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A YEAR WITH

THE BIBLE 365 Daily Reflections

Dom Henry Wansbrough, OSB

All books are published thanks to the generosity of the supporters of the Catholic Truth Society

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Contents Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 PART ONE – The Law and Historical Books (Days 1-110) . . . . . . . . . . . 7 PART TWO – The Wisdom Books and The Prophets (Days 111-212) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119 PART THREE – The Gospels and Acts (Days 213-296) . . . . . . . . . . . . 223 PART FOUR – Pauline Letters, Letters to All Christians and Revelation (Days 297-365) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 309 Appendix: The Bible in 365 Passages to Read . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 380

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Preface It has been a pleasure to respond to the request of the Catholic Truth Society to write this book. Its aim is to help readers come to a fuller knowledge and love of the Bible. My plan has been to explore the whole thrust of the Bible, drawing on a wide variety of passages which cast light on the purpose of the Bible, to lay out God’s gradual revelation of the divine love in the history of Israel, how God guided individuals and Israel itself to a greater knowledge of God’s loving mercy and purposes for humanity. This may be seen in the divine choice of individuals and in the guidance of history through thick and thin, leading up to the climax of history in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the Good News to the nations by his Apostles and chosen messengers. This is a work of love. It is not to be rushed; the comments must be read and enjoyed in partnership with the biblical texts commented, perhaps first, perhaps afterwards, but always in partnership with the biblical texts and in peace and prayer. This is the manner of the age-old monastic tradition of lectio divina, a meditative reading of the scriptures. The passages chosen are laid out in the order in which they occur in the Christian Bible. They are set out according to the four traditional divisions: the Law (leading into the Histories), the Prophets and the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament, then the New Testament. It is probably most coherent to read them in that order, which lights up the gradual progress of revelation. Don’t worry if you miss a day; just pick up from where you left off, but keep to the order of passages rather than the day of the year. Some may prefer to alternate passages from the Old and the New Testaments. In an appendix is given a suggested order for a reader who wishes to cover the whole Bible through each day of the year. There may be readers who wish to make a point of reading the whole Bible in a single year. For them a plan is given in the Appendix, allotting a passage 4

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to each day. Most of these passages contain a section commented, though not necessarily on that day. Nevertheless, these commentaries should bring to the surface the meaning and importance of the passage. Any translation of the Bible may be used, but you may find the New Revised Standard Version, the English Standard Version, the Jerusalem Bible or the Revised New Jerusalem Bible the most satisfactory.

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PART ONE

The Law and Historical Books

Part 1 . T HE LA • gene

CA cus • deuterono RI m viti TO • le samuel • 1 kings y IS ers l • 2 tobit • judith H b ue h • ccabees um am mia 2 m a 1 s ehe es • n be ca

W s • j o s h u ai s • e x A • 2 k ing • ju odu ND • esthe s • e dges s • r • zr n 1m a•• ac

OKS L BO

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DAY 1

THE LAW AND HISTORICAL BOOKS Genesis 1:1–2:4a Creation in Seven Days This story of the creation in seven days is no historical account: if it were in time-sequence there could be no ‘days’ before the creation of the sun on the fourth day! Nor does the story stand in competition with the theory of evolution. If anything, the order is logical: light by which to see what is happening – the shape of the scene – dry land and its fixed complement – fixed things in the sky – moving things on earth, sky and sea – and finally human beings. God deserves his rest on the seventh day, and also it shows that the Sabbath-day rest, dedicated to God, is part of the natural order of things. Many of the elements of the picture are taken from the myths of Mesopotamia, but with a difference. No competition or rivalry among gods, but one all-powerful Creator. No need for any material to be moulded: the divine Spirit hovers over the waters and God creates by the Word alone. Sun, moon and stars are no longer gods, but are simply time-markers stuck in the dome of the heavens. Most striking of all, the human creature is no mere evanescent, valueless servant of the gods, feeding the gods with the smoke of sacrifice. There is a breathless crescendo to the achievement of creation of the human, at which the account bursts into song, and twice we are told that man is made male and female, and in the image of God, to fill the earth and bless it. Themselves made in the image of God, their task is to share in and complete God’s work of creation. There is peace and contentment on earth: wild beasts and humans eat only seed-bearing plants and foliage which will grow again. No predators, no bloodshed. After each day’s work God saw that it was good, but only after the creation of the human species does God see that it was very good. Question: What can I do to fulfil my task of enhancing and perfecting God’s creation? 9

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DAY 2

Genesis 2:4b-25 Adam and Eve The story of the fashioning of Adam and Eve has its own charm. The world is a desert of deserts without water or life. God fashions a man from the soil and breathes into him his own life, a gift incomparable. Into the waste God inserts for him a ready-made Garden of Delights with its own full-grown trees, enticing to look at and good to eat. All Adam has to do is continue God’s effortless creation, to care for the Garden. The only condition is to leave untouched the very centre, the tree of life. Many other near-eastern myths have a tree of life beyond human reach; it is a recognition that whatever else man may control, he has no control over life itself. The tree of life is the centre of God’s gift, and may not be tampered with. It serves also as a visible reminder that Adam does not make his own rules about what he is and what he needs: the rules are built-in, as solid as the tree. One can sense Adam’s delight as he prowls around, finding nameless and therefore shapeless objects roaming too. By naming them he gives them form, completes their creation, for without a name an object is not fully known: ‘You are buffalo’, ‘you are dungbeetle’. But he roams around still lonely and unsatisfied, for he has no one with whom to share his life. God notices and with infinite care puts Adam to sleep before beginning his surgical operation. Why did he take a rib? Because it was nearest Adam’s heart and Adam was to love Eve more than anything else in the world. With the same infinite care God even personally sews up the wound. All other delights are as nothing compared to the cry of joy when he awakes, to find at last an equal partner. In their innocence they can love each other and trust each other without reserve. Question: Does my love and friendship contribute as much to others as their love and friendship does to me? 10

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DAY 3

Genesis 3 The Fall The human inability to live up to its ideals is obvious enough. Many cultures express this uncomfortable truth in story form, such as Pandora’s Box. But no other culture has a promise that the serpent’s head will be crushed. Commentators have suggested that, since the woman takes the leading role in the story and the man merely meekly tags along, the story originates in a matriarchal society. More likely, it originated in a patriarchal society where it was thought appropriate to shift the blame onto the woman. The cunning serpent works the woman into a vulnerable position by overstating the case (as a prohibition of eating from any of the trees) and allowing the woman to show her superiority. She is so pleased with herself that she then falls easily into the tempter’s trap. Then both humans fall head-first into the trap of shifting the blame away from themselves onto another. What was the sin? Perhaps pride, perhaps independence, for if they were to be like gods they could make their own decisions about morality. The tranquillity of the garden remains, as God comes walking in the cool of the evening, searching for the couple he loves; but they can only jitter in their shameful hiding place and await their sentence. The dragon (the same word is used for ‘dragon’ and ‘snake’) loses its legs and its splendour and becomes a mere oversized worm, slithering along the ground. The woman is condemned to the pains of child-birth and to her husband’s maltreatment, and the man himself to subsistencelevel farming. But God still loves them and thoughtfully sews them more seemly tunics. Most important of all comes the promise that evil will not eventually prevail, a firm hope for the future. From the earliest times of the Church this promise has been seen as a prophecy of the Messiah and the triumph of goodness. Question: What are my most attractive and dangerous temptations? Sex, drink, pride? 11

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DAY 4

Genesis 6–8 Noah’s Ark The story of Adam and Eve suggests that the origin of evil lies in independence, and the story of Cain and Abel that jealousy is the root of all evil; but after the crescendo of evil the final straw which compels God to cleanse the world seems to be a sexual deviation. Cleansing by a great flood occurs in the myths of many nations, for there is an archetypical awareness of evil in the world which needs to be purged. The huge, flat Mesopotamian plain where the great rivers Tigris and Euphrates join is particularly suitable (and there is a deep flooded siltlevel still visible in excavations at Uruk), but a flood sweeps away evil also in African folklore. In this case, however, there is a firm counterpoint in the friendship of Noah and God. God warns Noah in plenty of time to build the gigantic ark (one hundred and thirty-two metres long and twenty-two metres wide), and fill it with its hordes of heterogeneous livestock. A divine peace seems to descend on the ark to restrain the carnivores from their natural depredations and to keep the confidence of Noah himself serene during his various tests for dry land. The flood forms a certain boundary between legend and realism when Noah builds an altar and offers the first animal sacrifice, evoking the blessing that never again will God cleanse the earth with such a flood. Meat-eating at last becomes allowable, and the first Covenant is sealed between God and his human creature. At the same time the Covenant reiterates the sacredness of all life and – on a different plane – of human life, because ‘in the image of God was man made’. The rainbow becomes a potent reminder – so often neglected and belied even in the civilised modern world – of peace not only between God and man, but between man and man, for a rainbow touches the ground at both ends. Question: What can I do to bring peace to the world? 12

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DAY 5

Genesis 11:1-9 The Tower of Babel The story of the Tower of Babel is an intriguing mixture of historical, linguistic and theological puzzles. Historically it is intriguing, for when Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt the ziggurat of Borsippa (one of many stepped-tower temples in Mesopotamia) he declared that he intended it should reach to the heavens. The gigantic tower of blue-glazed mudbricks still stands starkly, rising more than fifty metres above the Iraqi plain. The identification of this particular ziggurat is helped by the fact that it appears to have been struck by lightning, and has a great cleft down the middle. I had my Easter Sunday lunch on top of there in 1965, when it had still not been excavated. The biblical author needs to explain that it was built of bricks and bitumen. In Palestine stone is plentiful and clay scarce, so that building is done in stone and mortar rather than mud-bricks and bitumen. Linguistically it is intriguing, for the name given is Babel, perhaps because this stepped tower is only a dozen kilometres from Babylon. Etymologically, in the narrative it is suitably twinned with that hated city of captivity by the ‘confusion’ of languages, for balel means ‘confusion’, somewhat akin to the meaning of ‘babble’ in English. Theologically the story is intriguing as being yet another story of the origin of evil, this time placing the origin of evil unmistakably in human pride and self-confidence, frustrated by the divine ruse of the confusion of languages. At the same time this explains the puzzling feature that not all human languages are the same. A further step is the opposite wonder at Pentecost, where the apostles each speak in their own language and yet are intelligible to those gathered from countries of many different linguistic groups. The disunity of Babel is reversed, a first step towards the unity of the Church. Question: Am I more concerned about my own glory than God’s glory?

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DAY 6

Genesis 12:1-9 The Call of Abraham The first eleven chapters of Genesis are the stuff of legend. A legend is a story which conveys an important religious truth in story form, where the historical content is at best secondary to the religious teaching. With Genesis 12 we move into the realm of history – not, to be sure, modern historical writing, but folk-history, where there is at least a historical basis, though ancestral stories have been handed down for generations by word of mouth, perhaps with some consequent exaggerations and distortions. Indeed, some sceptics have held that, since Abraham is not mentioned by the early prophets, he is an invention to justify the settlement of the Jews in the Holy Land after the Babylonian Exile. However such silence is not sufficient to overthrow the strong tradition about Abraham. Abraham (or more strictly Abram, for his name is changed to ‘Abraham’ only later) is called by God to leave his comfortable family home in Haran of Mesopotamia and go out into the unknown, trusting in the divine promise of a country and descendants. He becomes a nomad, wandering precariously on the edges of civilisation. He touches on and sacrifices at various ancient shrines such as Bethel (‘the House of God’) and Mamre, which later develop into Israelite places of worship. His situation is made more perilous because he and his wife are old and childless. The promise recurs in Genesis 15 and 18, where it is accompanied by a formal Covenant of alliance. For St Paul, particularly in Romans 4, he is the supreme example of steadfast hope and trust in the Lord. Even at this early stage the promise is a universal promise. Here ‘all clans on earth will bless themselves by you’, and in Genesis 17:15 Sarah’s progeny ‘will become nations and kings of peoples’. From the beginning the promise made to Abraham was to bring a blessing on all peoples. Question: Is God calling you to something which you are afraid to hear? 14

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DAY 7

Genesis 18 Abraham Bargains with God Hospitality to a chance guest is a pressing duty in a nomadic society. I have myself changed an interrogation at the wrong end of an Israeli gun-barrel into a friendly chat by invoking hospitality. So Abraham warmly welcomes his guest – or is it three guests? The numbers, shimmering between one and three, have led ancient commentators to see this as an intimation of the Trinity. And in these ancient stories it remains unclear whether the Angel of the Lord is God himself or not. In return Abraham is promised a son, despite Sarah’s inopportune laugh as she listens from behind the tent-flap. She does not improve the situation with her bare-faced denial of the truth. The splat is in fact a word-play on the name ‘Isaac’, which means ‘laugh’, ‘smile’ or ‘joke’; it recurs in 21:9, when Ishmael is joking with Isaac. Then after the ample meal of a calf – a lamb or a kid would surely have sufficed – the bargaining begins over Sodom and Abraham’s nephew, Lot. It is a typical oriental process of bargaining, conducted, like any good bargain, with exaggerated courtesy. It begins with Abraham coolly accusing God of injustice. Then as Abraham’s demands become more and more preposterous, so his flattery becomes more and more extreme. His mathematics, too, are outrageous: in reducing the stake from fifty to forty-five he even has the cheek to suggest that God is proposing to destroy the city ‘because of five’. Such bargaining is an art-form and one feels that God must have enjoyed the competition too, and even the daring familiarity! It is worth mentioning that the sin which eventually sparks the destruction of Sodom is not necessarily focused on the issue of homosexuality. It may also be the abuse of hospitality, which is certainly the sin in the closely similar story in Judges 19:22-25. Question: Is there any room for humour in God?

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DAY 8

Genesis 22:1-19 The Sacrifice of Isaac This heart-rending story is told with the finest artistry, which brings out at once the father’s obedience and his agonised reluctance. The pace slows as the dread moment approaches, as the father loads the wood onto the boy but keeps for himself the fire and the knife with which the boy could hurt himself. Then there is the contrast between the boy’s chirpy question and the father’s obscure, monosyllabic reply, another contrast between the boy’s willingness (in the Jewish legend he even holds out his own hands to be tied) and the father’s reluctant delaying tactics – until suddenly the Angel of the Lord breaks the tension with a last-minute cry, ‘Abraham, Abraham’. What is the meaning of this daunting story? It seems almost inconceivable that God should order Abraham to kill his own son, let alone that it should be a sacrifice pleasing to God. It has been suggested that somehow the story, or the end of the story, is intended as a prohibition of child-sacrifice. This was certainly practised by tribes around the people of Israel as a sort of bribe to a deity in dire circumstances, and several biblical passages show that it was at times rife even within Jerusalem itself as a tribute to other gods. It would, however, be a strange sort of prohibition. The story seems to be a supreme test of Abraham’s obedience and faith in God. He had been childless. His seemingly barren wife had arranged for him to beget a son through her slave-girl, Hagar. Then finally Sarah had borne Abraham a son, only for him to receive this order to sacrifice the long-awaited heir. Perhaps Abraham’s supreme act of faith was that God would somehow rescue him from this agonising predicament, even at the very last minute – as in fact occurred. Question: Do we trust in God when he seems to be asking the impossible?

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DAY 9

Genesis 27 Jacob Cheats Esau of his Blessing The morality of the holy patriarchs is not always quite as it should be: a certain desert cunning sometimes creeps in, but nowhere so sharply as here. St Augustine was even reduced to saying, Non est mendacium sed mysterium, ‘It is not a lie but symbolic.’ Rebekah is one of those feisty women who appear from time to time in the Old Testament, like Judith, who by her honey-trap rescues her town from foreign attack while the men merely wring their hands. As a girl Rebekah had had no hesitation about rolling up her sleeves and watering all Abraham’s camels, who drink twenty gallons apiece (Genesis 24:20) and then setting off from one day to the next to her arranged marriage. Now she has no worries about taking on herself a curse directed at her favourite son. Jacob, the stay-at-home mother’s darling, is ruthless in pursuit of his own advantage. In early life he is a consummate trickster. He will be converted in years to come, but not till he has also cheated his uncle and father-in-law, built up at his expense a substantial herd of cattle and sneaked off with the title-deeds of the property. However, it might be said that he is a more purposeful and trustworthy custodian of the promise than his carefree, red-headed elder twin, Esau, who has no second thoughts about bartering his heritage for a hearty breakfast. Esau wins some sympathy when he bursts into tears at losing his father’s blessing too, but as soon as he has dried his tears he flounces off to become the father of the hated Edomites (Edom means ‘red’) on the far side of the Jordan, with whom Israel was perpetually at war. The rivalry between the two brothers is really a mirror-image of the rivalry which was to develop between the two nations. Question: Is it right to take the blame for someone else’s action?

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DAY 10

Genesis 32:23-33 Jacob Wrestles with God This mysterious incident marks the conversion of Jacob from being a shifty trickster to being a revered patriarch. What happened? The River Jabboq has carved out for itself a deep gorge as it rushes down from the eastern plateau into the Jordan Valley, debouching into a weird and alarming torrent at the shallow ford. Is the opponent a riversprite, a primitive supernatural being who confronts Jacob as he comes to the ford at the back of his caravan of cattle? They wrestle through the night until day is breaking. Though Jacob shows his strength, he suffers the dislocation of his hip. He wrests a blessing from the spirit, but cannot elicit a name, for the man cannot triumph over his supernatural opponent. Instead, he himself receives a new name and so a new nature. The name Israel, ‘Man strives with God’, complements the name of the ford, Peniel or ‘face-of-God’. In the patriarchal history of Genesis this struggle is the turningpoint for Jacob, commemorated by Charles Wesley’s much loved poem, ‘Thy name is love’. From now on Jacob faces his future, and even his disinherited brother, with diplomatic calm and goes on to become a respectable patriarch, the founder-figure of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In the prophet Hosea 12:1-7, however, he is still the iconic figure of deceit, standing for the wickedness of the Northern Kingdom which is soon to be requited by the Sack of Samaria. On the other hand, the image of Jacob’s Ladder, Jacob’s dream as he lay at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22), is taken up by Jesus in John 1:51. Jacob saw a ladder reaching to heaven, and the angels going up and coming down it. So Jesus promises the full revelation: “You will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.” Question: How often do we ask God to bless us?

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DAY 11

Genesis 37 Joseph Sold into Egypt The story of Joseph sold into Egypt begins the final section of the Book of Genesis, which takes the Hebrews, Jacob and his family, down to Egypt, where they will stay for a notional four hundred and thirty years, and from which they will be led back by Moses. Such movements of pastoral nomads in time of food shortage were common. Abram himself did just this with his wife Sarah (Genesis 12:10-20). Documents of this time have been found recording the passage of nomads through frontier-posts on their way down to Egypt. This situation of frontier posts in the peninsula of Sinai is not much different to this day. For this particular movement Joseph led the way. Joseph and his full-brother Benjamin were obviously the darlings of their father – to the disgust of their ten elder brothers. Joseph was the more spoilt of the two, for he had the special coat made for him. He made no attempt to endear himself to his elder brothers and instead was naive enough to brag about his dream of lording it over them. The youngest child of a large family with whom I was sharing the story once said to me, ‘Cocky little brat, he deserved all he got!’ He does gain a scrap of sympathy when he fails to find his brothers at Shechem, but he was certainly heading for trouble. When Joseph approaches the brothers the observant reader will notice that two slightly different versions of the story are combined. In one version Reuben is the hero who wants to save Joseph, only teaching him a lesson by putting him in the storage-well to cool off. When he finds that he has been sold as a slave Reuben is upset. In the other version the villain is Judah, who does agree not to kill Joseph, but suggests that he should be sold to passing merchants. There are two sets of merchants too, for Midianites and Ishmaelites are not the same people. Question: Does God use human malice to bring good out of evil? 19

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DAY 12

Genesis 38 Judah and Tamar For Christians one of the chief points of interest in this story is that Tamar is one of the four women included in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. All four are interesting women, who won their way unexpectedly into the lineage of the Messiah. Tamar wins her place by the clever ruse by which she makes her father-in-law Judah fulfil his duty. The background is the ruling of Deuteronomy 25:5. By this law if a man marries and dies childless his nearest male relative must marry the widow and so raise up children to continue the line and name of his dead relative. Not unsurprisingly the nearest male relative was not always willing to fulfil this duty. In this story Judah’s son Er dies childless, but Onan refuses to have full intercourse with Er’s widow, Tamar. When Onan dies, the duty falls to Judah, unless the widow is to wait for young Shelah to fulfil the duty, with the risk that by that time Tamar might well be too old to bear children. Meanwhile Tamar is sent back to the family of her birth, but even when Shelah is old enough no marriage occurs. It seems that the position of women at this time was such that, although adultery was considered a serious failing, a single act of sexual intercourse outside marriage was blameworthy only for the woman. Though a prostitute sits at the roadside veiled to hide her shame, and Tamar is to be stoned for her delict, no blame is attached to Judah for his sexual adventure. The veil is important for the story because when she removes her veil there is not enough light for her to be recognised. The same darkness had made it possible for Laban to palm off on Jacob his elder daughter though Jacob was in love with the younger: the veil was not removed until it was too dark to distinguish one from the other (Genesis 29:23). Question: Is such deception ever justified?

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DAY 13

Genesis 39 Joseph and his Master’s Wife Ancient Egyptian literature has a story very similar to this. Two brothers are out working in the field. The elder brother sends the younger back home on an errand, where the younger finds the elder brother’s wife combing her hair. She grabs him and suggests that they lie together. The boy ‘became like a leopard with rage at the wicked suggestion’, but promises not to tell her husband. Nevertheless the wife makes herself up to give the impression that she has been raped. The husband believes her and forces the boy into exile. Eventually the husband discovers the truth and kills the wife. In both stories the guiltless young man protests his moral principles and his duty; in both he nobly refrains from accusing the real culprit. There may well be a link between the two stories, though this would not necessarily imply that the Joseph story is invented. In the story as told in Genesis Joseph is portrayed as a model of wisdom. He is contrasted with the master, smoothly managing all his master’s affairs, so that the master has nothing left to do but make a pig of himself. He is contrasted also with the seductress, who continually whispers her two-word temptation, ‘Sleep with me’, while he repels her with his dignified and articulate statement of his duty. There is a neat contrast between everything ‘left in the hand of ’ Joseph and his shirt ‘left in the hand of ’ the seductress. It is significant also that the seductress twice refers to Joseph as a ‘Hebrew’, as if this is a term of contempt. In the early books of the Bible the word is never used by the descendants of Abraham themselves, but only by others in speaking about them. It seems to have a derogatory sense, as though these people were considered dangerously unstable and unreliable; the nearest equivalent is perhaps ‘tinkers’. Question: Do we ever sacrifice ourselves to protect another?

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DAY 14

Genesis 40–41 Joseph Interprets the Dreams Joseph has had two disappointments: he was put in charge of Potiphar’s affairs and ended up in prison. In prison he interpreted the two officials’ dreams correctly and then the survivor forgot him. When it comes to telling Pharaoh’s two dreams Joseph will be amply vindicated. We are now well into the Egyptian Wisdom tradition. In the earlier part of Genesis, dreams have occurred several times as a means of communication from God to the dreamer, a sort of meeting with God, mostly to reassure God’s chosen friends (Hagar, Isaac, Jacob’s Ladder) of the divine protection. The same will be true of dreams in the later biblical narrative, for example Solomon’s dream at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:5-15). The dreams in the Joseph story are quite different, being coded predictions of the future which need to be interpreted, and Joseph insists four times that the power to interpret them comes from God; this corresponds to the Egyptian Wisdom tradition. Books existed for the interpretation of dreams, but Joseph receives the meaning direct from God. The local colour is well presented: Pharaoh stands beside the Nile, the fount of all fertility in Egypt by means of the silt brought down in the annual floods. He gets quite excited when recounting his dreams, exaggerating several details of the expected disaster. When Joseph is invested with authority the formula recorded of Pharaoh Necho is used, ‘I clothed him in a garment with multi-coloured trimmings, placed a gold chain on him, put golden rings on his hands. I presented him with chariots, mules and horses.’ The whole story is framed to explain the system of land-tenure in Egypt, utterly strange to the Israelites: in Israel land was an ancestral family possession, whereas in Egypt all land was state-owned and administered by a centralised bureaucracy. Question: Should a Christian take any notice of dreams? 22

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DAY 15

Genesis 42–45 Joseph’s Revenge on his Brothers The story of Joseph includes a number of pairs: two stories of the sale of Joseph to merchants, two officials in prison, two pairs of dreams. In the course of the drama of the recognition of Joseph there are more pairs: two expeditions, two interviews, two tricks played by Joseph on his brothers. But the real fascination of the story is its irony: Joseph’s original dream of lording it over his brothers comes true. The brothers who engineered Joseph’s captivity in Egypt are now struggling to save his brother Benjamin from the same fate. The imprisonment of Simeon echoes the imprisonment of Joseph himself long ago. The supposed ‘theft’ of Joseph’s divination-cup by his brothers alludes to the young Joseph’s divining that he would dominate them. A further feature is the character-drawing: the characters remain the same as they always were. Old Jacob is crotchety and full of selfpity. He lectures his sons (who must all themselves be fathers) on a father’s love. But he insists on getting his own way, and continues to treat Benjamin as a child, though he must be at least a young adult by now. Reuben, who had tried to help Joseph, is again the generous one, and offers his own children as hostages. He asks that Benjamin be put in his care, suggesting that he is more caring than the others. By contrast, the rough Judah, who originally proposed the sale of Joseph, is now rough to his old father and delivers the ultimatum to him which finally tips the scales. The most serious point of all, however, is the whole-hearted repentance of all the brothers. They had ridden roughshod over their father’s feelings in depriving him of Joseph, but they now recognise his grief and are careful to protect him. The lack of family affection which had led to Joseph’s deportation is reversed by the joyful family reunion. Question: Is Joseph’s teasing of his brothers justifiable?

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