Chapter 8: the Story of Joseph

I never noticed it before, but Joseph seemed like an innocent and somewhat oblivious kid. He always told his brothers about the weird dreams he had and it seemed like he had no reason to believe that they didn’t love him as much as he undoubtedly loved them. Their betrayal of him must have taken him entirely by surprise.

It’s an odd picture to think of Joseph’s slavery. Usually we see black people enslaved and oppressed by whites, but here we have a white guy, a Hebrew, enslaved in Egypt, a country of colored people. He stood out because his skin was so pale. Only they also had religious segregation in the situation – Joseph believed in Israel’s God, while Egypt had their own masses of gods and goddesses that they worshiped. What a strange thing to think about! The only difference here is that the Pharaoh looked beyond Joseph’s race and promoted him to a high position as ruler over all Egypt during the years of plenty and of famine. He entrusted to him Egypt’s health and wellbeing despite his skin color, which was something America took years and years to begin to understand.

Because of his race, his brothers would have known that Joseph was not an Egyptian, and it must have been a comfort to them to be able to speak to one of their own kind, who didn’t need a translator. But of course they didn’t recognize the thirty-year-old Joseph from the seventeen-year-old brother they’d betrayed and sold into slavery years ago. It’s interesting that they didn’t recognize him, but he could have done many things to change his appearance ~ he may have grown facial hair, and probably had a good deal of adornment. What’s interesting is that he was absolutely confident when speaking to them, as if he knew they wouldn’t recognize him.

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Chapter 7: the Story of Jacob

I wonder why it was so important to Rebekah that Jacob have Esau’s birthright and blessing? I think it might be yet another case of taking one’s destiny into one’s hands. God told her (in Genesis 25:23 if you want a reference) that of the two babies, the younger one would be greater. Perhaps Rebekah decided to help hurry it along. No doubt her character flaws only fueled Jacob’s own manipulative nature.

I wonder how old they were when Esau sold Jacob his birthright for stew? As firstborn, surely Isaac would have pressed upon Esau the importance of his future role in the family. But during this encounter with his brother, it seems like Esau doesn’t even care. I’m wondering if he was still a teenager, and simply didn’t understand yet. Caring more about food seems a little bit more like something a teenager would do, while an adult (by today’s standards) would have a better grasp of his duty. Of course, it could also be that Esau simply didn’t care much for his birthright. He did, after all, go off and marry a Hittite, which was a tribe of colored “infidels.” He seems like a brash, impetuous sort of fellow. I don’t think we’d get along very well.

It makes sense that Jacob wouldn’t have told Isaac that he had bought Esau’s birthright. It also seems logical to assume that Isaac never knew about it. Even if Esau had wanted to use it as ammunition against his brother were they ever to get into a fight (as I’m sure they did, given their differing personalities), it would have been embarrassing for him to explain to his father how he had sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. I don’t see Esau as the kind to think ahead, so maybe he didn’t think of this and keep it to himself. But it’s possible that he did, and Isaac was left blissfully in the dark about the situation.

Rebekah’s confidence in her dastardly scheme to trick Isaac into giving Jacob his blessing is almost frightening. But it appears she was more manipulative than she looked when Abraham’s servant first found her and she watered his camels for him. She used her knowledge of her husband’s physical state (his level of blindness, his age-dulled taste buds, and his use of touch and scent to “see”), and her power over her favored son (whom she had doted upon and manipulated throughout his life until he would do whatever she asked) to her advantage. She timed the moment precisely, prepared the meal in a way that Isaac wouldn’t even begin to suspect that she had cooked a domesticated goat rather than Esau cooking a wild animal, and she waved away Jacob’s worries about the plan without a hint of concern. She was so confident, in fact, that she told Jacob she would take all the blame were they to be discovered. Of course, Jacob was pretty quick on his feet too. She taught him well. She was truly the mother of all deception.

It’s hilarious to me how Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. Here Jacob was, long a trickster and manipulator himself, and he does a little honest work for one and then turns around and BAM! Hoodwinked by his own uncle! Serves him right! Maybe after that moment he realized how Esau must have felt and turned away from his pride and deceptive ways.

Leah’s dedication is something to be admired, really. It had to have been incredibly hard for her to watch her husband love her sister more than her. And yet she never stopped being as great a wife as she could be for Jacob. She may not have even wanted to marry Jacob, but she was probably getting desperate. She wouldn’t want to disgrace her father by not marrying, right? All she wanted was to be loved. And in her marriage to Jacob, she fell in love with him – a good thing. But he didn’t reciprocate – an agonizing reality for her. And yet her resolve to gain his love never faltered. She waged war on her sister to prove she was the better wife, and she fought that war with unwavering focus.

It’s interesting to see the change in the two sons of Isaac over time. Jacob grew out of his trickster’s ways, learned to live honestly, and found peace with his large family. Esau, while probably an intimidating spectacle of a man, learned forgiveness and the value of brotherhood, both which he imparted upon Jacob when they were reunited. His is a good picture of one who was terribly wronged, and yet joyously forgave and welcomed him back into his life. It looks a little like the familiar story of the Prodigal Son, doesn’t it?

Okay, I can see how Jacob may  have been a bit emotionally frazzled at the time, but still, getting into a brawl with some stranger in the wilderness someplace seems a bit unnecessary, don’t you think? The Bible doesn’t say that they said anything to each other before the fight began. Maybe there was something in the stranger’s stance that bugged Jacob. But still, it’s a little rude to just leap into fisticuffs without having a good sound conversation beforehand to establish some reasoning.

The story of Simeon and Levi’s massacre of the Hivites after Sichem fell in love with their sister Dinah gives me a thought, specifically about Levi. Here he is, driven by anger to murder masses of innocent people, and later he becomes the father of the tribe chosen by God to be his priests and holy men. If Levi fell so far and was forgiven so much, what makes us think we can’t be?

Chapter 6: the Story of Isaac

It’s weird to think that Isaac was nearly forty when he got married. Sarah never saw her son get married; she died when she was 127, and Isaac must have been around 36 at that time. I wonder if Sarah still doubted God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of many? She had watched her son grow up past normal marrying age without ever, apparently, having an interest in any girl. It would have been hard for both Abraham and Sarah to trust God through this entire ordeal.

It makes you wonder how old Rebekkah was. Nahor, Abraham’s brother, was her grandfather. Nahor probably had his son Bethuel at a normal age, though, and Bethuel probably had Rebekkah at a normal age, while Abraham didn’t have Isaac until he was 100 years old. They may have been around the same age, then, but that would put Rebekkah way beyond the age that a man would give his daughter away to be married.

Chapter 5: the Story of Abraham

When God spoke to Abram, in Oursler’s telling, Abram recognized His voice as the same voice that spoke to his famous forefathers. I wonder if you get a sense of Adam and Noah and Abraham and all the others when God speaks audibly to you? I wonder if it seems ancient and sacred? I have never heard His voice like that, but it sounds interesting.

Oursler says that Abram put “Sarai on a donkey beside him” when he set out on his God-led journey. I don’t agree with this sentiment, because in the admittedly very few books that I have read on Jews and life back in those days, women were not respected at all and they were the ones to walk while the man was riding the donkey. I can see where Oursler would assume that Sarai would be the one on the donkey, because today we have certain views of chivalry and respect for women, but back then they simply didn’t have that.

It’s always interesting to think about what must have been going through Abraham and Isaac’s minds when Abraham tied Isaac up and put him on the altar to be sacrificed. The relief that they both must have felt afterward, and the gratitude that the sacrifice didn’t have to go through, must have been massive. That was at least one time in history when worship would have been utterly sincere.

Chapter 4: the Tallest Building in the World

I think it’s a really good observation Oursler makes when he says, “He realized the truth to which these fresh generations were blind and deaf ~ that the only progress the soul can make is backward toward Paradise.” Humanity might be getting technologically smarter, but all the technology is pulling us further and further from God. It’s a major distraction, and nobody in today’s world can deny it. Whereas you’ll hear a lot of people say they feel closer to God when they go camping or hiking ~ when they turn their backs on the bustle of civilization and enjoy the tranquility of nature.

I truly wonder what must have been going through the mind of the person who invented the first gods.

It would have been pretty funny to see all the workers on the Tower of Babel so confused when God changed their languages. But it would have been terrifying to be one of them. Imagine suddenly not being able to understand anyone’s words! Your friends, your brothers ~ and suddenly you have no idea what they’re saying. It would have been very lonely to walk around the half-constructed tower and not find anyone whose speech you could understand. Some of them must have wondered at first if something was wrong with them, until they realized that nobody else seemed to understand anyone either. And they were probably frightened that they wouldn’t be able to understand their wives and children when they returned home.

I wonder if they did?