Archive for August, 2014

The Twelve Sons and the Twelve Gates

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2014 by ancienthopes

Seventeen years had passed since that most famous family reunion (Gen. 48:28). Israel was old when he stood before Pharaoh, but now he passed beyond the realm of all terrestrial classification. His one hundred and forty seven years hung about him in a most ghostly way. His eyes, once brown, had now grown white with blindness. We see him on the eve of his death, white bearded and white eyed, staring intently through the mist which blinds most of us to spiritual realities. He had summoned his sons one final time to bless them; or more accurately, to reveal their destiny (Gen. 49). Anticipation and anxiety filled the place as his sons, themselves of great age, assembled before him. Behind them stood nervously the vast assembly of Israel’s generations─children, grand children, and great grandchildren. No one was quite sure what their venerable patriarch would say.

All knew what happened to Joseph shortly before when he brought in his two sons to be blessed. The blind old man crossed his hands as Joseph positioned Manasseh his first born to his father’s right side, and Ephraim the second born to his left side, thus giving the right hand blessing to Ephraim the youngest. Joseph tried to “correct” the situation but soon found out that the way it happened was correct all along. In the Book of Beginnings no firstborn receives firstborn honors. We cannot help but feel the gentle mirth of the blind man who now clearly saw the ways of God. No doubt his memory flew back to the days when he deceitfully stood before his blind old father, and tricked him into giving him first born status. Isaac was blind both physically and spiritually; Israel was blind physically but saw clearly with his soul. This made the assembly before him insecure, for they could not read him.

Israel began with his first born, Reuben, and worked on down to Benjamin, his youngest. On the whole, what we see before us is not a stellar group; in fact, they are us. Reuben never seemed to grow much, stymied by his inability to exert his rights as first born. His father directly addressed this, along with the embarrassing incident with his concubine Bilhah. Simeon and Levi were condemned for their violence, a character flaw that plagued them all their lives, although we expect they mellowed some with age. Judah became the lion of the tribe; he was the one who inherited the first born honors in the family, and through him promise to Abraham that kings will come forth from him will be fulfilled (cf. Gen. 17:6 with 49:10). Apart from Joseph, he was the one who showed the most dramatic change in life. As for the sons of the concubines, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, and Naphtali, we know very little of their lives. Jacob’s blessings on them are notoriously ambiguous, and few of which have obvious fulfillment. Joseph’s portion fell to his sons, for Israel claimed them as his own, raising the number of his sons to 12. In so doing, Israel made Joseph his equal; he stands as the fourth great patriarch after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob his father. He, as well as Judah, was blessed the most extravagantly. Benjamin, conspicuous for his silence throughout the story, is likened to a ravenous wolf. Obviously, his father knew something about him that we don’t.

These are the great grandsons of Abraham, the friend of God, the man of faith! These are the fountains of Jacob, the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel, the family of God, chosen above all on earth! Of these twelve, about only two do we know anything positive at all; of three we know the negatives. The rest are all enigmas to us. Surely if there were anything noteworthy about their spiritual journeys, the author of our story would have told us. The silence about them screams out at us─all the more so when we consider that the twelve gates of Heaven are named after them! (Cf. Ezk. 48:30-34 with Rev. 21:12). The first things the redeemed see when they pass into heaven are these names above the gates! It is hard to think of a more splendid honor for such a common, lackluster bunch.

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Joseph as Jesus to Ancient Israel

Posted in Uncategorized on August 18, 2014 by ancienthopes

Having set the stage for typology in the last post, let us look at the grand themes or motifs of our story. We have a Father and a beloved son in a land of promise and expectation. This father endows this son with firstborn honors giving him a garment that is most likely a priestly robe. The son has dreams of his destiny: he will rule over his brothers. The brothers, out of hatred and jealousy, throw him into a pit with the intention of killing him. Instead, one of the brothers, Judah, persuades them to sell him for twenty pieces of silver to merchants. The robe ultimately comes back to the father bloody, and he mourns. Meanwhile, the caravan takes the beloved son, Joseph, down to Egypt where he is tempted in Potiphar’s house. He is unjustly accused of a crime and thrown into prison where he is forgotten. Pharaoh, having heard that Joseph could interpret dreams, raises him out of the pit and puts him in charge of all Egypt. Joseph feeds Egypt and the surrounding countries. The brothers make three descents into Egypt, during which Joseph invites them to follow the same path he took to perfection. They repent and Joseph forgives. Joseph “appears” to his father when they are reunited and saves his family by providing for them, seventy persons in all. Finally, Joseph desires his bones to be buried in Canaan when God brings Israel out of Egypt.

The parallels to Christ are so obvious that we risk redundancy. Jacob is God the Father and Joseph is Jesus, his beloved son. God has made Jesus firstborn over his creation giving him ruling rights over His brothers made in His image and endowing Him with priestly powers. The brothers are Israel, and by extension all of humanity, who out of hatred and jealously, decide to kill him. The pit symbolizes death; the blood of the priestly garment the blood and sacrifice of Christ. Judah sells his brother for twenty pieces of silver; Judas sells his Brother for thirty. The Father turns His face in grief. Egypt is the world where Jesus suffered temptation as Joseph did. Jesus, like Joseph, was accused unjustly for crimes and punished. Joseph’s rise from the prison/pit parallels Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Jesus rules the World like Joseph ruled Egypt and provides salvation for all humanity. Joseph provides humanity with bread; Jesus, the bread of life, provides the world with the Eucharist. Jesus is the spiritual father to his brothers as Joseph was to his. Jesus “appeared” before his Father as Joseph “appeared” to his father. Finally, Jacob’s household of seventy symbolizes the world wide family of the redeemed.

It would be superficial for us to look at these parallels and merely say, “Wow, see how the Bible is clearly inspired! How could anyone see these things and not believe?” What we have here is far more profound than an apologetic for scriptural inspiration. It is even more primary than the story’s prophetic power. In type and Anti-type we are invited into a whole new world view. It is a worldview, where Christ is at the very fabric of reality, where past, present and future is all a revelation of Jesus. Jesus is not just God/man who broke once into history and now rules the world at the right hand of the Father “out there” somewhere. It is true that Christ is transcendent, but there is more. Jesus is also the very Immanence of God, intimate in every detail of space and time, ruling from within as well as without.

What this means for the Joseph story is that the ancient Old Testament readers─as well as the people whose tales are told in it─saw the very Gospel of Christ unfold, albeit in shadowy form. How much they understood is open to debate; the brothers seem not to have grasped their own gospel story when their father died and feared reprisal from Joseph. Still, the basic themes of sin, death, atonement, and resurrection are obvious. Joseph was Jesus to ancient Israel. Jesus was right there with open arms when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, weeping. Jesus played his story over and over again before He did so incarnate and continues to do it now through everything about us. We see Jesus now in full daylight, but He was there all along in the past. We just didn’t see him so clearly.

Joseph and Jesus: Preliminary Thoughts on Typology

Posted in Uncategorized on August 12, 2014 by ancienthopes

The Joseph Story is at the apex of world literature; it is not surpassed in sacred or secular lore. Moreover, the author shows skill as a historian as well, melding historical data together into a powerful and forceful account of how Israel ended up in Egypt. Hopefully we have seen something of the profundity of the story’s theology, and that sacred narrative opens up realms of spiritual insight for readers who desire to raise their souls to God. But in the end, the story as Scripture is something far more than sacred literature, history, or theology. It is eschatological in its core, pointing to Something to come who is far greater than itself through its characters, events and motifs. This Something is Jesus Christ, who is the Antitype to our story. The word “anti-type” is an old one that was used to describe an impression made by a die in the Greco-Roman world. The die itself was obscure and backward (the type), but the impression it made was clear (anti-type).

The study of typology is something Old Testament scholars are often reticent to discuss. Critical scholars reject the study of typology out of hand, associating it with a doctrinaire adherence to Christianity and/or a pre-modern hermeneutic. Often even believing scholars neglect it out of embarrassment, for they wish to appear scholarly and reasonable, preferring to discuss the story as a Hebrew text in its literary and historical context. Scholars of the ancient and medieval Church, however, along with certain traditions since that have not succumbed to the rationalistic presuppositions of the enlightenment, understood the Old Testament more in line with the New Testament writers; they saw it as an anticipation of the events in the life of Christ. For them all life was mysterious, and Christ was at the core of the mystery. It was the supreme task of scholars and theologians to bend their minds and souls to the mysteries.

The grand assumption of typology is that history repeats itself in patterns. The deeper one goes into the past, the clearer picture one has of the future. Scripture itself can be styled purely typologically; its contents form a series of patterns. For instance, a cursory look at the description of Eden in Chapter 2 of Genesis reveals close ties with the last chapters of Revelation where the Eternal City is described. Eden is the type, and the eternal city is the antitype. Everything in the future has its roots in the past. In fact, if we could go back far enough into the past so as to see and comprehend creation itself, we would see all the future with the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the deep. Christ is the Great Beginning, and He is the Great End, the Alpha and the Omega. To find the One is to find the Other.

Everything is therefore surrounded by God and penetrated with the mystery of Christ. There is nothing insignificant; everything is teeming with meaning. To be Christian is to understand the mysteries christologically. Consider these powerful words of St. Paul:

He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Col. 1:15-17

Christ is the Power behind every detail of creation and history. Therefore, to be a student of creation and the past is to be a student of Christ, if one wishes to be truly Christian. Everything is revelatory of Christ. This is why Paul further declares that the knowledge of God’s mystery is “Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Jacob Takes His Place among the Great

Posted in Uncategorized on August 4, 2014 by ancienthopes

As they approached this fabled land of tombs, Israel sent Judah, his most illustrious representative, ahead to inform Joseph of their arrival. We see the old patriarch, staring out with his eyes now dim with age over the plains of Goshen, waiting for the grand moment. At a distance the sharp young eyes of his grandsons were the first to see the dust stirred up by the pounding hooves of the splendid Egyptian steeds that bore his son’s chariot. Before these Hebrew youths, history at its finest was about to unfold. Standing alone, erect and dignified, the white bearded patriarch waited till the chariot that bore Joseph and Judah, for we imagine the two great brothers together, rolled up. Joseph stepped down like a god, for the story teller is very anxious to let us know that Joseph “appeared to him,” a verb that is used regularly elsewhere for a theophany, or God-appearance. After all, as far as Jacob was concerned, his son died and was resurrected before him now in all splendor as ruler of all Egypt!

Joseph falls on his father’s neck and weeps. We would expect the old man to weep, and there are those who say that this actually was the case, given the ambiguity of the Hebrew here. However, we know in fact that it was Joseph who wept, for Jacob is not the man he was since his recent encounter with the God of his fathers. It is fine for Joseph to weep; it was his proper part to play. As for Jacob, there is a controlled dignity about the man who was for most of his life out of control. The man who once was given to excess in love, hate, and grief, now becomes a man of dignified reserve, stately in his simple, controlled response. He simply says, “I can die now, having seen for myself that you are still alive.” This tranquil nunc dimittis is not based on his own self fulfillment in seeing his son. Rather, he can now die in peace for he has seen God’s higher purpose in all of his suffering. And so it is, our greatest human fear is not ultimately pain, loss, suffering, or even death itself. Our greatest fear is hopelessness, a sense that there is no grand purpose in life above our own concern for mere survival.

Israel’s full greatness is displayed for us when he and five of his sons are summoned to stand before Pharaoh. What a grand scene it must have been to see the one hundred and thirty year old patriarch, leaning on Joseph’s arm, slowly making his way down the great columned hall toward the god of Egypt. There was a dignity about him that commanded attention, for Pharaoh’s respect for the old man is remarkable. Pharaoh is curious about his great age, for he questions him about this. The conversation proceeds like Joseph’s first encounter with Pharaoh in that Jacob and Pharaoh banter back and forth in extended dialogue (cf. Gen. 47:7-10 with Gen. 41:15ff.). Again, this assumes equality. The grand patriarch stands before the Egyptian god with poise and dignity. Jacob now becomes like a god.

Perhaps one of the most touching declarations in the whole of Scripture is Jacob’s own assessment of his life, which forms the centerpiece of this dialogue:

The years of my earthly sojourn are one hundred and thirty; few and hard have been the years of my life. They do not compare with the years of the life of my ancestors during their long sojourn. (47:9)

We have the benefit that Pharaoh did not have, for we know Jacob’s story. Compared to his noble grandfather Abraham and gentle father Isaac, he led a miserable life. Moreover, Jacob knew very well by this time that he had no one else but himself to blame for this. He lived his life under the illusion that he could control and manipulate his way with both God and people. Though genuinely “religious” in that he took spiritual matters very seriously, he still had at least one foot firmly planted in the here and now. This made him a man of strife, for those who have an eye on the earth must protect their interests.

This declaration, or confession, if you will, reveals profound insight. It brings to light the powerful lesson which took Jacob one hundred and thirty years to learn: that he was merely a pilgrim in this “earthly sojourn.” To really grasp that one is merely a pilgrim here on an earthly sojourn is profoundly supernatural. Esau, Jacob’s brother, represents sensual man par excellence; he found his home here. There was a big part of Jacob that wanted to as well, but God wouldn’t let him. From one angle this defines the path of sanctification for many of us. Sanctification is God not letting us have our own way; not letting us have our home here! Sanctification is God working against our natural inclinations to settle in this world and teaching us to be pilgrims. Jacob finally ascends his own ladder, but it does not escape us that he did so in spite of himself. Our ascending the ladder, our sanctification, is as much a matter of grace as our justification and adoption into God’s family. Much of it is done in spite of ourselves!

Notice how the grand old man handles his meeting with Pharaoh. He blesses him at the beginning and blesses him at the end, forming an inclusio around the whole encounter (Gen. 47:7 and 10). He has come to give, not to take. The man who once stole blessings and wrestled them from the Almighty Himself is now showering them left and right. He is a free man─free from self! He has now attained the stature of Abraham, his great ancestor, in bringing blessing to the world. Jacob, the onetime jerk, now takes his place among the great.