even hatred between brothers in the Messiah. Even involving church leaders in a situation before seeking personal reconciliation is wrong as it may make something serious, a loss of reputation or standing, out of a misunderstanding or mistake. Do we always follow Yeshua's instructions for resolving disagreements?
Our attitude is also an important part of this picture. How did Yosef respond to his father's instruction? "Here I am!" Just as "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7, ESV) and "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV), we are called to obey G-d in whatever He asks, quickly and cheerily, knowing that He loves us and - unlike Ya'akov - fully understands the situations in which He asks us to be involved and has our best interests at heart as well as everyone else in the situation. Rav Sha'ul wrote, "everything you do or say, do in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks through Him to God the Father" (Colossians 3:17, ESV). That means, we should do it in the same way as Yeshua obeyed the Father: usually immediately and automatically, with grace; in extreme situations, after agonising prayer but keeping those times of prayer private. Once G-d's will is clear, we must follow through and not delay.
Further Study: Ephesians 6:1-3; John 6:38; 1 Corinthians 10:31
Application: If you are in a difficult situation at the moment, uncertain of what to do or what God has said, go back to the last thing that you are certain G-d told you to do and make sure that you have done it properly and completely.
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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