For the week of November 14, 2009 / 27 Heshvan 5770
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 23:1 - 25:18
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 1 Kings 1:1-31
And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, "Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!" (Bereshit / Genesis 24:60; ESV)
This week's Torah portion includes the story of the search for a wife for Abraham's son Isaac. Abraham sent his servant back to Mesopotamia, where Abraham was from and his relatives still lived, to find a wife for Isaac. Upon arriving, the servant prayed that God would direct him in finding the right one. When God made it plain that Rebekah was the one, and she was willing to go with Abraham's servant, her family sent her on her way with the words I just read: "Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!"
While it is possible that this was some sort of standard blessing, it is interesting within the context of God's plans and purposes for Rebekah's husband-to-be. Remember that God promised Isaac's father, Abraham, a man with no children, that he would be a great nation of blessing to the whole world. The beginnings of the fulfillment of God's promises, the birth of Isaac, did not happen until Abraham was a hundred years old. God had told him that his descendants would be beyond measure, but he died before seeing even one grandchild be born of the line of promise. Abraham did have other children, Ishmael through Sarah's servant Hagar, and several others through Keturah the woman he married after Sarah died, but none of these children stood in the line of promise as Isaac did. We learn later on in the Torah that Isaac and Rebekah will also have trouble having children. The promise of innumerable descendants did not come about easily.
Unbeknownst to Rebekah's family, they were speaking prophetically. Not only would she indeed become a mother of many descendants, but her offspring would also "possess the gate of those who hate him." The picture here is of an army capturing a city that has great disdain for that army's people. To capture the gate is to take control of the city. Rebekah's family was calling for her descendants to overcome any serious opposition they might face.
Note the use of the pronoun "him" instead of "them". This is due to the use of the word "offspring" (more literally "seed"), a collective noun, which could refer to one or more descendants. Collective nouns function grammatically in the singular, which is why the Hebrew is clearly "hate him." Since the context sounds as if it is referring to the thousands of ten thousands, some translations use "hate them" (New American Standard Bible) or go further and interpret the words, "those who hate him" as to mean simply "enemies" (New International Version), thus removing any confusion arising from the ambiguous use of the singular.
But could it be that the ambiguity is intentional? That since "offspring" could be understood as singular or plural these words may find their fulfillment both in the plural, referring to the nation of Israel, as well as in the singular, Rebekah's key offspring, Yeshua the Messiah.
Whatever their intention Rebekah's blessing certainly foreshadows the Messiah's own statement centuries later when he said, "I will build my Community, and the gates of Sh'ol will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18; Complete Jewish Bible).
The very gates of death and all that death represents would be overtaken by Rebekah's offspring. Through the development and history of the people of Israel culminating in Yeshua the Messiah, everything that hates God and his people will be done away with. Those who align themselves with God's plans and purposes as revealed in the Messiah walk in Rebekah's blessing. Those who follow Yeshua can be confident that we will possess the gate of those who hate us.
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