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: 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: 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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Genesis: Hagar and Ishmael

Genesis 16:1-16

In the last story of the Bible, Abram is promised a child by God. Sarai, however, is unable to conceive a child. Sarai then tells Abram that he should sleep with her maidservant Hagar, whom she acquired in Egypt ten years ago. Abram agrees to sleep with Hagar and take her as his second wife, another example of polygamy in the Bible. When Hagar knows she is pregnant, she begins to despise her mistress, Sarai.  Sarai then goes to her husband, Abram, and says this is all his fault. Abram tells his first wife that Hagar is her maidservant and it is her place to “[d]o with her whatever [she] thinks best”. Sarai mistreated Hagar, abuses her in some way, and Hagar flees. Hagar flees to a spring in the desert where an angel comes to her. The angel ask why she is fleeing. Hagar responds to the angel saying that it is because her mistress is mistreating her. The angel tells her to go back to her mistress and submit to her. The reward for her submission will be more descendants, which doesn’t seem like much of a reward to me. No person should be forced to live in an abusive situation; that is immoral. Tyranny of any kind should never be tolerated, but in the Bible it often is. The angel tells her that she will give birth to a son, and she will name him Ishmael. Ishmael “will be a wild donkey of a man”, a jackass perhaps? He will be aggressive towards everyone and everyone will be aggressive towards him. Ishmael doesn’t sound like he will be one of the most savory of characters, rather quite a brute. Hagar returns to Abram and Sarai, and she bears Abram a son, whom he names Ishmael.

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