Thursday, December 15, 2011

Joseph’s Other Coat (Genesis 39:12)

Where did Joseph leave his cloak? Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:12)

Joseph had a tough time keeping his clothes on. Joseph’s famous garment, his “coat of many colors” (Genesis 37:3), was used as false evidence of his presumed death (Genesis 37:31-33). In reality he was sold into slavery (Genesis 37:27-28) and found his way into Potiphar’s house (Genesis 37:36). Joseph thrived in this new environment and he was left in charge of everything, presumably even Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:4-5). As Robert Alter (b. 1935) quips, “Joseph may suffer from one endowment too many (Alter, The Art of the Biblical Narrative, 135).”

Potiphar’s name is mentioned only twice in the Bible (Genesis 37:36, 39:1) which is fitting as it is his wife who dominates the story. The unnamed woman unsuccessfully attempted to seduce Joseph on a daily basis (Genesis 39:7). (Potiphar’s was the ancient version of a “cougar”.) When her efforts failed, the scorned woman masterfully accused him of attempted rape, got the servants on her side, and kept his coat as evidence (Genesis 39:12-18).

She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside. (Genesis 39:12 NASB)
The word for cloak used here is beged, the most common term for garment in the Old Testament. Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1941) comments:
It appears that it could refer both to an outer garment (II Kings 7:15) and an inner garment (Ezekiel 26:16). According to the end of Genesis 39:12 Joseph left all his beged with Potiphar’s wife, which means he left behind either his outer garment or one of his undergarments...By using beged at this point, the narrator may be implying something about Joseph’s own emotional involvement in the story. He is on the verge of acting faithlessly to his master. Also, it is interesting to note that the homonymous Hebrew verb bagad is sometimes used for marital unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 3:7-8, 20; Malachi 2:14). (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series), 465)
Potiphar’s wife played the game well. She enlisted the servants as witnesses and even by the standards of the Law, a woman caught in rape was off the hook if she sought help (Deuteronomy 22:23-28). Despite his innocense (at least in action if not thought), Joseph was left imprisoned (Genesis 39:20) and Potiphar’s wife was left with the coat. Alter documents, “The Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 87:10 makes the brilliant if somewhat fanciful observation...that she spent the time kissing and caressing it (Alter, 138).”

What historical cases exist of people being convicted on the basis of false evidence? What do you do when you are wrongfully accused? Do you think that it is merely coincidence that discarded garments played a role in both of Joseph’s early trials? Do you think Joseph was entirely innocent in this episode?

Through God’s providence, things worked out well for Joseph (Genesis 39:21, 23, 50:20), Still, in this incident, no good deed goes unpunished and Joseph actually suffers for doing the right thing by resisting his employer’s wife’s advances. In contrast, the Bible records no negative consequences for Potiphar’s wife. Her story ends and she is written out of the text.

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) included Potiphar’s wife in the eighth circle of hell in his famed The Divine Comedy (Inferno Canto XXX:91-129). Though she does not speak, Dante is told that, along with another perjurer, Sinon of Troy, she is condemned to suffer a burning fever for all eternity.

Is justice served in the account of Potiphar’s wife? Is there always an earthly consequence for sin? How should the Christian respond to the injustice in the world?

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” - Elie Wiesel (b. 1928)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

God’s Architecture (Revelation 21:18)

Of what material is the wall constructed in the Holy City? Jasper (Revelation 21:18)

Near the conclusion of Revelation, John records a vision of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-27). He paints a picture of an opulent metropolis. Among the vivid details he provides is a city wall made of jasper.

The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. (Revelation 21:18 NASB)
Jasper is a compact translucent variety of quartz of the type called chalcedony. The name means “spotted (or speckled) stone”. Though commonly associated with shades of red, jasper is an opaque rock that can reflect virtually any color depending upon the mineral content of its original source. The ancient term “jasper” was not as precise as modern nomenclature. George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982) explains, “The word for ‘jasper’ in antiquity was not limited to the type of stone we call jasper, but could designate any transparent precious stone (Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, 281).”

There is some debate as to the extent that jasper was used in the composition of the Holy City’s wall. Leon Morris (1914-2006) analyzed a Greek word (used only in Revelation 21:18) and concluded that “the word endōmēsis is unusual, but apparently means that of which the wall was built. In that case, it did not simply have jasper built into it but was built of jasper (Morris, Revelation (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 244).”

Robert H. Mounce (b. 1921) counters, writing that “because in the following verse the first of the city’s twelve foundations is made of jasper (Revelation 22:19), it would be well to understand this reference as indicating some sort of inlay of precious stone rather than solid jasper as a building material...In either case it is the splendor and worth of the wall that is so graphically reported (Mounce, The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) , 393).”

The building materials of the Holy city are like no human city. Human walls are not built with jasper. In addition to not being cost effective, the mineral breaks with a smooth surface, and as such is used for ornamentation or as a gemstone. Jasper is not used as a primary building material but rather to augment for aesthetic reasons. The wall is indicative of the Holy City’s other worldly quality.

Have you ever seen or heard of any edifice made of jasper? If you could construct your home from any material, what would it be? Why was the Holy City’s wall made of jasper?

This is not the first time that jasper is mentioned in Revelation. More than half of the Bible’s seven jasper references are in it’s final book (Exodus 28:20, 39:19; Ezekiel 28:13; Revelation 4:3, 21:11, 18, 19). The Holy City’s wall harkens back to the heavenly throne room where the One upon the throne appears like jasper (Revelation 4:3) and “before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4:6 NASB). As such, jasper is representative of God’s glory and the city exudes the glory of its maker and ruler.

The Holy City’s wall is of God and reveals God. Brian K. Blount (b. 1956) summarizes, “The same glory is symbolically embedded in the city’s very architectural essence (Blount, Revelation: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 390).”

As Satan has been vanquished (Revelation 20:10) and city walls were designed to protect, why does the Holy City need a wall? Why is jasper associated with God? Have you ever met anyone whose house suited them? In what ways does your home project your essence?

“Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea.” - renowned architect Yoshio Taniguchi (b. 1937)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Timothy’s Mama’s Family (II Timothy 1:5)

What was Timothy’s grandmother’s name? Lois.

At the outset of II Timothy, Paul gives thanks for his protégé and the letter’s recipient, Timothy (I Timothy 1:3-5). In fortifying Timothy, Paul is reminded him of Timothy’s spiritual heritage (II Timothy 1:5, 3:14-15). Timothy’s faithful mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, are set apart for praise (II Timothy 1:5).

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. (II Timothy 1:5 NASB)
This verse marks the only time the word “grandmother” appears in the Bible. It is also the only time the names Lois and Eunice emerge in Scripture. Even so, many have found inspiration from their lives. Their names have appeared as commensurate characters in literature. For instance, Lois and Eunice are protagonists in Francine Rivers (b. 1947)’s And The Shofar Blew (2003) and side characters in Kirby Larson (b. 1954)’s The Friendship Doll (2011).

Timothy’s mother is also referenced when he is introduced in the book of Acts (Acts 16:1). Though not named in the passage, she is described as a Jewess and believer though she may have been a lax Jew as she married a Greek (Acts 16:1) and Timothy was uncircumcised (Acts 16:3). As such, her spiritual heritage may have been as much Christian as Jewish.

Paul attributes Timothy’s faith in part to his raising. This is not uncommon. Thomas C. Oden (b. 1931) comments, “Faith can be passed on through families. Religious instruction in the family unit is crucial to the transmission of the Christian tradition (Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching), 30).”

Centuries of believers have learned tenets of the faith from their families faith. In Timothy’s case, Paul points specifically his grandmother, Lois.

Donald Guthrie (1915-1992) explains:

The use of the word first (prōton) in this context has been supposed to indicate that Lois was a devout Jewess and was the first to inculcate religious faith in Timothy; in other words from his earliest days he had been surrounded by religious faith. Yet if Christian faith is intended, prōton, may mean that Lois was the first to become Christian, followed by Eunice and her son. (Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 137).

What are the biggest lessons your mother and grandmother have taught you? What women have influenced your spiritual journey? Which of your family members has impacted your faith the most?

Paul traces Timothy’s lineage through his maternal line. Conspicuous by his absence is Timothy’s father. He is not referenced in Paul’s letters and when he is mentioned in Acts he is described as a Greek (Acts 16:1). The way the text juxtaposes him with Timothy’s mother implies that he was a nonbeliever. Paul does not allude to him either because he was dead at the time of writing or more likely because he added little to Timothy’s spiritual life.

Paul, himself, stepped, into the vacuum. Raymond F. Collins (b. 1935) writes:

“Paul was Timothy’s father insofar as he had passed the faith along to the absence of any mention of Timothy’s biological father, Paul and Eunice are Timothy’s parents in faith. They shared not only their Jewish ancestry (II Timothy 1:2; Acts 16:2) but also a common Christian faith (see Titus 1:4). (Collins, I &II Timothy and Titus: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 193)

Thankfully, Timothy took after his mother. Edith Deen (1905-1994) praises, “The sublime faith of the mother and grandmother seems to have prepared the son for that greatest of all compliments, which Paul later bestowed when he called him ‘my dearly beloved son (II Timothy 1:2). (Deen, All The Women of the Bible, 238).”

How do you trace your spiritual heritage? How much of your faith is your own and how much is your culture’s or parents’? Whose faith are you enriching? Who are your spiritual sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters?

“Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.” - Margaret Mead (1901-1978)