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: The Stay in Shechem and the Rape of Dinah

Genesis 33:18-35:5

Jacob settles in the land of Canaan, outside the city of Shechem. He traveled to the city and purchased the land which he settled for one hundred pieces of money. On his land he erected an altar to El, the god of the early Israeli religion.

This story offer an opportunity to raise an important point. The identity of the biblical god changes throughout the story. The god of genesis is replaced as the tribe of Israel changes. The stories of Jacob regard the god El, who is eventually supplanted in later stories. Even that god is eventually replaced by a deified man, but that is getting too far ahead of ourselves.

Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, went to visit the women of the city. While in the city, the son of Hamor and prince of the Hivites, Shechem, rapes her. (The annotation states that some scholars believe the Hebrew verbs used imply that the intercourse was consensual but illicit, which would still be a defilement of Dinah.) Shechem falls in love with Dinah and asked his father, Hamor, to persuade Jacob to allow him to marry her. Hamor meets Jacob, who knows of Shechem’s actions. Hamor discusses his son’s intention to marry Dinah with Jacob while his sons are out in the fields. When they return and hear what has happened to their sister, they are outraged. Hamor protests his sons affection for their sister and hopes to create a covenant with their family. Hamor hoped to marry all the sons of his region to Israel’s daughters, and for Israel’s sons to marry the his daughters. He pledged to pay any price named by the Israelis. Their demand: foreskin. They required that all Hivite men cut off the skin covering the glands of their penis before they marry any woman of Israel. By disfiguring their genitals, they would then become Israelites.

Hamor and his son agreed to this demand. With haste, Shechem cut off his foreskin to betroth Dinah. Hamor and Shechem then spoke with the men of their city and told them that the Israelis are friends. They wished to intermarry, but on one condition: all men of the city must be circumcised. They told their men, “Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours?” (Genesis 34:23) Clearly illustrating that the intent of the Hivites was to assimilate the Israelites and acquire their property. With such a tempting offer before them, the men all agreed to the demand.

Three days after disfiguring their genitals, while the men were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, entered the city of Shechem. As the direct brothers of Dinah, they felt compelled to avenge the violation of the family’s honor, so they drew their sword and began to massacre the men of Shechem. They entered the house of Shechem, murdered him and Hamor, and retrieved Dinah. Jacob’s other sons came to the city and saw the men slain. They then proceeded to plunder the city as their sister had been defiled.

Upon returning home, Jacob scolded Simeon and Levi for what they did. He feared the ramifications of their actions because the news of their actions would surely turn the Canannites and the Perizzites hostile toward them. They responded to their father saying, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” Touché. God then tells Jacob to return and settle in Bethel, and to make an altar to the god that spoke with him there. (Is that not the same god that is speaking to him now?) Jacob then gathers his family, and tells them to give him all their idols of foreign gods. He then buries them under an oak tree, and they leave Shechem.

The actions of Jacob’s sons begin the fulfillment of Noah’s curse on Ham, the father of the Canaanites. Jacob is the descendant of Shem, who Noah said would make the Canaanites his slaves. Jacob’s sons perpetuate the feud between these two families by massacring the men of the city. While Shechem’s actions toward Dinah are deplorable, if he raped her, it does not justify the massacre of all the men of the city. And according to biblical law, Shechem did as he must. In the Bible, the punishment of a rapist is to marry the woman he raped and to pay the father for damages done to his property, that is his daughter. All of which Shechem did. Today, no one would force the victim of rape to marry their rapist because that is vile, yet those who believe the Bible provides us the laws to govern our lives would have to subscribe to such a detestable law.

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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 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: 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: The Death of Sarah

Genesis 23:1-20

At a hundred and twenty-seven years old, Sarah dies. She dies at Kiriath Arba (Hebron) which is in the land of Canaan. Abraham speaks to the Hittites and asks them to sell him property to bury his deceased wife. They offer him prime burial tombs to bury his wife for free. Abraham declines, and again asks to buy land to bury his wife. Ephron the Hittite replies to Abraham’s offer and tells him that he is willing to give him the field he wants as well as the cave at no cost. Abraham insists on paying for the land, and be deeded the property. He is told that four hundred shekels is the going rate for the property in question. Abraham pays the four hundred shekels for the property, and the land is deeded to him. Abraham then buries his wife in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre.

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