Today I was meant to be teaching hermeneutics in Brisbane. I was at the airport ready to go but the remnants of Cyclone Debbie threatening flash flooding in Brisbane, meant it was wiser for me to stay home. I was gutted. I love hermeneutics and I think I have something to add to the great notes that our movement uses to teach our budding leaders.
My first session was to be on interpreting Old Testament narrative. The notes are great for looking at the biblical stories in detail but I think they can tend to miss the big picture. What I wanted to impress on the students was why is the author depicting the story a certain way? How are they using drama, conflict, character development etc. to further their agenda? How does this little story fit into God’s big story?
My favourite biblical narrative is the story of Joseph and his brothers. The emotional impact of Joseph’s reveal to his brothers in Genesis 45 often brings tears to my eyes. Joseph’s dream had been fulfilled with his brothers bowing down. But Joseph wasn’t concerned about vindication. He was far more interested in reconciliation.
The moment is so powerful because it’s such a wonderfully constructed story. The story has come full circle and we have another scene where 10 brothers face the prospect of losing their younger brother. The first time it was Joseph and they willingly abandoned him. This time it’s Benjamin and he’s about to be taken from them.
Basically Joseph has recreated a situation where the brothers are told to abandon Benjamin, just like they abandoned Joseph. This is recapitulation. However something different occurs this time. Instead of doing what they did before they show they they have grown as characters. Particularly, the entire Joseph story shows how much Judah has grown. Why?
The narrative chooses to focus on Judah for salvation history purposes as the Messiah will come from his tribe. Judah is the bad guy in Genesis 38 with Tamar being the protagonist. Have you ever wondered why the Judah/Tamar story interrupts the Joseph narrative? You should. Good hermeneutics asks probing questions of the text.
Basically Genesis 38 serves to highlight his character in a narrative sense as well as his character in a moral sense. Judah has gone through his own tragedies and had his unrighteousness exposed in various ways but he is learning. Judah, with his own sons dead, is no longer the man who took the opportunity to sell his hated brother to Ishmaelite slave traders.
We see how far he has grown when he pleads with Joseph in Genesis 44 that he be taken prisoner himself as opposed to Benjamin. He wants to be the ransom and to give his life so that his brother Benjamin may go free. This is a type of the gospel. This is completely opposite to his attitude to when Joseph was imprisoned in the pit. This is Judah’s redemption. And it leads to the climatic scene of Joseph’s reveal to his brothers and their reconciliation. It is powerful narrative. It makes me cry.
And that’s why I love teaching hermeneutics. The Joseph narrative is just as much about Judah as it is about Joseph. Have you heard that before? Ask questions of the text. Look at the whole story not just the details and ask why is it here in light of the big story of God.