B'resheet/Genesis 43:16 "... for the men shall eat with me at noon."
While some commentators are interested in why this dinner appointment is being arranged -Sforno, for example, suggests that Yosef wanted to test his brothers by watching to see if they exhibited signs of jealousy when Benjamin was given larger portions of food than the others - most of the interest in this verse seems to be drawn to the last word, . Usually translated "at noon" (NASB, ESV, NIV, RSV), the word is based on an unused root , possibly meaning "to shine" (Davisdon). The noun can be a light or a window, and here in the dual form - a form that is neither singular or plural, but means exactly two - it is taken to mean "noon". Targum Onkelos opts to remove the time element altogether and substitutes , "the first meal"; Radak explains that this was because the mid-day meal was the first meal of princes and judges, who were earlier involved in public affairs. Rashi tries to point out that Onkelos's choice is unusual, for although the Aramaic word chosen is used many times for "meal" in the Talmud, all the other translations of in Scripture are translated using the Aramaic , the formal word for "noon". Rashi feels that this must have been deliberate; the sense of the meal and which one it was, was more important than the exact time at which it took place. Pondering the use of the dual form, Hirsch comments that, "Mid-day is just a point in time. No man dines at mid-day. But until mid-day, light overcomes night; from there onwards, night progressively conquers light. is the hour, half of which is filled with the growing and the other half with the waning light."
To sum up, then, the commentators are talking about an event that certainly happened, that had importance because of which meal it was, which in turn was dependent on the people involved - in particular, Yosef at whose house and on whose schedule it was held - and for which the exact time was less important than as one of the indications of the significance of the meal itself. A similar time precision and yet obvious imprecision can be seen in the account of the final plague - the death of the firstborn - when G-d brought our people out of Egypt: "Now it came about at midnight that the L-RD struck all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of cattle" (Shemot 12:29, NASB). This clearly took time, as the following verses show in their description of the Egyptian reaction to the calamity, but is an accurate fulfillment of G-d's words to Moshe earlier in the chapter: "For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments -- I am the L-RD" (v. 12, NASB). Midnight is here used for a indefinite pointer to some point during the middle hours of darkness; it was an event that certainly happened, the importance of which is emphasised by the use of a precise word without actually intending that the exact meaning of the word be taken literally.
Neatly side-stepping the issue of which words and contexts should be taken literally and which are meant to be interpreted figuratively, the Gospels talk of future events with similar certainty but imprecision. During the story of the giving of sight to the man who had been born blind, following His explanation that sin was not involved in this man's blindness, Yeshua throws the talmidim a theological puzzle: "We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9:4-5, NASB). The miracle that had just been performed was a part of the work that Yeshua was doing, at His Father's behest. As long as He was present in the world, it was still day-time, but night - when, although He made post-resurrection appearances and remains the King in heaven, He is not "in the world" in the same way as He was when He spoke to the disciples - was coming when He would not be working in the same face-to-face way. William Hendriksen comments1 that the word translated "'as long as' here, as in most other instances, refers to a rather indefinite time relationship; Yeshua is not saying just how long He will be in the world." His departure is certain, but the time - at least for the disciples - remains vague and hidden.
Similarly, when speaking about the Last Judgement and the resurrection, Yeshua says: "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of G-d; and those who hear shall live" (John 5:25, NASB). Those who are spiritually dead, both at the time that He spoke and in the years since that time, hear His words and in hearing and receiving them enter eternal life. But Yeshua's ministry on earth took place over several years; those who heard and believed Him at the first are no less alive than the thief on the cross who was one of the last to hear and believe during those years; the "hour" referred not to the 60 minute hour within which Yeshau spoke, but to the period in G-d's history. Barely a breath later, Yeshua added, "for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth" (vv. 28-29, NASB), referring to the time of the resurrection when according to Daniel, "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2, NASB). Again, a certainty that is already scheduled in exactly on G-d's calendar; that will take some physical time, but that was indefinite to the disciples and remains so for us in this day.
In many parables, Yeshua urges His talmidim to be ready for the day of His return, without telling them when it will be except for generalities that serve to emphasise the importance of the event. His words, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah" (Matthew 24:36-37, NASB), are an allusion to the Day of Trumpets (Yom Teruah), which as the only feast that falls on the first day of the month is impossible to know in advance exactly when the New Moon will appear. This has lead some scholars to suggest that Yeshua's return will be at the time of year of the Autumn Feasts, but we really don't know. The virgins were urged to have their lamps filled with oil at all times; the stewards were urged to attend to their masters' business and make sure that all the servants were properly fed and ready for their return; other servants were given investments to maximise a return before their master returned - all very certain events that would definitely happen but couched in time-indefinite ways. We simply have to be ready at any hour to receive Him back!
What of specific instructions or indications that we have been given in the meantime? If we are to be ready all the time, how do we avoid the curse of the modern financial word - short-termism - and invest for a long-term yield for the Kingdom of G-d? Some feel that they have been called to missionary or teaching work overseas; this may take years of preparation and training from the point at which they first felt G-d's call until the point of execution, but the preparation must be done and done properly if they are to be equipped for that work - if the L-rd should return before that point has arrived, then they will still have been faithful in working towards the goal they were given. One brother was told some years ago that he would have an opportunity to preach in China; this has not yet arrived, but he is ready to answer that call when the moment comes and in the meantime is continuing to faithfully preach and teach in the work where he is currently engaged. So it is for all of us - we are to be ready now and preparing always for the future; available for the L-rd so that when He calls, we will be ready to eat with Him at noon!
1 - William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary - John, Banner of Truth, Carlisle PA, 1954, page 74-75
Further Study: Habakkuk 2:3; Romans 13:11; 2 Peter 3:9-10
Application: Are you caught in either of the traps the enemy sets for our souls: simply getting on with life while not believing that Yeshua will ever return, or stuck like a rabbit in the headlights of a car unable to plan for or see a future because Yeshua might be back next week? Come back to Scripture and see the balance that is there between the certainty of His return and the deliberate hiding of the time. Ask the Holy Spirit to set you free to be ready and invest in the future at the same time.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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