Enslaving Themselves

by Lois Tverberg

Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’ So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt—besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. – Genesis 50:4-9

The redemption of Israel is a foreshadowing of the redemption of the whole world through Christ. Subtle motifs in the story hint that Israel is the representative of the world. Their enslavement to the false gods of the Egyptians is a picture of all of our enslavement to the false gods of this world, from which only Christ can free us.

When and how did the family of Israel become enslaved? Obviously, the first member of the family who was enslaved was Joseph, when his brothers deliberately sold him into slavery. Four hundred years later they were all enslaved by the Egyptians.

Joseph before PharaohAn interesting thing to note was that it seems that even though Joseph had great power in Egypt, he was still a slave even then and not free to leave. In the passage above, when Joseph wanted to travel to Canaan to bury his father, he had to ask permission. Scholars believe that the officials, chariots and horsemen who went with him were there partly to honor Jacob, but also to guard Joseph to make sure that he returned to Egypt.

If that is true, it yields an interesting insight – that from the moment that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, someone from their family was trapped in bondage, unable to be released until God himself intervened 400 years later. True, God brought them down there to save their lives during the famine. But had they not sold Joseph into slavery, they wouldn’t have had the tie that brought them all down to Egypt, to the “house of bondage” as the Bible calls it.

Likewise, with the first sin, Adam and Eve were trapped in bondage, and the slavery to sin transferred itself to all their children, including us. Only through redemption in Christ can we be set free.

Inclined Toward God

by Lois Tverberg

Count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life. – Romans 6:11-13

In Jewish thought, there has been a tradition that humans are ruled by two inclinations – the yetzer hara (YET-ser ha-RAH – evil inclination) and the yetzer hatov (YET-ser ha-TOVE – good inclination). Another way this was said was that man either obeyed his yetzer (inclination – his own will) or his yotzer (Creator – God).

One rabbi said,

Man, while he lives, is the slave of two masters: the slave of his Creator and the slave of his inclination. When he does the will of his Creator, he angers his inclination, and when he does the will of his inclination, he angers his Creator. When he dies, he is freed, a slave free from his master. *

This last statement means that in death humans are freed from serving their sinful inclinations, so that in the next life, they will be servants only of God.

This is fascinating because it seems to be the background of Paul’s words to the Romans. He speaks about being slaves to sin in our former lives, but when we were baptized in Christ, we were united with him in his death. He understands that just as Jesus was resurrected and now was living his eternal life, so are we.

When we were baptized, God made us new creations and gave us eternal life, which began right then and will extend into the world to come. God has freed us from slavery to our yetzer hara so that we can serve only our yotzer, Creator, the Lord.

*Rabbi Shimeon ben Pazzai, from the 3rd century AD, as quoted by David Flusser in
Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, Magnes Press 1988, pp. 169-170.