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B'resheet/Genesis 26:25 And he built there an altar and he called on the name of the L-rd; and he pitched there his tent and Yitz'khak's servants dug there a well.
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The word - there - occurs three times in this verse, in each case immediately following a verb: "he built there", "he pitched there" and "they dug there". Where are they and what has happened to make that particular place special? The previous verse provides the context: "That night the L-RD appeared to him and said, 'I am the G-d of your father Abraham. Fear not, for I am with you, and I will bless you and increase your offspring for the sake of My servant Abraham'" (B'resheet 26:24, JPS). Yitzkhak had experienced a vision during the night;HaShem had appeared to him and spoken to him, in the form of an assurance oracle1 promising His blessing. From that place of revelation, Yitzkhak then responds in three consecutive ways.
Firstly, Yitz'khak builds an altar and calls upon the name of the L-rd; he responds to the revelation in worship. Nahum Sarna comments that "among the patriarchs, acts of worship are always individual, never public. The patriarchs do not take part in any existing cult and they always build new altars or re-use the one they themselves previously erected." Yitz'khak, then, builds a new altar, so there can be no question of his worship using materials, a site or a context of pagan worship, and offers worship to the L-rd. Although there is no specific mention of sacrifice, the Hebrew word for altar, , derives from the root - to slaughter - with a pre-formative to indicate the place where the verb action takes place, so logically a sacrifice would be expected to be part of the worship process. We do not know exactly what the phrase "he called on the name of the L-rd" means. Friedman translates it "and [he] invoked the name YHVH"; this may indicate prayer that specifically uses or speaks out the divine name, others suggest 'proclaim'. What is important is that, both to his own household and to any surrounding Canaanites, he identifies the object of his worship: HaShem and not any of the local deities.Targum Onkelos, as usual, turns "called on" to "prayed in", so Drazin and Wagner comment that "rather than the vague biblical 'called', which could mean 'named' or 'shouted', Onkelos has Yitz'khak pray with dignity using G-d's name." This is the step of response.
Secondly, Yitz'khak pitches his tent in that place. As nomadic people move around, they must pitch their tents in some way every night so that they have somewhere to sleep, an area or structure to contain their animals, and a defensible space for the children and animals where they can be safe from predators. Since Yitz'khak had his visitation from HaShem at night, he must already have been in this "overnight camp" pattern, so what more does the text intend us to know when it tells us that he pitched his tent there? That he took a decision to remain in that place for longer than just a night or two. An ordinary night stop might last for one night, two or perhaps even several, but there is always the expectation of moving on: to look for food or water, more or less shade or shelter, better pasture. Taking a decision to stay, on the other hand, might mean moving some of the tents round into a better position for cool during the day, unpacking some of the baggage to allow access to more clothes, spinning or weaving equipment, cooking vessels and so on, that would not be wanted for a one-night stop. It might mean building firmer and less temporary structures for the animals and setting up regular shift patterns to watch over and pasture the flocks and herds. Setting up camp required a certain expectation of the availability of food and water, of a sustainable position to make it worth the effort of making a proper camp. What made Yitz'khak decide to stay there after just one night's stop? HaShem made a promise there, so Yitz'khak stays there to receive the promise. He doesn't move on until HaShem's promise has been actualised, until he sees it happening. This is the step of decision.
Thirdly, Yitzkhak's servants dig a well. This is a significant investment of time and effort, but necessary if the camp is to have a long-term water resource.Hirsch explains that , the root of the word used in this verse, and , the word used later in v. 32, are not the same. would be the beginning of digging and the completion, digging so deep until water gushes forth. He comments, "Before, with the Philistines, Yitzkhak had to look for water and, when he had found it, had to content for it. Now, at the place where G-d had appeared to him and where, caring about nothing else he had sent up his tent, he did not have to look for at, at the first spade-full his servants turned, there was the water." The Sforno adds, "after he was inspired to 'call on the name of the L-rd', the servants of Yitz'khak successfully dug a well without conflict." This third step, the practical step, is the first realisation of the promise. Nechama Leibowitz points out that "the patriarchs dug wells in the Negev and found water. It was foretold by the prophet that the experience of the Patriarchs would be repeated by their descendants in the time of the redemption: "Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb shall shout aloud; for waters shall burst forth in the desert, streams in the wilderness. Torrid earth shall become a pool; parched land, fountains of water" (Isaiah 35:6-7, JPS) and "I will open up streams on the bare hills and fountains amid the valleys; I will turn the desert into ponds, the arid land into springs of water" (41:18, JPS). This third step is both prophetic and fulfilling prophecy before it is even given. Yitz'khak takes the decision to pitch camp and then digs for water rather than the other way round, because he is putting the promise into practice.
We can see something of the same thing at work during Yeshua's ministry. In an early story, Yeshua heals a leper: "And a leper came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying to Him, 'If You are willing, You can make me clean.' And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said to him, 'I am willing; be cleansed.' And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed" (Mark 1:40-42, NASB). The leper has had a revelation that Yeshua can heal him, so he falls down before Him and calls upon Him to be healed, then received the healing. Perhaps more clearly, the later story of Bartimaeus: "As [Yeshua] was going out from Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. And when he heard that it was Yeshua the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, 'Yeshua, Son of David, have mercy on me!' And many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' And Yeshua stopped and said, 'Call him here.' And they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take courage, arise! He is calling for you.' And casting aside his cloak, he jumped up, and came to Yeshua. And answering him, Yeshua said, 'What do you want Me to do for you?' And the blind man said to Him, 'Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!' And Yeshua said to him, 'Go your way; your faith has made you well.' And immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road" (Mark 10:46-52, NASB). Here Bartimaeus has had a revelation from the Spirit that Yeshau can heal him, so he takes a decision to stay where he is - in a state of shouting out, calling on Yeshua's name - in spite of opposition. Finally, he too receives the healing the Spirit promised him and gave him the faith to claim.
What is our response to the presence of G-d, to a revelation or a promise that He gives us? I suggest it should be the same three steps that Yitz'khak took. Firstly, worship - we should thank G-d for the promise He has given us and call on His name, that is, affirm that the promise has come from G-d and is neither our imagination, indigestion or from an occult or demonic source. Secondly, we should take the decision to stand there, in the promise, until G-d starts to fulfill it; we should not wander off, looking for another promise or something that we think might do as well, but stay put, standing firm against any and all opposition, until G-d starts to bring the promise about and we can see His hand at work in our lives. Thirdly, we act on the promise being fulfilled and invest our time, energy and resources, into living now as if the promise has already been fulfilled. Take G-d at His word and don't let go until He does what He said!
1. - the key structure of an assurance oracle is the words "Fear not", followed by promises of blessing
Further Study: Psalm 116:16-19; Isaiah 49:8-11; John 7:37-39
Application: Has G-d given you a promise that you are yet to see fulfilled? Stop running here and there, but stand firm where He has placed you and call upon His name until it starts to come about.
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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