Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Genesis 47-50: Wrapping It Up

Yay, one book down, 65 to go! I did some tallying up last night, and at the rate I'm going it'll probably take me a good 5 or 6 more months to get through the rest of the Bible. At first I thought I wanted to finish by the end of the summer, but then I decided nah, I should stretch it out so I can devote as much time as I want to each story.

So today we have the end of the beginning: Jacob and the family comes to Egypt, Jacob blesses his sons and Joseph's sons, Jacob dies, Joseph saves the Egyptians from the famine, and eventually Joseph dies too.

I think it's great that when Joseph brings his father to Pharaoh, the first thing that Pharaoh says to him (at least in what's written) is "How old are you, anyway?" Jacob was one old dude. 130. And he lived to be 147. Not bad for a guy who threatened to die if his kid were taken from him.

What happens with the famine is, the Egyptians spend all their money buying food until they have none left. Then they pay with their livestock, and then finally they pay with their land and Joseph basically establishes a serfdom in Egypt. I haven't done any outside historical research, but does anybody know about that?

One thing Jacob does right is that at the very end of his life, he has a blessing for each of his sons. The blessing for Simeon and Levi is actually not very nice, because they were the ringleaders in killing a bunch of people, but at least he said something to them. Basically he tells them all where their land is going to be. He also makes a prophecy about Judah being the tribe from which kings will come, and (whether or not he realized it) the tribe from which the King of kings would come.

Oh, and in chapter 48 we have yet another instance of the underdog coming on top. When Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh, he blesses the younger (Ephraim) over the older. It's actually kind of funny because Joseph pretty much guides Jacob so that he'll put his right hand on Manasseh and his left hand on Ephraim, and then Jacob crosses his hands so that his right is on Ephraim, and Joseph goes "No Dad, it's this one," and Jacob goes "No, I'm doing it this way."

We have two deaths in this story: Jacob's and Joseph's. Joseph dies in the very last sentence of the book, so we hear a lot more about Jacob's death. We find out that the Egyptians mourned for him for seventy days - and you thought a month of flags at half-mast for Ronald Reagan was a long time - and when the brothers take him back to Canaan to bury him, they mourn for another seven days, so that the other Canaanites take notice of it and go "whoa, something really traumatic happened to the Egyptians."

I think it's neat how people treated death in ancient times. Sometimes I get the feeling that people today don't really know what to do with death. It's this big purple elephant that we really don't want anybody to look at, yet we have no place to hide it, so what we tend to do is throw a blanket over it and call it part of the furniture. Or something. You know, we try not to mention it to our kids ("Oh, your fish ran away to the ocean while you were at summer camp"), and even as adults we're really not comfortable talking about it. It's a topic for hushed tones and solemn occasions.

That's not how these people treated death. Even the way they talked about it makes it seem kind of beautiful: they called it falling asleep sometimes, or the way it's worded in Genesis is "so-and-so breathed his last, and was gathered to his people." I'm not really sure what being gathered to your people means, but it's like there's this community after death - you're buried with your relatives, and maybe your soul goes where their souls are too. It's like what Theoden says in ROTK when he's dying . . . but I don't have my book with me so I can't tell you exactly what he said, but it's something about going to be with his fathers, in whose mighty company he shall not now feel ashamed (because he's just fought some really cool battles and said a lot of really cool lines and is now dying a really cool death).

Okay, rabbit trail.

Then there's the mourning afterward. People today don't know how to grieve. We're so bad at it that people even have to write books and host classes about it. By the way, those are good things. I'm not knocking them or anything; I'm just saying, if we knew how to grieve and recover from loss, we wouldn't need those things. Back in the day, mourning was a public thing. We saw yesterday (or I saw; I didn't point it out) that Tamar was still wearing her widows clothes several years after her second husband had died. The Egyptians mourned for Jacob for two and a half full months, and he wasn't even related to them. That is really pretty cool.

Finally, the very last thing we see in the story is that Joseph's brothers are still not sure Joseph has forgiven them for trying to kill him, and now that Jacob's dead they're worried about what he's going to do to them. But Joseph reminds them that it was God's doing to bring him to Egypt and that he forgives them. It's funny because you'd think that was rather strongly implied back in chapter 45 when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Sometimes, though, you have to forgive a person more than once. And sometimes you have to keep assuring them of your forgiveness a couple times so they get the picture. And it doesn't just say "Joseph said 'I forgive you,' the end." It says that he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. I think that went a long way to helping them realize that they really were all friends again.

I wonder how hard it was for Joseph to forgive his brothers. I mean, it all turned out great for him in the end - he got a lot of money, a wife and kids, power, fame, the works. But he still was robbed of his life for a good 13 years, and he didn't get to see his dad for over 20 years. It sounds like he was over it by this point, but I bet if they'd come to him to apologize when he was in prison, he wouldn't have been so nice. I guess you never know how things are going to turn out for you. Even if somebody tries to ruin your life, God can make something really good happen as a result of it, so we shouldn't become bitter over the bad things.

That's all for Genesis. Stay tuned for the beginning of Exodus tomorrow - same time, same place.

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