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B'resheet/Genesis 30:30 For the little that was yours before me has increased to abundance and the L-rd has blessed you because of my presence.
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We need to hear some of the back-story before we can appreciate the conversation from which this text comes. Ya'akov has been working for his uncle (and father-in-law) for the past fourteen years without pay in exchange for marrying the latter's two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Rachel has just - finally - given birth to Yosef and Ya'akov asks to be released from his work with Laban in order to go home. Laban on the other hand, knowing a good thing when he sees it, is reluctant to let Yosef go - he is so good with the sheep! Assuming that the conversation is really about money - that Ya'akov wants to be paid and is using the request to go home as a negotiating technique - Laban replies with the remark aimed at Ya'akov's piety that "I have learned by divination that the L-RD has blessed me on your account" (B'resheet 30:27, NJPS), before cutting to the chase: "Name the wages due from me, and I will pay you" (v. 28, NJPS).
Ya'akov appeals to the track record of the last fourteen years of consistent, steady, faithful and fruitful work, pointing (in our text) to the growth in Laban's flocks and affirming that this blessing has come fromHaShem. The verb - the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , "to break forth, break out, increase, teem, overflow" (Davidson), here with a vav-conversive - shows the intensity and force with which the blessing was delivered: it burst upon Laban, rather like water through a crack or hole in a dam. Laban's flock has burst out into abundance - there was just no stopping it! Gordon Wenham suggests that this is an allusion to the promise HaShem gave Ya'akov when he first left Canaan to come to Padan Aram1 - "Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south" (28:14, NJPS) - where the same root is used prophetically of Ya'akov's descendants.
What are we to make of the last word in the text - - literally "to my foot"; what does this mean? Here, it is used as an idiom, meaning "because of me". TheRashbam notes that this "is an idiomatic way of saying 'for my sake'", while a little closer to the text, Rashi offers, "because of the arrival of my foot to you; with [the coming of] my foot, blessing came [to you]." Richard Elliott Friedman proposes the translation, "YHVH blessed you wherever I set foot"; Ibn Ezra explains that in this case, "the sense is: 'You have been blessed from the moment I arrived in your household.'" Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew to the Aramaic , "on my account". Michael Sokoloff confirms that meaning: means "on account of" followed by a personal pronoun.FootNote(2) Why didn't Ya'akov echo Laban's words? "Out of modesty," the Ramban says, "he did not want to say, 'on my account', as Laban had. He is saying, 'The L-rd has blessed you ever since my foot entered your home.'"
Several of the commentators suggest that Ya'akov was rebuking Laban for mentioning or using divination. Starting with theSforno, who said, "When you said that G-d blessed you with my coming, that is undoubtedly true", Rabbi Hirsch says that means "after my ways and steps" and then puts these words in Ya'akov's mouth: "You have no need to imagine that YHVH blessed you (the last word, verse 27), "for my sake", but you know full well that He did it , in accordance with the way I went, how capably I moved day and night in your service. Not on account of my piety but on account of my diligence did G-d bless you." Yes, the blessing came from G-d, but not for pietistic reasons; it came because of Ya'akov's hard work and proficiency. Terence Fretheim agrees with Ya'akov: "Ya'akov tells it straight: Laban knows that G-d has blessed him through Ya'akov from his own experience (without divine revelation); he can see for himself what has happened."3 Laban didn't need any special powers or supernatural access to know what was going on, he could see it with his own eyes. These commentators are suspicious that Laban is just using religious language to try and gain some leverage over Ya'akov.
Walter Brueggemann insists that a theological point is being made here. "Yahweh is the giver of prosperity. And it is given through the person of Ya'akov. Laban is dependent on Ya'akov for the gift of G-d's blessing."4 While G-d is the source of the blessing, Ya'akov is the agency of delivery on this occasion. Chazal have already observed this a general rule: "Wherever the righteous go, a blessing accompanies them. Yitz'khak went down to Gerar, and a blessing followed him, as it says, And Yitz'khak sowed in that land, and found in the same year a hundredfold; and the L-rd blessed him (B'resheet 26:12). Yosef went down to Potiphar, and a blessing followed him, as it says, And the L-rd blessed the Egyptian's house for Yosef's sake (34:5)" (B'resheet Rabbah 73:8). Another important aspect of this text is that "this is the first time Ya'akov bears witness to G-d's blessing on him."5
We can see Ya'akov's time with Laban as a worked example of the promise to Avraham "In you all the nations will be blessed" (B'resheet 12:3). Just as Potiphar's household was blessed by Yosef's presence, so was the jail where he was sent and the land of Egypt when he was raised to be the Grand Vizier. Daniel? Strongly connected with this is the story of David bringing the Ark of HaShem up to Jerusalem. After the death of one of the removal team, David is afraid to bring the Ark into Jerusalem, so he places it in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The narrator tells us that, "The ark of the L-RD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite three months, and the L-RD blessed Obed-edom and all his household" (2 Samuel 6:11, NJPS). The presence of the Lord represented by the Ark in the house brought blessing. But that was only a wooden box covered with gold, housing the words of G-d written on stone tablets; how much more so the living servants of G-d with His words of life written on their hearts and filled with His Spirit? When Darius the Mede took the kingdom of the Babylonians, "Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom" (Daniel 6:3, ESV). Why was that? Because "he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him" (v. 4, ESV); Daniel was filled with the Spirit of the Living G-d!
Rav Sha'ul gives us a practical example of how believers in Yeshua bring a blessing into where they are - their families. He talks to a believer who is married to an unbeliever: they are not to leave the marriage because "the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband" (1 Corinthians 7:14, ESV). The verb - to consecrate, make holy, sanctify - is here used in a passive voice; because of the presence of the believer, the blessing of holiness is present in the home. That blessing may extend to salvation - "how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" (v. 16, ESV) - and even the children of the marriage are blessed: if the believer left, "your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy" (v. 14, ESV).
When Sha'ul speaks of "Messiah who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20), he visualises Yeshua living inside him, replacing his old life which has been crucified with Yeshua. That is why he blesses G-d, who in Yeshua "spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere through us" (2 Corinthians 2:14). Think of one of those chaps who is always a little too over-generous with his after-shave, or one of those girls who likes to apply body-spray several times each day. Everywhere they go, their fragrance goes with them and is shared with everyone they meet and lots of folk who just pass by. That's what Sha'ul means when he says that "we are the aroma of Messiah to G-d among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life" (vv. 15-16, ESV). Our very presence brings the aroma of Yeshua Himself into our context and our conversations. Simply by being there, we carry Him with us.
We bless the businesses we own or who employ us by our hard work, integrity and ethical standards. We bless our families by our consistent love, care and self-sacrifice. We bless our friends and social contacts by our smile, our compassion and readiness to listen and help. Most importantly, as Ya'akov says in our text, we confess that "the L-rd has blessed you because of my presence." It isn't me; it is Him - and He does it because I am here.
1. - Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 255.
2. - Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Palestinian Aramaic, 2nd Ed., (Ramat-Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan University Press, 2002), page 85.
3. - Terence Fretheim, "Genesis" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 194.
4. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation, (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 256.
5. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 419.
Further Study: Ephesians 5:1-2; 1 Peter 3:1-2
Application: Do you consciously take Yeshua with you everywhere you go? Our intentionality and readiness to "give an account of the hope that we have within us" (1 Peter 3:15) is a key to amplifying the reach and power of the message that has been entrusted to us. Ask the Spirit to help you smell more of Him!
Comment - 10:45 07Nov21 Judith Chesney: Thank you for such a timely reminder of the presence of the Messiah in our lives. Lots to think about on a personal level.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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