Thursday, November 22, 2007

Famous Last Words: Genesis

I've always been fascinated by people's last words. This fascination is drawing me at the moment to the last verse of books of the Bible. Dare I embark on another project? Ah, what the heck! How about I share what these verses seem to say to me, what I take from them? Hope it's life-giving to someone else out there at some time on your journey.

Let's start at the beginning (or the end of the beginning at least): Genesis 50:26...

"So Joseph died at the age of 110. They embalmed him and his body was placed in
a coffin in Egypt."

O-kay. What am I going to do with that?

Well, for starters, I imagine the book of Genesis as a collection of stories, passed down in oral form (before it was eventually written down centuries later), told around the meal table or fireplace.

Imagine the scene: the Hebrews are born into slavery and die early deaths as slaves. The 11 year old boy is slumped on the floor of his hovel, as are his parents. They are bone-weary and depressed. He looks up at his father and asks,
"How did it come to this? Why are we born to this [expletive deleted] life?!"

"Well, son, to understand that, you have to go back to start. In the beginning..."

And over the following months, the stories are told, and then finally the father reaches these last two sentences, the ones about Joseph's death and burial. And here the story ends. And the father says to the son, "And that's how we got to where we are."

What do I take away from that? 3 things (like any good preacher!):
  1. The story's not over yet. I know this from verses 24-5 (the penultimate verses of Genesis). A promise had been made: "God will surely come for you to lead you out of this land of Egypt." If I was the Hebrew boy, I hope I would come to believe that the current situation was not the end, that there was hope, that Joesph's coffin was an unfinished sentence rather than death sentence on the Hebrew people. Whatever unfinished business is in my life, I do believe that my Lord Jesus will finish it. That's his way.
  2. Our lives are part of a bigger picture. Joseph didn't get back to Canaan himself, but made his brothers swear to take his bones back. That means he felt like he'd missed the Return by a few years at most (though we know it was more like a few centuries!). He honestly felt himself a part of the story that had started with Abraham (way way before his own birth) and would be completed after his own death. In the same way, I have received understanding and resources from those who came before me, as well as certain mandate, and I hopefully have sown further seeds of compassion mission mercy and humour with my own sons and others I've been priveleged to mentor... And we need only do our part, not stress over things outside our control!
  3. We believers are stupid to think we exist outside of the culture we live in. Ok, this is a strange one, but I'm referring to the embalming of Joseph's body. This was an Egyptian practise not a Hebrew (nomad) one. This was a practise that (to my knowledge) communicated the expectation of eternal life, and the public's respect of the one embalmed. Joseph had served Egypt well while remaining fully Hebrew in his values and beliefs. He hadn't hidden his worldview or changed his theology to suit the Egyptians, but he hadn't rejected their fashion, their customs, their language, their ways. He had served as a bridge between (on one hand) the belief-system passed onto him by his ancestors and through his dreams from God, and (on the other) the rich culture and amzing people in Egypt. Sometimes we Christians refrain from things in our culture which are basically harmless, thinking that we are communicating God's righteousness because of it, or that we're keeping ourselves unspotted. I'm not talking about The Golden Compass (which I agree is sadly an atheist's stated attempt to destroy belief in Christ amongst children), or about irresponsible sexual practises, or about greed. I'm talking about things like noserings, tattoos, musical tastes, passing a Buddhist temple without vehemently cursing it in tongues, you know what I mean!

Phew. That was actually a meaningful verse to me. I wonder what's at the end of Exodus?


Yehudi01 said...

That was a fantastic summation, (midrash), on the end of Bereishit, (Genesis)! Yes, the end of Exodus is amazing...we end the reading of Exodus with the congregation saying, "Chazak! Chazak! V'nischzeik!" which means, "Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!" Anyway, we're getting ahead of you, so I'll slow down and wait for your post. :) Again, well done on this one!

Pete Aldin said...

You know I wonder if it wouldn't be even more powerful if we both wrote about it. :)

Got space on your blog for that?

Thanks for the encouragement and I'm humbled again that you find meaning in these scribblings of mine. But then the word that we share is everlasting and rich beyond our imaginations is it not?

Peace and wholeness to you, brother.

Yehudi01 said...

I might be able to write a short something about the las verse of Exodus...I'm nota proficient extrapolator, (or speller for that matter!), but I'll give it a try! Do we have a timeline?

Pete Aldin said...

I'll email you about that.

Watch this space folks, :)

Bar Kochba said...

I remember my Rabbi, in his sermon, remarked how odd it is that as we read of Joseph being literally stuck in suspended animation, we chant 'Chazak! Chazak! Ve'Nitchazek!'. He answered that this is Jewish continuity. Despite being stuck, frozen, seemingly dead or destroyed, we continue and pray for strength.

What an interesting post!

Pete Aldin said...

Thank you for adding to the discussion. And what powerful meaning that gives both the text and our lives.

Jeremiah said...

I'm watching. I think it's a great idea.

warren said...

love the reading ont he embalming part, never would have thought that up myself. that is a good point, as a few christian circles i am aware of are quite closed off to "secular" music... which is sad, because there is so much great music out there, and great music is great art, and great art is a gift that points us back to something bigger, and that's God!!

Pete Aldin said...

Amen to that, Warren. It's the ol' athlete from Chariots of Fire quote all over again isn't it: "when I run, I feel His pleasure".