Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Genesis 38 - the question

If we believe that the Bible is not accidental, that the words and pages and passages are not just a loosely scripted history of our faith, then we have to look at it differently. In addition to saying, "What does that verse mean?" we have to say, "Why was that verse there in the first place?"

Not even in a contextual way, but on a higher level, "Why was that included in the Bible" kind of way. And chapter 38 of Genesis is a perfect example of that. Let's remember what happened in chapter 37. When we last left Genesis, Joseph was being sold to the Egyptians. In a climatic moment, he was sold into slavery by his brothers and his father Jacob was mourning his reported death. It was intense and powerful and passionate.

But chapter 38 starts off slowly. Suddenly, like a soap opera jumping plot lines, we pick up with Judah and Tamar. Suddenly we leave the action behind and are thrust into the middle of a tale about family obligation and law. Sure, there is deception and intrigue and prostitution and mistaken identities, but it feels like it comes out of left field.

So instead of talking about the specific words in this chapter I want to talk about why it is here? Why did this tale about Judah's failure and unwillingness to follow the law by sleeping with and initially abandoning a pregnant prostitute, make it into the Bible? And why is it right here, sandwiched in the middle of the Joseph story?

My life application Bible says the story is meant to serve as a contrast between Joseph and Judah. For while Joseph is about to prove his mettle as a man of God, Judah is spiraling downward. While Joseph is about to raise high despite his circumstances as a slave, Judah is about to sink deep despite his circumstances as a son of Jacob.

It's a really powerful picture, the two different lives, and I think there is one thing I will take from this. And it's not that complicated although sometimes I wish it were. You see, in my life, if something is too complicated, I use that as an excuse to not do it. For instance, we have a phone service that receives all the messages on our home phone. You have to enter in all these passwords and codes and ID numbers to listen to the message. So in three years of having it, I have never once checked the messages. My wife does it for me because I always say, "that's so complicated. I don't want to bother with that."

The truth is that sometimes I do the same thing with the Bible. I try to make it complicated so I can ignore it like my home voice mails. But the truth is that sometimes it is simple. Sometimes it is obvious and clear and undeniable. I think chapter 38 of Genesis is an example of that. I think a really simple question emerges that we can ask ourselves everyday. It's the only thing I hope you take from this post and it goes like this:

"Today, do I want to be Joseph or Judah?"

8 comments:

Jeff Putnam said...

You ever wonder why a good portion of the Jewish people called themselves Judah, and not Joseph?

Rick W. said...

This post made me think. I want to be Joseph, but on the days that I'm Judah it's nice to know this: Hebrews 7:14 says
"For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests." Matthew Henry writes, "But God will show that his choice is of grace and not merit, and that Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the chief."

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Jon; this blog is helping people more than you know.

Christianne said...

good question. i couldn't help getting a sinking feeling in my stomach as i read this story of judah today. "man oh man, that's judah!" i thought. "we celebrate the lion of judah . . . and this is his heritage??" bummer.

except of course, abraham and moses and david are our heritage, too . . . and they all messed up big time as well. one thing i read in eugene peterson's "long obedience in the same direction" this morning is helping me begin to put all this in perspective.

he talks about the life of faith being a life of repentance from the life of the world, of choosing a different way to interpret reality. but then he says those who chose this faith reality -- namely, he refers to abraham and moses in this section of the book -- did not miraculously end up in eden. instead, "they worked and played, suffered and sinned in the world as everyone else did, and as christians still do. but they were now going someplace -- they were going to God."

this made me begin to think about the long trajectory of the biblical narrative in a new way. like, these saints of our faith were not perfect. instead of holding them up as idols to emulate for holiness, maybe we are supposed to learn other things from their lives. maybe we're supposed to learn more about who God is as God and who we are as humans. in other words, His perfection and our discipleship.

am i making any sense? i think i'm rambling.

anyway, this is the first morning that i actually joined you on the bible-reading journey. i opened my bible and actually read genesis 38 before coming here. it was a cool experience!

Dog snob said...

It's kinda like an old comic I used to like as a kid "Goofus and Gallant" I think it was called. It was about 2 boys, one that always did the right thing, and one that was lazy and only did what he felt like. It's almost like the 2 sides to a person, the one side that wants to do the right thing and rely on God, and the other side that wants what it wants and loses in the end.

Thursday said...

Another thing I love about this is the connection between Joseph and Judah. Joseph must have been the Main Man back in the day, while the slaves were in Egypt. How much do you hear about Joseph after, say, King David? Not much. So while the son of the favored wife is getting raised into a position of prominence so he can save his family, the son of the unloved wife is making a mess of his life and committing incest via prostitution. And Christ comes from the line of THAT union.

It's such an amazing picture of what grace really is (not fluffy grace to nice people, but ACTUAL grace of God), it gives me chills.

Campman62 said...

..."simply" Joseph.

Yes, the "simplicity" of God's Truth quite "simply" often escapes the wisdom of man.

[believe x 10k] see Book of John ><>

Blog me...

#1 inthelight-campman62.blogspot.com

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Anonymous said...

This is awesome. I've been going through Genesis as a prep for an Old Testament class I'm going to take in the fall. I definitely read this chapter and wondered why it was put there in the middle of Joseph's story. I just figured that timewise that's where it fit in. But seeing the contrast between Judah and Joseph, now it makes more sense.

Thanks!

dorothy (vicar of vibe) said...

the really good stuff is here...