There are many things that people drag with them through life. Items get packed and stored for periods long enough that we forget what they look like or sound like or that they even exist. Many things are kept because they once seemed important; with the passing of time their value diminishes and they end up in the dustbin.
And if we don’t dispose of them, the next generation will.
Image by jacqueline macou
By Steve Hall
It’s been exactly four years this month since we moved into our current home. But, as I suspect is common, not everything that traveled with us found a place in our living spaces. Until a couple of months ago the basement was cluttered with a variety of things that had made the cut when we were packing but then remained in boxes or on shelves awaiting further judgment. The current conglomeration of artifacts from our past set no record for time passed since their initial boxing. In our previous two moves some of the miscellaneous odds and ends had to wait as much as fifteen years before their fate was ultimately determined.
I suspect that such delays are the common lot of many things that people drag with them through life. Items get packed and stored for periods long enough that we forget what they look like or sound like or that they even exist. Many things are kept because they once seemed important; with the passing of time their value diminishes and they end up in the dustbin. And if we don’t dispose of them, the next generation will.
Jacob was the third of the patriarchs. He was the son of Isaac; and Isaac was the son of Abraham. It was Jacob who fathered the twelve sons who would lend their names to the twelve tribes of Israel. In today’s reading we hear but a small portion of what Jacob had to say to his sons as he anticipated his death. The passage given concerns his son, Judah.
In Jacob’s day the eldest son would have had pre-eminence. The eldest would have been the leader. Yet, we hear a different message from Jacob.
You, Judah, shall your brothers praise . . .
the sons of your father [your brothers] shall bow down to you.
The scepter shall never depart from Judah,
or the mace from between his legs,
While tribute is brought to him,
and he receives the people’s homage.
The implication, of course, is that one from Judah’s line will be king at some future date—a bit out of line with the customary pattern of the day. We read over it casually; and it’s peculiarity is easily missed. But the most surprising thing about Jacob’s observation is that it was retained by Jacob’s sons and descendants for so long. Assuming that his words to his sons were remembered from the day they occurred, there remains the question as to why they were remembered for so long, or even remembered at all. The people had no king or single ruler at the time of Jacob. In fact, all twelve tribes were in Egypt at the time. Their descendants would later be slaves. It would have been more than eight hundred years later that the descendants of Jacob would have their own king.
Logically the account of Jacob’s prognostications should have been long forgotten, having been tossed in the trash bin of history. The importance of Jacob’s words would have lost their relevance to a people without a land, without a central government and without any kind of national ruler. For centuries after their entrance into the Promised Land they maintained their existence as independent tribes. An account of a central king-like figure would seem a fantasy.
As with all people on the move, the Israelites carried extra baggage. But one would think that, sooner or later, the boxes would have been emptied and their contents re-examined. The shelves would have been carefully perused, and the clutter discarded.
Our consternation at the centuries long retention of this passage is the result of an entirely human point of view. From our perspective, we wonder at the people who would preserve such an erroneous and useless commentary on the unfolding of the future. What would it take? Fifty years? A hundred years? Even more before we would choose to discard that old memory?
As we discover, however, it is not the ancient text which is wrong. Neither is the value of Jacob’s words as our possession. Rather, what is wrong is a consideration of why the Israelites decided to keep it when it seemingly made no sense in the context of their lives.
The texts which would eventually be recognized as Scripture were not and are not the words of a people. They are the Words of God himself. It was God who determined the importance of keeping them throughout history.
We are thankful that he did.