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Gen 45:1-15

Genesis 45:1-15
Background to the Book of Genesis

Literary Features:
Genesis is a fascinating book which begins with two creation accounts of the world in Gen 1-3, continues with stories about humanity in general through to the end of Gen 11 before we come to the specific journeys of Abraham. Gen 1-11 is often referred to as universal history or primeval history and is applicable to all of humanity. The genealogies enable Abraham to be descended from Adam and Eve. Indeed, another purpose of the genealogies is to divide these eleven chapters as follows into a 5-fold division:

  • Gen 2:4a heaven and earth - these are the generations of the heavens and the earth ...
  • Gen 5:1 ff Adam - This is the book of the generations of Adam.
  • Gen 6:9 Noah - And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
  • Gen 10:1 Noah’s 3 sons - These are the generations of the sons of Noah. ...
  • Gen 11:10 Shem - These are the descendants of Shem ...

Besides the suggested division above, scholars have proposed different recurring literary patterns such as sin, speech, punishment - Gen 1-3, 4, 6-9,11 (Westermann) in Gen 1-11: von Rad includes forgiveness: sin, speech, forgiveness, punishment. Whether one wants to go along with any of the above suggestions about the literary divisions or patterns in Gen 1-11, there is almost unanimous agreement that there is a tightly formed literary pattern and we are meant read it as a unity. Creation of the world and humans is torn apart when the relationship between God and humans is told in Gen 3 and between humans and humans in Gen 4. One of the literary patterns which may be considered to not only be present in Gen 1-11, but also extend through into the remainder of the book of Genesis is that connected with the command in Gen 1:28 - ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Not only does the phrase occur in a number of places, but the lists of genealogies show that indeed the people have been fruitful and multiplied - Gen 5, 10, 11. The genealogies continue in Gen 12-50 at particular points: Gen 25:12 (These are the generations of Ishmael), Gen 25:19 (These are the generations of Isaac), Gen 36:1, (These are the generations of Esau), Gen 37:2 (These are the generations of Jacob). The genealogies not only show that God's command in Gen 1:28 has been followed, but the promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, Gen 15:5 have come true. That is, Abram will have many descendants and become a great nation. At the point where each of the genealogies are listed we have the story of that person in the following chapters. Abraham in Gen 11:27-25:18: Jacob in Gen 25:19-36:43: Joseph, Judah and Jacob's family in Gen 37:1-50:26. There are a number of covenants mentioned in the Book of Genesis all of which come into the category of unconditional or promissory. Unlike the condition covenant in Exod 19 in which God seeks a response of obedience from the people, the covenants in Genesis are based on first person pronouncements by God. In Gen 9 it is an universal covenant with all living creatures, but once we move into Gen 12 the covenants are specific to Abraham and his descendants. The relationship has been set up from creation when humans were created to be in special relationship with God (Gen 1:26-27).

Attempts have been made since the 18th century to explain such things as: a different word used for God -Yahwist or Elohim: multiple versions of the same story = Abraham’s pretence, Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-18, 26:6-16: repetition within the same story = Gen 6:5-7, 11-12: contradictions - for example, Exod 20:24 gives permission to offer sacrifices at numerous altars v Deut 12:13-14 which forbids this and restricts sacrifice to one place only or Gen 7:17 in which the flood remains for 40 days v Gen 7:24 in which the flood remains for 150 days and other examples. The classic theory suggests that the Pentateuch has a number of written sources as well as the early oral traditions which account for the sort of differences mentioned above. In Gen 1-11 there is the Priestly source which can be seen in Gen1:1-2:4a, 6:9-22, some verses in Gen 7-8, 9:1-17, 10:1-7, 11:10-27 and the remaining texts come from the Yahwistic source. Some characteristics of what is know as the 'P' source are: the use of the Hebrew term toledoth/generations, the writing is sophisticated and often in a liturgical style (Gen1:1-2:4a), in the creation account God speaks and it happens, humans are made in the image of God, the covenant is unconditional and can be made with the animals, and an abiding concern to state numbers and years. The Yahwistic source uses myths and sagas to tell the story, God and animals speak (anthropomorphic), the world is very small (Gen 2:10-14) compared with the universal world of the 'P' source (Gen 1:1-2:4a).

Historical: (History within the text). Gen 12-50 tells the stories about Abram and his descendants as they move from Haran into the land of Canaan and begin wandering around the land and then into Egypt. These stories began as oral traditions passed down within the tribes long before they became part of the written tradition. It is the way many cultures remember their history, but in the Western world we became influenced by the enlightened definition of 'history' which understood 'history' as written facts from an objective viewpoint. This has caused many scholars to debate whether the Patriarchs can be proven to be true people through archaeological means. Other scholars say that this is not possible and therefore they cannot be historical people. If this argument was applied to Bedouin tribes or Australian Aboriginal people we deny them any history. History as oral tradition passed down is the history of a people, and does not need to be justified by Western values. The people are portrayed as very human with all their faults and strengths - they lie, deceive, steal, test God, they have courage, journey into the unknown, seek God, question God and are obedient. These traits apply to men and women, and many of the women (Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar) play a significant role in the working out of the promises of God. I encourage people to read these stories for themselves. After the story of Abram in Gen 11:27-25:18 the next block, Gen 11:19-36:43, tells us about Jacob and finally about Joseph in Gen 37:1-50:26. At the end of the book we are placed ready to begin the story of Moses, the release of the Hebrews from Egypt and their wanderings in the wilderness.

We know something of this period from the discoveries of the Mari Tablets - 20,000 tablets in old Akkadian of which 5,000 were official correspondence (J.Bright. A History of Israel. London: SCM Press, 57). Mari was a great city with highly sophisticated living conditions and the centre of trade. Terah and his family would have travelled through Mari to get to Haran. Mesopotamia was a centre of civilisation in the Far East in the same way that Egypt was in the Near East.

It is a period in which some people lived in cities and others lived a semi nomadic life travelling with their herds and stopping for periods, but rarely settling to an agrarian life style. We seem to have examples of both these life styles within the story of Abraham.

Context of Genesis 45:1-15
At the end of the last lectionary reading (Gen 37:36), Joseph had arrived in Egypt and been sold to an officer of Pharaoh called Potiphar. Joseph's adventures began as the wife of Potiphar tried to seduce him and when he failed to succumb, she accused him falsely and he is put in jail. In prision with Joseph were Pharaoh's butler and baker who had offended the Pharaoh for reasons we are not told. They had dreams which Joseph interpreted for them: the butler would be restored and the baker would loose his head. Joseph asked the butler to remember him when Pharaoh restored him to his position, but he failed to do so. Two years later when the Pharaoh had dreams, the butler acknowledged Joseph's ability to interpret dreams and so he is brought forth. The outcome is that Joseph is given high office and is in charge of the collection of food in order to avert the future famine. He is given an Egyptian name and the daughter of a priest of On as a wife. Two sons were born named Manasseh and Ephraim. I point this out to make the point that the tribes are descended from mixed nationality. As a result of Joseph's careful administration the famine which came upon Egypt after seven years was averted. Furthermore, as the famine spread across the Middle East, Jacob and his sons learnt there was grain to be bought in Egypt. Jacob sent ten of his sons to buy grain. When they came before Joseph they didn't recognise him and he didn't make himself known. He played games with them initially, insisting they leave one brother behind and the remainder return to Jacob and bring Benjamin to Egypt. On their return they found that all their money which they had used to buy the grain was sitting in the top of the sacks. This disturbed them because they didn't understand. Jacob refused to let Benjamin go with them and it wasn't until they were driven by the ongoing famine that Jacob gave his permission reluctantly. On their arrival back in Egypt a feast is given for them. Joseph wept when he saw Benjamin, but still set them up by getting his own silver cup put in the grain sack of Benjamin to be found by the steward when sent in pursuit of them by Joseph. Dragged back once more Judah gives a very emotive speech to try and persuade Joseph that Benjamin be allowed to return to his father Jacob and he, Judah stay in Benjamin's place. After the disclosure of his identity in Gen 45, the brothers return to Jacob with the news and in response Jacob agrees to bring the family down to Egypt. Furthermore, the promise of nationhood is repeated to Israel (Jacob) in Gen 46:1-7 as he journeys into Egypt to meet his son Joseph at Goshen. The remaining chapters of the book of Genesis tell us how well Joseph governed, the growing wealth of the tribes of Jacob, Jacob's blessing and speech prior to his death (Gen 48-49) and his final journey to be buried with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah. Joseph's death is recorded in the final verses of Gen 50.

Insights/Message of Genesis 45:1-15
Literary:cccccLast week's lectionary reading was the prologue to the whole narrative about Joseph told in Gen 37 to 50. This week's reading demonstrates the fulfillment of the dreams in Gen 37 and the salvific role played by God and Joseph. After the journeying back and forward of the brothers, Joseph finally is unable to contain the news that he is their long lost brother Joseph. The Egyptians are sent from the room when Joseph breaks the news. Most of this section is a first person speech by Joseph basically reassuring them that it has been God's actions which saved them from death by starvation. It was God's purpose that he arrive in Egypt in order to play the role of saviour for the Egyptians and the tribes of Jacob. At the end of his speech there are still hints of the early Joseph with the a reference to the splendour in which he resides. Indeed, the language reinforces this perception as the speech to the brothers progresses a change occurs from "brother" to that of "Lord of Egypt" and "ruler". The rhetorical devices used emphasises a number of theological points: Joseph announces his identity with standard form of self-disclosure - "I am Joseph" and repeated, "I am your brother Joseph". The second statement ensures that they are completely convinced about his identity. The second rhetorical device turns the expected action into the unexpected: Joseph in his powerful position and in revenge could easily punish his brothers, instead he offers them a theological reason for their past behaviour. God was behind all their actions in order that they and all their families would survive the terrible drought. This becomes the third rhetorical device in which God is the reason for all that has happened and this point is repeated three times in vv.5-10 (Brueggemann: 344-345). In some sense the emotions mentioned below are dealt with by the above rhetorical designs. Joseph will not exact revenge, they do not need to fear or feel guilt, and their father will not need to grieve any longer for a lost son. Indeed, they are to go and fetch their father who will learn the truth about Joseph. The third group to hear of Joseph's identity are those courtiers of Pharaoh and Pharaoh himself. Furthermore, it is Pharaoh himself who reinforces the suggestion of Joseph that Jacob come and live in Egypt. He even supplies the wagons and promises them good land on which to settle. Many hundreds of years later in the exodus they flee on foot without the help of wagons to carry their young and their goods.

Message:One could imagine the mixed emotions when Joseph announced his identity to them. Was there guilt? Fear? Did anyone of them remember the dreams of the twelve year old Joseph? Were they angry at the way Joseph had played games with them and the set-up with his silver cup in the grain sack of Benjamin. The word used to translate their response can be "dismayed" (RSV, NRSV), "troubled" (AKJ), or "terrified" (NIV). It leaves it open for a wide variety of reactions contained in these words. The brother whom they had thought long gone from their lives appears in a very dramatic and powerful fashion. While we could be persuaded by the narrator that their fears have been allayed in Gen 45:15 we find in Gen 50:15-18 that they still fear the possibility of revenge by Joseph for their actions (Fretheim: 643). Given that Joseph is not betrayed as exacting revenge in an overt manner there is still a sense of revenge in the way he sends them off with his cup put into Benjamin's sack and immediately sends the steward after them to search the grain sacks. The dream of falling before Joseph is a reality as they plead their case that Benjamin not become a slave in Egypt (Gen 44). It is only after this highly emotional pleading by Judah that Joseph finally tells them who he is. Joseph plays with them and their emotions which is understandable, but some of the commentators ignore this trait of Joseph. Wenham, suggests that the revengeful behaviour of Joseph is just a front as the narrator makes clear to us by his need to withdraw weeping, and it is only when he is convinced of their change of heart that he tells them his identity. God is perceived to have worked in the evil actions of the brothers for the good of the community as a whole. Two theological extremes could be posited here. First, human action can be irrelevent because of the all-sufficiency of divine sovereignty. Secondly, human and divine work together, but inevitably God's will prevails (Fretheim: 646). The consequence of this is that human sin becomes the agent of God's purpose, and any judgement is waived because they are doing the will of God. I don't find either of these positions particularly helpful. Another way of looking at the drama of Gen 37-50 is to take seriously the actions of humans and God. God didn't plan that the brothers do evil and attempt to get rid of Joseph. They are fully accountable for their sin. On the other hand, we can celebrate the way God is able to use the situation to bring life and reconciliation into this family of Jacob. Brueggemann sums it up thus: Neither the freedom of the creature nor the gracious sovereignty of God is canceled (347). In our lives we cannot avoid being accountable for actions which hurt and give pain to others whether on a personal level or indeed on a global level. However, it is the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit which can overcome our sin, bring new life and possibilities from situations.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 15:11-28: there are no direct allusions or quotes in these sections from the Old Testament.

Resources/Worship for Genesis 45:1-15

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Genesis, the author is R.W.L.Moberly, 1992. (Genesis 12-50)

Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist companion to Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
---. ed. Genesis. Feminist companion to the Bible (Second Series), 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Int. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox 1982.
Coats, George W. Genesis, with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1983.
Davies, Philip R., and David J. A. Clines, eds. The world of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Fretheim,Terrence E. "The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections." In The New Interpreter's Bible. Vol 1. Abingdon: Nashville, 1994.
Hamilton,Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1990.
---. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1995.
Hess, Richard S., and David Toshio Tsumura, eds. I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
*Moberly, R. W. L. Genesis 12-50. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
*Rogerson, J. W. Genesis 1-11, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996.
Scullion, John J. Genesis: A Commentary for Students, Teachers, and Preachers. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, c2001. Call Number: 222.11077 W237g
Wenham,Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
---. Genesis 16-50. WBC. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1994.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: These links were updated 30/12/11

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