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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Genesis, chapters 46 - 50

Lesson 9: Israel in Egypt: Genesis 46-50
What if… faith and science agree on Israel going to Egypt?

The Land of Goshen:
What if… Egyptians didn’t like shepherds?

In Genesis 45:16-20 Pharaoh promises the best land to Joseph’s family. But Joseph is clearly nervous and needs God’s reassurance that this is okay (Genesis 46:1-4). He reminds his family (Genesis 46:31-34) that the Egyptians really don’t like herdsmen. When Pharoah gives them the land of Goshen he puts them in charge of his livestock (Genesis 47:6), but livestock certainly wouldn’t be kept on the best land.

Goshen may well be a hilly area near the Nile delta. Egyptians would not want to live there, so the Israelites would live undisturbed for almost 400 years, able to consolidate their stories and their beliefs without the pollution of foreign mythologies. Perhaps this was God’s provision for them, a time of strengthening.

When a later Pharaoh began building the city of Rameses in the delta, the Israelites would have been the obvious local “subject” population from which to cull slaves (see Genesis 47:21 for an earlier record of Egyptian slavery).

What if… people were counted symbolically?

In Genesis 46:27 there are 70 people listed in the tribe of Israel. Maybe there really were 70, and maybe there really were 144,000 round the throne in John’s vision. But numbers are often symbolic, and 70 would be 7 (for God’s plan) time 10 (for man’s counting).

What if… it wasn’t just Egyptians that got embalmed?

Jacob dies (Genesis 47:29-31 & 48:1) and is embalmed according to Egyptian tradition (Genesis 50:2). Later when Joseph dies, he too is embalmed (Genesis 50:26).

Joseph travels to Canaan to bury his father in (Genesis 50), but Joseph’s own body remains in Egypt till the Israelites leave under Moses.

What if… God lets bad things happen so good can come from them?

In a fallen world, things break, by definition. Read Genesis 50:20 for a famous reminder than even when people sin God can be working for good in the situation.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel:

Jacob had twelve sons. When the inheritance is shared, he promises Joseph a double portion (Genesis 48:5), naming his sons as inheritors. Interestingly enough, it’s the younger son who gets the older son’s portion, yet again (Genesis 48:17-19). Since the Levites don’t get any land, and since Joseph’s tribe divides in two, there are still 12 tribal lands in Canaan when the land is shared out.

Jacob blesses the tribes:

Reuben – unstable (49:3-4). He’s the one that slept with his father’s concubine. His land is East of the Jordan, next to the Moabites, Edomites and Ammonites.

Simeon and Levi – violent, divided amongst the tribes (no land?) (3-7) The Levites did not inherit land in Canaan, but did become priests – Moses and Aaron are both Levites. The tribe of Simeon receives an inheritance “within the tribe of Judah” (Joshua 19:1) when they reach the Promised Land.

Judah – lion and ruler (8-12) Jesus is born from Judah’s line. Judah becomes the strongest of the tribes, retaining hold of the southern kingdom even after the northern kingdom is lost in the Promised Land.

Zebulun – seafarer – Sidon (13) The land given to Zebulun in Canaan doesn’t actually border the sea, but the tribe became known for trade, and sea was closely associated with trade. Sidon was an important trading city very close to the land of Zebulun (which in turn was close to the Sea of Galilee), and tribespeople did not necessarily live on their allotted land. (Joseph and Mary did not live in Judah.)

Issachar – lazy, slave? (14) This tribe gets the land next to Zebulun, again close to the Sea of Galilee. They seem to take the quiet route during the battles for the Promised Land, forcing openings in sieges etc.

Dan – judge, wise (15) They are set to conquering land belonging to the Philistine’s, near the coast, when Israel enters the Promised Land. When the country splits, Dan is on the border, on the Northern side, and one of the two statues of bulls is placed there.

Gad – war (16) ends up next to the Ammonites, between Reuben and Eastern Manasseh.

Asher – wealth (17) gets the coastland next to Zebulun, including Tyre (at the northernmost tip of Israel) and Sidon, which become very rich trading cities.

Naphtali – beauty (18) Asher, Naphtali and Eastern Manasseh take the northernmost land in Canaan. Naphtali and Manasseh border the Sea of Galilee. The land was known as being particularly beautiful.

Joseph – set apart, chosen by God (19-26) doesn’t receive land, as the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh take his place, receiving a double portion. Ephraim gets the land just north of Dan and Benjamin. Manasseh gets two large tracts of land, Western Manasseh from the coast below Sidon to the River Jordan south of the Sea of Galilee, and Eastern Manasseh bordering the North-Eastern side of the Sea of Galilee

Benjamin – hunger (27) gets the smallest land, just north of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and frequently loses it.

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