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B'resheet/Genesis 45:7 And G-d sent me before you to establish a remnant in the land for a great deliverance.
Our verse is part of Yosef's disclosure of himself to his brothers and needs to be seen as part of the text block running from from verse 5 to verse 11. In these six verses two verbs - , to send, and , to set/put/place - occur three times each. On each occasion, G-d is the subject and Yosef is the object. In verse 5, Yosef tells the brothers that "G-d sent me ahead of you"; in verse 7 (above) both occur together: "G-d sent me ahead of you to establish"; in verse 8 both are present in different phrases: "It was not you who sent me ... but G-d" and "G-d has set me as father to Pharaoh"; in verse 9 Yosef instructs the bothers to tell their father, "G-d has set me as master to all Egypt". The thrice repeated statement, "G-d sent me" is perhaps the most important thing that Yosef ever says; he will repeat the same theme again to his brothers (or their descendants) again after his father has died: "Am I a substitute for G-d? Besides, although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result -- the survival of many people" (B'resheet 50:19-20, NJPS).
The classic Jewish commentators fall silent on this verse. RabbiHirsch writes only that the verse is technically difficult to translate. Elliott Fox, the translator of The Schocken Bible - a translation that is very close to the rhythm and word subtleties of the Hebrew text - suggests,
So G-d sent me on before you
to make you a remnant on earth,
to keep you alive as a great body-of-survivors1
while Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, the translator of The Living Torah renders the second phrase: "to keep you alive through such extraordinary means" adding that, "it can also be read, 'to keep alive for you a great survival', which means, 'to insure that a great many of you survive'."2 According to Bruce Waltke, the noun denotes "descendants who survive a great catastrophe."3 Gordon Wenham refers to the phrase, "they would ... leave my husband without name or remnant upon the earth" (2 Samuel 14:7, NJPS), to propose that "'remnant' here has the sense of surviving descendants."4 He also points out that the verb - from the root , "to live" (Davidson), here in the Hif'il stem, so having the sense of preserving life - "is a key phrase in the flood story (B'resheet 6:19-20, 7:3), implying that Yosef is like Noah, an agent in the divine saving plan." This seems confirmed, when Yosef uses it again in the verse we quoted above: "to preserve alive a great people" (50:20). It appears, as Terence Fretheim observes, that "G-d acts to preserve life, particularly the life of Jacob's family."5
In our verse, Yosef provides the basis for the assurance he started with - "Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither" (45:5a, NJPS). While the brothers may have had entirely other motives, G-d's greater purpose meant that He sent Yosef to perform a specific task.Nechama Leibowitz shows how the text works: "two clauses of purpose, setting forth the aims of divine Providence occur here, one after the other. First the minimum purpose of saving life from salvation 'to ensure your survival', followed by the second, but greater and more sublime aim, alluding to the future, historic destiny of the people: 'to save your lives by a great deliverance.'" This, then, was not just happenstance; there was deliberate forethought and planning involved. The whole story - from the fact that Yosef couldn't find his brothers at Shechem because they had moved on to Dothan, but a man who found him wandering in the fields could tell him, "They have gone from here, for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan" (37:17, NJPS); the mix up over who passed by and "pulled Yosef up out of the pit" (v. 28, NJPS) and then who sold him to whom for "twenty pieces of silver" (ibid.); that he was sold in Egypt to no less a person than "Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh and his chief steward" (39:1, NJPS); that Pharaoh took offense at two of his servants and put them in prison "in the house of the chief steward, in the same prison house where Yosef was confined" (40:3, NJPS); even down to Yosef having to wait another two years in prison until the right time for Pharaoh to have his dream because "the chief cupbearer did not think of Yosef; he forgot him" (v. 23, NJPS) - has the hallmark of precise timing, intricate design and meticulous execution.
It is easy to say that with hindsight; we can read the story through several chapters of B'resheet and there it is: as plain as the nose on your face! But what about Yosef? What did he know or understand at the time? His request to the chief steward to "think of me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place" (v. 14, NJPS) suggests that he knows very little and is getting quite desperate! Walter Brueggemann is amazed at Yosef's words to the brothers: "Perhaps Yosef has kept this to himself until now. More likely, Yosef did not know either. We have not had a hint before now that Yosef had any notion of being part of G-d's purpose. The revelation breaks as news upon the entire family."6 Is Yosef now speaking on his own, or is the Spirit of G-d suddenly prophesying through him so that Yosef is almost as surprised by what he is saying as the brothers are to hear it?
Actually, the Bible relates many instances of someone being sent - sometimes knowingly, sometimes in ignorance - 'beforehand' into a situation to prepare the way for what G-d is about to do, either directly through them or simply to plough the ground, turn over the hard crust and allow the rain and fresh air access to the soil underneath as a means of bringing new life into a drought and famine situation. By our text, Yosef is clearly one example. The next example comes just one chapter later: "[Ya'akov] sent Judah ahead of him to Yosef, to point the way before him to Goshen" (46:28). This is expanded by the Sages to suggest that Ya'akov sent Judah ahead "to prepare an academy for him there where he would teach Torah and where the tribal ancestors would read the Torah" (Bresheet Rabbah 95:3). Moshe was sent twice: first, as an infant, into the household of Pharaoh, so that he would learn the ways of royalty and the court and then, when eighty years old, when HaShem spoke to him at the Bush, "Come, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh, and you shall free My people, the Israelites, from Egypt" (Shemot 3:10, NJPS), as confirmed by Stephen: "this man G-d sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush" (Acts 7:35, ESV). The Hebrew Scriptures report that "[G-d] sent prophets among [His people] to bring them back to the L-RD" (2 Chronicles 24:19, ESV), and Jeremiah speaks forHaShem saying, "I have persistently sent all My servants the prophets to them, day after day" (Jeremiah 7:25, ESV). Yeshua echoes this in His lament over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!" (Matthew 23:37, ESV).
John the Baptist was recognised by the crowds to whom he witnessed, described as "the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the L-rd, make His paths straight'" (Mark 1:3, ESV), fulfilling the words of both Isaiah - "A voice cries: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the L-RD; make straight in the desert a highway for our G-d" (Isaiah 40:3, ESV) - and Malachi: "Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me" (Malachi 3:1, ESV). John's own self-awareness was true to his calling, as he himself said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness" (John 1:23, ESV). John was explicitly sent to prepare the way for Yeshua, to announce His coming and presence, and to stir the hearts of the people to recognise that this was the moment when G-d was doing a new thing among His people as He had said that He would.
Luke records that Yeshua selected a group of seventy two disciples and sent them ahead of Him: "After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go" (Luke 10:1, ESV). Their job was to announce the coming of the kingdom of G-d - "Heal the sick in [each town] and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you'" (v. 9, ESV) - and to offer proof by healing the sick. This would prepare the way for Yeshua Himself to visit the same towns and cities and to teach and heal, bringing the kingdom of His Father to the people in Himself. Yeshua also repeatedly told the disciples that He had been explicitly sent by the Father, for example: "the Father who sent Me has himself borne witness about Me" (John 5:38, ESV) and "My judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent Me" (8:16, ESV).
On that basis, Yeshua tells His disciples after the resurrection: "'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (20:21-22, ESV) - He sent them and empowered them. Them, of course, includes us. We have been sent. Just like Yosef, John the Baptist and Yeshua, we have been sent both to a constituency and for a purpose. In each and every generation, Yeshua sends people - that is, men and women, not just like you and me but actually you and me - to prepare His way, to announce His coming and to provide proof through signs, wonders and the power of their testimony. We bring the news of deliverance and are even sometimes the agent of deliverance in peoples' lives. It is essential that we know our target and our purpose so that we can stay focussed and be ready to fulfill it accurately, graciously and promptly.
1. - Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses The Schocken Bible Vol 1, (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1995), page 215.
2. - Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Living Torah (Brooklyn, NY: Maznaim Publishing, 1981), page 123.
3. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 563.
4. - Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 428.
5. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 256.
6. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 345.
Further Study: Psalm 18:46-50; Isaiah 61:1-3; John 3:34-36; Galatians 4:4-7
Application: To whom have you been sent in this generation or the next? Do you know the specific purpose of your mission? You need to check with your Dispatcher today to make sure that you are still going in the right direction and with the right instructions.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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