Racial and ethnic reconciliation

Craig was invited to speak on this at Asbury Seminary Chapel some time ago. This seems a good time (right after Martin Luther King Jr. Day) to post it (29 minutes and 59 seconds) (It’s not my picture on the front but it’s me inside during the sermon).


Jacob’s faith renewed—Genesis 46:1-4

In the face of tragedy, we sometimes forget how much God is with us. Jacob didn’t believe that he had seen the great events reported in the stories of his father and grandfather (cf. 47:9), not knowing that subsequent generations would tell his story along with theirs. When we have come through the trials and look back, however, we often can see God’s faithfulness. If we do not recognize it in this life, it will be openly evident in the world to come; but it’s often there for us if we have eyes to see. News of Joseph’s survival and flourishing transforms Jacob. Broken by the loss of his wife and son, Jacob now gets new eyes to see.

Jacob sets out for Egypt, to be reunited with his son before Jacob dies (45:28). When Jacob reaches Beersheba, he sacrifices (46:1). The narrator deems this site important, reiterating it in 46:5; Jacob, his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham had all sojourned there (21:31-33; 22:19; 26:23, 33; 28:10), and both Abraham and Isaac had called the site Beersheba (“Well of the Oath”) because of covenants sworn there (21:31; 26:31-33). (Jacob sacrificed for a different covenant elsewhere, in 31:54.) This was one of the sites where Abraham had called on the Lord’s name (21:33). Of course, Beersheba appears here rather than other sacred sites such as Bethel because Beersheba is in the south, on the way toward Egypt. But it would also mark the southern border of the land of Israel (cf. e.g., 1 Sam 3:20; 1 Kgs 4:25), a place where Jacob’s descendants could also remember God’s works.

In the ancient Near East, people more often expected divine dreams when they slept in sacred places. Whether this is a dream or a vision while awake (cf. 15:1, 12), it is consistent with how God had often spoken through dreams, including to Jacob (28:12; 31:10-11) and to Joseph (37:5-10) and to those whose dreams Joseph interpreted (40:5; 41:1, 5). God here calls Jacob’s name twice (46:2), as he had when calling Abraham (22:11; at the sacrifice of Jacob’s father Isaac); Abraham also appropriately replied, “Here I am” (22:11). “Here I am” was an appropriate response to God or his angel (22:1, 11), and had been Jacob’s response earlier (31:11). (The same pattern holds mostly true in Exod 3:4; 1 Sam 3:10.)

God identifies himself to Jacob as “the God of your father” (Gen 46:3), just as God revealed himsef to Isaac as “the God of your father Abraham” (26:24) and to Jacob as “the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (28:13). God encouraging Jacob not to fear (46:3) also recalls earlier revelations. God had urged Abram not to fear, because God would defend him (15:1); the angel of God warned Hagar not to fear (21:17); in the closest parallel to this passage, when the Lord appears at night to Isaac and assures him that he is the God of his father Abraham, God urges Isaac not to fear, because God is with him and will multiply him (26:24).

Although God had earlier warned Isaac against going down to Egypt (26:2), this time Jacob should not fear to go down to Egypt, because God will be with him (46:4) and will bring him back up (46:4). That Joseph will close his father’s eyes (46:4) assures Jacob of his reunion with Joseph; it also hints that God bringing Jacob back to Canaan does not mean during Jacob’s lifetime. Not all of God’s promises are always fulfilled directly in our individual lives; sometimes they are fulfilled in the legacy that, by God’s grace, we get to leave behind. (That “Jacob” in ancient ideology included Jacob’s family seems implied even in 46:5, where not only Jacob but his sons’ children and wives ride the wagons sent to carry “him,” singular, i.e., Jacob.)

God’s promises are faithful. God is dependable.

Joseph lavishly welcomes his family—Genesis 45:16-24

Joseph realizes that his brothers are genuinely sorry for what they did to him, and he is now ready to trust them. Fully forgiving his brothers, he lavishes signs of his love on them, signs that should have assured them of his love and favor (though their regrets make this understanding difficult for them; 50:15-18). Had he exposed their past deeds to Pharaoh, they would not have dared settle in Egypt, but Joseph instead secures Pharaoh’s favor for them.

Just as Joseph’s earlier counsel regarding the crops had seemed “good in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants” (41:37), so also the coming of Joseph’s brothers seems good to Pharaoh and his servants now (45:16). Happily, even in the past, Joseph had clearly never informed Pharaoh of his brothers’ past behavior! (Not that even Pharaoh’s highest officials would treat Pharaoh as a confidante, but Joseph was probably one of the people closest to him.)

Pharaoh does not let Joseph simply invite his brothers to come to Egypt, or let Joseph merely provide resources for them on his own. Pharaoh provides wagons to carry Joseph’s father and his brothers’ families (45:17-21). Twice Pharaoh repeats that all the goods of Egypt will be at their disposal (45:18, 20); therefore they may leave many things behind in Canaan, because in Egypt they will receive whatever they needed (45:20). God had given Joseph great favor with Pharaoh, a favor that Joseph by this point knows that he can count on (cf. 46:31—47:12; 50:4).

Joseph shows special favor to Benjamin, his full brother, but his brothers, who had shortly before feared that they might lose Benjamin, are now in no position to complain. Given their father’s earlier concerns for Benjamin’s safety, they were no doubt glad when he earlier received five times as much as any of them (despite the double portion normally due the firstborn; 43:33). His fivefold changes of clothes (45:22) will hardly alarm them now. After all, Genesis probably implies their earlier jealousy about Joseph’s special clothing, a jealousy that had informed their hateful behavior toward him (37:3-4, 23).

In addition to clothes, which functioned as a form of wealth in antiquity, Joseph gives Benjamin three hundred pieces of silver (45:22). Joseph’s brothers had sold him for twenty pieces of silver (37:28); now Joseph offers far more as a gift to Benjamin. Benjamin was the only brother who had not mistreated Joseph, and the brothers who had once acted from their resentment of Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph have long since learned to regret such resentments. No doubt they also recognize that not only Jacob but God, too, has really favored Joseph, at least as an agent for preserving them all.

God’s people have had a habit of rejecting deliverers or acting jealously against those he raises up to help us, a habit of which we must beware. Certainly the history of rejecting deliverers or other agents of God, such as Joseph (Acts 7:9), Moses (7:25-29, 35, 39) and the prophets (7:52), climaxes in the rejection of Jesus (7:35, 37, 52) and continues in the rejection of true followers who speak for him (7:51, 57-60). I also suspect that some historic Christian anti-Semitism reflects not only arrogance but the tendency of jealousy against claims of chosenness (cf. Rom 11:18-21).

Whereas Joseph had sent the brothers with ten donkeys loaded with grain before, now ten donkeys will carry far more than what Jacob’s house will need for their journey to Egypt (45:23). Joseph’s signs of love do not stop with his material gifts, however. As Joseph sends his brothers away, he warns them not to quarrel en route (45:24). He had earlier urged them not to be angry with themselves for selling him (45:5); perhaps some brothers might wish to assign blame more to some of their group than to others. Joseph had certainly experienced firsthand their quarreling in the past (37:8, 11). By urging them not to quarrel, he shows his knowledge of their character but also his affectionate concern, again seeking to reassure them of his forgiveness and love. Apart from Benjamin, these were Joseph’s older brothers, but providence had now made him the one to look after them. Whatever role God places us in, we may follow Joseph’s godly example of forgiveness and love for those he has placed in our lives.