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B'resheet/Genesis 21:1 And the L-rd visited Sarah just as He had said; and the L-rd did for Sarah just as He had spoken.
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The CJB translates the verb in this text as 'remembered' - "ADONAI remembered Sarah" - and it was the use of that word in particular that selected this text from the generous supply of verses in the fourth aliyah of this week's parasha. The original theme based on the concept of remembering was to have been to ask the question, "How and when doesHaShem remember us?" When moving to the Hebrew text, however - not withstanding Targum Onkelos changing the Hebrew to the Aramaic (from the root , to remember) - it seemed that the verb , with its wide range of meanings throughout the Tanakh, was even more significant.
After telling us that the root is used 304 times in Tanakh, David Clines gives the following list of meanings for the Qal stem: visit, come for; observe, pay attention, search for, examine, review; count, register, assign; punish, hurt, harm; appoint, put in charge, muster.1 TheSeptuagint translates with , the indicative aorist middle 3ms form of the verb , which has meanings such as "to look for or select, to go to see or visit, to look after, to be concerned about." Rabbi Hirsch says that " is mentally to clothe an object in its attributes; its conditions and relationship. Hence, also, actually, to set somebody in some particular relationship, to place somebody in a new position, to invest him, as we say similarly in English, with an office, with full authority, etc. Spoken of G-d's providential care, as here, it designates His special intervention for the appropriate arrangement of conditions for a person or nation." The Ramban points of that we find the same verb being used as part of the Exodus narrative, starting with Yosef's anticipation - "When G-d has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here" (B'resheet 50:25, NJPS) - to HaShem's words for Moshe to bring to the Israelites: "I have taken note of you and of what is being done to you in Egypt" (Shemot 3:16, NJPS). Nahum Sarna reports that "the same idiom is used in connection with the birth of samuel (1 Samuel 2:21)," and adds that, "the Hebrew root connotes the direct involvement or intervention of G-d in human affairs."
Also significant is the parallelism in this verse; both halves have an action verb with HaShem as the subject, Sarah as the object, the comparator "just as", ending with a speech: He said, He spoke. One or other of the speech verbs is translated "as He promised" by most English translations. This gives the commentators the opportunity to point to different words or promises are being fulfilled at this time.Rashi, for example, comments, "As He had said - with pregnancy, 'Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Yitz'khak' (B'resheet 17:19, NJPS); As He had spoken - with childbirth 'your very own issue shall be your heir' (15:5, NJPS)." Gordon Wenham says, "The birth of Yitz'khak is predicted twice (17:16-21, 18:10-15) and here the fulfillment of the promises is mentioned twice."2
James McKeown explains that is used to emphasise G-d's role in the birth of Yitz'khak. "Although it is often translated 'to visit'", he says, "this is rather inadequate since the Hebrew verb implies intervention is a human situation. It is often employed in the text to describe G-d intervening in human affairs either to bless or to punish. In this case, it means that G-d is true to His word and enables Sarah and Avraham to have the child they have longed for, even though in spite of their faith they have laughed at the very idea."3 Terence Fretheim extends this argument, pointing out that "the distinct divine acts stress that G-d has made Yitz'khak's birth possible. The promise language in 17:16 focuses on blessing, so one should think of a divine creative activity that makes Sarah's pregnancy possible."4 The transition from Sarah's life-long condition - "Now Sarai was barren, she had no child" (11:30, NJPS) - to bearing a child when many years beyond the age for child-bearing, could only be possible because of supernatural intervention. G-d willed it! And how did it happen? Because, as Fretheim has just reminded us, G-d spoke. Just as the world came into being because "G-d said" (1:3, 6, 9, 11, etc.), Sarah conceived and bore a child because G-d said, because He spoke and His word created life. Walter Brueggemann takes up the story: "This is no birth brought about natural processes. This is an unwarranted birth in every usual sense. It now comes only by the promise of G-d. The text holds together the word of G-d and the birth of the child ... Twin temptations always face the church in the practice of its faith. On the one hand, there is the temptation to cling to the word of G-d in an excessively spiritual way and to minimise the fleshly concreteness of the birth. On the other hand, there is the inclination to cling singularly to the reality of the birth in an excessively secular way and regard the word of promise as of no importance."5
When do these supernatural interventions take place? When does G-d visit and do? When He has promised and spoken - when He has given a commitment (or a command) and His word. As Bruce Waltke observes, "G-d intervenes to shape destiny, sometimes for judgement and often, as here, for salvation."6 G-d ended the famine to bring Naomi back to Bethlehem with Ruth, because "in the country of Moab she had heard that the L-RD had taken note of His people and given them food" (Ruth 1:6, NJPS). He gave His word to set up the return from the Babylonian exile, "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 favor -- to bring you back to this place" (Jeremiah 29:10, NJPS). His involvement in the birth of John the Baptist was foretold: "Blessed be the L-rd G-d of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old" (Luke 1:68-70, ESV).
G-d's largest intervention into human affairs was the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Yeshua. Peter makes it clear when he tells the crowds that "this Yeshua, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of G-d, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (Acts 2:23, ESV). Then, "G-d raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it" (v. 24, ESV). These things are spoken of many times in the Tanakh and, of course, by Yeshua Himself during His ministry years. What G-d spoke, He did not fail to do; He visited His people in order to fulfill His word. Isaiah, speaking of the land of the Galil, prophesied that, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined" (Isaiah 9:2, ESV) and when Yeshua started travelling and teaching, "Leaving Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled" (Matthew 4:13-14, ESV). For three years Yeshua walked around in the Galilee, teaching in all the synagogues, attending weddings and parties, going up to the feasts in Jerusalem, rubbing shoulders with everyone. Truly, G-d visited His people! He counted them, mustered them, observed them, paid attention to them, fed them - in more ways than one - and searched them out, whether in Roman tax booths or up trees.
What about the promises that G-d has given you - the words that He has spoken into your life? Have you heard Him say, "This is my beloved Son; listen to Him" (Mark 9:7, ESV) - and have you listened? Have you felt the coaxing of the Father as He points us to Yeshua: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44, ESV) - and are you waiting for that last day? When you read the words, "If you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord and believe in your heart that G-d raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9, ESV), do you know that the Spirit is speaking to you? Have you jumped up and shouted out loud so that everyone can hear, just to be sure?
It is time that we started taking G-d's words to us seriously and expecting Him to visit us in order to fulfill those words, to do for us what those words say. We can no longer afford to disregard G-d's words, to dismiss them as "just the Bible". When the Holy Spirit speaks - through the Bible, through books, sermons or talks, through other people and even someone we have never met before - we need to listen carefully, check it out (to be sure it is the Holy Spirit) and then be ready to act or respond, for G-d is most certainly moving among His people in these days!
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 363.
2. - Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 79.
3. - James McKeown, Genesis, Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), page 112.
4. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 149.
5. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 180.
6. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 292.
Further Study: Job 33:14-18; Psalm 50:1-5
Application: The L-rd G-d is visiting His people, just as He said He would, and He is doing for His people exactly what He has spoken. He is doing that right now, in the midst of all the chaos and craziness with which so many are currently gripped. He gives peace to all those who call to Him, even if the world is turning upside down and inside out. Are you ready for His visit, to do for you what He has spoken?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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