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B'resheet/Genesis 48:11 And Israel said to Yosef, "I did not expect to see your face ..."
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Yosef has heard that his father is ill and fearing the worst, he gathers up his two sons - Manasseh and Ephraim - and rushes to see him so that Israel may see the boys and bless them before he dies. The old man gathers up his strength and sits up in bed. Not realising that the boys are actually in the room, Israel starts speaking to Yosef, telling him that the two sons shall be as much sons to him as his own two eldest sons, Reuben and Simeon. Suddenly he asks, "Who is this with you" and when Yosef replies that it is indeed his two sons. Israel asks for them to be brought over to him as his eyes are failing and he cannot see properly. After embracing them, the old man almost chuckles and murmurs the text above: "I did not expect to see your face but look, God has let me see your offspring as well."
The verb at the end of this clause, - a Pi'el 1cs affix form of the root - is translated a number of ways: "I never expected" (ESV, NASB, NIV), "I had not thought", (KJV, NKJV), "I did not imagine" (Artscroll), the Pi'el verb means "to judge, to execute judgement, to suppose" and it is in this form that the verb is being used here. Israel had judged, on the basis of Yosef's disappearance and the evidence of the coat stained with blood, that he would not see Yosef again because he was dead. He never thought, he never imagined, that his son could still be alive. He had considered, probably repeatedly over the years, the state of the coat, the possibility of Yosef having survived an animal attack, perhaps heavily wounded. But there was a complete absence of any sign, any report from other shepherds or families in the area of a body or an injured youth; just silence and a certain guilty look in the eyes of his sons, a reluctance to talk about it, that made Israel think that they somehow held themselves responsible - perhaps by not having taken enough care or looked out for Yosef as they ought. Twenty years is a long time and Israel had eventually, despite himself, become reconciled to the fact that Yosef was dead. He would never see him again.
So now, with a wry chuckle at the end of his life, Israel is astonished once again that not only has he seen Yosef, but G-d has allowed him to see Yosef's sons, his grandchildren and to know that his favoured son now has his own sons and heirs to carry on his family. Yosef's sons will take their place with Israel's own sons as heads of tribes in the clan. Truly, he laughs, I am blessed.
The root is perhaps more widely known as the verb "to pray", when it is used in the Hitpa'el stem. With the reflexive or iterative sense, literally meaning "to judge oneself", it gives the idea that prayer is a matter of aligning oneself with G-d.Hirsch extends this to suggest that it means "to penetrate oneself, ever afresh again, with eternal, essential lasting truths and facts, because otherwise they become weaker and weaker, fade away from one's consciousness, may even have disappeared." Ya'akov's hope of seeing Yosef again, nurtured for so long has expired. Hirsch adds this paraphrase of our text: "the thought of seeing you once again seemed to me so far from any possibility of its being realised, that I could not give it any entry into my mind". It was so remote, and probably so painful to even think about, that Ya'akov actually refused to consider it further.
Is that how prayer is supposed to work? On several occasions, Yeshua tells us the opposite: "Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18:19-20, ESV) and "Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you" (John 16:23, ESV). What can this mean? If two or three believers get together and agree that a new sports car would be a good thing and both ask for it in prayer, then Yeshua will be obliged to provide one? Or is it that the name of Yeshua - often tacked on to the end of prayers as a magic charm, "We ask this in Jesus' name" - automatically guarantees that G-d must deliver? Practical experience tells us in a moment that this is clearly not the case, so why did Yeshua say these things and how are we to understand what He meant?
In one of his doxologies to G-d, Rav Sha'ul explains: "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Messiah Yeshua throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV). G-d is able - that is, He can, He has the capability - to hugely exceed our requests or expectations. The Greek verb - - is a three part compound word, with a basic verb and two prefices, emphasising the abundance of the provision. Used as an adverb, it means "quite beyond all measure, as earnestly as possible". That is not to say that every request we make to G-d will be exceeded in that manner, but that G-d is capable of and by implication often does, give us more that our usually rather limited expectations.
In Yeshua's promises, the word 'agree' is the key to understand what He meant. It does not mean a simple verbal or intellectual assent, given quickly and without due consideration as to what G-d would consider to be the best thing in their circumstances. When two people agree that a particular event or course of action is G-d's will, they can only do so after serious thought and prayer, setting aside (as far as possible) their own personal interests and seeking instead the glory and reputation of G-d and the best kingdom interests of all the people concerned. This is not likely to result in a request for a new sports car, but if transport is required, a more measured request for a vehicle or means of travelling that will be affordable and suitable for the work in hand. G-d will then provide what is needed, be that a bicycle, a car, a van or lorry - whatever He knows will enable all the work that He needs to be done in that situation.
Most importantly, when the focus of the prayer is not on serving personal wants, but instead on serving G-d and meeting the needs of His people, a response is certain to follow. As Rav Sha'ul said: "Now to Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages" (Romans 16:25, ESV). G-d is not bound by our expectations or understanding of a situation when we pray. He knows exactly what the real need is and He often chooses to do much more than we have asked because He knows that the scope of the situation is more than we can see. He also delights in surprising us by providing more that we asked or even appear to need, because He is a generous and beneficent G-d who wants His children to be joyful.
We need to go further than Ya'akov, who chuckled wryly because G-d had exceeded his wildest dreams. We need to think big, to dream G-d's dreams and ask for things that are in line with G-d's character and revealed will: for others rather than ourselves; for the poor, weak and disadvantaged; to surprise the world and provide a witness of His power, love and reality. Then we should expect to receive; not necessarily exactly what we asked for, but something bigger and better than we imagined, that G-d knows will be best for us and all those involved.
Further Study: 1 Corinthians 2:9-10; Jude 24-25
Application: Don't allow other's expectations to shrink your prayers today. Reach out to G-d and ask Him what you should pray for and then pray it back to Him in faith, expecting Him to do even more!
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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