Monthly Archives: May 2014

Genesis 39 & 40

Ah, more frolicking and sex! Just what you expect from a holy book. Actually the sex could have happened, but didn’t. The next several chapters tell the story of Joseph, Jacob’s youngest son. The second verse of chapter 39 tells us the real meaning of the story: “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered.” Some people get this backward. Joseph is a good person, rejects Potipher’s wife’s entreaties to have sex with him, so God blessed him.

Joseph is obviously a God-fearing man, taught well by his father when he was with him, but Joseph is a significant pawn in God’s plan of redemption. The Egyptian bondage of God’s people is a crucial piece of redemptive history, and God uses the evil intent, jealousy and envy of his brothers, and now the wicked desires of his bosses wife to put Joseph just where he wants him: In prison! Isn’t it just like God to use something a human being would consider absurd to accomplish his plans.

This goes back to the number one lesson in all of human history, either we trust God or we don’t, either God is faithful to his promises and his covenant (a covenant first and foremost within the Trinity, then with man), or he is not, either God is who he declares himself to be in his perfect character, or he is not. We more often than not define God by our circumstances; our interpretive lens is our own sense of what is right or wrong, good or bad, and it all revolves around us, of course.

Although Joseph played what appears a more significant part than any of us, we are all, those chosen by him, part of God’s plan of redemption. And as we learn throughout Genesis, and the rest of the Bible, God redeems and works with very imperfect people. Our part in this plan on this earth is very, very brief compared to forever, yet we live as if this life is the forever part. If we really saw the significance of forever compared to this mist, would we really obsess about our minor problems? I think a lot less so.

So Joseph is faithful, yet is unjustly condemned to prison. Is faithful there, and again is given a lot of responsibility. He interprets dreams of a couple of Pharaoh’s servants in jail with him, and the one who gets back in Pharaoh’s graces forgets Joseph. Still part of God’s plan.

Genesis 38

Here we have another R rated chapter. The story now focuses on just one of Jacob’s sons, Judah, the one through whom the Savior of the world will come. He doesn’t comport himself any better than the others, but through him salvation shall come anyway. First he marries a Canaanite woman. A lot happens in the first six verses; he has six sons and a grandson, and the grandson is so wicket God puts him to death. Doesn’t say how.

Then something again strange by our standards happens. Judah tells another son of his to sleep with his dead brother’s wife, pop tells him it’s his duty, so he can produce offspring for his dead brother. This brother, Onan isn’t real happy about providing offspring for his brother that won’t be considered his, so when he’s making love to his sister-in-law, instead of cumming in her, he, as it says, “spilled his seed on the ground.” Thus no pregnancy. To the Lord this was wickedness, so he was also put to death. Two out of six for Judah, not good odds. So was it the spilling his seed on the ground that was considered wicked, or not doing his duty for his brother? I’d go with the latter because a lot of men spill their seed on the ground so to speak, and God doesn’t slay them.

More time moves on and Tamar is a widow with no children, and Judah tells her to wait until his youngest son grows up. But I think he has second thoughts because he doesn’t want another son to die. So in the meantime Judah’s wife dies and he goes off on a journey. Strange again. Tamar decides she’s going to deceive Judah because he’ll be coming her way and she takes off her widows clothes, which I guess women wore until they were remarried, and clothes herself like a temple prostitute, her face covered. She figured Judah isn’t going to give her his youngest son, so in a way she seduces him, but he’s the one he approaches her, not knowing who she is and asks to sleep with her.

She asks for some form of payment, he pledges a goat he’ll send later, but she wants something to guarantee he’ll keep his work. So he gives her some seal and cord he had and his staff. So he sleeps with her, and of course she gets pregnant. He sends the goat and she can’t be found, and Judah is told there is no shrine prostitute there. Of course he thinks it’s over, but Tamar is brought to him a few months later, pregnant of course, and she’s accused of prostitution. Judah is ready to have his pregnant daughter-in-law burned to death! But she brings out the cord and seal and staff, and Judah realizes why she did this, that he wouldn’t give her his youngest son. He doesn’t sleep with her again, and she has twin boys. More real strange life in the history of redemption.

Genesis 36 & 37

Why would Moses or whoever the writer of Genesis was, spend an entire chapter giving us names of Esau’s descendants? He’s also called Edom, which means red, and the Edomites were enemies of Israel, so maybe that’s why. As chapter 26 tells us, Esau married Hitite women and they were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Esau didn’t exactly get along, so this sibling rivalry goes on for a very long time.

In chapter 37 we get a big turn in redemptive history. The chapter still calls Jacob, Jacob and not Israel, even though his name has been changed twice. His youngest and favorite son, Joseph, has two dreams that his older brothers and family will bow down to him. The brothers hate him because he’s Jacob’s favorite and now this, so they want him dead. Nice bros. Reuben, the oldest talks the others out of killing him, so they put him in a dried out well, then end up selling him off to a caravan for 20 pieces of silver and he’s taken to Egypt and sold to Potipher, one of the Pharaoh’s officials.

This situation is foretold by God to Abram in Genesis 15, where he tells him:

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. 14 But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth.

So slavery in Egypt had to happen in God’s plan, likely a metaphor for sin and the slavery in entails, and that God himself rescues Israel like he rescues us. Passover happens, and Israel is reminded over and over that God is their savior, that he rescued them from slavery and brought them into the promised land, just like us.

Genesis 35

God is certainly taking care of his chosen ones. He appears to Jacob several times and confirms again his covenant with him. And Jacob gets the message because he tells everyone in his household to get rid of their little false gods, and that they should purify themselves. He also has his name change confirmed. I thought it had been done when he wrestled with God, but maybe it didn’t take. So when he appears to him one of these times it’s to tell him about the name change again and bless him, and as the narrative moves forward he is indeed referred to as Israel. We also see his twelfth son born, but Rachel dies giving birth. We also learn of Isaac’s death, “old and full of years.”

Genesis 34

More verisimilitude. Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter is raped by one of the rulers of the land, and her brothers are bent on revenging their sister’s violation. This man’s father comes to talk to Jacob to ask if his son can marry Dinah, then they can all intermarry and in effect the nation of Israel would have been still born. The son’s of Jacob will not let this happen, although not for this reason, God’s reason.

Being sons of their father, they end up lying to get revenge on the rapist’s people, the people of Shechem, the father. The father says he’ll pay whatever price Jacob wants for Rachel, but the sons say they don’t want any money; they want all the men of Schechem to be circumcised. Of course when they agree and do this and are still recovering, Jacob’s sons slaughter all the man and take everything else. It’s interesting that Jacob particularly thrilled with his sons doing this because not the people of the land will likely hate Israel and its people. As he says, “I and my household will be destroyed.” Obviously that doesn’t happen, but Jacob is thinking of the bigger picture. He’ll have to continue to trust God regardless of the circumstances.

I notice that even though Jacob’s name has been changed by God, he is still referenced in this chapter as Jacob. I wonder if there is any significance to that.

Genesis 32 & 33

On his way back home Jacob has two divine encounters, one with the “angels of God” and the other with God himself appearing as a man. Jacob, all his children, his wives and servants and all his flocks are making their way back to his homeland. We learn this is a large contingent, and most of the children were probably under 10. Jacob is afraid of meeting Esau for obvious reasons even though it’s been 20 years, and he sends a bunch of animals ahead to try to bribe him not to hurt his family.

Before they meet he has this encounter with God in a wrestling match. The strangeness continues. Jacob sends all his family and belongings across a river and is left alone on the other side. All it says at this point is that, “Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” I always think of these things like this is a real person in space and time. Jacob is all alone in the dark by the side of a river. You wonder if he could see his family and possessions on the other side. He’s clearly petrified that his brother will bring harm to he and his family. His state of mind must have been frantic. Why did he want to be apart from his family; maybe so they couldn’t see his fear? Or maybe he’s trying to figure another way out, see if his cunning can work for him again.

All of a sudden this man comes out of nowhere and starts to wrestle with him. Did this man say anything? Or just walk up to him and start throwing him around? You have to wonder what Jacob was thinking. It says they wrestled all night. Notice who initiated this encounter with God; it wasn’t Jacob. The man can’t overpower Jacob, so he touches his hip and basically cripples him; he lives with a limp the rest of his life. This has to be speaking to Jacob’s stubbornness, his desire to get what he wants. Even as he’s been crippled he won’t let go of the man. It is interesting that he says he’ll only let go if he get’s the man’s blessing; I assume by this point he had a sneaking suspicion that this was more than a man. Jacob the grasper (his name) is now realizing he is dependent on God for his blessing, his success, not on his own scheming.

The man tells him his name is changed to Israel, which means he struggles with God, and he’s given this name because he has “struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” So this is a good thing? I think it is ambiguous. Struggle can come from the desire to overcome obstacles, or from obstinance, or from our own stupidity and greed. Maybe in his very name he’ll now be reminded that his grasping has caused struggle, that his dependence on his own power and wit has brought struggle. Maybe he realizes where true blessing comes from finally in that he refuses to let go of the man until he gets his blessing. He finally realized he’d seen God face to face, yet his life was spared. Another theophony that leads to the ultimate theophany in Jesus of Nazareth.

When Jacob finally meets Esau he rushes to meet him before his caravan, and he gets a greeting he did not expect. I guess after 20 years Esau’s anger has vanished; Jacob wants to give him all kinds of animals, but Esau says it isn’t necessary. Jacob insists. When he eventually gets to the place he’ll put down his stake, he calls it El Elohe Israel, or mighty is the God of Israel; Jacob finally sees that God himself is his God, and that he is the Lord, a humility he could have never known before.

Genesis 30 & 31

The strangeness continues. Rachel want to get into the act, but since she can’t have children she gives Jacob her maidservant as a wife and she starts having children. I guess in the culture of the time that was almost like Rachel herself having children, and she rejoices. So this goes back and fourth, and these four women give Jacob 13 children, 12 boys and a girl, thus the twelve tribes of Israel. It shows too that the male aspect of the lineage is the key to redemptive history, and not the woman as we may have thought with Abraham and Sarah.

Not only does Jacob’s family increase, but his flocks and wealth as well. After his youngest Joseph is born, he wants to leave and go back to his father’s land, but Laban pleads with him to say because he’s grown wealthy as well because of Jacob. So Jacob stays. Now Jacob being Jacob, his increase comes about by deceit, and Laban is not happy. I don’t quite understand how he gets the flocks, sheep, lambs and goats, to be speckled and thus his rather than Laban’s, but he does.

What does he expect when he screws over his father-in-law? Not only his he a shyster, he is naive as well. I love 31:2: “And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.” You don’t say. Got then tells him to get the heck out of there before you ruin my plans! Not really, but God says go back to where you came from and that he’ll protect him. Obviously not because Jacob deserves is, but because Jacob is part of God’s plan. 

So Jacob heads back to Canaan with his 13 children and all his flocks. Must have been quite a caravan. Jacob says earlier that he’d been with Laban for 20 years, and he started having children after seven, so his oldest child was probably 13 or so and youngest probably a baby. I love how Jacob portrays the whole problem with Laban to Rachel and Leah. He only did what was right, and God was on his side; it’s all Laban’s fault.

Then we have a part of the story that gives a sense of verisimilitude, as the Bible often does. Laban is a pagan, or whatever people were called who did not call on the name of the Living God. For whatever reason before they flee, Rachel steals her father’s household gods. It appears there is some resentment about how they were treated:

14 Then Rachel and Leah answered him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us. 16 All the property that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you.”

It doesn’t look like, ancient Near East of not, they were not happy being treated like property, and want to get back at him. The man’s gods must have meant a lot to him, and Rachel knows this, so she furtively steals them and they head on their way. When Laban finds out that not only are his daughters and grand children gone, fleeing like a thief in the night, which they kind of were, but they’ve stolen his household Gods. He and his family head out on pursuit, but God warns him to be careful and not do anything rash to Jacob. When he catches up with them he does say he has the power to harm them, but God said that would be a no-no.

Then Laban tells him about the stolen gods and he searches all Jacobs belongings, but he doesn’t find them. Rachel lies and says she’s having her period so she can’t get off her camel; she’d hidden them in her saddle. When he doesn’t find anything  Jacob is now the unhappy one. Now it’s Jacob’s turn to tell Laban how he’s been wronged, and he uses an interesting phrase to say how God has been with him: “the Fear of Isaac.” What does this mean? Maybe that Isaac was such a great example of his respect, or feat of God? Maybe.

But Laban realizes he’s got no leverage, and he clearly believes in this God of Jacob, so they agree to a covenant, and Jacob takes an oath “in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac.” Interesting that the F is capitalized. Maybe it was a saying that he brought from home that came to have a certain significance to it. Now Laban gets to hug and kiss his daughters good by and they are off to Canaan.