Thursday, January 21, 2010

Story Time: Joseph, part 1

Over the last few days I’ve been reading the stories of Joseph. Those of you at Central who have been doing Bible in a Year have been reading the same stuff. Joseph is another one of my favorite stories to tell and I had so much fun doing the telling of Exodus 17:8-15 that I decided to do Joseph as well. Joseph’s story starts in Genesis 29 and goes through chapter 50, with lots of sides stories thrown in for good measure, so, in an effort not to overwhelm you or myself, I’ll tell this story in parts.

Part 1
Joseph’s story starts with his father Jacob (also known as Israel). His story actually starts before then with the story of Jacob’s father, Isaac, whose story starts with the story of his father, Abraham, whose story starts…you get the picture.
Now, for reasons we aren’t going to discuss here (it has to do with deception and trickery and a death threat), Jacob was living away from his immediate family. He was living with a relative named Laban. (Laban was Jacob’s mother’s brother…so his uncle). Jacob had been living with Laban and working for him for some time when he fell in love with his cousin, Rachel who was very beautiful. Laban offered to pay Jacob for the work he had been doing so Jacob and Laban made a deal in which Jacob would work for Laban in exchange for Rachel. This sounds rather crazy today to our Western minds – working in exchange for a wife, and that wife being your cousin – but that is the way things were done there and there was nothing wrong with it. Laban agreed to the deal and seven years later there was a wedding. Laban however was not the most honest person. Either that or his desire for honor overcame his honesty. For whatever reason he did not hold up his end of the deal. When Jacob woke up in the morning after his first night as a married man, his wife took off her veil (he hadn’t seen her yet due to Jewish custom) and instead of beautiful Rachel being there, it was her older sister Leah, who was not as beautiful in Jacob’s eyes. (In Laban’s family it went against custom to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one was married) Jacob was pretty upset with having been tricked, although it kind of served him right since he had tricked his twin brother out of both his birthright and his father’s blessing, but that’s another story. So Laban and Jacob struck another deal – another seven years of work and then Jacob would get Rachel, the beautiful sister he loved. This time there was no trick and he married Rachel. So after 14 years of work Jacob has married his cousins, the sisters Leah and Rachel. Being married to more than one person was not frowned upon then as much as it is now.
Leah had a servant named Zilpah and Rachel’s servant was named Bihlah. They’ll become more important in a little bit.
Now even though adults tell us they don’t play favorites, they do. Even Jacob did. It was very obvious to everyone that he loved Rachel more than he loved Leah. Now YHWH knew that Jacob didn’t love Leah, so to make up for it, he decided to bless Leah with children, while not allowing Rachel to have children. One after another Leah had four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah.
This frustrated Rachel who had not had any children yet. I can imagine that there was a little bit of sibling rivalry going on between Rachel and Leah. So, since she wasn’t able to have children she gave her servant Bilhah to Jacob so that he could make babies with her. This is another ancient Jewish tradition. Since Bilhah belonged to Rachel, any babies that she had would belong to Rachel. So Bilhah had a son and Rachel named him Dan. Then Bilhah had another son, whom Rachel named Naphtali.
So at this point Leah has four sons (Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah) and Rachel has two sons through Bilhah (Dan and Naphtali).
Leah wants to get in on the action so she gives her servant, Zilpah to Jacob. Just like with Bilhah, any children that Zilpah has will belong to Leah. Zilpah’s first son was named Gad and her second was named Asher.
Now things are really rolling. There’s a battle going on between Rachel and Leah to see who can bear Jacob the most children. At one point they even make a deal with each other along the lines of “if you do this for me you can sleep with Jacob”. I wonder how Jacob felt to be in the middle of all this, but I’m not a man, so I have no idea.
Leah had two more sons and a daughter – Isachar, Zebulun, and Dinah.
Then Rachel got a turn again and gave birth to Joseph, the main character in our story.
A bunch of stuff happened, including Jacob leaving Laban and being reunited with his brother Esau, Rachel stealing Laban’s gods, Dinah being violated and whole bunch of people being circumcised and then killed and some pretty cool meetings with YHWH.  If this was a story about Jacob, I'd tell these parts, but it's about Joseph, so these parts aren't as important for this story.
After all this Rachel finally had another son, Benjamin. Unfortunately, Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin.
So in total Jacob had 12 sons (in order): Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Isachar, Zeubulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. He also had one daughter, Dinah.
Since Rachel herself had born Joseph and Benjamin, they were Jacob’s favorites, which made them the least favorite of all the others. Which, as you can imagine, caused some problems.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more later!

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