In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...
As I read the creation story today, I am struck (not for the first time, but maybe the most clearly) by how closely the Genesis account of creation meshes with the "scientific" account of creation. That is to say, if one were to describe creation in the way many scientists now believe it occurred to one with the scientific background and knowledge of someone living 4,500 years ago, that description would be very similar to what we see in scripture.
"God said, 'Let there be light.'" He spoke the universe into existence. I suspect that there was a pretty "big bang" when that happened. He gathered the waters and the earth. Life began in the water and moved to the land. The animals were created and then man.
All sounds like the process and progression that scientists now claim created - uncaused and unguided - the universe and life.
The third and fourth chapters of Genesis bring us two stories. The second is Cain and Abel. The first is the central story, the central issue, of both Christianity and Judaism - the fall of man.
To start with, I cannot accept this passage, actually any of the passages in at least the first third of the book of Genesis, as literal history. Setting aside the fact that there was no witness to the creation - at least no human witness - there are issues that arise when comparing these stories with what science tells us about the history of the world, and what common sense tells us. (Did Cain and Seth marry their own sisters, children of Adam and Eve about whom we aren't told? I don't believe that, but some people do.) Certainly, much of the passage reads as history, but not all of it. The "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" sounds metaphorical, the "cherubim and flaming sword" guarding Eden sound poetic.
Whether the story of the fall is historical or metaphorical, it is the background assumption for everything that follows. "Since by man came death," wrote Paul to the Corinthians, "by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." And indeed, this 3rd chapter of Genesis also contains the first Biblical allusion to Christ, as God addresses the serpent:
I will put enmity between [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
Certainly, "her offspring" is a foreshadowing of the incarnation, and the crushing of the serpent's head represents Christ's ultimate victory over death.
Are we all tainted by "original sin?" J.I. Packer, in Concise Theology, describes original sin as the doctrine that
makes the point that we are not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners, born with a nature enslaved to sin...[and] it derives to us in a real though mysterious way from Adam, our first representative before God.
It's a doctrine that has always bothered me. But I certainly cannot argue that I'm aware of any counter-examples that falsify it. Well, other than Jesus, of course. I will say that as I age, I become more aware of my own shortcomings, moral and otherwise, and if "total depravity" and "original sin" aren't technically accurate terms, well, they'll do until we figure out what the correct terms are.
The story of Cain and Abel - that I don't really know what to do with. If it's not historical, if it is supposed to be a metaphor, well, I don't understand what the metaphor is1. All I have are questions. Why was Cain's offering rejected? Who was the mark of Cain supposed to protect him from? What is the lesson here?
OK, on one more re-reading (this time in the NIV) something stands out that didn't when I read the KJV. In verse 7, the Lord says to Cain, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." This is the free will argument. We are faced with the world, and many choices. Cain chose wrong, he did not master his sin, and was punished as a result. Is this just an extension of the lesson of chapter 3? Punishment comes to those who do not follow God's will.
Before I get to today's reading, I need to make an update to yesterday's. I misread my schedule, and instead of reading Genesis 3-4, I should have read Genesis 3-5.
So a quick comment on chapter 5.
Chapter 5 contains the first (but certainly not the last) extended genealogy in the Old Testament. It was previewed at the end of chapter four with a brief genealogy of Cain to Lamech and his sons. But chapter 5 makes it explicit up-front - "this is the book of the generations of Adam [KJV]." (Or "this is the written account of Adam's line [NIV].")
Clearly, this passage is historical in nature. There is no poetry, almost nothing that can be taken as prophecy, or metaphor, or wisdom. The lineage of Adam to Noah:
Adam->Seth->Enos[h]->Cainan (or Kenan)->Mahalale[e]l->Jared->Enoch->Methuselah->Lamech->Noah.
So there are a couple of interesting things in this genealogy:
- In the line of Adam through Cain, back in chapter 4, we had Enoch and Methushael->Lamech. In the line of Adam through Seth, we have Enoch->Methuselah->Lamech. If we go to the Hebrew, names of Lamech's father are identical other than the last two characters. It may mean nothing, but it makes me wonder whether one of the lists might not be a corrupted version of the other.
- Enoch "walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." Literally1, "and-he-walked Enoch with the-God (elohim) then-he-was-not because he-took him God." So Enoch, alone of human beings recorded in the Bible, never died.
- Adam lived 930 years. Jared lived 962 years. Methuselah, 969. The nine generations from the birth of Seth to the birth of Noah spans 1056 years. Either people were very different back then, or the world was very different, or something is wrong with the dating. I don't have any idea why that would be. Somewhere, I ran across the idea that mankind was fresh from Eden, and they lived a life closer to the natural life-span God intended. My inclination is to believe that the years referred to in the list are not the same 365 day years that we talk about today. I have no evidence for that, none whatsoever. It's just what occurs to me as a likely reason.
Not as quick a comment as I had intended. Ah, well...
I wonder if there's any better known story from the Bible than the story of Noah and the flood. It's been told so many times in so many ways that I wouldn't even know where to begin to try to add anything to it, and it's one of the most straightforward stories in the Bible. God "saw how corrupt the earth had become" and said, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth." Noah was a righteous man, did what God asked, and he and his family were saved, as well as two of every animal, male and female.
This is not the only version of the flood story in the ancient near-east. It is likely, overwhelmingly likely, in my opinion, that this is based on a historical event. But it also reads as a theodicy, a meditation on the nature and behavior of God.
At the end of chapter 9, the earth has been de-populated, as God washed away most of mankind in the flood. So the next step is repopulation. Chapter 10 is a genealogy chapter, listing the descendants of the sons of Noah. There's very little narrative, though it does contain the first mention of Nimrod, son of Cush, "a mighty hunter before the LORD." He is credited (though we might use that term advisedly) with establishing a kingdom in Babylon, and building the city of Nineveh. Each of those is a kingdom that will be viewed negatively by the people of God, so maybe "blamed" would be a more apt description than "credited."
- Who were the Nephilim?
- What is the distinction between "sons of God" and "daughters of men?"
- The covenant in chapter 9 is the first biblical covenant that we see. It won't be the last.
- If he only took two of each animal, what species are we missing because of the sacrifice after they landed?
- If I'd known that Ham was the father of Canaan (and I guess I must have, as I've read it before), I'd forgotten.
And then, in chapter 11, the world re-populated promptly lapses again into sin. The story of the tower of Babel is, surprisingly for a story with such reknown and impact, only 9 verses long. And that's followed by more genealogy, as we get the line of descent from Shem to Abram.
And that is more than enough of the "book report" format.
Odds & ends
In chapter 12, the story of the Jews really begins, as God calls Abram.
- Interesting to see the sons (Magog, Canaan, etc.) whose names appear later as places or tribes.
- A note at the biblegateway says that "sons may mean descendants or successors or nations" so I guess it isn't that interesting.
- Likewise, of course, "father may mean ancestor or predecessor or founder."
- In modern speech, "anti-semite" tends to refer only to hatred/dislike/discrimination against the Jewish people. But the Semitic people are the descendants of Shem, and most are not Jewish, as we're still several generations before the birth of Israel.
- Apparently, some traditions attribute the building of the tower of Babel to Nimrod. I wasn't aware of that, but it's not hard to see why. He has just been mentioned as one that built a powerful kingdom, "a mighty hunter before the LORD" doesn't mean the same thing as a mighty hunter for the LORD, and the names Babel and Babylon may be (apparently are) the same name. UPDATE: I've checked the Hebrew, and yes, the Babylon of chapter 10 and the Babel of chapter 11 are the same word. Exactly the same word, not just sharing a root, but exactly the same - Bet-Bet-Lamed.
- In a pattern that is to be repeated throughout the Old Testament, and indeed, human history on scales both great and small, punishment does not bring about permanent change. It has some immediate effects, but as time increases, past punishments lose their motivating impact. The first generation may be more-or-less permanently corrected, but sin creeps in to the second, and subsequent generations don't have any experience of the correction. It's just a story. Some are better preserved and more obviously true than others, as Edmund Burke said, "example is the school of mankind and they will learn at no other."
- Also, a "fallen" mankind, infected with "original sin," can not avoid continuing to sin.
- The story of the tower of Babel has a particularly unflattering portrait of God.
And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
We know that God is a "jealous" God (and I'll discuss that when I get to that usage), but rather than a punishment, this actually reads as a preemptive strike against a presumptive foe. As if mankind actually represents a threat to God's sovereignty.
- The postdeluvian numbers have changed significantly. In the genealogy from Adam to Noah, the sons were born to fathers aged 65 to 180. From Shem to Abram, the typical ages are 29-35. Shem was 100 and Terah was 70, but the rest are at what we would now consider typical ages for first children.
- Terah had three sons - Abram, Nahor and Haran. But Haran is clearly both a person (the son of Terah, brother of Nahor and Abram, father of Milcah and Iscah) and a place ("they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.")
- If the relationships are correct and complete (that is, there aren't intervening generations or unnamed persons involved) then Nahor married his niece. Obviously, this long predates the Levitical laws in which that would be forbidden. And I don't know when humanity would have grasped the biological fact of the problems associated with close blood relatives procreating.
I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
It is not the first time that God has chosen one man over others. He chose Abel's sacrifice over Cain's, and he chose Noah and his family over the rest of humanity. But it is the first time that he chooses one man to establish a line through which he will enlighten and bless humanity, as opposed to just not punishing one. So Abram, with his family and his brother Lot, moves through the Holy Land (which becomes the Holy Land in verse seven: "unto thy seed will I give this land") but continued south to Egypt because there was a famine in the land. Some unseemly, at least to our modern eyes, behavior benefits Abram before he heads north into the promised land once more.
In chapter 13, Abram and Lot, along with all of their possessions, arive back in Bethel. But they've accumulated so much wealth, in the form of cattle and sheep and camels, that the land will not support both of them and their possessions. Abram suggests to Lot that he (Lot) go one way (choose one) and he (Abram) will go the other. Lot chose "the whole plain of the Jordan." Abram moved to Hebron.
Chapter 14 tells the story of Abram's rescue of Lot. The backdrop was the war between the kings of many of the small kingdoms of the ancient near-east. Many of them were rebelling against Chedorlaomer (Kedorlaomer), having been subject to him for 12 years. Two of the kings were the kings of Sodom () and Gomorrah (). Lot was swept up or captured or kidnapped during this war, and carried away to the north. Abram went after them, and with "the 318 trained men born in his household," he defeated Kedorlaomer and brought back Lot and his possessions. The king of Sodom encouraged him to return the people and keep the possessions, but Abram refused to keep anything other than what his men had eaten, claiming that he had made an oath to God.
Odds & ends
We've already seen God promise the land of Canaan to Abram. In chapters 15-17, we see the establishment of a formal covenant between God and Abram, whom he renames Abraham.
- The passage in Egypt is, as so many of the Old Testament passages are, jarring to our modern sensibilities. Which may actually be an understatement. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which a man would fear for his life because of his wife and possessions, but the idea that he would have her pretend to be his sister and then just acquiesce to whatever happens is ... well, it's not one that is comfortable to us.
- If God punished Pharaoh because Abram lied to him, and Pharaoh found out, why did he send Abram off with valuable parting gifts?
- There are two mentions of a story yet to come. When Lot looks over the plain of the Jordan, the narrator informs us that "God had not yet destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah." When he pitched his tents near Sodom, we are told that "the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD."
- There are other anachronistic terms indicating a late telling of the story.
- In Gen 14:13, we Abram referred to as "Abram the Hebrew." This is the first appearance of the term "Hebrew"1 in scripture.
- In verse 14, we are told that Abram chased them as far as Dan.
- Melchizedek king of Salem (Jerusalem) is referred to as "a priest of God most high." It is difficult to know exactly what that would mean in the time before the birth of Israel.
- There are some who believe that these stories, indeed all of the stories of the patriarchs, are later inventions, just myth-making. There is significant evidence to the contrary, from the relative frequency of name forms to the price of slaves to the forms of covenants to placing action in cities that were unoccupied and unknown at the time of the alleged invention.
- I am not positive, but I believe that Chedorlaomer is one of the historical figures for whom there is extra-biblical evidence. UPDATE: A google search suggests the existence of Babylonian texts where the name appears, but significantly later than the time of the patriarchs.
Chapter 15 begins with the Lord appearing to Abram in a vision and telling him that a great nation will be established of his descendants. Abram points out that he doesn't actually have any children and God assures him that he will. God instructs him to perform a sacrifice, and they establish a covenant.
Chapter 16 has Sarai, barren to this point, offering her maid Hagar to Abram as a vessel for producing an heir. But after Hagar is impregnated, she begins "to despise" Sarai. Sarai mistreats her and Hagar flees, only to have an angel of the Lord appear to her and send her back with news that the Lord would "so increase [her] descendants that they will be too numerous to count." So she returned and "bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne."
Then in chapter 17, the Lord confirms his covenant with Abram. He renames him Abraham ("for I have made you a father of many nations") and gives him "the whole land of Canaan." He also renames Sarai to Sarah. He sets circumcision as the sign of the covenant. He tells Abraham that Sarah will bear him a son and they are to call him Isaac. And then Abraham, and all of the men of his house, "that very day" were circumcised.
Thoughts, questions, issues
Chapter 18 tells of another meeting between Abraham and the LORD. It starts with Abraham seeing three men standing nearby. He encourages Sarah to bake bread, and he has a servant prepare a calf, and he feeds the men. At some point, it becomes obvious that the men either are manifestations of, or represent, the LORD. The LORD tells Abraham that he will return in a year and Sarah will have a son. Sarah, overhearing, laughs at the impossibility of having a son at her age, but denies it when challenged.
- Earlier, Abram spoke with God, or God spoke to Abram, and there really wasn't any detail about the communication. It sounded as if God were corporeal and they were sitting and chatting. Here, God is portrayed as appearing to Abram "in a vision."
- There are a lot of verses in these passages that can be read in multiple ways because of so many pronouns. Or rather, so few. 15:6, for example - "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." This may be clear in the Hebrew, as they may decline their pronouns, but in English, that could be "he [Abram] credited it to him [God] as righteousness" or "he [God] attributed it to him [Abram] as righteousness." I assume that the latter is the correct reading, but it's not clear from the English version.
- God tells Abram about the captivity in, and exodus from, Egypt. Given that these stories, however they were handed down, weren't necessarily written until the time of the exodus, this is the kind of thing that leads people to believe that they are myths.
- I'm not sure that I understand what the word "despise" means in the Old Testament. The contexts in which it is used seems to carry a connotation other than "hate," which is what I always thought it meant. Maybe that's close enough, but it doesn't feel right. There seems to be a sense of contempt, which I've never considered to be an aspect of despite. I'm probably wrong, but the usage here, for Hagar's feelings toward Sarah, just doesn't feel like "despise" to me, so I guess I'm not quite understanding it.
- It's not clear to me why the Angel's message - "He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers" - made Hagar think going back was a good idea. Or did she do it in order to cause torment, difficulty, problems for Sarah?
- The covenant is only one-sided until chapter 17. God has told Abram/Abraham a couple of times that he will the father of many nations, that his descendants would be a chosen people, but it isn't until chapter 17 that any requirements are laid on them. It's all one-sided - this is what the LORD God will do - until then.
- Abram didn't have to spend much time with the book of baby names.
As the three are/the LORD is leaving, they/he look(s) toward Sodom, and the LORD informs Abraham of his intent to examine Sodom, discover if it is as bad as he's been led to believe, and destroy it if true. Abraham negotiates and wins the sparing of the city if it contains 10 righteous men.
Chapter 19 chronicles
It ends with the disturbing story of Lot's daughters being impregnated by their father.
- the Angels' visit to Sodom
- the attempt by the mob to rape them
- the rescue of Lot and his family from Sodom
- the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
- the turning of Lot's wife into a "pillar of salt"
In chapter 20, Abraham and Sarah travel to Gerar and deal with the king, Abimelech. As in Egypt, Abraham presents Sarah as his sister. As in Egypt, the king takes Sarah. As in Egypt, God punishes the king for taking another man's wife. And, as in Egypt, Abraham leaves richer than he came.
Thoughts, questions, issues
Chapter 21 begins with the birth of Isaac, just as God had promised. Abraham was a 100 year old new dad, and Sarah was a 90-something new mom. But as Isaac was weaned, the friction between Sarah and Hagar increased. Sarah begged Abraham to send them away, and God told Abraham to do what Sarah wanted, because it was "through Isaac that your offspring [b] will be reckoned." Hagar and Ishmael went off through the desert, and when the water was gone, she left him under a bush to die. But an Angel appeared and led them to water, so they survived and lived in the desert. "God was with the boy as he grew up." Abraham and Abimelech formed a treaty that Abraham (who had God's support) would "not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants."
- To say that there is much in this section that I don't understand would be an understatement. (Although that statement would seem to indicate that there are sections that don't have much that I don't understand, and that's probably not accurate either...)
- Does the first half of chapter 18 contain an early reference to the Trinity? The story alternates between "three men" and "the LORD" as the entity or entities with which Abraham is speaking. Are they Angels? Manifestations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Is the hospitality due to Abraham's recognition of them as holy messengers, or is that a cultural behavior?
- An omniscient God does not need to examine a city [Sodom, Gomorrah] to know what is going on, how bad the situation is, how many good men there are or anything else. This passage is strange, not only because of the limits implied, but because Abraham is seen not only debating with God, but leading him in argument, essentially teaching him.
- God's vision is not ours, God's motives are not ours, and the story, if true, may be true for good reasons that I'm incapable of, or possibly just lack context for, understanding.
- Why, on the other hand, would someone invent, at a late date, a story that makes the almighty God that they worship look so limited?
- I called the story of Lot's daughters disturbing, and it is. But there's almost nothing in chapter 19 that is not disturbing.
- The depth of depravity indicated by mobs pounding on Lot's door and demanding that the visitors be sent out to be ravished is, obviously, significant. To my modern eyes and sensibilities, it's not obvious that Lot's answer - here, take my virgin daughters - is any less depraved.
- There is some debate about whether the sin of Sodom was the homosexuality or the licentiousness. I have heard it argued, and it was compelling at the time, that that it was the former. I do not remember the details of the argument. It seems as if there was plenty of sin to go around, whichever position you hold.
- There is some similarity between the story of Lot's wife and the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Is this coincidence or cultural cross-contamination?
- The story of Lot's daughters getting him drunk and getting impregnated is disturbing. It also is the kind of story that makes all kinds of sense as a late invention.
The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
The books of Moses were recorded at the time of the Exodus and the conquest. If you're going into land that is currently occupied, you are going to be more motivated, as a people, if you believe that the land is yours by divine right, and if the people currently living there are illegitimate descendants of drunken incest.
- The story of Abraham and Abimelech in chapter 20 is exactly the same story that we read about Abram and Pharoah back in chapter 12. There are no substantive differences, only trappings - place and persons. The behavior is identical. Is this one story that got told a couple of different ways and ended up recorded as two different stories?
- If they aren't the same story, if it did happen twice, and Abraham, having profited the first time, did it again with another ruler, isn't he, well, a pimp?
- Abraham tells Abimelech that Sarah is his half-sister, claiming that the "she's my sister" was not a lie. This is the first mention of their relationship being incestuous. As I've said before, and will have occasion to again, the story is set before the law was handed down. It is unclear to me when, exactly, humanity would have developed practical strictures against said behavior. It is not clear to me, then, that this is viewed as improper in context, no matter how we look at it now.
In chapter 22 God tested Abraham. He instructed Abraham to take his son Isaac, through who he had promised to make a great nation, into the mountains and sacrifice him. When Abraham was just about to do so, the Lord provided a ram to take his place, but Abraham had demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice his son. The chapter ends with a couple of incongruous verses of genealogy about the sons borne to Milcah and Nahor.
Chapter 23 sees the death of Sarah at 127 years old, in Hebron in Canaan. Abraham negotiated for the rights to the field of Ephron the Hittite in which to bury her, and "Ephron's field in Machpelah near Mamre...was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city." He buried Sarah in the cave, and "the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site."
Thoughts, questions, issues
Chapter 24 features the familiar story of Isaac and Rebekah. Abraham wants to find a wife for his son Isaac from among his own people. He sends a servant to "Aram Naharaim," to the town of Nahor, where the servant finds Rebekah drawing water from the well. After some discussion with Rebekah, in which she responds in the way that the servant had prayed to the Lord that she would, she agrees to go back and become Isaac's bride.
- Here's another thing about the Abraham/Abimelech story from chapter 20 - it feels out of place. It seems as if it is stuck in to the middle of the Isaac story. There's no reference to Hagar or Ishmael, no mention of God's promise. It just doesn't seem to go between 19 and 21.
- I continue to think that the God of Abraham, as portrayed in these middle chapters of Genesis, does not come across as a God of love that created the universe and wants us to love and honor him.
- This is going to sound silly, but when I read God's demand that Abraham sacrifice his son, I'm reminded of James T. Kirk's question, "what need has God of a starship?"
- Abraham talked to God, saw visions of God, heard the word of God. But when a message is as contrary to what you believe God to be as the message to sacrifice Isaac was, how do you trust it? Human sacrifice was a pagan activity.
- I have no idea what the Milcah/Nahor genealogy is there for. I have to assume that some of those names are going to come up again.
- There's a lot of emphasis in the last chapter about the land being Abraham's, being deeded to him, and the Hittites acknowledging it.
In chapter 25, Abraham, having taken a new wife, fathers more children (including Midian), but still "left everything he owned to Isaac" when he died. He was buried (by his sons Isaac and Ishmael) in the cave in Hebron with Sarah. The rest of the chapter gives genealogies, at least for one generation, for Ishmael and Isaac. As for Ishmael, "His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go toward Asshur. And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers." Isaac and Rebekah have twins, Esau and Jacob. Esau is the older, but sells his birthright to his brother Jacob in exchange for a meal, for "some bread and some lentil stew."
Chapter 26 features the third iteration of the "she's my sister, not my wife" story. First it was Abram and Sarai in Egypt with Pharoah (GEN 12). Then it was Abraham and Sarah in Gerar with Abimelech (GEN 20). Now it's Isaac and Rebekah in Gerar with Abimelech. And there's more echoing in the second half of the chapter, as Isaac and Abimelech (and Phicol the commander of his forces) negotiate a pact over a well, much as Abraham and Abimelech (and Phicol the commander of his forces) did at Beersheba (GEN 21).
Thoughts, questions, issues
In Genesis 27, Isaac, aging and blind, wants to bless his elder son (and favorite) Esau. He sends Esau out to hunt, telling him to return and prepare a meal for him, and receive his blessing. Esau goes out hunting, but Rebekah, having overheard, encourages Jacob (her favorite) to kill a goat, prepare a meal, and receive Esau's blessing. He protests that Isaac won't be fooled, as Esau is hairy and Jacob isn't, but Rebekah prepares the goatskins and hangs them on Jacob's neck and arms. Jacob feeds Isaac and receives the blessing intended for Esau, including "be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you." Esau returns, prepares a meal for Isaac and prepares to receive his father's blessing, only to find that his younger twin has already received it. Isaac blesses him, but not with the same blessing. Esau determined that he would kill has brother as soon as the days of mourning for their father had passed. Rebekah hears this and encourages Jacob to leave for Haran, to escape his brother's wrath, and also to look for a non-Canaanite, non-Hittite wife.
- Isaac and Rebekah are cousins, as her grandfather Nahor was Abraham's brother.
- We've seen a lot of tribal intermarriage in this book.
- It's not clear to me what Rebekah's motivation would be. If the Lord has told her to go, we don't hear about it.
- The end of the last verse in chapter 24 is, to our modern sensibilities, odd. Isaac marries Rebekah and "was comforted after his mother's death." That isn't what we would normally consider to be an important outcome of a marriage.
- Abraham took another wife and had more children, but was buried with Sarah after his death.
- I commented earlier that I'm not sure I understand exactly what "despise" means in the Old Testament. We see it again in chapter 25, as Esau "despised" his birthright. There seems to be a "turned away from" or "rejected" kind of connotation.
- It's not clear how cheaply he sold it. If he was actually dying of hunger, well, it was the price of life. The passage doesn't seem as if his situation were desperate, but again, it's not clear. At least not to me.
- I'm starting to feel very stupid about this "sister not wife" story. How is that I've read Genesis at least a couple of times and never realized that it came over and over again?1 And if it appears over and over again, there must be a point, right? Why don't I see it?
- The story of the treaty between Isaac and Abimelech in chapter 26 is so similar to the story of the treaty between Abraham and Abimelech in chapter 21 that I wonder (again) if this isn't one story, corrupted and told twice. To emphasize two of the points of similarity, in both stories, Abimelech is accompanied by Phicol, and in both stories are we given a variant of "to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba."
Genesis 28 features the story of Jacob's journey to Haran. He actually goes at the behest of his father, as Isaac wants him to find a wife from his own people. He stops and sleeps in Bethel, and has a dream. In his dream, he sees a ladder (or staircase) reaching to heaven, with Angels traveling up and down upon it. At the top, God stands and tells him
Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.
In Genesis 29 Jacob arrives in Haran where he meets his mother's brother Laban, and Laban's daughters (Jacob's cousins) Leah and Rachel. He stays and works for Laban, who agrees to give him Rachel as a wife after 7 years. When the 7 years ends, there's a wedding feast and Laban brings his daughter in to Jacob, but he discovers the following morning that it was Leah rather than Rachel. Laban explains that they don't give the younger daughter in marriage until the older is wed. The upshot is that Jacob remains for seven more years, and then marries Rachel. He loves her, but Leah, who is unloved, begins having children, while Rachel remains barren. At least, that's the case through the end of chapter 29.
Thoughts, questions, issues
In chapter 30, Rachel, upset that her sister Leah is bearing sons to Jacob (four so far - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah), sends her maidservant Bilhah to Jacob to provide children for her. Bilhah bears two sons (Dan, Naphtali). Leah, who had stopped having children, sent her maidservant Zilpah to Jacob, and he fathered two more sons (Gad, Asher). Then Leah gives Rachel some mandrakes which Reuben had gathered in exchange for the right(?) to go and sleep with Jacob again, and she eventually produces two more sons (Issachar, Zebulun) and a daughter (Dinah). Then "God remembered Rachel...and opened her womb." She bore a son (Joseph) and prayed for another.
- "The Wilkes' always marry their cousins."
- Gone With The Wind
There's a lot of that going on here, but I guess it lasted a lot longer than I was really thinking earlier in the week.
- One of the striking things about the patriarchal stories is how dishonest they are. From the repeat denials of the identity of wives to Jacob's lie to get Isaac's blessing, we actually see very little in the way of admirable behavior.
- The issue of the "stolen" blessing is another one that doesn't sit well with our modern sensibilities. Why is it that Isaac cannot just bless Esau the same way? If there is some kind of essential or mystical quality to the blessing, why can't he withdraw it from Jacob? It's an odd passage, and it reads very oddly now.
- "We are ... climbing ... Jacob's Ladder ... Children of the cross..."
- I've lost track, already, of how many times the LORD has promised the "promised land" to Abraham and his sons.
- And the dishonesty shows itself again, with Laban sending Leah rather than Rachel in to Jacob.
- How old is Rachel? If she's of a marriageable age when promised to Jacob, well, she's 14 years older before the wedding. That seems...unfair. Unrealistic. Yet another example of a time scale that seems questionable.
- Obviously, bigamy wasn't a concern. Polygamy was a realistic and acceptable practice.
After the birth of Joseph, Jacob went to Laban and expressed a desire to return to his "own homeland." Laban wanted him to remain, knowing that God had blessed him through Jacob, but said he could leave if he wanted, and "name your wages." Jacob proposed to take all "speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat." Laban agreed, then promptly removed all of the described animals from the flock and into the care of his sons, and three days travel away from where Jacob was tending his flocks. Jacob peeled strips of bark from trees, exposing white wood, and putting those strips into the watering trough "so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink." And the animals mated in front of the trough and had spotted or streaked offspring, which he separated from Laban's flock. He did this when the strong animals mated but not the weak, so the weak animals went to Laban and he kept the strong. "The man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys."
In Genesis 31, Jacob sees a change in Laban's attitude towards him. Then the LORD tells him to "go back to the land of your fathers." He calls Rachel and Leah in from the fields, and describes for them the ways that Laban has been unfair to him, and a dream in which God encouraged him to leave. They gather together all of the children, and all of Jacob's herds and flocks and head back to Canaan, without telling Laban. In the process, Rachel takes Laban's "household Gods."
Laban (of course) pursues, and catches up with them in the hill country of Gilead. They talk, and Jacob says that he left without telling for fear that Laban would take his daughters, Jacob's wives, from him by force. And he agrees that "if you find anyone who has your gods, he shall not live." They search the entire camp but do not find the gods (which are hidden in Rachel's camel's saddle, and she refuses to stand up from it, claiming that she's having her period). They set up a pillar of stone at that spot, and agree that neither shall pass it to harm the other. The next morning, Laban kissed and blessed his daughters and grandchildren and turned back towards his home.
Chapter 32 deals with Jacob's return home. He knew when he left that his brother Esau wanted to kill him, and he knows that he must deal with Esau. First, he divides his party into two groups, on the grounds that if Esau finds and destroys one, the other will survive. Then he gathers groups from his herds and sends them ahead with messengers, as a gift to Esau. That night, he sent his two wives, 11 sons (no mention of his daughter) and possessions across the ford of Jabbok. Alone on the other side, he wrestled with a man until daybreak, and then the man injured Jacob's hip. Jacob demands a blessing, and the man tells him, "your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel [he struggles with God], because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."
Thoughts, questions, issues
In Genesis 33, Jacob returns home. He meets with his brother Esau, and they throw their arms around one another and reconcile. Esau doesn't want the gifts of sheep and cattle, but Jacob insists. They settle back into Canaan, with Jacob buying land from "Hamor, the father of Shechem." "There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel."
- This passage, chapters 30-32, introduces us to Israel, and 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel.
- One of the hardest things to do when documents from antiquity is to avoid seeing everything through the lenses of our modern culture. Because there's very little in this book that isn't offensive to our modern sensibilities. Consider the multiple wives sending their maidservants in to be impregnated by their husband. Leaving aside the question of sexual fidelity, the maidservants are clearly chattel, unworthy of consideration or contribution to a decision.
- The disappearing Dinah would seem to show the same thing.
- Laban has "household Gods." This is, of course, before the revelation on Sinai and the handing down of the ten commandments.
- It's interesting, and a bit uncomfortable, to see reference to what is generally a fairly personal and private aspect of a woman's life in a story like this.
- Is the putting of the stripped wood into the trough an "old wives tale?" Was that a cue for God to create streaked or spotted animals? Or is there (which would shock me) some actual biological fact at play here?
- The dishonesty is rampant. Laban agrees to a price and quickly attempts to reduce, if not eliminate, it. Jacob cherry picks from Laban's herd. Rachel steals her father's household Gods. None of this seems to be a character flaw.
- It says that Jacob is alone and wrestles with a man. As the man is never identified, and claims to speak for God, it is clear that a) the man is an angel or b) the man is an incarnation of God's power or c) the man that Jacob wrestles with is himself. The first option seems the most likely.
- I don't know enough anatomy for the hip reference to mean anything to me, if it's something specific. I don't get it.
I said yesterday that Dinah had disappeared from the narrative, but she returns in chapter 34. She is raped by Shechem, the son of Hamor. His claims to be in love with her, and tells his father that he wants her for his wife. Hamor tells Jacob, but Jacob's sons have found out what happened and are furious. They deceitfully agree to intermarry with Hamor's people if, and only if, the men are all circumcised. The "Hamorites" agree and all the men are circumcised. Three days later, while the men are all recovering from the procedure, "still in pain," Simeon and Levi take their swords and kill every male in the city. Then "the sons of Jacob" loot and plunder the city. Jacob is upset, feeling that this will make it much harder and more dangerous for them to live there, but his sons think that doing otherwise would have meant allowing that their sister be treated as a prostitute.
Genesis 35 - God appears to Jacob and tells him to return to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar. So he has his family give up all of their "foreign gods" and "rings in their ears" and he buries them "under the oak at Shechem." The return to Bethel and Jacob builds an altar "and called the place El Bethel." God again tells him that his name shall be Israel and that "a nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you."
As they moved on from Bethel, Rachel went in to labor and struggled to give birth. As she was dying, she named her new-born son Ben-Oni (son of my struggle) but Jacob called him Benjamin (son of my right hand.) Rachel was buried. Eventually, they return to Hebron. Isaac "died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years." Esau and Jacob buried him.
Chapter 36 lists the descendants of Esau, sometimes called Edom. First, he and Jacob separated, much as Abram and Lot had done earlier, because the land could not support all of their wealth (livestock). Then we get "the account of Esau the father of the Edomites." Notable descendants are mentioned, as well as chiefs and kings of his line.
Thoughts, questions, issues
We've now been introduced to the 12 tribes of Israel:
- Jacob deceived his father to get his older brothers blessing on the belief that his father was on his deathbed. He then left the area and spent 20 years in Laban's service. But when he comes back, not only does Esau greet him, Isaac is still alive.
- To save myself from repetitively apologizing for repeating myself, I'm going to define an acronym. Whenever you see MSW, that's a "Modern Sensibilities Warning." That means, "yes, I know that I'm looking at this particular issue through the lens of my chronological snobbery, and I'm aware of the potential for misunderstanding, or just plain missing, the point."
- The reference to Israel ("Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in [or against]] Israel") in 34:7 seems anachronistic. That same chapter refers in every instance to "Jacob's sons" and "Jacob's daughter."
- MSW: If he wants to marry the girl, why did Shechem "violate" here first? Wouldn't it make more sense to wait?
- What is there in what has gone before to make anyone thing that the kind of behavior exhibited actually warranted retribution? Lot offered his daughters to a mob. Simeon and Levi were sons of Leah, but several of their brothers were the product of (MSW) rape. Certainly there's no reason to think that Bilhah and Zilpah had any input whatsoever in their bearing Jacob's children.
- Sly and clever, I suppose, to deal with the Hamorites the way they did, but dishonest, too.
- There's an odd statement in the middle of chapter 35, saying that "Reuben went in and slept with his father's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it." There's no obvious connection between that comment and what precedes and follows it. Presumably, there's a reason for it being there, but the placement seems very strange.
- There are, I believe, five sons listed by three wives. Most of which are not names that I recognize. And presumably, many, if not most, are not to be heard from again.
- The one notable name (to me) from the Esau genealogy was Amalek, who I presume was the father of the Amalekites.
Sons of Leah
Genesis 37 begins with Joseph, now 17, working in the fields with his brothers (mostly half-brothers). His brothers resent Joseph, for being his father's favorite, shown by, for one example, receiving a "richly ornamented robe." He describes for his brothers a dream in which they are gathering sheaves in the field and his brothers' sheaves bow to his. Later, out in the fields, his brothers decide to kill him, but Rueben convinces them to throw him into a cistern, thinking that he can be rescued later. They throw him into a cistern, but see a group of Ishmaelites traveling and sell him into slavery. They tear his robe, cover it with goat's blood, and return it to Jacob/Israel, who mourns his son. Joseph reaches Egypt and is sold to Potiphar, captain of the Pharoah's guard.
Sons of Rachel
Sons of Rachel's maidservant Bilhah
Sons of Leah's maidservant Zilpah
In chapter 38, we get the story of Judah and Tamar. Judah took a wife and fathered, over a period of years, three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. Er married a woman named Tamar, but "was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death." Judah told Onan that he needed to father children with Tamar, to "fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother." Onan lay with her but intentionally did not get her pregnant, "spill[ing] his semen on the ground...What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also." Judah told Tamar to live as a widow in her father's house and that Shelah until Shelah grew up.
Some time later, after the death of Judah's wife, he traveled to Timnah to shear his sheep. Tamar, hearing about this, put on a veil and went out to that part of the country, because, though Shelah was grown, he had not been given to her. Judah, thinking her a prostitute, offered to pay a kid (goat) for sex. As he didn't have the kid with him, he gave her his signet and staff as collateral. When he later tried to pay, she, having dropped the veil and returned to her father's house, was not to be found. No one knew anything about a prostitute having been there.
Three months later, they came to Judah saying that his daughter-in-law Tamar was pregnant and, therefore, "guilty of prostitution." He said that she must be burned. She sent a message saying that she was pregnant by the man who had given her "these" and sent back the signet and staff. He reacted that "she is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah." She later gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah.
Genesis 39 returns to the story of Joseph, now living as a slave in Potiphar's house. He is trusted by his master, as the LORD helps him and gives him success in all he does. Potiphar's wife is attracted to him, and attempts to seduce him, but he refuses to violate his master's trust. He flees the house, leaving his cloak behind. When Potiphar returns, his wife presents the cloak as evidence in support of her story that Joseph tried "to make sport of" her. Potiphar is furious and Joseph is thrown in to prison. But even in prison, "the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden." As in Potiphar's house, the LORD gave him success in all that he did.
Thoughts, questions, issues
In Genesis 40, Joseph is joined in prison by the Pharoah's cupbearer and chief baker, both of whom have displeased Pharoah. During their first night they each of a dream, which they share with Joseph the following day. Joseph interprets the dreams (saying "interpretation belongs to God") and informs them (correctly) that the cupbearer will be restored to his position in three days, and the baker will be hanged. The cupbearer promises to remember Joseph, but promptly forgets him upon being restored in his position.
- It says that Joseph was Israel's favorite because he was the child of his old age, but Benjamin was younger. And there's no indication earlier that a) Jacob was (or was feeling) particularly old when Joseph was born, nor b) that there was any significant gap in age between Joseph and his older brothers. What would seem a more likely source of favoritism is that Joseph was the first son born to Rachel, whom Jacob loved and chose to wife, rather than those wives imposed on him by circumstance.
- There are indicators that Joseph might have been a jerk as a young man. "He brought their father a bad report about" his brothers. He wore his lavish robe out to the fields. He told them about his dreams of them bowing before him. A favorite child can be one of the group or he can flaunt his status. It sounds as if Joseph may well have done the latter.
- The story of Judah and Tamar predates any of the Levitical laws, and there has been no mention of brother's giving deceased brother wives children. Is this a cultural imperative? What is the source of the compulsion for Onan?
- The double standard is not new. Judah bought Tamar, Tamar sold herself to Judah. He thought that he'd done nothing wrong, and she deserved the death penalty.
- If Tamar was to be burned for presumably engaging in prostitution, how is it that proof that she had actually engaged in prostitution got her off the hook? There are, presumable, class or caste distinctions, but [MSW] it's very hard for a layman to read this story and understand many of the motivations.
- The motivations in the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, on the other hand, are not that difficult for a modern man to follow. She wants him. He doesn't want to violate a trust. She's scorned and furious. Yeah, that one works.
- Tom Robinson = Joseph. Mayella Ewell = Potiphar's wife. (To Kill a Mockingbird)
- The key, I think to this story is that the LORD prospers Joseph. Both as a slave and as a prisoner, he is guided/aided/supported, and everything he does succeeds.
Chapter 41 starts with Pharoah's dreams. He dreams of seven fat cattle being consumed by seven skinny cattle, and seven full ears of corns being swallowed up by seven thin ones. He sends for his wise men and magicians but no one can interpret the dreams for him. Then his cupbearer remembers Joseph. Pharoah calls for him from the prison. Joseph says that he can't interpret Pharoah's dreams but that God will give Pharoah the answers that he wants. He then says that the dreams represent seven years of plenty which will be followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh needs to go throughout the land and stockpile food during the years of plenty to survive the years of famine. As Joseph clearly has the support of God, Pharoah appoints him to be the overseer of this effort. Joseph becomes the most powerful man in Egypt (other than Pharoah) and gathers huge stores of food during the next seven years. He also marries and has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And then the famine begins, and he opens the storehouses and sells food to Egyptians. "And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world."
In chapter 42, some of the men from other countries turn out to be Joseph's brothers, all of whom other than Benjamin have been sent to Egypt by their father to buy grain. He recognized them and spoke to them harshly, accusing them of being spies looking for weakness in Egypt. He told them that to prove they were not spies, one of them would be held and the others must go get their youngest brother. He had Simeon taken and bound, then gave the rest of them grain and sent them back, holding Simeon hostage until they returned with the youngest brother. In each of their sacks, he also placed the money which they had used to buy the grain. Jacob/Israel refused to let them take Benjamin to Egypt, as he had already lost Joseph, and now Simeon.
Thoughts, questions, issues
Genesis 43 starts with the continuing famine in Canaan. Jacob's sons, other than Simeon, have returned, but the food they brought back is running out and Jacob implores them to go back to Egypt and buy more. His sons resist, protesting that the overseer told them they would not see him again if they did not bring back their youngest brother. Judah tells Jacob that he will stand as guarantor for Benjamin's safe return, and that he is willing to lay down his life if Benjamin does not come back. Jacob relents, and the 10 brothers take the silver that was returned to them on their last trip and enough for purchase of more grain, and head to Egypt. When Joseph sees them, he instructs his steward to prepare a meal for them at his residence. They gather at Joseph's house, where Simeon is brought out to them. Joseph sees Benjamin and inquires after their father, then retires to his private quarters to weep. Then he came out and feasted with them.
- Each time that Joseph is asked to interpret a dream, he gives essentially the same response - I can't do that, but God can.
- The dream interpretations are in keeping with everything else that we know about Joseph in Egypt. God is helping him, providing for him, supporting him. In other words, preparing him and using him.
- On the surface it might seem strange that Joseph recognizes his brothers but none of them recognize him. But there are legitimate reasons for this to be the case. For one thing, he was the youngest of that group and likely changed more than any of the others. For another, he was seeing them in a group, as he had seen them before, whereas they were also used to seeing him in the group. And there was no reason for him not to expect that travelers from Canaan might be his brothers, but they had sold him into slavery and he was now a figure of great power and authority.
- Joseph's brothers are in fear when they see that they've got both the grain they bought and their money, too. It seems a strange response, but he kept their brother Simeon, and they are, I suspect, frightened simply because they don't know what's going on. Do they think that they just effectively sold Simeon into slavery in Egypt?
The story continues in chapter 44 when, following their feast, he has the stewards fill his brothers bags with grain. He also has their silver placed back in the bags, and one of his own silver cups into Benjamin's bag. His brothers head back to Canaan, but Joseph sends a his steward after them, and when he overtakes them, accuses them of having stolen a silver cup. They deny it, and agree that if any one is found to have taken it, that one will become a slave to Joseph. They all drop their bags and the steward finds the cup in Benjamin's. They all go back to Joseph's house, where his brothers fall down and bow before him, acknowledging themselves as his slaves. He says that only the one found with the cup is his slave, the rest are free to go. Judah pleads with Joseph to keep him instead, as Benjamin is the youngest, the only remaining son of the wife their father loved, and the loss of him would kill their father.
Finally, in chapter 45, Joseph acknowledges his identity to his brothers. He sends everyone else from the room, and tells his brothers who he is. They are frightened, but he tells them not to be frightened and not to be angry, that they hadn't sent him into slavery, but GOD had sent him ahead into Egypt to prepare for the time of famine. And after they all threw their arms around one another and wept, he told them to go back to Canaan and get their father. Pharoah gave Joseph and his family the land of Goshen, so they took carts and donkeys and returned to Canaan where they told Jacob that Joseph was still alive and the ruler of Egypt.
In Genesis 46, we get a genealogy of Israel as it entered in to the land of Goshen at the behest of Pharoah. After packing up, they headed towards Egypt. At Beersheba, they stopped and Israel prayed to the LORD, who told him that he would bring him back out of Egypt. The list of direct descendants of Israel, not counting sons' wives, is said to be 66, and, with Joseph and the two sons born to him in Egypt, 70. They settle in, and tell Pharoah that they are shephards.
Thoughts, questions, issues
In Genesis 47, Joseph brought five of his brothers before Pharoah, who asked their occupations. The explained that they were all shepherds, from a line of shepherds. Pharoah tells Joseph to settle his family in Goshen, and if any had "special ability," to put them in charge of Pharoah's own livestock. Joseph then introduced Pharoah to Jacob, who blessed him. Joseph then settled his family in "the best part of the land, the district of Rameses" and provided them with food.
- I'm hesitant to call Joseph a jerk, and certainly they warranted some punishment for having sold their brother into slavery, regardless of how well it turned out, but his treatment of his brothers was cruel. Keeping Simeon and then framing Benjamin were frightening and unpleasant acts.
- "Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, 'Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.'" (Gen 37:5-7)
"Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him." (Gen 44:14)
- When he finally acknowledges his identity, Joseph does demonstrate that he has handled his experience well. Rather than recriminations, he expresses to them that GOD has sent him in to Egypt, that what has happened in his life has been done for GOD's purposes.
- The entire story of Joseph's exile to Egypt, his reconciliation with his brothers, their return with Israel to him, is as easily understandable as anything in Genesis, and much more so than most of it. Even the actions of his brothers, selling him, is understandable, albeit reprehensible. This whole section (excluding the Judah/Tamar interlude) is straightforward history.
- I count 71 male descendants, three of which (Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim) were already in Egypt and two of which (Er and Onan) were dead. So that does make 66 that went down to Egypt. And three makes 69, which is not exactly 70.
The famine was still in effect, and the people of Egypt came to Joseph. First, Joseph "collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying," then he took all of the livestock of the people in exchange for food, and then Joseph "bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh." Joseph established a law - "still in force today" - that one fifth of all of the produce in Egypt belonged to Pharoah. And "the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen...acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number."
As Jacob aged, he made his son Joseph swear to return his body and bury him where his fathers were buried.
In chapter 48, the dying Jacob called Joseph to him, and told him of the promises of God Almighty to "make you fruitful" and to give the land of Canaan "as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you." He said that Joseph's sons would be reckoned as sons of Jacob "just as Reuben and Simeon" were. Any subsequent children born to Joseph would be Joseph's, "reckoned under the names of their brothers." And then Jacob blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, but he crossed his arms to give the right-hand blessing to the younger brother.
Chapter 49 shows Jacob's blessings for his sons. After giving those blessings, and instructing his sons to bury him where Abraham and Sarah are buried, he dies.
Genesis concludes in chapter 50 with the burial of Jacob. He is mourned in Egypt, then Joseph informs Pharoah of his (Joseph's) oath to bury Jacob in Canaan. A large group goes up, they mourn Jacob, and bury him. With their father buried, Joseph's brothers are concerned, again, that he will take revenge upon them for their actions selling him into slavery. He reiterates that while the meant ill, God meant well by it, and that he holds no grudge. Joseph lived to 110 years old, and was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.
Thoughts, questions, issues
- It seems as if Joseph was personally responsible for selling the entire population of Egypt into slavery under Pharoah. Before the famine, the people had money, livestock and land - afterwards, they had nothing.
- There is a parallel between Isaac's blessings on Esau and Jacob, and Jacob's blessings on Manasseh and Ephraim. In each case, the younger son gets the blessing that "should" have gone to the older. Unlike the case of Isaac, Jacob knew and understood who he was blessing.
- The odd statement that I noted in chapter 35 about Reuben and Bilhah leads directly to Reuben's blessing. Jacob tells him that "you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father's bed, onto my couch and defiled it."
- Some of the blessings don't seem much like blessings. Such as "Simeon and Levi...cursed be their anger...I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel." Or "Issachar is a rawboned donkey...he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor."