This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 38 - The Finale: From Canaan to Egypt (Genesis 46-50)

This last lesson wraps up our journey through the book of Genesis, and this lesson will have two parts - first is the lesson entailed in the passage that is the focus of the lesson, and second is a summary of what we have studied in this first book of the Canon of Scripture.  There are many dimensions to this whole narrative that we have explored, and hopefully as we have gone through the study you have gained further insight and maybe fresh perspectives on certain things.

Chapter 46 picks up where Chapter 45 left off, when Pharaoh extends to Joseph an invitation to bring his family to Egypt to ride out the famine that was well underway at this point.  Jacob, after some deliberation, sees that God is at work in all this and agrees to go.  In Chapter 46, we see in the opening verses his preparations for travel, and this is of note.  When my wife and I travel anywhere, it is a routine necessity that we pray to God before embarking on our trip for traveling mercies.  To be honest, it is a good practice to get into, and as we see here it was also modeled for us in Genesis with Jacob's example.  Note that before Jacob starts his journey to Egypt, he stops off in Beersheba (Well of the Oath) and offered a sacrifice.  Apparently, this was also a stop on the journey, and they put up for the night there as well.  Note where this is - the Well of the Oath, the very place his father and grandfather were established in divine covenant too with God.  A lot was probably going through Jacob's mind at this point as he prepared the sacrifice, and no doubt it was impacted by the history of this place and the promises he was aware of that were made here and what those symbolized.  One thing that had to be crossing his mind was this - So, God made this covenant with Grandad and Dad, yet we are going to Egypt now.  Does this mean something has changed?   So, as Jacob slept, God used that situation as an opportunity to visit Jacob in what was called a "vision of the night."  This vision may not have been a dream, and perhaps Jacob had so much on his mind that he slept light, and therefore God appeared to him.  When God does appear, He reassures Jacob first that this is right, and that for some reason he is supposed to go into Egypt for that season.  God also tells Jacob that it will be in Egypt where his descendants will be grown into a great nation.  This is significant too, as throughout Scripture we see Egypt playing this pivotal role in the chronicle of God's people, even going back to Abraham, and later with the Exodus, and still later entailing both the Ark of the Covenant and Jesus Himself.  Part of what God said stipulates that this time in Egypt was for a season only, and that Jacob's descendants would in the future return to the land promised by God to their fathers.  A puzzling aspect of this "night vision" was specific to Joseph - God tells Jacob that Joseph will "put his hand on your eyes," and this has a mysterious curiosity for us who read it now.  Apparently it also did for the early Fathers of the Church, as many of them had a lot to say about it.  St. Ambrose, for instance, proposed in his writings that Jacob, because of advanced age at this point, had either impaired vision or was even totally blind.  However, St. Chrysostom proposes something else - Joseph would get to see Jacob before Jacob passed away, and would "close his eyes in death."  I would propose that perhaps both of these were true - Jacob's eyesight was failing, but also because of his advanced age he would die in Egypt but would at least get to see his beloved son Joseph before he did so.   At any rate, God's encouragement to Jacob was probably what he needed, and there is a lesson in this for us.  When we make important decisions, it is important to seek God's counsel on those decisions.  As we discussed in the earlier study on the Lord's Prayer, the late Roman Catholic theologian Romano Guardini identified the petition "Thy will be done" as the "gateway petition" to the whole prayer for a reason, and Jacob's example beautifully illustrates that for us.  We as Christians fail to do this on many occasions, and that leads me to a bit of soapboxing in lieu of the coming election that is on the horizon as I am typing this (in November 2016).

Recently on social media discussions, I found myself engaged in some heated discussions over who was better to vote for, and often in the United States these days when it comes to elections we tend to settle for a "lesser evil" rather than seeking the higher good.  In a recent Moral Theology class assignment at my university, we were required to read selected chapters of a book by Germain Grisez entitled Christian Moral Principles, and if you are familiar with the work, Grisez is writing it in a similar (albeit more readable) style of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologia, and one part I want to focus on in that text is in Chapter 4, Question C, where he is discussing the mistaken theories that are often advanced regarding moral principles.  One of those theories he debunks in this section is similar to an idea called proportionalism, which essentially presupposes that one can determine the right course of moral action by weighing the good and evil consequences, and then choosing what is called the "lesser evil."  This mentality pretty much summarizes the election that is about to take place at the time I am typing this lesson up, and it is refuted by Grisez on a couple of levels.  First, Grisez argues that such a view makes a moral norm subject to validation by personal choice, and that in effect nullifies relying on God's will in the matter, or trying to fit God's will into a preconceived proportionalist box.  As Grisez also correctly points out, it also risks ignoring clear standards God has established in natural law, which He Himself created, and it leads to three facts that Grisez lays out for us:

1.  Although some duties can be avoided or assumed by choice, it doesn't excuse moral responsibility for those choices.

2.  Arguments used to support this variation of proportionalist thought are often based on equivocations, speculations, and the feelings of those supporting it rather than on objective reasoning based on supernatural Revelation and natural law.  Decisions therefore are based on bad judgment, and choice is based on bad action.

3.  Moral norms can be true yet ignored, while a law can be obeyed and still be immoral.

It is because of these facts that both natural law and supernatural Revelation dictate to us the necessity of submission to God's will in all things, and that is why Jacob sets for us an example here of doing just that.  Jacob understood, as we should, that decisions lead to choice, and both the decision and the choice must fall in line with God's will, as much was at stake.  Therefore, by seeking God, Jacob aligned his decision and choice to journey to Egypt with God's will for him doing so, and thus he got the "green light" to go.

Jacob was obviously not alone on the journey either, as he had at least 74 other people with him, of which 66 were males, including his other 11 sons.  When they arrive, Joseph meets them in the land of Goshen where they would settle thanks to Pharaoh's invitation, and would continue their livelihood as pastoralists.  This again substantiates why it stands to reason that the Hyksos regime ruled this part of Egypt at the time, in that the Pharaoh was extremely welcoming and generous concerning Joseph and his folks, which would not have been necessarily the case if a native Egyptian Pharaoh would have been in power (as we see later during the Exodus).  Goshen was also chosen as well because shepherds were not looked upon kindly by the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34 states that the Egyptians thought shepherds to be an "abomination," probably due to the Hyksos raids that maybe were carried out against them by marauding nomadic herdsmen).  St. Chrysostom also sheds light on another reason - due to the mystical nature of the Egyptian religion and the more practical pursuits of the nomadic herdsmen, the shepherds had no time to mess around with Egyptian mysticism.  If that was true, this meant that the Egyptians probably felt as though foreign herdsmen were disrespecting their religious practices, and that was abominable to them too.  Like many other areas in the Genesis narrative, it is possible all of this was true simultaneously.  Therefore, Joseph and ultimately Pharaoh in their wisdom may have seen Goshen as an appropriate and safe area for Joseph's family to settle, in that few native Egyptians messed around or lived there, and thus, being Jacob was devoted to worshipping the true God, it would have also removed temptation to participate in idolatry from Jacob's family as well (note - accessed 10/14/2016).

Although Joseph was able to meet up with his folks, Pharaoh had not yet met them but wanted to, and therefore Joseph advised they had arrived.  There is an endearing quality here to Pharaoh's hospitality, and in reading the account in Chapter 47, one thing that stands out is the great reverence and respect Pharaoh displays regarding the elderly Jacob.   This also suggests further evidence that this Pharaoh was not a native Egyptian either, as most native Egyptian Pharaohs saw themselves as "gods" as well and would not even associate with their own people, much less foreigners.  However, Pharaoh not only shows Jacob a very high regard, but even sits down with him for an informal chat.  Pharaoh first of all inquires of their work, and they reply as Joseph coached them to identify as shepherds.  Pharaoh then formally welcomes them, and even offers some of the more capable of Jacob's party to be overseers of his own herds in the area, which in itself was a high honor. In verses 7-12, we see Pharaoh sitting down and catching up with Jacob.  He asks in casual conversation Jacob's age, which he replies is 130 at that point, and then something interesting happens - Jacob blesses Pharaoh!  This is, in my opinion, one of the most down-to-earth passages in the Genesis account, and there is something about it that just resonates personally with me in reading it - the respect that Pharaoh shows Jacob, and the kindness Jacob extends to Pharaoh by blessing him, is just something that warms the heart.  There is no trace of formality or royal decorum seen in a casual reading of this passage, but rather it is just an informal conversation between the king of a great country and an old man that has garnered the king's respect as an elder.  This too would have been very uncharacteristic of a native Egyptian pharaoh, and in what we see here there is a valuable insight to be seen - God times everything perfect, and the Hyksos ruling this part of Egypt at exactly this time and with these events (namely the famine) shows who really is ordering things.  This is one of those Romans 8:28 moments.

 Location of the Land of Goshen in Egypt

What Goshen's landscape looks like today

Depiction of Jacob's meeting with Pharaoh

Now that everyone has been formally introduced, Joseph's family settles in.  However, Joseph has bigger proverbial "fish to fry," in that the famine is intensifying.   As the grain reserves start to run low, Joseph introduces a sort of annuity plan to assure that the Egyptians can still eat and that Egypt also keeps its head above water.  The plan comes in stages, and looks like this:

1.  Stage 1 - the monies collected from grain sales are given as incentive stipends to the people to help them buy their needed provisions.

2. Stage 2 - Joseph institutes a barter program in which he allows provision for cattle to be traded for grain.

3. Stage 3 - As funds run low, Joseph begins to buy up land and moves people to the cities, in essence creating the conditions for employment that agriculture could not provide.  The temple lands, in respect for Egyptian customs, are exempt from this.

4.  Stage 4 - For the grain that is able to be grown, Joseph institutes a 20% tax - 20% is allotted to Pharaoh, and the remaining 80% remains to those who possess it.  It is an embryonic "flat tax" program for its time.

This wise planning in essence helps Egypt ride out the famine, and it also demonstrates the wisdom God gave to Joseph to be a wise steward over that which he was responsible.  

As mentioned, Jacob is very advanced in age, and perhaps realizes his time on the earth is about to come to an end.  So, he calls Joseph to him, and makes him swear with one of those "hand under thigh" oaths we discussed in an earlier lesson, to bury his remains back in Canaan.  At this point, Jacob has been in Egypt about 17 years, as this passage notes he is 147 years old at the time of this oath.  A short time after that, as Genesis 48 records, Jacob becomes very ill, and he wants to bless Joseph's sons.  So, Joseph brings Ephraim and Manasseh before their grandfather, and they postrate themselves upon Joseph's prompting - Ephraim is on the left side of Jacob, and Manasseh on the right.  It is not stated how old these boys were at this point, although possibly they could have been older adolescents or young adults.  In verse 15, Jacob blesses them by laying hands first on Ephraim, who is the younger.  This perturbs Joseph, as that was not protocol, and he attempts to correct the supposed error himself by trying to move Jacob's hand to Manasseh's head.  Jacob, however, assures Joseph that he knows what he is doing, and the reason for this is prophetic - Ephraim's seed shall become a "multitude of nations," and shall be greater than Manasseh's.  The reason for this unfurls later in the Scriptural record as we begin to see the story of the nation of Israel unfurl, but for now that is all the detail given on this ceremonial blessing by Jacob of his grandsons.

Artist's rendering (although chronologically incorrect) of Jacob blessing Ephraim and Manasseh

As Jacob senses his time on earth coming to an end, he begins to get his affairs in order by imparting blessings and wisdom to his sons, which is recorded in Chapter 49.  Here is the breakdown of how that is recorded:

1. Reuben  (name means "vision of the son")- natural son, but not a "work of his father."  The meaning is enigmatic, but the Christological typology is evident.  Jesus, in the same way, is confessed by the Creed as being "begotten and not made." 

2.  Simeon and Levi  (names mean "hears and obeys" and "joined" respectively) - they are blessed together by Jacob, and are mentioned as being "good by nature, evil by choice."  This is one of those things we understand better when reading Aquinas, in that all being is good, but nature can be corrupted, and as mentioned, a choice is acting upon decision, and if the decision is wrong the choice will be evil.

3.  Judah (name means "praised") - Judah is "he whom his brothers shall praise," in that it is his line through which the future Messiah would come.  Verse 10 also carries overtones of the Kerygma with it, as it is complementary to passages in Isaiah such as 11:1, and in the New Testament we see fulfillment of this particularly in Hebrews 7:14 and Revelation 5:5.

4.  Zebulon (name means "to dwell with")  - the first geographic reference;  his descendants will inherit land on the coast bordering Lebanon, and shall be a "haven for ships."  Zebulon's territory is today where the modern city of Haifa sits. 

5.  Issachar (name means "to be rewarded") - there are overtones here to intense labor and slavery.  

6.  Dan (name means "judge") - His descendants shall exercise judgment (indeed Samson was a descendant of his).

7.  Gad (name means "good fortune") - He will be overtaken at first, but shall prevail in the end.

8.  Asher (name means "happy")- His descendants may be seen as inhabiting an agriculturally-rich area.

9.  Naphtali (name means "gained by struggle")- a "deer let loose"(?) whose descendants are also apparently articulate.

10.  Joseph (name means "may God add") - By God's help, Joseph's overcoming of adversity has led to great blessing.

11.  Benjamin (name means "son of old age") - a "ravenous wolf" who will "divide the spoils." (?)

Time does not permit a thorough discussion of what Jacob actually meant by what he was saying to his sons, but apparently these pronouncements would either have some significance in their own lives, or in those of their descendants.  

In verses 28-33, we have Jacob's passing recorded, and it mentions that Joseph mourned for 70 days and then he gets Pharaoh's permission to bury his father back in their homeland.  An additional seven days are observed in the funerary rite, and the Egyptians also mourn the death in such a way that the local people think it must be something of high importance, and it says they named the place accordingly.  As Jacob is being buried, there are some problems ran into with Esau and his tribesmen, as Jasher records and we discussed last lesson.  Esau opposes the burial, and as a result Jasher 56 records, a battle ensues at which point Esau is taken out by Dan's disabled son (the account has him as being deaf and dumb) Chushim, who decapitates Esau in this accounting.  This extrabiblical account of Esau's demise is the last mention in any literature of Esau's name, and although Genesis omits it for the reason that the focus there is on Jacob's passing, it is still significant historically.  

With Jacob's passing and once he is buried and life begins to return to normal, Joseph's brothers start to get very worried.  They recall what they did to him years ago, and are afraid that with their father out of the way Joseph will take revenge on them.  However, this is not Joseph's way, and he reassures them that all is forgiven due to the fact that it was God who allowed all that to happen for a greater good, namely a good that resulted in the saving of many lives.  Therefore, Joseph promises his brothers that they will be cared for and have nothing to worry about, and they all lived out their days in Egypt, and Jasher actually records when each of them dies.   That account, recorded in Jasher 62, has Reuben, Dan, Issachar, Asher, and Gad all dying at the age of 125, Judah at age 129, Naphtali at age 132, and in Jasher 63, Levi at age 137, and in Jasher 61, Zebulon at age 114 (he could have been the first to pass) and Simeon at age 120.  Benjamin's death, oddly, is not recorded at all.  It is mentioned that sometime prior to Levi's death was when things started going sour for Jacob's descendants in Israel as well, as this would have probably been about the time the Egyptians drove out the Hyksos, and due to the contempt the native Egyptians had, this could have been the scenario which created the conditions for the Exodus later.   

In the midst of all the above, Joseph at some point passes away at the age of 110, and in verses 22-26 it is recorded that he saw his great-grandchildren grow up.  He then speaks prophetically before his passing of his own interring back in Canaan, and also he reaffirms that which God spoke to Jacob some years before - that their descendants would return.  This essentially ends the Genesis account, and what we have now set is the stage for the events leading up to the arrival of Moses some years later and the ensuing Exodus.

Genesis therefore concludes here - a story that started in Paradise in the Garden ends in a coffin in Egypt.  Man was created originally in the image of God, and given health and immortality, but then he forfeited it when he sought to fear his own mortality over fearing God, and that led to a gradual decline in lifespan - those who once lived 900+ years now could expect to be accomplishing a lot if they made it past 100.  The effects of the Fall did take time, but they were felt nonetheless.  And, that leads to some concluding thoughts on the whole story.

Genesis is historical, it is literal, and it is of supernatural origin.  It has been the position throughout this study that although Genesis was written long after the events it recorded, a combination of passed-down oral traditions as well as "filling in the gaps" through Moses directly communing with God to receive this marvelous account on the Mount gives us the story of our origins, both as a race and for the universe as a whole.  There are many today who cannot rationalize what Genesis says, and they try to reinterpret it and spiritualize it, but the fact remains that God's Word is authoritative, and because He is true, His Word is true also.   That is the approach we take in this study, and hopefully it was edifying to you and challenging, as it truly was to me preparing it. 

Sources used for this lesson:

Cornwall, Judson, and Stelman Smith.   The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names.  North Brunswick, NJ:  Bridge-Logos, 1998.

Grisez, Germain.  Christian Moral Principles.  Chicago:  Franciscan Herald Press, 1983.

Johnson, Ken. ed.  The Ancient Book of Jasher., 2008.

Sheridan, Mark, and Thomas Oden, eds.  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament Vol II - Genesis 12-50.  Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 2002.