WORD STUDY – BRING YOU UP – עלה
Genesis 46:4: “I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up [again]: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.”
I, fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
‘All things betray I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
– Francis Thompson – The Hound of Heaven
That is a curious statement that God made to Jacob, that Joseph shall put his hand up Jacob’s eyes. All commentators agree that it is a polite way to say that Jacob will die in Egypt. It was an ancient custom for the nearest relations or friends to close the eyes of a loved one after they passed. The Talmud teaches this custom in Sabbat 151. Touching a dead body was considered unclean but the Talmud makes an exception in this case. People did tend to get a little squeamish touching a dead body so a later custom was to just place a coin over the deceased eyes.
It is interesting to note that by saying this that God not only assured Jacob that his beloved son was alive but that Joseph would outlive him. What is curious about this statement is that God says he will bring him down to Egypt but will bring him up again. Jacob never did return to his homeland.
The words bring thee up is ‘alah in Hebrew. This is a word that has multiple meanings and usages. It could mean to go up, to ascend, to climb, to meet, to visit, to follow, to depart, to withdraw or to retreat. It is also used in the sense of growing up or plants growing. It also has the idea of being taken away, to exalt someone, to offer a gift, to stir up trouble or praise and even is used to show the breaking forth of the day. This is a common word in the Akkadian, Phoenician, and Aramaic language. It’s Semitic root has the idea of extending to the limits or boundaries.
So this could mean that God would go with Jacob to Egypt and return to his homeland with him which didn’t happen. Some commentators, even Jewish, suggest God is assuring Jacob that He will be with him and his posterity. Some would argue that God did, however, withdraw His presence from Israel at certain times. So this explanation might not hold water.
In reading the Talmud in Megillah 29a I found that the ancient sages give a perfectly plausible explanation which clearly fits the context. Jacob was reluctant to go to Egypt until God reassured him, “Hey, I will go with you, I will go with you no matter where you go. Down to Egypt or back up to Canaan, I will be there Jacob, I will always ‘alah.” In this case I will take one English word that is used with ‘alah and plug it in for it fits perfectly. That is the word follow. God will follow us wherever we go.
Many years ago I was a camp director for teenagers in trouble with the law. We had one young teenage come to our program named Terek. He was a member of the black underground, hated white people and authorities. I was white and an authority. I placed him with one of our black counselors we called Big Jim. Big Jim was a big bear of a guy, a fifth degree black belt and a real, genuine loving Christian who prayed for Terek, fasted for Terek and told him of God’s love.
One day Big Jim came running up to the staff house and said: “Pic (person in charge) Terek is getting ready to run and I am not stopping him.” I told Big Jim he to stop him, Terek was in our custody. But Big Jim said: “All week long I have been telling Terek God loves him and I love him. He wants me to take him down to prove I am like everyone else who reached out to him and rejected him. He hates you, you do it.” So I went down to Terek’s cottage and tried to talk with him. He ignored me completely, like I didn’t exist and once his bags were pack he walked out of the cottage daring me to take him down. I didn’t, I followed him. I told him. “Terek, you are in my custody and you can walk all the way back to Pittsburg for all I care, I am following you and I will not stop following you.”
Terek took me through the woods, the poison ivy, the swamps, pulled back branches and let them slap in my face. After about an hour he said the first words I ever heard him say; “I’m gonna go back now.” He did and I noticed something I had not seen before, real fear in his eyes. I tried to preach him one of my best sermons when said: “I ain’t gonna run, can I go back to my cottage.” Knowing he didn’t listen to a word I said I told him ok. An hour later Terek and Big Jim are running up to the staff house smiling and laughing. When they reached me Big Jim said; “Terek’s got something he wants to tell you.” I looked at Terek and he said; “I’m giving my life to Jesus.” Then this black radical who hated whites and authority gave this big white authority a hug.
Later that day Big Jim was taking a break in the staff house and he asked: “How did you keep Terek from running.” I said I didn’t I just followed through the woods and told him I would follow him to Pittsburg. With that Big Jim broke laughing, laughing so hard he almost fell off his chair. It made me angry and I said; “Laugh, will you. Next time you walk through the woods, the swamps, the poison ivy and getting branches slapped in your face. I’m beginning to itch already.” Big Jim said; “That is not why I am laughing. The reason Terek got so mad that he was going to run is that I read him the poem the House of Heaven and I told him I was praying for him and that meant that no matter where he goes God will follow him and not give up.” Well, an hour later God used this poor slob of a camp director to illustrate just that.
So I believe I will render Genesis 46:4 as “I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will follow no matter where you go and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.” So if someone is praying for you, forget it, your goose is cooked because God will follow you like the Hound of Heaven.