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B'resheet/Genesis 32:18 To whom do you belong? and where are you going? and to whom are these before you?
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With a mismatch of one between the Hebrew and English verse numbering1, this verse details the questions that Ya'akov anticipates that his brother Esav will ask of the drovers whom Ya'akov has sent on before him with gifts to placate Esav. The text and the commentators go into some detail about the spacing and arrangement of the herds or groups of animals that Ya'akov is sending Esav to placate the wrath that he expects his older brother to feel. For example,Rashi says that "one herd should be in front of another by the fullness of an eye - that is to say, as far as the eye can see - so as to satiate and impress him with the size of the tribute." The gifts will seem endless: one herd will just have arrived and been delivered, and already there is another coming on the horizon.
Just prior to this, Ya'akov had sent messengers to Esav to inform him of his return to the land of Canaan after twenty years working with their uncle Laban in Padan Aram. The messengers had returned with the alarming report that, "We came to your brother Esav; he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him" (B'resheet 32:7, JPS). Ya'akov takes this to mean that the men are armed and that Esav is spoiling for a fight; either to take them captive or to repel them and prevent their return. He thus splits up his possessions into two camps so that if one is lost the other may survive, sends his family on ahead and arranges an elaborate parade of gifts to appease Esav's presumed anger.
Each messenger is prepared to expect these questions from Esav and told what answer to give: "you are to say, 'They belong to your servant Ya'akov, and they are a present he has sent to my lord 'Esav; and Ya'akov himself is just behind us" (v. 19, CJB). The reply stresses the servanthood of Ya'akov and his soon arrival. Esav will look up to see if Ya'akov is coming and see another gift! Only when this has been repeated at least five times will Ya'akov finally appear, hoping that Esav has been sufficiently mellowed by the not insubstantial presents (or perhaps that should be 'bribes') to receive his younger brother with less hostility than Ya'akov thinks he has cause to expect.
Targum Onkelos translates the first question - - as , "Whose are you?" This implies not only "who has sent you?" but "to whom to you belong?" Onkelos clarifies this, because the question might otherwise be possibly translated as "to whom are you going?", which would spoil Ya'akov's prepared answer (Mizrachi2). Similarly, the third question has an implied "to whom are these being sent" as if the ownership is being transferred. Esav will certainly be interested in the flocks and herds, but Ya'akov senses that his older brother will also want to know who they are coming from and who they are intended to reach. The same carefully crafted answer carried by each drover is intended to ensure that Esav is fully aware that these are not just animals in transit, even if they might belong to Ya'akov; they are a personal gift for him.
When Rav Sha'ul arrived in Athens and had been preaching about Yeshua and the resurrection for some days, both in the synagogue and in the forum or marketplace, his message intrigued the many philosophers in the city who seemed to have nothing better to do all day but spending their time discussing new - or probably, sometimes, none too new - ideas. They brought Sha'ul up to the Areopagus3 and asked him a very similar set of questions: "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean" (Acts 17:19-20, ESV). "Tell us all about it - what is it, where did you get it from, whose is it?" Sha'ul had probably been hearing the same questions for several days, so he was ready with an answer. Starting, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious" (v. 22, ESV), Sha'ul compliments his hearers because they are not content with the Greek pantheon of known and named gods; although those were many, they clearly didn't cut the mustard, because the Greeks had an altar to "The Unknown G-d", thereby recognising that there had to be a larger and better answer to the big questions of life such as "Who made the world?"
Sha'ul had a response to their questions. In spite of the learnedness of his audience, he plainly and simply spoke about the nature of G-d, the need to repent, the coming judgement and the resurrection. Some scoffed, some prevaricated, but some believed. The simple message, that Sha'ul later described to the Corinthians as "Messiah crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Messiah the power of G-d and the wisdom of G-d" (1 Corinthians 1:23-24, ESV), was used by the Ruach to touch hearts and bring people into the kingdom of G-d despite the disbelief and ridicule of others.
Some years later, the Apostle Peter wrote to those of the Diaspora and encouraged them, "in your hearts honor Messiah the L-rd as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). He obviously expected that even the physical appearance or the every-day behaviour of the believers would attract attention so that people who met them would ask who they were, what they were doing and who had sent them. His readers - and us, of course - are to be ready to share our hope with those who ask, at any time. Yes, you did read that correctly: at any time. We should always be ready to share with others. They will see and, just as for Rav Sha'ul in Athens, the questions will come. We should expect them in like measure as Sha'ul: some will scoff and jeer at our faith and explanation, others will procrastinate - "Tell me more another time" - while others will fall under the conviction of the Spirit and be open to hear and respond to the gospel message.
Rav Sha'ul himself went further: "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2, ESV). Whether convenient or not, we are to proclaim the message that G-d has put in our hearts and written on our lives. As the questions come: Who do you belong to?, Where are you going?, Whose is the stuff you have with you?, we must not be afraid to own that we belong to Yeshua, that we are going to spend eternity with Him and that everything we have belongs to Him. That is a testimony, particularly when repeated as we all get ourselves in order, that cannot fail to drive home the message that Yeshua must be reckoned with. G-d wants to prepare us to answer those questions; He is waiting for us to spend time reading His word, studying and learning it so that it can be brought out and used by the Ruach when required; He knows the script and what needs to be said - He wants us to be familiar with the texts and running order so that we can confidently play our part in His production without too many whispers from the prompt corner. Are you ready to answer the questions?
1 - Chapter 32 starts one verse earlier in the Hebrew counting - 32:1 compared to 31:55 - because the story moves on "Early the next morning" (32:1, CJB). The Hebrew and English versification re-align at the start of chapter 33.
2 - A super-commentary on Rashi's Torah Commentary, by Elijah Mizrachi of Constantinople, 1455-1526 CE, the Grand Rabbi of the Ottoman empire.
3 - A rocky hill to the north-west of the Acropolis where the Greek Court of Appeal sat in ancient times; named "Mars Hill" by the Romans.
Further Study: Isaiah 29:23; Colossians 4:6
Application: Have you ever spent time working through some of the standard evangelism texts (for example, the "Roman Road": Romans 3:23, 5:12, 6:23, 5:8, 10:13) and made an effort to learn them so that you are ready to answer the questions? Why not start today, then expect G-d to place someone in your way so that you can share your learning with them!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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