Genesis: Overview of the Descendants of Esau

Genesis 36:1-43

This chapter in Genesis consists of mostly information about Esau’s lineage. Esau takes his family and settles near his brother Israel. The land that Esau’s descendants inhabit is known as Edom. There is not much else of interest to note in this chapter; it mostly repeats who begat who each paragraph. The interesting note is the names of the parents and the names of the wives themselves differ here than in previous passages: Genesis 26:34-5 and Genesis 28:8-9. Apparently even the omniscient need editors.

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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: Partial Reunion With Esau

Genesis 33:1-17

In preparation of meeting with his brother, Jacob divided his children according to their mother. Then he put his sex slaves and their offspring in the front, Leah and her children in the middle, and he placed Rachel and Joseph in the rear to ensure their safe escape if trouble arised. Jacob assumed his place in the front of the group and led them to meet his brother. Jacob bowed before his brother, and Esau ran to greet him. Esau inquired who the people behind Jacob were and Jacob responded that they were his family, who then bowed. Esau told his brother that he did not wish to keep Jacob’s gifts; he already had all he needed, but Jacob insisted that he keep the gifts. Esau relented and asked that they travel home together. Jacob feared that his brother would still try to murder him, so he asked that Esau go ahead and he would follow. His flock and family were weak and tired, and could not possibly keep pace with Esau. He agreed to meet his brother in Seir, a promise  he does not keep. Instead, Jacob traveled to Succoth and built himself a house there.

The most interesting part of this story is Jacob’s division of his family to create a human shield for his favorites Rachel and Joseph.  A morally questionable action, but practical in primitive society.

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Genesis: Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau & Jacob Wrestles With God

Genesis 32:1-32

Upon returning to his homeland, Jacob sent messengers to his brother Esau. The messengers returned with news that Esau is coming to greet him with four hundred men. Jacob feared that his brother was coming to kill him. Jacob prayed, divided his people, and sent messengers ahead of him with offerings to his brother. While Jacob was alone, with the messengers bearing gifts ahead of him, he wrestled with a man near the river. Jacob was winning, and daybreak neared. The man knew he could not prevail so he struck Jacob on the hip dislocating his leg. Jacob would not relent unless the man blessed him, and the man did. The man was Jacob’s god according to the story and renamed Jacob to Israel. Then the man left.

This story offers many topics to discuss. Jacob, the trickster, continues to outsmart his enemies. But more interesting are the topics brought up in the story of Jacob Wrestles With God. (What two men do not enjoy grabbing at each other along a riverbank just before dawn, especially when the other is a deity? That is just good sport!) This story provides an example of the anthropomorphic conception of god—god exists in this world and is not omnipotent nor transcendent. The Bible wrestles with the idea that god is anthropomorphic or transcendent throughout—that is one explanation why there are two different creation myths in genesis.

The annotations give insight into the name Israel. It literally means El rules. El is the head god of the Northwest Semitic pantheon, which implies that the people of this time were polytheistic. Here the name Israel is intended to mean “the one who strives with god”. It is interesting that god’s chosen people are known as those who conflict with him.

The final interesting note is the justification for a dietary regulation. Because Jacob was struck on the hip by god, the Israelites are not permitted to eat the thigh of any animal. A ridiculous hindrance of people’s dietary freedom; chicken thighs are delicious.

Overall, the story is an interesting allegory for the creation of Israel.

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Genesis: Jacob Flees From Laban & Laban Pursues Jacob

Genesis 31:1-55

Jacob’s cleverness finally catches up with him. Laban no longer admires Jacob as he once did, because Jacob has outsmarted him. Every time Laban changed the agreement on wages, which sheep, goat, and lamb Jacob kept, Jacob found a way to profit. Jacob could sense the growing hostility between he and Laban, and believed his god told him to return to the land of his father. (Though, it is clear that he did not need a deity to inform him of his father-in-law’s disapproval.) Jacob gathers his wives, sex slaves, children, and flocks, and departs toward his homeland. Before they depart, Rachel steals Laban’s house gods—figurines of ancestral deities. Also, Jacob tells his wives of a dream where the God of Bethel came to him. The annotation in the Oxford Annotated Bible tells us that this reference to the God of Bethel indicates an older paradigm in Jewish faith. The god discussed here dwells in Bethel instead of the later believed god that dwells in Zion.

When Laban discovers that Jacob has fled and his house gods have been stolen, he pursues Jacob. Laban finds Jacob in the hill country of Gilead and confronts him. Jacob had no knowledge of Rachel stealing her father’s house gods and tells Laban to search his camp, and if he should find anything stolen, then kill whoever stole it.  Rachel hinds the household gods under a camel’s saddle and sits on it. When her father asks to search the saddle, she lies and tells him she is menstruating and does not wish to stand. Laban thus finds nothing. Laban and Jacob made a covenant that set the border of their two lands in Gilead, and agreed never to cross it in hostility. The two made sacrifices on the pillar they constructed to fulfill the covenant. Laban said goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren and returned to his land.

This story is more of a parable about the boundary covenant agreed upon by the Arameans (Laban’s people) and the Israelites (Jacob’s people). The two groups claimed Gilead in northern Transjordan. This story provides another example of questionable morals. What right does Jacob have to allow Laban to kill whoever stole his figurines? Of course, what right does anyone have to kill? The argument can be made that one has the right to kill to preserve their own life, and I would accept that as just. But here we have a crime committed that put no one’s life in jeopardy.

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Genesis: Jacob’s Flocks Increase

Genesis 30:25-43

Jacob asks Laban if he could return to the home his father now that he has finished the work agreed upon to marry Laban’s daughters. Laban does not wish to let Jacob leave because Jacob’s hard work has made him wealthy. Laban attempts to persuade Jacob to stay by asking him to name his price. Jacob states that he will agree to tend Laban’s flocks but he will keep all the speckled and spotted sheep and goats along with all the black lambs. Laban agrees because these coats were uncommon, but to ensure none were present in his flock he gave all that he found to his sons before Jacob could breed them. Jacob has a few tricks up his sleeve though. He takes rods of poplar and almond and plane, and peels them so they are spotted. Then, he has the strongest of the flock mate in front of these rods so they have offspring with spots and streaks. His flock grew, and he became wealthy. With his wealth, Jacob bought slaves, camels, and donkeys.

Jacob’s actions are warranted; Laban has been unfair to him by continuously changing their agreement. The only criticism is the explanation for how he bred spotted and speckled sheep and goats. It was not the fulfilled promise of superstition that bore him his desired flock, instead it can be understood through genetics. The population would have already carried recessive genes that gave the chance for spotted offspring. Through artificial selection, which is what Jacob did unknowingly, he was able to produce a strong heard of spotted and speckled sheep and goats.

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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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