The Future of Esau and an Overview of the Joseph Story: – Held on Sunday, January 12, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 01/12/14

  1. Previous Week’s [12/22/13] Review
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 36: 01 – 43
  4. Discussion
  5. Overview of the Joseph Story, Gen. 37:01 – 50:26

Previous Week’s [12/22/13/ Review

As we can note, the “Previous Week” was before Christmas.  As I listened to that recording I was struck by how many insights were expressed by the group that gathered.  I have selected three that seemed to me especially significant and which I reported in last week’s blog.  I think they merit clarification and some repetition.

  1. In the passage we were discussing, Jacob in response to God’s command to build an altar addresses his household who now number “foreigner,” non-Israelites, possibly referring to the women and children captured in the “Rape of Dinah” episode.  “So Jacob told his household and all who were with him: “Get rid of the foreign gods among you; then purify yourselves and change your clothes… “ [Gen. 35:02].  For the Israelites purification had a ritual component but implied much more.  The “much more” is revealed in a story Tim shared.  He was bothered by the fact that he really didn’t like people.  In reflecting on this, there came a moment in time when he realized that it wasn’t that he didn’t like people rather it was that he didn’t like what they do.  This is something that happened in Tim and it changed him.  It may seem like a minor thing for the reader but it wasn’t minor for Tim. Such an event and the corresponding change of mind and heart is what is meant by the scripture that says “purify yourself.”  Each of us might benefit by identifying such an event in ourselves for such an event is both our doing and God’s.
  2. Ken in reaction to other’s description of Jacob’s character remarked how it is that we tend to pigeonhole people.  We form an opinion of others, attend to whenever they say or do that confirms them in the pigeonhole we have placed them, and discount, reinterpret, or don’t attend to whatever would be contrary to their fitting into  our pigeonhole of them.  I found Ken’s observation both accurate and challenging.
  3. Faryl made a most telling observation.  The passage tells of the rather horrific response that Jacob’s sons made, killing, raping, and pillaging.  They accomplished all of this by using a central religious symbol, circumcision.  And nowhere in the passage is God even mentioned.  Yet Faryl reminded us that God’s promise was moving forward in the midst of this all.  It is very difficult to realize the truth Faryl observed when we are in the midst of personal, social, and national evils.

The observations of these three persons enrich all of us, challenge us, and reveal the community of faith that binds us together.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 36: 01 – 43.

Many scholars believe that the material that inform this chapter come from documents that probably were a result of the capture of this region under David’s reign.  Edom is a region located south of the Dead Sea.  The material can be broken down into three settings described in genealogical form.  It is easy enough to note the family, the clan, and the nation.  However, the only evidence of the names recorded are from the bible.  As has been stated over and over, the purpose of the biblical literature is not to provide us with an historical account of events but rather to provide with a religious meaning.

What matters is that in this passage, there is religious significance.  It allows us to discover the relationship of the non-chosen people to the chosen ones.  This is especially meaningful if we think in terms of our global world and the relation between Christians and everyone else.  In general numeric terms, there are 7 billion human beings, only 2 billion of which are Christian.  How are the two groups related?

In this passage we can discover first of all the fact that being chosen or not does not in any way void the fact that the two groups are brothers.  So we too, all 7 billion and growing are children of God our Father, brothers and sisters to one another.  This is a theological fact.  Second like the story of the chosen, the story of the non-chosen are that they too are blessed with land, progeny, and blessings.  Being chosen is certainly a privilege but attended to that privilege is a responsibility.  We are to be salt, light, leaven for the whole.  We have a responsibility for the sake of the whole.  We are not the whole, neither at any one time nor over time.

We are invited to read this passage in the light of the above.

Reading: Gen. 36: 01 – 43


The reading was daunting for all of us, a range of names, difficult to pronounce, the meaning of which is not at first ascertainable.  But there it is, Esau’s future in balance with Jacob’s.

Overview of Joseph, Judah, and Jacob’s Family.

The next fourteen chapters [37 – 50] bring Genesis to a close and set the stage for Exodus.  Although these chapters are primarily an account of the ups and downs of Joseph, it takes us from Israel as an individual, Jacob, to Israel as a people, the Israelites.  The geography moves us from Canaan to Egypt and in that move allows us to see the full range of Egyptian life; a life that is not, nor should not, be demonized.  Despite the central role that Joseph plays in this narrative, Yahweh remains the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Joseph becomes the symbol of the passage to a people.  He ultimately does not seek revenge on his brothers.  The narrative makes clear the importance though of the individual.  It matters what Joseph says and does.  God is at work throughout but nowhere does God appear to Joseph as he does with Abraham, with Jacob.  Joseph builds no altar, is not the center of any place of worship.

What remains for us is to uncover these points in the telling of the story.  Ken observed that various TV specials have focused attention on efforts to uncover the historical evidence of this period of time in Egyptian history.  And they have come up for the most part with little or no evidence of the Israelite slave position, the rise of Joseph, etc.  Part of our nature as modern individuals, especially as far as the bible goes, is a near insatiable search for the historical evidence.

What I would reiterate is first the bible is not history in that sense.  Second the bible is a real collection of books spanning two time frames, the times being written about and the times of the writing.  What is written about moves from the beginning to, for Christians, the Christ event.  As I have said many times, it was written by people of faith, to people of faith, for the sake of their faith.  The writing was initially a telling, and then a writing, and then an editing, and finally a community discernment of what edited writings were to become the bible.

Modern scholarship has shed wonderful light on the writing of and thus has had a backward light on what has been written about.  But always what is written about is by, to, and for faith.  There is a mysterious and incarnate relationship between the books of the bible and the chosen people.  Thus we read, study, and, most importantly, live so that individually and communally we can be salt, light, leaven.  As Christ taught us to pray, thy Kingdom come … Already but not yet.  Already present in the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Not yet until we believe.  What else can I say.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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