Here’s a passage that used to agitate me. To set the stage, Jacob and his twelve sons have long since died, and the current Pharaoh is struggling to control the numerous Hebrews in his kingdom. He forces them into hard labor, but they still prosper. So he tries to enlist the Hebrew midwives to kill all the Hebrew sons as they’re born. The Hebrew midwives don’t comply. But they lie in order to save the newborns, and therein lies the complication.
Joseph lets the cat out of the bag in today’s chapter. And it’s this chapter that gave me those impressions of his increased maturity, because he has a lot to say about God.
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?”
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.
The story of Noah and the ark is a long-time favorite in Sunday schools, and with good reason. Kids love animals, and the story is rife with animals. Kids love counting, and the story is rife with numbers. Kids love learning that the rainbow is a symbol of God’s promise never to eradicate all life from the face of the earth again, and the story is rife with a rainbow, which God explains is a symbol of his–okay, anyway. But then, after the dust has settled and Noah’s family gets back to the business of living life, there is some very non-G-rated content that goes down. And that’s why I’m starting my research for today’s chapter by googling “Genesis 9 what’s up with Noah getting drunk and naked.”
Do you have regrets? Do you ever wish you could just blow it all away and start over? Do you delete your save file and start replaying that RPG from the beginning, just to get that feeling of a new world replete with possibility, a world that isn’t locked in on the muddled calamities and missed opportunities that its characters have sown? If so, you’re in good company: my company, for starters. And also God’s.
In yesterday’s chapter, as a consequence of humanity’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, death became a fact of life. Today, we witness the first recorded human death, and not only is it a murder, it’s a fratricide.
On the drive to work Monday morning, I put in my old Revenge of the OC Supertones CD, and there’s a stanza from their track “We Shall Overcome” that’s stuck with me for the fourteen years since its release: “There’s a land of the dead called Planet Earth / Where a race called Man walks dead from birth.” I’d be hard-pressed to give a more succinct and potent statement of the human condition than that. But it wasn’t always that way, here on the blue planet. There was a time when there wasn’t any death here, nor any humanity. There was a time when there wasn’t any here. And that’s where the entire Bible starts.
If yesterday’s chapter had two parts that could each be the subject of an entire blog post, then today’s chapter has…several. Jesus returns to his hometown, leaves, sends out the twelve apostles to preach and perform miracles, causes Herod to think Jesus is John the Baptist back from the dead, feeds a crowd with just five loaves and two fish, and walks on water. What ties the chapter together? It’s not some mere philosophical idea or a particular point of doctrine. It’s the same thing that ties all of Mark together: the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
And what does the chapter tell us about Jesus Christ? Well, among other things, I wonder if it doesn’t tell us that he’s an introvert.