Genesis 48-50

Good morning! Today Americans take special time to remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy of working to overcome the evils of racism, classism and war. May our remembrances also include rededication to the ideals for which he lived and died, the Beloved Community of justice and righteous love. Dr. King grew in those values from his study of the Bible, and I hope that our exploration of the same text may translate into similar commitments in word and action today.

This is also the last day of our reading through the book of Genesis. If you have managed to keep up these past few weeks, good for you! If you are a few days behind, or jumping in today for the first time, good for you! What matters more than chapter and verse is your determination to explore this ancient text with a community of other curious readers, listening for what catches your imagination and leads to more meaningful life. My deep thanks go out to the folks who have mentioned recently the importance of this project. It takes time to write and comment each day, but encouragement like yours helps me know it’s worth the effort. I’ll keep it up, and I hope you will too!

Our passage today, Genesis 48-50, recounts the last actions of Jacob, followed by his death and burial, and that of Joseph. Joseph’s two sons are blessed by Jacob, then adopted by their grandfather in a move that places them in the lineage with all Jacob’s other sons (taking the place of Jacob). I don’t fully understand the purpose or meaning of this. Was it a way of honoring Joseph with greater inheritance by giving his sons more share than the other brothers? In the blessing of Joseph’s sons, the younger boy gets the more prestigious (right-handed, according to ancient belief) blessing. In this we have another glimpse of the frequent biblical preference for the younger child—seen already in Abel rather than Cain, Isaac rather than Ishmael, and Jacob rather than Esau.

Genesis 49 records the final prophecies of Jacob about all his twelve sons, but it seems to be informed at least as much by what the tribes of their names became later as by the qualities of these individuals. Note in passing that Judah is compared to a lion—this will come back throughout Scripture—and is marked out as a ruler. There is an extended blessing for Joseph (of course), and a curiously short one for Benjamin. Another interesting observation that could inspire further reflection: Jacob asks to be buried in the cave in the field at Machpelah with the other ancestors, where Leah is buried but not Rachel (whose grave is in Bethlehem according to 35:19). Why might Joseph have chosen to be with Leah in death and not to bring Rachel’s remains there also, as was frequently done? Food for thought.

Genesis ends with grief throughout Egypt for Jacob’s death, then an extravagant burial procession to Canaan involving both Egyptians and Jacob’s Hebrew family. Afterward, Joseph’s brothers fear that he will finally avenge himself for the years of slavery they inflicted, but Joseph again displays an ability to see God at work even in the painful parts of his history: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good”. Joseph too reaches old age and then dies, but not before eliciting a promise that when the Hebrew people leave Egypt later, they will bring his bones along with them. We’ll see where Exodus picks up the story from there. Happy reading!

Read Genesis 48-50.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Exodus 1-4. Thanks for reading!

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