Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Stories of the Patriarchs

The stories of the partriarchs are somewhat less mythical in quality than the stories in Genesis 1-11, though the people involved are in many ways personification of later Israel (Jacob explicitly so). Curiously, they get precious little that could be characterized as "teaching" from God. Instead, the operative mode of God's authority in these stories is promise, though again with generous portions of providence.

The promises of God given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob aren't just information sprinkled into the narrative, they create the action. They are a means by which God brings his will to pass. I tend to think of Abraham as someone who heard from God all the time, but the text doesn't actually support this. Abraham only gets a few brief visits from God over the course of about 10 years and the few words he recieves must guide him.

But God isn't absent in between these theophanies. When Abram goes to Egypt and hands Sarai over to Pharaoh, God intervenes. I want to say "silently" but Pharaoh somehow knows why he suffered plagues. Likewise, when Abraham sends his servant to get a wife for Isaac, God acts without appearing.

The working out of Jacob's story is fasinating to me. While he's still in the womb, God gives Rebekah a promise concerning Jacob. Then Rebekah and Jacob lie, cheat and steal to bring about what God promised. Jacob's relationship with God is summed up in the incident where he wrestles to get a blessing. It seems to me God was determined to bless him either way, but at times the wrestling seems to unwittingly play into the will of God.

This theme finally bursts fully into view in the Joseph sequence. God reveals his will to Joseph in a dream. Everything in Joseph's life conspires against God's disclosed intentions, and it turns out all of it has turned out to bring about God's will.

So my conclusion is that in Genesis 12-50, the authority of God is exercised in two ways: divine promise and divine providence. As in chapters 1-11, God's authority in the world is seen primarily through direct action which come to pass regardless of human effort for or against them, but God's will enters individual lives through God's word.

7 comments:

Christopher said...

Just out of curiosity what do you think about the Akedah (Gen. 22)?
Peace,
Chris

Mata H said...

I keep wishing that you were either a pastor or a seminary professor. Or both.

Andy said...

Chris,

That's a pretty open-ended question. :-)

I'm immensely drawn to that story, but I'm never sure I know what it means.

As I'm thinking about it in response to your question, a resonance with the Eucharist struck me. According to Alexander Schmemann, the liturgy of the Eucharist is centered around the Church offering creation to God and God returning it in a blessed form. The fact that the offering immediately proceeds the Eucharist in the Lutheran liturgy seems to be representative of this. But specifically with regard to the Eucharistic elements, we offer bread and wine, symbolic of the sustenance for life that God has provided to us, and God in response blesses these elements and transforms them and gives us in return the body and blood of Christ.

And I think the story of the binding of Isaac can be read in something like this same way. God gives Abraham the son of the promise. Abraham offers Isaac back to God. God blesses the offering and returns it to Abraham with the fullness of the promise.

That story is so rich, you could talk about it every day and say something new. But that's what strikes me about it today.

But is there something specific you were asking about? Did you mean to ask about how that story speaks to my current theme of God exercising authority?

Andy said...

mata,

You flatter me.

I've thought about it. I'd love to go into the academic field, but I feel like I'd be doing it for me. I'm not sure it's what God wants me to do.

I have trouble imagining ever being a pastor simply because I have no organizational skills whatsoever.

Mata H said...

Andy, I really think you ought to consider it ...or at least (and it is far from "least") pray about it. I don't mean to be pushy, but I think you do have pastoral instincts. But you'll know if God is nudging you ...

Christopher said...

I was wondering in general actually, since you brought up the Patriarchs and I'm going to spend the next year doing nothing but studying Gen22 I was just curious what your take was. I like the Eucharistic resonence that you picked up.
Peace,
Chris

Andy said...

I take it since you referred to it as the Akedah that you're looking into Jewish perspectives. I'd be interested to hear about that. The story has such deep parallel to the story of Christ that it's hard to hear it apart from that.