Monday, January 18, 2021

Seder 40: Psalm 76---The All-Powerful Divine Warrior

Psalm 76 has been classified as a “victory hymn”, describing God as a Mighty Warrior in vivid language. Verse 3 says that “he broke the flashing arrows; the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war”.  No weapon can stand against him.

Verse 5 says that enemy soldiers “sank into sleep; all the men of war were unable to use their hands.”   They were completely paralyzed.  “At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both rider and horse lay stunned,” we read in verse 6.

No one can stand before him (verse 7), and so the earth waits in fearful silence while he speaks (verse 8).  

What is our proper response to this awesome Warrior?  His people should fear and worship him, and all nations should bring gifts to him (v 11).  

Psalm 76 is one of the Psalms of Asaph.  The original Asaph ministered at the tabernacle in the time of King David.  His descendants continued in that role.  It's not possible to link this psalm definitively to a specific military triumph of Israel.  We might think, for example, of Judah's amazing deliverance from Sennacherib and the powerful Assyrian army described in 2 Kings 19 and Isa 37.  

There are at least two connections between Psalm 76 and this week's Seder in Gen 44:18-46:27.  One is the emphasis at the beginning of the Psalm on God's presence at Zion, in the territory of Judah.  Gen 44 chronicles how Judah emerged as a leader among the sons of Israel.  

There is also an interesting connection with verse 10, which begins,  “Surely the wrath of man shall praise you.”  One way to read this statement is that God is so powerful that he can take our sinful and rebellious actions and use them for his glory, to further his own plan.

Joseph points out an example of this in Gen 45 when he reveals his identity to his brothers.  He tells them in Gen 45:5-8,

“And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

Joseph’s brothers had intended to harm him by selling him into slavery.  But God turned their wrath, their sinful intentions, in a positive direction to save lives and bless the world through their family. 

We see the ultimate example of Psalm 76:10 at the cross.  Jesus was put to death unjustly, but this was all part of his plan of salvation (Acts 2:22-39).

We are reminded of another familiar verse, Rom 8:28, where Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

Joseph remained strong in faith and did not give up hope when he faced enslavement and imprisonment.  He saw a bigger picture and was able to recognize an opportunity to do good and further God’s purposes. 

Joseph’s example reminds us to continue our efforts to find ways to spread God’s love during a time of trial.  We know that God will turn the wrath of man to his glory, and we would like to participate in what God is doing.   

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Seder 39: Gen 43-44---Another Test for Joseph's Brothers

 Joseph's brothers were apprehensive when they arrived in Egypt the second time.  Would the official who was holding Simeon in custody accuse them of being thieves as well as spies?  What further things would they suffer for their treatment of Joseph 22 years before?

The Egyptian official treated them kindly, hosting a special dinner for them.  At the dinner, he seated them according to their birth order.  How did he know so much about them?  (One midrash proposes that Joseph pretended to use his special divining cup to determine the seating arrangement, as a way to explain his knowledge of their ages and heighten their awe of the powerful official.)

Things went surprisingly well for the brothers, and they headed home with more grain.  Then disaster struck.  The Egyptian official's steward stopped them and accused them of stealing the official's silver divining cup.  

This situation may have reminded the brothers of a traumatic episode from their childhood.  When their family was escaping from their great uncle Laban, Laban had pursued them, accusing them of stealing his household gods (Gen 31:25-30).  An ugly argument ensued, with their father asserting his innocence and promising death for the thief.  (Jacob had not realized at the time that Rachel had stolen the items---vv 31-32).  

This time it was the brothers who insisted on their innocence and said that whoever had the cup should die (Gen 44:9).  Then the cup was found in the sack of Benjamin (v 12).  When the brothers saw this, they tore their clothes as their father had when he had seen Joseph's bloody coat (v 13; Gen 37:34).

The Egyptian official did not suggest the death penalty for Benjamin.  He proposed that Benjamin become his slave and the others go free.  Here was a final test for the brothers.  Would they abandon Benjamin as they had Joseph?  

Judah, the one who had proposed years earlier that Joseph be sold (Gen 37:25-28), took the lead in negotiating with the Egyptian official.  The stage was set for the climax of the Joseph narrative.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Seder 39: Psalm 94---Counting on Divine Vindication

 Psalm 94 does not have a superscription in the Masoretic text.  In the Septuagint it is labeled a psalm of David for the fourth day of the week.  In the temple there was a psalm designated to be sung by the Levites for each day of the week, and Psalm 94 was the one for Wednesday.  This custom may have originated during the Babylonian exile.  In Babylon a differrent god was honored on each day of the week, and the Jews decided to honor the true God on every day of the week.  

The Talmud (b Rosh Hashanah 31a) notes that the fourth day of creation is associated with the sun and moon, and Levites sang Psalm 94 on the fourth day of the week to call for God's punishment of those who worshiped the sun and moon.  

Psalm 94 begins by referring to the God of Israel as the "God of vengeances."  The congregation prays that God would execute justice on the wicked who have been exploiting the defenseless and boasting about what they have done (vv 1-7).  The wicked are rebuked in vv 8-11 for imagining that God will not hold them accountable for their actions.

On the other hand, there are blessings for those who submit to God's authority and allow themselves to be corrected by God's word.  A midrash on Ps 94:12 lists 3 blessings that result from divine discipline:

  • the Torah (Ps 94:12).
  • the promised land (Deut 8:5-7).
  • the world to come (Prov 6:23).
Verses 16-23 note the consolation that comes from trusting in God's vindication.  

Two verses in Psalm 94 are referenced in the New Testament.  Verse 14 declares, "For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage."  Paul repeats this affirmation in Rom 11:1-2.

Psalm 94:11 states that God "knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath."  Paul quotes this verse in 1 Cor 3:20 when he admonishes his readers not to trust too much in human wisdom. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Seder 38: Gen 42-43--Joseph Tests his Brothers

 When Joseph recognized his brothers, he did not tell them who he was.  Instead, he accused them of being spies and had them locked up for three days (Gen 42:8-17).  

The narrator tells us nothing about Joseph's thought process beyond a note that he remembered the dreams he had had more than 20 years before (v 9).  That note led to a suggestion by Nachmanides (1194-1270), one of the great medieval Jewish commentators, that Joseph's overall goal was to arrange for the fulfillment of his dreams.  

Most interpreters do not go in that direction, however.  A more usual suggestion is that Joseph's plan was to test his brothers and promote their repentance and the reunification of his family.  

As we continue through the narrative, we at least can keep track of Joseph's actions and their results.  His incarceration of his brothers certainly gave them an opportunity to contemplate their predicament.  They blamed their situation on what they done to Joseph all those years ago (vv 21-22).  They  felt guilty about what they had done, which can be considered a step toward repentance.  

After three days Joseph sent his brothers back home with grain, keeping Simeon in custody and ordering the others to return with their brother Benjamin.  They told their father the truth about where Simeon was, an improvement over their behavior with regard to Joseph.  

It would take some time for Jacob to accept the idea of Benjamin's making the trip to Egypt.  But as the famine continued, Judah finally persuaded him to let Benjamin go, taking personally responsibility for Benjamin's welfare (Gen 43:1-14).  Jacob decided to leave the matter in God's hands, while following his usual strategy of preparing a lavish gift for the Egyptian official (see Prov 18:16).

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Seder 38: Gen 42---Joseph Meets his Brothers Again

 After 13 years as a slave in Egypt, Joseph was placed in charge of Egypt's "grain management and famine relief" program.  He supervised the stockpiling of grain during 7 years of plenty.  When the subsequent years of famine began, he supervised the distribution of grain to those who needed it.  

After his promtion to leadership, Joseph does not seem to have attempted to contact his family, although he would have been concerned about how they were doing.  He also surely wondered why they had not contacted him.  Jacob would have had the means to buy Joseph back, if only Jacob had known Joseph was a slave in Egypt.  

Having heard nothing from his family, Joseph may well have felt rejected by them.  Had he been sent away for some reason, as Ishmael and Esau had in previous generations?  In naming his oldest son Manasseh, he expressed a desire to put the past behind him (Gen 41:51).  Certainly he had plenty of responsibilities to keep him busy.

Then, after over 20 years, 10 of his brothers showed up in Egypt, seeking grain during the famine.  When they "came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground" (Gen 42:6), we are reminded of Joseph's dream about the sheaves in Gen 37:7.  Joseph thought of it too (Gen 42:9).  

At this dramatic moment "Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him" (v 8).  The word for "recognize" (nakar) is an important one in this account.  Earlier his brothers had asked their father if they recognized Joseph's bloody coat (37:32), and Judah had been asked whether he recognized the items that he had given Tamar as a pledge (Gen 38:25).  

In the failure of his brothers to recongize him, we see another way in which Joseph is a type of Jesus, since many in Israel did not recognize Jesus as Messiah when he came.  "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him," we read in John 1:11.  

In his sermon at Church of the Messiah on Jan 2, 2021, Rob Wilson emphasized the importance of our recognizing God's presence in the world and in our lives. 

Seder 38: Psalm 146---Praising God as a Reliable Helper of Those in Need

 Psalms 146-150 all begin and end with calls to praise God.  In Psalm 146, God specifically is praised as the eternal Creator and Ruler of the universe, the only one "who keeps faith forever" (v 6).   In contrast it is not wise to place trust in human rulers, whose power and influence are temporary (vv 3-4).   

These ideas were expressed well by Mattathias the priest, the father of the five Maccabee brothers.  Shortly before his death in 166 BC he told his sons, 

"And so observe, from generation to generation, that none of those who put their trust in him will lack strength.  Do not fear the words of sinners, for thier splendor will turn into dung and worms.  Today they will be exalted, but tomorrow they will not be found, because they will have returned to the dust, and their plans will have perished" (1 Macc 2:61-63).  

Mattathias was right.  The persecution of the Jews by the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV was temporary.  In 164 the Jerusalem Temple was taken back and rededicated, as commemorated at Hanukkah.

Psalm 146 lists a number of groups of people for whom God is especially looking out, including

  • the oppressed;
  • the hungry;
  • the prisoners;
  • the blind;
  • those who are bowed down;
  • the strangers;
  • the orphan;
  • the widow.
This list reminds us of the Messianic agenda laid out in Isa 61:1-2 and Luke 4, and the definition of "pure relgion" in James 1:27.  We see an example of God's love in Gen 41, where God frees Joseph from prison and places him in a position to feed the hungry.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Seder 37: Gen 41---Joseph's Amazing Reversal of Fortune

 Two years after Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker, another opportunity arose for Joseph to interpret dreams.  The Pharaoh himself had a pair of dreams that troubled him greatly, and his experts had been unable to give an explanation that satisfied him (Gen 41:1-8). 

We know that in ancient Egypt some "dream manuals" were compiled, giving examples of dreams and their interpretations.  The interpretations often relied upon wordplay.  Apparently the manuals were not helpful in this case.

One midrash imagines what Pharaoh's experts might have told him (Genesis Rabbah 89).  In the midrash, they say that the image of seven good cows eaten by seven bad cows stands for seven daughters of Pharaoh who will die prematurely, while the good good sheaves eaten by seven bad ones represents seven kingdoms that Pharaoh would conquer but that would rebel against him.

The midrash reminds us of two main challenges in interpreting these dreams.  A correct interpretation would recognize that the two dreams were a pair with the same message, and that the sevens in the dream stood for seven years.  Verse 8 may imply that the experts did not pick up on the first of these challenges.  The Hebrew literally says that Pharaoh told them his dream (singular), but that they were not successful in interpreting the dreams (plural).  

Pharaoh's cupbearer then remembered Joseph's skills in dream interpretation (vv 9-13), and Joseph was brought out of prison to hear the dreams.  Joseph was careful to emphasize that he could not interpret dreams on his own, but that God could provide a satisfying interpretation (v 16).  

Joseph not only gave a convincing interpretation but offered a plan for dealing with the extended famine that he saw predicted in the dreams (vv 25-36).  Here we get a glimpse of the aspects of Joseph's character that led to his being given managerial responsibilities at an early age.  Pharaoh was greatly troubled by the dreams, and after hearing Joseph's interpretation he might have wondered if it was possible for Egypt to get through the famine successfully.  Joseph's plan helped to ease his mind.  

Joseph's plan was his resume.  After hearing Joseph's impressive presentation, Pharaoh made him the "famine czar", with authority to carry out the plan he had proposed.  He was given an Egyptian name and a wife from the Egyptian elite.  

We wonder what Pharaoh had heard previously about Joseph, Did he remember the encounter that an earlier Pharaoh had had with Abraham 200 years before (Gen 12)?  Had he heard about Joseph's talents from Potiphar?  In any case, Joseph experienced a meteoric rise to power and was put in a position to save many lives.   Once again, the nations were blessed through a descendant of Abraham.  

Thinking of the book of Genesis as a whole, Joseph is a kind of second Adam figure.  Adam failed by trusting in himself to determine good and evil.  Joseph, on the other hand, relied on God to correctly identify the "good" and "evil" cattle and sheaves.  He showed how to wisely exercise dominion over the earth (Gen 1:28).  

Christians recognize in Joseph a type of the Messiah.  Through no sin of his own, he was buried for a time in prison, but then was raised again with all things in Egypt "put under his feet" (1 Cor 15:27-28).  He was led by the Spirit of God (Gen 41:38; Isa 11:2).  

When Egypt needed bread, Pharaoh said, "Go to Joseph.  What he says to you, do" (Gen 41:55).  We are reminded of Mary's words at the wedding feast at Cana in John 2:5.  "Do whatever he tells you."

Seder 37: Psalm 126---Prayer for Continued Restoration

 After 70 years of exile in Babylon, a group of Jews returned to the land of Israel, as had been prophesied (e.g., in Jer 29:10-14).  Psalm 126 begins by expressing the joy felt by those returning exiles (vv 1-3).

Life was not easy, though, for those who returned to the ruins of Jerusalem.  They started the project of rebuilding the Temple, but the work soon stalled.  Day-to-day life was difficult.  And so they turned to God seeking further restoration (v 4).  

We know some of the ways in which God answered those prayers.  He sent prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people to work on rebuilding the Temple.  Haggai affirms God's faithfulness in Haggai 2:4-5:

"Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD.  Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest.  Be strong all you people of the land, declares the LORD.  Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt.  My Spirit remains in the your midst.  Fear not."

Psalm 126 ends with a note of confidence that God will be with those who step out in faith to follow him.  

"Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!  He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him" (vv 5-6).

The midrash on Ps 126 identifies Jacob as an example of verse 6.  Jacob left home for Haran with little more than the clothes on his back, and returned with substantial wealth and a large family.  We can also think of Joseph, who was taken to Egypt as a slave and emerged from imprisonment 13 years later as one of the highest officials in Egypt.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Seder 36: Gen 39-40---Though in Prison, Joseph Does not Give Up

 When Joseph would not respond to the advances of Potiphar's wife, she retaliated, telling her husband that Joseph had tried to rape her.  Potiphar then had Joseph put in the palace prison.  

The fact that Joseph was not put to death is evidence that God was with Joseph.  Some have speculated that Potiphar suspected Joseph was innocent but had to do something to appease his wife.

To Joseph it must have seemed that no good deed goes unpunished.  He had done what was right under difficult circumstances, and he had been rewarded with imprisonment.  

But Joseph clearly did not give up.  Again his abilities were evident, and he was placed in charge of the other prisoners (Gen 39:21-23).  

We see Joseph's positive, can-do attitude, and his faith in God, in his interactions with the cupbearer and baker of Pharaoh who were also in the prison.  When both of them had troubling dreams on the same night, Joseph urged them to tell him about their dreams (Gen 40:5-8).  

Both dreams were full of "threes":  three branches for the cupbearer, three baskets for the baker.  The cupbearer dreamed that he was back at work, filling Pharaoh's cup.  The baker's dream had him trying to provide Pharaoh with bread, but he was in a more passive role,  with birds taking the bread from him.  

Joseph knew from his own experience that dreams with divine messages come in pairs.  He also probably knew that a birthday celebration for Pharaoh was coming up in three days.  These things may have helped him see the meanings of the dreams.  At any rate, God led Joseph to a correct interpretation by some chain of reasoning.  

Joseph's dream interpretations planted a seed in the mind of the cupbearer.  That seed would bear fruit in due time.  

Seder 36: Gen 39---Joseph Resists Temptation

Genesis 39 resumes the saga of Joseph, who was sold as a slave in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of the guard under Pharaoh.  Joseph's managerial talents soon became evident, and Potiphar eventually felt confident placing Joseph in charge of his household affairs (vv 1-6). 

Potiphar's wife, however, had a different kind of household affair in mind.  In an ancient example of sexual harassment, she tried to seduce Joseph.  The Book of Jubilees pictures her putting pressure on him for a year.  

But Joseph withstood the pressure and refused to give in to Potiphar's wife.  Although he was far from home, he had not lost his connection to the God of Jacob and the teaching he must have received from Jacob as a child.  

Joseph's example has always been important for those who are striving to resist sexual temptation.  Paul had Joseph's example in mind when he admonished early Christians to  "flee from sexual immorality" (1 Cor 6:18).  

The book of Fourth Maccabees, a philosophically-oriented work from the Second Temple period, holds up Joseph's example as proof that it is possible to obey the 10th commandment (You shall not covet) by the mastery of reason over emotion (4 Macc 2).  

Seder 36: Psalm 77---From Distress to Confidence Via Meditation on God's Wondrous Works

In Psalm 77, an individual lament, the psalmist (probably Asaph) prays about a severe trial.  In distress, he cannot sleep.  

His struggles lead to questions:  

"Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?  Has his steadfast love forever ceased?  Are his promises at an end for all time?  Has God forgotten to be gracious?  Has he in anger shut up compassion?"  (vv 7-9)

Pondering these questions, he thinks back on all that he knows about God, and is assured that all the questions have negative answers.  Based on God's track record as Creator and faithful Deliverer, he knows that he is safe in God's hands (vv 11-20).  

In the next psalm, number 78, Asaph emphasizes the importance of rehearsing God's mighty works from the past for future generations, "so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments" (verse 7).  Psalm 77 gives an example of Psalm 78:7.  The psalmist sets his hope in God by remembering God's great works. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Hanukkah 2020: Jesus the Good Shepherd

 John 7-10 records events from the final year of Jesus' earthly ministry, starting with the Feast of Tabernacles and continuing through Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication.  (Where the "Sukkot section" of John ends and the "Hanukkah section" begins is an interesting question.  New Testament scholar Jack Poirier has argued that the Hanukkah section may begin as early as John 8:12.  See his paper "Hanukkah in the Narrative Chronology of the Fourth Gospel", NewTest.Stud. 54, pp.465–478, 2008.)

Jesus' words and deeds that fall and winter astounded many of those who had come to Jerusalem for the festivals. Was this the promised Messiah?  Religious leaders tended to be more skeptical.  When Jesus gave sight to a man who had been born blind (John 9), the man was questioned by religious leaders and ejected from a synagogue when his answers were deemed unsatisfactory (vv. 24-34).  Those leaders declared themselves to be the legitimate successors of Moses (v 28), but John implies that they, rather than the man Jesus had healed, were the ones who actually suffered from blindness (vv 35-41).  

It is in this context that Jesus proclaimed himself to be the true shepherd of Israel (John 10:1-18).  In the background are at least three passages from the Hebrew Scriptures:

  1. Num 27:15-23, where Moses asks God to appoint his successor, so that Israel would not be "as sheep that have no shepherd".  Moses' successor was Joshua, and Jesus implies that he, another man named Joshua, was the true successor of Moses. 
  2. Ezekiel 34:1-23, where Ezekiel condemns the leaders of Israel for abusing and exploiting their flock and prophesies that God personally would regather his flock from exile and place the Messiah as a shepherd over them.  In John 10, Jesus implies that he, as the good shepherd, is both God and Davidic Messiah.
  3. Ezekiel 37:15-24, which speaks of God's people being united under one shepherd, the Messiah.  Jesus says that his one flock would include people from the nations along with Israel (John 10:16).  
With his words in John 10:1-18, Jesus indirectly identified himself as the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.  At Hanukkah, when there was widespread hope for some successor of the Maccabees to deliver Israel from Roman domination, people in Jerusalem hoped for a more direct declaration that Jesus was such a deliverer (v 24).  Jesus did not give one, but he did repeat that he was the good shepherd who could grant eternal life to his sheep through his close relationship with God (vv 25-30).    

Some at this point accused Jesus of blasphemy.  Jesus answered that God had many divine sons, pointing to the angels placed over the nations who were rebuked in Ps 82.   That God would would designate a Son to be Israel's divine shepherd was therefore not a blasphemous notion.  

Seder 35: Gen 38---Tamar Takes Action

 Chapters 37-50 of Genesis tell the story of how two of Jacob's sons---Joseph and Judah---became leaders in the family.  But the narrative does not start out well for either of them.  In Gen 37, Joseph is sold into slavery and taken to Egypt.  And in Gen 38, Judah experiences numerous setbacks in trying to build a family.  

Living in the region that would later become the allotment of the tribe of Judah, Judah married the daughter of Shua and fathered three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.  Er married a woman named Tamar, but before they had any children, Er was struck dead for wicked deeds not specified in the text (Gen 38:6-7).

According to the ancient custom of levirate marriage, it was then Onan's responsibility to continue Er's line through Tamar.  Onan, however, refused to do so, and he too was struck dead for his refusal (vv. 8-10).  

With two sons dead, Judah was unwilling to risk having Shelah marry Tamar, even though the deaths of Er and Onan had not been Tamar's fault.  And then Judah's wife died as well.  At this point it was not clear that there would ever be a tribe of Judah. 

While he mourned his wife's death, Judah kept Tamar in a kind of limbo, not allowing her to marry Shelah and not releasing her from a commitment to his family.  When Judah's time of mourning was over, Shelah decided to confront her father-in-law on the road to Timnah, where he would be traveling for a sheep shearing.  It is worth noting that in some ancient law codes (e.g., the Hittite laws), the father-in law is next in line, after the dead man's brothers, to marry a childless widow.

We are not told what Tamar's intentions were when she waited for Judah at the entrance to Enaim (v 14).  Was she planning to pose as a prostitute and seduce Judah, or did she simply take advantage of his proposition?  In any case, she agreed to a liaison with Judah after Judah agreed to leave his signet, cord, and staff with her as a pledge toward full payment.  

Judah was not able to find the mysterious prostitute who now had his ID.  Meanwhile, Tamar's encounter with Judah had resulted in a pregnancy.  

When Judah found out about Tamar's pregnancy, he intended to have her put to death (v 24).  Tamar had the evidence that would exonerate herself, but she chose not to make public what Judah had done, Instead, she sent a messenger to Judah with the evidence (v 25), having faith that God would work things out in her favor.

This is a crucial point in the narrative.  According to one midrash Satan stole the evidence from the messenger, but then the angel Gabriel took it back.  

Tamar's message said, "Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff."  The words parallel those of Gen 37:32, where Judah and his brothers presented Jacob with Joseph's bloody robe.  What would Judah do now?  Would he cover up his deeds or finally accept responsibility for his actions?  He chose the latter course, and it was a turning point in his life. 

By admitting that he was at fault, Judah saved three lives, since Tamar was pregnant with twins.  One midrash says that because of Judah's actions, God later rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from death (Dan 3). 

In any case, Tamar gave birth to twin sons, Perez and Zerah, and Perez would prove to be an ancestor of Jesus the Messiah.  After reading about Tamar's courage in Gen 38, we can understand why she is mentioned in Matt 1:3 in the genealogy of Jesus.

At Church of the Messiah on Dec 5, Kyle Kettering gave a sermon on this Seder.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Seder 35: Gen 38---Who Did Jacob's Sons Marry?

 For Abraham, it was very important that Isaac marry a woman in Abraham's clan (Gen 24).  For Isaac and his wife Rebekah, it was important that her son Jacob marry someone from that same clan (Gen 28:1-2).  

But the book of Genesis never raises the subject of who Jacob's twelve sons were supposed to marry.   There are at least a couple of reasons why this apparently ceased to be an issue.  For one thing, Jacob and his father-in-law Laban had parted on less-than-amicable terms (Gen 31:51-54), so Jacob would not have been likely to send any of his sons back to Haran in search of wives.  

Also, by this point the identity of the covenant family may have become well enough established that assimilation into the surrounding Canaanite culture was no longer such a danger---at least after the destruction of Shechem.  Jacob's family was not absorbed into Shechem, but it's possible that some of the women captured from Shechem (Gen 34:29) married sons of Jacob.

We are given information about the wives of three of those sons.  Judah married the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua (Gen 38:2).  We are not told her name, and she is referred to in 1 Chron 2:3 simply as Bath-shua ("daughter of Shua").  Simeon also married a Canaanite (Gen 46:10), and Joseph married Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian priest (Gen 41:45). 

Ancient readers of Genesis were curious and concerned about the lack of information given on this subject.  Some sought to fill in the gaps.  For example, the book of Jubilees (second century BC) lists names of wives of Jacob's sons in verses 20-21 of chapter 34:

"And after Joseph perished, the sons of Jacob took unto themselves wives. The name of Reuben's wife is 'Ada; and the name of Simeon's wife is 'Adlba'a, a Canaanite; and the name of Levi's wife is Melka, of the daughters of Aram, of the seed of the sons of Terah; and the name of Judah's wife, Betasu'el, a Canaanite; and the name of Issachar's wife, Hezaqa: and the name of Zabulon's wife, Ni'iman; and the name of Dan's wife, 'Egla; and the name of Naphtali's wife, Rasu'u, of Mesopotamia; and the name of Gad's wife, Maka; and the name of Asher's wife, 'Ijona; and the name of Joseph's wife, Asenath, the Egyptian; and the name of Benjamin's wife, 'Ijasaka.  And Simeon repented, and took a second wife from Mesopotamia as his brothers."

Notice that Jubilees, in its desire for Jacob's sons not to have mixed too much with the Canannites, has some of them going back to Haran to marry women from Abraham's clan.  

Monday, November 30, 2020

Seder 34 Sermon: Dwelling Together

 Certain biblical passages are so familiar to us that we do not recognize how strange they actually are.

For example, isn't it amazing that Joseph's brothers became so resentful of him that they considered killing him, and as it was ended up selling him into slavery (Gen 37:20-28)?

And isn't it strange that Jesus, at age 12. remained behind in Jerusalem after the Passover week celebration without telling his parents what he intended to do, and then seemed surprised when they were worried about him (Luke 2:41-52)?   

In a sermon at Church of the Messiah on Nov 28, 2020, Kyle Kettering reflected on these two accounts, noting that people often behave in strange ways toward members of their families.  Even so, families are a blessing, and we grow in character through all the weird things that other family members do.  

In discussing Luke 2, Kyle mentioned an interesting reading of Luke 2:49 that is different from the one we most often hear.  In that verse, Jesus says to his parents, "Why did you seek Me?  Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"  (NKJV)

Usually we assume that Jesus was referring in v 49 to God, who was indeed his Father.  (That is what the NKJV assumes by capitalizing the "F" in "Father".)  But it is also possible that Jesus was referring to his legal human father Joseph, who is called Jesus' father in the previous verse.  (Steven Notley favors this reading.) We know that Jesus' family was notably pious, as evidenced by their frequent pilgrimages to Jerusalem and careful observance of the Torah in general (vv 22-24, 41).   So it could be that while Joseph was a carpenter, his real love was the Word of God, a love that he passed along to his son.  Jesus was honoring Joseph by pursuing that love, which was Joseph's real "business."

Seder 34: Psalm 129---Afflicted but not Defeated

 In Psalm 129 a personified Israel, speaking as an individual, reflects on the many trials it has suffered throughout its history, starting presumably from the time of its enslavement in Egypt.  The trials are likened to furrows cut into its back with a plow.  But despite those trials, Israel survived because of the righteous God's deliverance (v 4).  

The attitude of "afflicted but not defeated" in verses 1-4 reminds us of these words of Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians:  "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Cor 4:8-9).  Joseph seems to have had the same attitude after he was sold into slavery in Egypt.

The second half of Psalm 129 consists of an imprecation against those who "hate Zion" (v 5).  Since Zion is shorthand for God's plan to work through Israel to bring blessing to all nations, those who "hate Zion" stand in opposition to what God is doing in the world, including sending the Messiah.  

The imprecation expresses the hope that Zion's opponents will be like plants that sprout up in the small amount of soil on a flat roof.  Such plants quickly wither and produce nothing (vv 6-7), much like the seeds that fall on rocky ground in Jesus' parable of the sower (Matt 13:5-6).

Seder 34: Gen 37:21-36---Selling Joseph

 As they saw Joseph approaching them at Dothan, Joseph's brothers entertained the idea of actually killing him (Gen 37:20).  Then Reuben, the oldest, persuaded the group to spare Joseph's life but put him in a dry cistern that was nearby.  His plan was to go to the cistern later and release Joseph (vv 21-22).  

After putting Joseph in the cistern, the brothers sat down to eat.  When they saw a caravan approaching on a trade route that passed close by, Judah suggested the idea of selling Joseph to the traders.  His suggestion carried the day (vv 25-27).  

Verse 28 reports, "Then Midianite traders passed by.  And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.  They took Joseph to Egypt."

There is some ambiguity in this verse about who sold Joseph, based on the identity of "they" in the phrase "And they drew Joseph up."  Two possibilities have been proposed:

(1) The usual interpretation is that Joseph's brothers sold him to the traders.  In this scenario Reuben, who apparently has been apart from the others for some reason, shows up at the cistern after the sale and finds Joseph already gone (vv 29-30).  

This raises the question of where Reuben was.  One midrash proposes that he was not eating with his brothers because he was fasting in an attempt to atone for his earlier sin with Bilhah (Gen 35:22).  

(2) An alternate interpretation is that the brothers overestimated the amount of time they had to get back to the pit before the traders arrived.  While they were eating, Midianites lifted him out of the pit and sold him to Ishmaelites.  Reuben left the meal early to rescue Joseph at the cistern and found him already gone.  

Twenty two years later, Joseph introduces himself to his brothers saying, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt" (Gen 45:4).  Proponents of scenario (2) argue that whoever sold Joseph, it was his brothers who were responsible for his enslavement, since they had put him in the pit.  Even if the Midianites had sold him, Joseph might have suspected that his brothers had cut a deal with the Midianites.

Whatever the details of the sale, the brothers proceeded to dip Joseph's special coat in goat's blood and take it back to Jacob, leading Jacob to believe that Joseph was dead.  Jacob, who had deceived his father with goatskins (Gen 27:16), was now the victim of his sons' deception.    

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Seder 34: Gen 37:20 in the Parable of the Tenants

 Jacob's undiguised favoritism toward Joseph and Joseph's grandiose-sounding dreams led Joseph's brothers to resent him (Gen 37:4-11).  The extent of that resentment was surprising.  At one point Joseph was sent by his father to see how his brothers were doing.  It was a long walk---over 60 miles---from Hebron to Dothan where the brothers were tending the flocks.  But it seems to have been God's will that Joseph find his brothers, since God apparently put someone in Joseph's path to point him in their direction (vv 15-17).

His brothers, at a higher altitude, saw Joseph coming from a distance, and they began to vent their bitterness toward him.  "Come now, let us kill him," they declared (v 20).  

The Septuagint translation of these words from Gen 37:20 appears in Jesus' parable of the tenants (Matt 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-11; Luke 20:9-19).  The owner of a vineyard sends a series of representatives to the tenants of the vineyard, and the tenants treat them badly.  When the owner sends his son, the tenants echo Joseph's brothers, saying, "Come, let us kill him"  (Mark 12:7).  

Scriptural allusions in the parable help make clear that the wicked tenants in the parable stand for leaders of Israel who had persecuted the prophets in earlier times and in Jesus' day sought to kill Jesus himself.  The actions of these leaders are compared to those of Joseph's brothers.  

An ample quantity of scriptural allusion is one thing that sets the canonical gospels apart from other early writings about Jesus.  The Gospel of Thomas also includes a version of this parable (in saying 65), but with all scriptural allusion stripped away.  The result ia a cryptic saying rather than a powerful parable.  (This point is made by Richard Hays in his book Reading Backwards:  Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, Baylor University Press, 2014.

Sadly, the parable of the tenants has been misused by some to draw anti-semitic conclusions.  But Jesus was only referring to Jewish leaders who sought to kill him, not to all Jews or Jewish leaders. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Seder 34: Gen 37:11----What Child is This?

 Jacob loved his son Joseph, the older son of his favorite wife Rachel.  He was grooming Joseph to one day be a leader in the family, as evidenced by the special coat that he had made for him.  Still, he was taken aback by the dreams that the 17-year-old was having.  Joseph summarized one of the dreams this way:  "Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me" (Gen 37:9).  

Since Joseph had 11 brothers, Jacob could see what the dream symbolized.  This was a bit too much, even coming from his talented son.  "What is this dream that you have dreamed?"  he asked Joseph.  "Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?" (v 10)

Still, Jacob had experience with messages from God that came in dreams (Gen 28:12-15; 31:11-13), so he "kept the saying in mind" (v 11).  Its meaning probably would become clear later.  

Genesis 37:11 is one example of a motif that runs through ancient Jewish literature, and through the Scriptures in particular.  A person hears a remarkable saying, a prophecy or something said by and/or about a precocious child.  In that situation, the person will "keep the saying in mind" or "hide it in their heart" to see what might happen later.

There is another example in Daniel 7, after Daniel had a dream vision about four beasts, representing four kingdoms.  Those kingdoms would be followed by an eternal divine kingdom ruled by "one like a son of man" (vv 13-14).  After this dream, Daniel says, "My thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart" (v 28).  

There are further examples in Jewish literature of the Second Temple period.  Two of them involve Levi, another one of Jacob's sons.  One comes from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a fictional work from the first or second century BC that pictures the deathbed advice of the sons of Jacob to their descendants.  In his testimony, Levi describes a heavenly vision in which he is told by the Most High, "I have given thee the blessings of the priesthood until I come and sojourn in the midst of Israel (T Levi 5:2-3).  After the vision Levi says, "And I kept these words in my heart" (T Levi 6:2-3).  

A similar statement appears in the Aramaic Levi Document, a text that may have been used by the author of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.  Fragments of this document have been found in the Cairo Genizah and in Caves 1 and 4 at Qumran.     

An additional example comes from another Dead Sea Scrolls text, the Genesis Apocryphon (1Q20).  In column 6 of this document, Noah receives a vision and afterward says, "And I hid this mystery in my heart, and did not make it known to anyone." 

This motif appears in the New Testament twice in Luke 2.  Shepherds near Bethlehem are told by an angel, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).  When the shepherds told Mary, the mother of the baby, what the angel had said, "Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (v 18).  

Later, when Jesus was 12, he stayed in Jerusalem for a few days after the Days of Unleavened Bread and became separated from his parents.  When they finally found him at the Temple, engaging in discussions with the sages, he asked his parents, "Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (v 49)  

Mary, like Jacob, did not understand then what he was saying, but again, she "treasured up all these things in her heart" (v 51).

This is one of a number of ways in which we will see events in the life of Joseph pointing forward to Jesus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Seder 33: Gen 36---Esau's Family

 After the tearful reunion between Jacob and Esau upon Jacob's return to Canaan (Gen 33:4), we do not know much about the relationship of the two brothers. We do know that 

  1. Jacob and Esau were together to bury their father Isaac (Gen 35:27-29).
  2. Esau settled in the mountainous region of Seir, and Jacob turned down an invitation to accompany him there when he returned to Canaan. 
  3. As with Abraham and Lot (Gen 13), Jacob and Esau lived in separate areas so that the land could support the livestock of both (Gen 36:6-8).
When Esau settled in Seir, he displaced the Horites (literally "cave dwellers") who were already living there (Deut 2:22).  A Horite genealogy is given in Gen 36:20-30.  

Some details about the early history of the Edomites, the nation that descended from Esau, are given in Gen 36.  The blessing Isaac pronounced upon Esau in Gen 27:39-40 does not sound too promising, but like other descendants of Abraham, the Edomites were greatly blessed.  

A number of Edomite kings are listed in Gen 36:31-40.  Verse 31 notes that there were "kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites."  (This note apparently was written after Israel began to have kings.)  The kings listed in verses 31-40 are associated with particular towns, so the picture we get is not one of a highly centralized government.  The king at a given time would have been the leader among Edom's local chieftains at that time. 

Hostility between Israel and Edom would come later, starting near the end of Israel's 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (Num 20:14-21).  But we do not have evidence of hostility between Israel and Edom between the time of Israel's return to Canaan and the Exodus.  

Seder 40: Psalm 76---The All-Powerful Divine Warrior

Psalm 76 has been classified as a “victory hymn”, describing God as a Mighty Warrior in vivid language. Verse 3 says that “he broke the flas...