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B'resheet/Genesis 26:12 And Yitz'chak sowed, in that land, and he found, in that year, a hundred measures.
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Here we find Yitz'khak, an alien and sojourner is his own land, engaged - somewhat counter-intuitively for nomadic herdspeople - in static agriculture. Nahum Sarna comments that this does not necessarily signal a transition from nomadic animal husbandry to a sedentary arable crops; apparently other groups1 seized opportune times to sow and harvest crops in a year. Sarna suggests that Gerar would have had favourable agricultural conditions on low-lying plains. The text does not tell us which crop was planted, but it is likely to have been wheat - a crop sowed in October or November for harvesting in the following May or June. The backdrop for this particular story, however, is that "there was a famine in the land" (B'resheet 26:1).HaShem tells Yitz'khak, "Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land which I point out to you" (v. 2, JPS), adding further, "Reside in this land, and I will be with you and bless you" (v. 3, JPS), going on to repeat the promise given to Yitz'khak's father Avraham, of his descendants owning the whole land in due time.
The commentators are intrigued by the phenomenon of abundant harvest in general conditions of famine. TheRashbam comments that although the land was infertile, it yielded an uncharacteristically substantial harvest for Yitz'khak. Rashi points out that although later to be part of the Land of Israel, this area was not esteemed in the same way as the Israelite heart-land, that of the seven Canaanite nations whom the Children of Israel were to dispossess to take the Land in several hundred years' time. To connect the famine and the land, Rashi asks, "In that land ... In that year - why are both of them stated? To say that the land was harsh and the year was harsh." The rabbis commented that the fields were assessed for tithes and "for every unit they estimated, it produced a hundred" (B'resheet Rabbah 64:6). This follows an Aramaic gloss in Targum Onkelos, connecting the noun with the verb , both from the root meaning both "to cleave or divide" and "to estimate the value of".
This seems to beg the question why, if the conditions or the land were so harsh, was the yield so abundant?Targum Jonathan chooses to emphasis the merit of Yitz'khak: "he sowed in the land for the sake of almsgiving"; Yitz'khak's motives were pure: it was a time of famine, so he sowed a crop in order to be able to give its yield away and feed the poor and those who had no food - a noble intent which G-d blessed with an abundant harvest. The Sforno, on the other hand sees it as a simple case of obedience: "Yitz'khak sowed in that land - as G-d had said to him, "Reside in this land" (26:3); a hundredfold - as He had promised (ibid.)"; because Yitz'khak was obedient, G-d gave him the promise He had made as a sign to all those around him that this is the way that G-d looks after those who serve and obey Him. The harvest was certainly not expected by the other local residents, so that "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" (26:13-14, JPS). Finally, the Philistines took to stopping up the wells and the king was obliged to ask Yitz'khak to leave the area because he had become too much of a threat to them.
There is one principle issue that emerges from this: obedience in the face of apparent adversity. This is shown in two opposite commands and a promise: Don't go somewhere else; dwell or reside here; I will be with you and bless you. The Hebrew verb for 'dwell', , has several associated meanings in addition to the expected "to sit or dwell": "live, remain, abide and inhabit". These can be all be connected to lifestyle issues rather than simply static residence; they speak of engagement with the culture, participation in business and agriculture, the ongoing life-cycle events and so on. This can be seen very clearly in the letter that the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the people of Judah who were living in exile in Babylon. They were expecting to come back to Jerusalem almost immediately, with prophets in their midst claiming that they would return so soon that it wasn't worth unpacking properly. The exiles hadn't settled down, weren't earning a living, had put their lives and those of their families on hold, because - they thought - there was no point in doing any of those things if they were going home shortly.
Thus said the L-RD of Hosts, the G-d of Israel, to the whole community which I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there, do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the L-RD in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper ... For thus said the L-RD: When Babylon's seventy years are over, I will take note of you, and I will fulfill to you My promise of favour -- to bring you back to this place. For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you -- declares the L-RD -- plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future.
Can you hear how different that is? G-d is telling the people that they are going to be in exile in Babylon for at least two generations: seventy years is a long time. They must engage in the normal functions of life: births, marriages and yes, deaths; they must settle down and become a settled part of the community; they must engage in trade and business and participate in civic society. Why? Because if they remain isolated from their neighbours they will have no impact upon them and they themselves will have no life and cease to exist as a distinct people group. So much so that they are explicitly told to "seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the L-RD in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper" (v. 7, JPS). What - pray for a pagan city, full of idols? Find our prosperity and welfare with them? This is so counter-cultural for the Jewish exiles that it would never have occurred to them without being explicitly told by the L-rd.
Our calling as believers in Messiah also includes one of those "dwelling" words, "abide": "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5, ESV). We are to "dwell, live, remain, inhabit" in Messiah. In the same way as the Jewish exiles in Babylon had to fully participate in life, so we must full participate. We must continue the lifecycle events: marrying, having and raising children, caring for the elderly, baptising believers, bringing people up in the faith. We must have a vibrant and Spirit-filled expression of worship and faith, we must share our joy and infectiously bring people into the presence and knowledge of G-d.
We have been in exile for two thousand years; the Jewish people from the Land of Israel, believers in Messiah from the kingdom and physical presence and rule of Messiah. Our hope, our expectation, is that Messiah Yeshua will be returning to Planet Earth in the near future. That is a non-negotiable foundation of our faith: "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1, ESV). But what do we do in the meantime? Didn't Yeshua tell us that we are "not of the world" (John 17:16), that "the world hates us because we are not of the world" (v. 14). This cannot mean that we withdraw and isolate ourselves from the world, or how can we witness to and impact our neighbours and all those who need to hear the good news about Messiah. Yeshua asked the disciples, "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?" (Matthew 24:45, ESV). If we are wise servants, we will be doing the work that the Master has called us to do, until the hour, the very second that He returns. We have food that others need; in some cases physical: in the same way that Yitz'khak might have done, we too feed the poor and the hungry, planting crops and seeking a good yield to distribute without prejudice or precondition to the widows, the orphans and the disenfranchised around the world. Of course, 'physical' planting and sowing may be agricultural, but it may be financial, technological or any line of business that generates profit that can be used for the Master's work. Secondly, we have spiritual food that we can share, be that teaching and exhortation, education and training, compassion and mercy or simply being a shoulder for people to cry on. As in the days of Yitz'khak, the land is hard and the year is hard, but we are called to be obedient and raise up a harvest to bless the L-rd and those around us.
1. - such as the pastoral nomads of Mari.
Further Study: Jeremiah 4:3; Isaiah 31:1; Zephaniah 2:1-3
Application: Are you planting and sowing so that you can share your blessings with those around you? As the prophet said, "Break up your fallow ground!" (Hosea 10:12). Get your hoe out today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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