Less than a month had passed since they
Returned from Canaan where they lay
Their father Jacob in the cave
Of Machpelah, and made the grave
Of Abraham complete. Three wives,
Three God-intoxicated lives
Of flawed and faithful patriarchs
Now rest in Ephron's field. Stone marks
The mouth where earth has drunk the cup
Of death five times, and swallowed up
Rebekah, Isaac, Abraham,
The wife to whom he said, “The lamb
Of Mount Moriah raised your son
As if from death, and there is One
From your own loins, my precious wife,
Who will give back to me your life.”
And next to last, near twenty years
Ago, and now recalled with tears,
Especially by Joseph who
Had given her a mother's due,
Though she was not his own, the bones
Of Leah had been laid on stones
Within the ancient tomb. And last,
When the appointed years were past,
A hundred-forty-seven full,
The sons of Jacob stooped to pull
The fragrant coffin in beside
The body of his sleeping bride.
Less than a month since Joseph stood
Beside the open cave, and would
Not let his brothers close it, till
The rising sun could once more fill
The cavern with a golden light,
That brought a hopeful end to night,
And kept him through his prison stay,
Awaiting God's appointed day.
He loved the light.
now the grief
That Joseph felt found no relief
When he returned to Goshen. There
Aflame with fever lay the fair
And fragile woman he had wed
When he was thirty-one and dread
Of his dream-powers was upon
The royal court, and priests of On
Were fawning at his feet. Her name
Was Asenath, and when she came
To Joseph as a favor from
The king, her father had become
The leading advocate in all
Of Egypt for the blazing ball
We call the sun, and held in sway
The people for a god called Reh,
The deity of dawn. But she
Would not bow down. “Idolatry,”
She said, “is loving anything
Above the God whose pow'r did bring
The sun and moon and all the earth
To be, or to ascribe more worth
To what he made, than what he is.
The heart of Asenath is his.”
Now five and twenty years these two
Have loved their God as one, till through
A common passion they have come
To cherish this: that marriage, from
The first embrace, is but the small
And faulty echo of a thrall
And union high above this bent
Old parable of what is meant
By God's allegiance to his own.
This night his sons could hear him groan
From where he knelt beside the bed
Of Asenath. And when he spread
His arms full length along the frame
Of her damp sheets, and said her name,
She stirred with life, and wakened from
Her sleep. “I'm glad that you have come,”
She said. “We hadn't kissed good bye.
Besides, I need your help to die.”
“I need your help to live,” he said.
She smiled. “No other man has fed
More deeply on the providence
Of God than you, nor seen events
Turn in the hand of God from bad
To good, the way you have. One sad
And painful season followed by
Another one, and yet the high
Designs of God, in time, revealed.
O Joseph, if my soul is to be sealed
For God, and faith sustained tonight,
I need to see some glimpse of bright
And hopeful purposes that go
Beyond what man can do. I know
That God is good and wise and strong.
But O how every painful wrong,
Is like an arrow at my soul.
And I begin to doubt the whole
Design of God, and that the pain
And loss will really turn to gain.
I need you, Joseph, this is why.
Now speak the truth and help me die.”
He looked at her in wonder, then
Across the little room at Ben
And Judah, keeping vigil all
Night long, then said, “Do you recall
I told you once, long time ago,
About my sister?”Yes, I know
You loved her very much.”When I
Left home, she lay with fever by
Her mother Leah just the way
You lie by me tonight. They say
She died the day I left. Do you
Know what her mother said in view
Of Dinah's nearing death? She said –
And mind you, we both knew she's dead –
She smiled and said, ‘She'll be all right.'
She meant it, Asenath. Despite
The fever and the death, she meant
That she would be all right. I spent
Some two and twenty years before
I understood. But now, far more
Than any earthly hope, I hold
Unwavering to this, and bold
I whisper, Asenath: death does
Not have the final word, nor was
The promise Leah made absurd.”
She gripped his hand and said, “I've heard
You say this many times, and I
Would love to know before I die
How, Joseph, you became so sure
That this is true. It is no cure
For doubt, to simply give the sense
Of promises. One needs defense
And warrant in the flood of claims
That swamps the dying soul, and shames
What little thought remains.”
You, Asenath. And, Lord, dispel
By this the doubt that battles for
The soul of my dear wife. God swore
To me, by doubling my dream,
That all my brothers would esteem
Me as a prince, and bow before
Me to the ground. But even more:
Not just eleven stars bow down,
But also sun and moon. The crown
Of Joseph would be honored by
His father and (mark this, and try
To understand) his mother, who
Had died ten years before. How do
You think God meant for Rachel to
Bow down when she was dead? I knew
From that day on that more was meant
By my small dreams than the intent
My brothers saw.
Put in my hand the ruling rod
Of Egypt. Pharaoh dreamed, like me,
A doubled dream, fixed by decree.
And Providence designed that I,
In jail, should be remembered by
A former prisoner, and brought
Before the king. And there God wrought
A wonder, and I saw the years
To come, the cattle and the ears
Of corn, some fat, some blighted by
The heat. And for my work, the high
And lofty king of Egypt gave
To me a crown with which to save,
All unbeknown to him and me,
My rich and desperate family.
Then nine years later all the dreams,
Came true, except for this, it seems:
My mother did not come. The moon
Did not bow down. Does this impugn
The prophecy?” He paused to see
If Asenath were listening. “Could be,”
She said, “that God meant Leah by
The moon, not Rachel.”Good eye,
Dear Asenath, except she died
In Canaan. Just last week I spied
The cave where Jacob buried her
Before he came to Egypt. Were
She then the moon, what would we see?
The moon has not yet bowed to me.”
“What do you make of that?” she said.
“My mother will rise from the dead.
And so will you, my love. And this
Is warrant sure and solid bliss:
No word of God will go unfilled.
Death will not hinder what he's willed.
The moon will yet bow down to me,
Or One whose type I'm meant to be.
I saved a people here with grain,
Another comes to take their pain.
I rule with borrowed royalty,
Another comes with dignity
That's all his own. The scepter will
Belong to him, his kingdom fill
The whole wide earth, and all that I
Have been will point to him. And by
A sovereign pow'r, he'll keep his vow:
The sun and stars and moon will bow.
God is not Father of the dead,
But of the living, as he said.”
And as he looked into the eyes
Of Asenath, she died. “So flies
Away my love as peacefully
As doves at dawn which I now see
Once more: the rising sun to fill
The cavern with a golden light,
That brings a hopeful end to night,
And keeps me through my prison stay,
Awaiting God's appointed day.
Farewell, sweet Asenath, good-bye;
I hope that I have helped you die.”
Then Joseph turned and saw the face
Of Judah streaked with tears. “Free grace,
My older brother, melts the heart.
Not I nor you deserves the part
We play. To me belongs the need
For signs. To you belongs the seed.
I bear the scepter to portend;
Your son will bear it without end.
I gave the saints the staff of bread,
But he will raise them from the dead.
Come, Judah, let us cease from strife
You sold me, but God gave me life.
Come fill your cup up to the brim,
But let us both bow down to him.
This is the light of candle four
The end of death, the end of war.