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B'resheet/Genesis 29:32-33 ... because the L-rd saw my affliction ... because the L-rd heard [that] I am hated
Leah speaks these words after the birth of her first two sons, Reuben and Simeon, respectively. The narrative is very brief, collapsing a number of years into just a few verses. The first birth must have been at least nine months after the consecutive marriages of of Ya'akov to Leah and Rachel recorded in verses 21-30; the second one - assuming natural child-spacing - somewhere between two and four years later. In each case, Leah expresses the desire that her fruitfulness in child-bearing - having sons as well - will make Ya'akov value and appreciate her more.
We should notice a couple of important things. Firstly, there is the question of the focus of these statements;HaShem is very clearly in view. Leon Kass points out that "in becoming Ya'akov's wife, Leah fully and quickly accepted Jacob's G-d. She speaks of YHVH. Indeed, she speaks of G-d much more than Ya'akov."1 For Leah, this is a significant change. We know from the later narrative in the Padan Aram story that when the Ya'akov family decide to leave and return to the land of Canaan, "Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father's household idols" (31:9, NJPS), so Leah and Rachel grew up in a non-Yahwistic household. HaShem was not the god of Leah's father or his household. Yet in the space of her first pregnancy, Leah has come to recognise that HaShem is the sole arbiter of human affairs. Indeed, as Terence Fretheim propounds, during this whole narrative block that covers the arrival of twelve of Ya'akov's thirteen children, "G-d serves as the subject of the following activities: G-d sees the affliction of the women, hears their cry, remembers them, takes away their disgrace and vindicates/rewards them."2
Our second point is the way the vocabulary is being used. While the Hebrew text uses active verbs with HaShem as the subject - "to see" and "to hear" -Targum Onkelos modifies the text to remove the anthropomorphism: he considers it inappropriate that human actions such as seeing and hearing, which imply human characteristics if not human physiology. Switching to the passive voice, he changes "the L-rd saw" to "it was revealed before the L-rd", while "the L-rd heard" becomes "it has been heard before the L-rd". But Onkelos's sensibilities do serve to draw our attention to the way the Hebrew text boldly uses these strong 'sense' verbs - see, hear - to describe the way that HaShem is directly and personally involved in this story. This is not a picture of a detached G-d who doesn't really care and simply becomes aware of things from a distance. As James McKeown comments, "This close involvement of Yahweh in human affairs is consistent with the portrayal of G-d in the creation narratives, where He is shown as separate from creation but personally involved in it with deep concern for its welfare."3
Nor is this narrative block the only time that the biblical texts show HaShem to be directly involved in His creation and His people. Earlier in the Avraham narrative, the Angel of the L-rd speaks to the pregnant Hagar, who has fled from Sarah's harsh treatment. Finding her weeping at the well, the angel not only tells her that she will bear a son who will have many children of his own, but adds that, "the L-RD has paid heed to your suffering" (16:11, NJPS - again, the verb here is , "to hear". HaShem heard Hagar's distress and took direct action to relieve her. Gordon Wenham suggests that Leah's language in our text echoes the angel's words to Hagar and foreshadows Ya'akov's rebuke to Laban: "Had not the G-d of my father, the G-d of Abraham and the Fear of Yitz'khak, been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed. But G-d took notice of my plight and the toil of my hands, and He gave judgment last night" (31:42, NJPS).4 In this case, the 'notice' verb is , "to see": HaShem 'saw' how Laban had been treating Ya'akov.
Moving further on through the Torah, we find HaShem talking to Moshe at the Bush: "I have marked well the plight of My people in Egypt and have heeded their outcry because of their taskmasters; yes, I am mindful of their sufferings." (Shemot 3:7, NJPS). Notice the range of meanings offered in translation; these are the verbs , and respectively: in the first case , combining both an infinitive and an active form of the verb to emphasise the directness of HaShem's involvement - "I have surely/certainly seen". The next chapter records the interaction of senses in the response of the Israelites to the news that HaShem intends to rescue them: "When they heard that the LORD had taken note of the Israelites and that He had seen their plight, they bowed low in homage" (4:31, NJPS). This time it is the Israelites who do the hearing; they 'hear' that HaShem has 'seen' their situation. The intervening verb, "He had taken note" is the equally direct root , which has a range of very physical meanings: to visit, examine, muster, look after or number.
Other groups of people are also guaranteed that their plight will be noticed by G-d. Orphans and widows, for example are protected by His assurance that if they are mistreated, " I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me" (22:22, NJPS). Once again the combination of the infinitive plus the active form - emphasises the strength of G-d's words and intent. The same language protects the poor (D'varim 15:9), day labourers (24:15) and those who fear Him (Psalm 145:19). James warns the wealthy landowners of his day that "Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the L-rd of hosts" (James 5:4, ESV) that G-d is still listening to the afflicted - in this case, agricultural workers - in apostolic times. We should notice too that the wicked and the oppressors are cut off from God in the same language: "I will show no pity or compassion; though they cry aloud to Me, I will not listen to them" (Ezekiel 8:18, NJPS). The cries of the wicked, when they find themselves in judgement or trouble, will go unheard.
Should we assume that things have changed in the New Covenant order? After all, there are so many more of us now that the Gentiles have been grafted in to the commonwealth of Israel - has the sheer number of prayers reached a saturation level and only some get past the call-handlers in the prayer centre? Is there some kind of priority system in operation, so that only those who pay the premier subscription rate are actually registered for personal support, while everyone else simply gets referred to the community support section of the website? It is so important to flush out all these nonsensical ideas that our modern style of consumer living does use, so that we can laugh at them and be sure that this is not the way that the kingdom of heaven works. G-d is not and never has been on overload; He always has sufficient capacity to respond individually and immediately when His children call; He has not contracted out His relationships to an overseas call-handling centre. On the contrary, His promises remain sure and steady and have not changed one iota because He does not change.
Let's see what the Bible tells us in the apostolic writings. Writing to belivers in the Jewish Diaspora, Peter tells them, "For the eyes of the L-rd are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the L-rd is against those who do evil" (1 Peter 3:12, ESV). Look at the same two senses being invoked: vision and hearing. Look too at how the same conditionality also applies over who gets this divine attention: the righteous - that is, those who follow Yeshua's instructions to love G-d and love neighbour - while the wicked, here defined as those who do evil, have G-d's face turned against them. John's comment comes in his gospel: "We know that G-d does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of G-d and does His will, G-d listens to Him" (John 9:31, ESV) - the words of the man born blind to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, summing up the prevailing understanding of Second Temple Judaism as he defends Yeshua against their accusations of being a sinner. This echoes both Peter and the prophets; only one sense is included - hearing - but the same distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous is present. John later writes, "this is the confidence that we have towards [Yeshua], that if we ask anything according to His will he hears us" (1 John 5:14, ESV).
Our text shows Leah acknowledging that she has been seen and heard by G-d and that He has acted, by giving her children, because of His seeing and hearing. The Torah has assured us that G-d sees and hears His people and acts to deliver them. It also offers comfort to the oppressed and marginalised in society that G-d always hears their cries and will act to remedy their situations. The Greek Scriptures show us that nothing has changed in the days of Yeshua and for us as contemporary believers - whether Jew or Gentile - in Messiah Yeshua. G-d not only knows about every detail of our lives, but He is actively involved in seeing and hearing what is happening to us and how we call upon Him for mercy and relief. He is there for us!
1. - Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2003), page 428.
2. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 193.
3. - James McKeown, Genesis, Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), page 145.
4. - Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50 Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 243.
Further Study: Psalm 25:15-20; Matthew 10:29-31
Are you in a difficult situation or dire straights and uncertain of whether
G-d has seen and taken notice of where you are and the challenges you face?
Take comfort that His eyes are always on His people and that He always hears
their cries. Call out to Him and know that your cry has been heard and that
something will change because you have asked Him to be involved.
Comment - 11:21 01Dec19 Yun Seong Deok: Amen.
Comment - 11:21 01Dec19 Yun Seong Deok: Amen.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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