Stories of Jacob, his wives and his sons continue the story of the patriarchs from the Book of Genesis we’re reading in our lectionary these days. I notices some call it the story of our ancestors, instead of patriarchs, to give it a wider net of actors.
They/ve inherited God’s promise to Abraham, and they continue his search for a land of their own. It seems like a never-ending search; God occasionally appears on the way affirming them, but there’s famine to contend with, as we see in the illustration above, and human weakness is always part of their story.
But God will get them through.
Abraham is our “father in faith”. The ancestors, especially Abraham, are examples of faith and trust in God as they face an unknown future. Faith and trust kept them going;; faith and trust keeps all humanity going. Faith and trust keeps the Church going as she makes her pilgrim way.
We can learn from the humanity we find in the ancestors, the men and their wives, their children, their friends, their servants and their enemies. They’re far from perfect. They live in a world of cruel wars and famine, stubborn enemies, political instability and unpredictable events. There are family fights, jealous brothers and sisters and sneaky deals at every step.
We can learn some important human as well as spiritual lessons from them. For example, Joseph’s brothers entered Egypt at a time of widespread famine. “In fact, all the world came to Joseph to obtain rations of grain, for famine had gripped the whole world.” (Genesis 41,57)
Egypt wisely opened its food supply to eveybody. Was it just kindness, or was it good politics too? I remember reading that the Byzantine Empire fell so quickly to the armies of Mohammed because the Byzantines neglected to care for the Bedouin tribes at their borders and along their trade routes.
US policy now is to cut foreign aide to poorer nations of the world, especially those experiencing climate related shortages of food. Inevitably, violence in those countries will spill over to ours. Ancient Egypt knew that if you take care of others in bad times you take care of yourself. We’re all bound together, whether we know it or not.
The early Christian writer Marcion wanted to do away with the Old Testament because it wasn’t spiritual enough. But there’s reality in these stories. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” He was made flesh and dwelt among sinful humanity. He didn’t come to save the saved.
Knowing our ancestors and their times helps us to know ourselves and our times. In them we see the hand of God at work.