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B'resheet/Genesis 33:12 And [Esau] said, "Move on and let's go! And I'll go alongside you."
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Spoken by Esau, these cheery words of exhortation come just after the major reconciliation between Ya'akov and Esau. Ya'akaov has bowed low before his brother; he has repeatedly - and publicly - called him "my lord" and he has persuaded Esau to accept a significant set of gifts as a token of reparation. Nahum Sarna explains that "Esau assumes that Ya'akov had been on his way to pay him a visit, so he suggests that they travel together."Rashi paraphrases Esau's words to add, "I will do you this favour, that I will extend the days of my travel by going slowly as you need to."
Four of the five words in this verse are verbs. The first is the regular speech verb, , the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , to say, with a vav-conversive construction, here "and he said". It's subject - Esau - the person who is speaking, is inferred both from the context and from the normal biblical Hebrew rule of toggling the speakers in a conversation by the verb ; Ya'akov was the last speaker (in verse 11) and will be the next speaker (in verse 13). The remaining four words are what Esau said and - in English translation - are presented in inverted comma speech marks.
Esau starts with , the Qal ms imperative of the root , "to travel, journey, move, go about"1 although the ancient scholars disagree. Rashi says this "it is a lengthened imperative, because the nun is the first letter of the root." Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, argues that "since the second of the verbs in this phrase is clearly a cohortative 'let us go', the first verb most likely is as well." The biblical text has one example of the expected plural imperative form at D'varim 2:24, "Up! Set out ..." (NJPS) following another imperative and with the dagesh in the samech showing the presence of the nun, and three examples of , without the dagesh at B'Midbar 14:25 and D'varim 1:7 and 1:40,2 but no examples of the form that Gesenius and others predict for the masculine singular imperative of first-nun verbs.3 The lengthened imperative form for roots with a gutteral as their third letter is evidenced in "Send ..." (B'resheet 43:8). . Conversely, there is one instance of in Ezra 8:31, "And we set out ...", that is clearly the Qal prefix 1cp vav-conversive form. Esau's second and third words are both from the root , "to walk, go" (Davidson): the Qal 1cp prefix form with a simple vav and a paragogic hay indicating a cohortative "and let us go"; and, similarly, the 1cs form, "and let me go". The atnach accent on the second word marks the end of the first clause, breaking his suggestion into two short sentences: "Move on! and let us go" and "And I will go alongside you."
The last word in Esau's little speech also causes some discussion. TheBaal HaTurim interprets a masoretic note reporting that this word, , only occurs twice in the Tanakh: here and "You have set our iniquities before You, our hidden sins in the light of Your face" (Psalm 90:8, NJPS), a psalm that is attributed to Moshe. Preferring 'alongside' to 'before', the Tur suggests that "Esau desired to accompany Ya'akov, but Ya'akov said to him, 'Why should you accompany me? If you do, you will always remember the iniquities that I sinned against you. But when I will not be with you, it is possible that you will forget.'" While Esau may have desired to travel with Ya'akov's party, perhaps thinking that they would talk over old times, reminisce about their childhood and so on, Ya'akov worries that too much time together, too much dwelling on the past in spite of their immediate reconciliation, will bring up memories that will cause trouble between them.
Perhaps we see the happy-go-lucky Esau again - as in the string of verbs at tghe end of the scene where he is persuaded to sell his birthright: "Ya'akov then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright" (B'resheet 25:34, NJPS) - as he tries to scoop Ya'akov up and go back to his home Se'ir. The CJB translation catches Esau's character well: "Esav said, 'Let's break camp and get going. I'll go first.'" He isn't being offensive; his light and surface character just naturally moves on. We can imagine Esau's face falling when Ya'akov demurs, pleading the need to travel very slowly because of his livestock, but he tries again, offering an escort of his men to make sure that Ya'akov arrives safely and doesn't get lost. Only finally, with Ya'akov's promise to come later that will never be kept, does he return home.
I suspect that Esau is shown on a number of occasions in the B'resheet narratives to have an impulsive character. He acts or speaks spontaneously, without necessarily thinking too heavily about the situation he is in or the consequences that may flow from what he does or says. One of Yeshua's disciples - at least as far as the gospels are concerned - seems to have the same problem. When Yeshua comes to the disciples during the night by walking on the Sea of Galilee during a storm, it is Peter who must walk on the water too. Although Yeshua says, "Come on then," so he gets out and starts to walk, "when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, 'Lord, save me'" (Matthew 14:30, ESV). Some time later, when Yeshua has taken the disciples up to Caesarea Philippi, Peter has and speaks out a revelation of who Yeshua is - "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living G-d" (16:16, ESV) - but then in response to Yeshua warning the disciples that He has to go to Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of the authorities, be killed and rise on the third day, "Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you'" (16:22, ESV), earning him a sharp rebuke in his turn.
Perhaps Peter's most impulsive moment came during the transfiguration. Moshe and Elijah have been revealed, talking with Yeshua who has Himself been revealed in His glory in white clothes and shining like the sun. Peter bursts out to Yeshua, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moshe and one for Elijah" (Mark 9:5, ESV). The word 'tent' here is the Greek word , which in context should probably be translated as 'booth' or 'tabernacle' - he is suggesting building temporary workmens' huts for them. Mark is kind enough to offer the excuse that "he did not know what to say, for they were terrified" (v. 6, ESV) before the voice of G-d Himself is heard from the clouds: "This is My beloved Son; listen to Him" (v. 7, ESV); the revelation of glory had scrambled everyone's rational thought processes.
Last of all, of course, was Peter's impulsive vow that he wouldn't betray Yeshua: "Even if I must die with You, I will not deny You!" (Matthew 26:35, ESV). Peter meant well; he really thought that he would follow through on that commitment and so - according to Matthew's text - did all the other disciples who said the same thing after Peter. But Peter hadn't thought through that this was a commitment that wasn't his to make. Peter would - and did, later - only die when Father G-d said so, when he had accomplished all that needed to be done. At this point, Peter still had his famous sermon on the day of Shavuot to give; he still had to announce healing to the lame man begging in the Temple gateway and lead the defence of the disciples before the Sanhedrin for teaching about Yeshua in the Temple; he still had to pronounce judgement upon Ananias and Saphira; he still had to deliver a stinging rebuke to Simon the magician in Samaria; and he still had to bring the gospel to Cornelius and his household, the first of those from the Gentiles coming to faith in Yeshua. That's just some of the things in the first ten chapters of Acts - there were many more according to both the Bible and early church tradition.
All of that said, Yeshua is generally very careful to make sure that the disciples think through what they are doing and the commitment that they are making to follow Him. He warns them about the cost of discipleship - "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Luke 9:58, ESV) - and models deliberate intentionality Himself in His progress towards Jerusalem: "When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem" (v. 51, ESV). We should similarly take Yeshua's words to heart: "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of G-d" (v. 62, ESV). We should know and understand what we are being asked to do, make a careful and well thought-out decision and be knowledgeably prepared for the consequences, consistently following through on what G-d has started. We should recognise Yeshua's prayer - "the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:14, ESV) - and always act and speak in the full counsel of G-d, being prepared for opposition but rejoicing as the work of the kingdom is accomplished.
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 276.
2. - Avraham Even-Shoshan, A New Concordance of the Bible, (Jerusalem, Kiryat Sefer Publishing House, 1996), page 765.
3. - Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar ed. E Kautzsch, tr. A. E. Cowley, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2910), page 520; Paul Joüon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar if Biblical Hebrew (Rome, Editrice Pontifico Istituto Biblico, 2005), page 666.
Further Study: Isaiah 50:5-7; Philippians 3:12-16
Application: Are you impulsive or impetuous in your life and the ways of the kingdom, acting and speaking before understanding what is going on and where G-d is in each situation? We have to learn to slow down, to ask for and listen to the voice of the Spirit and then to speak and act as He directs. Ask today!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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