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 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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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: Abraham Tested

Genesis 22:1-19

This passage opens with some poorly written dialogue, in my opinion of course. God calls out Abraham’s name and Abraham responds with, “Here I am.” I find this ridiculous. God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac, whom God had promised to be born to him for many years, his son whom Abraham loves so much, and to sacrifice his son on an altar as a burnt offering to please God. Abraham does not think twice, the next morning he saddles his donkey, gathers fire wood, and brings with him his son and two of his servants. When they arrive at the location where God told him to sacrifice his son, Abraham turned to his servants and told them to wait while he and his son worship; they will return when they have finished. Abraham has his son carry the fire wood, and he carries the fire and the knife. As they are heading up the mountain, Isaac asks his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham tells his son that God will provide the lamb. When they arrive, Abraham builds an altar and places firewood on it. He then ties his son down to the altar, and is about to slice open his son when an angel at the last moment stops him. The angel tells Abraham that it was all a test, and now that God knows that Abraham is willing to eviscerate his own son to please God without hesitation, he does not have to continue. He’s promised the same thing God has promised him before: numerous descendants and that his descendants will conquer their rivals. Abraham has already been promised these things and passed the tests that came with them. It sounds like God is trying to go back on his word. Abraham then spots a ram, he then places the ram on the altar, and offers it as a burnt offering to God. Abraham leaves with his servants and his son to Beersheba, where they will stay.

This is not the act of a benevolent God. God clearly enjoys toying with people’s emotions, and torturing them. How could any father, who really loves his son, be willing to kill his son? No sane parent would, I hope, eviscerate their child, and then burn their child’s disemboweled corpse on an altar. Luckily, our rational, secular society locks these parents up, and treats them for the psychiatric conditions they have. Can you imagine how afraid Isaac must have been? Laying there on that altar, with his father looming over him, seconds away from plunging his knife through his chest, and running it down, opening up his abdomen so his bowels spill out. I can imagine him pleading with his father not to end his life so prematurely, tears streaming down his face, gasping for air as he frantically struggles to no avail. His father stands above him callous, his faith unshaken, resolute in murdering his own child to please his God. His God waits, relishes this moment, the desperate cries of the child ringing throughout the mountains, and just as God is sure that Abraham is committed to murdering his own son, an angel prevents it.

One could interpret that maybe Abraham knew God would not allow him to murder his son. He did say to his servants, “We will worship and then we will return to you.” When Isaac asked about the lamb, Abraham told his son, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” If this is the case then, Abraham is not a psychopath.  I don’t buy it though. God, if he exists and is all-knowing, would have seen right through this. I imagine He would not have stopped Abraham. In either case, God would still be responsible for the suffering of Abraham’s child. One can only imagine what type of emotional trauma would result from an experience like this. God still wanted Abraham to attempt to murder his son.

We hear of people, every year or two, who drown their children in bathtubs, cut off their hands, etc., and people think they are crazy, and they are. What if, like some of them claim, God had told them to perform these heinous acts? This time he just did not stop them. This is assuming the Judaeo-Christian God exists. If we lived in a theocratic society that is based on the Bible, would not they be justified in performing such atrocities to their children, so long as God commanded it. If God is real, and he commands the murdering of one’s child, then we would not have any authority to stop them, or reprimand them. Luckily our society has outgrown the morality of the ancient Mesopotamian societies represented in these stories. Sadly, there are some people who would like to enforce this morality on us.

So I say to the faithful, it’s time to do a little “soul” searching. Is this the morality you want our society to follow, or are our secular laws that deem people who perform heinous acts, in the name of God or otherwise, a better alternative?

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Genesis: The Birth of Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away, & The Treaty of Beersheba

Genesis 21:1-34

The Birth of Isaac

As the Lord promised, Sarah gives birth to a son when Abraham is a hundred years old. They name the son Isaac as they said they would. Abraham circumcised the boy after eight days like his covenant with God commands.

Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away

By the time Isaac had been weaned, Sarah had noticed that the son of Abraham’s other wife was beginning to mock Isaac. Sarah commands Abraham to “ ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’ ” (If you remember, Sarah told Abraham to take Hagar and have a son with her.) Abraham was concerned with sending his son and his other wife out into the desert, but God tells him to do as Sarah commanded because he will make a nation out of Ishmael. Abraham packs them food and water, and sent her off with their son. The two wander into the desert of Beersheba. They run out of water and Hagar sets the boy under one of the bushes. She sits away from the child under the shade of a tree. She says to herself, “ ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ ” God, hearing the helpless cries of the child, comes to Hagar and asks what is wrong. She tells the Lord that they are out of water. God tells her not to be afraid and pick up her child, and that He will make a nation out of her son. Then Hagar spots a well of water, and refills her skin (a pouch to carry water) and gives the child a drink. The boy grows up and becomes an archer. He lives his life in the Desert of Paran, and his mother finds him a wife from Egypt.

This is the first passage (that I find evidence of) where God shows true signs of compassion. For me, this doesn’t excuse the further and past atrocities He commits, but it is pleasant to read a passage that isn’t all about animal sacrifice and genocide. I’m sure even Genghis Khan had his good days.

The Treaty of Beersheba

The king that Abraham swindles, Abimelech, and Phicol, the commander of his forces, come to Abraham. Abimelech asks if Abraham will swear that he will no longer deal falsely with him, his children, or his descendants, and that Abraham will show him and the country he is living in as an alien with the same kindness as the king had shown him.  Abraham agrees to do so. Abraham complains about a well Abimelech’s people had seized. The king claims to not be aware of this, and to have only just heard this. Abraham brings to the king some sheep and cattle to make a treaty. Abraham sets apart seven ewe lambs (young female sheep, also the first time we see the number seven). The king asks why he has set these lambs apart, and Abraham replies, “ ‘Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.’ ” The treaty was made, and the king and his commander left. Abraham continued to live in the land of the Philistines for a long time.

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Genesis: The Covenant of Circumcision

Genesis 17-1:27

At this moment, a baby boy is being born, and soon a small part of him will be severed from his body–how insulting of me to assume it would be small, but he is infantile. This is the story that gives the biblical basis for such genital mutilation. There has been much discussion on the pro’s and con’s of this practice. Many praise it to be beneficial to the hygiene of males as a way of preventing urinary and yeast infections for men. Others claim that it robs men of sexual pleasure, as well as women, when they are of age, and circumcision can have lasting psychological effects. I am circumcised, as it is the western thing to do, and see no effect on my pleasure (maybe I do, but I will never know) or my psychological well-being. I agree with the health benefits, and that the benefits outweigh the con’s. This genital mutilation likely began in Egypt where it spread to the Mesopotamian region, and was then adopted by the Judaic people. Genital mutilation is a common ritual amongst many religious groups, but I must make it clear that in my opinion male genital mutilation is a far more genial than the heinous act of female genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation serves no benefit to women, only negative effects on their physiology and psychology, and robs them of an important component to their attainment to sexual pleasure. I must step off my soap box and return to the text at hand, because I have digressed. FGM has nothing to do with the text at hand, but it is an issue that must be addressed and fought against.

Now to address the text at hand, God comes to Abram to discuss His covenant with him. God promises him again that he will have many sons who will be kings of many lands. God also decides to give a new name to both Abram and Sarai; they are now to be known as Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was the first of his people to reject their idol worship and the first to promote a monotheistic religion based on the Israelite god, if Abraham ever existed, and puts us somewhere around 1800 BCE. God promises Abraham that he will be given a son by his first wife, Sarah, if he makes a covenant that all men who descend from him, and all the men he owns and their descendants are circumcised. In “God’s Covenant With Abram”, God required that Abram cut in half a heifer, a ram, and a goat, all three years old, and to sacrifice a dove and a pigeon for the birth of one son, Ishmael, to another women, Hagar. For the birth of another son by his first wife, God has raised the stakes. God now requires the flesh of penises of all that descend from Abraham and the people he owns to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant with God. God’s new found desire for the flesh of penises is odd to say the least, but this sacrifice of flesh (and blood) is a recurring theme in the Bible. God states that all new born’s are to be circumcised within eight days of birth and any who are not circumcised have broken their covenant with God.

Abraham laughs and asks God how can he and Sarah have a child; they are so old–Abraham a hundred and Sarah ninety. Abraham says to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’ God tells Abraham that his first wife, Sarah, will give him a son in a year named Isaac, whom God will make a covenant with. God will bless Ishmael and make him into a great nation, but won’t make a covenant with him. When they had finished their discussion God went up from him. Abraham, with haste, then circumcised every male in his household and all the men he owned. Both he and his son Ishmael, thirteen at the time, were circumcised on the say day. A great father and son bonding experience.

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