Fear – Genesis, Part 6

After Jacob and his family spent some time in Bethel they moved on to Ephrath (Bethlehem).  On the way Rachel went into labor – and her labor was hard.  When her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid (yârêʼ), for you are having another son.”[1]  The rabbis who translated the Septuagint changed the word to θάρσει[2] in Greek.  “Have courage (θάρσει), son!  Jesus said to the paralytic lying on a mat.  Your sins are forgiven.”[3]  With her dying breath, Rachel named him Ben-Oni [“son of my suffering”].  But his father called him Benjamin [“son of the (or “my”) right hand”] instead.[4]

Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife.  Her father had tricked him into marrying her sister Leah as well.  Bilhah and Zilpah, Rachel’s and Leah’s servant girls, were given to Jacob when the sisters vied with each other for their husband’s affection.  Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn, was Jacob’s favorite son.  Joseph’s elder brothers hated him.  On top of that Joseph had a couple of dreams which indicated to his brothers and Jacob that Joseph thought he would rule over them.

Joseph’s brothers decided to kill him.  Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, talked his younger siblings down from murder.  They put Joseph in a dry cistern.  Reuben hoped to return later to rescue him.  Judah—Leah’s fourth born son after Reuben, Simeon and Levi—said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?  Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let’s not lay a hand on him, for after all, he is our brother, our own flesh.”  His brothers agreed.[5]  The Ishmaelites sold Joseph to Potiphar the Egyptian, and eventually Joseph became a ruler in Egypt because of his ability to interpret prophetic dreams.

There was a famine in the land and Jacob sent ten of Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy grain.  Now Joseph was the ruler of the country, the one who sold grain to all the people of the country.  Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the ground.[6]  Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.  Then Joseph remembered the dreams he had dreamed about them, and he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see if our land is vulnerable!”[7]

Though I have heard it many times I am not persuaded that Joseph had some wise master plan to test his brothers’ repentance.  I think he was the outcast little brother who had his elder brothers right where he wanted them, and he wanted to make them squirm.  Beyond that he wanted to see his younger brother Benjamin.  But when he heard his brothers’ fears, he was moved, perhaps even to a repentance of his own:  They said to one other, “Surely we’re being punished because of our brother, because we saw how distressed he was when he cried to us for mercy, but we refused to listen.  That is why this distress has come on us!”  Reuben said to them, “Didn’t I say to you, ‘Don’t sin against the boy,’ but you wouldn’t listen?  So now we must pay for shedding his blood!”[8]

Joseph spoke to them through an interpreter, but understood their language as they whispered among themselves.  He turned away from them and wept.[9]  Here, I can be persuaded that Joseph began to formulate a plan to both save face as a ruler of Egypt who had embarked on a path of revenge, and to share with his brothers some of the mercy the Lord had shown him.  When he turned around and spoke to them again, he had Simeon taken from them and tied up before their eyes.  Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to return each man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey.  His orders were carried out.[10]

On their return journey one of the brothers discovered the money in his sack.  They were dismayed; they turned trembling one to another and said, “What in the world has God done to us?”[11]  The brothers were so sure that God was punishing them they misunderstood his mercy.  The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly to us and treated us as if we were spying on the land,[12] they told Jacob their father.  Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, “This is how I will find out if you are honest men.  Leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for your hungry households and go.  But bring your youngest brother back to me so I will know that you are honest men and not spies.  Then I will give your brother back to you and you may move about freely in the land.”[13]

When they were emptying their sacks, there was each man’s bag of money in his sack!  When they and their father saw the bags of money, they were afraid (yârêʼ).[14]  In the Septuagint this was translated ἐφοβήθησαν.  Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain.  And he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.  Then Moses and Elijah also appeared before them, talking with him.[15]  Peter, James and John took all this in stride.  They had been with Jesus awhile by then and were becoming somewhat accustomed to the spectacular and miraculous events that accompanied Him.

Peter offered to build three shelters (or, shrines) to honor Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight.  Listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they were overwhelmed with fear (ἐφοβήθησαν, a form of φοβέω) and threw themselves down with their faces to the ground.[16]  I don’t know how to write about the relationship of these two passages without first considering the Son of God.

I can’t help but feel a great sympathy for those who pursued a law of righteousness.[17]  About the time they got a really firm grasp on the fact that Yahweh was not like the gods of the nations, He visited them as a pagan myth, a Son of God.  Growing up I would have interpreted the statement, God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him,[18] this way: “Yahweh has sent Jesus into the world so that we may live through Him.”  But the more seriously I take Jesus’ words, before Abraham came into existence, I am![19] the more I am compelled to acknowledge that it was Yahweh (He is; I am was literally the unspeakable name of God) who was sent into the world to be born as a human being named Jesus (the Greek translation of Yahweh saves in Hebrew) so that we may live through Him.  Then Yahweh/Jesus began to speak of another God, his Father, whom no one had known: no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him.[20]

The voice that frightened Peter, James and John also spoke after Jesus’ baptism, This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight.[21]  After Jesus walked on the water and calmed the storm, those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”[22]  Peter testified, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!”[23]  Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.[24]  And as they came down the mountain after his transfiguration Jesus commanded them, “Do not tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”[25]  The reason for this gag order was fairly obvious (Matthew 26:63-66 NET):

The high priest said to [Jesus], “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”  Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself.  But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  Then the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “He has blasphemed!  Why do we still need witnesses?  Now you have heard the blasphemy!  What is your verdict?”  They answered, “He is guilty and deserves death.”

I was curious how the three carried out the Lord’s command to tell about the vision after Jesus’ resurrection.  James, John’s brother, didn’t write any of the New Testament and Herod had him executed with a sword[26] early in the first century.  Peter described Jesus as both Lord and Christ but did not mention the offensive Son of God in any of his recorded sermons in Acts.  In fact, in one sermon it seemed that Peter was still making Jesus equal to Moses: “Moses said,The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers.’”[27]  Did Peter not know that Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant…But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house?[28]  Or am I in error when I assume that he was ascribing this prophecy to Christ, the Son of God?  Peter did however recount the story of the transfiguration in his second letter (2 Peter 1:16-18 NET):

For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.”  When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

John was the one who wrote most forthrightly about Jesus as the Son of God.  In all fairness to Peter, John probably didn’t write any of these things until after 70 A.D. when the ecclesiastical power of those who pursued a law of righteousness was destroyed.  And this is where I began to see the relationship of the two fears (ἐφοβήθησαν).  Both groups of men were eyewitnesses to the mercy of God and both groups feared punishment because God’s mercy did not match their preconceptions (or their rulers’ preconceptions) of “what is,” or “how things should be.”  Despite all of God’s mercy toward him Jacob was most eloquent in his fear when he complained to his sons, You are making me childless!  Joseph is gone.  Simeon is gone.  And now you want to take Benjamin!  Everything is against me.[29]

[1] Genesis 35:16, 17 (NET)

[3] Matthew 9:2 (NET)

[4] Genesis 35:18 (NET)

[5] Genesis 37:26, 27 (NET)

[6] Genesis 42:6 (NET)

[7] Genesis 42:8, 9 (NET)

[8] Genesis 42:21, 22 (NET)

[9] Genesis 42:24a (NET)

[10] Genesis 42:24b, 25 (NET)

[11] Genesis 42:28b (NET)

[12] Genesis 42:30 (NET)

[13] Genesis 42:33, 34 (NET)

[14] Genesis 42:35 (NET)

[15] Matthew 17:2, 3 (NET)

[16] Matthew 17:5, 6 (NET)

[17] Romans 9:31 (NET)

[18] 1 John 4:9 (NET)

[19] John 8:58 (NET)

[20] Matthew 11:27b (NET)

[21] Matthew 3:17 (NET)

[22] Matthew 14:33 (NET)

[23] Matthew 16:16, 17 (NET)

[24] Matthew 16:20 (NET)

[25] Matthew 17:9 (NET)

[26] Acts 12:2 (NET)

[27] Acts 3:22a (NET)

[28] Hebrews 3:5, 6a (NET)

[29] Genesis 42:36 (NET)