Genesis 48

Anubis was the dog-headed Egyptian god. I’m sure Moses knew of him. I think of Anubis in connection with Genesis 48 because what happens is strange and I am wondering if we weren’t meant to laugh. C.S. Lewis, after some conversations with his wife who was Jewish, began to comment to people in letters that there is a lot of humor in the Old Testament, and that we often solemnly pass by it because of course we are being spiritual. And I wonder here if in this view into Jacob’s bed-chamber we aren’t being treated to a funny scene.

Jacob decides to adopt Joseph’s sons formally in order that they may have part along with the rest of the brothers in his inheritance. Joseph is pleased, bows down either to thank God or acknowledge the honor paid, or both. Things proceed. Then Jacob wants to bless the boys, and Joseph, competent as ever, brings them close all lined up for Jacob to bless the older with the right hand and the younger with the left. But the wily old man gets into his head to cross his hands at that moment. (This is great in Spanish: a Jacob se le da por cruzar las manos.)

No! says Joseph, and it is wrong (evil, but probably just wrong) in his eyes.

Hold on, says Jacob, I know what I’m doing. And we wonder. And then what he says about one becoming greater I take to mean that he is saying, or at least implying, that this is how God wants it.

Now we don’t really know if Jacob crosses his arms on purpose or on a whim, but being the rascal he is: cheater of his brother, wrangler with Laban, the family situation (another instance of humor, the child-wars of his silly wives?), and his grousing to Pharaoh, none of these things incline me to believe it was not a whim. But that’s just the thing: we don’t know.

How does Jacob know who will be what? What do you have in the text? Jacob knows it is going to work out that way because that’s what happened, that’s how the dice landed.

Does God play dice? Well, he at least participates in every cast of the dice, doesn’t he? The dice show what they do by the determinate council and causal foreknowledge of God, as the story of Joseph goes to some pains to demonstrate beyond all shadow of a doubt.

The story of Joseph! Who in all the Scripture save our Lord ever trusted and actually rested in the sovereign purpose and control of God more than Joseph? Surely not Jacob, who struggled with it all his life.

And here is Jacob playing at dice with the blessing and lecturing Joseph about it in the quiet of his bed chamber. I find it hard to think that in all this Moses is not also having himself a little joke. And perhaps you can say that there you have Jacob’s last ironic admission of what he struggled to internalize all of his life.

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2 thoughts on “Genesis 48

  1. I often think that Jacob’s relation to God was analogous to Delilah’s relation to Samson. Perhaps Jacob sincerely struggled to be a better person, but I can see him raising a calculating eyebrow in surprise and thinking, “I’m amazed that he actually *loves* a scoundrel like me! Let’s see how this plays out! I bet he’ll even forgive me when I screw up, because he *loves* me!”

    The sort of person who gets pleasure out of testing love is not the sort of person you normally want to waste your love on. But I think that God purposely spent his love this way with Jacob, and God preordained Samson to do it with Delilah.

    I seem to recall C.S. Lewis dealing with this archetype at least twice in his stories. Something about a vagrant laying about in squalor and having some opportunity fall into his lap — after a brief calculation, the vagrant concludes something akin to: “Things like this never happen to people like me, but I’m going to run with it for all it’s worth!” (And of course, he does a really bad job of “running with it”, because people like him aren’t ever trained to anticipate such things, and the whole point of the story is that he’s unworthy).

    Joseph by all accounts was certainly more “worthy” than Jacob, but I wonder if this isn’t exactly the issue at hand in this passage. Relative to God, we’re all toothless vagabonds, semi-retarded Philistine temptresses, or Gomer. If God/Samson/Hosea loves you, you’ve already won the lottery, and it really doesn’t matter how you criss-cross your arms in benediction. Seen in that light, Genesis 48:17 is the verse where Joseph’s faith is shown to be smaller than the faith of his father.

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