Genesis: Jacob’s Return to Bethel, The Birth of Benjamin, and the Death of Rachel and Isaac

Genesis 35:5-29

As Jacob fled from Shechem and the massacre committed by his kin, god rained terror down upon all who pursued Jacob. He returned to Bethel, in the land of Canaan, where he claimed god came to him before to warn him that Esau planned to murder him. When Jacob arrived in Bethel, El came to him. El told Jacob (again) that his name is no longer Jacob but Israel. He then promised that his descendants would be numerous, and he would acquire the land of Abraham and Isaac. Afterwards, Jacob constructed a pillar to worship El, and poured a drink offering and oil on the pillar.

Israel journeyed from Bethel with his family. Rachel gave birth while on this journey, and died from the ordeal. She named the son Ben-oni, but Israel decided to name the child Benjamin instead. Rachel was buried in Bethlehem and a pillar was constructed at her tomb. They then proceeded with their journey. Israel’s son, Reuben, then sleeps with his sex slave, Bilhah, which upsets Israel.

Israel returned to his father, Isaac, in Hebron just before his death. Esau and Israel buried their father in Hebron.

These stories were quite brief with not much of interest to comment on besides offerings at a pillar, and the encroachment of a son on his father’s sex slave.

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Genesis: Jacob’s Children

Genesis 29:31-30:24

The story of Jacob’s offspring shares similarities with the story of Abraham’s offspring. This story also includes a barren wife, Rachel, who believes her inability to bear children stems from god’s disapproval of her. She grows envious of her sister Leah, Jacob’s first wife, because she bears sons for Jacob. Leah finds pride in her ability to give Jacob children while her sister cannot. To Leah, her hospitable womb proves that god is rewarding her for enduring misery; Jacob does not love Leah, though it appears Leah is quite fond of Jacob. Rachel refuses to let her sister be the only one to bear sons for Jacob, so she forces her maidservant, Bilhah, to act as her surrogate. Bilhah births two sons in Rachel’s stead. Leah also gives her maidservant, Zilpah, to Jacob when she no longer conceives, and Zilpah births two sons. Rachel eventually births two sons of her own once god comes around, and Leah gives birth to two more sons and a daughter.

Since the Bible is held as the measure of morality by many because they consider it the literal word of god, one must ask: what moral lesson do we learn from this story? Here we have two women married to the same man, who follow the precedent set by the mother of the Judeo-Christian faith, Sarah, by giving their servants to their husband to have sex with, and their god condones this action. First, what right do these women have to force their servants to be sex slaves? Second, how can the Judeo-Christian god be considered moral if he supports this action? Today, almost no one would agree that this action is moral, because morality evolves as civilization progresses. Religious texts are not the culmination of revealed morality, but the reflection of the morality at the time in which they are conceived. Hence, why the moral teachings of the Bible change. If the Bible were written by god, then its moral teachings could not change because that would mean god changed. God cannot change because god must be perfect and infallible. And if one changes their position, they admit to being fallible. (This line of argument stems from Anselm’s argument for the existence of god.)

So if the Bible is not the literal word of god, then why do people want to live by its teachings? Why can we not all admit that morality will not be revealed to us, instead it must be sought.

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Genesis: Jacob Marries Leah and Rachel

Genesis 29:14-30

Jacob stays with his uncle Laban for a whole month. Laban then says to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

Laban has two daughters: the eldest Leah, and the youngest Rachel. Jacob tells his uncle that he will work for him for seven years, if in return he can marry Rachel. Laban agrees, and Jacob works for Laban for seven years. After completing his time of servitude, Jacob went to his uncle demanding to lay with Rachel. Laban throws a feast to celebrate the occasion, but when night fell it was not Rachel who was in the sack consummating with Jacob. Laban deceives Jacob, and instead of sending Rachel, he tells his daughter Leah to lay with Jacob. Of course, Jacob was surprised when in the morning he awakes to see Leah, and not Rachel. Treachery seems to be a trait inherent in all relatives of Abraham.

Jacob goes to his uncle to ask why he has deceived him. His answer:

“It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

Jacob finishes the bridal week with Leah. After the week was over, his uncle gave him Rachel to marry, and Jacob lays with her–again, polygamy in the Bible. Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah, which is not surprising. Laban gave each women a maidservant: Leah had Zipah, and Rachel had Bilhah. Jacob then works for his uncle for another seven years as agreed.

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Genesis: Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob does what his mother had asked of him, and cowardly runs off to avoid any repercussion for swindling what was rightfully his brother’s–though such actions should be expected from the descendant of an incestuous, fraud, and perjurer like Abraham. Jacob finds a rock to lay his head on and sleeps. During his slumber he dreams of a stairway reaching towards heaven with angels of God ascending and descending on it–the one saving grace the Judaeo-Christian religion might have, is that at least this risible dream produced one of the greatest rock songs of all time. At the summit stood the Lord.

“I am the Lord, the God of your Father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants this land on which you are lying. 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 south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Of course the vacuous mind of this man is unable to comprehend what a dream is, and interprets this dream as a message of God. Jacob takes this dream to mean that God’s house resides where he had laid his head–this is why he calls the land Bethel, but I prefer to refer to it by its original name Luz. This quote makes apparent the Bible’s claim of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God. Don’t try to wiggle your way out of this claim. Some apologetics try claim that God is none of these things, but constantly the Bible makes the claim that he is.

Unlike many modern Jews and Christians, Jacob specifies certain conditions that must be met by this God before he will choose to devote himself. He says that if the Lord will watch over him, be with him, provide him with food and clothing, and see that he returns safely to his father; he will devote himself to the Lord. He also promises to then give a tenth of what he has to the Lord. I surmise that this is where the basis of tithing originates. Maybe someone could corroborate.

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Genesis: The Death of Abraham, Ishmael’s Sons, & Jacob and Esau

Genesis 25:1-34

The Death of Abraham

Abraham takes another wife, Keturah, after the death of Sarah. Keturah gives birth to Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Abraham left everything to Isaac, but while Abraham was alive he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them east, away from the land that his son Isaac will inherit. Abraham then dies at a hundred and seventy-five years old. Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham with Sarah.

Ishmael’s Sons

The names of Ishmael’s sons in order of birth: Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Nephish, and Kedemah.

Ishmael lived for a hundred and thirty-seven years. His descendants settled the land from Havilah to Shur, near the Egyptian border. They were a militant people who were constantly in conflict with their neighbors.

Jacob and Esau

Isaac had two sons, twins, with Rebekah, Jacob and Esau. Rebekah asks the Lord why she carries two children in her womb. According to the text, this is the Lord’s reply,

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you will
        be separated;
    one people will be stronger than the
        other,
    and the older will serve the younger.”

Esau was the first-born of the twins. He would grow up and become skillful hunter. His brother, Jacob, was quiet and stayed “among the tents”. Isaac loved Esau; Rebekah loved Jacob.

Jacob was cooking stew one day when Esau came up begging to have some. Jacob told Esau that he would give him some stew if Esau would give his birthright to him. Esau tells Jacob, “Look, I am about to die, . . . What good is the birthright to me?” Jacob makes him swear, and Esau agrees to relinquish his birthright for “some bread and some lentil stew”.

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Genesis: Isaac and Rebekah

Genesis 24:1-67

Abraham is now advanced in age, and wants for his son Isaac to find a wife. He calls on his eldest of servants to find a suitable bride for Isaac, and stresses the importance of keeping the bride in the family. Abraham says to his servant:

 “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear to the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of Earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

The servant asks his master what he should do if he is unable to find a women willing to marry Isaac. Should he bring Isaac back to the land Abraham came from? Abraham tells him not to do this. Abraham tells him that if he is unable to find a women willing to come marry Isaac then the servant is free from his oath, and that under no circumstance should his son return to the land Abraham came from. Abraham says that God had promised the land of Canaan to his descendants, and so his son must stay. The servant then places his hands behind his master’s thighs and swore an oath to him. After this homoerotic scene, the servant set out with ten of his master’s camels to Aram Naharaim, Northwest Mesopotamia, and to the town of Nahor. The servant also brought with him many of his master’s good things for gifts. When the servant had reached the town of Nahor, he had his camels kneel at a well outside of town. It was at this time of the day that the women of a town would come to fetch water. The servant then preyed to the Lord and asks the Lord to grant him success. He then asks the Lord to give him a sign to prove which of the girls that come to the well is the right one for Isaac. The servant tells the Lord what must occur for him to know the Lord has shown him the right girl. The condition was as follows: When the servant asks the girl if he may drink from the jar she has just filled, she will allow it and she will then fetch water for his camels too. Before he finishes his prayer, Rebekah comes out to fetch water from the well. Rebekah is the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah. The text describes her as beautiful  and, of course, a virgin. The servant goes to her and asks her for some water, of course she obliges and offers to bring water to his camels. After the camels drank the water, the servant pulled out a gold nose ring and bracelets. He then asks who her father is, and if he could stay the night. When she tells the servant who her father is, he bows down and worships the Lord. After this, Rebekah runs into the house to tell her mother want had just happened, and then her brother Laban comes out to speak with the servant. He then asks the servant to join them inside and they bring him food. The servant then goes on to repeat, almost verbatim, the last fifteen paragraphs. After hearing this, the brother tells the servant that he approves of Rebekah going with him to marry Abraham’s son. The servant then gives the family the gifts he had brought with him.

The next morning, the servant asks Laban to let him leave with Rebekah. Laban tells the servant that he thinks Rebekah should remain with the family for ten more days before leaving. The servant pleads with her brother to allow them to leave. The family decides that they will let Rebekah decided if she is ready to go, and she chooses to leave with the servant. The family then blesses her with this militant passage:

“Our sister, may you increase
         to thousands upon thousands;
    may your offspring possess
        the gates of their enemies.”
Rebekah and her maids then mounted their camels and left with the servant of Abraham.

Isaac was out in the field meditating when he saw the camels of his father’s servant and his future bride approach. Rebekah asks the servant who the man in the field was, and the servant told her that he will be her husband, so she quickly pulls her veil to hide her face. The servant then tells Isaac what he had done, and in the tent of his deceased mother, Sarah, Isaac marries his second-cousin, Rebekah.

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Genesis: The Death of Sarah

Genesis 23:1-20

At a hundred and twenty-seven years old, Sarah dies. She dies at Kiriath Arba (Hebron) which is in the land of Canaan. Abraham speaks to the Hittites and asks them to sell him property to bury his deceased wife. They offer him prime burial tombs to bury his wife for free. Abraham declines, and again asks to buy land to bury his wife. Ephron the Hittite replies to Abraham’s offer and tells him that he is willing to give him the field he wants as well as the cave at no cost. Abraham insists on paying for the land, and be deeded the property. He is told that four hundred shekels is the going rate for the property in question. Abraham pays the four hundred shekels for the property, and the land is deeded to him. Abraham then buries his wife in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre.

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