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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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: 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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