The best laid plans of mice and men, eh? I decided to blog on my trip during my trip rather than afterwards, which ate up a lot of my down time. While I feel a little discouraged with how erratic my blogging has wound up being – definitely not one chapter a day! – any daily habit can become either (1) something you feel weird if you don’t do, like brushing your teeth, or (2) something you loath doing, like washing the dishes. I would rather that this become #1 and not #2, and allowing myself to skip when I genuinely don’t have the energy is one way of doing that.
Anyway, chapter 45. I get the final bit of evidence that Joseph is afraid of people finding out about his ethnic identity when he tells everyone to leave before he reveals himself to his brothers. Of course, he then winds up crying loud enough that everybody hears (why do I have images of Egyptian servants with their ears at the door?). Fortunately for him, it turns out the Pharaoh doesn’t care that he’s a Hebrew. After all, Joseph has made Egypt rich – and he’s going to do even worse things in upcoming chapters, which is the downside of reading ahead when I couldn’t blog.
See, this is a nice finale, as it was in the Weber musical. Joseph reunites with his brothers, his father learns he’s alive and prepares to join him. It’s a perfect Hollywood ending.
But the Bible isn’t about Hollywood endings. Just like how, after his heartwarming reunion with Esau, Jacob had to deal with Dinah’s rape, making some potentially very bad decisions as a father, Joseph is going to continue to rule Egypt and do some morally reprehensible things without the justification that Jacob had.
For now, though, let’s end on the happy part. Not just that Joseph is back together with his family, but that the Pharaoh was able to overlook his cultural aversion to the “abomination” of hanging out with Hebrews. Maybe “abominations” aren’t always something we should heed, hmm?
The other interesting point in this chapter is why Joseph says he’s forgiven them. He attributes the entire affair to God, saying that it was God’s design that he wind up ruling over Egypt to allow them to survive the famine (v 5-8). That’s an interesting interpretation of events, especially in light of the self-fulfilling nature of Joseph’s early dream-predictions. His brothers are only angry at him because of the dreams, but only by their reactions do the dreams become fulfilled. In this scenario, God was some master puppeteer working ahead of time to save his chosen family from starvation.
But if he was worried about them starving, why send a famine in the first place? That’s the big unanswered question. We know the famine is attributed to God, but we’re never given a reason why. It doesn’t seem to be a specific judgment on anyone, since it’s all over the place.
Well, okay, so let’s just say it’s a natural seasonal cycle. For reasons outside of human concerns, there needs to be a time of bad harvest, maybe to let the earth rest. God’s not just concerned with humans, after all. But in that case, why have Egypt be the place that gets rescued? Why not have Canaan, where they were already living, get a prophecy about the famine and prepare ahead of time? Wouldn’t it be better to have Jacob and his family survive without letting the Pharaoh become super wealthy and powerful?
The other possibility is that Joseph is wrong. God didn’t mastermind that he wind up in Egypt, that just happened, and regardless of where Joseph was, God would have figured out some way to save Jacob’s family. From a narrative perspective, it makes more sense to have this be Joseph’s point of view, that he’s actually thankful he was sold into slavery in the long run, in spite of his suffering, rather than an accurate assessment of what God was up to.
The Japanese: mi o akasu “to reveal oneself” (v 1), chikayoru “to draw near” (v 4), tsukawasu “to dispatch, send” (v 5), ikinagaraeru “to survive” (v 7), komon “adviser” (v 8), hokanaranu “none other than” (v 12), eiyo “honor” (v 13), sairyou “the best, ideal” (v 18), kazai dougu “household belonging,” miren “regret, reluctance, lingering affection” (v 20).
That last word is a bit of an interesting choice. The English says “give no thought to your possessions,” but the Japanese is more like “don’t have lingering attachments to your possessions.” It’s a slight difference in terminology, and carries with it the Buddhist idea of detachment from material things. I know I’m perobably reading a little too much into it there, but it’s interesting that the English emphasizes thought (don’t think twice!) and the Japanese emphasizes feeling (don’t feel bad about it!).