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B'resheet/Genesis 46:2 And G-d said to Israel in the visions of the night and He said, "Ya'akov, Ya'akov!", and he said, "Here I am."
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Ya'akov has stopped at Be'er Sheva on his way down to Egypt to be reunited with his son Yosef whom he has thought dead for over twenty years. As they are about to leave the land of Israel, in the wagons that Pharaoh has sent to collect him, his family and all his possessions, Ya'akov delays briefly at Be'er Sheva and offers sacrifices toHaShem on the altar that his father Yitz'khak built there. Here, during a night vision, G-d speaks to him, to lay his fears and confirm His sanction for Ya'akov now leaving the Land. The text starts with a difficulty: if this is a vision - the word , a feminine plural noun, 'visions' or "things to be seen", comes from the root , to see - why is the first word , "and he said", rather than , "and he appeared"? Nahum Sarna explains that "the revelation is entirely verbal and without any visual aspect and because, being the last revelation to the patriarchs, the word forges a link with the very first revelation to Avram (12:1)." Apart from this usage, the word 'visions' is only found in Ezekiel, where it usually means a series of related or connected visions; here, it probably serves to intensify the experience. The Rambam, on the other hand, citing HaShem's words about Moshe to Aharon and Miriam - "If there is a prophet among you, I the L-RD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream" (B'Midbar, 12:6, ESV) - says that Ya'akov's experience was just a dream, mediated through an angel (Guide for the Perplexed 2:41).
Ya'akov is called twice by name.Rashi suggests that "the repetition of a person's name is an expression of endearment," but Richard Elliott Friedman points out that this is second of the three times that this style is used. The first comes during the incident known as the Akeidah, The Binding of Yitz'khak, as Avraham is about to sacrifice his son: "an angel of the L-RD called to him from heaven: 'Avraham! Avraham!' And he answered, 'Here I am'" (B'resheet 22:11, JPS); the third is part of the initial dialogue between HaShem and Moshe at the Bush: "When the L-RD saw that he had turned aside to look, G-d called to him out of the bush: 'Moses! Moses!' He answered, 'Here I am'" (Shemot 3:4, JPS). In the first, Friedman says, "it is to save a life." Here, Friedman continues, "it is to assure Ya'akov that he has nothing to fear in Egypt." The two are the same because they are both about reuniting patriarchs with their sons. In the third case, Friedman reports, "like Avraham, Moshe is told that Avraham's children are to be saved. Like Ya'akov, he is taught not to be afraid. Like both, this is about reunion of the people with the land where the patriarchs are."
According to theBaal HaTurim, scribal tradition writes the letter in the name 'Yisrael' with seven rather than the usual three tagin1. This recalls the verse "Seven times the righteous man falls and gets up" (Proverbs 24:16, ESV) and, the Tur explains, this is because "Ya'akov has been beset by seven difficulties: the hatred of Esav; the deception of Laban; the wrestling with the angel; the rape of Dinah; the loss of Yosef; the imprisonment of Shimon; the taking of Benjamin - and had been rescued from them all." Nothing, it would seem, in Ya'akov's life has been straightforward; nothing has gone smoothly, according to plan. Even the way in which he is addressed here causes stress. Rabbi Hirsch claims that "the call, 'Ya'akov, Ya'akov!' completely disappointed Ya'akov" rather than the use of his new name Israel, leading perhaps to Ya'akov's slightly grumpy response - , "Here I am!" as if - Hirsch suggests - Ya'akov is resigned to more trouble: "I am ready for anything that You have decided."
A number of key figures through the Hebrew Scriptures were called by HaShem: the patriarchs, Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov; Moshe, who led our people out of Egypt. The prophets too were called by HaShem. The prophet Samuel was called in the same way, "The L-RD came, and stood there, and He called as before: 'Samuel! Samuel!' And Samuel answered, 'Speak, for Your servant is listening'" (1 Samuel 3:10, JPS). Samuel responds in different words; these were prompted by Eli, but meant the same. Isaiah reports his calling: "I heard the voice of my L-rd saying, 'Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I; send me'" (Isaiah 6:8, JPS); the call is in different words, but Isaiah's response is the same - Here I am! Jeremiah's call to be a prophet is in different terms, but no less dramatic: "The word of the L-RD came to me: Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations. I replied: Ah, L-rd G-D! I don't know how to speak, For I am still a boy'" (Jeremiah 1:4-6, JPS). In all cases, G-d calls and the man responds; there is a conversation. This is no dream, in which white, woolly sheep chase themselves over styles, while the butterfly chorus sings a song about lemon sherbert; neither is it a nightmare, in which wraiths or spiders chase you for what seems like hours or days on end. This is an encounter and a conversation with the Living G-d who makes a job offer you can't refuse, with benefits you can't imagine and a job description beyond your wildest dreams: speaking for Him!
How was Yeshua called? Before birth, of course, to both parents; welcomed in the Temple as a baby by Simeon and Anna; amazing the teachers in the Temple at His Bar Mitzvah; but these were life-cycle events. What about His baptism? "While all the people were being immersed, Yeshua too was immersed. As He was praying, heaven was opened; the Ruach HaKodesh came down on Him in physical form like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, 'You are My Son, whom I love; I am well pleased with You'" (Luke 3:21-22, CJB). In turn, Yeshua called each of the disciples; we don't have all of the words, but some were very clear and direct: "Yeshua said to [Simon and Andrew], 'Come, follow Me, and I will make you into fishers for men!'" (Mark 1:17, CJB), and perhaps most briefly, "He said to [Levi], 'Follow Me!" (Luke 5:27, CJB). Notice what happens; without exception, immediately or at once, they respond and follow Yeshua.
Rav Sha'ul's call came on the Damascus road, as he was pursuing Jewish believers in Yeshua: "Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, 'Sha'ul! Sha'ul! Why do you keep persecuting me?' 'Sir, who are you?' he asked. 'I am Yeshua, and you are persecuting me'" (Acts 9:4-5, CJB). This call is more in the classic patriarchal form: the double call by name and following conversation. Nevertheless, Sha'ul does what he is told, regains his sight three days later, is baptised and "immediately he began proclaiming in the synagogues that Yeshua is the Son of G-d" (v. 20, CJB). There was no doubt in Sha'ul's mind that His encounter with the Risen L-rd had completely changed his life and turned him upside-down, from a zealous persecutor to a zealous evangelist and church-planter.
If you talk to people today, things seem to have changed; G-d's call seem less a bang than a whimper. Some, like John Wesley, will talk about feeling "strangely warmed"; others will relate a struggle into the early hours until they surrendered. Many have forgotten exactly how or why they became believers, while a few disavow that they have ever been called as such - going to church is something they have always done. It is not our place to judge others, or to deny their salvation experience because it doesn't fit one particular pattern. G-d calls people into relationship with Himself in mysterious ways, even from childhood and perhaps beyond memory; it is His prerogative. The important thing now is to know that you have been called and that your calling in Messiah is sure.
The man born blind, given his sight by Yeshua said, "One thing I do know: I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25, CJB). Yeshua said, "Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24, ESV); He also said, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28, ESV). Rav Sha'ul wrote, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua" (Romans 8:1, ESV). That's the truth. It doesn't matter how you get there or what has gone before; what matters is that we now know G-d's power, presence, forgiveness and grace in our lives. That is how we know that He has called us: that we recognise His voice and know that He is speaking to us each and every day. Then we can respond: Here I am!
1. - tagin are the little crowns or decorations applied to many of the Hebrew letters in the hand-written unpointed Masoretic text.
Further Study: Job 33:14-18; Matthew 13:47-50
Application: Are you sure that G-d has called you in Messiah Yeshua? Are you clear what His call on your life means and how you are to fulfill it? If you are in any doubt, get on the hot-line to headquarters and speak to the Commanding Office without delay. An answer is guaranteed!
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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