Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Genesis 47:20-49:33 #eebc2018

Jacob and family are now settled in the land of Goshen. For the time being, it is their salvation from the famine and the place where their family will build its identity. Eventually, it will become something far worse. That's a truth worth considering: sometimes a place is good at one time and bad at another. It may go from bad to good, or do what occurs here and go from good to bad.

But remember that one's life should not be welded to a geographic location. Instead, the relationships you have with God and with others are what should define you.

During the famine, Pharaoh acquires all the land of Egypt, turning the economy to more of a serfdom-based system than it was before. After this time, the people of Egypt are not free to do as they wish, but instead must work land belonging to Pharaoh. The exceptions? The priestly groups of Egypt and...that small Hebrew family that just moved into Goshen. Their land was on loan from Pharaoh, but the flocks were their own. And their food came from Joseph's power and authority, not Pharaoh, so they remained free.

Jacob, though, knows his death is at hand. Since that is the case, he requires a promise of Joseph to bury him back in the land of Canaan (it's not Israel yet) and Joseph promises. Further, Jacob essentially claims Joseph's first two sons as his own, replacing Joseph in his family tree. This is why there is no "Tribe of Joseph" in the further narratives of Israel.

In a recent reading, an author made much of the decision of Jacob to bless the younger son over the older, claiming it was an intentional and designed to reset the whole of economic ideas. I think it's simpler than that: Jacob was the younger brother, and here he chooses to bless the younger brother. I would suggest to you that blessing belongs to the one who is giving it, and they have a right to make the decision about who and how they bless.

Jacob then goes through and prophesies over his sons, telling what he believes will happen to them in the years to come. A noteworthy moment is Genesis 49:10, which some interpreters hold as a messianic promise. (After looking in several commentaries, the books I have tend to list that as a "possible" understanding and cite other sources, including Gerhard von Rad, on this. I will punt...) If there is an implication of the Messiah here, then we have Genesis wrapping up with a promise similar to the one near the beginning in Genesis 3:15.

After speaking over each of his sons, Jacob dies. Take note that he wishes to be buried with Leah and not with Rachel, perhaps because Leah is the one buried in the family tomb with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebekah. The terminology for dying, "he was gathered to his people," is a comforting one. It is from this idea that we structure our belief in family reunification after death--for those who know Jesus.

What do we do with this?

Take a look at the prophecy over each of the sons. I think there's something to Jacob's understanding of who his sons were, how they would behave, and how they would raise their children. He knew that his people were a large enough group, and an isolated enough one, to not have to intermarry too much into Egypt. He knew that his family would not fully assimilate and become Egyptian, that's why he made them promise to bury him back home!

And so he could predict, easily, what they would become. Some flashes of insight seem to have come from beyond his ability, but he is 147 years old at this point. Most of this is his wisdom and understanding.

So the question comes to you: what would someone say is your future? The future of your children?

Based on who you are now? Based on your current actions?

Take heart, because there is grace enough even for that picture. There is time, even now, to turn our hearts more toward God and more into the ways He has given us. Because no future is completely sealed--God in His grace may give you a better one. Turn your heart to Him, and your ways to His ways, and see what He does.

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