[WE continue to have computer issues at work so my Sunday posting never got posted.]
In the last few weeks I have written about other things than the daily readings and during that time we have read through the Joseph cycle and entered into the Book of Exodus. I wanted to go back to Genesis [chapter 27 onward] and reflect some on general themes.
One of my constant themes in teaching the Scriptures is that God has inspired a text written by humans. As such, books written about events 1500BC are probably best understood in the context of ancient Israel. The actual time in which the events were recorded was probably long after he actual time that the narratives were compiled (after the exile). What the words "Divine Revelation" (word of God) means, I think, is that God has communicated Himself to us in and through the text. However, I am not sure that it means that His primary concern is to get historical details correct (facts which are true), rather it is to convey the meaning for the 'church' (God's people) in each age (Truth). In light of that, probably, God did not communicate to Ancient Israel in a way that was foreign to them (i.e. like being concerned with the Modern idea of history, which is modern). What this story meant to people after the loss of all that God promised can be known by analogy. Our job is to hear His voice, afresh, in our context.
One of the troubling aspects to the Jacob story is the way Jacob connives his way to 'steal' the blessing and birthright of his older brother Esau (reddish//Edom--see similarity to adam). The patriarchal insights into the relations of the two nations (King David conquered and subjugated Edom) is a background context, the significance of which would be more obvious to the ancient Jews than to us. One assumes typology was overtly and covertly at work. However, our concern with morality (a good concern) raises the issue: Why does God's chosen one act in such a manner? Why doesn't God tell him to straighten up?
My understanding of Torah is that the Law (described by a variety of terms) spells out the expectations. The narratives illustrate the "lived reality" of a covenant people. This is why the practice of polygamy by the Patriarchs cannot be used as an argument against man-woman marriage today. The practices of the people in the Jewish Bible rarely conformed to the expectations of God. The Law provides the expectations (later supplemented by the Prophets and ultimately, in these last days, by Jesus).
Jacob gets the blessings, but then he flees. Esau remains behind and apparently thrives. Jacob, on the other hand, finds himself fooled by his father-in-law (switching daughters at the marriage) and under duress as his father-in-law constantly changes the deals he makes with Jacob. The story makes clear that God's blessing saves Jacob from disaster (couple with a practice, based on ancient assumptions, that what the sheep look at during mating actually impacts the coat design of the offspring). The trickster is now the victim, over and over. Meanwhile, Esau, without the blessing of Isaac, seems to have ended up just fine!
Fast forwarding some chapters to Joseph, we see the old man, Jacob, heart broken at the loss of his son. The other boys, jealous of Joseph, send him into slavery while telling the father that his blood stained coat is all that they found. Jacob suffers the loss deeply. One is tempted to say that the sadness weighs on him more greatly than any of the blessings he has. There is no clear statement in the Book that Jacob is being punished for his sins. However, the Joseph story does provide some narrative insights. When the brothers of Joseph come to Egypt in the plague, and Joseph puts them through the 'tests' we overhear them saying that it is all because of what they had done to the brother. In fact, that is true. Joseph was doing this for that reason. Yet, the text also implies that in the midst of human decisions, a divine hand is present to guide (redeem?) the process. It also reveals the context: belief that what we do comes back around again.
This is not karma. However, it is the Biblical theory of "fruits," you reap what you sow. One take away from Genesis and the Jacob cycle is that we need to read the whole story before jumping to conclusions about what God is doing. Jacob's guile does not allow him to escape the difficulties of life. In fact, it seems to have produced a backlash which cripples him, literally (wrestling match with God/angel/man) and figuratively (sorrow and pain). I think this is the revelation from God. O yes, coupled with God's promise to be with His people and achieve his goals--in spite of our sin and mischief!
Narrative theology invites reflection and insights in ways straight law and rules cannot. The ancient stories still ring true today. They provide us insight into the God we worship. And it is most helpful to avoid reading them as if they were written for us in our language and with our assumptions.