We’re used to dealing with episodes: self-contained little stories. So it’s tempting to approach scripture this way.
And it’s not a bad thing, necessarily. We might sit down and read the whole story of Adam and Eve. Or the whole story of Jesus’ crucifiction. Or the story of Noah, or Lot, or who ever.
The problem is that the stories flow into each other. I’m reading the bible from cover to cover. (O.K., actually I started in the epistles, read through the end, and am working my way back to the epistles… But it comes down to the same thing.)
It’d be natural to read the story of Israel as one story and the story of Joseph (Joseph witht he coat, not Joseph Jesus’ dad) as two seperate stories. But reading them back-to-back, I’m discovering some interesting things.
One of them is that even after God’s wrestling match with Israel, he was still a knucklehead.
This is something I can certainly relate to. As I explained last post, I suspect that I have had struggles with God that are quite similiar to the one described in Genesis. By all rights, I should have been so transformed by them. But my track record is… spotty.
At the end of the struggle, Israel recieves his new name. But interestingly, in what follows, he’s only called by this name about half the time. I wonder if it’s a representation of the idea that he’s not living up to the transformation that God could have wrought in him. There are several other figures who recieve new names in scripture. It seems to me that all these figures act in a much more transformed way after this renaming. And they are called by their new names much more consistently, too. (Paul/Saul is the clearest example of this.)
It seems that Israel is not able to escape his ancestry. Arguably, all of his problems began with his childhood. He was the favorite of his mom and his twin brother was the favorite of his dad. This unhealthy favoritism lead to everything else that followed in his life.
Despite his time struggling with God, he never got past this. Genesis tells us that he chose a favorite among his own children. That favorite was Joseph.
This favoritism lead to the brothers uniting against him and selling him into slavery. The brothers feared that Joseph would end up ruling over them all, despite his young age.
I wonder if the sons new about their dad’s history. I wonder if they thought, “Our own dad up ended the natural order of things and tried to take the rights that belonged to the eldest. He’ll certainly support Joseph in doing the same thing.”
Like Israel, God was with Joseph when this machinations took him away from the only home he’d ever known. There were incredible set backs for them both. But both ultimately prospered.
Joseph seems to imply that God used this whole event to allow the brothers to live through the drought so that God could keep his promise that Israel’s sons would eventually become a great people.
In Joseph, we get hints that the family legacy has been put down for good. Joseph engages in a series of tests to see if they have finally gotten past issues that have plaged his family for generations.
Joseph’s ancestors had over and over again chosen expediency over the right thing to do. They had grown financially at the expense of family. They had chosen selfishly rather than selflessly. They value one person over another person based on arbitrary things like birth order.
The brothers ultimately return to what they think will be punishment, even when they could have saved their own skin. They demonstrate that the youngest siblings are as valueable as the oldest. They demonstrate that character is more important than profit.
Their dad is as much help as hinderance in all this, based on what we see in scripture. I wonder if sometimes it just takes generations to slowly unwind the bad parts of our legacies. I wonder if they just tried harder or felt more remorse.