Friday, March 14, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 11: How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?

This week's lesson deals with physical passions and temptations and jealousies. It contrasts different ways biblical characters deal with them and ends by highlighting the way God requires us to deal with them. This lesson will not deal so much with repentance as much as with trying to resist sin in the first place.

Genesis 34 Shechem and Dinah - How evil works.
v.1-12 On the surface we have a story here that seems to indicate either a tale of fornication or a tale of rape. It is somewhat ambiguous as to which occurred though most believe it was rape and the Hebrew suggests also that it was forced but we are left with no doubt that a sin of some kind was committed and that Shechem is the problem and holds the main accountability, not Dinah. However, an interesting consideration in this story is the contrast between where Dinah is when we first meet her (v.1"went out to see the daughters of the land") and where her younger brother Joseph is when we first meet him (Genesis 37:2 "with his brethren"). Could it be that Dinah was associating with friends who were not helping her keep gospel standards or that led her into unsafe situations? In a society that has become more "liberated" and "equal" is it fair today to consider the male more accountable in these matters? Consider the gospel and priesthood perspective with this question.
Is it possible for Shechem to truly love Dinah as we are told he does in v.3 when, with our first introduction to Shechem, we are also told in v.2 that he "saw her, he took her, and lay with her and defiled her". How does Shechem's story of "love" compare to the story of Jacob's love for Rachel that we studied last week? What can parents and young women learn by comparing these two stories?
Parents and young women would do well to study together the first twelve verses of Genesis 34 as a way of understanding how the natural man works and thinks, so that they can better defend against it. From a lesson perspective it may also be worth considering how Shechem could do this great wickedness?  Obviously Shechem valued self and instant gratification above the needs and desires of those around him. He wanted only what he wanted and he wanted it now, no matter the cost.

In Shechem, we have a type of Satan. Our first introduction to Shechem is one who is spoilt and takes what he wants and has no self-control and no care for the damage his actions have on others. "Damsels" or young women would do well to be aware of or specifically beware of the pattern of actions many young men of the world follow today. They profess love and utter kind words of flattery. They want you as "theirs" and they are often willing to use whatever influence and pressure they can to make you succumb to their selfish desires. (v.3-4)
Satan, like Shechem, desires to have all of us. He will try force (v.2), he will try flattery (v.3), he will try bribery(v10-12). Even as Shechem desired to be with Dinah physically, so Satan desires to be one with us spiritually. What he is seeking is not just one brief flirtation with us. Rather, he wishes us to be seal us in his own way to him for time and all eternity(v.12) - he wants our bodies, he wants our souls.

Genesis 37 Righteousness does not innoculate us from trials
v.1-11 From this brief introduction we learn that all is not well in the house of Jacob. To suggest this was a house lacking in the Spirit would be too extreme an interpretation but certainly we would do well to recognize that even the house of Jacob had emotions and insecurities bubbling within. Likewise, in the house of Lehi and the house of Adam, the house of Abraham and the house of Isaac and many other homes with righteous parents we find similar circumstances. What lessons and comforts can we take from this as parents? It would certainly appear that as parents one of the lessons to be learned is that, while we can (and must) teach gospel principles and lead by example and with love, ultimately we are raising individuals who have agency and must make their own choices.

In Jacob's home we learn there is jealousy (v.10) there is preference (v.3), there is contention (v.4) and there is hate (v.5,8). I am intrigued by Jacob's position in all this. While he is not perfect we know he was righteous and the recipient of the great covenant of his fathers and the associated blessings. To suggest he foolishly played the brothers against each other with preferential treatment of Joseph does not seem entirely accurate or realistic. I wonder if the scriptural translation we currently have leaves the truth somewhere in between the lines. Certainly, we were told previously that Jacob was closer to Rachel than his other wives - she was, after all, his first love, his chosen one. It would therefore be natural to have a special place in his heart for the children of this first love and especially after Rachel died in childbirth with Benjamin. But could it be that Jacob's preferential treatment of Joseph was more the brothers' tainted perspective of the blessings that Joseph had earned through his obedience and righteousness? Maybe when we read that Jacob "loved Joseph more" in v.3 it is better interpreted as Jacob was happier with Joseph's choices and righteousness compared to his brothers.
Another way to look at this puzzling stance of Jacob's is through the symbolism inherent in the story - Jacob symbolizes Heavenly Father and Joseph symbolizes Jesus Christ and the other brothers represent the rest of the world. Does Heavenly Father love Jesus more than everyone else? I think the answer to that is no but there is no doubt there is a special bond and relationship between the two that we do not yet have in our current state. Christ's constant righteousness leaves Heavenly Father constantly well-pleased in his Beloved Son. In our more inconsistent state I would imagine Heavenly Father is not as consistently well-pleased with us. I believe it was thus with Jacob and Joseph and his siblings.

We know Joseph rightfully inherited the birthright (physical inheritance - the double portion) and blessing (spiritual inheritance) through a culmination of his obedience and Reuben's disobedience. It is widely, though inconclusively, thought that the "coat of many colours" (v.3) was in fact a garment signifying Joseph's status as the "firstborn". While Jacob "rebuked" Joseph for his youthful exuberant but tactless announcement of his dreams, yet the scriptural record makes a point of telling us that Jacob "observed his saying" (v.11) and in so doing indicates a respect for and a recognition of the special relationship his son had with the Lord.
At this point Joseph is just 17 years old.

v.12-17 Considering how brief a history we have in the Old Testament I cannot help but wonder why we end up with these 6 verses to tell us simply that Joseph went to meet his brothers. There seems to be something more going on. Who was the mysterious "certain man" of v.15? Why was Joseph "wandering in the field"? Why do we need to know about this? I do not have answers to these questions and would welcome any input for I am sure there is meaning and symbolism to it.
What I do know is that what is about to happen will shape the history of the people of Israel and set them on a course that would shape their identity as a people. Similarly, what was about to happen would also shape Joseph's personal history and would shape his identity as a person. Maybe when the stranger asked Joseph "Ma t'vakesh?" or "What seekest thou?", he was not just looking to help a lad lost in a field but in fact knew what lay ahead and was challenging Joseph personally to look inward and consider that which was most important to him before embarking on this great trial that lay just over the hills in the next village.

v.21-22 Some might consider Reuben's attempt to free his brother as a somewhat redeeming tale. I personally wonder if it merely illustrates further, that this man was not worthy of the birthright or blessing. He seems afraid to speak up for Joseph and merely deflects the other brothers' anger and hatred rather than defending his innocent brother. The truth is Reuben allowed his brother to be kidnapped and thrown in a pit. How could he do this great wickedness? Obviously he had not become strong enough to stand up to the temptations of his brothers or worried too much of what his brothers thought of him.

v.26-28 In Reuben's absence, Judah also relinquishes the responsibility to do what is right. While again, his tale may be considered redeeming - he did not want to shed his brother's blood - Reuben still was happy to sell his brother into slavery, never to be seen again. How could he do this great wickedness? Obviously he had not learned to temper his jealousies and passions.

v.28 "twenty pieces of silver" was the price of a slave in those days. Obviously there is symbolic significance with Judas also selling Christ for thirty pieces of silver (the price of a slave in those days). Joseph was a type of Christ. See below for a list of comparisons between Joseph and Christ that are covered in this lesson.

v.29 "and he rent his clothes". This practice was normal for one mourning the loss of a loved one. The tearing symbolized the separation from the loved one and the breaking of their heart at the loss. A truly symbolic way to show grief. I wonder how empty a gesture this was though, in this case. As we read v.30 it seems to suggest that Reuben's main priority was for himself and how to get out of this mess he was now in. Reuben was not contrite, he did not truly mourn Joseph, instead he covered up his part and figuratively washed his hands of the whole affair, much like Pilate did literally years later with Christ. Comparing Reuben's grief to that of his father Jacob in v.34-35, you can judge for yourself who was more genuine.

Genesis 39 "The Lord was with Joseph"
v.1-6 Joseph rapidly rises from being your average slave to being placed in a position of authority. We are told that he prospers, everything he does prospers, and all those associated with Joseph prosper. Joseph is made overseer of all his master has and is trusted implicitly. To what does the account credit this incredibly "lucky streak"?  v.2 "And the Lord was with Joseph". Why was the Lord with Joseph? v.6  "And Joseph was a goodly person" There can be no simpler testimony in all of scripture of how we can prosper in life. What a great obituary that would make of any person - Joseph was a goodly person and the Lord was with Joseph.
Consider for a moment how you and those around you may have prospered through living the gospel? How have you and your family been blessed by the Lord's presence in your lives? Be sure to remember that this does not make you immune to troubles and trials. Joseph, remember, was kidnapped and sold into slavery. But in the midst of these trials he prospered, he survived because he was a goodly person. And because he was a goodly person, the Lord was with him.

v.7 "Lie with me" Potiphar's wife cast her eyes on Joseph just as Satan casts his eyes on us and just as Shechem cast his eyes on Dinah. Each represent sin and wickedness. We are in a fight against sin. Sin does not battle us with swords and spears but with flattery and pride. It dresses itself up, it makes itself look good and then with eyelashes fluttering, it whispers "Lie with me". Those not trained to recognize sin and those unsure and insecure in the understanding of who they are will be lured in and lost. 

v.8-9 For those trained in the art of recognizing and avoiding sin the initial advance can usually be rebuffed. This is where parenting pays off. Teaching our children to recognize sin can usually instill an instinct and a reasoning that will automatically push away the initial advances of sin. Joseph, having been trained in righteousness, is able to explain to Potiphar's wife the ill-logic in giving in to her temptation. He gives her two reasons why he will not give in to her temptation.
  1. Having been trusted with everything and risen to a position of great trust within his master's house how could he do this great wickedness and betray the trust his master has shown him.
  2. It would be a sin against God
Both the socio-logical and theo-logical reasoning are strong enough to resist the initial advances of Potiphar's wife.
The Saviour similarly resisted Satan's temptations by using scripture (Matthew 4:1-11). Moses similarly resisted Satan's temptations by using what he had been taught (Moses 1:12-22). What can we learn from Joseph, the Saviour and Moses about resisting the initial advances of sin (temptation, bad thoughts etc)? What does this teach us about the importance of parents?

v.10 notice Satan does not give up easily. He returns, just like Potiphar's wife, day by day. Remember, he seeks to have you! He wants you for himself. And what is Joseph's reaction? "He hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her." It is clear Joseph had made up his mind that he wanted nothing to do with this woman or the sin she was proposing. Do you think Joseph had made this decision that same day?

v.11-12 at some point Satan will not just tempt you or actively pursue you. At some point he will grab a hold of you as did Potiphar's wife with Joseph. Remember he wants you and he will get you if he can destroy you spiritually. And what is Joseph's reaction as sin reaches out to touch him? Does he linger? No. "He left his garment in her hand and fled and got him out."I cannot help but see a comparison in Joseph's swift reaction and Shechem's swift actions at the beginning of this week's reading. Shechem we are told, in brutal brevity, "saw her, took her and lay with her and he defiled her". Sin like a cobra can slowly lull us but it can just as swiftly strike and before it's defenseless victims (in this case Dinah) know what has happened, they are trapped in sin's deadly stare. Joseph however, equally swiftly, we are told "left his garment in her hand and fled and got him out." When spiritual salvation is on the line there is no time for dilly-dallying. Don't think - just get out, flee and dont look back! We must not hesitate. And that is really the point. Satan will not give you time to think. The natural man will act on instinct and it's natural instinct is to sin. If Satan can get you before you can think he knows he will likely succeed. The only way for us to beat him is to have decided previously, beforehand, how we would act if faced with sin. Thus we must train our instinct before hand to act in an opposite manner from the natural man. Society now calls this "denying ourselves". I don't think Joseph cared what society called it. He cared more about what was right. He determined long ago that he would always flee sin.

v.13-20 Joseph is falsely accused and thrown in prison. Sometimes there will be a social price for fleeing sin and pursuing righteousness. A loss of popularity, a loss of friends, a loss of social status, maybe a loss of a promotion or even a job or a career.

v.21-23 "But the Lord was with Joseph...and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper"I find this to be an astoundingly beautiful testimony. How comforting to know that no matter what goes wrong in life, no matter what injustices may befall you, no matter what you might lose or have to give up, if you do what is right and flee sin, the Lord will be with you and He will prosper you.

Joseph as a type of Christ:
  • Joseph was the first born (of Rachel) and heir to birthright and blessings; Christ was the only begotten of the Father and heir to all that the Father hath
  • Joseph was well-loved; Christ was beloved
  • Joseph was sent to his brethren by his father; Christ was sent to his brethren by his Father
  • Joseph was rejected and betrayed by his own family; Christ was rejected and betrayed by his own people
  • Reuben was too weak to stand up to his brothers; Pilate was too weak to stand up to the people
  • Joseph was sold as a slave to Egypt; Christ was sold for the price of a slave
  • Joseph was falsely accused; Christ was falsely accused
  • Joseph became ruler of the prison; Christ ruled over death and those in spirit prison
A summation of Joseph and his siblings battle with sin.
I have pondered all week how the old Mormon adage "Stand Ye in Holy Places" lines up with these stories of Dinah, Reuben, Judah and Joseph.
Dinah appears to have made some poor choices that led her away from the safety of home - she did not stand in holy places - and paid a price for it. Modern society would suggest this is blaming the victim, but the reality is, while Shechem holds full accountability, Dinah would likely have avoided all of her woes and the tragic events that followed if she had just not hung out with those friends, in those places. How can we teach our children this principle without it seeming restrictive and judgmental?
Reuben and Judah remained within the safety of their home yet made bad choices based on their insecurities and jealousies. They stood in holy places and yet never grasped the power available to them instead allowing sin to tighten its grip on them. How can we help children or imperfect members or less actives fully leverage the power of standing in Holy Places? How can we better treat them when they make mistakes without alienating them further or making them resent righteousness?
Joseph was forcibly removed from the safety of his home but still prospered. He was unable to stand in holy places but yet was holy. How can we better become like Joseph in our daily lives?
I think the thought that kept coming to me as I pondered this aspect of the lesson this week was that:

Standing in holy places helps but more important might be making where you stand a holy place

Why do we find our bodies under attack so much?
With drugs and tobacco and alcohol and sexual sin and suicide rampant in today's society it almost seems like our bodies are a battleground. Why?
Read Matthew 8:28-32
The reward for passing our first estate was to receive tabernacles/bodies wherein we could partake of and participate in the glorious divine gift of creation. Those that failed to earn this great reward (Satan and his followers) are body-less. As such, they are jealous of such a great gift and they wish to deprive us of ours. They seek to have us devalue and abuse these great gifts. They wish to be associated with our bodies in any way they possibly can. Satan seeks to own our bodies vicariously by spiritually killing us. So valuable, so precious are these mortal bodies, these tools of the divine gift of creation that they would even settle for the body of a pig to satisfy their lust for any kind of temporary association with a mortal body.
And how did the swine react to having this presence associated with them? They would rather perish physically than tolerate one moment with that wickedness within.

Jeffrey R Holland once said,
"We do not have to be a herd of demonically-possessed swine charging down the Gadarene slopes toward the sea to understand that a body is the great prize of mortal life. And that even a pig's will do for those frenzied spirits that rebelled and that to this day remain dispossessed."("Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments")
Our bodies are not to be worshipped as idols and they are not to be abused or relinquished as mere trinkets, they are to be protected and developed and used as holy temples. As such, we have the potential to become walking, living temples and thus have the Lord with us wherever we go.

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