January 26, 2014 Class

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Covered last week:

  • Joseph’s Ordeal
  • Betrayal & Exile
  • Life in Egypt- House Steward
  • Temptation
  • Unjust Imprisonment
  • Life in Prison

The Rise to Freedom

semites entering egypt ca 1870 BC

We pick up this week with reviewing Joseph’s earlier dream of the sun, the moon and the stars bowing down before him. This not only refers to his family members but has a duality of meaning which Moses means to impart to later readers. In Egyptian cosmology the dreams refer to Egyptian deities bowing down before Yahweh. The sun god is Re and the moon is the goddess Isis, mother of the gods and protector of motherhood, women and healer of the sick also moon-worship associated with cow goddess Hathor of fertility, birth & rebirth (Stars)- powerful symbols in Egyptian cosmology and astrology. The cows emerging from the river, the source of all, are powerful Egyptian icons.

When the Pharoah Sesostris makes Joseph his vizier, he is concentrating power back to the house of Pharoah and away from the priesthood. The famine enables him to consolidate power that the pharoahs had previously lost. Joseph, serving a pagan god, is put in charge of all. As detailed in Luis Ginsberg’s collection of the Jewish and Rabbinic source materials, Joseph’s wife is reluctant to marry Joseph and at first is angry because she is being given away to a foreigner who is not to royalty. When she seems him, however, she is struck by his virility and charisma. She, the Rabbis write, is smitten and struck to the heart; she goes away to pray in private to Joseph’s god and promises to be faithful to Yahweh. Pharoah too falls under the sway of Yahweh through Joseph. His placing all he owned under Joseph’s care demonstrates the faith he puts in Joseph’s God’s power and his lack of faith in his own gods to bring his kingdom prosperity.

Famine Relief.

The famine is wide-spread throughout the region. It not only affects Egypt but the whole Middle East. Egypt, thanks to Joseph’s ministrations, has become the “bread basket” in a region where there is no bread to be had for love or money. Peoples begin to migrate into Egypt to look for food through trade. The family of Jacob is no different. They decide to send the brothers to trade with Pharoah in hopes of saving their family.

The Jacob’s family are not the only Semitic peoples who come into Egypt. It is believed the Hyksos first make their appearance in Egypt as this time. They too come, not in war, but with the hope of trading for survival. Jacob’s family is given the best of the land, Goshen, to settle on. Other Semites (not in Jacob’s tribe), also settle and stay. Later they will take advantage of Pharonic weakness and take over Egypt, but for now they are hungry migrants.

Road to Family Reconciliation

Imagine how Joseph must have felt when he recognized his brothers. After all that time, he has seen them again. He must have remembered the dream of his brothers and family bowing down to him and he must have felt that this was now being fulfilled. One of the things we can take away from the story of Joseph is that God’s timeline often covers years (if not decades). Joseph was 17 when he was sold into slavery. He is at least in his late 30s now. He came in shackles … now he is 2nd only to the Pharoah. He has the power. True to Jacob’s tricky ways, he plays with his brothers and doesn’t reveal himself to them at first. He wants to see Benjamin. He makes no promises that he will save them. Who could blame him? Yet he does save them and he sets in motion the Egyptian occupancy of the Hebrews.

Why would Yahweh send his people to Egypt? Why not send them in as conquering warriors? During the next 400 years, Yahweh’s people will learn to build. During the middle kingdom of Egypt, there was a great emphasis on building. They were not building useless pyramids which has caused the bankruptcy of earlier pharoahs, they were building cities, canals, temples, and infrastructure. They were learning what having a nation means. Yet they were not in charge — they became Egyptianized but never Egyptians. They remained foreigners. When the power shifts and new politics come into play — their situation once again changes.


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