Noah – An Amazing Torah Portion (2)

TECHNICAL COMMAND OR THEOLOGICAL STATEMENT?

 

We continue our journey through this amazing Torah Portion. One more place in this Parashah became a great blessing for me.

I was utterly surprised to find here  the root  -כפר – Kafar:

יד  עֲשֵׂה לְךָ תֵּבַת עֲצֵי-גֹפֶר, קִנִּים תַּעֲשֶׂה אֶת-הַתֵּבָה; וְכָפַרְתָּ אֹתָהּ מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ, בַּכֹּפֶר. 14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; with rooms shalt thou make the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch[1].

I believe that everybody who knows even a  little bit about Israel and Hebrew , would know what Yom Kippur is, and therefore

would  recognize this root. All the possible meanings of this root always have to do with “atonement” (or so I thought). So why

would it be here,  in the story of Noah?   Of course, we know that the ark is a mighty symbol of redemption and salvation –

but there is no word “atonement,” or anything pertaining to atonement even remotely in the translated  texts.   So,  what’s

going on? Why does this amazing root occur here in the Hebrew text – and why then does it disappear in translation?

This word is too significant, too deep, too important for all its future redemptive meanings, and therefore can’t be ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; with rooms shalt thou make the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

Let us turn to the dictionary once again – and once again, we become humbled and overwhelmed by the unsearchable depth of this Word.

We find in the dictionary two completely different meanings of the same root:

(qal) כפר – to pitch smth. with pitch;

(pi) כיפר– to atone, to pardon

Can you imagine?  This very technical command – you shalt pitch it within and without with pitch –  in the original Hebrew text, sounds almost like a theological statement! Yes, we know that the Flood and the Ark are great symbols of punishment of the sinners and salvation of those who put their trust in God; without Hebrew, however, we completely lose something that is so obvious in the original text; even phonetically, the story of Noah is the story of redemption and atonement, the word “to atone” is actually built-in to this text! The technical command was a theological statement indeed!

 

THE LORD SHUT THE DOOR

So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in[2].  

Why did  God Himself shut the door of the ark after Noah went in?  Imagine  Noach  watching from inside all these people outside – people whom he had lived together with for 600 hundred years, friends and neighbors and relatives. Try to imagine how you would feel if you were safe inside, watching so many people you knew and loved outside, trying to get in, doomed to die. I think it is just impossible for us as humans to make this final decision, to draw this final line, separating those who will be saved from those who will die. It was impossible for Noach to shut this door and thus to end their last hopes – it was impossible for Noach, and therefore God Himself had to do it.

 

NOT TO BE DECEIVED

In the end of the story of the Flood, we find some repelling narrative about Noah’s son Ham who saw the nakedness of his father (while his father was asleep). When Noah awoke and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he cursed Ham (actually, he cursed Canaan, Ham’s son), and blessed two other his sons, Shem and Japhet:

כז  יַפְתְּ אֱלֹהִים לְיֶפֶת, וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי-שֵׁם; וִיהִי כְנַעַן, עֶבֶד לָמוֹ. 27 God enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the    tents of Shem; and let Canaan be their servant[3].

 

This is a very important verse, because it actually became one of the  ”biblical” grounds for the replacement theory of the Church. It was here that Justin Martyr found the “biblical” basis for such a doctrine (in his treatise “Dialogue with Trypho”). Commenting on this story of Noah and his sons, he points out the verse, may God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, as a prophetic word about how in the future Japheth, the Gentile nations that have received Christianity, would seize the tents of Shem, i.e. Israel.  Do you know the children’s fable about a fox and a hare: the fox had a hut made from ice, and the hare had a little straw house? The fox’s ice hut melts and the hare takes him in, only to find that the fox kicks him out and takes his home. This is approximately what happened with Israel and Christianity.  What do you think God meant here, that Japhet will dwell in the tents of Shem together with Shem – or instead of Shem? I believe,   that the original meaning of this verse in no  way  assumed an eviction of Shem from these tents – no more than  the hare would assume that by letting in the homeless fox he soon would find himself out in the street. The interpretation of Justin Martyr, however, served to legitimize the process of Israel’s exclusion from the plan and blessings of God, which at that time was already moving ahead at full speed. Was it, indeed, the original message here?

          Let us try to understand the message of the Hebrew text. The verb יַפְתְּ in the

beginning, that sounds and is spelled exactly like the name of Japhet, means here –

“spread”, “enlarge”. However, as almost every Hebrew word, it might have some

additional meanings. Here is the list of the possible meanings of this verb.

 

1.      to be spacious, be open, be wide

a.      (Qal) to be spacious or open or wide

b.      (Hiphil) to make spacious, make open

2.      to be simple, entice, deceive, persuade

a.      (Qal)

1.      to be open-minded, be simple, be naive

2.      to be enticed, be deceived

b.      (Niphal) to be deceived, be gullible

c.      (Piel)

1.      to persuade, seduce

2.      to deceive

d.      (Pual)

1.      to be persuaded

2.      to be deceived

Once again, thanks to Hebrew we see something that would be completely missed otherwise: through the very same verses that were used by the Church “to justify” the exclusion of Israel, God is speaking about a grave danger of being “deceived”!  Those Christians in the history, who were persuaded that they had to live in the tents of Shem instead of Shem – were deceived: : Japhet has to dwell in the tents of Shem along with Shem!

 

I would like to remind you, my dear readers, that we offer a new  course, called  Weekly Torah Portion, and those interested to study in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights,  are welcome to sign up for this course (or to contact me for more information and for the discount). Also, for those interested in  my book  about Hidden Messiah, As Though Hiding His Face , or my other books (they all have Hebrew insights) ,here is the link to my page on this blog: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.

blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum

 

 

 

 

[1] Gen.6:14

[2] Gen.7:16

[3] Gen.9:27

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. Deborah

    Shalom Ms. Julia,

    I agree. I believe that it is “along with” too. I think that the scripture is possibly referring to the ordained order of events. According to scripture, salvation is for the Jewish people first (Shem) and then the gentiles (Japheth) who come along later to join the Jewish people to dwell together (not to replace) in oneness in their tent (covenant/promise). Romans 1:16. Yeshua did not come to abolish or replace the law but to fulfill it. Through Yeshua the gentiles (Japheth) are allowed to expand (to stretch out) and to reach/lay a hold of the covenant/promise that was originally made to Abraham and his descendants (Shem).

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Deborah. I am glad you follow the blog, i hope you find these articles helpful and interesting.

  2. Deborah

    Shalom Ms. Julia, thank you so much for this blog. It is truly insightful and a great blessing. I am currently reading your book on the Hidden Messiah and am loving it thus far. Thank you for sharing the beautiful insights that the Lord has given you. May He continue to bless you immensely.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Deborah, for your kind words. I am glad you like this blog – and I am happy you like my book.

  3. Margaret Hurford

    Shalom Julia,
    Thank you for sharing more insights from the Scripture.
    How interesting that the Hebrew verb for “spread” and “enlarge” has also another meaning “to entice” and “deceive”.
    Could it possible that there is a hidden warning which only can be seen clearly in original Hebrew text ?
    The real warning of danger in times when things are going right for us, when we are blessed and spreading to the right and to the left. Those are the times to be on our guard against deception.
    Thank you again
    Margaret

    1. Julia Blum

      It is a very interesting thought, Margaret. I haven’t thought about it, I just applied this meaning to this particular case and saw in it God’s warning against the deception of the replacement theory. But your thought is very, very profound, and probably you are right: there is more to that than “just”the replacement theory. Thank you so much!

  4. David Russell

    Hello Julia,
    I am endeavoring to post my comment in the November 2nd thread.
    My concern is over the seeming ineffectiveness of English translations to convey the Hebraic meaning within Scripture as you and others have illustrated present and past. This is concerning in light of the Reformation being hailed as an event to put the Scriptures in the hands of the common people so they could read and study themselves.
    If we have an incomplete translation, and Hebrew is ignored by many main-stream clergy in the pulpit, has a grievous error been allowed to continue down through the centuries?
    Can we trust the standard translations known as The Holy Bible as reliable record?
    Sincerely,
    David Russell

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you David, I believe we both feel the growing recognition of this fact: more and more people are becoming aware of the insufficiency of different Bible translations. Of course, it’s wonderful that the Scriptures are translated into almost all existing languages – but on the other hand, “to translate means to interpret”, and the Bibles that people receive, are the result of this interpretation. I believe that best you can do is what you – and so many others – are doing already: to try to read and to understand the original Hebrew text. As you have seen, I am trying to help you in that.

  5. David Russell

    Hello Julia,
    I am reposting my comment in the appropriate posting for your response when convenient.
    Hello Julia and others,
    I am enjoying and learning from this series on Noach/Noah.
    In part due to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, considerable pondering of its one main function was to put the Scriptures in the hands of the average citizenn; people living in the developed world of the 16th-century to read themselves.
    Yet, I wonder – was a grave error allowed to persist by allowing English or European language translations to not capture the Hebraic meaning within Scripture?
    Moreover, your reference to the Fox and the Hare is demonstrated from my limited observation in today’s church literature referring to first-century believers as Christian.
    Have our standard Bible translations become a product of this Replacement dynamic? You are not the first to suggest this paradigm of the (Hebrew surpassing the English in meaning) but my hope is you sense the underlying concern my question poses.
    Sincerely,
    David Russell