Thursday, February 21, 2013

Genesis 45-47 and Letters of Ignatius [Ephesians 19-21]

Genesis 45 - Unable to go on any more with this, Joseph dismisses everyone and reveals himself to his brothers. “He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him, and word of it quickly carried to Pharaoh’s palace” (45:2).

After having put them through the wringer, Joseph now tells them they are not to reproach themselves any more: “It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives . . .  to ensure for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.  So it was not really you but God who had me come here” (45:5-8).

So he sends the brothers back to Jacob with an invitation to come into Egypt, to the land of Goshen (eastern part of the Nile Delta) where they will be able to survive the five remaining years of famine.

The Pharaoh helps them and welcomes them to his “best land”  (45:18). Pharaoh’s initiative here is part of the Elohist source. Jacob has trouble believing them when they tell him Joseph is still alive and looks forward to being able to see him before he dies.

Genesis 46 – Jacob leaves for Egypt with all his family and everything he owns. At Beersheba, he offers sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac. “During the night God spoke to him in a vision. ‘Jacob! Jacob!’ he called. ‘Here I am,’ Jacob replied. ‘I am God, the God of your father,’ the voice said. ‘Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make your family into a great nation. I will go with you down to Egypt, and I will bring you back again. You will die in Egypt, but Joseph will be with you to close your eyes’” (46:2-4).

They travel in wagons the Pharaoh provides, Jacob and all his descendants: the names of all his sons and grandsons are given. “The total number of Jacob’s direct descendants who went with him to Egypt, not counting his sons’ wives, was sixty-six. In addition, Joseph had two sons who were born in Egypt. So altogether, there were seventy members of Jacob’s family in the land of Egypt” (46:26-27).

Joseph and his father are reunited near the region of Goshen. He tells his brothers, “When Pharaoh calls for you and asks you about your occupation, you must tell him, ‘We, your servants, have raised livestock all our lives, as our ancestors have always done.’ When you tell him this, he will let you live here in the region of Goshen, for the Egyptians despise shepherd’” (46:33-34).

Genesis 47 – Joseph tells Pharaoh that his family has arrived. He has five of his brothers with him when Pharaoh inquires about their occupation. They say what Joseph has advised them to say – that they are shepherds; and Pharaoh welcomes them warmly.

Pharaoh asks Jacob his age and Jacob tells him he’s 130 years old. “Jacob blessed Pharaoh again before leaving his court” (47:9) and Pharaoh lets them settle where they want.

The famine continues and finally Egypt too begins to suffer. The supply of grain runs out. Joseph starts an exchange of food for livestock when the money supply runs dry. And then another hard year comes, and people have nothing left to trade. They offer themselves and all their land in return for help.

“So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh . . . As for the people, he made them all slaves, from one end of Egypt to the other. The only land he did not buy was the land belonging to the priests. They received an allotment of food directly from Pharaoh, so they didn’t need to see their land” (47:20-22). Joseph tells everyone he will provide them with seed and food, and they are all happy – at least for the moment. Tenant-farming becomes the norm.

“Meanwhile, the people of Israel settled in the region of Goshen in Egypt. There they acquired property, and they were fruitful, and their population grew rapidly” (47:27).

Jacob lives another 17 years and finally “the time of his death drew near” (47:29).  He calls for his son Joseph and has him promise to bring his body back to where his ancestors are buried, and Joseph swears.

The Epistles of Ignatius [Letter to the Ephesians]
19 –  “Mary’s virginity was hidden from the prince of this word; so was her child-bearing, and so was the death of the Lord. All these three trumpet-tongued secrets were brought to pass in the deep silence of God” (66).  These secrets were made known by the star whose strangeness “left men bewildered” (66). “Everywhere magic crumbled away before it; the spells of sorcery were all broken, and superstition received its death-blow. The age-old empire of evil was overthrown, for God was now appearing in human form to bring in a new order, even life without end” (66).

These words ring strangely on my ear. I am not at all sure what he is saying. The note helps a little, and some of the introduction resonates here too. The note says that for early Christians, the visit of the Magi to Christ at his birth, presents the death of pagan magic. But there are also people who think Ignatius was either influenced by some of the thinking of the Gnostics or perhaps was even part of an incipient form of Gnosticism. Like the Gnostics, Ignatius is drawn to the importance of “silence” in Christian thought, “the creative stillness, the silence of God” (68). I would refer you back to the Introduction to Ignatius’ Letters.

20 – Ignatius says that he hopes we will be able to write another letter to them so he can “continue this preliminary account . . . of God’s design for the New Man, Jesus Christ. It is a design which provides for faith in Him and love for Him, and comprehends His Passion and His Resurrection” (66).

They must continue “attending your meetings in a state of grace, united in faith and in Jesus Christ. . . and are ready now to obey your bidhop and clergy with undivided minds and to share in the one common breaking of bread – the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Jesus Christ for evermore” (66)

21 - He reminds them that he is giving his life on the behalf. Pray “for the church in Syria, from which they are bringing me in chains to Rome. I was the last and least of the faithful there, and yet I have been deemed worthy to set forward the honor of God” (67). 

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