Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt (Gen 50)

So, Jacob is dead, and his last request is to be buried back in the Promised Land. It's interesting that for so many of these forefathers, despite the fact that they had little or no ties to the land of Canaan personally, they wanted to be buried there, both to be with their forefathers and with their ancestors that they assumed God would bring back there sometime in the future. Joseph mourns for his father, but then he requests to Pharaoh that he and his family be allowed to take the body back to Canaan to be buried at Machpelah.

In much of this exchange, there are hints at an unsteady relationship between Joseph and Pharaoh that foreshadow what is to come. After all, Joseph was put into a position of prominence from out of prison precisely because he was useful to Pharaoh. Joseph must be very careful to promise Pharaoh that he will indeed come back and not stay in Canaan, the land of his birth. The accompaniment of Egyptian servants along the way may be partially out of respect for Joseph's high position, partially for the purpose of protection of the Israelites, and partially out of protection of Pharaoh's interests: to see to it that Joseph and his brothers (who are also on Pharaoh's payroll) return when they are done. Also, they leave their children behind.

Jacob is indeed buried at Machpelah, as the text says repeatedly. The SAB points out that Stephen claimed Jacob was buried in Shechem. Yeah, this is a contradiction, but I think there are a couple things that could be said about it. First of all, Stephen's speech in the book of Acts is a speech, and I don't know that the Bible would be required not only to be correct in every detail, but that every character in the Bible never make a mistake either. Surely there are many places in the Bible where prominent people say things that are quite mistaken. (Peter is famous for this, of course.) Secondly, Stephen is not so much making an outright error as telescoping the details of the story, since Joseph, and probably his brothers as well were buried in Shechem. This mixing of the two parts of the stories is no doubt the source of the error Stephen does appear to make about who bought the grave. In any case, this is not at all the first time we've run up against problems with Stephen's Acts 7 speech, nor will it be the last; just remember he's telling the condensed version of the Old Testament, and he's going to gloss over the details quickly.

After the funeral is over, Joseph's brothers get worried once again that he will take revenge on them, and they tell him that Jacob had commanded that they be forgiven. Jacob is never actually seen making this speech, so you might wonder whether they made it up. It doesn't matter, though, as once again, Joseph assures them that he believes it was all part of God's plan.

Joseph lives to be 110 years old (apparently not an absurd age for the SAB, whose threshold for absurd age lies somewhere between 123 and 137, I may do more research on this) and to see his great-grandchildren. I just realized that I misread an issue from chapter 48 that comes up here, but my response is the same: these prophecies about being brought back to the Promised Land (here, here and here) are not personal prophecies to be fulfilled in the lifetimes of these people, but point to the future Exodus centuries later. Jacob, Joseph, and the other patriarchs all died in Egypt, but God brought the twelve tribes of Israel back to the land in the end.

And the end this is. Genesis begins with the creation of life, and now ends with the death of this prominent patriarch of Israel. The Bible moves on to a new chapter in the history of that nation, and I will take a break.


Anonymous said...

if you read it properly he doesnt say that joseph will die in israel. it just says that he will die here but god will be with and take you to the land of your fathers. meaning that he will die where he is but his descendants will not stay in egypt. god will take them to the land of their fathers, israel

Rob said...

It's excellent that you posted this. To the credit of the SAB, I'm glad they have a link to your rebuttal. I occasionally visit the SAB to see the supposed "inconsistencies" of a passage, so I can dig a little deeper myself into the meaning of the passage for greater clarity (it's awesome to me how God can use something seemingly wrong for good.)

God bless you for your efforts,


Brucker said...

I feel the same way, but perhaps even more generously. As I'm sure I've said repeatedly elsewhere in the blog, I believe that the SAB is an important resource for anyone interested in the Bible, but of course there needs to be some level of dialogue, and I'm glad that Wells encourages it, as some others with similar but smaller sites are not in the least bit interested in the concept of their being wrong. Thus the absurdity of bashing the infallibility of the Bible and replacing it with the infallibility of any atheist who hates the Bible.

Even if you don't believe in the Bible, you can't really ignore it, as it is likely the most influential book of all time. The atheist world needs more Steve Wellses, and the Christian world needs more people who can intelligently respond.