Lock Number Five: Recognizing The Unrecognized


In the story of Joseph in Genesis 42, we read about his first meeting with his brothers:

And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food[1].

In the English text, nothing strikes us as unusual in this sentence. However, when we read this verse in Hebrew, we discover something very intriguing: The verb for ‘he knew them’ (וַיַּכִּרֵם), and the verb for ‘he made himself strange unto them’ (וַיִּתְנַכֵּר אֲלֵיהֶם) are derived from the same root!  Can you imagine? These two actions, not only very different, but in a sense, completely opposite – “to recognize” and “to disguise” – are expressed with verbs coming from the very same root.  It is absolutely impossible to translate, and almost impossible to even explain.

This is an exceptionally beautiful example of how deep and multifaceted the Hebrew language is – how profound His Word is. Biblical Hebrew is primarily a verbal language, and the verbs are derived from the roots. Roots are three-consonant groups that comprise the “essence” of the word’s meaning.  Most of the verbs in Hebrew are formed from this three-consonant root by changing vowels and by adding different prefixes and suffixes, thus forming different stems. Depending on their stem (binyan), verbs from the same root can have very different meanings, as we see here in our text. Nevertheless, being derived from the very same root, they all have something in common, they all relate to the very same “essence”.

Yes, Joseph made himself a stranger, and  yes, he was unrecognizable,-  yet, out of his disguise, this amazing root of knowing and recognition touches the hearts of the brothers with something painfully familiar.  No wonder, from the very first meeting with this Egyptian viceroy, they knew it was all about Joseph, even though there seemed to be no connection at all between the stories. No wonder, after Joseph’s accusation, and despite its lack of sense and the total absence of any connection between the accusation itself and the demand to bring the youngest brother, they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us[2]. The Spirit of God is touching their hearts, and their hearts are burning, even though their eyes could not recognize their  brother  – and this whole incredible dynamic is reflected in those two verbs, opposite in meaning but derived from the same root: hikir – hitnaker.

It’s difficult to find a more beautiful or more profound biblical expression of the mystery of the Hidden Messiah. I’ve been thinking, praying and writing about Hidden Messiah for years, but when I was given these words, once again I stepped back in awe – humbled and overwhelmed by the unsearchable depth of His Word. This interplay between hikir and hitnaker – between “recognized” and “made himself strange” – although completely lost in translation, is incredibly profound. Could the brothers have recognized Joseph from the very beginning?  Should they have recognized him from the very beginning? The fact that he ‘made himself strange unto them’, means that he didn’t want them to recognize him, right? Otherwise, his whole plan to bring them to complete repentance, based on bringing Benjamin to him, would have been ruined.  We know the story. We know they were not supposed to recognize him, and yet this common root, this common essence tells us that the mystery is even deeper than we thought. Joseph was hidden, but he was “as though” hidden. He made himself a stranger, and did not want them to recognize him, yet their hearts perceived what their eyes did not.

And this brings us back to our story – to the story of the “burning hearts” and the “restrained eyes”; to the story of the Transitional Chapter; to the story of Emmaus.  There are striking parallels between these stories that we cannot ignore. Of course, the first parallel is obvious:  in both stories, he knows them, but they don’t know,   don’t recognize, him. Moreover, if we compare the sentences in Hebrew, we find that the very same expression is used in both cases: in Genesis 42:8 and Luke 24:16  וְהֵ֖ם לֹ֥א הִכִּרֻֽהוּ – they didn’t recognize (know) him. Thus, the story of Joseph foreshadows the same mystery of the Hidden Messiah, that the story on the Emmaus Road gives us the key for.

Speaking about key – in our Key Number Five post, we learned that the only time in the entire Septuagint when the line “and their eyes were opened” occurred, in the same way, and in the very same wording as it is found in Luke: δε διηνοιχθησαν οι οφθαλμοι, was in the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, in one of the most dramatic scenes in Scripture. When Adam and Eve  (Hava) sinned – when they violated the command God had given them and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; when everything changed and everything was turned upside down; at this fateful moment of creation – “their eyes were opened…[3]  Adam and Eve, who had until then only seen God and His reality – and  everything else only in the light of His reality – began to see the world with a clouded, sinful vision, which, from that time onward became, and has remained, humanity’s vision of reality. They left His presence – and their eyes were opened to this worldview.

If we apply this Key to the amazing dynamic of Hikir-Hitnaker, as it is expressed in the story of Joseph, we understand that, even before the eyes of the disciples were opened – this time, opened in the reverse direction, to see that which is invisible to common human vision – their hearts were touched with a glimpse of recognition, as were the hearts of Josephs’ brothers.

Once again, this common root, this common “essence” of the two verbs, “recognize” and “disguise”, tells us that this mystery is even deeper than we thought. Yes, Yeshua seems to them a stranger, and yes, they cannot recognize Him, but the mystery of the Hidden Messiah, the mystery of Hikir–Hitnaker, is unfolding here, and therefore this stranger touches the hearts of the disciples with something wonderfully familiar – and their hearts tremble under this touch.  The Unrecognized  sparks in them a glimpse of recognition of their true destiny – of that pre-Fall reality when man still could see God. That is why their hearts were burning as they walked along.  We all have this “pledge of the Spirit”[4] within us, and that is why our hearts also burn when God is near – even when our eyes are restrained and do not recognize him!

Next week, we will sum up all the ideas that we have discussed so far, and we will examine the lessons and the conclusions of the Hidden Messiah series.



[1] Gen. 42:7

[2] Gen. 42:21

[3] Gen .3: 7

[4] 1  Cor.5:5

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Ruth Brooks

    Hi Julia. In this blog you were talking about Gen 42:7 where the verb to recognize is used in two different binyanim to to reflect the opposite but related meanings. I was also reading verse 8 where again the same verb root is used for Joseph and his brothers. In the case of the brothers in verse 8 they are the subject and not the object as in verse 7. I could be wrong but I think the binyan for this case is hoofal which is the passive of the causative form of this verb. In this case it could be translated as “they were caused not to recognize”. This fits in with your ideas about Adam and Eve and Emmaus.

    1. Julia Blum

      That’s so wonderful Ruth, that you read the Scripture in Hebrew and make the conclusions based on the Hebrew text! Here (Gen 42:8), however, the verb is in hiphil case, and the meaning is just “to know, to recognize”. But let it not discourage you – once again, I am very blessed by your inquiring mind! Even though I am replying to your comment only now – – the moment I saw it, I went to check the Hebrew text! And still, maybe there is some depth in this verse that I haven’t seen yet. it is a very remarkable fact that the very same expression is used in Genesis 42:8 and Luke 24:16 וְהֵ֖ם לֹ֥א הִכִּרֻֽהוּ – they didn’t recognize (know) him. The story of Joseph definitely foreshadows the mystery of the Hidden Messiah. Let’s keep thinking about it together.

  2. Rick Miranda

    I have to say that your teaching on the “Hidden Messiah” has opened up my eyes! There is so much truth in the Hebrew that captures my heart. The very presence of God in our life’s is so close that we can sense Him even though we do not fully comprehend. I think that His glory can bypass our mind and reasoning but can cause are spirits to vibrate. We may not know the long lasting effects that His essence produces as it leaves an indelible impression on our souls.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much Rick! I am so touched and blessed by your kind words about my “Hidden Messiah” series. Your comment is so profound and the wording is so beautiful: “His glory can bypass our mind and reasoning but can cause are spirits to vibrate!” Thank you!
      I am working on the book about Hidden Messiah, of course, it will contain many things that have been published on this Blog – but definitely, there will be new things as well! So, stay tuned , the book will be announced on my website (readjuliablum.com).Blessings and Happy New Year!

  3. Hnerietta Wisbey

    The deposit of His essence in me
    fans the flame of desire
    causing me to draw near.

    Beautifully expressed and so well written
    Thank you Henrietta

  4. Sharon Stern

    Well, from birth, all of us are on a journey back to Eden; back to the place where our blinders are removed and we regain our full spiritual ability to see and engage freely with HaShem ‘panim b’panim’ — face to face! The first act of hiding from HaShem took place in the Garden of Eden because of the first act of theft recorded — eating from the forbidden tree. Sin continues to keep us hiding from Him in this present world. Yeshua told us that He needed to go away in order for ‘The Helper’ to come to us —- and it is that deposit of His essence in me that fans the flame of that desire whenever I allow myself to draw close to Him and see things more clearly.

    I find a very striking similarity of the concepts of disguising on the one hand while recognizing or acknowledging on the other hand. The truth and reality of our lives include some painful details that aren’t necessary for the whole world to know about. To most, we disguise those truths; while to our closest circle, we allow them to see/acknowledge/recognize those realities in their raw and painful truthfulness. In our two examples (Joseph and his brothers and Yeshua and his disciples), it is a PHYSICAL example of this duality of recognizing and disguising. But there is also a spiritual side to this dynamic, and I believe we play it out in our own lives day by day.

    This double meaning of the same root got me rethinking Hebraic grammar and poetry. in Hebrew with this root ‘nun-kaf-resh’ — when it implies the idea of being recognized, it is in a causative active binyam, the hiphil. It is the act of Joseph seeing his brothers that causes him to actively recognize them. In order for him disguise himself, Joseph has to reflexively hide and conceal his identity, as we see the hitpael reflexive binyam voicing the action of disguising oneself.

    The double meaning also made me think about a type of poetic parallelism called Janus parallelism, based on the image of the Roman god Janus who had two faces – one gazes backwards while the other gazes forwards. Almost like the two sides of a coin – one image is disguised and not recognizable, while the image on the flip side is recognizable. This type of poetry has text that has double meanings; just like ‘nun-kaf-resh’ can mean either disguise or recognize. Joseph is a type of Yeshua. I see the brothers of Joseph and the disciples of Yeshua in the same quandary. They are confused and dejected for different reasons. They are looking backwards at what has happened and are clearly worried about what was ahead of them (looking forward) because what they were seeing (disguised) did not look very encouraging.

    I think our lives are like the Roman god Janus. We have the propensity to get distracted by the world. Rather than looking inward and concentrating on that which is truthful; we are looking backwards at ‘should have, could have, would have’. Or we look forward, often consumed with worry and fear. We need to leave the past in the past and trust HaShem with our future. Our focus must be on the present, in the center; anchored to truth. It is only in the center that we can sense His presence. With the guidance of ‘The Helper’, we have a foretaste of our inheritance, Kingdom living here and now as we will journey towards our true destiny – home with Our Abba.

    1. Julia Blum

      So amazingly profound and so amazingly beautiful! Thank you Sharon!

  5. Deborah Blades

    In my study, I have found words with opposite meanings from the same root. This is intriguing to me, Your post has certainly brought out the depth of the meaning of the scriptures through an examination of the words, and roots of words used within a context. Thanks.

  6. Alejandro Gramajo

    There is another fascinating parallel hiding into the Joseph’s story.
    Genesis 42:8 And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.
    First coming of the Jewish Mesiach (Yeshua Ben Joseph)

    Genesis 45:1 Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him;
    and he cried, “Cause every man to go out from me!” And there stood no man with him while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
    Second coming of the Jewish Mesiach (Yeshua Ben David)
    When Yeshua came the first time His brethren (Yewish people) dis not recognize Him, but will reconize Him in His second comming.