Genesis 45:21-28; Three Unforgettable Verbs
The passage in which the “three unforgettable verbs” appears isn’t especially distinguished, either for its content or style. It just describes briefly the return of Jacob’s sons to Canaan with the news that their brother, Joseph, is alive and well in Egypt. In addition, Pharaoh has given Joseph the command to relay to his brothers that they are to bring father Jacob down to Egypt, as well as all their women, children, servants and possessions. Moving day is upon them, and they will be moving into nicer digs (especially during the famine) in Egypt.
The three words that stand out to any careful reader of the LXX of this passage are the participle ἐξαλλασσούσας, derived from the verb ἐξαλλασσω (verse 22), ἀναζωπυρέω (verse 27), and ἐξίστημι (verse 26). The last verb, though not unexpected, adds a note of extreme emotional engagement to the narrative. Interestingly, as we examine the first two Greek words, we will discover that they are exaggerations or rather generous interpretations of the underlying Hebrew. Let’s take ἐξαλλασσούσας/ἐξαλλασσω and ἀναζωπυρέω more deliberately and then finish with a quick consideration of ἐξίστημι.
When the brothers are packing their goods in Egypt for the journey back to Canaan, Joseph loads them up with additional gifts or provisions for the journey. The text emphasizes that Joseph gives all the brothers save Benjamin “double garments” or “two sets of garments” while to Benjamin he gave special gifts: “300 pieces of silver and five ἐξαλλασσούσας garments.” I left the word untranslated because translators have had difficulty rendering the word. Brenton’s nineteenth century translation just has the simple “five changes of raiment,” while the modern NETS has “five exceptional garments.” A leading LXX dictionary, by Muraoka, has this under ἐξαλλασσούσας: “extraordinary, unusual” with the translation of this passage as “exceptionally (fine) robes.” How could the two be so different?
The participle ἐξαλλασσούσας is derived from the verb ἐξαλλασσω, with the underlying verb αλλάσσω meaning “to change” or “exchange.” The addition of the preposition before it likely acts as an intensifier, and that is probably why Muraoka and the NETS conclude that Benjamin’s garments aren’t just typical clothes but must be “exceptional” clothes. Yet the big Liddell-Scott-Jones dictionary quotes this very passage and makes the much more muted suggestion picked up by Brenton— “changes of raiment” (or did the LSJ follow Brenton’s lead?) It would make sense from a narrative point of view that Benjamin would have exceptional garments, since he is the only blood brother of Joseph and Joseph spent his life wrapping himself in an exceptional garment given him by Jacob. And, indeed, one might make the argument that the prefix ἐξ might be taken in its literal meaning, as something that “stands out.” That is how we render ἐξίστημι a few verses later: one’s spirit or mind “stands out/is amazed.”
So, is the difference between Benjamin and the brothers here because he had “exceptional” garments or because he just had more garments than the brothers (5-2) and some gold? If we were to allow the Hebrew to weigh in here, it is interesting to note that the same Hebrew word describes the garments of the “ten” and Benjamin: חֲלִפֹת or “changes.” We are left, therefore, with an interesting translation conundrum.
This is one of the most vivid verbs one will encounter in the Greek language. It is made up of three words: “again,” “come/make alive,” and “fire,” leading to its rendering as “to rekindle” or “bring alive again.” I prefer a phrase that recognizes each of the underlying words: “to bring back the fire of life” or “to revive the passion for living.” That one Greek word can capture all these realities is stunning. ἀναζωπυρέω appears in 45:27:
ἰδὼν δὲ τὰς ἁμάξας ἃς ἀπέστειλεν Ιωσηφ ὥστε ἀναλαβεῗν αὐτόν ἀνεζωπύρησεν τὸ πνεῦμα Ιακωβ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν. . .
“And upon seeing the carts which Joseph had sent to fetch him, their father Jacob recovered the fire of life.”
We can “see” the scene in our mind’s eye. Certainly Jacob would have been happy to see his children, and especially that young Benjamin was delivered safely back to him, but he could scarcely have expected the news about Joseph. The text says that the things that brought life back to him were the words of Joseph and the wagons sent by him.
Though the verb ἀναζωπυρέω is rare in Greek, it appears one other time in the LXX (I Macc 13:7) and once in the New Testament (II Tim 1:6). The meaning is consistent across the board—to bring back the fire of life. In the first instance the Jews were oppressed by a foreign conqueror, but when they heard an inspiring speech from one of their number about standing firm for faith and the people, they recaptured the fire of life. Then, in the New Testament, the author of this Pastoral Epistle encourages the recipient to rediscover the passion of faith that had been conferred on him through the laying on of hands. The three appearances together leave an indelible impression in our mind—how the fire of living can be recovered through the story of a ‘lost’ son or the stimulation to fight for the people or to keep up the faith.
Though the verb is noteworthy in the Greek, it is rather pedestrian in Hebrew. All it says is that the spirit “came to life.” In this case the Greek gave a generous interpretation of the straightforward Hebrew construction.
We also learn that in verse 26 Jacob’s spirit “fainted” or “grew numb” (Hebrew is וַיָּפָג) while the Greek has the rather typical verb ἐξίστημι, which has already appeared in the Joseph story in Gen 42:28 and 43:33 and means “was amazed.” Jacob’s spirit, in the Greek, literally “stood outside (itself).” So we leave this unremarkable section of text with at least two, and maybe three, verbs/participles indelibly fixed in our mind—and we are enriched.