Monday, 25 November 2013

Reading the Bible 35 Genesis 42: 1-25 – The Intricacies of Forgiveness

The events that had been foretold in Joseph’s dreams of stars and moons and sheaves of wheat are now coming to fruition.  The prophecy is not yet complete as only his ten brothers are there to bow down to him.  This fulfills the prophecy of the first dream in which the wheat sheaves of his brothers bow to his.  However, the dream of the sun and moon and eleven stars bow down to him remains to be fulfilled.

In reading this account I wonder if Joseph might not have shown compassion to his brothers and immediately revealed himself to them.  After all their actions in selling him into slavery lead to his ultimate triumph that was foretold in the dreams.  He might have realized that their actions were part of God’s plan for not only Joseph but all of his chosen people.  However, we can hardly blame him for wanting some payback and make his brothers suffer for their evil deeds.  But were his actions just the acting out of his natural desire for revenge or did he have a greater purpose in his actions?

First, Joseph must have known the distress his action in demanding Benjamin be brought to Egypt would have caused his father.  So why did he take this action?  I believe that his actions were necessary for there to be true reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers and his father.  If Joseph had immediately identified himself and welcomed them with open arms there would have always been a barrier between the brother and him and perhaps the brothers and their father.  They would have always wondered if Joseph had truly forgiven them and human nature being what it is they might eventually have secretly or not so secretly resented his good fortune in Egypt just as they had resented the dreams that foretold these events.  

True forgiveness and reconciliation for even minor offenses much less major injury done to a person’s body and spirit is a process which cannot be taken lightly or avoided.  It is very easy to say that you forgive someone – even if you believe it in your head but to find forgiveness for others and for yourself in your heart does not come easily.  It is not a questions of just saying I forgive which can come early in the process for the sake of wanting to move on.  However, the resentment can and does remain on a deeper level and can come bubbling to the surface when we least expect it.  If we are truly to forgive it requires a conversion of the heart which comes from God and not from our will.  Through the grace of God true forgiveness is possible.  Thanks be to God.

Reading the Bible 34 Genesis 41: 37-57 – The Stuff of Dreams

And it came to pass (as will be said later in this same book) that Joseph’s interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dreams were realized.  The seven years of plenty were followed by the seven years of famine.  The Pharaoh’s discernment that Joseph was the one to lead the country through this time of trial was confirmed.   All seemed to be well – at least in Egypt.  However, there are two points which are almost throw away lines at the end of the chapter that should not be overlooked.  

First we are told that Joseph sold to the Egyptians the wheat that had been stored up in the good years.  Apparently there was no free lunch in Egypt in those days.  The wheat that had I’m sure been taken by the Pharaoh was not given back to the people.  They had to buy it back from their ruler through the auspices of Joseph.  There does not seem to be any question that this is just how things were.  It is not a case of the welfare state.  Joseph, the man who had been looked on with favour because of the gifts that God had given him was quite willing to participate in this act of government control which could be interpreted as being ordained by God.  I’m not sure how this would be viewed by those Christians – usually of the fundamentalist bent al la the Tea Party – who call for less government and fewer taxes.  Would they hold that this was necessary for God’s plan to be fulfilled for the Israelites – God chosen people - at least until the United States was established?  Therefore this inconvenient biblical passage can be overlooked.  Of course I am using historical relativism to judge the situation and of course we have to see that God truth is not the same for all people in all times.  God’s truth is being revealed in new ways in an ongoing revelation.  

The second point is that famine was severe throughout the world. Here we have a chicken and egg situation.  God foretold the coming famine through dreams sent to the Pharaoh.  He also gave Joseph the gift of the interpretation of that message.  Was the famine part of God’s plan?  Was it necessary for God to send a famine on the world to enable His plan for Joseph and the Israelites to unfold?  Or did God just use his omniscience to use the events that were destines to happen?  Was the suffering that was inevitable with a world-wide famine necessary for God to fulfil His intention?  It is easy to read into events our understanding of God’s will when they fit our understanding of how God works in the world and how people who we believe deserve God’s punishment receive it with natural events – AIDS as punishment for Gays comes to mind and even the reaction by some to the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina as punishment for the wickedness of that sinful city a la Sodom and Gomorrah.  It is very easy for people of all stripes to relish when bad things happen to those who we consider bad people.  It is always dangerous to believe that God is on our side and should meet out punishment to those we believe deserve it.  We don’t like to leave punishment in the hands of God as God says elsewhere. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Reading the Bible 33 Genesis 41: 1-36 – Dreams of Things to Come

There are times in our lives that it doesn’t seem that things will ever get better.  We hope that the trials and tribulations of our lives will end and better times will finally arrive.  However, days turn into weeks and the weeks pile up and nothing seems to change.  For those of us who believe that God is with us we wonder if He or She has forgotten about us.  All our prayers and efforts seem to amount to less than nothing; they seem to be a waste of time. 

Reading the account of Joseph in prison I can’t but think that Joseph must have felt that way in spades.  God seemed to be with Joseph from his earliest years.  God had given him the gift of dreams – big ones that seemed wonderful.  However, the way he used and misused that gift led him to his exile and a prisoner in a foreign land.  That gift had stood him in good stead while in prison and he had predicted the fates of his two cell mates to the despair of one and the joy of the other.  However, even that blessing did not appear to do him any good.  When this chapter in his story opens we find that Joseph has been languishing in prison for two years.
In my imagination Joseph would have pretty much given up hope when a minor miracle happened.  The Pharaoh was visited with disturbing dreams which none of his magicians and other assorted wise men could interpret for him.  This jogged the memory of Joseph’s former cell mate who had benefited from Joseph’s ability in dream interpretation and tell the Pharaoh about it. 

The rest as they say is history.  Joseph successfully interprets Pharaoh’s dreams predicts the good times and bad times ahead – seven years of plenty and seven years of famine.  Joseph shows that he has gained wisdom from his trials and knows that his ability to interpret dreams is a gift from God.  Joseph advises the Pharaoh to make hay while the sun shines and as we shall see the Pharaoh is wise enough to know wise advice when he encounters it.
Those two years as I say must have seemed like an eternity to Joseph sitting in his prison cell with no rescue on the horizon.  And it is a valuable lesson for us when we are in the midst of a dark period in our lives.  God is with us whether it seems that way or not.  Good times or bad; feast or famine; God is with us.

Reading the Bible 32, Genesis 40 - Dreams, God’s Forgotten Language

Reading the Bible 32 Genesis 40 - Dreams, God’s Forgotten Language

After Joseph’s good deed is punished he finds himself in prison.  However, God had not forgotten him and he had not forgotten God.  Joseph’s God-given gift of dream interpretation was with him still.  Previously the rashly shared prophetic dreams of his predominance in his family had set in motion the events which were still unfolding.  However, that same gift now opens a way to release him from his current prison.  He is able to interpret the dreams of his cell mates – the Pharos’s cupbearer and baker

Now the baker and the cup-bearer are in a difficult situation.  They have had what could be called today, big dreams.  However, they believed there was no one there to interpret them.  They held the common understanding that not everyone could interpret dreams.  That was the special purview of priests, magicians and other assorted wise men.  Joseph rebuts this piece of orthodoxy by assuring them that interpretations belong to God.  He goes on to correctly interpret the prophetic dreams of the two men to the joy of the cupbearer and the sorrow of the baker.

Today our culture has generally dismissed the understanding that dreams come from God.  This understanding was the norm in biblical times and continued in the life of the early church being upheld by such church fathers as Tertullian and St. Augustine.  The language of dreams that Joseph was able to understand through God’s grace, is something that our world has generally lost.  However, it is something that can and is being rediscovered and relearned.  Today it is not the secret purview of the magicians and wise-men self-proclaimed or otherwise. 

Dream interpretation and understanding can be taught and learned.  However, it is art as well as skill and it is a useful reminder to treat them as sacred object and that they are in the hands of the divine source of all wisdom as Joseph noted.  It is important to be open to the inspiration that can come when trying to understand dreams. 

May your dreams be fruitful and may you be open to the wisdom contained in them.