Ending Genesis

Ending Genesis May 11, 2010
The Binding of Isaac

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:

  1. Deeply theological and spiritual reasons
  2. Editorial changes over the time the book was compiled
  3. 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.

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  • One of the difficulties that we twenty-first century Westerners are likely to have with Genesis is a struggle with its attitude toward trickery. Whereas modern Westerners have judged trickery to be immoral, the ancient Middle Eastern culture that produced the rich stories of Genesis clearly admired trickery to some degree. This theme is seen as early as Abraham, and it continues with Jacob and his son Joseph. Perhaps Jacob, the great trickster, became convinced that his long-lost son was alive because he heard in stories about Joseph some of himself–Joseph was “a chip off the old block.”

  • Mr. T!

    Excellent observation, Josh. The Solomon’s Porch community has noticed, and discussed at length, the amount of trickery in the Abraham/Isaac/Jacob/Joseph story and its cultural importance, as well as the constant bypassing of blessing the older son in favor of the younger. We are also impressed with the shifts in story telling styles throughout the book of Genesis, as well as noticing the different kinds of interactions between God and the many characters in the stories, and then sometimes long absences in referring to the involvement of God. We wonder aloud and discuss the possibilities of meaning. We breathe in these stories and sing out glory.

  • Frank Turk

    Did any of the meanings include man’s need for salvation? It would be interesting to know …

  • Chuck

    Considering how he got into Egypt in the first place, the miracle in the story of Joseph is that he did not have his brothers executed out of hand, like any normal person would have done.

  • Chris

    Can’t wait for the “Solomon’s Porch Top 10 Most Hated Passages In Scripture” post!

  • Mr. T!

    @Frank Turk- We’d welcome you in our discussion time to squeeze that meaning into the Genesis story. It’s an open discussion.

    @Chris- One of those passages would surely be in Joshua when they annihilated with the sword everything that breathed in the city, including men and women, young and old, as well as cattle, sheep, and donkeys. That was a difficult discussion time. The whole book of Revelation was particularly animated and full of conflict, as I remember. I wish you snarky blog commentor guys could have been there to join in.

  • Frank Turk

    Hi Mr. T —

    I’m curious how you read Joseph’s interpretation of the entire last act of Genesis, my friend. There is the final scene, we find this:

    15When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, 17’Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

    Think about this: not only does the household of Israel need Joseph to save them from the famine which brought them to Egypt, but they need him to spare them from their own evil intentions.

    There is no need “to squeeze that meaning into the Genesis story”. It is where the Genesis story starts (cf. Gen 3) and then where it here ends: there is a problem in the house of Jacob from which God’s good intention brings them good and not the ill which they know they deserve.

    If you miss this, it’s no wonder Gen 22 is so “controversial”: it is in fact non-sensical becuase the main thread of the book is simply ignored by your group discussion.

  • Frank Turk

    BTW, I like it that “snarky blog commentors” are not in your group discussion time. Why bother with people who disagree with you if you’re having a group discussion about a text to which you say you haven’t brought any preconsiderations?

  • Mr. T!

    Frank Turk!

    You make a lot of assumptions about what is ignored in our discussion time at Solomon’s Porch and who is or isn’t included. Where did I say we ” haven’t brought any preconsiderations”? Everyone brings a bias to a text. And our discussions thrive on disagreement and multiple viewpoints. Why are you so quick to judge a whole group of people with whom you’re obviously unfamiliar? Who taught you to act like that? Your input on the Genesis story would be warmly welcomed in our community and your point about “man’s need for salvation” would resonate with many. Unless you exhibit the kind of attitude that comes through on your posts. Think about this: most people anywhere are going to ignore you if you come off as rude and condescending, my friend. If you miss this, it’s no wonder 1 Cor 13 can be ignored.

    All snarky blog commentors are welcomed at our church… and I’ll buy you a burrito afterwards.

  • Mr. T!:

    I find it odd that you accuse Frank of being “snarky” while your comment oozes with condescension and false-humility.

    I pity you, foo’.

  • Frank Turk

    “Unless you exhibit the kind of attitude that comes through on your posts.”

    Aha. Would that be the posts here at Tony Jones’ blog, or would that be other posts?

    Let me suggest something: given the horror with which the discussion of Gen 22 was apparently met (cf. Tony’s previous post), I’m not sure that the discussion is as multi-faceted in terms of perspectives as you are here intimating. However, the next time I’m in the Twin Cities, the burritos will be on me — if you can commit to talking about the text as it comes. I think you’d be surprised (if not actually changed) by an extended conversation with me about Genesis in general and these two sections in particular.

  • Mr. T!

    Frank Turk!

    “Aha. Would that be the posts here at Tony Jones’ blog, or would that be other posts?”

    My only impressions of you are from the posts above. Am I supposed to know you from elsewhere? I’m often shocked by how some people act in the comment sections of other people’s blogs… perhaps the anonymity emboldens some to act boorishly. Reminds me of how some can act when they get behind the wheel of a car. Are you the same kind of communicator in someone’s living room as you are above?

    “I think you’d be surprised (if not actually changed) by an extended conversation with me about Genesis in general and these two sections in particular.”

    Really? You are that awesome, powerfully convincing, and hold the ultimate authority to interpreting Genesis? I’m intrigued. Most of the powerful, effective people who wear the name of Christ that I’ve ever met exude humility, are not rude or condescending, are patient and kind, not self-serving, not easily angered or resentful, bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things, and are full of the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus. Perhaps you are all that, like Halcyon must think. I just didn’t pick up on that Spirit above.

    I insist. The burrito’s on me.

  • Mr. T!


    “I find it odd that you accuse Frank of being “snarky” while your comment oozes with condescension and false-humility.

    I pity you, foo’.”

    Please be merciful on me, a sinner.