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B'resheet/Genesis 26:8 And it happened, when the days be becoming long for him there ... and behold: Yitz'khak playing with Rivkah his wife.
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So this text is all about sex, right? 'Playing' is just a euphemism for sexual relations? Translated 'fondling' by the NJPS, the verb is the Pi'el ms participle of the root , "to laugh" (Davidson), from which Yitz'khak's own name is derived. TheRashbam comments, "playing/fondling - that is, having sex. This is the same word Potiphar's wife uses: 'The Hebrew slave whom you brought into our house came to me [the Pi'el infinitive] to dally with me' (39:17, NJPS), which she has previously said more explicitly: 'Look, he had to bring us a Hebrew to dally with us! This one came to lie with me' (39:14, NJPS)." Not so, says the Baal HaTurim, pointing to a masoretic note that "this word appears twice in the Tanakh: (i) here, 'Behold, Yitz'khak was jesting/playing' and (ii) 'Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing/mocking' (21:9, NJPS)." Chizkuni suggests that "it means playful activity preceding intercourse, not intercourse itself, since Yitz'khak would not have engaged in marital relations in plain view." The early Sages report that "Did not Rabbi Johanan say: To cohabit by day is indecent, even as Rabbi Johanan said: Cohabitation is permitted at night only" (B'resheet Rabbah 64:5). Davidson offers a number of meanings for the Pi'el voice of the root - to play, sport, jest; to laugh, mock at, insult - none of which seems to suggest sexual activity. So where's the beef? How did some commentators get the idea that there was more going on than just two people laughing and joking together?
The full text of the verse explains that Avimelech, the king of the Philistines, looked out of a window to see Yitz'khak and Rivkah together, doing whatever they were doing, and detected that Yitz'khak's claim that they were simply brother and sister was incorrect: they were in fact, man and wife. Whether there was any physical intimacy or whether it was as simple as a man and a woman being alone together, we cannot tell from this distance. Some commentators assume the former, some the latter. But the first phrase of the text gives us a clue as to what might have happened. The first verb in the text - , the Qal 3cp form of the root , to lengthen, become long or extended (Davisdon) - tells us about Yitz'khak's days in Gerar where he had settled for the time being. His days were extended; he had been there quite a long time. Initially fearful - like his father before him - Yitz'khak told everyone that Rivkah was his sister, so that he would not be killed by anyone wanting to take her. But, after a while, as nothing seemed to have happened, his guard dropped.Rashi postulates that "Yitz'khak said, 'From now on I need not worry, since they did not take her forcibly until now.' So he did not take care to be cautious." Or, put another way by the Rashbam, "By now, he was no longer careful to avoid treating his wife as if they were married, since no-one apparently intended to take her from him." The immediate threat did not materialise, so his guard slipped, almost without noticing as it were. Yitz'khak took his eye off the ball and without meaning to do so, relaxed back into the way of behaving as if he and Rivkah were married, as indeed they were. His falsehood was discovered and the king calls him in and, using words that seem quite similar to those spoken to Avraham, his father, chastises Yitz'khak roundly for his deception: "So she is your wife! Why then did you say: 'She is my sister?' ... What have you done to us! One of the people might have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us" (26:8-9, NJPS).
Yeshua was resolved upon His purpose: He was going up to Jerusalem and would there complete the task that He had undertaken to perform. Luke tells us that "it came about, when the days were approaching for His ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51, NASB). Even though not received by the Samaritans in a village through which He passed, "because He was journeying with His face toward Jerusalem" (v. 53, NASB), He did not falter, did not allow Himself to be distracted, but just kept on with His journey, telling the disciples, "you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Mark 13:13, ESV). Holding on to the truth, to the gospel of the kingdom is so important, that during those last few days in Jerusalem, Yeshua brought it up again: "At that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another ... But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved" (Matthew 24:10,13, NASB). It seems that it is not enough just to start well, to get away from the blocks with a surge of speed; we must develop staying power so that we do not waver or wobble but are able to maintain a steady course, drawn heavenwards as it were, by "G-d's upward calling in the Messiah Yeshua" (Philippians 3:14, CJB). It is easy in times when nothing much seems to be happening, to take our eyes off the road ahead and look down or around us, to relax our concentration and so be compromised in our walk of obedience to G-d in Yeshua.
Rav Sha'ul is full of good advice on the subject to his congregations. The Thessalonians are told, "As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good" (2 Thessalonians 3:13, ESV), while the Corinthians are urged to "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV). He joins with the Galatians to "not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9, ESV), while stressing to the Colossians that they will be holy, blameless and above reproach "if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard" (Colossians 1:23, ESV.
When we become comfortable in situations, where the perceived level of threat either diminishes or never actually materialises, we - like Yitz'khak - can start to relax and drop our standards of vigilance. We grow weary of being in "high alert" all the time, especially when nothing seems to happen, and allow our guard to drop a little. It is at times like this that small things can creep in under the radar or in disguise that we don't investigate as carefully as we should and before we know it the devil is shouting in our ears: "See you're a sinner after all; just look at what you have done!" and our public witness is tarnished with foolish words or actions that we would never have said or done if we had really been concentrating and had our eye on the ball. We need to gird up our loins, bring ourselves back to that high state of readiness, allow the voice of the Spirit to speak clearly to us and guide us firmly onto to the path of vigilance and obedience. James explains that "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which G-d has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12, ESV). Ignoring the small things, as Yitz'khak found out, leads to bigger trouble and a rebuke from the king. May we not get to that point, where we have to be rebuked by our King, but endure faithfully, "so that when you have done the will of G-d you may receive what is promised" (Hebrews 10:36, ESV).
Further Study: Colossians 1:21-23; Hebrews 12:3-6
Application: Keeping going and maintaining faithfulness are things that Yeshua modelled perfectly for us. He calls us all to keep our guard up and not to fall away with the passage of time. What are your fences looking like today?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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