Thursday, January 14, 2010


Genesis 40-42

In Genesis 40, Joseph is joined in prison by the Pharoah's cupbearer and chief baker, both of whom have displeased Pharoah.  During their first night they each of a dream, which they share with Joseph the following day.  Joseph interprets the dreams (saying "interpretation belongs to God") and informs them (correctly) that the cupbearer will be restored to his position in three days, and the baker will be hanged.  The cupbearer promises to remember Joseph, but promptly forgets him upon being restored in his position.

Chapter 41 starts with Pharoah's dreams.  He dreams of seven fat cattle being consumed by seven skinny cattle, and seven full ears of corns being swallowed up by seven thin ones.  He sends for his wise men and magicians but no one can interpret the dreams for him.  Then his cupbearer remembers Joseph.  Pharoah calls for him from the prison.  Joseph says that he can't interpret Pharoah's dreams but that God will give Pharoah the answers that he wants.  He then says that the dreams represent seven years of plenty which will be followed by seven years of famine.  Pharaoh needs to go throughout the land and stockpile food during the years of plenty to survive the years of famine.  As Joseph clearly has the support of God, Pharoah appoints him to be the overseer of this effort.  Joseph becomes the most powerful man in Egypt (other than Pharoah) and gathers huge stores of food during the next seven years.  He also marries and has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  And then the famine begins, and he opens the storehouses and sells food to Egyptians.  "And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world."

In chapter 42, some of the men from other countries turn out to be Joseph's brothers, all of whom other than Benjamin have been sent to Egypt by their father to buy grain.  He recognized them and spoke to them harshly, accusing them of being spies looking for weakness in Egypt.  He told them that to prove they were not spies, one of them would be held and the others must go get their youngest brother.  He had Simeon taken and bound, then gave the rest of them grain and sent them back, holding Simeon hostage until they returned with the youngest brother.  In each of their sacks, he also placed the money which they had used to buy the grain.  Jacob/Israel refused to let them take Benjamin to Egypt, as he had already lost Joseph, and now Simeon.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • Each time that Joseph is asked to interpret a dream, he gives essentially the same response - I can't do that, but God can.
  • The dream interpretations are in keeping with everything else that we know about Joseph in Egypt.  God is helping him, providing for him, supporting him.  In other words, preparing him and using him.
  • On the surface it might seem strange that Joseph recognizes his brothers but none of them recognize him.  But there are legitimate reasons for this to be the case.  For one thing, he was the youngest of that group and likely changed more than any of the others.  For another, he was seeing them in a group, as he had seen them before, whereas they were also used to seeing him in the group.  And there was no reason for him not to expect that travelers from Canaan might be his brothers, but they had sold him into slavery and he was now a figure of great power and authority.
  • Joseph's brothers are in fear when they see that they've got both the grain they bought and their money, too.  It seems a strange response, but he kept their brother Simeon, and they are, I suspect, frightened simply because they don't know what's going on.  Do they think that they just effectively sold Simeon into slavery in Egypt?

Proverbs 12:1-14

It occurs to me, as I go through this process, that I don't recall ever hearing a chapter of Proverbs read in a service, or a sermon preached on a chapter of Proverbs.  And I think I see why.  There are a couple of meta-messages - wisdom is good, the righteous are better than the wicked, God loves righteousness and wisdom - but no narrative structure and no message cohesion.  There are a lot of pithy sayings, some good imagery and metaphorical and poetic language, but not much that builds on what came before or prepares for what comes next.  The lessons all come in little chunks, and they are almost all surface lessons, valuable, yes, but not warranting much in the way of commentary.

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