Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Genesis 41-42 and Letters of Ignatius [Ephesians 13-15]

Genesis 41 – Two years after this, the Pharaoh himself has two disturbing dreams that he cannot understand. “In his dream he saw seven fat, healthy cows come up out of the river and begin grazing in the marsh grass. Then he saw seven more cows come up behind them from the Nile, but these were scrawny and thin. These cows stood beside the fat cows on the riverbank. Then the scrawny, thin cows ate the seven healthy, fat cows!” (41:2-4). He wakes up and then sleeps again. “This time [in his second dream] he saw seven heads of grain, plump and beautiful, growing on a single stalk. Then seven more heads of grain appeared, but these were shriveled and withered by the east wind. And these thin heads swallowed up the seven plump, well-formed heads!” (41:5-7). He is disturbed by the dreams and calls for “all the magicians and wise men of Egypt” (41:8).

His cupbearer remembers Joseph and has him called to interpret the dreams.  The dreams are “the same” Joseph declares: the first is about seven fat cows (Schocken editors say that cows were the hieroglyphic for years in Ptolemaic Egypt) coming up out of the Nile, followed by seven lean ones that devour the first; the second dream is of seven fat ears of corn, followed by seven “thin and blasted” ones that devour the first.  Joseph says it is a prediction of seven plentiful years of harvest followed by seven years of dire famine. 

Pharaoh recognizes that Joseph is intelligent and “filled with the spirit of God” (41:38), so he puts Joseph in charge of managing the food supply and pretty much “the entire land of Egypt” (41:41). He gives him a new Egyptian name – Zaphenath-paneah – and a wife named Asenath, daughter of the priest of On, and they have two sons: Manassas and Ephraim (41:51-52).

The dreams of the Pharaoh come true according to Joseph’s interpretation. Seven years of full harvests give way to seven years of drought, and not in Egypt alone, but all around. In Egypt, there is plenty of food stored away thanks to Joseph, but in the surrounding territories there is nothing but hardship.

Genesis 42 – “When Jacob heard that grain was available in Egypt” (42:1), he sends ten of his sons (not Benjamin) to Egypt to get food. 

Joseph is the man in charge of distributing the grain. When the brothers arrive, they bow before Joseph, as we knew they would.  He recognizes them, but they do not recognize him (42:7).  He pretends not to recognize them, but he accuses them of being spies and insists if they want to prove they are of good will, they will send home and get the other brother to come. He throws them in prison for three days to let them know he’s serious, but on the third day “Joseph said to them, ‘I am a God-fearing man. If you do as I say, you will live. If you really are honest men, choose one of your brothers to remain in prison. The rest of you may go home with grain for your starving families. But you must bring your youngest brother back to me. This will prove that you are telling the truth, and you will not die.’ To this they agreed” (42:17-20).

Their fears stir up in them a spirit of repentance.  They admit among themselves the wrong they did to their brother and see their present distress as a punishment.  Joseph (in the presence of a translator) pretends not to understand them, but he is moved to tears by what he hears.  Simeon stays to secure their return, and they go back to Canaan; they not only have the grain they bought, but Joseph has secretly had the silver they spent for it returned to their bags. They tremble when they find it there; “they said to each other, ‘What has God done to us?’” (42:28).

They return and tell their father everything. Jacob’s pain at the dilemma he now faces is clear to his sons.  Reuben  (again a leader in the Elohist source) makes a rash statement to his father offering to let him kill his own two sons if they do not return with Benjamin, but Jacob does not let them go – not yet..

The Epistles of Ignatius [Letter to the Ephesians]
13 – He encourages them to meet often together; “in the face of your corporate faith [Satan’s] malfeasance crumbles. Nothing can better a state of peaceful accord, from which every trace of spiritual or earthly hostility has been banished” (64).

14 – “Given a thorough-going faith and love for Jesus Christ, there is nothing in all this that will not be obvious to you; for life begins and ends with two qualities. Faith is the begging, and love is the end; and the union of the two together is God. All that makes for a soul’s perfection follows in their train, for nobody who professes faith will commit sin, and nobody who possesses love can feel hatred.  As the tree is known by its fruits, so they who claim to belong to Christ as known by their actions; for this work of ours does not consist in just making professions, but in a faith that is both practical and lasting” (65).

15 – “[I]t is better to keep quiet and be, than to make fluent professions and not be” (65).

“A man who has truly mastered the utterances of Jesus will also be able to apprehend His silence, and thus reach full spiritual maturity, so that his own words have the force of actions and his silences the significance of speech. Nothing is hidden from the Lord; even our most secret thoughts are ever present to Him. Whatever we do, then, let it be done as though He Himself were dwelling within us, we being as it were His temples and He within us as their God. For in fact, that is literally the case; and in proportion as we rightly love Him, so it will become clear to our eyes” (65). 

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