At Solomon’s Porch, the faith community of which I am a part in South Minneapolis, we are coming to the end of a long slog through the fifty chapters of Genesis. If you’re unfamiliar, at SP, we tend to work through a book of the Bible as a community, with the weekly “sermon time” being first shaped by a Sermon Discussion Group on Tuesday night and then a community-wide discussion at the weekly Sunday Gathering.
I didn’t make every Sunday of Genesis — I doubt anyone did. But I made enough of them to get a feel for the book. And I twice led the sermon time. Once on one of the most theologically rich and controversial passages in the book — the “Binding of Isaac” in Genesis 22 — and one of the most mundane — the reunion of Joseph with his father.
I wrote about the first passage after I preached on it. It was an intense evening that included one young mother, while nursing her child, telling all of us that she hated this part of the Bible.
The second passage, as I said, was less provocative. But still — and here’s what I love about Solomon’s Porch — we had a great discussion. For instance, why does the narration in Genesis 45 and 46 switch between referring the patriarch as “Jacob” and “Israel”? We came up with three choices:
- Deeply theological and spiritual reasons
- Editorial changes over the time the book was compiled
- Random (nominated by Mister T)
And the more we read, the more we leaned toward 3.
We also collectively pondered this strange passage:
So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
What in the world had Joseph said and done to his brothers that convinced his father that he was alive? Repeatedly messed with their heads? Stuck stuff in their bags so that they’d be accused of stealing? Threatened to imprison them all and kill the most-favored Benjamin?
And our biggest quandary: Why don’t we get to see the scene when the brothers say to Jacob/Israel, “Um, yeah, remember all those years ago when we brought you Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and told you that he was dead? Well, in fact, we sort of, um, sold him…into slavery…to the Egyptians…and, kind of, lied to you. But hey, he’s alive and really powerful, so let’s get packing!”
And that’s a good summary of Genesis, in a nutshell: Some great stories that tell us a lot about the origins of our faith, and a bunch of places where we sure wish we had more details.