Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Year: Gen 35-37 for Jan 11

Sibling rivalry. Since Cain and Abel, i.e., since the first.

The undercurrent of the remnants of it is even in the geneology lists of Esau and Jacob. Jacob's is listed before Esau's, and yet Esau's is listed going way forward in time (36:31), and in huge detail, hearkening back to Isaac's prophecies about him (27:39-40). It's clear, also by repetition (36:11,15), that Esau is discussed because of that history's importance. We don't know quite why, as yet, from what is stated. Perhaps also the names themselves were significant to the original readers.

But the sibling rivalry is accompanied by details of sibling differences. Jacob was "a quiet man, dwelling in tents" (25:27); Esau, a hunter, capable of murderous intent (27:41). This was not monotonic for Esau (33:9), and Jacob has a future lordship prophecied about him (27:29). But in the development of the relationship of Jacob's sons, the rivalry takes center stage. With nuances: Reuben, firstborn, is followed by two brothers of warlike mein and activity: Simeon and Levi (35:23). Simeon and Levi are the ones who killed all the males in Shechem. Reuben's name is missing (34:25,30). Here, at the beginning of the Joseph-story, the sibling rivalry also includes the aspect of Jacob's preferment of the youngest (Joseph) not the oldest: this is contrary to what Isaac his father wanted to do.

Reuben is not favored by his father. He is also different from his brothers in his treatment of Joseph (37:21; 37:30). Perhaps he sees the prospect of rescuing Joseph as a way of gaining favor with Jacob (37:22). In any case, Reuben did not take part in selling Joseph to the caravan.

America, as a melting pot and as a democracy, has a recent history. This history is not so marked with deep interest over one's ancestors and their personalities as the vast majority of cultures have been, especially in the Ancient World. Whether one's ancestors said one thing or another can be passed down as significant explanation of their descendants. God is building something here through the very thing that the ancient world kept track of, in detail. Genesis exists, in part, because children are expected to know what transpired among their ancestors, even the stories, and even the words. Do not be surprised, therefore, when there is a phrase from a story, that is taken up by a descendant.

Here is one example you may have noticed in our chapters. Judah here says "'What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.' And he brothers listened to him" (Genesis 37:26-27). Consider the exhortation James makes in Jm 2:14-17. When James says "What does it profit, my brethren" (James 2:14, RSV, etc.), the ears of his brethren of the Diaspora pick up! This is familiar exhortation language, coming from the stories of the ancestors. It has similar foils: what is dead is of no profit. Let's do something that has profit!

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