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.
I hope you like more bad behavior from bad people, because Genesis has got it in spades. This book is not afraid to show its protagonists’ faults and shortcomings. I don’t think I need to recapitulate all the bitterness between Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael, or how Noah and Lot both exit the narrative on a low note, or Abraham and Isaac’s habits of lying to kings. I don’t need to, but I will. The account has got no qualms about making you ask yourself, “What is wrong with these people?”
Here it is: the Second Big Grift. We already saw the First Big Grift back in Genesis 25:27-34, in which Jacob takes advantage of his brother Esau’s hunger to trade a bowl of stew for the right of primogeniture. The Second Big Grift also involves food: as Isaac’s eyesight fails in his old age, Rebecca convinces Jacob to pose as Esau and deliver a savory meal to his father in order to secure the firstborn’s blessing as well. Living up to his name, Jacob once again plays the heel by grabbing the heel. And here’s the big question for today: is God getting behind all this chicanery?
Meet Abraham. He’s known as Abram right now. He’s the son of Terah, descended from Noah’s son Shem, whose name means “name.” In the last chapter, Abraham’s dad died, and in this chapter, God calls Abraham to go to a place where God will bless Abraham, his descendants, and finally all the families of the earth. Abraham follows God’s leading to the land of Canaan, which is named for the son of Noah’s youngest son Ham. Abraham builds an altar to God there, and he later moves on to Bethel, where he also builds an altar. But more importantly for today’s post, he goes down to Egypt to avoid the effects of a famine, and while he’s there, problematic stuff happens.
I think I was in fourth grade when I first heard Weezer’s “The Sweater Song.” I was at the pool at Queen City Racquet Club, and one of the teenage lifeguards must have been playing The Blue Album, because I also remember hearing “Surf Wax America” and “Buddy Holly” over the snack bar speakers. It would be years before I heard “Buddy Holly” again, recognized it, and finally put a name to the band and songs that I’d heard as a kid at the pool. But Genesis 3 reads like the chorus of “The Sweater Song,” with God’s perfect garden unraveling and leaving the man and woman, the only two beings made in his image, lying naked and ashamed on the floor. The world is coming apart.
So, generous Chocolate Book supporter Matt Rizkallah sponsored a scripture doodle via my Patreon. For his doodle verse, he chose Psalm 51:6: “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” And…oh no, what have I done.