Monday, October 05, 2015

Reading in Genesis This Week (37-50)

514zcWswk7L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_This post will complete this reading of Genesis, along with Walter Brueggemann’s, Genesis, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. The final section of the book records the story of Jacob’s sons, as even the evil acts of the sons to oppose the plan of God and kill their own brother are used by God to preserve the family in Egypt. God works in the lives of the brothers to bring about an amazing reconciliation which leads to blessing in Egypt . I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there.

Chapter 37 begins the story of Jacob's family lived out mainly through, the dreamer, Joseph. I would disagree a bit with Brueggemann here that Judah is not also a main character. He is correct, I think, to see Joseph as the one who typifies a person who God has made to rule. The story of Joseph will be a story of the battle, rise, success and blessings that a godly ruler/leader can bring to a community. As his brothers learn to submit and reconcile to his leadership they are also blessed. God moves to save the nation through an individual who rules as "God's image."

This narrative affirms that even in the face of the empire and in the presence of great human competence, God is God and will work his purposes through human persons or in spite of them. Genesis 37-50, 296

The story begins with Joseph's dream which is God's promise for preserving the nation in Egypt and moving them toward their own land and king. Again God chooses the least and powerless (the youngest) to empower to continue his plan to bless his people and ultimately the world. But, Joseph's loyalty to the plan will bring him opposition, trial, pain and moments where he thinks God has abandoned him. He truly experiences the cross before glory.

They conclude the way to deal with the dream is to kill it—kill the dreamer and thereby kill the dream. Scene 1 offered in the person of Joseph a glimpse of the hopeful humanity called by God. Scene 2 now lets us see humanity in its resistant hopelessness. In hopelessness, the brothers have resolved to kill the dream—but they cannot carry it out. The dream is stronger than their resolve. Genesis 37, 304

We play all parts in the tense triangle. But clearly, the dream does not depend on the father or the brothers or even on Joseph. It is at work on its own (John 5:17; Phil. 2:13). Amazingly, even as Joseph sets out for Egypt as a slave (v. 36), God has not abandoned the dream. Genesis 37, 307

The main opposition to Joseph comes from his own family and the main opposer is Judah. Through Brueggemann sees this story as unrelated to its context, I would see it as an artistic intertwining of the stories of the two tribes who would become the leading tribes of the nation. Judah has become a Canaanite, living for himself at the expense of the community and away from God and the promise. Chapter 38 is a sordid tale of greed, prostitution, anger and self-righteousness, yet God seems to get a point across to Judah when he proclaims that his prostituted daughter-in-law is "more righteous than I." Perhaps things are about to change and Judah will return to the family of blessing.

The new righteousness moves beyond the rules and calculated innocence to the free embrace of the gifts of the community...Such an interpretation has no desire to glorify Tamar or to make a virtue of her action. The story has no interest in her intrigue. But in contrast to Judah, in her worldly way, in her determination to see justice done, she may be used by the narrator as a foreshadowing of the One who taught and embodies a new righteousness. That other One also offers a dangerous criticism of the old righteousness which sanctioned oppression in the name of propriety. Genesis 38, 311

Chapters 39-41 provide the first scene in the story that will see if God's dream for Joseph (and for the nation of Israel) will be fulfilled. The text makes a strong claim that God is giving Joseph prosperity wherever he goes, whether it is in slavery, in prison or in the palace of pharaoh. The Abrahamic promise is embodied in Joseph's life as God's blessing on Joseph spills over onto everything he touches. Joseph is a man who is passionate for God's kingdom and nothing, not money, sex or power, can deter him from it. Joseph is faithful in both dire depressing situations and in prosperous ones. In the end God's dream takes precedence over the power of the greatest empire of its day and even pharaoh finds himself an unwitting pawn in God's dream/plan for Joseph and his family.

So far as this narrative is concerned, everything is explained. It is not claimed that because of Yahweh everything will work out. Nor is it promised that the key actor will be easily saved from trouble. But the narrator offers an understanding of reality that is an alternative to every imperial presupposition of control...there is an abiding order to life which no imperial ingenuity can ignore, but also that there is an inscrutable power for life at work in spite of everything human cleverness devises. Genesis 39, 317

The narrative attests to another way of the future. It insists that the future lies beyond human competence either to bring or to halt. The future is inscrutably in God’s hands and not human hands. God’s ways bring underived newness. Genesis 40, 323

The fixed purpose of God is no occasion for human abdication. The firm purpose of God requires bold royal action. The intervention of God does not end royal responsibility, but sets it in a context where a new course of action is required. God’s purpose is not the end of human planning but the ground for it. That God’s “plan” is above human “plans” (Isa. 55:8–9) does not mean there should not be human planning. It means that it must be responsive and faithful to God’s plan. Genesis 41, 331

Chapters 42-45 deal with the second part of the dream in which Joseph's family members bow to him. This comes about through the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers and becomes the means by which Jacob is renewed and the Abrahamic promise is fulfilled to him and to his family. All the family seemed imprisoned by their past actions, but, as Jacob and Joseph, would come to realize, God had been working behind the scenes in all their actions, bad and good, to fulfill his covenant with His people.

The life of this family is a game with many players. None of the players knows all the rules because the Key Player is always less than visible. Genesis 42, 337

The purposes of God have been at work “in, with, and under” these sordid human actions...The narrative now hinges on the conviction that God is free. He is at work for his purpose in spite of, through, and against every human effort. Such a reading collides with any easy humanism. It also collides with a kind of supernaturalism which wants to distinguish between God’s work and human work. Against such humanism which separates God’s work and ours, this narrative affirms that the arena of human choice is precisely where God’s saving work is done. Genesis 45, 346

The call of God to this people, hidden as it is with Joseph, is a call to trust the promise. It is for a blessed future of well-being that everything in the present must be faced. It is the promise of God which circumscribes the fears of Jacob and sanctions the journey. Genesis 46, 353

Chapters 46-50 conclude the Joseph story and provide the transition into the story of the Exodus. The family is now "safe" in Egypt but they must beware of compromise with the "empire" and loss of focus on the promise of God. When Jacob meets Pharaoh the contrast is seen between the rich powerful king and the old man who has had a hard life, and the old man is seen as the blessed one. Israel must maintain that focus, and the passing of the blessing to the next generation and Jacob's funeral is meant to provide that. The final meeting between Jacob and his brothers, in a way, provides a summary of the story. What the world around the believer in the promise, "means for evil," God's purpose "means for good," and he will make sure the promise is fulfilled.  

Faithful waiting, even beyond a lifetime, provides standing ground for the true promise against all the false alternatives. Genesis 46-47, 355

The initiative belongs to the One who is never quite visible. What happens is the mysterious way of God. Jacob honors that mystery. And Israel dares to believe that a future is set, not by an old man making an error, but by the power of God...the blessing will work its own way, and none can resist it. Isaac knew that. And so does Jacob. And now Joseph must face that reality. Genesis 48, 363

The fulfillments of well-being and land do not depend on historical indications of success, upon survival of specific human agents, nor upon the political capacity to capture. They depend only on the faithfulness of God. And that is guaranteed by nothing other than the word of the trusted promise-maker. It is that and only that which gives peace and well-being to Jacob in death. Genesis 49, 369

Two dimensions belong together in the affirmation of this narrative: 1) Realism about our human place of jeopardy. 2) Certitude about its outcome, by the faithfulness of God. Realism taken alone leads to despair, for then we only know about the danger but not about the outcome. Certitude taken alone leads to romanticism, for then we only know the victory but imagine we are immune from the battle. But the narrative is unflinching in realism and undoubting about the outcome. Genesis 50, 375

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