Here we are at the end of Genesis. It’s also, in a sense, the end of Jacob and the end of Joseph, as we have two deaths in this final chapter. On the other hand, though, it’s not the end of Jacob and Joseph; the end is not the end. But in between these two deaths we have a scene between Joseph and his brothers that I think bears consideration.
What the crud, Joseph.
I don’t know what to make of today’s chapter. It’s the first of several concerning an extended deception that Jacob pulls on his brothers as the de facto ruler of Egypt. Why doesn’t he reveal outright that he’s their brother? Why does he keep Simeon in Egypt to ensure that the other brothers return with Benjamin? Why does he do so many things that cause his brothers no small amount of anxiety? I got questions.
Having begun Joseph’s story in earnest, we now set it aside for yet another sidebar. And like many before it, this one is not for the flannelgraph; most retellings of Joseph’s adventures omit it for a reason (by which I mean specifically a reason other than Joseph’s complete absence from it). Genesis 38 tells the story of how Judah was tricked into having sex with his daughter-in-law Tamar.
Congratulations! You pushed your way through the obstacle course of names that is Esau’s genealogy. Or maybe you skipped it. Look, I don’t know your life. But however you got here, now you come to the beginning of Joseph’s story. And if Genesis broke stride for Esau’s family tree, here it picks up the pace with a vengeance.
Okay, we are in chapter 33; we can give away the ending now. Esau does not kill Jacob! In fact, quite the opposite.
Good lord, where do I begin? This chapter’s got more drama than a 1980s daytime television serial. First we pick up where we left off in Rachel and Leah’s race to have as many sons that they can call their own as humanly possible, and then Laban tries to convince Jacob to continue working for him when Jacob has clearly had enough of employment under his uncle. The friction is palpable, and all through the chapter my soul is facepalming. Remember how I ended Friday’s post with the observation that maybe, just maybe, human relationships are worth it? That’s a hard “maybe.”
As I’m writing this, it’s about twenty past noon on Thursday, and I’ve got my laptop out in the lunchroom at work. However, we’ve had thunderstorms all day, and the overcast skies are blocking out my cell phone reception, so I can’t use my phone as a wi-fi hotspot. I can’t hit up Biblehub or BlueletterBible for Strong’s Concordance references, I can’t google for commentaries, I can’t even tweet out a link to the post that published earlier this morning. This evening, I’ll go home and finish up the post over my home internet connection, but for now I’m feeling landlocked. And I expect I’m feeling not unlike Jacob must have felt in the past couple chapters.
Tip for Dungeon Masters: if you need an intriguingly foreign-sounding name for a non-player character in your tabletop RPG, put aside those random name generators and just turn to any of the genealogy chapters in Genesis. You only need open today’s text, chapter 25, and you can populate your Dungeons and Dragons game with the likes of Ishbak the Barbarian, the great wizard Zohar, or the noble king Adbeel, ruler of the plains of Eldaah. That said, if you would rather be playing Dungeons and Dragons than reading the genealogies, I wouldn’t entirely blame you.
Finally, Abraham is officially Abraham! Now I can stop feeling weird when I refer to him by the name by which he is most widely known, but which he has not technically been given yet!