Monday, December 12, 2005

Fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel (Gen 47-49)

I'm looking forward to finishing Genesis, which ought to be very soon, since there are only a few chapters, and not a lot of SAB comments. As I think I have commented before, I'm not sure where to go after finishing the book, since going straight through makes some sense, but it can also be tedious in some parts. Exodus is good, but there's no denying that the majority of the other three books of Moses don't have a whole lot going for them. I think what I'm going to do is, after finishing a longer book like this, I'll skip ahead somewhere and take a detour through a shorter and more "action-packed" book as a sort of palate cleanser if you will. So before hitting Exodus, I think I'll either do Ruth or Jonah, two of my personal favorites. (Or perhaps I might do Luke chapter 2, as a sort of Christmas special. [Edit to add links to parts 1, 2, and 3.] I'm hoping to put some Christmas stuff in my other blog today anyway.) Any opinions (or comments at all) are welcome.

Chapter 47 is pretty straightforward, both the content and the SAB objections are largely a repetition of stuff in previous chapters. As instructed, Joseph's family stands before Pharaoh and tells him that they are shepherds, and what they really need is some good pasture land, preferably Goshen. In verse 11, Goshen is referred to as "the land of Rameses", which some have suggested to be an anachronism, and it technically is, "Rameses" being a name not used until hundreds of years after this time in history. Most likely, this is a reference that was common in the time this story was committed to paper rather than the time it actually happened similar to the references to Philistines and possibly Amalekites and others. Since the SAB doesn't claim an issue with verse 11, it may not have one, but it does bring up an interesting point anyway. I've heard many skeptics insist that if God really "wrote" the Bible, He would be aware of scientific facts that were discovered long after the stories were written as well as future historical events, and the writing ought to reflect that. That is probably true to some extent, no doubt, but note that another objection that is often raised to the Bible is to point out anachronisms! Maybe somebody can explain to me what the Bible could do in this area (as well as others that I won't go into here) so that it could please everybody. But enough of that...

Jacob is asked by Pharaoh how old he is, and Jacob tells him that he's 130, but that he's just a youngster compared to many of his forefathers. You may recall that Jacob's father lived to be 180, his grandfather 175 and great-grandfather 205. The SAB finds the thought of Jacob living to 147 to be absurd, but I'd be curious as to what the threshold for absurdity in lifespans is, since no note is made about Sarah.

Much of the rest of the chapter is concerned with the playing out of the remainder of the famine, and Joseph using the stored food to squeeze every last bit of capital out of the citizens of Egypt, making Pharaoh more wealthy and powerful than ever.

Just before Jacob dies, one noteworthy thing he does is make Joseph swear to bury him back in the Promised Land. The fact that Jacob does die is, in my opinion, not an issue with respect to the promise made by God in the last chapter, as I explained in my last post. The custom of swearing in the manner described here is indeed odd, but apparently it was a cultural thing of the time. As I explained in response to a similar exchange between Abraham and his servant, there is nothing wrong with swearing an oath per se. While I went over it in an older post, the short version is this: the two New Testament verses linked to in the SAB note are taken out of context, both of them saying not merely "...swear not," but "swear not, neither by heaven..." The point is not that making promises or swearing is wrong, but that swearing by something because your word alone isn't good enough is a bad thing.

Chapters 48 and 49 are essentially a long list of blessings that Jacob gives to his family before he passes away. (Despite the note by the SAB concerning Jacob seeing God, it seems very unlikely that Jacob is referring to something new, but rather is more likely referring to what happened way back the first time he saw God.) It's notable that like previous generations, the greatest blessings don't necessarily go to the eldest. In fact, it seems that the biggest blessing is going to the youngest child of the second-youngest son.

Although they are not really called "tribes" yet (oh, wait, I guess they are in verse 28), the SAB takes this moment to note the inconsistency in the naming of the tribes of Israel. It seems like a reasonable enough moment, but a little disappointing, since most educated Christians know that the inconsistency goes farther than what is quoted here, and various lists throughout the Bible will list them differently. I was going to leave it at that, but apparently I can't seem to help assisting Steve Wells in his research, so a quick guess as to where I would find a third list was fruitful: Numbers 1:4. In this list, we see the tribes listed as Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, Gad and Naphtali, which one can see does not fit with the other lists given. If you go down further in that chapter, there's a bit of explanation, but I can't remember where the full explanation is, it may be spread throughout the law in various places. The short of it is that the tribe of Levi is chosen to be set aside as a priestly tribe, and they don't get an inheritance in the Promised Land in the same manner as the other tribes. However, the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, each form a tribe at that point. So the tribes of Levi and Joseph are special, and it can cause some confusion at times. As for the passage in Revelation that is referred to, there are some theories among scholars as to why Dan is not on the list. Of course, it's not considered to be an error, but rather something of hidden significance.

The last thing to be settled in this chapter is the strange prophecy given in verse 10. Honestly, I don't understand this well (nor much of the rest of this chapter, which uses some strange poetic stuff), but I do know that it is considered by many to be telling of the idea that the Messiah should come from the tribe of Judah. While "Shiloh" is a place, many scholars have favored a different translation here in which the phrase becomes "until he comes to whom it belongs". Whether it refers to King David, Jesus, or someone or something else, I'm not sure how to respond to the note here, because I don't really know what it means. Nonetheless, a lot of issues regarding the validity of Saul's kingship will come up once I get to 1Samuel, so I'll save the discussion for that time.

Almost done!

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