Sunday, March 15, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 47 & 48

Chapter 47
Summary:Upon the arrival of his family, Joseph went to see the Pharaoh to inform him that his family had arrived with their flocks and herds, and wished to settle in the land of Goshen. He took five of his brothers and presented them to the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh asked the brothers as to what their occupations were, to which the brothers replied that they were shepherds. They further explained that due to the famine, there were no pastures left in Canaan, and they requested of the Pharaoh to allow them to live in Goshen. The pharaoh agreed, and added that if any of Joseph's brothers were capable, to put them in charge of the Pharaoh's flocks as well.

Joseph then brought his father Jacob before the Pharaoh, and then Jacob blessed the Pharaoh. Asking how old he was, Jacob replied to the Pharaoh that he was 130, but not nearly as old as some of his ancestors. Then Jacob blessed the Pharaoh again before he left. Joseph then assigned the best land of Egypt - the land of Rameses - to his father and brothers, as the Pharaoh had commanded. Joseph furnished food to them according to the number of dependants.

The famine grew worse and all the people of Egypt and Canaan began to starve. Joseph collected all the money in Egypt and Canaan in exchange for grain and brought the money to the Pharaoh's treasure houses. When the people ran out of money, they came again to Joseph begging for food.

Joseph told the people that he would take their livestock in trade for food. Soon all the horses, flocks, herds, and donkeys belonged to the Pharaoh.

The next year the people returned once again begging for food, having nothing to offer but their land and themselves. So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for the Pharaoh and all the people became serfs. The only land that wasn't purchased was that of the priests, for they were assigned food from the Pharaoh and therefore didn't need to sell.

Joseph gave grain to the people and told them to sow the land. He explained that when they harvest the land, one fifth of the crops will belong to the Pharaoh. Joseph made it a law that the Pharaoh's tax would be 20% of all crops, except those grown on the land owned by the temples.

Israel/Jacob lived in the land of Goshen and soon the people of Israel began to prosper, and there became a population explosion among them. Jacob/Israel would live for another 17 years after his arrival in Egypt, making him 147 at the time of his death. As his death grew closer, he made Joseph swear to him that he would not be buried in Egypt, but that he would instead be taken back to be buried with his ancestors.
Thoughts:Joseph takes his brothers and his father up to see the Pharaoh and to plead their case to be allowed to live and work in Egypt. The Pharaoh pretty much feels that any family of Joseph is a-okay in his books and lets them settle in Goshen.

When Joseph brings his dad to see the Pharaoh, he blesses him, and tells him about his relatively old age - which he notes is peanuts compared to some of his 900 year old ancestors - and blesses the Pharaoh once again before he leaves. Of note once again, Jacob/Israel is mostly referred to as Jacob in this chapter with the exception of two mentions in the final paragraphs.

As the famine worsens, the people of Egypt begin to trade first their livestock, and then their land and freedom in exchange for food, effectively becoming serfs and the Pharaoh owning all of the livestock and land throughout Egypt - except for the priests, as religion always seems to get a free pass from having to pay their own way. It's noted that the priests are getting free food from the Pharaoh, and are exempt from paying taxes on their land as well. Some things never change, I guess...

Anyways, Jacob/Israel has a last request to make to his son Joseph, that upon his death he makes Joseph promise to bury him in the cave near Ephron's field at Mach-pelah - the one that Abraham bought all those years ago. The thing that strikes me as odd about this request is that he really didn't seem to mind burying his beloved wife Rachel by the side of the road she died giving birth to Benjamin on.
Chapter 48
Summary:Word came to Joseph that his father's health was failing, so he took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim with him to visit him. When Jacob/Israel heard that Joseph had arrived he mustered his strength to sit up in bed and greet him.

He tells Joseph that God had blessed him at Luz in Canaan, giving the land to him and his descendants. He continues on telling Joseph that he is adopting his sons Ephraim and Manasseh as his own, meaning that they will inherit from Jacob/Israel just the same as Reuben and Simeon will. He adds that any other children Joseph has will be his own, and will have to inherit Ephraim's and Manasseh's portions from Joseph. Israel/Jacob then looks over at the two boys asking Joseph if they are indeed his sons.

After Joseph confirms that they are his sons, Israel/Jacob tells Joseph to bring them closer so that he can bless them. Joseph takes the boys by their hands and bows low before his father, leading the boys to their grandfather's knees - Ephraim at Israel's left hand; Manasseh at Israel's right.

Israel however, crosses his hands as he lay them across the boys heads, placing his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger boy, and his left upon Manasseh. He begins blessing Joseph, but has upset him when he sees that Israel's right hand was placed upon Ephraim's head.

He tells his father that he's got the wrong hands upon the wrong child and tries to lift Israel's right hand off of Ephraim, but Israel refused, stating that he knew what he was doing. He explained that although Manasseh would become a great nation, his younger brother Ephraim would become even greater.

He then blesses the boys and tells Joseph that he's about to die. He continues to tell him that God will be with Joseph, and that Joseph will inherit the land of Shekem - that Israel himself had taken from the Amorites with his sword and with his bow.
Thoughts:Even in his last few chapters, the Jacob/Israel swap continues as he lay on his death bed. The news of Israel's fading health reaches his son Joseph, who takes his two sons down to see their grandfather.

Israel then adopts the boys as full fledged sons, explaining that they will inherit the same amount as Reuben and Simeon, and offers to bless them. However, grandpa put his right hand on the younger boy Ephraim, instead of the older boy Manasseh to Joseph's displeasure.

The significance of this is fueled by the superstition that the right hand is more pure and virtuous than the evil left hand. In the ancient Hebrew beliefs, the hand symbolized power and custody, where the left hand was used to shame society and was a metaphor for natural evil, and to invoke punishment from the gods.

In many languages the term "right" (including English) is synonymous with justice and being correct and due to the overwhelming prevalence of right handed people, was considered the "proper hand". Even more interesting is that the latin root for "left" is "sinister".

Therefore, fueled by the superstition of the day, Joseph is horrified to see that the "right handed" blessing was being bestowed upon Ephraim, his younger son, while Manasseh, the older child gets the "left handed" inferior blessing.

Today, we can see that this is all just nonsense and superstition, but even as recently as within the past 50 years, left handed Catholic school children were forcefully made to write and eat with their right hands based on their superstitious beliefs. Even today, in some religious cultures (such as in the Arab world) it is customary to shake hands with the right, and considered rude and insulting to offer out your left hand.

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