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Genesis 26-50: Sibling Rivalry

The second half of the book of Genesis is largely concerned with families. We have family trees laid out over whole chapters, and the stories trace the events in the lives of these people from long ago. And honestly? They sound like incredibly dramatic people.

I know a lot of folks have a hard time getting around the fancy Biblical language, particularly if you have one of the more flowery (or old) translations, but if you can get down to what’s really going on, it’s basically a soap opera.

I mean, Jacob sells his birthright to his brother in exchange for dinner?  My brother and I spent our teenage years creating elaborate bargains as we both tried to get out of mowing the yard, so on one level I get making goofy trades with your siblings. On another level, we were just arguing about yardwork, not our entire futures! (And last weekend, we were laughing about the lengths we both went to, which seem really funny now that we have our own homes.)

Then, later in the chapter, Joseph’s brothers literally sell him into slavery. Most of this story winds up being about how Joseph copes, how he interprets dreams and becomes a valuable member of the household where he’s a captive. But it starts as the story of some guys who are really horrible to their little brother, and I think this is one of those stories that only seems okay if you don’t think about it too hard. If you do stop and consider it- you could definitely see this on some daytime TV.

And I’m gonna be honest here- I sympathize with the brothers a little bit. Not about the slavery thing, that’s obviously unconscionable. But teenage Joseph does not come across as a real likeable guy. I mean, Dad likes him best, so there’s clearly some jealousy there. And I do think that’s normal. I’d be really sad if I thought my parents liked my brother better than me.

Plus, Joseph has to go telling them about that dream that (he says) prophesies them bowing down to him. Had they not invented humility yet? It’s kind of a jerk move to lord it over your older brothers that you’re the favorite son, plus God has given you these cool gifts, and someday you’ll be nice enough to let your brothers serve you! I would also not be too pleased.

I often find myself saying that people have always been people, and they probably always will be. Genesis is a large part of my proof for that. There will always be siblings who argue. There will always be people who treat each other poorly. But there will be people like Jacob, who works patiently for years so that he can marry the woman he loves. And there will be people like Joseph, who start out sort of painful and grow up and become better people- and like the brothers, who probably learned a lot about humility and forgiveness.

And just like people don’t change, God’s presence doesn’t change either. He is with Joseph, interpreting dreams and, I assume, providing the reason and will to live. He is with Jacob and Rachel on their wedding day. Even when the stories are about the families, God is always present, blessing and sustaining. And even when it’s all about us, God is there.

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Genesis 1-25: In The Beginning

Hi everyone! Quick disclaimer before we start. The only person I speak for is me. Nothing I say is the official opinion of Grace and Feminism, Anamchara Fellowship, or any church in particular. I know plenty of people have different interpretations of Scripture than I do, and that’s great- all are welcome here! Now…

Genesis 1-25 picture
Credit: NewAtlas.com

Let’s begin in the beginning. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Bible, these opening verses. I love the ebb and flow of the days and nights and the poetry in the repetition of the words. “…And there was morning, and there was evening…” those first days, and every day since.

The words ground me in time; they make me feel the passing of the days and the seasons. The church year itself has some of the same effect on me, with Pentecost feeling like the end of school before summer break and Advent giving me the feeling of coming back home and settling into the year again. As we recount our Creation story, I feel the wonder of our world, brand new and opening up to life for the first time. I feel the amazement at what God has created for us. Never mind that I don’t take the story literally- the truth in it is that “God created”, now how many calendar years it took to do it.

I only read the first half of Genesis for this week. It’s a 50-chapter book, so I’m doing us all a favor and splitting it into two weeks.

I’m glad I did, too. There’s so much ground to cover- literally generations of people and accounts of some pretty wild events. I stopped at the end of chapter 25, right after Esau sells his birthright to Jacob. This comes on the heels of a lengthy list of begats which, if you follow it straight through, probably gives you a nice, broad family tree (I did not get out paper and write one up, but I bet you can find them online).

I have a hard time picturing these stories happening; part of that is because I don’t believe in them literally. For example, archaeology tells us there was some massive flooding several millennia ago, so the story of Noah and the ark may be the survivors’ explanation for why they (or their ancestors) were spared. But I don’t think some guy built a boat and gathered up the animals- except for the unicorns, according to that song- and floated with them for six weeks.

The other part of it, though, is that it’s just so far removed from my own time and place that, even when I try to picture the events, I just don’t know what it is I’m supposed to see. I could research this and learn more about it, of course. We do know some things about how people lived in that place, about the time Genesis was written down and in the preceding centuries.

But as often, what I find myself doing is filling it in. Take the story of Adam and Eve, for example. They’re naked in a garden, so that’s enough information for a mental image, if you’re comfortable having one. But because I’ve read the book Good Omens so many times, I always picture the serpent wearing sunglasses and snakeskin shoes (or at least presumably they were shoes, as the narrator says). And I imagine the angel with the flaming sword giving it to Eve and having to explain himself to God.

None of that is in the Bible! But Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (GNU) wrote such an engaging account of it that, even though I know the Bible story, it’s their account that I picture. And if you think that’s bad, wait until we hit the Gospels and I tell you about a book called Lamb…

But I think what we learn from Genesis doesn’t have to be literal stories. When I read Genesis and repeat the stories that have been told for millennia, I find beauty in the tradition of them. I love thinking about how I’m just one more person in a world’s worth of people to hear these stories and learn from them. I’ve got thousands of years worth of people who wondered how the giraffes like the ark, or how long it took Isaac to figure out that he was the sacrifice- and what the conversation in their home was like afterwards! Just like the opening verses of the chapter, the stories of Genesis help me find my place in the history of my faith.