blessing the "other"

As I prepare to preach on Genesis 46-47, this brief interaction between the patriarch, Jacob, and Egypt's grand vizier, Pharaoh, has gotten my attention. It's a story, often lost in the drama of Joseph and his brothers, that is worth reflection:
Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?” 

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers. ” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence (47:7-10).
Walter Brueggeman describes this scene as a “dramatic meeting between the ‘Lord of Egypt’ and the ‘Father of Promise’” It’s a stark contrast, one which reveals how Jacob handles being in this strange land – “Pharaoh has land. He is settled, safe, and prosperous. Jacob has none. But he believes the promise far beyond any Egyptian realities.”

It’s true, Jacob’s blessing of Pharaoh could be describing a simple greeting (e.g. “Hello, hope you well”) or a sign of reverence (“Your worship”). But it could also mean a literal blessing, where, like earlier with Joseph and Potipher (Gen. 39), the presence of God’s people leads to blessing for others.

I like to think it’s the latter.

You see, Jacob doesn’t shrink back from living and interacting with these pagan people – these “others” – the Egyptians. He engages Pharaoh. He blesses Pharaoh – a blessing that doesn’t compromise his ideals, but is an extension of them. True, Jacob is far from becoming Egyptian, but he doesn’t ignore the Egyptians either. Or run away from them. Or mock them. Or judge them. Not unlike Jesus’ teaching on life in the world (Jn. 17:16), suggests Brueggemann, Jacob is “in Egypt, but not of Egypt.”

For Christians, living in the world as "strangers and aliens" (1 Pt. 2:11) in our allegiance of Jesus, Jacob's examples leads to some key questions to consider:
  • How do you act or treat others when you’re in uncomfortable circumstances? 
  • Do you retreat, ignore, or even ridicule those in “the world”? 
  • Or does the hope of God’s promised presence cause you, like Jacob, to be a blessing to those around you, wherever you are and to whomever “they” may be?


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