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B'resheet/Genesis 21:7 Who was saying to Avraham, 'Sarah is nursing children?' For I have borne a son in his old age.
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We start with a semantic anomaly: why is the first instance of , sons, plural, while the second , son, singular? How many children is Sarah nursing? Nahum Sarna says that "the plural is merely indicative of species (e.g. , wheat (Judges 6:11), , linen (D'varim 22:11))". Clearly, Sarah knew that she was only nursing one child, but perhaps the text is trying to say more? TheRadak quotes a midrash (based on b. Bava Meztia 87a) claiming that some women, who didn't believe that G-d had made this happen, thought that Sarah had simply bought a child in the market and brought other children to her to have her prove that she could nurse them. Although somewhat far-fetched, if Sarah did accept such a challenge, her words in the text make sense.
TheBaal HaTurim points out that the gematria of the word - the Pi'el affix 3ms form of the rare root , to speak, declare or announce (Davidson) - is 100. He suggests that "the verse says [Sarah declared in awe,] 'How can it be that when Avraham is one hundred, Sarah would nurse children?'" Gunther Plaut affirms that "Sarah's emphasis is on Avraham's, not her own old age." Based in part on this unusual word, Sarna explains that "Sarah's utterance has the form of a song. It consists of three short clauses of three words each. The forms of the verbs as well as the rare root seem to indicate that the words of Sarah had their origin in an ancient poem." Certainly we might expect Sarah to be singing with joy at her newfound motherhood and poetry has often been used in the ancient world to capture and indicate moments of emotion for the early oral tradition.
We still have the issue of Sarah's question. This troubled the translator ofTargum Onkelos sufficiently, that he switched the first phrase "Who was saying to Avraham, 'Sarah ...'" to "Truthful is He who spoke to Avraham and performed - that Sarah ..." so that readers would not misunderstand and think that Sarah questioned the truthfulness of G-d's promise. Rashi echoes this when he says that, "This is an expression of praise and importance: See who He is and how great He is. He keeps His promises and He promises and perform." The Ramban, on the other hand, is frankly skeptical: "There is not a person in the world who would have told him this, even merely to console him, for the possibility would never have occurred to anyone." For anyone to offer Avraham the hope that he would see Sarah nursing his son would be the height of madness, since no-one could conceivable think that it was possible; it would be offering a vain or futile hope.
RabbiHirsch throws a different light on it, putting these words in Sarah's mouth: "Who will have said a word to Avraham which even comes near to expressing what I press to my breast in this son! In him I feed the whole future of a nation, in him I am the mother of all the descendants of Avraham, for he will carry on all that Avraham has achieved." He credits her with great vision and a sense of her place in history and the plans of G-d, concluding, "It is not just a baby that Sarah is suckling, when she gives her motherly care to this one child, she is feeding and bringing us sons." All the following generations depended on that moment.
People have always had difficulty being believed when they share the things of G-d. Just a few phrases into his famous prophecy about Messiah, Isaiah steps back and almost in an aside asks, "Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" Isaiah 53:1, NASB) or as the NJB puts it: "Who has given credence to what we have heard? And who has seen in it a revelation of Yahweh's arm?" "Everyone will think I am crazy", he mutters to himself or his scribe, "I'm not even sure that I ought to believe this myself!" Who would have thought that G-d would do what He had just seen - the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, with such a marred appearance that people wouldn't recognise him as human - being G-d's chosen instrument for dealing with sin, being punished in the place of others, killed and yet seeing long life and offspring? The vision was so incredible that even the prophet admits that others will struggle to see it unless they have a direct revelation from G-d for themselves.
We have all heard - and probably been intimidated by, if we are honest - Peter's exhortation to be "always ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15, NASB). Some people seem to have the gift of opening or turning every conversation in which they are involved onto the subject of the kingdom of G-d. I know one such man - a lovely taxi-driver by the name of Tony - and there's nary a customer that takes a ride in his taxi who doesn't quite naturally and easily end up hearing something about the L-rd. Baruch HaShem for him and others like him, who - almost without trying - make the L-rd the subject of every day conversation. But, let's face it, the rest of us struggle, get embarrassed, hem and haw over our words and, most often, either don't say anything or feel that it would have been better that we hadn't said anything! Many professional clergy people have the same problem. And, helpful as it can be for some people, it isn't usually a matter of going on a course or taking some classes. Training may make us sound professional, give us conversation fragments to learn and follow, show us how to break into a conversation flow, or teach us the art of overcoming objections. We may be able to pass the test or exam at the end of the course, but when it comes to putting it into practice, most people's mouth will still go dry, we'll either hope that someone else will speak first, or that there's no-one else around to hear us make a mess of it. Rehearsed evangelism usually sounds very forced or artificial, following the script like someone at a call-centre.
Rejection is a powerful motivator; if we feel that the message will be rejected, we tend to feel that we have been rejected. This is particularly acute with friends and family, those who we know well; if they reject what we say or try to share with them, then we usually feel personally hurt and rejected. The fact that we are concerned for them, so that it appears that they are rejecting our concern and care for them, makes it hurt more. Credibility is also important; we don't want to look foolish; trying to sell adults on the idea of the tooth fairy won't win friends and influence people! The more incredible the message - and, let's face it, to many people the message of the gospel is beyond impossible, if not laughable - the harder it seems to share with others, so we edit or water down the message in an effort to make it more palatable to others and protect ourselves, and destroy its power; it becomes the fairy story. Guilt also plays a significant part: we feel guilty for not sharing our faith and the stories that others tell of how they have succeeded only make us feel more guilty. It is impossible to admit our failure or in-action at church, where the pastor and leadership team are buzzing with how simple it is to tell people about the L-rd and urging everyone to speak to at least two non-believers every day, so we just keep quiet and hope no-one will notice.
However, what does the Bible itself say about this? Rav Sha'ul told the believers in Colossi to, "let your conversation always be gracious and interesting, so that you will know how to respond to any particular individual" (Colossians 4:6, CJB). He doesn't even mention speaking about the L-rd, just talking about interesting things. Do you have interests, hobbies or passions in your life - family, football, fashion, photography - just talk about them and, as you are gracious and gentle, sometimes conversation will flow to other more significant areas. People will notice that your attitudes and ideas are different from theirs and will want to know why. In his book "Start with Why" Simon Sinek explains that people are much more interested in why you do things than how or what you do. Writing to Timothy, Sha'ul explains that we talk to people because: "G-d may perhaps grant them the opportunity to turn from their sins, to acquire full knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25, CJB). We are looking for G-d to speak through us, for G-d to give them a revelation of Himself and the truth of His words. Not us, G-d! Nothing we can say will make anyone change their mind, or show any interest in the gospel, or come to congregation - that can only be done by G-d. No script, no patter, no closing questions. It is His message, His time and His grace.
Who would have told that person yesterday, last week or last year, that they would become a believer and sign up for the kingdom of G-d? Impossible - no-one would have thought it, but G-d knew and put you in their path so that you could innocently talk about the new greenhouse in your mother-in-law's garden and help them move one step nearer relationship with G-d. "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (Romans 10:8, ESV). Who knows where a word of faith will end up!
Further Study: Isaiah 55:10-11
Application: Today, relax! Stop worrying about having to share the gospel with someone on the way to and from work and instead just be prepared to talk and let the L-rd direct the conversation. You'll be surprised at yourself and just what He can do!
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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