Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jacob's Family

"This is the story of the family of Jacob," so begins chapter 37.  Of course, we've been reading the story of Jacob's family already, but there are a few new twists and turns with today's reading.  First, Rachel has died giving birth to Jacob's youngest child, Benjamin.  Technically he was fist called Benoni (Son of Sorrow), and it tells us something about Jacob's frame of mind that he decides to change his son's name to Benjamin (The Favored Son or Son of my Right Hand).  I find this part of Jacob's story a real tragedy, although I guess you could make the case that his whole life has been tragic.  What is the one thing Jacob has ever truly loved in life?  His sons?  His wealth?  His wives?  No, only Rachel.  In spite of unlawfully being married to Rachel's sister, in spite of the bitter rivalry that caused within his family, in spite of a father-in-law who would much rather kill Jacob then let his daughters go with him, in spite of murderous, violent sons, Jacob had always maintained his love for Rachel, and now she was gone forever.  All he has left of her is memories and a child.  At her death he goes off to be by himself, a temporary hermitage beyond the Tower of Eder.  While he's gone, Rueben (Jacob's oldest son) claims one of Jacob's wives as his own, sleeping with her, and Jacob doesn't even seem to care.  We could read this as a sign of Jacob's weakness, but Jacob isn't the weak type.  He's the wrestle with God and never let go type.  I think what's going on here is that Jacob is absolutely heart broken.  He has fallen into a deep depression.  The Bible doesn't tell us that, but I wonder.

Well, after another genealogy bridge (genealogies in the Old Testament usually act as transitions between main story lines), the story of Jacob continues on, but now the focus is on his children, and it begins with a retelling of the Cain and Abel story.  God places his blessing on a younger son, in this case Joseph, and the older son, in this case ten of them, decides to hill him.  Luckily this time around Reuben holds back the full force of his brothers' hatred and keeps Joseph alive.  However, someone has to watch the flocks, and while he's away they sell Joseph into slavery.  Did he end up like Abel, dead in a field?  No, which makes a very big difference in how this story will unfold, but the brothers tell Jacob he's dead all the same.  For Jacob this is the last straw.  He just lost his wife and now he has lost one of her two sons.  He falls into a depression again, saying that he's on his way to meet his son in death, mourning all the way.

Depressing isn't it, but there is a silver lining among all the clouds.  A few posts back I talked about transitional figures within families and how often times they appear every three or four generations.  Joseph is the fourth generation since God called Abraham, and he is the transitional figure for this family.  By the time his part in this narrative is over, this family will be ostracized aliens no longer.  His dreams will come true.

Stopping point: Genesis 37

1 comment:

  1. Jacob's story contrasts a family built on love with a family that does not have that foundation (oddly enough, in the same family). The transitional son, the one who seems to have become a stable adult, came from the loving relationship of Jacob and Rachel. The other sons came from a union largely lacking in love. It makes me feel that there are many victims in this story, victims of a culture that does not allow for families built out of romantic love.