Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Upside Down Kingdom

In my circle, a popular way to refer to the Kingdom of God is as the Upside Down Kingdom.  This is largely based off of the teachings of Jesus (The first shall be last; the last shall be first.  The one who wants to be master must be servant.  I did not come to be served, but to serve, etc.).  However, we make a mistake when we think of the teachings of Jesus as new ideas to God.  In our Reading Through the Bible in a Year reading group, there has been some confusion over why God and other main characters in Genesis keep giving blessing to the second born instead of the first.  What is the purpose of that?  Well, the purpose is that God is a god who takes those who have nothing, who are at the bottom, and lifts them up.  We see this with Abraham's family in general, who are aliens and wanderers in a foreign land, and yet, God keeps blessing them and providing for them.  During Joseph's conversations with his family as he is moving them down to Egypt, we see this playing itself out on an even grander scale.

When Joseph eats a meal with his brothers, the Egyptians refuse to dine with the Hebrews.  The Hebrews were beneath them.  Egyptians mixing with Hebrews was considered an abomination.  Later, when Joseph instructs his family on how to ask for land, he makes sure to tell them that they need to emphasize the fact that they are shepherds, because shepherds were abhorrent to Egyptians also.  Joseph was guarantying that his family would be left alone.  Joseph's family, as both Hebrew and shepherds, were doubly disgraced in the eyes of the Egyptians.

There has been much debate over the origin of the title "Hebrew" given to Abraham's family.  Many believe it is somehow connected to the Mesopotamian word Habiru or the Egyptian equivalent Apiru.  I won't go into the nature of that controversy now, but I think it likely that the title "Hebrew" is somehow connected to these other words.  If so, that is important.  To be called a Habiru or Apiru was not a compliment.  It's similar to the slang "dumb redneck" in our culture.  The Habiru/Apiru were uncultured, unsophisticated, unintelligent, trouble making nomads.  The Egyptians thought of the Habiru/Apiru much like some people have thought of the Gypsies.  So, if the Hebrews received their name by being associated with the Habiru/Apiru, the Egyptians really did see them as the least of the least.

But not God...  God takes the least family, and the least children among that family, and makes his presence known on earth through them.  God's kingdom is an upside down kingdom.  It has always been that way.  When Jesus, as the incarnation of God, walked among humanity, he did not come with a new message.  He came so that we could all look God in the face and be called back to who he truly was and what he truly wanted for us.  God has always worked through "the least of these."  We don't have to wait until the gospel of Matthew to see this.  We see it already in Genesis.

Stopping point: Genesis 47

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