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We will now interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a three week break.  I will be traveling out of the country to Israel and Turkey.  It's trips like these that allow me to do the research that enables me to continue to study and teach through the material in my blogs.

So please don't go anywhere, and stay tuned because our posts will pick up where we left off in August.



And so I think I'd like to wrap up Genesis at this point and — for the sake of the larger narrative at play — resist the urge to dive into all the little questions and details that are so intriguing with the stories of Jacob and Joseph.

But, just as I did with what I called “the Preface”, I'd like to use this moment to take a deep breath and review how the story is coming together and where we are at in it.  I recommend going back and reviewing the video I made to review what I call the “Preface”, or Genesis 1–11.

God is telling a great story (and has been throughout all of human history, for that matter).  If we believe in the God-breathed nature of the Scriptures, then understanding this written revelation well would be one of the items at the top of our priority list.  What is this story that God has been telling?  Does it all work together?  Does it have certain themes that run throughout?  Do we see a different God in the Old Testament than we do in the New Testament?  What is the narrative arc of the story God is trying to communicate to us?  Hearing and perceiving God's story given to us would help us understand some of the deepest truths of our world, our God, and ourselves.

So, God begins His story with a preface.  Genesis 1–11 becomes God's invitation to reframe the way we see the world.  Before we even begin to try and understand God's story, we are being invited to see the world the way the Author sees it.  Imagine the tales of Harry Potter or any other fantasy world.  Before the reader can begin to enjoy the story, they need to understand something about the world they are reading about.  What are the deepest truths of this reality?  What are the parameters?  What are the realities of the world the characters interact with?

God takes the assumptions of the world that the readers of Genesis carry with them and He turns them on their head.  Who is God?  In God's story, it is not many gods or competing gods or confused gods.  They are not angry gods demanding appeasement, playing with the cosmos at will, seeking bribery from their subjects.  It is one mysterious Creator God who loves to create and loves His creation and, despite all the things that appear to go wrong with it, keeps insisting in its inherent goodness and His desire to partner with mankind to restore and enjoy it.

The difference between the stories of fantasy and God's story is that God is insisting that the reality He's outlined in His preface is the truer true.  He's suggesting that it is MORE REAL than our assumptions.  He's implying that our assumptions are wrong.

And He invites mankind to trust the story He's telling.  But, as we see in the Preface, mankind has a hard time trusting the story.  We're pretty sure that the world is horribly broken at its core and doomed to destruction.  But the Author has told us that this is what is true about the world He has created.  And He dares us to trust Him.

What are we being invited to trust?
God is FOR us.
Creation is inherently GOOD and loaded with potential.
There is a place of REST that God desires us to dwell in.
God is looking for partners to help Him steward creation well.

And so then we are led into what I describe to my students as the INTRODUCTION.  If God is telling a grand story, and if Genesis 1–11 is its preface, then the rest of Genesis (chapters 12–50) is its introduction.  We are introduced to the main characters and how they form the background to the story that God will begin in the book of Exodus.  In essence, God is setting the stage for His narrative.

God's story is going to be what I call “A Tale of Two Kingdoms”.  It will be a great story of how God will use His people to be bringers of peace in a world of chaos.  This story will always be about a holy nation, a royal priesthood — a kingdom of priests who have a role to play in the world.  But before we can dive into this story of nations, we need to bridge the gap between the Preface and the narrative.  Where did this nation come from?  What kind of nation is it and why does God partner with them?

The introduction has shown us that before we had a nation, we had a family.  It began with one man and his barren wife who set out for a world that God promised them.  Learning as they went, they discover more and more about this land, this God, and this partnership to redeem the world.  They have children who have children who have children and through this story, we find a tenacious, stubborn, strong-willed people that are willing to wrestle with the Creator of the cosmos in order to be a part of something big.

God's been looking for partners to put the world back together and He loves the chutzpah demonstrated in this family.

But He didn't extend the hand of partnership because of their chutzpah.

He partnered with them because they were willing to trust the story.  And because they trusted the greater reality described in the Preface, they are able to lay their life down on behalf of others.  Because they realize that God is FOR them and they have all the love and acceptance they need, they don't have to prove anything or produce anything for anyone.  Because they see the good and potential in the creation, they can find a place of REST rather than anxiety and they can pursue what is RIGHT rather than what is secure.

This is who the people of God are.  This is their stock, their pedigree.  It's in their DNA.

Now let's turn the page to CHAPTER ONE of God's great narrative and see where the story begins with this Kingdom of Priests...


B'hor in a Box (part two)

** It bears repeating at the beginning of this second post that much of this teaching has been heavily influenced by Rabbi David Fohrman's teachings on the Exodus and Passover.

For anyone reading my blog for the first time, you will want to catch “B'hor in a Box (Part One)” as precursor to this post.

So we've established at this point that the Passover is somehow a connection to the Joseph story and that the Joseph story is really just a retelling of the Jacob story.  But what does Jacob and/or Joseph have to do with how you eat the Passover meal?  And what in the world did this have to do with the little black boxes known as tefillin?

Well, one would want to stop and contemplate the similarities of the Jacob and Joseph stories and what it is that ties these two stories together.  In essence, where is Genesis headed as it tells the story?  For one, it was easy to track along with Genesis' initial trajectory.  The “preface” (Gen. 1–11) had set the stage and invited us to reframe how we see the world.  God had invited us to trust the good story that He was telling in creation.  We then met Abram and even Isaac who showed us, albeit a terrible struggle at times, what it looks like to lean into trust.  We can track with the story at that point.

But with Jacob, everything seems to change.  No longer is the “model pupil” the one that the promise follows.  Instead of the “good ol' boy” Esau being the child of promise, we find that the sneaky little usurper, Jacob, gets the tap from Coach.  What in the world is going on here?

And just like every other time in which we run into a question that bothers us, we find some clues lying in the text.

It's actually in this very struggle that we find the ties that pull the Jacob and Joseph stories together.  You see, both stories are about children of promise that want to be the firstborn — but are not.  As much as Jacob wants to be Isaac's firstborn, he is not.  Even if he obtains the birthright and deceives his father into giving Jacob his blessing, he is not the firstborn.  The role of the firstborn is an important responsibility in the ancient culture.  The b'hor (the Hebrew word for “firstborn”) is the one who is responsible for taking the father's value and passing it on to his siblings.  He gets a double portion of blessing (if there are five sons, the estate is split six ways and the b'hor gets two; if there are two sons, the estate is split three ways and the b'hor gets two; etc.), but he also carries a double portion of responsibility for the entire patriarchal household.  It is the b'hor's responsibility, upon his father's death, to provide for the entire mishpucha (household).  Jacob wants to be the b'hor, but he is not.

This is repeated in Joseph.  Jacob will take two wives after being beaten at his own game of trickery.  He wanted to marry Rachel, but was given Leah first.  Even after Leah bears Jacob sons, it is Rachel that continues to have Jacob's favor.  When Rachel finally gives Jacob a son, this is the one whom Jacob favors.  Even though Jacob already HAS a firstborn son, he tries to make Joseph his firstborn son.  Father Jacob gives a special coat to his favorite son, Joseph.  There actually happens to be nothing special to the coat at all.  People have tried to make it a “colored” coat (which is not in the Text).  They've tried to make it a “striped” coat or even a “fine” coat.  The Text simply says that Jacob gives Joseph a “long-sleeved tunic”.

The kind of coat isn't the issue -— it's how many.  Every son is given a tunic from Dad.  But Joseph is given two.

And every brother hears Dad's message in perfect clarity: “Joseph is my b'hor.

But no matter how hard Jacob tries to rewrite history, Joseph is not the b'hor.

Two stories.

Two children who want to be the b'hor, but are not.

It makes me think of the night that Jacob wrestled with God.  Refusing to let God (or the angel) go, God asks him, “What is your name?”  Which is a Jewish way of saying, “Who are you — really?”  And Jacob reveals that he is “the usurper”, Jacob.  That is who he is.  Always trying to obtain what isn't his.  But God will try to redefine Jacob.  Give him a new identity.  God will rename him Isra'el, hearkening him back to a time when he wrestled with God and emerged victorious.  You can almost hear God's invitation:

“Jacob, you aren't Isaac's firstborn.  But how about you come to be MY firstborn?”

And now, the Passover story comes full circle.  Where did the story awkwardly end in the middle of?  The plague of the b'hor.  What are the instructions surrounding Passover to remind you of?  The stories of b'hor.  In the first century, Rabbi Akiva made an interesting observation: as he translated the book of Exodus, he noted his disagreement with the way two verses were taught.  At first glance, the instructions of Exodus 12 appear to tell you to cook the goat “with the entrails still in it”...


But Akiva said that isn't what the Hebrew meant at all.  In fact, the Hebrew phrase could be translated “with the insides inside”.  Akiva said that this meant you should cook the lamb with its head tucked between its hind legs.

In other words, in the fetal position.

But Akiva wasn't done.  He also said that we had a misunderstanding of the word “lentil” when the Israelites put the blood on the sides of the door and on the lentil.  Akiva said that the Hebrew word for lentil would mean the top AND bottom of the door.   Meaning that the blood went around the entire doorway.  What this would mean is that as Israel gathered that night to prepare for the great exodus, they were called to remember a story about firstborn children, to cook a lamb in the fetal position, and then to leave in haste through a bloody door.

And what image does one think of when they think of leaving in haste through a bloody door?


I heard a rabbi, who doesn't believe in Jesus as Messiah, say, “Israel had to be born again.”  Interesting that Akiva, based in Capernaum, would have probably heard of that teaching from another Rabbi a generation before who had based Himself in Capernaum for three years…

Israel comes through the Red Sea having been born again as God's b'hor.  Their call will be to take the Father's values and pass them on to the rest of His children.  They will have a double portion of responsibility (They will have to carry Torah to the world.  We'll talk about that later.), but they will also have the double portion inheritance of being able to walk with God and see His work in the world firsthand.  They will be the keepers of the oracles of God.

That's why the firstborn donkey is in the little black box.
It's a little reminder of your call to be God's b'hor in the world.
To this day, Jews carry a great responsibility.  To show the world what God is like.

And for those of us who follow Jesus (though it seems like I shouldn't have to point this out), we too have been invited to be “born again”.  We too were called by Peter a “holy nation, a royal priesthood”.  We too are invited to be God's b'hor.  In Romans 11, Rabbi Paul told all the Gentiles that you have been mysteriously grafted into the Jewish tree.  It's not a new tree.  It's the same tree God planted with a man named Abram in the book of Genesis.  And yet, by grace, you are invited to take of the mantle of God's b'hor and spread Daddy's values to the rest of His children.

But it's always been one story.  God's always been up to one thing.  He's in the redemption business.
And, yet again, He's still looking for partners.