Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Reading the Bible 18 Gen 27: Mom (and God) Always Liked You Best

Family dynamics are certainly are certainly front and centre in this episode of biblical Dynasty.  In any family the issue of favourites is an underlying theme.  The old comedy duo the Smothers Brothers played this up with Tommy giving voice to the eternal cry ‘Mom always liked you best’.   In modern parenting theory even if you are aware of preference for one child over others you are supposed to do everything possible to disguise it and certainly not overtly show your true feeling – as difficult as that may be at times.
Of course God – YHWH did not have compunction about showing favouritism as we saw with Cain and Able.  I wonder if Cain was the early type of Tommy Smothers – God always liked you best.  However, for us mortals we do not have that luxury – at least on a guilt free basis.  Rebekah did not have any compunction in plotting to ensure that her favourite Jacob received Isaac’s blessing. 

It is easy to be critical of Rebekah from our 21st Century perspective.  However, putting aside the obvious favouritism that Rebekah showed Jacob perhaps she chose as she did because she knew her sons as only a mother can.  She knew that Jacob was the one to fulfil the covenant with YHWH.  He had what it would take to be the next step in the Abraham’s descendants who would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens.   In her mind Esau with his lack of foresight and planning could not fulfill God’s plan for His chosen people.  Given the benefit of hindsight can we say that Rebekah chose badly or selfishly?  IN any case it is always nice when God’s will and our egos are aligned.  That can be dangerous but that is another story.


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Reading the Bible 17 Gen 26 Isaac the Trickster

This passage is the account of Isaac in Garar.  You could call it: like father like son; or the nut doesn’t fall from the tree; or fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.
Isaac seems to have picked up a trick or two in how to be safe in a foreign land.  Like Abraham with Sarah he passes off his wife Rebekah as his sister.  Now you can say that Abraham taught Isaac well but what is surprising – at least if you take the story at face value – is that Abimelech the king who innocently took Rebekah as his wife – was duped for a second time.  This is exactly what happened with Abraham and Sarah when they were in Gerar.  Abimelech must have been very gullible or perhaps as has been speculated elsewhere this is a case of two oral traditions that were recorded of the same story.  That does make more sense.

However, what is of more interest to me is the family trait of these patriarchs what enables them to carry one on such a devious manner.  For those who are familiar with Jungian psychology of archetypes you will recognize the Trickster Archetype.  In the next generation Jacob will engage that archetype in an even more serious way in his dealing with his father Isaac and his brother Esau.  God seems to approve of this kind of deviousness as God continues to bless them and they are upheld as the Patriarchs of our religious tradition.  Perhaps we have a case of situational ethics and God does recognize that we shouldn’t judge the behaviours of generations passed by our situations.  In any case those who recorded the stories did seem not have any problem with giving us a nuanced picture of or religious forebears.  Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Reading the Bible 16 Gen 25 The Significance of Twelve

Chapter 25 cover many different topics in a relatively short space – the marriage of Abraham to Ketyurah, the death of Abraham, Ishmael’s  descendants, the birth of Esau and Jacob and the selling of Esau’s birthright for ‘a mess of pottage’.  These –particularly the selling of Esau’s birthright are well known and discussed at length. 

What engaged me in this reading was the fact, that hadn’t impressed me previously, that Ishmael  – the son of Abraham by Sarah’s slave Hagar – had twelve off-spring – twelve sons – ‘twelve princes according to their tribes’.  This is a type of the twelve tribes of Israel which would descend from Jacob (later Israel after the encounter with the angel).  This number twelve must have been significant to the Israelite people and by inference to God. 
Twelve is significant in many ways in antiquity and myth and history.  There are twelve months of the year, twelve signs of the zodiac, and probably other ways that I am not aware of at this point.  Checking with the Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot I found that the number twelve id ‘symbolic of cosmic order and salvation.  And is the basis of all dodecanary (symmetrical) groups.   Linked to it are the notions of space and time and the wheel or circle”.   The twelve tribe therefore seem to be a basic structure in the universe which has been brought into play in the generations of Abraham – in both his sons Ishmael and Jacob