Meaning &
Message of the
Old Testament

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July 2002

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* 8-13 Prelims Week

August 2002

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* 26 National Heroes Day
28-29 SU Founders Day
12-17 Midterm Exams

September 2002

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October 2002

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* 7-11 Finals Week

Dear Students,

Kindly take time to visit this site regularly as notes, readings, illustrations and pointers to exams and quizzes will be placed here soon. Thanks!

- Callum Tabada
Instructor, Rel. 11 Class


(The article below is for July 29 - August 2 discussion)

His name is derived from a Hebrew word which means "He overreaches" or "He will overreach." This comes from the fact that Jacob was holding on to the heel of his twin brother (Isau) when they came out of their mother's womb (Genesis 25:26). The meaning of his name literally came to be realized in his life. First, when he obtained the birthright from his elder brother (Genesis 25:29-34). The second incident was when he stole the blessings from the lips of his dying father, blessings intended for Isau (Genesis 27). As a younger son, Jacob had no right to receive the lion's share of the family inheritance. Yet due to clever manipulation, trickery and deceit, Jacob was able to acquire the blessings from God. Compared with Isau, Jacob was a passionate and practical person in the affairs of the world. Isau seemed pathetic and lacked the sense of self-assertion to deserve to be chosen as God's channel to mediate his blessings to others. Therefore, despite the moral ambiguity in Jacob's behavior, the narratives have this clear conclusion: "…in the midst of the all-too-human quarrels over family and fortune God is at work, protecting and prospering his blessed." (I.D.B., II, 785). No matter how one looks at Jacob's actions, his act of deceiving his almost dying father with the collaboration of Rebbekah is certainly disturbing. But, in spite of this, God chose Jacob to be the heir of the promise. J.K. Kuntz states: "Divine mystery is accepted as extraordinary. This legend reminds Israel who she is. Her own election was not earned. Yahweh was not handing out rewards in response to human accomplishments." Kuntz continues: "… Jacob personifies the aspirations, struggles, self-assertion, and blessing that Israel knows to be her own. Jacob is Israel when Yahweh is least pleased with his people. He is Israel when life seems nothing more than the survival of the fittest" (1974:74).

He is Jacob's eleventh son and Rachel's first-born. Since Rachel is Jacob's favorite wife, Joseph naturally became Jacob's favorite son. The Joseph cycle of narratives depicts as semi-nomadic life. This means the family moved along with their flocks from pasture to pasture. However, they built permanent houses where the head of the tribe like Jacob stayed behind while the rest of the children followed their flocks. This is the reason Jacob sent Joseph to follow up and check on his brothers at Shechem. When the brothers saw Joseph coming, they plotted and did a dastardly act because of their hatred of him (Genesis 37:4). They would have killed him but because of the intervention of Reuben, they just threw him into a dry well. Later, through the suggestion of Judah, they sold him to a group of travellers going to Egypt (Genesis 37:21-28).

Meanwhile, in Egypt Joseph was sonld to Potiphar, the captain of the palace guard (Genesis 37:36; 39:1). In Potiphar's household, Joseph had his moral test: Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce him many times, and many times he revisited successfully. Unfortunately, the wife accused him falsely and Joseph was thrown into prison (Genesis 39:6-20). In all these trials, the narrator tells us that God was with Joseph.

One significant aspect of Joseph's life was his being a master of dreams. He did not only dream: he had the ability to interpret dreams. It was due to his early dreams that his elder brothers hated his so much (Genesis 37:5-11). While he was in Egypt, Joseph became famous for his ability to interpret dreams accurately. It started while he was inside the jail (Genesis 40:1-23) interpreting the dreams of his fellow prisoners. When the Pharaoh had his dreams and no one among the magicians and wisemen of Egypt could explain the dreams (Genesis 41:8, 15), Joseph was summoned from prison to appear before the Pharaoh. True enough, Joseph was able to interpret the meaning of the Pharaoh's dreams. The Pharaoh himself recognized the wisdom of Joseph as "a man who has God's spirit in him" (Genesis 41:38). So Joseph was appointed governor over all Egypt, second in command to the Pharaoh. "I will put you in charge of my country, and all my people will obey your orders. Your authority will be second only to mine" (Genesis 41:40).

As an administrator, Joseph was very successful. Durign the seven years of plenty, he collected all the surplus harvest and stored them all over the land (Genesis 41:47-49). So when the seven years of famine came, Joseph made available the storehouses and sold grain to the people. "People came to Egypt from all over the world to buy grain because the famine was severe everywhere" (Genesis 41:57).
This was the context of the encounter between Joseph and his brothers. They came to buy grain in Egypt; Joseph recognized them immediately but they did not recognize him. When finally Joseph revealed his real identity to his brothers, he cried. He said to them: "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be upset or blame yourselves because you sold me here. It was really God who sent me ahead of you to save people's lives…. God sent me ahead of you to rescue you in this amazing way…" (Genesis 45:4-5, 7).
The he asked his brothers to bring their father to Egypt including all their children and let them settle in Goshen. After Jacob died, Joseph's brothers were again very apprehensive because of their guilt. They went to him and asked for forgiveness. He reiterated his assurance saying: "You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people…" (Genesis 50:20).
Aside from the highly polished style and thoroughly comprehensible narrative, the Joseph cycle of stories "reveals important aspects of Israel's theology and self-awareness" in three ways. First, ancient Israel persisted in regarding herself as a covenant community existing under the sovereignty of God…" In the continuous retelling of the stories "Israel had ample opportunity to mediate on her own condition as a covenant people." Secondly, the Joseph stories "helped Israel understand that in the midst of human alienation and struggles, success might visit the divinely blessed." And Joseph became God's answer to the problem of the world. Thirdly, the stories about Joseph "helped Israel to understand herself in an international context." The stories present a wise man "who does the right thing at the right time." Through Joseph, Yahweh was at work the effects of which "reach far beyond the confines of ancient Israel" (Kuntz, 77).

D. Moral and Religious Beliefs of the Patriarchs

From the perspective of Christian morality, many of the practices of the patriarchs are morally ambiguous and questionable. However, it must be pointed out that our moral norms now should not be used as standards to judge the customs and practices of peoples more than three thousand years ago. Nevertheless, sexual purity as an ideal was accorded highest regards as indicated by the story of how Joseph resisted the seductive advances of Potiphar's wife.

As for the religious beliefs of the patriarchs, we can characterize them in three ways. First, they possessed a firm faith in a personal God who is the sovereign ruler of the universe. Their experience of God was as intimate and as real as their fellowship with their human neighbors. God communicated with them and revelaed himself to them through dreams and other forms of theophany. They engaged in a personal "dialogue" with God. Thus, God was known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Subsequently, in Moses' time, it was known that God who spoke to his ancestors was the same God who appeared to him.

Seondly, fundamental to the religion of the patriarchs was the covenant idea. A covenant is an agreement or contract between two parties. Religiously speaking, it is a personal relationship and mutual agreement between God and the people. The usual covenant ceremony involved the cutting in half of one or more animals and for both contracting parties to pass through the divided animal sacrifice. The decisive element in the ceremony was the blood which symbolically made both parties "blood brothers."

The Hebrew firmly believed the God made a covenant with them, a covenant which they renewed in various ceremonials all through their history. In the original ceremony with Abraham, God promised to give Abraham an heir, to make a great nation out of his descendants, and to give them the land of Canaan. In return, Abraham and his descendants must be faithful to the terms of the covenant and observe God's laws.

Finally, patriarchal religion was a clan religion wherein the clan was regarded as God's family. Each patriarch performed the religious ceremonies and led worship for his family at certain shrines where sacrifices might be offered. Closely related with this was the common practice of the patriarchs to pronounce blessings or curses. It was held that when blessings or curses were pronounced by a godly man, they would take effect. They are like arorws, once released there would be no way to stop them or divert them. Blessings (or curses) were ways to express concern for one another within the covenant community.

God's Liberating Acts, by Melanio Aoanan, pp.20-23

Email me in case of any questions or clarifications:
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Last updated: Saturday, July 27, 2002