Joshua 13-21: Land allotments, oh my!

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Always a bit of a Debbie Downer, God begins by telling Joshua that he’s getting old and that there is still much land to be conquered. He then proceeds to list these lands in Josh. 13:2-6.

The narrator follows up by describing the boundaries of the land under Israelite control on the east side of the Jordan, reminding us once more about how Moses defeated King Og and King Sihon (will he ever stop going on about that?). We are told that the Israelites had failed to drive out the Geshurites and Maacathites, who still live within Israel “to this day” (Josh. 13:13).

The actual allocation sections are a little scattered, so I’ll deal with the content out of order. In Josh. 18, Joshua tells the tribes who still require lands to each send out three men to scout the land and write descriptions of it. When they return, Joshua will use a lottery system to divide it among the tribes. This all takes place at Shiloh.

ChariotsBecause the place names are extremely boring, I will just list verse references plus any detail that happens to attract my interest. Here are the tribal allocations:

Judah: Josh. 15:1-12, 20-63. Though God had promised to Joshua that no one would be able to stand against him (Josh. 1:5), the people of Judah were not able to drive out the Jebusites, who were the people living in Jerusalem. Because of this, “the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day” (Josh. 15:63).

Reuben: Josh. 13:15-23.  Amid the listing of territories, we are reminded that the Israelites killed Balaam, “who practiced divination” (Josh. 13:22). This was, if you remember, a totally awkward twist from Numbers 31

Gad: Josh. 13:24-28. In Josh. 13:27, we are told that Gad gets “the rest of the kingdom of King Sihon. This conflicts with Josh. 13:21, where we are told that Reuben is to receive “all the kingdom of King Sihon.” The biblical penchant for exaggeration is all well and good, but probably a terrible idea when relating tribal land allocations…

Manasseh (eastern half/Machir): Josh. 13:29-31, 17:3-6. In Josh. 17, we are reminded of Zelophehad’s daughters – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah – who are to receive an inheritance in their own right. Here, the women are given their lands.

Manasseh (western half): Josh. 17:7-13. Once more, the Israelites are unable to kill off all the native inhabitants, so that the Manassites have to wait until they strong enough to enslave the Canaanites.

Ephraim: Josh. 16:1-10. Once again, we are told that they were unable to drive some people out – the Canaanites of Gezer remain and, we are told, have been enslaved.

Benjamin: Josh. 18:11-26.

Simeon: Josh. 19:1-9. Though the apportioning of land was supposed to have been fair, for some reason Joseph had given too much to Judah. So when he gets to Simeon, he doesn’t have enough territory to give and has to carve pieces out from Judah and give them over. Mastermind Joshua strikes again. You’d think he’d have planned ahead a little…

Zebulun: Josh. 19:10-16.

Issachar: Josh. 19:17-23. Excavations began on what is believed to be Anaharath, one of Issachar’s towns, somewhat recently!

Asher: Josh. 19:24-31.

Naphtali: Josh. 19:32-39.

Dan: Josh. 19:40-48. We are told that Dan took land from Leshem, renaming it “Dan” after their ancestor. Unfortunately, they are given Zorah and Eshtaol, which had already been given to Judah back in Josh. 15:33. Poor Joshua just cannot wrap his head around how this stuff works…

Levi: Josh. 21:1-45. Though they get no territory per se, the Levites do get cities, as well as a little pasture land. A portion of the Kohathites are given thirteen towns from Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. The rest of the Kohathites get ten towns from Ephraim, Dan, and Manasseh. The Gershonites get thirteen towns from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh. The Merarites get twelve towns from Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. We are told that Caleb had been given the fields and villages of one of the towns now being given to the Levites.

Caleb and Joshua

Caleb: Josh. 14:6-15, 15:13-19. You’ll remember Caleb has the scout who (with or without Joshua) stood against the other scouts in their position that the Israelites should not rush into the Promised Land. I can’t recall if Moses promised him his own land as a reward at the time, but the text here says that he did. And so, while Joshua is drawing all his lots, Caleb approaches and demands his reward. Though he is 85 years old now, he claims that he is still strong enough to fight and, therefore, would like to be granted the hill country where he had initially seen the Anakim (the giants he saw in Numbers 13). Joshua agrees, giving him Hebron – previously named Kiriatharba. The Arba in the name is the “greatest man among the Anakim” (Josh. 14:15). Incidentally, there’s a discussion over at Remnant of Giants about whether “Anakim” here should refer to a specific group of people, or whether it is used more broadly as a term for giants.

We have to wait until the next chapter and half of Judah’s allotment before we find out what happens next. Caleb heads up to Hebron and defeats Anak’s three sons, Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. Having now a taste for blood, he heads off to fight Debir, offering his daughter, Achsah, as a wife for anyone who conquers it for him. Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, takes him up on the offer and marries his niece. She tells her new husband to ask her father for a field and they are given some land in the Negeb. Later, while dismounting a donkey (presumably not an unflattering nickname for Othniel), she asks her father for water springs as well. Caleb gives her a few.

It’s a cute story, but we were told in Josh. 11:21 that it was Joshua who had defeated the Anakim in Hebron and Debir.

Joshua: Josh. 19:49-51. Now that all the lands are distributed, God tells the Israelites to give Joshua some land, too. I love this little detail – we are specifically told that the Israelites gave Joshua his land (on God’s command), just in case anyone dared to wonder if perhaps Joshua was skimming a little from the top for himself! Of course, we’re also told that he specifically asked for the town they gave him, so it still feels a little like a stacked deck. Either way, he receives Timnathserah, which is in his tribe’s – Ephraim – land.

The Remainder

In Josh. 20, the cities of refuge are appointed. You will remember these cities from Numbers 35. We had been told that there should be six of them in total, and they are:

  1. Kedesh in Naphtali’s territory
  2. Shechem in Ephraim’s territory
  3. Kiriatharba (Hebron) in Judah’s territory
  4. Bezer in Reuben’s territory
  5. Ramoth in Gad’s territory
  6. Golan in Manasseh’s territory

The latter three had already been appointed in Deuteronomy 4.

The tribe of Joseph (composed of Manasseh and Ephraim) complain to Joshua that they are too numerous for the amount of land they were given. Joshua, who sadly lacks a head for numbers, also managed to muck up Judah’s portion (giving them too much) in Josh. 19:9. To solve the problem, Joshua sends them into the forests belonging to the Perizzites and Rephaim to clear some space for themselves.

But, reply Manasseh and Ephraim, those guys have chariots of iron! (Josh. 17:16) Joshua reassures them that they will be fine, and that they will drive out the Canaanites even though they have chariots of iron and are very strong.

Joshua 11-12: The king(s) in the north

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Having heard of, but not learned from, the Israelite conquests in the south, Jabin king of Hazor decides to form a new defensive pact with Jobab king of Madon and the unnamed kings of Shimron, Achshaph, the northern hill country, the Arabah south of Chinneroth, the lowlands, and Naphothdor. Altogether, he calls in Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Hivites, and they all encamp “at the waters of Merom, to fight with Israel” (Josh. 11:5).

God gives Joshua a quick pep talk, reminding him not to be afraid, oh and also to make sure that he hamstrings all the enemies’ horses and burns their chariots. Joshua and his army barely have to lift a finger until after the battle is over because God rushes ahead and smites all their enemies, scattering whatever survivors remain. Then Joshua and his men spring into action, hamstringing all the horses (seriously?) and burning all the chariots.

These seem like strange details to add, especially given how many times they are repeated. I still don’t understand why the horses needed to be hamstrung rather than, say, simply killed, but Victor Matthews provides some possible explanation for the burning of the chariots:

Israelites also used bronze weapons, but their lack of metallurgical knowledge, and the Philistine monopoly over the tin trade, probably forced many of their soldiers to use slings and farm implements to defend themselves. Some iron weapons were undoubtedly captured during raids by Israelite forces, but without the knowledge of metallurgy to repair and fabricate new weapons out of scrap metal, they would have become useless eventually. This may explain why the forces under Joshua chose to burn the chariots of the northern coalition of Canaanite kings rather than use them themselves (Josh 11:9). The Israelites could not repair the chariots, and they did not want to leave them behind for Canaanites to use against them in the future. Also, the chariots would have been of little use to Israelite bands operating out of the rugged hill country. (Manners & Customs in the Bible, p.59-60)

On to Hazor

Having removed the feet of the king of Hazor (get it? defeated? de-feeted? Oh, I slay me!), Joshua turns his sword toward the city itself – killing all its inhabitants and burning it down to the ground.

On Hazor, my study Bible indicates that it “was one of the largest cities of Galilee. Excavations have impressively demonstrated its importance in antiquity and confirmed the fact that it was captured at about the time indicated in this narrative” (p.277).

On the subject, Collins writes:

Similar results were obtained at Jericho and Ai, the two showpieces of the conquest in Joshua. Neither was a walled city in the Late Bronze period. Of nearly twenty [page break] identifiable sites that were captured in the biblical account, only two, Hazor and Bethel, have yielded archaeological evidence of destruction at the appropriate period. Ironically, Hazor is said to be still in Canaanite hands in Judges 4-5. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.96-98)

With Hazor out of the way, they move on to a bunch of other cities. These, however, they do not burn  to the ground. Rather, they kill all the people but keep the stuff for themselves. As if to fudge over that this is a clear violation of the rules governing holy war laid out in Deut. 20, the narrator tells us that in doing this, Joshua “left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses” (Josh. 11:15).

Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites, by Nicolas Poussin, c.1625

Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites, by Nicolas Poussin, c.1625

I also noticed that the narrative construction seems to flip-flop between this God>Moses>Joshua chain and the Moses>Joshua chain that we get, for example, in Josh. 11:12 (“[…] as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded”).

We are told that God “hardened” the hearts of the enemies so that they should seek to fight rather than make peace as Gibeon did, but I have to wonder, whose hearts did he harden, really? According to God’s instructions to the Israelites, they are forbidden from making peace, and have done so only when tricked into it. The consistency of the natives’ hearts seems somewhat irrelevant, given that God has already commanded that they all be slaughtered.

As a final note, we are told that Joshua also managed to kill most of the Anakim (except those in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod), fulfilling the promise made in Deut. 9:3. If you’ll remember, the Anakim were first met by the Israelite scouting party way back in Numbers 13.

That done, Joshua was finished “and the land had rest from war” (Josh. 11:23). With that, I am given to understand that the narrative portion of Joshua is essentially over. Booo!

Summaries

According to Collins, the Deuteronomistic Histories favour certain narrative devices, such as speeches and narrative summaries (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.94-95). We’ve seen this, of course, in Deuteronomy. Most notably, all of Deut. 1-3 is a recap of Moses’s story.

The summary begins with Moses’s exploits on the eastern side of the Jordan, describing his defeating of King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan, because we cannot ever be allowed to forget that Moses beat these two guys. Like, ever. These lands, we are told once again, were given over to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh.

The rest of the chapter covers Joshua’s exploits, who are helpfully listed:

  1. The king of Jericho
  2. The king of Ai (which we are told once more is next to Bethel)
  3. The king of Jerusalem
  4. The king of Hebron
  5. The king of Jarmuth
  6. The king of Lachish
  7. The king of Eglon
  8. The king of Gezer
  9. The king of Debir
  10. The king of Geder
  11. The king of Hormah
  12. The king of Arad
  13. The king of Libnah
  14. The king of Adullam
  15. The king of Makkedah
  16. The king of Bethel
  17. The king of Tappuah
  18. The king of Hepher
  19. The king of Aphek
  20. The king of Lasharon
  21. The king of Madon
  22. The king of Hazor
  23. The king of Shimron-meron
  24. The king of Achshaph
  25. The king of Taanach
  26. The king of Megiddo
  27. The king of Kedesh
  28. The king of Jokneam in Carmel
  29. The king of Dor in Naphath-dor
  30. The king of Goiim in Galilee (which my study Bible tells me is Gilgal’s Greek name)
  31. The king of Tirzah

Joshua 10: And then a bunch of other stuff happened…

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Now that we’ve gotten through the brief digression with the Gibeonites, we can get back to the five kings. Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem, is getting pretty nervous hearing about the falls of Jericho and Ai, so he decides to call in his buddies to form an alliance. Hohan king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish, and Debir king of Eglon all join in.

They are particularly concerned about the alliance with Gibeon, because “all its men were mighty” (Josh. 10:2), not to mention clever in a Bugs Bunny sort of way! Marking quite a change from the slavery curses of Joshua 9, here the Gibeonites couldn’t be on friendlier terms with the Israelites, they “had made peace with Israel and were among them” (Josh. 10:1).

The five kings move their armies to attack Gibeon, and the Gibeons appeal to the Israelites for help. Joshua, bound now by his allowance, moves his own army out from Gilgal to meet them.

The Israelite army marches all night and launches straight into battle (a detail possibly intended to be read as a miracle by anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter and had to go to work in the morning).

The five kings are routed and, as their armies flee, God does his part by pelting them with “stones” or  “hail-stones” from heaven (Josh. 10:11).

Then there’s the bit about the sun standing still, but I’ll cover that in its own section.

Back to the five kings, they make it all the way to Makkedah, where they hide in a cave. Cornered, they are easy enough for Joshua’s army to catch. Joshua displays his Alpha Male status by having all his leaders put their feet on the kings’ necks, then kills them (the kings, not his own leaders), and hangs their bodies from trees for the rest of the day. In the evening (in compliance with Deut. 21:23), the bodies are cut down and shoved back into the cave, the mouth of which is sealed with great stones “which remain to this very day” (Josh. 10:27).

Since he’s in the neighbourhood, Joshua decides to make a quick stop to cross Mekkedah off his Conqueror’s To Do List. He treats the king of Mekkedah “as he had done to the king of Jericho” (Josh. 10:28). Unless I am mistaken, however, I don’t believe that his treatment of Jericho’s king was every explicitly narrated.

The day the earth stood still

The miracle of the sun standing still really surprised me. This is a story that I thought I was very familiar with, since it’s so much in the popular culture.

What I was expecting was a narration of a battle where the Israelites were outnumbered or otherwise at a disadvantage. If night fell while the battle was still on, they would be overpowered. So, at the height of the battle, God makes the sun stand still, keeping it day and light until the Israelites are victorious.

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still, by Joseph-Marie Vien

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still, by Joseph-Marie Vien

What I got instead seems embarrassingly mundane. The armies of the five kings are running away, and Joshua tells the sun to stand still at Gibeon and the moon to stand still in the valley of Aijalon. They do so while the Israelites “took vengeance on their enemies” (Josh. 10:13). What they are taking vengeance for is not specified.

So the miracle is that the sun “did not hasten to go down for about a whole day” (Josh. 10:13). I hate to break it to my Sunday School teacher but…. that’s what it does every day. In fact, that’s kind of how we measure days…

We are also told that this “miracle” is confirmed by the Book of Jashar, which we obviously have no extant copies of.

The passage is also fairly ambiguous – what does it mean to say that the sun stood still? Does it mean that the sun, itself, stood still? Did the rest of the galaxy stop as well, or did we fall behind in the rotation? Or did the sun only stand still from an earth viewer’s perspective? In other words, was it that the earth stopped spinning?

If we’re even talking about a “standing still” as my Sunday School teacher would have it, the cascade of consequences seems somewhat endless.

But Claude Mariottini argues that the passage might not even refer to the sun standing still at all:

In Hebrew, the word translated “stand still” literally means “be silent.” In this context, Joshua was commanding the sun “to be silent,” that is, to keep from shining. Since the sun was rising in the east, his command to the sun was that it refrains from shining.

When Joshua came to fight against the Amorites, he came at night and caught them by surprise. Joshua was aided by the darkness caused by a huge storm that produced hail so big that it killed many people. In fact, the biblical text says that more people died from the hailstones than the people of Israel killed with the sword.

Since the hailstorm did not affect the army of Israel, Joshua needed the storm to last so that the hail could continue decimating the army of the Amorites. Consequently, Joshua’s prayer was for more darkness (the continuation of the storm) and not for more light. The reason Joshua’s army did not kill many soldiers was because the storm prevailed most of that day.

The view that Joshua prayed for more darkness is in agreement with the biblical text because the sun stood still (was silent, did not shine) for a whole day. This view also allows for a better understanding of the text without forcing upon it an interpretation that would require the reversal of the laws of physics.

Of course, we’re still left with little more than a creative interpretation of a very ambiguous passage.

Far more interesting is J.R. Porter’s assertion that “Gibeon was an ancient sanctuary, important in later Israelite history, and there is evidence that Shamash, the sun god, was worshipped there. The poem was originally addressed to Canaanite astral deities but was transferred to Yahweh by the Israelites.” (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p.65)

This leaves us wondering about the purpose for the scrap’s inclusion. It doesn’t flow with the narrative and (to the extent that such can be determined in a translation) even the style and language use seems to differ from the text surrounding it. It feels stitched into its place.

And all the south

As I read Joshua, I’m struck by how local it feels considering that it’s supposed to narrate the invasion of an entire country. The elaborate stories all seem to take place in a very small territory. Once the narrative moves away from its borders, the story starts to seem rushed, not so much telling a story as simply listing names.

I’ve been theorizing that Joshua was a local “founding figure,” perhaps an analogue to Moses and Abraham. The fact that the richness of his story is so geographically confined would, it seems, support this theory. After all, the denizens of the Jericho/Gilgal/Ai area would hardly waste their time coming up with such detail for stories that take place in locations that the storytellers may have never even seen for themselves.

So Joshua may have been the founder of a particular tribe, for example, and then enlarged as he came to be woven into the narrative of unity and federation.

So the final portion of Joshua 10 tells of Joshua’s conquest in the south, the cities he takes listed with very little interest or creativity on the author(s)’s part: Libnah, Lachish, Gezer (whose king, Haram, comes to Lachish’s defence), Eglon, Hebron, and Debir.

Exodus 8: The Second Through Fourth Plagues

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Ribbet

Ribbet

Seven days after the bloody river fiasco, Moses and Aaron go back to Pharaoh and ask him again to let the Hebrews go. We don’t get Pharaoh’s response (or even a narration of the meeting, but instead just get God commanding all this), but I think we can safely assume a negative response because Aaron unleashes the second plague, frogs.

What’s so bad about frogs, I hear you ask? Well, nothing really. They’re adorable and most of them aren’t poisonous. The problem is that Aaron brings out so many of them that they “come up into your house, and into your bedchamber and on your bed, and into the houses of your servants and your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls” (Exod. 8:3). So it’s not that frogs are bad per se, but rather that having tons of frogs in your bed sucks.

But not to worry because the magicians have Pharaoh’s back and are ready for a counter strike! Using their “secret arts,” they too “brought frogs upon the land of Egypt” (Exod. 8:7)!

I suppose it’s technically the thought that counts, but in this case how could anyone tell? How much froggy room was left in Pharaoh’s bed? Wouldn’t a more impressive show of magical power be to make all the frogs disappear?

Well, if Aaron’s trick didn’t sway Pharaoh, the addition of all the magicians’ frogs did. For the first time, Pharaoh acknowledges God as a real entity and asks Moses and Aaron to tell him to get rid of the frogs. In exchange, he’ll totally let the Hebrews go into the wilderness to pray to him.

Moses agrees, promising that “the frogs shall depart from you and your houses” (Exod. 8:11), which turns out to not be exactly the truth. Instead, God just kills all the frogs so that they are gathered “in heaps” and “the land stank” (Exod. 8:14). No matter, stinky lands are good enough for Pharaoh and he hardens his heart back up again.

The Third Plague: Gnats

Many years ago, I went camping in Scotland. We picked out a spot near a lake, but when we got there we found that the entire area was absolutely filled with gnats. At first, we tried to set up the tent and get it all zipped up tight before the gnattish army could infiltrate, but that proved impossible. After a little while, we gave up and got a room in a nearby hotel instead. We then spent most of the night picking little gnat bodies out of our eyes, noses, and ears. It was absolutely awful, so I can see how this second plague could be more than just a slight inconvenience for the Egyptians.

So Aaron causes gnats to cover the whole land of Egypt (my study Bible says that this could actually refer to mosquitoes). The magicians tried to do the same thing, but frankly, with that many gnats already about, who could tell? So Exodus 8:18 says that they could not, but I think that we need to allow for the possibility that they succeeded but that no one really noticed.

In any case, the magicians go to Pharaoh and say: “this is the finger of God” (Exod. 8:19). Remember that, kids. When there’s a lot of gnats around, it’s God giving you the finger!

The Fourth Plague: Flies!

Plague of Frogs by G. Freman

Plague of Frogs by G. Freman

As if the gnats weren’t enough, Moses (it appears to be actually Moses this time, not his brother) conjures up a whole lot of flies. But the land of Goshen, where the Hebrews are living, is untouched. “Thus I will put a division between my people and your people” (Exod. 8:23).

Pharaoh relents and agrees to let the Hebrews sacrifice to their god, but only if they stay within Egypt’s borders. But Moses reminds Pharaoh that the religious practices of the Hebrews are “abominable to the Egyptians” and “if we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?” (Exod. 8:26). We saw this before in Genesis 43:32 where the Hebrews and the Egyptians ate separately because the dietary habits of the Hebrews were abomination to the Egyptians. I find it a very interesting perspective on the more modern view of kosher/non-kosher or halal/haram.

So since they can’t stay within sight of the Egyptians while they perform their abominable rituals, Moses asks that the Hebrews be allowed to go three days’ journey into the wilderness. Pharaoh agrees to let them go into the wilderness, but they “shall not go very far away” (Exod. 8:28).

Moses agrees to intercede on Egypt’s behalf with Pharaoh, but offers a little foreshadowing when he warns Pharaoh not to “deal falsely again by not letting the people go” (Exod. 8:29). God makes the flies go away and Pharaoh promptly (and predictably) hardens his heart.

Stick around, we still have  six more plagues to get through!

Genesis 47: The Pharaoh’s Monopoly

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As was planned out in the last chapter, Joseph introduces his brothers to Pharaoh and they admit to being shepherds. The plan works and not only are the Hebrews settled in Goshen, but they are also put in charge of Pharaoh’s own cattle.

Meeting Pharaoh

Joseph selling wheat to the people by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, 1655

Joseph selling wheat to the people by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, 1655

Jacob/Israel is then brought in to meet Pharaoh, and Pharaoh asks him how old he is. Jacob/Israel responds that he is 130 years old, and that “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning” (Gen. 47:9). This, according to my study bible, “reflects the view that there was an increasing shortening and troubling of man’s life.”

Well, granted that the lifespans are getting shorted, but is it fair to say that they’re more filled with trouble? Abel was murdered, Noah saw the death of everyone outside of his immediate family, and Abraham prostituted his wife twice in supposed fear for his life. As for Jacob/Israel, with the exception of a famine that his family profited from anyway, all his troubles were in some way his own fault.

Big Government

The famine continues and “the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished” (Gen. 47:13). We don’t get an update on what’s going on in the rest of the world, though.

Joseph keeps selling food until no one in either country has any money left. When they come to him begging, he takes all their cattle in exchange for food. The next year, when they come to him again, he makes them trade in their bodies and their land – they are now slaves and all the land in Egypt (except what the priests owned) now belongs to the state. How’s that for Big Government?

Plus, the only reason that the priests were exempt is because they “had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh, and lived on the allowance which Pharaoh gave them” (Gen. 47:22). Sounds like social security! And remember that all of this is part of God’s plan!

Have the Tea Baggers seen this?!

Come over here and grab daddy’s testicles

So the Hebs are “fruitful and multiplied exceedingly” (Gen. 47:27) in Egypt, thanks to Joseph providing for his family “according to the number of their dependents” (Gen. 47:12). This phrase sounds remarkably familiar… Meanwhile, the rest of Egypt starves.

Jacob/Israel goes on another 17 years (that makes 147 years in total). He calls Joseph to him and asks him to “put your hand under my thigh” (Gen. 47:29), which is truly one of the oddest cultural practices I’ve seen to date. He makes Joseph swear to bury him along with his forefathers, and not in Egypt.

Genesis 45: The Great Reunion

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We closed the last chapter with Judah begging Joseph to take him as a slave instead of Benjamin, fearing that their father would die if he lost Favourite Son #2.

Picking up from this, Joseph starts to tear up (presumably at the thought of his dad dying). He asks everyone to leave the room (which apparently applies only to Egyptians…) and begins to sob so loudly that “the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it” (Gen. 45:2).

Taa-daa!

Joseph recognized by his brothers by Antoine Coypel, 1730-1731

Joseph recognized by his brothers by Antoine Coypel, 1730-1731

Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, describing himself as the one they sold into slavery. But that’s totally cool, ’cause “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). I don’t want to make too much of this, but it’s a recurring theme that I’m not at all comfortable with. God has a plan, he’s going to make himself an omelette, and if eggs get broken, well, that’s just too bad. There’s no respect for people as individuals, only as pawns for God’s use. This seems rather disrespectful. Just as Jacob/Israel loved Joseph and Benjamin while seeing his other children as little more than farmhands, so God seems to favour his plan.

Now, you may argue that preserving life is a fairly laudable goal, and that selling a child into slavery isn’t such a great price to play. But we mustn’t forget that it is God himself who is sending the famine that he then pressed Joseph into slavery to mitigate (Gen. 41:25, 28, 32).

Fetching dad

Joseph sends his brothers back into Canaan to get their families and Jacob/Israel. When they return to Egypt, he will put them in Goshen (this is plausible. My study bible says that: “According to Egyptian sources, it was not unusual for Pharaoh to permit Asiatics to settle in this country in the time of famine”).

He also instructs his brothers to tell Jacob.Israel about “all that my splendor in Egypt” (Gen. 45:13). I’m not sure whether to file this under the Old Testament’s odd habit of listing people’s possessions, or whether it’s just a son who wants to show his dad that he “done good.”

In any case, he then embraces his brothers. Benjy is the only one named and gets the first XOXOs, of course, since the others aren’t really much more than support cast.

Gifts

Pharaoh hears that Joseph’s brothers are in town and he gets really excited. He promises them the best land in Egypt and gives them wagons to make the return journey a bit more comfortable for their families (although travelling in wagons prior to the invention of suspension springs really wouldn’t have been all that comfortable…). He also tells them not to bother bringing back their possessions because they will be given the very best lands.

In the middle of a famine, the pharaoh tells them to go ahead and enjoy the “fat of the land” (Gen. 45:17-18). In the middle of a famine.

Joseph gives everyone festal garments, except Benjy to whom he gives five festal garments and 300 shekels of silver. It’s absolutely impossible for these people not to constantly remind everyone who the favourites are… I would hope that he at least gave Benjy these additional gifts on the sly, but I suspect that it was done with full pomp in front of the other brothers.

Now, I’ve done a lot of travelling in my short young life and I must say that one of the key strategies is to pack as lightly as possible. Joseph doesn’t subscribe to this philosophy, so he sends the brothers home with a ton of gifts for dad – gifts that dad is going to have to lug right back into Egypt.

When Jacob/Israel hears that Joseph is still alive, his “heart fainted” (Gen. 45:26), and only the sight of the wagons that have been sent for him are able to revive him.