For the week of December 22, 2012 / 9 Tevet 5773
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 44:18 - 47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28


Change Is Possible

For how can I go up to my father if the boy isn't with me? I couldn't bear to see my father so overwhelmed by anguish. (Bereshit / Genesis 44:34; CJB)

When I dealt with this passage in a previous TorahBytes, I proposed that the reason why Joseph was giving his brothers a hard time when they came to Egypt in the hope to buy food was because he was concerned that their jealousy of him showed how much they didn't care about their father (see Roots of Relational Difficulties). Whatever the reason, Joseph made things difficult for them and kept his identity from them until Judah responded to Joseph's threat to detain their youngest brother Benjamin. Years before they so hated Joseph that they didn't stop to think about how their selling him into slavery would affect their father. But this time, when faced with the prospect of telling Jacob about the loss of yet another of his sons, it was different. While we can't speak for the others, we know that at least Judah had a change of heart, offering himself in place of Benjamin.

What brought about the change in Judah? One reasonable suggestion is what appears to be a sudden break in the Joseph story, where we read about Judah, his sons, and his daughter-in-law, Tamar (see Bereshit / Genesis 38). Judah had failed to fulfill his responsibility to Tamar, who had become widowed. Tamar tricked Judah and shamed him in order to expose his hypocrisy. Her plan worked, and he accepted that he had indeed been in the wrong. A wonderful exposition of that chapter is available online by pastor, Tim Keller. But regardless of what it was that changed Judah, he did change.

Change is possible. Human hearts - our wills, our desires - can change. That this is true drives many people to seek out change. From self-help books to counseling, people want change and strive for change. But how many find it? How many people have read those books and have been to those counselors? They have attended seminars, pledged pledges, and prayed prayers. They resolved and they medicated. They changed jobs, geography, and even spouses in pursuit of lasting heart change - all to no avail. If change is possible, then why is it so hard?

From where I sit I cannot say why certain people seem to be so stuck in destructive ruts - like a prison cell to which no key can be found. It is too easy to offer suggestions: Did you try this and how about that? It worked for me; it should work for you too.

All I know is that change is possible. Judah is not the only one. The Bible is full of stories of radical change, miraculous change, lasting change. Human perfection you won't find. But selfish, destructive lives turning around and become blessings unto countless generations? Yes.

For some the Bible is just another self-help book, only very old. Listen to how it's taught sometimes: read a bunch of verses, say a prayer or two, and everything changes. But anyone who is truly honest knows it doesn't work like that.

Look again at Judah. Pehaps read chapter 38 and/or listen to Tim Keller's sermon. Life, death, family, selfishness, sin, duty, irresponsibility, oppression, poverty, hopes, rejection. Sounds like real life to me. No formulas or easy solutions. But God is involved. And somehow he got through to Judah through a set of "interesting" circumstances. So I have a theory. Take it or leave it. Here it is: God has carefully arranged a set of circumstances through which he is seeking to change your life to make it a blessing beyond your wildest dreams. And if you cooperate with what he is doing in your life and stop running away from his plans and purposes for you, you will change. Ignore him and you won't. I don't think I can prove my theory. But you can.

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