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 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 Marries Leah and Rachel

Genesis 29:14-30

Jacob stays with his uncle Laban for a whole month. Laban then says to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

Laban has two daughters: the eldest Leah, and the youngest Rachel. Jacob tells his uncle that he will work for him for seven years, if in return he can marry Rachel. Laban agrees, and Jacob works for Laban for seven years. After completing his time of servitude, Jacob went to his uncle demanding to lay with Rachel. Laban throws a feast to celebrate the occasion, but when night fell it was not Rachel who was in the sack consummating with Jacob. Laban deceives Jacob, and instead of sending Rachel, he tells his daughter Leah to lay with Jacob. Of course, Jacob was surprised when in the morning he awakes to see Leah, and not Rachel. Treachery seems to be a trait inherent in all relatives of Abraham.

Jacob goes to his uncle to ask why he has deceived him. His answer:

“It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

Jacob finishes the bridal week with Leah. After the week was over, his uncle gave him Rachel to marry, and Jacob lays with her–again, polygamy in the Bible. Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah, which is not surprising. Laban gave each women a maidservant: Leah had Zipah, and Rachel had Bilhah. Jacob then works for his uncle for another seven years as agreed.

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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 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: Nahor’s Sons

Genesis 22:20-24

This is another passage that gives a list of descendants–the descendants of Abraham’s brother Nahor. There is not much of interest here. Nahor’s wife Milcah gives birth to eight sons: Uz, Buz, Kemuel, Kesed, Hazo, Pidash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel. Kemuel is the father of Aram, and Bethuel is the father of Rebekah. Nahor’s concubine Reumah (another example of polygamy) gave birth to these sons: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.

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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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