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B'resheet/Genesis 26:28 And they said, "We have surely seen that the L-rd has been with you ..."
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Abimelech, the king of the Philistines in Gerar, with "Ahuzzath his councilor and Phicol chief of his troops" (B'resheet 26:26, NJPS), have come to Yitz'khak where he is camped at Beer-sheba. Since recent relations between Yitz'khak haven't been too friendly - after they asked him to leave their territory and then bickered over Avraham's wells that he re-dug so that he had to move on, out of their jurisdiction, Yitz'khak is somewhat surprised to see them, particularly as they ask to make a covenant with him, a renewal of his father's covenant, a mutual non-aggression agreement.
After the speech verb opening the verse - and they said - our text contains two adjacent forms of the same verb . The first is , an unusual Qal infinitive absolute form, "to see"; the second , the Qal 1cp affix form, "we saw". A literal translation would be "to see, we have seen" and typical English translations offer "we have surely seen" (as above), "we have certainly seen" (NKJV), "we can plainly see" (ESV, NRSV, NJPS). TheBaal HaTurim interprets a Masoretic note to say that "this word occurs four times in the Tanakh, twice (here and Isaiah 6:9) and twice (Shemot 3:7 and 1 Samuel 1:11)." He proposes the rule that "in those verses where the subject is plural, the term is spelled , but in those verses where the subject is singular, it is spelled ." Our thoughts this week turn on why the verb is used in this double form and on what we might learn from that for today.
Starting with the oldest rabbinic commentary, the ancient sages report that the doubling of the verb means, "we have seen your deeds and the deeds of your parents" (B'resheet Rabbah 64:10) - once for the parents (Avraham and Sarah) and once for Yitz'khak. This promptsRashi to comment, "Having seen in your father, we have seen in you." In a completely different direction, Chizkuni says that, "the double Hebrew verb form implies: we saw that our land produced 'a hundredfold' (v. 12) when you lived there; then we saw that it stopped when you left." Nahum Sarna is also focused on physical things when he writes that Abimelech "refers to Yitz'khak's success in agriculture and the exploration for water and to his increasing affluence."
Let's step back for a moment and review how our characters got to this point. The story started at the beginning of the chapter when "there was a famine in the land" (B'resheet 26:1, NJPS). Prompted byHaShem telling him not to leave the land or go down to Egypt, and repeating the promise of both land and offspring without number originally given to Avraham (vv, 2-4) Yitz'khak moves west (towards the sea) and settles in Gerar for a season. While there, he and Rivkah repeat the experience of Avraham and Sarah (chapter 20) and once that is sorted out, "Yitz'khak sowed in that land and reaped a hundredfold the same year. The L-RD blessed him, and the man grew richer and richer until he was very wealthy: he acquired flocks and herds, and a large household, so that the Philistines envied him" (vv. 12-14, NJPS). At this point, the Philistines stop up all his wells and ask him to leave their territory; there then follows a series of wells that Yitz'khak re-digs and the Philistines dispute until he is forced to move far enough away. Nevertheless, as Bruce Waltke points out, "Apparently, because of his successful wells, Yitz'khak's transition from wealthy grazier to nomad miraculously does not result in the expected economic ruin. Sending the herdsmen into the desert would have inflicted economic ruin on Yitz'khak if he had not providentially found wells."1
Back in the (then) present, Abimelech, the Philistine king of Gerar has travelled all the way up to Beer-sheba where Yitz'khak has just heard words of blessing and promise again from HaShem and "he built an altar there and invoked the L-RD by name. Isaac pitched his tent there and his servants started digging a well" (v. 25, NJPS) to meet the ever-present need for water. It is at this point that the Philistines arrive, wanting to make a covenant with Yitz'khak. The Hebrew text suggests that they seek to renew the covenant they made with Avraham in very similar words: "G-d is with you in everything that you do. Therefore swear to me here by G-d that you will not deal falsely with me or with my kith and kin, but will deal with me and with the land in which you have sojourned as loyally as I have dealt with you" (21:22-23, NJPS) - with his son, Yitz'khak. As theSforno says, "we have seen that G-d has been with you - it is not out of fear of you that we make this covenant with you." Perhaps they have heard of the promise that G-d gave Avraham - "I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you" (12:3, NJPS) - and, seeing the physical evidence of blessing in Yitz'khak before their eyes, want to make sure that they are on the right side of that G-d! So they offer this agreement: "Let there be a sworn treaty between our two parties, between you and us. Let us make a pact with you that you will not do us harm, just as we have not molested you but have always dealt kindly with you and sent you away in peace. From now on, be you blessed of the L-RD!" (26:28-29, NJPS).
Recognising that Abimelech and his staff can't actually see what is in front of their noses, Yitz'khak agrees to make a covenant with them without further argument. Walter Brueggemann explains the difference between them: "The eyes of faith discern the reality of blessing in the language of promise ... but the eyes of the world discern the same reality as prosperity. Promise and prosperity are not different, however. The promise of G-d is the source of prosperity."2 Yitz'khak is looking at the world through the lens of promise; the king is looking through the lens of material possessions. Yitz'khak has heard HaShem say, "Fear not, for I am with you, and I will bless you and increase your offspring for the sake of My servant Abraham" (26:24, NJPS), so knows that he does not need to worry about the Philistines or the particulars of physical blessing; HaShem will provide. Abimelech sees a man whose wealth - and, therefore, power and influence - is not only increasing but doesn't seem to be affected by the desert or adverse conditions; this is a man he needs to fear and have on his side.
Peter writes to the followers of Yeshua (read: them and us, then and now) that they/we should always be "ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15, NASB). Many of us, I suspect, haven't ever had anyone ask about the hope we have in us. Perhaps that is because no-one can see the hope you have; perhaps it is because you are not sure that you have a hope. But Peter's context is wider; after telling the believers that they are blessed if they are persecuted for the sake or righteousness, he adds, "do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Messiah as Lord in your hearts" (vv. 14-15, NASB). This sounds very like Yitz'khak's situation: being first of all pushed out of the Philistine land and then intimidated by a high-powered state visit to demand a covenant. We are called to stand firm in our faith, refusing to compromise or fudge the issues, and to face the hostility down so that our witness of Yeshua may be heard, politely and respectfully, but clearly and firmly in the expectation not so much that G-d will vindicate us, but that He will change hearts and invite others to join His kingdom. This is seeing our situation through the lens of faith.
We have Yeshua's promise that He will never leave us (Matthew 28:20) and Rav Sha'ul's assurance that nothing "shall be able to separate us from the love of G-d, which is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord" (Romans 8:39, NASB). These are promises on which hope is built, on which faith rises up to defeat any doubts or attacks by the enemy. This is our foundation, that Yeshua the Messiah was crucified, died and buried then rose from the dead to new life three days later, thus conquering sin and death for ever and guaranteeing those of us who believer in Him a place in His kingdom for ever.
So the question we need to ask is what it is that people clearly and unambiguously see in us? What are we presenting to the world each day? Is there anything that other folk may want - a poise, balance and peace that come from knowing Yeshua and trusting His promises? Might people be envious of the patience and consistency with which we do our work and show love to others without always complaining and griping? Do others appreciate our listening ear and willingness to give up time to help them talk things out or resolve crises, perhaps even praying for them if asked? Perhaps more than anything else, in these increasingly challenging days, it is a believer's hope and confidence in the future. This cannot be a naive and polly-anna-ish optimism, just "hoping for the best" with no reason or logic behind it, but is instead a grounded deep faith and awareness of G-d's promises and purposes backup up by years of steadily and faithfully going in the same direction following the Master.
In this day and age, we are always on display, always being judged by others, through e-mail, social media, web sites and so on. Our smallest movements are tracked and followed by Google analytics, twitter and facebook, while our words are recorded and analysed for marketing and many other purposes. They even know what you had for breakfast two weeks ago last Thursday. The question is, though, if you were arrested and brought to court for being a follower of Yeshua, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
1. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 371.
2. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis Interpretation, (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 223.
Further Study: Zechariah 8:20-23; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25; Colossians 4:5-6
Application: What do people see in you that might inspire them to ask you to explain the hope that you have and the love that you show to people that you meet? How can you cultivate that and bring it to the fore so that people are always asking and always wanting to know? Can you be a walking advertisement for Yeshua and the kingdom of G-d?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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