The Shuvah Project #11 — True Hope

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary.

Judah recognized and said, “she is more righteous than I, since I did not give her Shelah, my son.”

-Genesis 38:26a

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s parsha contained: Joseph’s dreams, the sale of Joseph, deceptive Yibum (i.e. levirate marriage), Joseph in Potiphar’s house, and Joseph interpreting dreams in prison.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we highlighted how the second verse in our parsha Text states, these are the generations of Jacob (Genesis 37:2). Yet, we mostly hear about Joseph.

In Genesis 37:23, we read something specific to only Joseph. The Text adds a seemingly minor detail about a coat (perhaps an amazing technicolor dreamcoat). But, the detail may actually suggest Joseph ended up with two coats — a regular one and then an extra coat Jacob made him and gave him back in Genesis 37:3.

Why did Jacob give Joseph a second coat? Maybe a better question… was Jacob supposed to give Joseph anything extra?

If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved bear him sons, and if the unloved wife has the firstborn son, when that man gives what he has to his sons as an inheritance, he is not to show favoritism to the son of the loved wife as his firstborn over the firstborn of the unloved wife. He must acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved wife, by giving him two shares of his estate, for he is the firstfruits of his virility; he has the rights of the firstborn.

-Deuteronomy 21:15-17

Oh come on! That sounds a whole lot like the story we’re in!

Rachel is the loved wife. Joseph the loved son. And, Jacob seems to have shown Joseph favoritism by giving him the double portion… two coats, when it rightfully belonged to Reuben!

The Text is endlessly connected and the firstborn, favoritism issue continues to repeat itself.

It’s as if we’re being invited to see Jacob, in part, created the conditions for the sale of Joseph. Judah, and the other brothers, likewise. Maybe even Joseph himself played a role.

Nonetheless, the redemptive hand of God is at work through it all.

In the Joseph story, even as each human being pursues his or her narrowly defined goal, there seems to be another hand working: the hand of fate, or the Hand of heaven. Events are mysteriously conspiring to give human beings a second chance to somehow fix some of the greatest mistakes they’ve ever made in their lives. It is an astounding, but awe-inspiring, phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that bequeaths hope.

– Rabbi David Fohrman, emphasis added

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

M.D. Goulder makes the connection between what is said of Mary in our Luke Text (Luke 2:51) and what is said of Jacob in our parsha Text (Genesis 37:11).

The Luke Text says, His mother kept all these things in her heart (Luke 2:51). The Greek for kept here is diatēreō, also to watch thoroughly or carefully. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon connects diatēreō to only one spot in the Torah… Genesis 37:11.

The Genesis Text says, his father kept these things (Genesis 37:11). The Hebrew for kept here is shamar, also to guard, to protect, or attend to. In fact, it’s first use was in describing man’s role in the Garden back in Genesis 2:15.

I think the protecting or watching over offspring idea is, in part, where Rabbi Haim Sabato founded his assertion as to what was going on during the 17 unaccounted years of Joseph’s life. He says,

While his brothers tended sheep, Joseph sat before his father and learned from his behavior. He learned how his father remained whole after leaving Laban’s house. Joseph observed how Jacob had cleaved to the path of Torah even when he found himself alone, and how he had triumphed in his struggle. For seventeen years, Jacob prepared Joseph.

-Rabbi Haim Sabato, Rest for the Dove

Mary’s unplanned pregnancy was likely the talk of the town (e.g. her own husband almost divorced her). She was shunned by relatives in her hour(s) of giving birth (as discussed last week). But damned if she didn’t remain whole. And damned if she didn’t cleave to the path of Torah by following what’s written (Luke 2:23-24) and traveling to every Passover festival every year (Luke 3:41). And damned if she didn’t proclaim her triumph over struggle through the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56).

Just prior to young Jesus astounding teachers in the Temple Complex (Luke 2:46-47), the author of Luke decided to point out the 12 unaccounted years of Jesus’ life.

Wouldn’t it be something if His mother was His teacher?! 

Section Three (missing the mark):

Jesus was born into shit, literally. He was born into a stable where livestock pee and poop. The smell of manure infiltrated nostrils. Why? Because family turned their backs on his parents and, more importantly, God chose to enter the world this way.

Meanwhile, church’s around the country, by the direction of their pastors, are decking their halls and adorning their spaces (footnote #1). They are sanitizing the story.

We find ourselves approaching the first Sunday of Advent. In some places of worship, a single purple candle will be lit. This candle — signifies hope.

Can followers of Jesus really learn the story of hope when our places of worship look like shopping malls and store fronts?

My wife was a part of a trip providing whatever necessary to an organization on the front lines of cleaning up the ongoing mess of detained foreigners. The sewage system backed-up in a building that was going to create temporary peace, joy, love, and hope to persons recently released from the detention center. She was surrounded by feces and urine… just like the Christ child… to ensure foreigners… just like the Christ child… could meet God in flesh… just like the Christ child.

Meanwhile, pastors deck their halls.

I take solace in the statement Jewish sages made centuries ago in the Gemara:

If the damage a person caused was indirect, if they didn’t do the action causing the damage themselves, but did create the conditions that allowed someone else to do it, then a human court does not have the ability to require the person to repay the damage done.

But, although the person is not liable in earthly courts, they are liable in the heavenly court.

-As quoted by Rabbi David Fohrman

Almost as if from God’s perspective pastors will be held liable for the conditions they create through the stories they choose to tell with their lifestyles and their words.

In our parsha Text, although Tamar is about to be burned to death she simply sends Judah a message. Judah, a leader, could have easily covered up the truth and shirked responsibility. He didn’t. He chose to face hard truth and acknowledge responsibility for his actions.

So, I’m left with a few questions for modern-day leaders of God’s people…

Can you really talk about true hope when your christmas story has no sojourners?

Can you really talk about true love when your christmas story has no room for brokenness?

Can you really talk about true joy when your christmas story has no sorrow?

Can you really talk about true peace when your christmas story has never left the comfort and security of your embellished spaces?

Can you really talk about the true Christ child

Section Four (real-world applications):

I desperately want for you and I to encounter the true Christ child this christmas. 

To do so, we need to do the work of preparation. We need to ask ourselves the hard questions. We need to go into the stables of our lives (footnote #2).

In the Matriarchs and Patriarchs post, a footnote offered two Advent sermon series to engage this season. It’s worth repeating them again here: A Tale of Two Kingdoms and Emmanuel.

Pick one, or both. And, spend the necessary time preparing to meet the Christ child.

As I was reminded, our stories do not end in the stable. God meets us there and then… we move toward resurrection.

There’s true hope.

Next Week’s Readings: Genesis 41:1-44:17; Luke 3:1-20

  1. Remember, there is nothing evil about beauty itself, or even beautiful spaces. But, it’s a slippery slope as we’ve unpacked previously.
  2. The brilliant imagery of going into the stables, the messy places of our lives, was introduced to me by the leadership of RealLife on the Palouse.

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