Friday, March 13, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 41 & 42

Chapter 41
Summary:One night two years later, the Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing on the Nile when suddenly seven sleek, fat cows emerged from the river and began grazing on the grass nearby. A second set of seven cows, these being skinny and emaciated, emerged from the river and ate the seven fat cows.

The Pharaoh woke up, but he drifted back to sleep having a second dream. This time he dreamed of seven heads of grain on one stalk, with every kernel being well formed and plump. Suddenly seven more kernels appeared on the stalk, but these were shriveled by the eastern winds. Finally the shriveled kernels swallowed the plump kernels before the Pharaoh once again woke up.

The next morning, as the Pharaoh pondered about the dreams meaning he summoned all the magicians and sages of Egypt to interpret his dreams to no avail. Finally the Pharaoh's wine taster spoke up about Joseph and told him about the dreams that he and the baker had, and how Joseph had predicted their futures with perfect accuracy.

The Pharaoh sent for Joseph at once, who was rushed out of prison, washed, shaved, and given a fresh set of clothes before appearing before the Pharaoh.

The Pharaoh asks Joseph if he can interpret the dreams that his sages and magicians could not, and Joseph tells him that although he alone cannot, God can interpret his dreams. The Pharaoh then repeats his dreams to Joseph.

Joseph tells him that both dreams meant the same thing: that God was telling him what he is planning to do in the land of Egypt. He explains that the seven fat cows and well-formed heads of grain meant that seven years of prosperity lay ahead, and that the seven skinny cows and withered heads of grain signified a famine would follow for the next seven years. He further explains that the double dream gives double impact and will surely happen as God decreed it.

Joseph then suggests to the Pharaoh that he find the wisest man in Egypt and place him in charge of administration of Egypt's farming, and to appoint officials to collect a fifth of all the crops to store away for the seven years of famine.

Pharaoh was impressed by his interpretation and his suggestions, and noted that since God has revealed the meaning of these dreams to Joseph, that he must be the wisest man in Egypt. He then appoints Joseph to become the administrator of the land, only to be outranked by the Pharaoh himself.

The Pharaoh placed his own signet ring on Joseph's finger and dressed him in lavish clothing to signify his authority. He also gives to Joseph a chariot and a wife - a girl named Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, priest of Heliopolis - making Joseph famous throughout Egypt at the age of 30.

Just as Joseph had predicted, the next seven years yielded a crop surplus that Joseph stored in the granaries over various cities throughout Egypt. Over the next seven years the granaries were either full overflowing.

Before the arrival of the first year of the famine, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath. He named his oldest son Manasseh (meaning "Made to Forget*") and the youngest was named Ephraim (meaning "Fruitful").

As the years of famine began, just as Joseph had predicted, people began to starve. They pleaded with the Pharaoh for food, and the Pharaoh sent them to Joseph, who sold grain to the Egyptians and to travelers from other lands who came to Egypt in search of food.
Notes:1.) Alluding to God making up to him the anguish suffered in his youth.
Thoughts:Joseph's dream interpretations come to his own rescue from prison when the wine taster finally remembers about Joseph in the Pharaoh's time of need. Much like I wrote about in my thoughts about Chapter 40 the fortune telling aspect of dreams makes little sense in regards to what we know about dream states today. Even with our knowledge aside and for the sake of argument allowing supernatural elements to explain things, the notion that dreams can or are predicting the future - or God's will - still makes little sense at all.

What is actually being implied here in this chapter? That all dreams are prophetic (which we know is not true), that God can choose to reveal prophecies through dreams, that God feels the need to reveal prophecies to select people or to everyone? Why does God need to communicate messages in the forms of riddled symbolism and metaphor (recall that this is not limited to just the Egyptians, Joseph had these riddled dreams as a child as well), when at other times he appears to people in dreams giving clear and concise messages (such as to Laban in Chapter 31)?

Also, quite frankly, these riddled dreams aren't very impressive in their terms of difficulty to discern, which makes it very hard to swallow that no-one in Egypt could have guessed the same - or at least similar - answer that Joseph provided. Nowadays we have all sorts of unqualified "professional psychics", mystics, and mentalists who literally have boatloads of guesses and hunches to what people's dreams may mean and often try their hands predicting the future with comical results. I find it difficult to believe that with the tendency of human nature to clamor towards fame that nobody in Egypt could take a stab as to what the Pharaoh's dream meant.

So, Joseph becomes a wealthy celebrity around Egypt and immediately becomes the Pharaoh's second in command (even before waiting around to see if Joseph's prophecies come true or not) and is entrusted with the country's agriculture stock. He's given a wife and a fancy ride and manages to have two sons before the famine comes, only to now become richer from selling the grain he stocked to not only the citizens of Egypt, but to those traveling from other nearby countries.
Chapter 42
Summary:When Jacob*/Israel heard that there was grain available in Egypt he sends his ten oldest sons there to buy some. Jacob however, wouldn't let his youngest son Benjamin join his brothers out of fear that something might happen to him, as like had happened to Benjamin's older brother Joseph.

As Joseph was governor of all Egypt, and in charge of selling the grain, it was to him that his brothers came and bowed low before him. Joseph recognized them immediately but pretended as though he didn't.

As Joseph asks them where they are from he remembers the dreams from his childhood, but he accuses his brothers before him of being spies, charging that they came to judge how destitute the land of Egypt had become during the famine.

The brothers swore their innocence, further explaining that they were of 12 brothers from Canaan, that their youngest brother was staying behind with their father, and that another of their brothers had died.

Joseph continued to feign disbelief in their story and told them that he needed proof to verify their story. He told the brothers that they could confirm their story by bringing their younger brother before him, but that he would allow only one of them to retrieve him while the other nine brothers would be kept in prison. Before a choice was to be made, he threw all ten of them into prison for three days.

After three days in prison, Joseph tells them that he will take a chance on assuming them as honorable, by allowing them all to leave except one, and that the rest may go home with grain for their families. However, he insists that they must still bring their youngest brother before him if they wish to be spared.

Speaking amongst themselves the brothers began blaming themselves for their situation on account for what they had done to Joseph years ago. Reuben chimed in claiming that he had insisted all along that killing Joseph was a bad idea, believing that they were now all going to die on account of it. The brothers were unaware that Joseph was able to understand them as they spoke as he had been speaking to them through an interpreter.

Joseph left the room to weep in private, and upon his return he selected Simeon to remain in prison while he released the rest of his brothers. Joseph then ordered his servants to fill the men's grain sacks with grain and secretly told his servants to also put each brother's payment at the top of his sack.

The brothers loaded up their donkeys with the grain sacks and headed back home. When they stopped for the night, one of the brothers* opened his sack to get some grain to feed the donkeys and spotted his money at the top of the sack. Trembling they wondered aloud what was it that God was doing to them.

When they returned to Canaan they told their story to their father Jacob, and as they emptied their sacks they all discovered their money at the top of each bag. Fear engulfed them as well as their father. Jacob cried that he had been bereaved of his children, stating the loss of Joseph, Simeon not coming back, and now losing Benjamin too.

Reuben offered to Jacob permission to kill his two sons if he doesn't bring Benjamin back, but Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go, stating that without Joseph, Benjamin alone is the only child left from his mother (Rachel), and that if anything should happen to Benjamin, Jacob would die.
Notes:1.) Israel is inexplicably referred to again by his former name of Jacob in this chapter.
2.) It is not specified as to which brother.
Thoughts:We begin chapter 42 with a strange reversion back to Israel's birth name of Jacob for reasons that aren't clear. As the famine affects Jacob's family, he sends his sons to Egypt where there is a surplus of grain to purchase. Out of fear of losing him, Jacob does not allow Benjamin to accompany his brothers to Egypt.

When the brothers arrive, they're unaware that they're attempting to buy grain from their long lost and forgotten brother Joseph, however Joseph recalls them instantly.

Joseph then begins messing with his brothers' heads by accusing them of being spies, locking them in jail for three days, insisting that they bring up Benjamin from Canaan to prove(?) that their story about being brothers is true(?), and by secretly giving their money back to them - filling them with terror that they may now be accused of being thieves as well as spies if they return.

It's difficult to understand how - for the sake of logic - that bringing Benjamin up from Canaan would prove anything, and why the brothers didn't think of possibly bringing one of their sons to pose as Benjamin. In the context of the story we know why Joseph wants them to bring Benjamin and why the brothers are frightened at the prospect of having to do so, but the whole plot doesn't seem to make sense out of just using a bit of logic and common sense. How would they suspect that Joseph would be able to see past the rouse of bringing up one of Jacob's grandsons instead of Benjamin, or how Benjamin's presence proves that they aren't spies.

Anyways, upon freaking his whole family out by placing their money into their grain sacks, Jacob doesn't seem to be willing to budge on letting Benjamin travel out to Egypt, so I guess Simeon can rot in jail for all Jacob cares.

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