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 to Laban

Genesis 27:41-46 & 28:1-9

Esau, enraged by his brothers treachery, promises that the day his father dies he will murder his brother Jacob. Rebekah hears this and warns Jacob that Esau is plotting to murder him. She tells Jacob to leave and head to the land of her brother Laban in Haran to wait for his bother to cool off. Rebekah’s prejudice towards the women of Canaan influenced her to ask Isaac to give his blessing to Jacob to find a wife while in Haran. Rebekah says of Hittite women:

“I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”

Here the Bible’s promotion of intolerance is on full display. This woman, these people, are aliens living in the land of Canaan, and are only allowed to stay because of the Canaanite’s hospitality, which the descendants of Abraham undermine continuously.

Isaac blesses Jacob–as Rebekah wished–and tells him not to marry a woman from the land of Canaan, but to head to Northwestern Mesopotamia where Rebekah’s family lives to find a wife. Esau learns of his father’s blessing and his parents prejudice towards Canaanite women, so he goes shopping for a new bride, one within the family. He settles for his cousin Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael.

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Genesis: Jacob Gets Isaac’s Blessing

Genesis 27:1-40
Isaac is old and nearing death. He calls for his son Esau. Esau comes to him and Isaac tells his son that he is near death. Before Isaac dies, he wishes to bless Esau. Isaac tells Esau that he should go out and hunt the game that Isaac likes, and prepare it for him to eat. After Isaac has eaten the game he will then bless Esau. Rebekah was eavesdropping on their conversation. She then tells Jacob what Isaac had said to Esau. Rebekah then tells Jacob to go and get some goats from the field for her to prepare. Jacob does as told. His mother gives him Esau’s clothes, and Jacob goes to see his father. Jacob claims to be Esau and seeks his father’s blessing. After he convinces his father that he is Esau, Isaac gives him his blessing. Isaac says the Jacob will reside in a prosperous land and be the lord over his brothers. Esau returns as Jacob parts from his father. Esau then enters his father’s tent to seek his blessing, but of course it is too late. Isaac is angered that he was deceived, and Esau cries begging his father to bless him too. Isaac of course cannot. Isaac tells Esau that he will live away from the Earth’s richness, and will live by the sword. Isaac tells Esau that when he grows tired of living as a subject to Jacob, Isaac says to Esau, “you will throw his yoke from off your neck.”

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Genesis: Isaac and Abimelech

Genesis 26:1-35

Famine has struck the land where Isaac lives. He goes to see the Abimelech, the King of the Philistines. The Lord tells Isaac not to go to Egypt, but to stay in the land that He had commanded Isaac to live in. When Isaac reaches Gerar, where Abimelech lives, the men ask Isaac about his wife. Isaac, like his father Abraham, is a liar. Isaac tells them that she is his sister. You would think that after Isaac’s father pulled this trick the men of Gerar wouldn’t trust any of the descendants of Abraham. Abimelech discovered that Isaac had lied when Abimelech looked out a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife. Abimelech summons Isaac and exposes Isaac for the liar that he is. He asks why Isaac had claimed she was his sister. Isaac’s reply is similar to the one his father would often give. Abimelech decrees that no man shall molest either Isaac or his wife; if so they will be put to death. Isaac plants crops in the land of Gerar. His harvest is bountiful. He continues to be prosperous and amasses great wealth. The Philistines grew envious of him and King Abimelech orders him to leave peacefully from their lands. Isaac settles in the Valley of Gerar. He and his people conflict with local herdsmen over wells. One day King Abimelech sends his advisor and commander of his forces, Phicol, to speak with Isaac. Phicol tells Isaac that the Philistines want to make an agreement of peace with Isaac and his people. They can see that Isaac is in league with the Lord and they do not want trouble with him. Isaac prepared a feast for them. The next morning the two men swore an oath to each other–I wonder if each had to place their hands behind the others thigh–and they parted ways. Esau marries two Hittite women (another instance of polygamy in the Bible), Judith the daughter of Berri and Basemath daughter of Elon. These two women were a source of grief for Rebekah and Isaac.

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