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B'resheet/Genesis 44:18 And Judah approached him
The first word of our text, , is the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , "to draw or come near, to approach" (Davidson), with a straight forward vav-conversive denoting past tense and narrative sequence: "and he approached". The root's first letter, nun, has elided to become the dagesh in the gimel, the yod with its hireq vowel is the standard Qal 3ms prefix pronoun and indicator, and the vav-patach-dagesh (in the yod) sequence is the very normal vav-conversive construction. Against the backdrop of what seems a perfectly unexceptional piece of narrative introducing Judah's plea to Yosef on Benjamin's and his father Ya'akov's behalves, the early Sages generated two interesting pieces of midrash that expose novel ways of engaging with the text.
Firstly, the Sages want to know why Judah approached - drew near to - Yosef. What was he trying to do or say and what might the physical proximity mean? "Rabbi Judah said: He drew near for battle, as it says, 'So Joab and the people who were with him drew near to the battle against the Arameans' (2 Samuel 10:13, NASB). Rabbi Nehemiah said: He came near for conciliation, as in the verse, 'Then the sons of Judah drew near to Joshua in Gilgal' (Joshua 14:6, NASB) -- to conciliate him. The Rabbis said: Coming near applies to prayer, as in the verse, 'Then it came about at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near' (1 Kings 18:36, NASB). Rabbi Leazar combined all these views: I come whether it be for battle, for conciliation, or for prayer" (B'resheet Rabbah 93:6). Was Judah preparing to fight Yosef, either physically or verbally? Or was he going console with him - you just can't do anything with young people these days, boys will boys - and try to get Yosef to write it off as a prank? Or was he about to get on bended knee and plead with Yosef, begging for Benjamin's release? Rabbi Leazar suggests perhaps that Judah was simply prepared to do whatever was necessary. Rabbi Phinehas, Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Johanan teach that the phrase "Come and draw near" means "Come and wage war for us, come and offer the public sacrifice" - that is, pray, because "draw near" implies both (Ibid).
The second direction that the midrash suggests, still following the root , is to the prophet Amos: "'Behold, days are coming,' declares the L-RD, 'when the ploughman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine, and all the hills will be dissolved'" (Amos 9:13, NASB). The word translated 'overtake' is the Nif'al 3ms affix form of the root, with a vav-reversive to render a future tense: "he will approach" and, although absent in the second phrase, is assumed to be present there also. The Sages explain that, "'the approaching ploughman' alludes to Judah; 'the reaper' to Joseph, as he said, for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field (B'resheet 37:7, NASB). The 'one treading grapes' alludes to Judah, as it says, for I have trodden Judah for Me (Zechariah 9:13); the 'one sowing seed' to Joseph who sowed his father's seed and brought them down to Egypt" (B'resheet Rabbah 93:5). The days are approaching, when the harvests of the restoration age will never end. Douglas Stuart says, "These times will virtually blend together in the almost constant harvesting of the eschatalogical age, restoring the original promise of such bounty."1 The wording used by Amos may be based on the promise given in the Torah as a reward for obedience: "If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments ... your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land" (Vayikra 26:3-5, NASB). Andersen and Freedman comment that, "the implication is that the crops of grain and grapes are so great that it takes all of the intervening time to complete one task before the other begins."2 Preferring the translation for the last phrase, "all the hills will wave with grain", perhaps as the grain in the fields on the hillside ripples in the wind, Shalom Paul sees the whole verse as a chiasm - a circle of continuous blessing.3
When challenged by the chief priests and the elders about His authority - to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, to purge the Temple and to teach the people - Yeshua told a parable about a man who had two sons: "What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" (Matthew 21:28-31a, ESV). The underlined words 'went' in both verse 28 and verse 30 translate the Greek word , the ms aorist participle of the verb , "to come, go to, approach", so could comfortably be translated 'approached' in English. In his Hebrew translation of the Gopels, Franz Delitzsch translated both of these with , as does the thirteenth century Shem Tov Hebrew manuscript of Matthew. The father approaches his sons and asks them to work in the vineyard. Although the words quoted for the father appear to be a command, the use of 'approach' shows that this is a request: he gets close to them and spoke to them.
Yeshua - who is descended from the house of David, part of the tribe of Judah - stands in the place of Judah facing up to Yosef - the chief priests and elders of the people, the authority figures of the time - telling the truth using a agricultural illustration as Amos did in the times of the kings. When the leaders answer Yeshua's question, admitting that it was the first son, He tells that that "the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of G-d before you" (v. 31, ESV). Here the underlined word 'go' can comfortably be translated "lead the way"; those thought of by the religious authorities as sinners believed John the Baptiser, repented of their sins and have entered the kingdom of G-d. Yeshua has been approached by the religious leaders and called on for his credentials, in the same way that the brothers has been rebuked by Yosef after his cup has been found in Benjamin's sack. He responded by asking whether they accepted the authority of John the Baptist - did his baptism come "from heaven or from man" (v.25, ESV) and then tells the story of the father and his sons.
In the same way that Judah is about to offer to take Benjamin's punishment, for the sake of his father, so that Benjamin may go free, in the days following Matthew's narrative, Yeshua will complete the process of taking our punishment for the sake of His Father, so that we may go free. Moreover, Yeshua also ushers in the days of which Amos spoke. Now, in this age, the harvest of the gospel is being sown and reaped in the same time as people hear the good news and respond; the good news is truly going out to the four corners of the world. In the age to come, after Yeshua's return, there will be the physical fulfillment of the prophecy when creation is restored to its condition before the Fall and yields its harvest in such quantities that the work of ingathering and sowing will overlap continually.
In these days, Yeshua approaches us and asks us to go and work in His vineyard, to be involved in the work of the kingdom. He does not demand, but the kingdom imperative rests upon us. Will we be like the son who said 'yes' but didn't go, or the son who said 'no' but then went? Who obeys the will of the Father? And how do we approach others - are we ready to do battle with them, to wrestle with the truths of the kingdom and win a victory for heaven. Are we prepared to come alongside people, to console with them in their distress and encourage them in their walk and to reach out to G-d? Or are we committed to praying publicly and privately and to engage on spiritual warfare to see heaven and earth touch as Yeshua brings life, freedom and peace through the power of the cross? If we are to be faithful servants and see the days when the ploughman will approach the reaper, we must be prepared to do whatever needs to be done and trust the Spirit to guide us as we share the light of Messiah. It all depends on your approach!
1. - Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah (Word Biblical Commentary), Thomas Nelson 1987, page 399.
2. - Francis L. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Amos (Anchor Bible 24A), Yale University Press 1989, page 891.
3. - Shalom M. Paul, Amos (Hermeneia), Augsburg Fortress 1991, page 294.
Further Study: Proverbs 8:12-21; Joel 2:23-27; Luke 7:37-50
Application: How do you approach life and people? Could you learn some lessons from Judah and Yeshua? Pick up the line to the Boss right now and have a chat about how He wants you to raise your game.
© Jonathan Allen, 2017
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