Amram and Jochebed

Despite the Pharaoh’s edict that each *new-born Hebrew boy* be killed through being thrown into the Nile, Hebrew couples continued courageously to produce children.

One such Hebrew couple were Amram and his wife Jochebed. They already had a daughter, Miriam, and a son, Aaron, but they wanted another baby, and did – a boy.

Never had there been a more beautiful baby boy. Not only did Amram and Jochebed think this, everyone who saw him did too. He was so beautiful he could have been a baby girl.

The boy’s beauty was such that Jochabed became extra anxious that he not be discovered by an Egyptian and thrown into the Nile. So she came up with a plan.

First, she would ensure the baby was completely hidden during his first three months, a period when any human baby is at its most vulnerable. All the while, Amram would buildĀ  an elaborate basket out of bulrushes, that he would make watertight with clay and tar. When the baby-boy became old enough, Jochabed would put him in the basket, then take it to a place among the reeds close to the bank of the Nile river, and leave it bobbing on the water where the Pharaoh’s daughter, Hatshepsut, would be sure to see it when she came for her daily bathe there.

Jochebed’s plan made no sense to Amram, who loved his baby boy almost as much as Jochebed did.

“Allow me to explain” Jochebed said to him. “Absent the fruition of my plan, the chances of our dear baby boy being thrown into the Nile to drown are too big for my peace of mind. The thought of even the remotest chance of this happening causes me sleepless nights. It’s a situation I won’t tolerate. My doing nothing isn’t an option. I must do something.”

“I do see your logic, dear Jochebed” said Amram, “but the something you do should have a reasonable chance of success. Otherwise it’s best to do nothing, and just leave everything to fate.”

“This is weak talk” said Jochabed. “It’s not the talk of a strong man, but of a weak and silly woman. To think I let you talk me into marrying you. I had my pick of strong manly men, and I end up with you. What could I have been thinking?”

“We can talk about this another time, but not now” said Amram. “The fate of our dear baby boy is much more important. I can’t think of a more inappropriate moment than now for you to pick a fight with me about something that may have hurt your feelings long ago. It shows how self-absorbed you are. With all my faults, I’m still the best husband you could have. Now, let’s get back to talking about your plan for our baby boy.”

“I’ll be glad to” said Jochebed. “As I was going to explain before you interrupted, I want Hatshepsut to bring up our baby boy. He would become a member of the Pharaoh’s household, and therefore be exempt from being thrown into the Nile by over-zealous Egyptian law-enforcement officials.”

“How’re you so sure Hatshepsut will want to bring our boy up?”

“He is so beautiful, no one can resist him. I just know he’ll have the same irresistible effect on Hatshepsut as soon as she sees him. I’m not worried at all.”

“Well, I am. But, as I always seem to do, I’ll go along with what you say. However, if your plan turns out badly, I’m walking away from our marriage.”

“Is that a threat; or a promise?”

Source: Exodus 2, 1 – 3

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Shiphrah and Puah Have Their Say

With Joseph *finally dying* at the age of one-hundred-and-ten, it was inevitable that his eleven surviving brothers would sooner or later die too. So they did, along with all the others of their generation. The following generation took, then, its place in the sun – the Egyptian sun – which was a harsh and fierce sun, but a sun that nonetheless the new generation of Hebrews – or, if you like, Israelites – thrived in. Well, at least at first.

In their Egyptian refuge of Goshen, the Israelites – or, if you like, Hebrews – conscientiously and innovatingly farmed the land, which eventually became the most prosperous area in all of Egypt. Despite working so hard to achieve this, they still found the time and energy to procreate to the utmost. Thus their numbers grew to an extent that made Egyptians nervous.

A new Pharaoh had ascended the Egyptian throne, and he fanned the flames of these fears. Unfortunately for the Hebrews, this new Pharaoh was not able to put their presence in Egypt into perspective, for he had never heard of Joseph – the Hebrew who had become prime minister of Egypt, and who, through his implementing wise policies, had enabled Egypt to cope successfully with the seven-year famine in the Levant that had devastated Egypt’s neighbours. So, but for Joseph, Egypt would have been devastated too. However, in his ignorance, the new Pharaoh didn’t think about this.

Hence the Pharaoh kept saying at rallies, “My fellow Egyptians, these Hebrews have become too many and too strong for us. We must take precautions to see that they don’t increase any further; or we shall find that, if war breaks out, they will join the enemy and fight against us, and become the masters of Egypt. We just can’t have that.”

***

In order that their spirits be broken and their libidos dampened, the Hebrews were made into slaves, and, ironically, *through the very same laws* that had enabled Joseph to make Egyptian workers into slaves long ago.

Day by day, year by year, from sun-up to sun-down, the Hebrews now toiled in the fields and in the mines and on construction sites, while being lashed with the whips their Egyptian overseers wielded with relish. All this under the unrelenting rays of the fierce Egyptian sun and attendant mugginess.

If the Pharaoh thought this would end Hebrews proliferating he was dead wrong. Through their belief in God, they found meaning in their servitude. So their spirits remained unbroken and their libidos undampened. They continued multiplying.

Eventually realising this, the desperate Pharaoh summoned Shiphrah and Puah, who were the two chief Hebrew midwives. After the usual introductory pleasantries, the Pharaoh said, “You are to instruct the midwives who report to you that they are to kill all the boy-children they deliver. The girl-children, though, may be spared.”

“Please Your Majesty” said Shiphrah, “why are you ordering this? This does sound very odd, and very cruel, and goes against everything we, as midwives, hold dear. May we ask the reason for this order?”

“I normally give orders with no explanations” said the Pharaoh. “But I’ll be nice, and will make an exception for you. I have simply found it necessary for the good of Egypt that the numbers of Hebrews must not increase. And how better to bring this about than by killing all Hebrew boy-babies by throwing them into the Nile?”

The other midwife, Puah, chipped in, “Your Majesty, quite apart from the barbarity of your plan, killing all Hebrew boy babies at birth won’t be possible, not even remotely possible. You see, because Hebrew women have to work so hard and so long each day, they’ve become in such good physical shape that giving birth is quite easy. Also, you can’t most times even tell if a Hebrew woman is with child because she’s in such good physical shape. To give birth, she needs only to squat down somewhere, and the baby comes out, and she goes back to work in the fields the next day. Hence we, as midwives, help deliver only a small percentage of Hebrew babies born.”

“Even given what you say” said the Pharaoh, “you still deliver some boy-babies. Each boy baby you kill will still help stabilise your numbers. Now, I’m finished talking. Do as I order, else you’ll be very sorry.”

Shiphrah and Puah went back to their duties.

Source: Exodus 1

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Joseph Elucidates

Having *wailed their anguish* Jacob’s sons went about burying him. This involved more than just digging a hole and dumping Jacob’s corpse in it, as might have been appropriate had Jacob been just any old Canaanite, instead of a Founding Father of the new nation of Israel that he was.

According to their father’s instructions the twelve sons of Jacob carried the body to a field called Machpelah, which was near Mamre, that Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had bought as a family cemetery from *Ephron the Hittite*. After lugging the body under the scorching Levantine sun to Machpelah field, the sons then had to locate the cave there where Jacob said he must be buried.

Having finally found the cave, the sons dug a big hole inside it, in which they reverentially laid Jacob’s body. They then re-filled – also reverentially – the hole. After that, Joseph gave a short eulogy of his now buried father to the throng who had gathered. Next morning everyone embarked on the long journey back to Goshen, in Egypt.

***

Once back in Goshen the brothers, excepting Joseph, gave voice among themselves to the troubling thoughts that had assailed them during the journey back.

“I’m going to guess we’re all thinking the same thing” said Reuben, the eldest.

“What might that be, brother?” said Simeon, the second eldest.

“Well…….you know……..about what little brother Joseph could now do to us in revenge for what *we did to him before*. I mean, I don’t think his thoughts about us can be kindly, despite his benign exterior.”

“You have a point, brother. What do you suggest?”

“I’ve thought this all out. Let’s tell little brother Joseph that our father Jacob had told us to ask him to forgive us for what we did to him all those years ago, for we were young and foolish and acted like the young and foolish do, and that we didn’t mean him any harm, for we returned to the well and he was gone, so there was nothing we could do.”

“What have we to lose?”

***

When the brothers went to Joseph and said to him what they’d agreed to say to him, Joseph said, “My brothers, that is patently a lie. It confirms our father’s very perceptive view of you that *you are scum*. Nonetheless you need have no fears. Really. I mean this. I, as our father’s favourite, now wear his mantle of God’s representative on Earth. So that when you now speak with me, you’re speaking with God. Hence whatever I do to you, it’s really God doing it. God wishes not to harm you. Therefore I won’t harm you.”

“That’s awfully good of you” said Reuben.

“If you’d been listening properly you wouldn’t have said that” said Joseph. “It’s not awfully good of me. It’s awfully good of God. Let me elucidate. If you hadn’t thrown me down the well, the Midianites wouldn’t have found me, so they wouldn’t have sold me to the Ishmaelites, so I wouldn’t have got to Egypt, so I wouldn’t have been re-sold to Potiphar, whose wife wouldn’t have accused me of molesting her, so I wouldn’t have been put in jail, so I wouldn’t have met there the baker and butler of the Pharaoh, so I wouldn’t have interpreted their dreams, so I wouldn’t have got to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream, so he wouldn’t have made me prime minister, so I wouldn’t have administered successfully the famine, so I wouldn’t have got you all into Egypt from Canaan where you would surely have died from the famine there. Do you get the picture now?”

***

Joseph and his brothers remained in Egypt the rest of their lives. Joseph lived to be one-hundred-and-ten. This was not as long as his great-grandfather Abraham’s one-hundred-and-seventy-five; and not as long as his grandfather Isaac’s one-hundred-and-eighty; and not as long as his father Jacob’s one-hundred-and-forty-seven.

Still, Joseph’s comparatively short one-hundred-and-ten wasn’t to be sneezed at. After all, how many men today – despite cushy lives that the people of those very long-ago days couldn’t even imagine – live to be one-hundred-and-ten?

Source: Genesis 50, 12-26

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Mourning of Egypt

As soon as Jacob had *stopped breathing*, Joseph threw himself on him, weeping and kissing his face. This sort of behaviour is what prime ministers exhibited then – 4000 years ago. Today they behave more circumspectly. At least outwardly they do. What a difference 4000 years makes.

After having composed himself, Joseph ordered the physicians in his service to embalm Jacob’s body. This was done in forty days. Compared with today this was a long time. Today, embalming takes no more than an hour, although applying the cosmetics, and dressing and casketing the body may take several hours. Still, it’s a lot less than the forty days this used to take.

The Egyptian nation officially mourned Jacob’s death for seventy days. This says much for Egyptians then, given that Jacob was a Canaanite Hebrew.

Then there was Joseph’s promise to Jacob that when he died, he would accompany his body from Goshen (in Egypt) to his native Canaan where he would be buried next to his (Jacob’s) grandfather Abraham, and father Isaac. In those days – 4,000 years ago – this journey took at least 11 days. So it would take 11 days to get there, and 11 days to return. And not to speak of the few days it would take in Canaan arrange the burial and burial service.

Joseph could therefore count on being away at least a month from his official duties as prime minister of Egypt. How would Egypt cope in his absence? This was on Joseph’s mind when he asked the Pharaoh for official leave.

“That’s quite alright old chap” said the Pharaoh. “Honouring his father’s dying request to be buried in these circumstances, no matter how inconvenient and onerous they are, is what any decent prime minister would do. Egypt, now on a firm economic and political footing thanks to your stewardship, will do just fine while you’re away. To show my appreciation for what you’ve done for Egypt, I’m going to let you take the dignitaries of my court and the dignitaries of all Egypt with you – all these in addition to your own household and your father’s household. I’m therefore putting much trust in you, that I just know you, as prime minister of Egypt, will honour.”

Hence the retinue that Joseph took with him on this journey to Canaan was large.

***

On arrival at the threshing floor of the area of Atad, which was beside the Jordan river, in the vicinity of which the burial would take place, Joseph and his retinue set up camp. He decreed seven days of mourning for his father. Whereupon everyone began wailing loudly, so loudly that the local inhabitants, wanting to keep on the good side of the prime minister of mighty Egypt, renamed the area Abel-mizraim, which in today’s English means “mourning of Egypt”.

Now, all that remained was to go ahead with the actual burial.

Source: Genesis 50, 1-11

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Scum

After Jacob had *blessed Joseph’s two sons* Manasseh and Ephraim, he said to Joseph, “Please tell your 11 brothers I wish to speak with them now, and you too.”

When they had all assembled before Jacob in his tent around his bedside, he said to them, “Thank you for being here, boys. This is the last time I’ll speak with you, for I’m momentarily to be ‘Called Home’ by God. So you won’t have me to kick around any more.”

“Do I detect bitterness, Father?” said Reuben the eldest.

“You could call it that. I’ve much to be bitter about. With one exception, you boys have been so big a disappointment to me, and have caused me so much pain, that you’ve shortened my time on earth. If only I’d had 12 daughters instead of the 12 sons I got.”

“We might have turned out better if you’d been a more attentive father” said Simeon the second son.

“You might have, but only marginally, for sons are mostly just trouble, as you boys have shown. I will confess, though, that who your mothers were, affected how I looked upon you. This, in turn, affected you. It’s by now no secret that Leah, who was the mother of six of you boys, tricked me into marrying her. She *stole into my bed* in the dead of one night, pretending she was my beloved Rachel. So, under the laws of our people, she automatically became my wife.”

Jacob paused to take a swallow of water, then continued, “Although Leah was plain-looking, she made up for it through her amazing wiles in our marriage-bed. Where she learned them I do not know. She played my body like the strings of a lute. She so stoked the fire in my loins, that, consumed in its white heat, I was as a frenzied wild animal. But after each encounter I loathed myself and hated my weakness. Hence in you of my sons born to Leah, I saw the me who I loathed and the lust I hated. You, the sons of Leah who I fathered, were the sons I visited my sins upon. You, in turn, will have visited them upon your own sons, who in their turn will visit these sins upon their sons.

“Are you letting us off the hook, then?” said Reuben, who was a son born of Leah.

“No, I’m not letting you off the hook, or, to put it more felicitously, I’m not absolving you. There comes a day in the life of any man when he must take responsibility for the sins of his mother and father that live within him, so that he’s no longer at the effect of them. The sins that live within him will never die, but, by becoming aware of them and therefore becoming responsible for them, he becomes his own charioteer, rather than his inherited sins becoming his charioteers.”

“Beautifully put” said Joseph, who was a son born of Jacob’s beloved Rachel.

“You would say that, wouldn’t you, Brother,” said Reuben.

Jacob turned to Reuben, and said, “I can never forget that you *seduced Bilhah*, the mother of your brothers Dan and Naphtali. For what you did, I’ll always see you as scum.”

Turning to Simeon and Levi, Jacob said, “I can never forget the bloodthirstiness by which you *slaughtered the Shechemites*. From all I’ve heard, you enjoyed this bloodletting for its own sake. Not only that, you created many unnecessary enemies for us. I’ll therefore always see you as scum too. To think I fathered you. What does this say about me?”

***

Jacob went on to address each of his other sons, about most of whom he wasn’t complimentary either, although he didn’t go so far as to tell them they were actually scum.

Joseph was the exception. Jacob praised him fulsomely, calling him the prince among his sons. But then, Joseph was the first son Jacob fathered by Rachel, the wife who was the light of his life, and therefore the princess among his wives.

Jacob then said to all the assembled sons, “Although, with the exception of Joseph, I consider most of you either scum, or something close, this doesn’t seem what God thinks, because He blesses you, thereby showing that His ways are inscrutable to us mortals. Each of you, through God’s blessing, will constitute one of the 12 tribes that in whole will become the nation of Israel – the nation that will bring God’s word to all the earth’s peoples.”

Joseph ended by asking that he be buried in the cave in Canaan where Abraham and Isaac were buried, and Leah too. Joseph on behalf of his brothers assured Jacob this would be done. Whereupon Jacob drew his feet up on to his bed, laid back and stopped breathing.

Source: Genesis 49

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The Times They Are A-Changing

Having now acquired *absolute control* over the people of Egypt because they were now slaves, and having acquired all their land and livestock, Joseph could now turn his attention to his father, Jacob, who was nearing the day he would die.

“Joseph, my boy” said Jacob, “I’m feeling more and more that I’m to die soon. When this happens I want to be buried in Canaan.”

“Egypt’s not good enough for you, Father?”

“It’s not a question of Egypt not being good enough for me, it’s a question of where I truly want to buried, which is in Canaan where the graves of my forefathers are. Besides, I know God wants it that I’m buried in Canaan.”

“So then, you expect me to bring your body all the way back to Canaan when you’ve breathed your last?”

“In a word: yes.”

“I’m very busy, Father. Being Prime Minister of Egypt demands all my time. Egypt could fall apart during the time I take your body to Canaan and then return.”

“It’s very human to think one is indispensable, son. But someone always steps into the breach in an emergency. Egypt will do fine without you for a short while. You’ll see.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“It’s not my word you have to take, son, but God’s.”

***

The years went by. One day Joseph was told Jacob, still in Goshen, had taken a turn for the worst. Not having seen his father in quite long, Joseph thought it time for another visit.

“Come on boys” he said to his two young sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, “let’s go see Grandpa. It’s time you met him.”

Meanwhile Jacob was told Joseph was on his way to Goshen. He summoned up the strength to sit up in bed and tell his servants to wash him, give him a clean shirt, and trim his beard, so he could look as a venerable Patriarch should.

***

Joseph’s chariot on arrival in Goshen clattered into Jacob’s encampment area amidst billowing dust. Joseph sprang out and entered Jacob’s tent.

“Father, I hear you haven’t been at all well. I knew I had to come and see you.”

Jacob said, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in Canaan and blessed me. He said to me in these words ‘I will make you fruitful and increase your descendants until they become a host of nations. I will give this land to your descendants after you as a perpetual possession’………”

“Er…..I’ve heard all this before, Father,” said Joseph , “I haven’t come here to hear it again. I’m here because I’m concerned about your health……..”

Jacob, however, wasn’t to be side-tracked “……..your two sons, who were born to you in Egypt before I came here, shall be counted as my sons……..”

“You appear to be confused, Father. Manasseh and Ephraim are my sons. You are their grandfather. I and they are happy about this……”

“Sorry son, they’re to be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are. But, should you beget more sons, they shall be yours. You have God’s word on this.”

Joseph motioned Manasseh and Ephraim who were standing outside, to enter the tent.

“Who are these?” said Jacob.

“My boys. Father, this is Manasseh my eldest, and this is his little brother Ephraim. Boys, this here is your grandfather. Say ‘How do you do'”.

Before they could do so, Jacob had enveloped them in his arms, “Ephraim, Manasseh, what beautiful names, what beautiful boys. This is indeed a happy day for me in my old age.”

After the embrace Jacob laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head, and his left hand on Manasseh’s.

“Father, it’s your right hand that must go on Manasseh because he’s the eldest, and your left hand on Ephraim because he’s the younger.”

“I know what I’m doing, son” said Jacob, “I have it from God that of the two boys it will be Ephraim who shall be the greater. But Manasseh will get his due too, only not as much as Ephraim.”

“This is unjust” said the furious Joseph. “The first-born is always the greater. It’s always been like this with us Hebrews.”

“No doubt” said Jacob, “but the times they are a-changing.”

Source: Genesis 47, 27-31; 48

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Not Quite Cricket

Having settled his entire extended family *in Goshen*, Joseph turned his attention back to the huge problem that beset all of Egypt, which was the terrible famine.

Joseph, as Prime Minister, had set up the plan whereby Egyptian food-growers had to give, as taxes to the state, one fifth of the food *they produced*. This was during the years of plenty, when it still rained. Now, however, the rains had stopped, seemingly never to return, so food was no longer growing.

Where, then, could Egyptians now get their food, but from the granaries in which Joseph had stored the food he’d collected as tax. Although Egyptians could lawfully now get from Joseph this food, they still had to pay money for it. This does seem, today, from four thousand years on, a little unfair, for it constituted in effect double taxation. That, though, was how it was.

However, the longer the drought continued, the more the money-savings of Egyptians ran out. Soon their money was gone. A large crowd came to Joseph. Its spokesman said to him, “My Lord, give us food, or we shall die before your eyes. Unfortunately we can’t pay for it because we’ve no money left.”

“Mmmm” said Joseph, “you do have a problem. Tell you what, I’ll give you food for your cattle and sheep, that I’ll accept in lieu of money. How about it?”

“I suppose we don’t have much choice, do we” said the spokesman.

***

Egyptians, after going home and returning with all their cattle and sheep, received from Joseph’s granaries enough food for a year. When the year was finished and it still hadn’t rained, the crowd again sought out Joseph.

“My Lord” said the spokesman, “give us more food, or we shall die before your eyes. Unfortunately we can’t pay for it because we’ve no cattle and sheep left.”

“You can’t keep doing this, you know,” said Joseph, “I expect you think I’ll now give you food for nothing. This would be most unEgyptian.”

“I agree, my Lord” said the spokesman. “So we’ve come up with a plan that I beg you’ll at least consider.”

“Tell me about it.”

“My Lord, seeing as we’ve nothing left but our bodies and our lands, we propose that the Egyptian state, in the person of His Majesty the Pharaoh, becomes the owner of us and our lands, in exchange for the food we need.”

“I like what you say. It’s well thought-out. Logical. I myself couldn’t have come up with anything better. In the name of His Majesty the Pharaoh, I agree to this plan.”

Hence Egyptians became slaves, accepting it better to be a slave but alive, than to be free but dead.

***

All the foregoing applied, though, only to the average Egyptian, but not to priests, of which there were many. Priests, as priests, weren’t deemed average, and so had exalted status. Again, from four thousand years on, this seems a little unfair. Not quite cricket. But that’s how it was.

Source: Genesis 47, 13-26

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