Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Year: Gen 38-40 for Jan 12

The art of teaching by telling a story is contained in Genesis.

In our chapters today, there is nothing asking us to compare and contrast Judah (Gen 38) with Joseph (Gen 39ff). Yet -- how could we miss it! Judah is an unprincipled, almost totally pragmatic thinker, in ethics. The possible results of an action are the determinative thing that sway him.

We saw this yesterday in 37:26-27. Here, he's a "buyer," assessing the price and agreeing to it, not thinking ontologically about the item, just about the moment. Giving Judah's reasons, "he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law" (38:16), the text is screaming at us, saying 'see how he thinks about things?' !

Judah's comments in 38:23, "otherwise we will become a laughingstock" are not only further evidence of his thinking, but hints that the text is telling us: 'Judah, you are a laughingstock.' This type of life, that doesn't act on principle, but tries to fix things as they come up, is being commented on from 38:1 throughout this chapter. We should watch for ethical systems that invite us wing-it after bad choices have been made.

In the story of Judah in Gen 38, indeed from Gen 36-38 we can't help but notice that God, either by the names "God" (Elohim) or "LORD" (Yahweh) or Lord (Adonai) is only mentioned in his providential judgment upon Judah's sons (38:7-10). Judah is mindless of the spiritual aspect of this judgment, thinking only of consequences and fixing them (38:11). This stretch of time, from Joseph's boyhood to becoming grown up (39:6), describes in narrative form what we, using a modern term, could describe as "secular" life. Relativistic morality. Same-O events and issues (38:27-30). Pre-occupation with one's own state (37:35).

Regarding Joseph, however, we see that God's constructive activity is brought in very dramatically again: "the LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man." (39:2) Again, this is the narrative form inviting us to contrast Joseph with the others ... more precisely, God-with-Joseph, compared to God with Judah and the fam, during this period.

The story of Joseph follows that of Judah. Not only is there a contrast between the sexual behavior of Joseph and Judah, but there is also a contrast in a teaching about right behavior and its results. Things go well for Joseph, but all the good is taken away, not once (39:20), but twice (40:23). In its place, there are circumstances of severe restriction.

Then why the adversity for Joseph? Joseph's adversity was coterminous with his moral battles, which he is successful in. This is another contrast between Joseph and Judah. The judgment upon Judah's sons was from God (38:7-10). Joseph, by contrast, has blessing from God. The adversity in Joseph's life comes through family disputes, or from evil agents 39:17-19, or from the ignorant application of justice (39:20) or by the forgetfulness of people (40:23), but the blessings from God are interwoven with all of these things, and will bring these things to a narrative conclusion, which we have already heard the hint of (37:4-11). Like Jacob then, we should in our own day keep these hints in mind.

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