CHAPTER ONE The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
The Book of Genesis
The Holy Bible
Jehovah, The Almighty God
Bron K.L. Toob
Published by Bron K.L. Toob at Shakespir
The Holy Bible (with Commentary)
Copyright 2016 by Bron K.L. Toob
All scripture quotations are taken from the World English Bible (WEB), a modern English translation designed specifically to eliminate the complicated entanglements of copyright law to interfere with free exploration and discussion of God’s Word. Please support the WEB by visiting
All images, maps, and other visuals have been obtained via my own research and are deemed accurate to the extent I was able to confirm them. If sources were made available, they are noted along with the item. Either way, they were made available under a Creative Commons license, to which I have made every effort to abide.
For more resources, commentary, and information about upcoming publications, please visit http://www.bronkltoobbooks.com
The BKLT Bible
This is the first in a series of 37 books that will make up The BKLT Bible. These books contain the entire text of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures (minus the apocryphal books that are not universally accepted as being part of the inspired Bible canon) along with commentary specifically designed to polarize, to make you think, and to make you reason.
This is not a series of scholarly essays on the Bible. This is not really even a series of religious books, per se, in that The BKLT Bible is not intended to describe or recommend the scriptural interpretations espoused by a particular denomination. Instead, this series begins and ends with a very simple premise:
*If you truly believe The Bible is the inspired word of God, then it does a masterful job of explaining itself. *
By removing all the ridiculous, contradictory interpretations fielded by scholars and theologians for centuries, and instead simply allowing the Bible to explain itself by comparing scripture to scripture across the entire collection of books, you’ll have an experience you can’t get in any church or church-run Bible study class.
As Proverbs 2:5 says, “you will find the knowledge of God.”
And, I’ve made an effort to keep things lighthearted and fun, too, while intentionally not watering down a bit of the commentary. While I’m sure many readers will find these books extremely controversial and even upsetting, I hope I put across in the way I wrote them that my intention is not to offend as much as to awaken people. To help people realize that The Bible is not just there for your priest or pastor to throw at you when it’s convenient. It’s not there to cherry pick nice fluffy inspiration from when you’re feeling down.
As Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
If you’re ready to actually get that much from your Bible study, then read on.
A Note About the Name of God
As mentioned on the previous page, all scriptural quotations in The BKLT Bible are from the World English Bible due to copyright snafus instituted to put a commercial collar on the Word of God. While I think this is an excellent modern English translation, and I’m grateful beyond measure to the makers of the WEB for making it available for this type of use, there is one slight adjustment I’ve decided to make that dramatically affects the text:
Whereas the WEB chose to use the Hebrew name Yahweh as the personal name of God throughout their translation, I have chosen instead to use the more commonly used and recognized English variant, Jehovah.
Their reasoning is sound, and if you’re interested, .
I have my own reasons for going with Jehovah instead, and honestly it mostly has to do with the strength and manliness of the name Jehovah as opposed to Yahweh. Honestly, even saying the names out loud, “Jehovah” requires you to straighten up, puff out your cheeks a touch and make a noise. “Yahweh” just kind of flutters out of your mouth like “muffin” or “willy”. For the name of the Almighty of the Universe, I just think Jehovah sounds better.
From a linguistic standpoint, both work fine. There are other lesser-known variants that are equally fine as well. The fact is, the original ancient Hebrew language – the language the first portion of the Bible was originally written in, and the only language in which God had his own name recorded – used consonants but not vowels in its written form. The Hebrew letters making up the Divine Name translate to YHWH (which would be Yahweh with simple vowels added), but can also be rendered JHVH (with Jehovah being a realistic way to read it in English.) For the reasons listed above (and because it’s more commonly recognized by English readers the world over,) Jehovah is accepted.
“Oh, but there’s no way we could possibly know how the name was originally pronounced, so we can’t possibly risk saying it wrong!”
Shut up, you pansy.
Here’s another fact to stick in your craw: “Jesus” isn’t the way Jesus would have pronounced his name either. It was most likely Jeshua or Jehoshua. He was a Jew, after all. But I don’t hear anyone from the Pope on down complaining that we can’t use “Jesus” because it’s not guaranteed to be perfectly accurate. The fact is, we know who we’re referring to when we say “Jesus” and that’s what matters far more than which vowels went where and whether they were long or short 2000 years ago.
What I can’t stand is the practice that most Bible translators fall into, which is removing God’s personal name from the text completely, replacing it with titles like Lord, God, and the like.
In the original manuscripts (or, at least, in the oldest existing copies we can find, which go back pretty darn far,) the Divine Name occurs over 7000 times in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) alone, and hundreds more in the Greek scriptures (New Testament), especially in quotations taken from the Hebrew. To blithely remove the personal name of the author of a book by changing it over 7000 times seems like the ultimate arrogance to me. Especially since they’re supposedly putting a Bible together because they feel that author’s words have value.
Can you imagine you wrote a best seller that everyone on Earth wanted to read and on the front it said, “By Mr. Mister.” Not only would you be pissed about being mixed up with a pop group from the 80’s, you’d be insulted and angered at the audacity of not just removing the credit due you as the author, but removing your legacy and even calling into question your existence. Now, every time you go online or do an interview where you claim to be the author of that book, it will forever be doubted by some or all of the readers. You look like a sham, and a desperate one at that.
Nope, I want nothing to do with defaming The Almighty.
Jehovah it is.
Basically, the text of the Bible itself is in standard spaced Times New Roman black font just like this. While the standard verse numbering is present in superscription, I chose to stick with the WEB practice and maintain logical paragraph flow to help make reading and comprehension easier.
My commentary is in smaller, tighter-spaced blue Calibri font like this. Many of the comments are interspersed throughout the text directly after a section to which it pertains, however I never split a paragraph, so in some cases they refer to verses preceding the last one read. In addition, every book includes a brief synopsis and most chapters include a brief introduction and/or conclusion as well.
Any additional notes, references, or images will be set off from the regular text as obviously separate.
How to Best Use The BKLT Bible
As noted above, this is not a scholarly treatise. More often than not, those things bore me to tears anyway, so I wouldn’t put anyone through that.
So, you won’t find a detailed discussion of every aspect of every verse of every chapter of every book in The BKLT Bible. Instead, you’ll find comments on select verses that help point out vital truths and important fallacies that you should be aware of. You’ll also find comments here and there that are simply interesting and will hopefully add color and flavor to your Bible study and help you realize where the scriptures can apply more readily to your everyday life.
In short, I’d recommend using The BKLT Bible as a way to get in the habit of enjoyable daily Bible reading. Whether or not it’s the only Bible you personally use really doesn’t matter. If you prefer to just dip into it now and then to see what I have to say about a particular verse or account you come across in your own reading, rather than going through the whole thing front to back, that’s totally fine too.
The point is to read God’s Word daily and let it have an effect on you.
Where appropriate, I will include resources such as definitions, maps, links to additional information, and anything else that seems to fit well into a thorough study of the material.
In all cases, if it appears in The BKLT Bible, it was made available under Creative Commons license allowing me to use it in this publication. With the exception of the commentary in blue, I probably didn’t come up with it on my own.
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
The Book of Genesis
“In the beginning” are the first words of the first verse of the first book of The Bible, and their Hebrew translation is where we get the word “Genesis”.
Written approximately 1513 BCE by Moses while the nation of Israel trudged around the Wilderness of Sinai, the book covers the time period between God’s creation of everything on the Earth to the death of Joseph in about 1657 BCE. Since Genesis was originally the first part of the five-part Torah (or Book of the Law), the end of Genesis flows smoothly into the beginning of the second book, Exodus, which picks up with Jacob’s descendants still in Egypt, where they settled down in Joseph’s day.
What makes Genesis so interesting and compelling?
In many ways, it’s an action-packed story, for one thing. For a mere 50 chapters, it’s got epic sweep and scope. It provides simple answers to incredibly profound questions like, “why are we here?”, “how did we get here?”, and “why do good people have to suffer?” And that’s all just in the first few chapters.
Another reason it’s so interesting is because – unlike some sections of the Bible – it focuses almost exclusively on ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. When we read about Noah building the Ark and surviving the Flood, or about Abraham traveling the Land of Promise at the age of 100, or about Joseph being sent to prison on false charges, we can put ourselves in their positions and relate. It’s like a good novel in that regard, but it’s more than that too.
In the activities of these early peoples, both the incredible and the mundane, we can see how faith works: not just as an abstract concept, but as a living, breathing active force that affects our choices and shapes how we live. While the same can be said of many other Bible books, Genesis is an excellent place to go to immerse yourself in the day-to-day struggles of those who loved Jehovah, and those who didn’t, and to see how each fared in the end.
If you’re starting your study of The Bible here at its first book, I encourage you to be open minded. There are aspects of the story – especially in the first several chapters – that will instantly make your BS meter twitch if you’ve always been a strictly rational and scientifically minded person. Believe me when I tell you, I understand your instant inclination to shake your head and say, “this is all just a bunch of crazy fairy tales.”
But, as I stated in the Foreward, if you read Genesis from the standpoint of believing that it is indeed part of the inspired Word of God, then you’ll have the patience to see your study through and you’ll realize just how accurate it actually is. If you have yet to develop that level of faith and are studying this book purely from an academic point of view, then I understand if I lose you in the first few chapters. All I can say is, every academic enterprise requires you to take something on faith, even if it’s simply the accuracy of the textbook in front of you.
So, regardless of your attitude toward it, I give you the first book of The BKLT Bible: Genesis.
So many cool and interesting things here. Creation vs. evolution, vegetarians vs. carnivores, is sex bad?… Lots of great stuff. Chapter one, and we’re already cooking with gas.
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep and God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters.
OK, OK, stick with me here. I know, right from the very first sentence of the book, everything you’ve been taught from childhood on about biology, geology, astronomy, and every other -ogy is being called into question. Just relax. I hate to say it, but it’s going to get worse. For now, take a small paper bag and put it to your mouth for a few breaths just to make sure everything settles down. Then, move along and I’ll hold your hand so you don’t get too nervous.
Just understand as we move through these first two chapters of Genesis, they are written from the standpoint of a human being (Moses) who was miraculously given information about the origin of all things and was not in a position to fully understand them from a scientific point of view. He was a shepherd. An intelligent man, but not a scientist. And, of course, scientific advancements were minimal at the point in human history when he wrote all this down. So, logically, God provided him glimpses of the facts that he could grasp and put into words rather than piling on a detailed scientific explanation for every step in the process.
Are you ready? OK, let’s go.
3 God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw the light, and saw that it was good. God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day”, and the darkness he called “night”. There was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6 God said, “Let there be an expanse in the middle of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 God made the expanse, and divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky”. There was evening and there was morning, a second day.
9 God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear;” and it was so. 10 God called the dry land “earth”, and the gathering together of the waters he called “seas”. God saw that it was good. 11 God said, “Let the earth yield grass, herbs yielding seeds, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with their seeds in it, on the earth;” and it was so. 12 The earth yielded grass, herbs yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with their seeds in it, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. 13 There was evening and there was morning, a third day.
14 God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs to mark seasons, days, and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth;” and it was so. 16 God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light to the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. 19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
20 God said, “Let the waters abound with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the sky.” 21 God created the large sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind. God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
24 God said, “Let the earth produce living creatures after their kind, livestock, creeping things, and animals of the earth after their kind;” and it was so. 25 God made the animals of the earth after their kind, and the livestock after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind. God saw that it was good.
26 God said, “Let’s make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. 30 To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food;” and it was so.
Who’s right? Vegetarians or Meat Eaters? At this point in human history – the original couple in the Garden of Eden – they were vegetarians. So, their physically perfect bodies could get all the nutrients and calories they needed from the plant life around them in that garden. Of course, we’ll need to revisit the question in a few chapters when Noah steps off the Ark.
Is sex bad? Was it the original sin? Absolutely not. Catholics especially, but a number of other so-called Christians love to attach a sinful connotation to all sexual relations, even claiming that the “forbidden fruit” (which we’ll talk more about in chapter 3) was actually sex. But Genesis 1:24 very clearly shows that God blessed Adam and Eve and instructed them to “be fruitful and become many, fill the earth and subdue it.” In other words, have sex, make babies, and populate the earth with humans. There’s no other way they could have carried out God’s command.
31 God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. There was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.
Evolution or creation? Well, interestingly for all those scientific types who refuse to believe the Bible, Genesis chapter 1 is in harmony with the entire fossil record and the views of all biologists when it comes to the general order in which living things came into existence. Notice the way Moses describes it, realizing again that God would not have given him scientific details he couldn’t possibly comprehend:
So, although scientists could debate matters for an eternity, they’re really just debating details that can fit nicely into the scenario Genesis lays out: First, there was nothing, then God created something, then more things, and finally, us. We – human beings – are, undoubtedly the highest level of life on the planet, whether you believe in evolution or creation. For better or for worse, we have proven our dominion over the Earth and its creatures for as long as we’ve been here.
There truly is nothing at all in the Genesis account of creation that directly argues against any proven scientific fact. The only things called into question by the Genesis account are details pertaining to various theories surrounding exactly how all these things came to be: facts that God could not effectively share with lowly Moses even if He wanted to. Not being able to satisfy their desire for these minute details, scientists and other evolutionists instantly scramble for a more “rational” explanation for all the facts they do have, which turns out to be “everything we see came about by chance through billions of years of natural evolution.”
Whatever. I don’t buy it. And soon, I’ll be releasing a book entitled, “Why Evolution Makes No Sense” which will go into much more detail on the subject. Until then, let’s move on.
Is Genesis saying God created everything in the universe in six actual 24-hour days? No. We know from science that the earth and life on it have been around for eons. Whether or not all their dating abilities are accurate is another matter, but the fact is there’s no way absolutely everything we see – from rocks to supernovas – appeared within a week of each other.
A lot of die-hard creationists believe these were six literal 24-hour days, to which I must first point out that the entire concept of a literal 24-hour day wasn’t created until the 5th “day” when God made the Sun, Moon, and stars visible to Earth and noted that they could be used for time-keeping. That being the case, even simple Moses would have understood that the first four “days” weren’t limited to 24 hours each.
So what’s up with Genesis 1 saying God created everything in six days? It’s not actually saying that. It’s using “day” the same way you might when you say, “the good old days” or, “back in my day”, or “in the days of King Arthur”. A general period of time that had a definite beginning and end in that God accomplished a particular set of related jobs, then moved on to something new. From Moses’ point of view, a delineation in the vision God gave him to indicate the end of one of these periods and the beginning of another could understandably be described as, “there came to be evening and there came to be morning, a second day.”
Is it possible God created things by using evolution? No, it’s not. The reason is found in verses 21 and 25 where it says that every creature was made “according to its kind.” Just as zebras and catfish can’t naturally procreate, one kind can’t evolve into the other either. Each “kind” of animal was created by God for its own purpose in the ecosystem. Over the millions of years since living things were created, have changes been seen? Of course. God created living things with incredible adaptive abilities, Man’s being foremost of all. As life spread to various climates, as various members of each species interbred with each other, and as the occasional genetic mutation entered the mix, changes to the appearance and behavior of certain groups within those species and families would be natural. But when scientists desperately search for those “missing links” in the fossil record that clearly show a direct evolutionary progression from one species to another, they wind up empty handed, because those links simply do not exist.
Moses rewrites and summarizes the creation account in the first chapter with a special focus on God’s crowning achievement, the creation of man and woman. He describes the famous Garden of Eden, offers an explanation as to why his crowning creative achievement – which he described as “very good” – could still be better, and performs the first wedding ceremony.
1 The heavens, the earth, and all their vast array were finished. 2 On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. 3 God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy, because he rested in it from all his work of creation which he had done.
Does “God rested” mean he disappeared from the scene? No. It’s obvious in the following verses that God was very much still interested and involved in what was happening on Earth. He “rested” in the respect that he had finished using his creative power in the way he had been for the previous six creative “days”. Essentially, he sat back to appreciate his handiwork and to see how things would progress. Based on other scriptural references to “the seventh day”, including Israel’s Sabbath law, it becomes clear that we’re still in that seventh day right now.
4 This is the history of the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that Jehovah God made the earth and the heavens.5 No plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up; for Jehovah God had not caused it to rain on the earth. There was not a man to till the ground, 6 but a mist went up from the earth, and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Jehovah God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. 8 Jehovah God planted a garden eastward, in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground Jehovah God made every tree to grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it was parted, and became the source of four rivers.11 The name of the first is Pishon: it flows through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and onyx stone are also there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon. It is the same river that flows through the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Hiddekel. This is the one which flows in front of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates. 15 Jehovah God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it.16 Jehovah God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.”
Where was the Garden of Eden? We don’t know exactly, but the description found in Genesis 2:10-14 places the Garden in the eastern half of modern day Iraq. Both the Euphrates and the Hiddekel (or Tigris) rivers are well known. The other two rivers named in Genesis no longer exist today and have not been identified with any known living or dead rivers in the area of the Tigris or Euphrates. We’ll talk a bit more about this as we discuss the Flood in a few chapters.
The fact that God created one man and made him responsible for the cultivation and upkeep of the entire Garden of Eden, as well as the fact that angels with one flaming sword at one end were charged with keeping humans out of the Garden for over a thousand years after the first sin, seems to indicate that the Garden itself was not very big. Perhaps several acres? Theoretically, according to Jehovah’s commands to Adam, as time progressed, Adam would have been working to expand the Garden outward. The introduction of a wife in the next several verses made that possibility even more doable because now Adam and Eve could “multiply and fill the earth”, so their growing family would provide both the need and the necessary labor to expand the size of the Garden until it filled the earth. While I’ve read some interesting ideas from Biblical scholars claiming the Gihon river is the Nile, which makes sense since “the land of Cush” was used as a reference to Egypt in other places in the scriptures, that just doesn’t seem to jive with the facts as they’re laid out in Genesis 2.
Unfortunately, the question of exactly where the Garden of Eden was located will probably never be adequately answered. And, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter very much either.
18 Jehovah God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him.” 19 Out of the ground Jehovah God formed every animal of the field, and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called every living creature became its name.20 The man gave names to all livestock, and to the birds of the sky, and to every animal of the field; but for man there was not found a helper comparable to him.21 Jehovah God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. As the man slept, he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Jehovah God made a woman from the rib which he had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed.
[*Is the Bible sexist? *]Interesting question. The answer, unfortunately, is yes. It is. There’s no getting around that. But there is an important point that needs to be made to qualify that answer: these verses right here prove that it’s not God who is sexist. It’s imperfect man and the screwed up civilization he’s put together since the origin of sin. In verse 18, when deciding that Adam needed a mate just like the other animals had, Jehovah describes her as “a helper comparable to him.” The New World Translation (another Bible translation I greatly admire, by the way, and one that’s available for free ,) renders that verse, “a helper for him, as a complement to him.” Now that’s not compliment, like someone created specifically to make Adam feel better about himself, but complement, as in someone who completed Adam by providing physical and emotional facets that he didn’t have. Very Jerry Maguire, I know.
When humans were still perfect, Adam and Eve were equal in nearly every way. The only difference seems to have been one of seniority and experience in that Adam had been in existence longer and was the one Jehovah had initially “hired” to take care of the Garden, name the animals, and so on. So Eve, as a less experienced helper, would rely on Adam for guidance and direction.
But, later on in the Biblical record (and unfortunately, it doesn’t take long at all,) as imperfection appears, spreads, and intensifies in the human race, men begin to dominate women using their naturally superior physical strength and heightened capacity for aggression until women become little more than sex toys and servants in a male-dominated world. And, when you strip away all the window dressing that modern society tries to use to dress up or dress down the problem, that’s still the state women find themselves in today.
So, is the Bible sexist? Unfortunately, yes, since it is a faithful record of the fall of mankind and the majority of its pages reflect the world as it exists in the interim between when God’s original purpose involving perfect humankind was introduced and when this failed experiment in human independence finally ends, the Bible accurately reflects the fact that our world today treats women horribly in general.
What does God think about gay marriage? There are plenty of other scriptures that also bear on this controversial subject, but Genesis 2:18-25 gives us a very clear and simple answer right on page two of the Word of God. When God realized Adam was better off with a mate rather than staying alone, he created “a helper for him, comparable to him.” In other words, God designed the perfect counterpart for Man to serve as a mate to him for the purpose of physical and emotional fulfilment as well as procreation. What he came up with was not another man, but a woman. When God “brought her to the man”, he essentially performed the first marriage ceremony. So, in God’s eyes, when seeking a life companion, what a man needs is a woman.
Go ahead, I’m ready for the mounds of hate mail. I know in today’s world, it’s horribly old-fashioned and “closed-minded” or “intolerant” to say that homosexuality is wrong and that gays shouldn’t be allowed to get married. But you read the same verses I did. And, when you compare them to other straightforward scriptures like Leviticus 18:22, 1 Timothy 1:10, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and Romans 1:26, 27, it’s pretty difficult to deny the fact that the Bible most certainly condemns homosexual activity.
I’m sure we’ll touch on this more as those scriptures I just listed come along in The BKLT Bible, but I want to hit one more point just to make myself clear. I can already hear the liberals among you sneering at the last two paragraphs and saying, “sure, some Christian this guy is. Jesus was all about tolerance and love, and supposedly died for our sins, so how can this guy say flat out that being gay is wrong?” Actually, Tonto, go back up and read what I said: “the Bible most certainly condemns homosexual activity.” That being said, I’m not homophobic, nor do I think individuals with gay desires should be teased, discriminated against, or in any other way made to feel uncomfortable because of that. 1 Peter 2:17 clearly tells all Christians that we should have the utmost respect for people of all sorts, including those who consider themselves gay.
I’ll illustrate it this way: I don’t smoke. In fact, the thought of it repels me. But I don’t hate smokers because they choose to do so. Now, do I agree that it’s right for smokers to be asked to refrain from smoking inside public buildings? Yes, I do, because it’s a health risk. It makes things not only uncomfortable, but potentially dangerous for those of us who choose not to smoke. But that doesn’t mean I hate them. Likewise, I choose to take the Bible’s moral stand on homosexuality, which means I believe homosexual acts are sinful and gay marriage is not acceptable. But I don’t hate those people who choose to act that way or who deal with the desire to act that way. I just have a different moral code.
In conclusion – for now – it’s also important to note that I didn’t write Genesis 2 or any of the other scriptures noted above. I just happen to respect the One who did.
What does God think about divorce? Same verses, especially 24: “That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he will join with (or “remain with”) his wife, and they will become one flesh.” We’ll talk a lot more about this going forward too, but right from the very first wedding, God’s made it clear as crystal that marriage is supposed to be a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.
Once again, of course, humans were perfect at this point. So, although God’s view hasn’t changed, circumstances have. That’s why Jesus verified in Matthew 19:9 that adultery (sexual relations with someone other than your spouse) provided a legitimate, scriptural grounds for divorce that God will accept. In the same verse, however, Jesus confirmed that the kinds of frivolous divorces so common in his day as in ours – such as irreconcilable differences, etc. – simply don’t hold water and don’t allow for freedom to remarry in God’s sight.
As usual, in a matter of seemingly minutes (not really, but very little time) mankind screws up everything and gets themselves in trouble. But there are some really interesting points touched on here that will become much more important down the road:
1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any animal of the field which Jehovah God had made. He said to the woman, “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees of the garden, 3 but not the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden. God has said, ‘You shall not eat of it. You shall not touch it, lest you die.’ ”
4 The serpent said to the woman, “You won’t really die, 5 for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took some of its fruit, and ate. Then she gave some to her husband with her, and he ate it, too. 7 Their eyes were opened, and they both knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together, and made coverings for themselves. 8 They heard Jehovah God’s voice walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Jehovah God among the trees of the garden.
Who was the snake? Well, we know that snakes can’t actually talk. So, that right there tells you someone else was behind the snake’s speech. The snake lied, straight out, after making a doubt-inducing statement. Since Titus 1:2 says that God “cannot lie”, it wasn’t Him. Adam wasn’t around at the time when the snake was first talking to Eve, and there’s no indication in the Scriptures that he had any sort of special powers like making animals talk anyway. So who’s left? The only option is another creature that had already been created by God, that had the will and the power to do something devious and miraculous, and that desired to turn humans away from God. Later in the scriptures (in Revelation and in the Gospels) the snake is identified as Satan the Devil. He apparently used the snake the same way a ventriloquist uses a dummy.
What was he actually saying to Eve? Again, as noted in chapter two’s comments, some people think this entire account of the tree and the fruit and the snake is all some allegorical fable referring to sex – the first sin, the forbidden fruit. But that makes no sense, since God specifically told Adam and Eve to have kids, and sex is the only way that could happen. So what was Satan actually doing here? Let’s think about it: what did he actually say to Eve? Did he say, “God can’t stop you from eating that fruit.” No. He wasn’t questioning Jehovah’s power. Did he say, “God doesn’t know what he’s talking about?” No. He wasn’t questioning God’s wisdom either. Instead, he flat out lied, saying, “you won’t really die… you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Basically he was saying, “are you going to let this guy run your life? He doesn’t have the right to do that.” He was calling into question God’s sovereignty, or his right to rule his creation.
Now, why would he do that? The only reason that makes sense is that he wanted worship for himself, and he knew that could never happen unless the humans were first turned away from God. So, he went straight at literally the only rule God gave them, and encouraged them to break it.
Why did he pick Eve? Some idiots (mostly male, but not all) have used this account about Eve being deceived by Satan as a misguided attempt to “prove” that women are inferior to men in some way. After all, it was Eve’s fault that everything bad happened, and God even punished her by saying, in verse 16, “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” But did Satan choose Eve because she was stupid or inferior to Adam? No. He chose her because she was inexperienced. Just like any predator, he goes after the younger and less experienced of a herd because they make easier prey. We don’t know exactly how long Eve had been alive at the point that Satan spoke to her in the Garden, but according to verse 20, Adam hadn’t even given her a personal name yet, and that was his main job at the time: naming all of God’s living creations, so it probably wasn’t very long.
Interestingly, Eve is described elsewhere in the scriptures as having been “deceived” by the Devil at this time. She knew perfectly well what the rule was regarding that tree and that fruit. She even quoted it to the serpent. But what did Satan do to deceive her? He appealed to her eyes. He placed a doubt in her mind regarding Jehovah’s right to rule and whether or not listening to him was the best thing for her, and then he simply stood back and let her eyes do the rest: “it was a delight to the eyes… the tree was to be desired.” So, she ate it. Then, she gave some to her husband too, and, like many love-loopy men since, Adam didn’t even think about it. He knew it was wrong, but he sided with this beautiful woman instead of God, and the rest is history.
Again, though, this is not really Eve’s fault as if she was some evil thing set upon man to screw up life forever. She was deceived by Satan, and Adam went along with her despite the fact that he “was not deceived” according to 1 Timothy 2:14.
9 Jehovah God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
10 The man said, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself.”
11 God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Jehovah God said to the woman, “What have you done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Now this is kind of funny: the Blame Game goes in a circle. “Adam, what did you do?” “It’s her fault.” “Eve, what did you do?” “It’s the snake’s fault.” As parents of more than one child know well, this tendency to pass the buck hasn’t left us in the thousands of years since this first error was made.
14 Jehovah God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
you are cursed above all livestock,
and above every animal of the field.
You shall go on your belly
and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.
15 I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will bruise your head,
and you will bruise his heel.”
The Bible’s first prophecy. Genesis 3:15 is the first prophecy in the Bible, and it sets up the Bible’s entire theme: God’s plan to undo the problems caused by Satan’s meddling and mankind’s disobedience, ending in Satan’s destruction. It references two seeds: that of the serpent, and that of the woman. It’ll take a while, but we’re going to trace the fulfillment of that prophecy all the way through the Bible to Revelation and our near future, so stay tuned.
It’s important to note now, however, exactly what was being lost here when Adam and Eve sinned: They lost their clean relationships with Jehovah God, their perfect unending human lives, the potential to raise perfect human offspring, their ability to fulfill Jehovah’s purpose, and a beautiful physical paradise home. In order for God’s purpose to be fulfilled, all of those things would have to be restored.
16 To the woman he said,
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth.
You will bear children in pain.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
Touching again on the subject of sexism, this second portion of the first prophecy is interesting. Apparently, as a result of introducing imperfection to the human condition, Adam and Eve would both suffer personal consequences. Since Eve hadn’t yet given birth, she didn’t know what it was like to do so perfectly. Instead, her experience in childbirth – and that of every woman to come after her – was going to be extremely painful. Then, God accurately predicted that imperfect men, including Eve’s own husband, Adam, would take advantage of their relative strength to “rule over” or dominate her. And, even when it’s not in her best interest, she would desire him anyway. In other words, women were destined to be stuck in a “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” relationship with the male of the species for as long as imperfection reigned.
17 To Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to your wife’s voice,
and ate from the tree,
about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it,’
the ground is cursed for your sake.
You will eat from it with much labor all the days of your life.
18 It will yield thorns and thistles to you;
and you will eat the herb of the field.
19 You will eat bread by the sweat of your face until you return to the ground,
for you were taken out of it.
For you are dust,
and you shall return to dust.”
Why do I hate gardening? According to verses 17-19, part of Adam’s punishment was the fact that the ground would be cursed and it would be very hard work to get anything to grow. It’s hard to say to what extent that curse is still in effect. While man has learned a lot about agriculture and can pretty effectively grow crops today, there’s a possibility it could be far easier than it is right now. We just don’t know because we’ve never known it any different.
Where would Adam and Eve be right now if they hadn’t sinned? God promised humans that if they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, they would die. This is the first mention of death in the scriptures. And, when they did eat of the tree, part of his sentence against them was, “until you return to the ground, for you were taken out of it. For you are dust and you shall return to dust.” So, logically, death came about as a direct result of their sin. If they hadn’t sinned, they would not have died. We would still be able to talk to them today. They would have lived forever on Earth, continuing to expand the Garden of Eden as God originally intended. Keep that point in mind because it’s important.
20 The man called his wife Eve because she would be the mother of all the living. 21 Jehovah God made garments of animal skins for Adam and for his wife, and clothed them.
What does God think about miniskirts? Interesting little point here: after Adam and Eve sinned, the scripture states, “they realized they were naked” and sewed together fig leaves to use as loin coverings. However, once everything was found out and sentence was passed on the first couple, kicking them out of the Garden, verse 21 says, “And Jehovah God made garments from skins for Adam and for his wife, to clothe them.” So, apparently God didn’t think the skimpy fig leaf loin coverings were appropriate, and he provided them with more modest clothing.
This is in line with later Christian teachings on dress and grooming as well. For instance, 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3, 4 show us that how we dress has a direct bearing on how we’re perceived in relation to God. Those who dress immodestly are providing external proof that their internal moral compass is pointed the wrong way.
22 Jehovah God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand, and also take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever—” 23 Therefore Jehovah God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So he drove out the man; and he placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
Who are “the cherubim” and what were they doing? Cherubim, or cherubs, are powerful, high-ranking angels serving Jehovah God in heaven. Their description throughout the Bible make them appear much as we all picture angels to be: human in form, but with wings and glowing in appearance. No doubt they were pretty powerful-looking, and the spinning blade of a flaming sword would have been pretty intimidating too. According to verse 24, Jehovah situated them at the Eastern entrance of the Garden to prevent Adam, Eve, or any of their descendants from going back into it “lest he reach out his hand and also take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever-“
Now, it’s difficult to say at this stage whether Jehovah was being literal or maybe a little sarcastic when he said this. He’d already pronounced judgment on the human rebels and stated they would die. Is it realistic to think that, should one of them somehow manage to make it past the cherubs – maybe by sneaking in from the West? – and get to The Tree of Life, that they would have been able to reverse that judgment just by eating another piece of fruit? Well, as we discussed earlier in this chapter, it wasn’t really the fruit itself that mattered on the Tree of Knowledge, was it? It was the principle involved: Jehovah’s right to tell Adam and Eve what was right and what was wrong, and to place limitations on them. So, logically, their physically getting back into the Garden and eating a piece of fruit wasn’t going to magically reverse what had already happened.
So what were the cherubs actually doing? They were serving as a visible barrier between humans’ old way of life, and the new, harder, more miserable way of life they had chosen when they disobeyed God. Those glowing, winged men, and the spinning, flaming, sword between them, would always be visible to Adam, Eve, and their descendants as a sign of what stupid idiots they were, and of all they’d lost for the sake of their own foolish pride. As faithful servants of Jehovah who trusted in and supported his sovereignty, they served as a perfect visual representation of that sovereignty as it applied to humans: barring the way to everlasting life because they were on the “wrong side” of the issue.
So Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. Aaaannndddd…. Cain murders Abel.
1 The man knew Eve his wife. She conceived, and gave birth to Cain, and said, “I have gotten a man with Jehovah’s help.” 2 Again she gave birth, to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 As time passed, Cain brought an offering to Jehovah from the fruit of the ground. 4 Abel also brought some of the firstborn of his flock and of its fat. Jehovah respected Abel and his offering, 5 but he didn’t respect Cain and his offering. Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. 6 Jehovah said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why has the expression of your face fallen? 7 If you do well, won’t it be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it.” 8 Cain said to Abel, his brother, “Let’s go into the field.” While they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and killed him.
How were Cain’s and Abel’s sacrifices different? Cain’s offering to God is described as “the fruit of the ground,” while Abel’s is described as “some of the firstborn of his flock and of its fat.” By means of those descriptions, we can see that the real issue here was the heart condition or motives of the two people making the offerings. Abel gave the very best he had, while Cain just threw together a token sacrifice. Therefore, God looked with favor on Abel’s sacrifice, but not on Cain’s. Elsewhere in the Scriptures, it’s plainly stated that Jehovah is interested in followers who are willing to give their very best to Him, no matter how much that is. If it’s their best, he is happy with their effort.
Was Cain predestined to be a murderer? Another really interesting point: a lot of people believe in the doctrine of predestination, which essentially states that everything we do and say has already been predetermined by God from before we were born, and nothing we can do will change the “plan” God has for us, whether good or bad. There are a ton of scriptures in the Bible that show that doctrine is complete horse crap, and I’m sure I’ll be commenting on it more down the road. But here’s a great example:
When Cain realized his brother was in God’s good graces and he himself was not, he got jealous and angry. Immediately, although he certainly didn’t have to, Jehovah stepped in and basically said, “watch it, Bud, you’re getting pissed and you’re going to do something stupid. Don’t do it.” Then, what does Cain do? He ignores God (like his parents did) and intentionally commits first degree, premeditated murder.
Now, if predestination were true, then Jehovah would have known before Cain was born that he was destined to murder Abel. How much sense would it have made for him to make the effort to talk Cain out of doing something he himself had already decided had to happen? Conversely, what if Cain had listened to God? What if he had been able to “rule over” sin and overcome his anger and jealousy enough to refrain from killing his brother? Then God would have intentionally interfered in his own predestined chain of events by changing the mind of someone who was heading in a direction different from the one God predestined. That doesn’t seem fair.
The fact is, predestination is simply not true. I’ll cover it in more detail as this series progresses, but suffice to say there is absolutely nothing in the Bible that supports such a ridiculous notion. It’s simply a lazy man’s excuse for not caring enough to do anything about serving God properly, since “nothing I do will make a difference in the end anyway.”
9 Jehovah said to Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?”
He said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 Jehovah said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground. 11 Now you are cursed because of the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 From now on, when you till the ground, it won’t yield its strength to you. You will be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth.”
13 Cain said to Jehovah, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me out today from the surface of the ground. I will be hidden from your face, and I will be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth. Whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 Jehovah said to him, “Therefore whoever slays Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” Jehovah appointed a sign for Cain, so that anyone finding him would not strike him.
16 Cain left Jehovah’s presence, and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 17 Cain knew his wife. She conceived, and gave birth to Enoch. He built a city, and named the city after the name of his son, Enoch. 18 Irad was born to Enoch. Irad became the father of Mehujael. Mehujael became the father of Methushael. Methushael became the father of Lamech. 19 Lamech took two wives: the name of the first one was Adah, and the name of the second one was Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal, who was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal, who was the father of all who handle the harp and pipe. 22 Zillah also gave birth to Tubal Cain, the forger of every cutting instrument of bronze and iron. Tubal Cain’s sister was Naamah. 23 Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice.
You wives of Lamech, listen to my speech,
for I have slain a man for wounding me,
a young man for bruising me.
24 If Cain will be avenged seven times,
truly Lamech seventy-seven times.”
25 Adam knew his wife again. She gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, saying, “for God has given me another child instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 A son was also born to Seth, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on Jehovah’s name.
Where did Cain get his wife? This is a real sticky point for some folks who want to question the Bible’s accuracy, and I guess I can see why. But the answer is so embarrassingly simple, some folks just refuse to accept it. According to Genesis 5:4, over the course of the 930 years that Adam was alive, “he became father to sons and daughters.” Cain was his firstborn son, Abel his second, and Seth his third – as far as the record shows. But possibly before, and definitely after that, Adam and Eve continued to have children, including some females. Now, in today’s society, it sounds gross, not to mention medically dangerous, for a brother and sister to marry and have children. But that far back in human history, the human genome was a much heartier thing. That’s obvious from the fact that the average lifespan was up around 1000 years for most men (and, traditionally, women have always lived longer than men, so that may have been the case then too, who knows? The Biblical record generally recounts family lines through the males because they carried on the name and the legal inheritance of land and goods.) So the idea that Cain and his sister could have married, had sex, and produced perfectly healthy offspring is not all that hard to believe.
A genealogical listing of generations from Adam to Noah, with a brief interlude to mention Enoch, a man who “walked with God.”
1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, he made him in God’s likeness. 2 He created them male and female, and blessed them. On the day they were created, he named them Adam. 3 Adam lived one hundred thirty years, and became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. 4 The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years, and he became the father of other sons and daughters.5 All the days that Adam lived were nine hundred thirty years, then he died.
6 Seth lived one hundred five years, then became the father of Enosh. 7 Seth lived after he became the father of Enosh eight hundred seven years, and became the father of other sons and daughters. 8 All of the days of Seth were nine hundred twelve years, then he died.
9 Enosh lived ninety years, and became the father of Kenan. 10 Enosh lived after he became the father of Kenan eight hundred fifteen years, and became the father of other sons and daughters. 11 All of the days of Enosh were nine hundred five years, then he died.
12 Kenan lived seventy years, then became the father of Mahalalel. 13 Kenan lived after he became the father of Mahalalel eight hundred forty years, and became the father of other sons and daughters 14 and all of the days of Kenan were nine hundred ten years, then he died.
15 Mahalalel lived sixty-five years, then became the father of Jared. 16 Mahalalel lived after he became the father of Jared eight hundred thirty years, and became the father of other sons and daughters. 17 All of the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred ninety-five years, then he died.
18 Jared lived one hundred sixty-two years, then became the father of Enoch. 19 Jared lived after he became the father of Enoch eight hundred years, and became the father of other sons and daughters. 20 All of the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty-two years, then he died.
21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, then became the father of Methuselah. 22 After Methuselah’s birth, Enoch walked with God for three hundred years, and became the father of more sons and daughters. 23 All the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and he was not found, for God took him.
What does it mean when it says God “took” Enoch? Running down the genealogical listing here, Enoch is the only person that the record specifically notes “walked with God.” In other words, he was a particularly faithful man, and stood out as very different from the majority of people alive at the time. In verse 24, it indicates that he lived his entire life (365 years’ worth!) doing the right thing in Jehovah’s eyes. So, at that point “God took him.” Evidently, this means that Jehovah mercifully allowed Enoch to experience a peaceful and dignified death rather than fall victim to the escalating violence and wickedness of the world around him. Things must have been horrible, since it was only two generations later that God decided to wipe most of the human population off the earth by means of the Flood. This teaches us not only about Jehovah’s love and mercy, but also about the fact that He cares about us individually and pays attention to what we do in His name.
25 Methuselah lived one hundred eighty-seven years, then became the father of Lamech. 26 Methuselah lived after he became the father of Lamech seven hundred eighty-two years, and became the father of other sons and daughters. 27 All the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty-nine years, then he died.
28 Lamech lived one hundred eighty-two years, then became the father of a son. 29 He named him Noah, saying, “This one will comfort us in our work and in the toil of our hands, caused by the ground which Jehovah has cursed.” 30 Lamech lived after he became the father of Noah five hundred ninety-five years, and became the father of other sons and daughters. 31 All the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy-seven years, then he died.
32 Noah was five hundred years old, then Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
These guys lived how long? Yes, it seems crazy when the average lifespan today is 70-80 years. But, again, considering the relative health and vitality of human genetic material at a time so close to when they were physically perfect – capable of living forever – it’s not off the wall to hear that these first several generations lived for hundreds of years each. Here’s a to help you visualize how the lifespans of the people we’ve read about so far overlapped. It’s cool to think about the fact that Noah’s grandfather was alive for many years while Adam was still around. Since the human family was relatively small, and we can imagine Adam was a bit of a celebrity, we can imagine them talking, and that information being passed on to Lamech and Noah, to carry forward through the Flood.
Seth was also still alive during Noah’s life, and could have provided plenty of details to help bolster Noah’s faith.
But perhaps the coolest thing to realize at this point was that, as far as we can tell, the Garden of Eden and those cherubim with the flaming sword were still there and intact right up until the Flood! Meaning Noah could have seen them with his own eyes, as could his sons. We don’t know if that happened, of course, because the Bible doesn’t say. But I would have to imagine these superhuman creatures were a bit of a tourist attraction at the time, wouldn’t you think?
As chapter 6 begins, God sees that the world is steeped in violence. And, some bad angels see that the world is steeped in hot women. So, the angels materialize as humans and impregnate human women, producing giant hybrids called Nephilim. Jehovah decides enough is enough and calls it quits: he’s going to wipe out everything with a global flood.
When men began to multiply on the surface of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 God’s sons saw that men’s daughters were beautiful, and they took any that they wanted for themselves as wives. 3 Jehovah said, “My Spirit will not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; so his days will be one hundred twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when God’s sons came in to men’s daughters and had children with them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
God’s sons… Nephilim… Huh? Here’s another spot in the first few chapters of the Bible where rationally minded readers often allow their eyes to glaze over. Even if they made it through chapter 3 where a snake spoke, they’re ready to lose it here. But again, I beg you, stick with me for a bit. It all becomes clearer.
Here are the Cliff Notes: Based on references elsewhere in the scriptures (such as Genesis 1:26, Job 38:7, Proverbs 8:30, and Colossians 1:15-17) we know that the creation account in Genesis leaves out an important aspect of Jehovah’s creative works that occurred after he made the heavens, but before he made the Earth: the creation of spirit creatures we know as angels.
Based on some scriptural references, these number in the tens of millions, they are organized in various ranks and are assigned various jobs to do in Jehovah’s service. The leader among the angels, or Archangel, eventually came to Earth as the man Jesus. Prior to doing so, he spent eons of time in Jehovah’s presence. Another high-ranking angel (a cherub, in fact, according to Ezekiel 28:14) became Satan the Devil when he allowed pride and arrogance to move him to guide Eve toward disobedience. And now, at the point in human history we’re reading about in Genesis 6, other angels who have been observing Satan’s rebellion from heaven have started to side with him in their hearts. As a result, immoral and unnatural desires have surfaced – namely to have sexual relations with human women – and they act on them.
The result of these unnatural unions are a hybrid offspring: human beings with superhuman size and strength who also appear to have hyper-aggressive personalities. These giants, or “men of renown”, were probably the stuff of legends from Hercules to the Titans, and can even trace their impact on culture through to DC Comics and the like. But in the time of Noah, they were a very frightening reality.
[*What did Jehovah mean when he said man’s “days will be 120 years” in verse 3? *]This is interesting, because at first glance, it sounds like He’s saying, “so far, man’s been able to live for hundreds of years, but going forward I’m only letting him live 120 years,” as if that was the new divinely determined lifespan. But, a glance at Genesis 11 shows that descendants of Noah were still living hundreds of years long after the flood, although their lifespans were slowly decreasing one generation to the next. (Which makes sense, considering the genetic explanation I discussed a few chapters ago as humans grew further and further away from perfection.) So, instead, God’s pronouncement that man would only last another 120 years was in reference to the flood coming. He had it planned, and he knew that nearly all men would die at that time.
But, interestingly, he didn’t reveal this at the time, even to Noah. Historically, as you read and study the Bible in its entirety, you come to realize that God is wise and he always reveals things to his servants that they need to know, but only at the time and in the way that is best for them. Jesus followed this same example when he was on Earth, as evidenced by his statement to his disciples at John 16:12, “I have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now.”
About 70 years later, though, Jehovah did tell Noah about the coming Flood, and told him exactly what he needed to do to save himself and his family.
5 Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was continually only evil. 6 Jehovah was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him in his heart. 7 Jehovah said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the surface of the ground—man, along with animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky—for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in Jehovah’s eyes.
Does verse 6 indicate God made a mistake? In that verse it says, “Jehovah [_was sorry _]that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him in his heart.” For us, regret is something we feel when we screw up and wish we hadn’t. But God is perfect and cannot err. Besides, earlier in Genesis, God looked back at all his creation – including human beings – and said they were “very good.” So, his feeling “sorry” here can’t be feeling bad over making the mistake of creating humans. His regret is over the fact that his crowning creative achievement had gone so wayward, to the point that he felt the need to destroy them. Kind of like a human parent whose son grows up to be a notorious criminal: while they would never be able to truly regret having given birth to or raised the child, they could certainly regret that he grew up to harm people.
Again, this is another great argument against predestination. If God had long before predestined the life choices of every human being, why in the world would he feel regret over what they had chosen to do? Wouldn’t he have fully expected every single act of violence and foolishness he saw?
9 This is the history of the generations of Noah: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time. Noah walked with God. 10 Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 God saw the earth, and saw that it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
13 God said to Noah, “I will bring an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them and the earth. 14 Make a ship of gopher wood. You shall make rooms in the ship, and shall seal it inside and outside with pitch. 15 This is how you shall make it. The length of the ship shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 You shall make a roof in the ship, and you shall finish it to a cubit upward. You shall set the door of the ship in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third levels. 17 I, even I, will bring the flood of waters on this earth, to destroy all flesh having the breath of life from under the sky. Everything that is in the earth will die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you. You shall come into the ship, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 Of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ship, to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds after their kind, of the livestock after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort will come to you, to keep them alive. 21 Take with you some of all food that is eaten, and gather it to yourself; and it will be for food for you, and for them.” 22 Thus Noah did. He did all that God commanded him.
How big was the Ark and what did it look like? Based on the measurements laid out in this chapter and the fairly detailed description, here’s what we know: (Assuming the cubit Noah used was the same 17.5 inch or 44.5 cm version most scholars think it was) the Ark was 437 ft 6 in. × 72 ft 11 in. × 43 ft 9 in. It was a huge rectangular box with three interior levels and a mildly sloped roof to accommodate water runoff. It wouldn’t need a tapered bow or keel, or any steering or propulsion mechanisms because its only purpose was to float. It is interesting to note, however, that these measurements use the same 6:1 length-to-width proportions modern naval architects use. It contained about 1.4 million cu.ft. of total volume with over 96,000 sq.ft. of floor space on all three floors.
Now, let’s just think for a moment about how monumental of a task this was: Here’s good old Noah, coming nigh on 600 years old, likely never having built more than a modest home before. He’s living in a time when electricity hasn’t been discovered, tools are primitive and manual in nature, and he has exactly three willing laborers available to assist him. And God says, build this massive wooden ship, make it watertight, and then collect a crapload of animals and everything you and they are going to need to eat, because I’m wiping out all life on the Earth using – and this is important – rain: something you’ve never seen or heard of before.
But, despite how incredibly overwhelming and even hopeless this all must have seemed, despite having zero confidence in his own ability to do so, and having nothing at all to base his belief on, Noah “did all that God commanded him.”
Why two each of the unclean animals but 14 of the clean animals? At the time of the Flood, as far as we can tell, mankind was still strictly vegetarian. While Noah and his family could have reasonably stored up enough food to see them through the time they were stuck on the Ark, they would have also needed to save a good portion of the seeds and other plants in order to replant them afterward. They also had no way of knowing how long it might be before the ground could be cultivated again after being utterly wrecked by the flood waters. But God knew. And, he knew that they would need a new source of food to supplement their vegetarian diet for the months and even years immediately following the flood. So, he made sure to provide a greater abundance of the kinds of animals humans could eat in order to establish a larger population of them faster, after the flood. As we’ll see in chapter 9, God instituted the eating of meat immediately after the flood.
The actual flood happens: Noah and his family get on the Ark along with all the animals, God closes the door, and the rain starts. Plus, “the springs of the vast watery deep burst open” which seems to indicate the water came from both above and below the ground in one torrential deluge. It would have to be beyond anything we’ve ever seen to cover over the tops of the mountains within 40 days and 40 nights. The water stayed at that level for five months.
1 Jehovah said to Noah, “Come with all of your household into the ship, for I have seen your righteousness before me in this generation. 2 You shall take seven pairs of every clean animal with you, the male and his female. Of the animals that are not clean, take two, the male and his female. 3 Also of the birds of the sky, seven and seven, male and female, to keep seed alive on the surface of all the earth. 4 In seven days, I will cause it to rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights. I will destroy every living thing that I have made from the surface of the ground.”
5 Noah did everything that Jehovah commanded him.
6 Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth. 7 Noah went into the ship with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, because of the floodwaters. 8 Clean animals, unclean animals, birds, and everything that creeps on the ground 9 went by pairs to Noah into the ship, male and female, as God commanded Noah. 10 After the seven days, the floodwaters came on the earth. 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the sky’s windows opened. 12 It rained on the earth forty days and forty nights.
How did Noah manage to gather all those animals? Frankly, he had nothing to do with it. It’s not possible for one man – or even the whole family he had working with him – to go out and locate a male and female of every sort of creature everywhere and herd them into a big box. Now, chapter 9 is going to show that the animals began to be terrified of humans after the flood, so that does seem to indicate it was a change in the relationship and animals may have been more docile while Noah was getting them situated in the Ark, but it simply couldn’t have been done by Noah and his family alone. After all, according to verses 2-4, all the animals were gathered in SEVEN DAYS! And – unlike the six creative “days” noted in chapter 1 – these were apparently seven literal 24-hour days to fit properly in the timeline of events described. Rather, the only reasonable explanation is that God miraculously drove these animals to the Ark, which explains why verses 9 and 15 both say the animals were “going in to Noah” instead of saying Noah brought them in.
13 In the same day Noah, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth—the sons of Noah—and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered into the ship—14 they, and every animal after its kind, all the livestock after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort. 15 Pairs from all flesh with the breath of life in them went into the ship to Noah. 16 Those who went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God commanded him; then Jehovah shut him in. 17 The flood was forty days on the earth. The waters increased, and lifted up the ship, and it was lifted up above the earth. 18 The waters rose, and increased greatly on the earth; and the ship floated on the surface of the waters. 19 The waters rose very high on the earth. All the high mountains that were under the whole sky were covered. 20 The waters rose fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. 21 All flesh died that moved on the earth, including birds, livestock, animals, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. 22 All on the dry land, in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. 23 Every living thing was destroyed that was on the surface of the ground, including man, livestock, creeping things, and birds of the sky. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ship. 24 The waters flooded the earth one hundred fifty days.
Just imagine this… Now, for a few moments, let’s consider what it was like for Noah and his family in the months and days leading up to what’s described in the verses above.
As we already discussed, there was a tremendous amount of physical labor required to build this massive vessel. They likely had to create tools that didn’t even exist at the time and learn as they went. Imagine what it looked like to their friends and extended family: “Noah’s lost his mind. What the heck is that thing?” They probably endured jeering and incredulous remarks multiple times a day, every day, for over 50 years while they worked on the Ark.
Let’s not forget, too, that the Nephilim were still in the mix. They were the hybrid offspring of demons and human women: giants who were called “Nephilim” (or, fellers) because they were tremendous bullies who fomented violence everywhere they went. As sons of demons, we have to imagine their dads – materialized angels who sided with Satan and against Jehovah in the issue of sovereignty – were pretty influential in their lives. Who knows what kind of miraculous powers they had in their human form, but if their kids inherited superhuman size and strength, theirs must have been even more impressive. So here, in the middle of a chaotic, violent world are exactly eight people who are doing what Jehovah wants them to do. Eight people who are upholding Jehovah’s sovereignty in the entire world at the time.
Do you think they were a target for those demons and their hybrid sons?
So Noah and his family may have been attacked, perhaps brutally, who knows how many times over the years that they built the ark. Perhaps the ark was vandalized, maybe even numerous times, since it stood there day and night as a monument to Jehovah’s power and desire to cleanse the earth of wickedness. Even if God miraculously protected Noah and his family from harm – which he may or may not have done, we don’t know – they still needed to work under the stress of it all. The constant, gnawing dread of harm while they tried to do what was right.
And, one final aspect to this situation: 2 Peter 2:5 describes Noah, not as “the ark builder”, not as “the flood survivor”, but as “a preacher of righteousness.” Yes, on top of everything described above, Noah couldn’t just keep his head down and avoid everyone else while he and his family worked on the ark. He had to preach! He had to go out to the wicked, violent people all around him and actually draw their attention to what he was doing and why. He had to warn them!
Because that’s always Jehovah’s pattern when judgment is required against humans. He did it in the Garden of Eden, he did it here before the Flood, and he did it thousands of times later in the scriptures as well: Ezekiel 3:17-22 and Amos 3:7 clearly show that God will not do a thing to harm humans without first providing adequate warning, an opportunity to escape (if such an opportunity is warranted) and even an opportunity to avoid the judgment entirely. So many other scriptures back this up: 2 Peter 3:9, Genesis 18:16-33, Matthew 24:15-22, and parts of nearly every prophetic pronouncement to the nation of Israel.
We’ll delve into this further as more of these examples come up, but it’s worth noting right here that absolutely no one alive during Noah’s day had to die in the Flood. They knew what was going to happen and they chose to ignore it. That’s a powerful lesson for us today.
Noah and the family are in the ark after 40 days and 40 nights of torrential rain. They’re floating on top of potentially miles of water. No land is in sight. No living things are in sight (except what’s with them on the ark,) and guess who doesn’t say a darn thing for over twelve months? God.
1 God remembered Noah, all the animals, and all the livestock that were with him in the ship; and God made a wind to pass over the earth. The waters subsided.2 The deep’s fountains and the sky’s windows were also stopped, and the rain from the sky was restrained. 3 The waters continually receded from the earth. After the end of one hundred fifty days the waters receded. 4 The ship rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on Ararat’s mountains. 5 The waters receded continually until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were visible.
6 At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ship which he had made, 7 and he sent out a raven. It went back and forth, until the waters were dried up from the earth. 8 He himself sent out a dove to see if the waters were abated from the surface of the ground, 9 but the dove found no place to rest her foot, and she returned into the ship to him, for the waters were on the surface of the whole earth. He put out his hand, and took her, and brought her to him into the ship. 10 He waited yet another seven days; and again he sent the dove out of the ship. 11 The dove came back to him at evening and, behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters were abated from the earth. 12 He waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; and she didn’t return to him anymore.
13 In the six hundred first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth. Noah removed the covering of the ship, and looked. He saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.
15 God spoke to Noah, saying, 16 “Go out of the ship, you, your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh, including birds, livestock, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply on the earth.”
18 Noah went out, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, whatever moves on the earth, after their families, went out of the ship.
That’s a long cruise. So Noah, his wife, his three sons and three daughters-in-law along with hundreds of animals had to stay in the Ark for a YEAR AND TEN DAYS!!! Can you imagine what that must have been like? The actual rain only lasted a month and a half, so we’re talking about 10+ months of floating and/or sitting waiting for the earth to dry off. Patience is a virtue.
Imagine the smell, too. We’re talking about hundreds of animals in an enclosed space for over a year. Yikes. Not to be crude, but the people couldn’t have smelled too great either after all that time. Their last available fresh water stopped falling 40 days in and since then, cleaning up couldn’t have involved more than a brief sponge bath.
Do you think nerves were shot by now? Do you think some course words may have been spoken at some point in the Noah household? Yeah, most likely. But once everything finally settled down and their deliverance was ensured, watch as everything gets back on an even keel for this spiritually-minded family:
20 Noah built an altar to Jehovah, and took of every clean animal, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 Jehovah smelled the pleasant aroma. Jehovah said in his heart, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake because the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth. I will never again strike every living thing, as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.”
Did Jehovah actually lift the curse he placed on the ground in verse 21, or was he just promising never to do this again? All indications are that He did indeed lift his curse on the ground at this point. This would fulfill Lamech’s prophecy at Noah’s birth that his son would play a part in lifting that curse and bringing humans comfort. As one of only eight people who grew up when the ground was cursed but lived to see the curse removed, it’s little wonder that Noah became a farmer!
Will the Earth ever be destroyed? According to verse 22, God Himself says the earth will exist forever. This is the first, but far from the last scripture that proves this. Some folks who are dead sure we all go to heaven when we die also believe that eventually the earth will be destroyed by fire and brimstone and the only survivors will already be in heaven with Jesus. This simply isn’t true. Jehovah Himself says the earth will always be here, carrying out its steady seasonal patterns. Something to think about: if he created the earth and handed it over to man, AND he says the earth will always be here… doesn’t it make sense that there will always be humans living on it?
With humankind reestablished on a cleansed Earth, God starts things off right by restating the purpose of mankind. This time, however, there are some adjustments for the circumstances. And, unfortunately, since He was dealing now with imperfect – albeit faithful – people, He limits his expectations accordingly.
1 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you will be on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the sky. Everything that moves along the ground, and all the fish of the sea, are delivered into your hand. 3 Every moving thing that lives will be food for you. As I gave you the green herb, I have given everything to you. 4 But flesh with its life, that is, its blood, you shall not eat. 5 I will surely require accounting for your life’s blood. At the hand of every animal I will require it. At the hand of man, even at the hand of every man’s brother, I will require the life of man. 6 Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in his own image. 7 Be fruitful and multiply. Increase abundantly in the earth, and multiply in it.”
WE CAN EAT MEAT!! I love a good burger.
Once the earthly paradise is fully restored and mankind has reached the same level of perfection we enjoyed in the Garden, will we have to go back to being vegetarians? Frankly, we have no idea. Jehovah gave Noah and his family the right to eat meat and he didn’t lay down any ground rules that would indicate it was a temporary allowance due to the fact that the earth had just been wrecked and it might be a while before fresh veggies were available. But, then again, there would have been no reason to discuss later changes with Noah or anyone else during Bible times because God knew they weren’t going to see paradise again during their lifetimes. What he DID say prophetically about animals in paradise does seem to indicate they’ll have a much closer, more peaceful relationship with Man. (Ezekiel 34:25; Hosea 2:18; Isaiah 11:6-9) Since God combined his allowance of eating meat with a warning that animals would be “in terror” of man, it’s reasonable to assume that we won’t be killing animals for food in the paradise.
8 God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, 9 “As for me, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the livestock, and every animal of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ship, even every animal of the earth. 11 I will establish my covenant with you: All flesh will not be cut off any more by the waters of the flood. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it will be a sign of a covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow will be seen in the cloud, 15 I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters will no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 The rainbow will be in the cloud. I will look at it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”17 God said to Noah, “This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
In verses 8-17, Jehovah makes a promise, or covenant, with man, that he will never again destroy the world by means of a global flood. He also added a sign to further solidify his promise: the rainbow. This was really a loving thing for God to do. Imagine what Noah and his family would have thought the next time a standard rain cloud started forming in the sky? If they hadn’t heard this promise direct from God’s lips, they would have been terrified!
18 The sons of Noah who went out from the ship were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham is the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.
20 Noah began to be a farmer, and planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and got drunk. He was uncovered within his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it on both their shoulders, went in backwards, and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were backwards, and they didn’t see their father’s nakedness. 24 Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done to him. 25 He said,
“Canaan is cursed.
He will be a servant of servants to his brothers.”
26 He said,
“Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem.
Let Canaan be his servant.
27 May God enlarge Japheth.
Let him dwell in the tents of Shem.
Let Canaan be his servant.”
28 Noah lived three hundred fifty years after the flood. 29 All the days of Noah were nine hundred fifty years, and then he died.
Does Noah’s curse on Canaan provide Biblical support for the enslavement of blacks? Absolutely, unequivocally, without the shadow of a doubt, NO! This unfounded rumor has probably been floating around in white bigoted brains since they first managed to talk themselves into a full-scale slave trade in the first place, but it’s based on a fallacy.
As we’ll see in subsequent chapters, dark-skinned descendants of Noah that eventually migrated to the African continent were descended through Ham, but not through Canaan. Canaan was evidently Ham’s youngest son (although that’s not known for sure.) He had three others, one of whom was Cush. It is the descendants of Cush that eventually populated Africa, not descendants of Canaan. Descendants of Canaan were (not surprisingly) Canaanites, who occupied Palestine until the Jews invaded and destroyed most of them before enslaving the rest. THAT was the fulfillment of Noah’s prophetic curse: Jews (descendants of Shem) enslaved Canaanites (descendants of Ham through Canaan). Later, those remaining Canaanites also became enslaved to descendants of Japheth, such as the Medes, the Persians, and the Romans. Poor Cush and his descendants down in Africa had nothing to do with the curse at all.
Why did Noah curse Canaan at all, when it appears to be Ham who acted disrespectfully while Noah was fershnookered in his tent? There are two possibilities: it could be that Canaan was actually directly involved as well, perhaps with Ham at the time, and Ham failed to correct him appropriately; or it could be that Noah saw Canaan display the same bad qualities that Ham evidently displayed whereas Canaan’s brothers did not, so Noah was simply logically stating “like father like son”.
A genealogy from Noah and his three sons, outlining how the human family spread from the Mount Ararat area to the four corners of the Earth. Pay special attention to Noah’s great-grandson, Nimrod, who truly lived up to his name in chapter 11.
1 Now this is the history of the generations of the sons of Noah and of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.
2 The sons of Japheth were: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 3 The sons of Gomer were: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. 4 The sons of Javan were: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. 5 Of these were the islands of the nations divided in their lands, everyone after his language, after their families, in their nations.
In modern terms, Japheth was the ancestor of the Aryan or Indo-European (Indo-Germanic) branch of the human family. The names above can be found in ancient historical texts as relating to peoples and tribes generally residing North and West of the Fertile Crescent. They appear to have spread from the Caucasus eastward into Central Asia and westward through Asia Minor to the islands and coastlands of Europe and perhaps all the way to Spain. Arabian traditions claim that one of Japheth’s sons was also the ancestor of the Chinese peoples.
6 The sons of Ham were: Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. 7 The sons of Cush were: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah were: Sheba and Dedan. 8 Cush became the father of Nimrod. He began to be a mighty one in the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before Jehovah. Therefore it is said, “like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before Jehovah”. 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 Out of that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, 12 and Resen between Nineveh and the great city Calah. 13 Mizraim became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim,14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (which the Philistines descended from), and Caphtorim.
15 Canaan became the father of Sidon (his firstborn), Heth, 16 the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17 the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18 the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the families of the Canaanites were spread abroad. 19 The border of the Canaanites was from Sidon—as you go toward Gerar—to Gaza—as you go toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim—to Lasha. 20 These are the sons of Ham, after their families, according to their languages, in their lands and their nations.
Ham’s descendants eventually made up the inhabitants of Ethiopia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Canaan, along with various African tribes. As noted in the curse Noah placed on Canaan in the last chapter, Canaan’s descendants are not represented as a nation or race today. They were nearly wiped out by the Israelites during Joshua’s campaign to take over the Promised Land, and survivors were enslaved to the Jews (the sons of Shem), then later in history any remaining family lines that could theoretically be traced back to Canaan were enslaved to the Medes and Persians (sons of Japheth) and, for all intents and purposes, disappear from the human record at that point.
21 Children were also born to Shem (the elder brother of Japheth), the father of all the children of Eber. 22 The sons of Shem were: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. 23 The sons of Aram were: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. 24 Arpachshad became the father of Shelah. Shelah became the father of Eber. 25 To Eber were born two sons. The name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided. His brother’s name was Joktan. 26 Joktan became the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab. All these were the sons of Joktan. 30 Their dwelling extended from Mesha, as you go toward Sephar, the mountain of the east. 31 These are the sons of Shem, by their families, according to their languages, lands, and nations.
Shem was the ancestor of the Semitic peoples: the Elamites, the Assyrians, the early Chaldeans, the Hebrews, the Aramaeans (or Syrians), various Arabian tribes, and perhaps the Lydians of Asia Minor. This would mean that Shem’s descendants stayed primarily in and around the Fertile Crescent, in the SW corner of Asia, and throughout a large part of the Arabian Peninsula. As the Biblical story unfolds, the Hebrews, one branch of Shem’s descendants, would take on a very special role in God’s dealings with mankind.
32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, by their generations, according to their nations. The nations divided from these in the earth after the flood.
OK, now we get back to man screwing things up for himself, and just two generations removed from the Flood too! In other words, Shem was definitely still alive. Ham and Japheth were likely also alive to witness this debacle. Imagine how many times they would look up at the sky and thank God for the rainbow after seeing things start heading downhill again.
1 The whole earth was of one language and of one speech. 2 As they traveled from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they lived there. 3 They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. 4 They said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top reaches to the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad on the surface of the whole earth.”
5 Jehovah came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. 6 Jehovah said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do. Now nothing will be withheld from them, which they intend to do. 7 Come, let’s go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So Jehovah scattered them abroad from there on the surface of all the earth. They stopped building the city.9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there Jehovah confused the language of all the earth. From there, Jehovah scattered them abroad on the surface of all the earth.
So, the whole Tower of Babel thing… that didn’t really happen did it? In fact, it did. Now, I realize modern linguists have a host of different theories to explain how language evolved, but there’s one bit they struggle to reconcile, and that’s the fact that there are a small number of language families that seem to have no relation to each other. Within these families, the relationship between all the different languages is easy to trace. But between families, not so much. So, if speech evolved, as they’d like to believe, it evolved simultaneously in about 20 separate places. A better explanation? The Tower of Babel. Here’s a great reference if you’re interested in diving deeper into the linguistic science I summarized:
But now, a better question may be, why? Why did God see the need to take such drastic action to stop people from building a city?
Because, once again, his purpose was being directly rebelled against. He had told Adam and Eve, and had repeated to Noah’s family, that he wanted humankind to “spread abroad in the Earth”. But, disobediently, these people, under the direction of Nimrod, decided to do the exact opposite: to build a city with a defiantly high tower as its centerpiece, where they could gather together, “lest we be spread abroad on the surface of the whole earth.” And what was the ultimate motivation for this endeavor? To “make a name for ourselves.” It was pride and arrogance, yet again. Just another manifestation of Satan’s original claim: that Jehovah doesn’t have the right to tell mankind what to do and what not to do.
So the abandoned city was called “Babel”, from which we get the word babble or babbling, meaning saying something that can’t be understood. But, more importantly, it’s also where we first run into the city that eventually became Babylon, a city that looms large in the Biblical story line from ancient history on until today.
10 This is the history of the generations of Shem: Shem was one hundred years old when he became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood. 11 Shem lived five hundred years after he became the father of Arpachshad, and became the father of more sons and daughters.
12 Arpachshad lived thirty-five years and became the father of Shelah. 13 Arpachshad lived four hundred three years after he became the father of Shelah, and became the father of more sons and daughters.
14 Shelah lived thirty years, and became the father of Eber. 15 Shelah lived four hundred three years after he became the father of Eber, and became the father of more sons and daughters.
16 Eber lived thirty-four years, and became the father of Peleg. 17 Eber lived four hundred thirty years after he became the father of Peleg, and became the father of more sons and daughters.
18 Peleg lived thirty years, and became the father of Reu. 19 Peleg lived two hundred nine years after he became the father of Reu, and became the father of more sons and daughters.
20 Reu lived thirty-two years, and became the father of Serug. 21 Reu lived two hundred seven years after he became the father of Serug, and became the father of more sons and daughters.
22 Serug lived thirty years, and became the father of Nahor. 23 Serug lived two hundred years after he became the father of Nahor, and became the father of more sons and daughters.
24 Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and became the father of Terah. 25 Nahor lived one hundred nineteen years after he became the father of Terah, and became the father of more sons and daughters.
26 Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
27 Now this is the history of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran became the father of Lot. 28 Haran died in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldees, while his father Terah was still alive. 29 Abram and Nahor married wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, who was also the father of Iscah. 30 Sarai was barren. She had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son, Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife. They went from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan. They came to Haran and lived there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred five years. Terah died in Haran.
In the second half of chapter 11, we get the genealogy from Shem down to Abram. One interesting point that may have a bearing on how Abram came to be such a pillar of faith: Although man’s lifespan continues to shrink, Shem (Noah’s son) lived an extraordinary 600 years. That means he was alive during the first 150 of Abram’s 175 years. It’s interesting to imagine a young Abram visiting this patriarchal celebrity and getting a firsthand account of the Flood from someone who lived through it. No doubt, the Flood started to take on mythical proportions within just a few generations, much the same way people in our day seem to want to romanticize World War 2. But maybe Abram didn’t fall for that because he went to the source.
Now we’re introduced to Abram (later named Abraham), who enjoys the unique distinction of being called “Jehovah’s friend” and “the father of all those having faith”, two titles anyone would be proud to carry. Now that the sweep of centuries starts to slow down, Genesis starts focusing on Abram and his descendants because, as we’ll read in this and the next few chapters, Abram’s faith moves Jehovah God to choose him and his family line as the one that will eventually produce that promised “seed” from Genesis 3:15 that will usher in the grand re-establishing of God’s original purpose for mankind. Important stuff!
1 Now Jehovah said to Abram, “Leave your country, and your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who treats you with contempt. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram went, as Jehovah had told him. Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took Sarai his wife, Lot his brother’s son, all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they went to go into the land of Canaan. They entered into the land of Canaan. 6 Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time, Canaanites were in the land.
7 Jehovah appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your offspring.”
[*God tells Abram to move. *] So Jehovah tells Abram to get up and move his family to Canaan. Seems nice and simple when you read it in just a few verses, but let’s think about that for a second. Abram was married, had a bunch of livestock, had servants working for him, plus his nephew Lot and HIS whole household… and he just up and abandoned what was likely a really nice home in Ur to live in tents in the wilderness for the rest of his life. They stopped in Haran for a while, probably because Abram’s dad was getting old and worn out from all the camel-riding. Maybe Sarai thought to herself, “well, it’s no Ur, but at least it’s a home.” But nope, off they go again! I don’t know about you, but I would have a tough time convincing my wife to take up RVing just for a summer. And if I told her “God said to” she’d be even less likely to go along. :) But seriously, just think about the faith and self-sacrifice required to just go ahead and do that!
On this map you can see the full extent of Abram and Sarai’s travels from their comfortable home in Ur to the land of Canaan. Remembering that we’re talking about a time long before any sort of mechanized travel, when your speed was – by necessity – limited to the speed of the slowest portion of your caravan, you can start to imagine what a long, slow, uncomfortable, arduous journey this must have been for an older couple.
He built an altar there to Jehovah, who had appeared to him. 8 He left from there to go to the mountain on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to Jehovah and called on Jehovah’s name. 9 Abram traveled, still going on toward the South.
Did you notice all the altars? As he traveled along, Abram set up an altar seemingly everywhere he camped. This is interesting because there was no divine law yet. That didn’t come for hundreds of years in the days of Moses. God had never specifically said, “I’d like you to worship me by sacrificing a lamb and burning it on an altar made of stones.” But that’s what Abram did. Interestingly, Abel did to, if you remember, back in chapter 4. And Jehovah appreciated their worship. These days, the Mosaic Law is gone and we’re living under Christian rules, so altars and sacrifices aren’t necessary any more. But what else are TRUE Christians doing that God appreciates, even though he never specifically asked for it? Hmmm…
10 There was a famine in the land. Abram went down into Egypt to live as a foreigner there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he had come near to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman to look at. 12 It will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ They will kill me, but they will save you alive. 13 Please say that you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that my soul may live because of you.”
14 When Abram had come into Egypt, Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 The princes of Pharaoh saw her, and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 He dealt well with Abram for her sake. He had sheep, cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. 17 Jehovah afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this that you have done to me? Why didn’t you tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now therefore, see your wife, take her, and go your way.”
20 Pharaoh commanded men concerning him, and they escorted him away with his wife and all that he had.
Sarai was apparently a hottie. So they go to Egypt to escape the famine and Abram tells Sarai as they’re getting there, “tell them you’re my sister because if they find out you’re my wife, they’ll kill me so they can have you.” Whoa. Either Sarai was mad hot, or the Egyptian ladies were butt ugly. Either way, I’m amused that Sarai went along with it so easily. Like, “yes, I am ridiculously beautiful. It will probably be safer this way, my brother.”
This map covers Abram and Sarai’s travels through The Promised Land, Canaan, as well as their trip to and from Egypt during the famine. The military campaign described in Chapter 14 is also displayed.
1 Abram went up out of Egypt—he, his wife, all that he had, and Lot with him—into the South. 2 Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3 He went on his journeys from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first. There Abram called on Jehovah’s name. 5 Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks, herds, and tents. 6 The land was not able to bear them, that they might live together; for their possessions were so great that they couldn’t live together. 7 There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites lived in the land at that time. 8 Abram said to Lot, “Please, let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen; for we are relatives. 9 Isn’t the whole land before you? Please separate yourself from me. If you go to the left hand, then I will go to the right. Or if you go to the right hand, then I will go to the left.”
10 Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well-watered everywhere, before Jehovah destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of Jehovah, like the land of Egypt, as you go to Zoar. 11 So Lot chose the Plain of the Jordan for himself. Lot traveled east, and they separated themselves from one other. 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, and Lot lived in the cities of the plain, and moved his tent as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinners against Jehovah.
Who deserved first dibs on the land? In Bible times, age was a prime factor in decision making. Without fail, the oldest male of every household had final say in whatever the family did. So the situation above is interesting: Abram was the oldest male of the family. He had been traveling now for quite some time with his nephew, Lot, and both of them had acquired lots of goods. Technically, those goods belonged to Abram as the oldest male in the family group, but he apparently never exerted this right on Lot at all since the Bible describes both of them as being “very rich” and as having herdsmen of their own. And, when their herdsmen started to fight, Abram – acting as peacemaker – offered humbly to allow Lot first dibs on the land so they could separate and stop the fighting.
Now, really, Abram could have just said, “I like it here, take your herds and find somewhere else to live.” And, by rights, when given the choice, Lot should have viewed the land available and voluntarily given Abram the best. But neither of those happened. Instead, Abram gave Lot the choice and Lot chose the best available option, leaving Abram with the second best. Lesson?
14 Jehovah said to Abram, after Lot was separated from him, “Now, lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for I will give all the land which you see to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can count the dust of the earth, then your offspring may also be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the land in its length and in its width; for I will give it to you.”
18 Abram moved his tent, and came and lived by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to Jehovah.
An interesting series of events occurs in this chapter: we read about a group of five kings who previously served one powerful king, but who decided they’d had enough after 12 years and rebel against him. He then brings three other powerful kings with him to lay down the law, and he does just that, routing their armies, sacking their cities, and kidnapping Lot and his family along the way. When Abram hears about this, he gathers up his considerable household of servants along with the armies of three guys whose land he’s currently living on and pursues the victorious armies to rescue Lot. (You can see everyone’s route on the map at the end of Chapter Twelve.)
Despite the fact that they’re essentially a ragtag army of servants, farmers, and janitors, Abram and the whole group beat the powerful four kings’ armies and rescue Lot and his family, afterwhich they meet Melchizadek, the King-Priest of Salem.
1 In the days of Amraphel, king of Shinar; Arioch, king of Ellasar; Chedorlaomer, king of Elam; and Tidal, king of Goiim, 2 they made war with Bera, king of Sodom; Birsha, king of Gomorrah; Shinab, king of Admah; Shemeber, king of Zeboiim; and the king of Bela (also called Zoar). 3 All these joined together in the valley of Siddim (also called the Salt Sea). 4 They served Chedorlaomer for twelve years, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled. 5 In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer came, and the kings who were with him, and struck the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim, 6 and the Horites in their Mount Seir, to El Paran, which is by the wilderness. 7 They returned, and came to En Mishpat (also called Kadesh), and struck all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that lived in Hazazon Tamar. 8 The king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (also called Zoar) went out; and they set the battle in array against them in the valley of Siddim 9 against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings against the five. 10 Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and some fell there. Those who remained fled to the hills. 11 They took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their food, and went their way. 12 They took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who lived in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
13 One who had escaped came and told Abram, the Hebrew. At that time, he lived by the oaks of Mamre, the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner. They were allies of Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative was taken captive, he led out his three hundred eighteen trained men, born in his house, and pursued as far as Dan. 15 He divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and struck them, and pursued them to Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. 16 He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot and his goods, and the women also, and the other people.
17 The king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him, and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth. 20 Blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Abram gave him a tenth of all.
Important prophetic note here: many centuries later, Melchizedek’s name comes up again in the Bible record in Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (chapters 5, 6, and 7) where he outlines how and why Jesus Christ was accurately foreshadowed by this man who has such a seemingly small role in the history of Abraham and God’s people.
As explained by the Apostle Paul, Melchizedek was unique in the Bible record for two reasons, both of which can be applied to Jesus in his resurrected spirit position in Heaven:
1) Melchizedek was both King and Priest, serving as both political and spiritual leader to the people in the city of Salem and, evidently, a wide radius around that city. Jesus, likewise, is described as serving as King of God’s Heavenly Kingdom, as well as High Priest or Head of the Christian Congregation, who acts as a mediator between Jehovah God and imperfect humankind and who offered the value of his own perfect life in exchange for our sins (much as earlier priests sacrificed animals to God for the same reason.)
2) Melchizedek’s position as King-Priest was evidently God-appointed because nothing is indicated about his having inherited the position by birth or being self-appointed and God’s approval and blessing was evidently upon him.
It’s also interesting to note that the city of which Melchizedek was the king, Salem, later became the Biblical pivotal city of Jerusalem, which maintained the original name as part of its more famous moniker in later centuries.
21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people, and take the goods for yourself.”
22 Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted up my hand to Jehovah, God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take a thread nor a sandal strap nor anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing from you except that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their portion.”
Another quick point of interest: Even under these completely unprecedented circumstances, after leading an army on a 120+ mile march, waging war, and coming off victorious, Abram’s main concern when it came time to divide up the spoils was his relationship with God and his desire to keep his reputation as a servant of Jehovah clean and beyond reproach. As we’ll see going forward, Jehovah truly appreciates that kind of spiritual attitude.
This is where Jehovah enacts the first covenant with Abram: a solemn promise that – even at his advanced age – Abram will produce a son along with Sarai his wife and that son would go on to become a nation of offspring symbolically as numerous as the stars in the sky.
God also promises that Abram’s offspring would take possession of the land of Canaan – the land he brought Abram and Sarai out of Ur to see and live in. He also utters a prophecy regarding Abram’s offspring suffering 400 years of “affliction” including being alien residents in “a land that is not theirs” afterwhich they would be brought out of that land with great wealth and come back to the Promised Land.
1 After these things Jehovah’s word came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
2 Abram said, “Lord Jehovah, what will you give me, since I go childless, and he who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Abram said, “Behold, you have given no children to me: and, behold, one born in my house is my heir.”
4 Behold, Jehovah’s word came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir, but he who will come out of your own body will be your heir.” 5 Jehovah brought him outside, and said, “Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” He said to Abram, “So your offspring will be.” 6 He believed in Jehovah, who credited it to him for righteousness. 7 He said to Abram, “I am Jehovah who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it.”
8 He said, “Lord Jehovah, how will I know that I will inherit it?”
9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these, and divided them in the middle, and laid each half opposite the other; but he didn’t divide the birds. 11 The birds of prey came down on the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.
12 When the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. Now terror and great darkness fell on him. 13 He said to Abram, “Know for sure that your offspring will live as foreigners in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them. They will afflict them four hundred years. 14 I will also judge that nation, whom they will serve. Afterward they will come out with great wealth; 15 but you will go to your fathers in peace. You will be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation they will come here again, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full.” 17 It came to pass that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 In that day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I have given this land to your offspring, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates: 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
Considering this impressive prophecy (in verses 13-16) is just one of hundreds of faith-strengthening examples in the scriptures of accurate world history being revealed far in advance.
As described starting in later chapters of Genesis and throughout the first half of Exodus, the Hebrews – beginning with Abram’s son Isaac, continuing with the sons of Jacob and ending up with hundreds of thousands of their eventual offspring – spent exactly 400 years suffering some form of affliction. This time period apparently started (in the very next chapter) when Isaac’s older half-brother, Ishmael, showed him gross disrespect and got himself and his mother banished from the family, and it included the hundreds of years during which Abram’s offspring grew and multiplied in the land of Egypt (”a land that is not theirs”). Originally, the sons of Jacob came as guests of their brother Joseph who was second in authority to the reigning Pharaoh at the time. But later, after Joseph died and the Hebrews continued to grow in number, they were eventually enslaved by the Egyptians and made subject to harsh conditions.
When the Israelites finally left Egypt – amid the miraculous drama of the Ten Plagues, the original Passover, and eventually the parting of the Red Sea, the account states that they “stripped the Egyptians” of great wealth because they were so eager to send the Israelites off and be rid of them. Hence, they “came out with great wealth” and made their way back to the Land of Promise.
If that doesn’t bolster your faith in the Bible’s divine origins, I’m not sure what can.
1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had a servant, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. 2 Sarai said to Abram, “See now, Jehovah has restrained me from bearing. Please go in to my servant. It may be that I will obtain children by her.” Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to Abram her husband to be his wife. 4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived. When she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. 5 Sarai said to Abram, “This wrong is your fault. I gave my servant into your bosom, and when she saw that she had conceived, she despised me. May Jehovah judge between me and you.”
Ok, a couple things here:
Sarai GAVE Hagar to Abram? Huh?!?! Yes. Once again, the imperfection of man comes across plain and simple in the form of sexist and abhorrent behavior (at least as far as we’re concerned in modern times.) Some important things to note, though:
1) Although it wasn’t His original intent for marriage, Jehovah obviously allowed polygamy since Abram openly practiced it on this and future occasions and maintained a clean and close relationship with God. So, they were different times with different standards in place.
2) By the law of the times (which was later limited and clarified by the Mosaic Law to be far more fair and accommodating to women and servants,) your servant was essentially your property. You could do with them whatever you wanted and they were required to acquiesce. In this case, Sarai used her property (her maidservant, Hagar,) as a baby-making factory in order to get some kids because she was unable to conceive a child with Abram. It sounds horrible when it’s put that way, but again, these were different times with different standards.
[*What’s up with Sarai getting upset with Abram when Hagar starts getting an attitude? *]As you can probably imagine, even with all the technical details in order as described above, this had to be a highly emotional and trying experience for everyone involved. Abram and Hagar likely had no interest in each other whatsoever. All of the context indicates Abram and Sarai loved each other very much and there’s never a hint of roving eyes on Abram’s part, yet for Sarai’s sake he and Hagar got married, had sex, and Hagar got pregnant. So, living in tents as they were, Sarai likely had to see or at least hear this go on. At the very least she was well aware of it, and it must have hurt pretty deeply that things had come to this point. And, to make things even harder, it sounds like success happened pretty darn quick, too. So, after years of fruitless trying to conceive a child together, Sarai, in desperation, offers a truly unappealing option in order to try to build her family, and the little snot-nosed slave manages to nail it on the first try!
Basically, what I’m getting at is… like nearly everyone else described in the Bible, Hagar and Sarai both were imperfect people whose emotions got the better of them. Hagar saw that she’d bested and embarrassed her mistress and she started to get uppity. Sarai was embarrassed and angry that Hagar bested her so quickly and completely, and she just lashed out at whatever was available.
And poor Abram was stuck in the middle, as any guy would be in that kind of messed up situation.
6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your hand. Do to her whatever is good in your eyes.” Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her face.
7 Jehovah’s angel found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain on the way to Shur. 8 He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where did you come from? Where are you going?”
She said, “I am fleeing from the face of my mistress Sarai.”
9 Jehovah’s angel said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hands.” 10 Jehovah’s angel said to her, “I will greatly multiply your offspring, that they will not be counted for multitude.” 11 Jehovah’s angel said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and will bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because Jehovah has heard your affliction. 12 He will be like a wild donkey among men. His hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. He will live opposed to all of his brothers.”
13 She called the name of Jehovah who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees,” for she said, “Have I even stayed alive after seeing him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi. Behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.
15 Hagar bore a son for Abram. Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
So, once everything calmed down – and, with a little help from the Almighty – Abram’s family came (perhaps hesitantly) back together so that Ishmael could have the stability of a complete family. But, as we’ll see later on, Jehovah’s prophecy that Ishmael would be constantly opposed to his brothers starts coming true very quickly.
So, at this point, Abram is 99 years old! He was 75 when Jehovah made that original covenant with him (in Chapter 15), and he was 86 when Hagar had his very first child, Ishmael. But now, after waiting nearly a quarter of a century, Jehovah repeats his promises to this old, old man.
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Jehovah appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty. Walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”
3 Abram fell on his face. God talked with him, saying, 4 “As for me, behold, my covenant is with you. You will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 Your name will no more be called Abram, but your name will be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you. Kings will come out of you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are traveling, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession. I will be their God.”
The last five verses are exceedingly in the context of the entire Bible record: not only is Jehovah restating his initial covenant with Abram, but He gives His word that “I will be their God.”
God himself is promising this humble, faithful man, not just that he’s going to ensure that his (as yet unborn) descendants will become a great nation and that they would inherit the Promised Land of Canaan, but that He will personally accept them as His own special people among all the nations and that He will be THEIR God.
Of course, Jehovah is the only true God, the Almighty. He’s the creator of the Earth and mankind on it, so realistically no other man, beast, or fantasy that is called a god can compare to Him. But to specifically single out this one man’s descendants and promise He will be their God… just WOW. That’s impressive.
9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you will keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you. Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin. It will be a token of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old will be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, he who is born in the house, or bought with money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13 He who is born in your house, and he who is bought with your money, must be circumcised. My covenant will be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 The uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.”
Uh… wait a second. “If you want to be my servant, hack off the tip of your Willy.” Really?
Actually, circumcision was an apt sign for God to demand of his true servants as a sign of their dedication to Him and as parties in this incredible covenant. You see, if he’d said, “all of you have to wear red shoes,” or “you must write with your left hand for generation after generation,” it would have been little more than a symbolic facade that anyone could put on and take off at will. It would have cost nothing and required nothing beyond blind obedience.
Requiring a physically painful – albeit safe – surgical procedure that creates a permanent and undeniable difference in the individual from that day forward, on the other hand, has significant cost (in pain) and can’t be later denied without some really drastic anatomical alterations. In that way, circumcision served as a powerful symbol of the individual’s position as a servant of Jehovah God and a rightful party in his covenant, and (when required of adults, at least) it also served as a means of proving the individual’s heartfelt dedication to that role. Infants had less say in the matter, of course, but as they grew up and had the opportunity to learn why they looked different than others, they no doubt were able to benefit from that aspect of circumcision as well.
Much later, as recorded in Acts of the Apostles, circumcision was done away with as a requirement for true Christians, Jehovah’s servants following the rejection of the Jewish nation.
15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. Yes, I will bless her, and she will be a mother of nations. Kings of peoples will come from her.”
Another quick point of interest: several times throughout the Bible record – including here with Abraham and Sarah and, in just a few chapters, their grandson Jacob – Jehovah took the impressive step of changing individuals’ names as a sign of their newly changed position or relationship with Him, or as a result of their notable actions or personality traits. Jesus followed his Father’s example when he changed Simon’s (or Cephas’s) name to Peter when offering him special privileges in sacred service.
17 Then Abraham fell on his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to him who is one hundred years old? Will Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth?” 18 Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
19 God said, “No, but Sarah, your wife, will bear you a son. You shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this set time next year.”
A 99-year-old man and his 90-year-old wife getting busy and having a kid together? Yeah, hard to believe is an understatement. While this was still close enough to the perfect creation of mankind that people still routinely lived to be well over 100 years old, both Abraham and Sarah knew she was well beyond child-bearing at this point. And yet, notice what this faithful man does? He keeps his head down, keeps his momentary disbelief to himself, and doesn’t argue.
Incidentally, the fact that his disbelief was only temporary is quickly confirmed in the next few verses where he proceeds to circumcise himself, his son Ishmael, and every other male in his household (probably over 400 men at this point,) in just one day, in reaction to Jehovah’s requirements for carrying out the covenant that He just said would continue through Isaac – the as-yet unborn son that Sarah would deliver a year down the road.
If Abraham truly didn’t believe with his whole heart that Jehovah’s promise of Sarah’s giving birth to Isaac wasn’t going to come true, would he have put himself and all 400+ of the men in his household through that admittedly rough experience? Probably not.
22 When he finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. 23 Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house, and all who were bought with his money: every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the same day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 Ishmael, his son, was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 In the same day both Abraham and Ishmael, his son, were circumcised. 27 All the men of his house, those born in the house, and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
“Congratulations, Adonijah, your paperwork came through and you’re officially a servant of Abram- er… Abraham. So… drop ‘em. “
First, Jehovah “visits” Abraham and Sarah and Sarah sticks her foot in her mouth. Then, they discuss Sodom and Gomorrah.
1 Jehovah appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and saw that three men stood near him. When he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, “My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please don’t go away from your servant. 4 Now let a little water be fetched, wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 I will get a piece of bread so you can refresh your heart. After that you may go your way, now that you have come to your servant.”
They said, “Very well, do as you have said.”
6 Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly prepare three seahs of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.” 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and fetched a tender and good calf, and gave it to the servant. He hurried to dress it. 8 He took butter, milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them. He stood by them under the tree, and they ate.
9 They asked him, “Where is Sarah, your wife?”
He said, “There, in the tent.”
10 He said, “I will certainly return to you at about this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Sarah heard in the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age. Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.12 Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old will I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
13 Jehovah said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Will I really bear a child when I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for Jehovah? At the set time I will return to you, when the season comes round, and Sarah will have a son.”
15 Then Sarah denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh,” for she was afraid.
He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
Was this actually Jehovah God, in the flesh? No. The scriptures clearly state in more than one location that no human being could literally see Jehovah God and live. The closest anyone ever came to doing so was in Exodus 33:18-23 when Moses was privileged to catch a glimpse of “Jehovah’s glory”. Essentially, that event involved Moses being hidden behind rocks with just a tiny crack available to him to look through, then Jehovah covering that crack with His “hand”, passing by while the crack was covered, and then letting Moses see His “back” for a moment. And, after a few seconds seeing Jehovah’s “hand” and “back”, Moses’s face literally glowed for days and he had to wear a veil to avoid blinding the Israelites.
Yeah. So. These “three men” visiting Abraham definitely didn’t include Jehovah in the flesh. They were materialized angels serving in their God-given role as messengers, or mouthpieces, for Jehovah. Because He sent them and they faithfully spoke His thoughts using His words, they could essentially be called Jehovah for all intents and purposes. They were, in fact, Jehovah’s representatives.
Was Sarah in deep trouble at this point? No. In fact, it’s interesting that even in her private interior moment of doubt, Sarah respectfully referred to Abraham as “my lord,” a title of honor reserved for a well-respected leader. That little glimpse into her personality is just the tip of the huge iceberg that Jehovah knew by means of reading her heart. He knew very well that she was a woman of strong faith who had been and would continue to be obedient to His instructions, even though she may have momentarily succumbed to human imperfection under admittedly hard-to-believe circumstances.
But it’s entertaining to imagine the angel looking her in the eye with a grin and saying, “No, but you did laugh” and seeing Sarah turn red as a lobster.
16 The men rose up from there, and looked toward Sodom. Abraham went with them to see them on their way. 17 Jehovah said, “Will I hide from Abraham what I do, 18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed in him? 19 For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of Jehovah, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that Jehovah may bring on Abraham that which he has spoken of him.” 20 Jehovah said, “Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous, 21 I will go down now, and see whether their deeds are as bad as the reports which have come to me. If not, I will know.”
Another important prophetic point here. In verse 18, Jehovah adds a tiny detail to the now familiar covenant promise, stating that “all the nations of the earth will be blessed in him,” referring to Abraham. Up until now, the covenant has involved Abraham having descendants that will make up a great nation, that they will inherit the Promised Land, and that Jehovah will be their God and they will be His special people. But now, He confirms that “all the nations” will benefit from this covenant when it’s fully realized.
This is the first point at which the Abrahamic Covenant officially connects to the Messianic Covenant. In other words, it’s by means of Jesus Christ’s eventual sacrificial death for the sins of all mankind that “all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” And, as we trace the significant lineage of “the seed” first mentioned in Genesis 3:15 through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel, we see that Jesus Christ – when born here on earth as a human being – grew up as part of that dedicated nation of Jewish descendants of Abraham, therefore fulfilling this thrilling prophecy from Genesis 18:18.
22 The men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before Jehovah. 23 Abraham came near, and said, “Will you consume the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 May it be far from you to do things like that, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be like the wicked. May that be far from you. Shouldn’t the Judge of all the earth do right?”
26 Jehovah said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered, “See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord, although I am dust and ashes. 28 What if there will lack five of the fifty righteous? Will you destroy all the city for lack of five?”
He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”
29 He spoke to him yet again, and said, “What if there are forty found there?”
He said, “I will not do it for the forty’s sake.”
30 He said, “Oh don’t let the Lord be angry, and I will speak. What if there are thirty found there?”
He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
31 He said, “See now, I have taken it on myself to speak to the Lord. What if there are twenty found there?”
He said, “I will not destroy it for the twenty’s sake.”
32 He said, “Oh don’t let the Lord be angry, and I will speak just once more. What if ten are found there?”
He said, “I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake.”
33 Jehovah went his way, as soon as he had finished communing with Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
I absolutely LOVE this final section of Chapter Eighteen. This exchange between Abraham and Jehovah is one of the clearest, most heartwarming examples of how close of a relationship even imperfect humans can have with God. They’re just chewing the fat like a couple of old buddies.
Ok, so Abraham and “Jehovah” are standing together on a hill overlooking the valley below where a number of cities – including the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah – are situated. Now, Jehovah has already said, “I’ve heard bad things about these cities, so I’m going to check it out for myself.” In fact, two of the the three angelic messengers Jehovah sent are already walking down the hill toward the valley.
Now Abraham has surely heard these terrible tales of Sodom and Gomorrah too. He lives within sight of them, and he’s a righteous man who must be sickened by what’s going on down there. But, there’s a complication: his nephew, Lot, and Lot’s whole family live down there. As we’ll see going forward, he started out camping outside of Sodom, but at this point, he’s moved right on into the center of that mess. So Abraham is understandably concerned.
And here’s where it just gets great: Little old Abraham, 100 years old and just finished preparing a meal for three angels, decides to bust out a potentially annoying word game with The Almighty. “You wouldn’t kill them all if there were 50 righteous people living there, right? How about 40? What about 20…” and he goes on.
Not only is this amusing because Jehovah knows exactly why Abraham is concerned but Abraham doesn’t want to come right out and say, “what about Lot and his family?”, but it’s also sobering because after this conversation takes place, we read on to find out the angels physically drag Lot, his wife and his two daughters out of Sodom and every single other resident in the city was killed. Not only were there not even 10 righteous people living there, there apparently were only 4.
Here we are at the famous destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Pay attention, as you read, to the attitudes behind how the various people talk and act: the angels, Lot and his family, the townsfolk, even Lot’s daughters’ fiances. Without a doubt it’s the attitude as much as – or more than – the actual immorality they were committing that led to Jehovah’s decision that they were beyond saving.
1 The two angels came to Sodom at evening. Lot sat in the gate of Sodom. Lot saw them, and rose up to meet them. He bowed himself with his face to the earth,2 and he said, “See now, my lords, please come into your servant’s house, stay all night, wash your feet, and you can rise up early, and go on your way.”
They said, “No, but we will stay in the street all night.”
3 He urged them greatly, and they came in with him, and entered into his house. He made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter. 5 They called to Lot, and said to him, “Where are the men who came in to you this night? Bring them out to us, that we may have sex with them.”
6 Lot went out to them through the door, and shut the door after himself. 7 He said, “Please, my brothers, don’t act so wickedly. 8 See now, I have two virgin daughters. Please let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them what seems good to you. Only don’t do anything to these men, because they have come under the shadow of my roof.”
OMG. Did he just say what I think he said? Yes. This righteous man just offered up his two virgin daughters for potential gang rape in order to protect the two male strangers he just invited into his home.
I have no explanation for this. It’s absolutely unconscionable. And yet, as you see going forward, the men of the city never even stopped to consider the offer. These were hard core, no-holds-barred homosexuals. No bi-, no swinging, no nothing but full-on man-on-man buttsex. And they didn’t care who those strangers were. They wanted to screw ‘em.
Sorry to be so crude, but we’re talking about the city of Sodom here. The namesake of wonderful felony charges like “sodomy” and “sodomizing”.
So – and mind you, I’m not wholly convinced about this myself – but maybe, just maybe, Lot knew perfectly well that the men of Sodom would have no interest whatsoever in his daughters and his offering them up for a romp in the street was just a stalling technique… maybe. And then again, maybe that was just a really sad sign of how intensely the evil of this city had infiltrated this righteous man’s mind.
9 They said, “Stand back!” Then they said, “This one fellow came in to live as a foreigner, and he appoints himself a judge. Now we will deal worse with you than with them!” They pressed hard on the man Lot, and came near to break the door. 10 But the men reached out their hand, and brought Lot into the house to them, and shut the door. 11 They struck the men who were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves to find the door.
Let’s pause another moment to appreciate the scene. The crowd of wannabe gay rapists are so upset with Lot for suggesting their insistence on raping the two strangers may be less than ideal behavior that they essentially say, “well, now we’re going to rape you even more!” So the angels reach out and pull Lot inside the house again, probably saving his life, and they miraculously strike the men in the mob blind.
Now, as admittedly intense of a situation this was for everyone involved, if you were part of that mob who could see perfectly fine one moment and who suddenly couldn’t see the next, don’t you think you might pause at least a second or two to reflect on the fact that one of your five senses has ceased to function? Wouldn’t you at least stop what you’re doing and give it a thought? Not these guys. “They wearied themselves to find the door.”
Raping was too important to them. They didn’t even care that everyone went blind at once. They had to find that door so they could engage in nonconsentual buttsex.
12 The men said to Lot, “Do you have anybody else here? Sons-in-law, your sons, your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place: 13 for we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown so great before Jehovah that Jehovah has sent us to destroy it.”
14 Lot went out, and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters, and said, “Get up! Get out of this place, for Jehovah will destroy the city!”
But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be joking. 15 When the morning came, then the angels hurried Lot, saying, “Get up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the iniquity of the city.” 16 But he lingered; and the men grabbed his hand, his wife’s hand, and his two daughters’ hands, Jehovah being merciful to him; and they took him out, and set him outside of the city. 17 It came to pass, when they had taken them out, that he said, “Escape for your life! Don’t look behind you, and don’t stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be consumed!”
18 Lot said to them, “Oh, not so, my lord. 19 See now, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your loving kindness, which you have shown to me in saving my life. I can’t escape to the mountain, lest evil overtake me, and I die. 20 See now, this city is near to flee to, and it is a little one. Oh let me escape there (isn’t it a little one?), and my soul will live.”
21 He said to him, “Behold, I have granted your request concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. 22 Hurry, escape there, for I can’t do anything until you get there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.
Just to clarify, the angels told Lot to leave Sodom immediately because Jehovah was going to destroy it. And what did he do? He lingered. Even after nearly being gang raped, then being given a divine command to get his butt out, he was hemming and hawing. And THEN, after the angels literally dragged the whole family out of the city, pointed, and said, “get out of here!” Lot stops and says, “uh… no, I’d rather go here instead.”
And Jehovah accepted this incredible request and spared the entire city of Zoar, which (it seems) would have been destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah if Lot hadn’t decided to be picky about camp sites. Incredible mercy and love for a righteous man who’s made a bunch of bad decisions.
23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then Jehovah rained on Sodom and on Gomorrah sulfur and fire from Jehovah out of the sky. 25 He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
A moment of silence, please, for Lot’s wife.
What happened here? It’s stated and passed by so quickly, it’s almost as if Moses was embarrassed to write it down, but let’s spell it out:
The angels who physically dragged the family out of Sodom and sent them to Zoar specifically said to them, “don’t look behind you!” Lot’s wife looked behind her, and whaddaya know? She died.
Now, realistically, it doesn’t make much sense for a God loving and merciful enough to have taken this type of extreme life-saving action on behalf of this family to strike Mom down because her head revolved more than 120 degrees at some point during their long run to Zoar. No, the instructions “don’t look behind you” were actually more akin to the instruction to Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge: it was what that act said about their heart condition that really mattered. Not the physical eating of the fruit.
So, why did Lot’s wife look back, and why did it get her killed? Apparently, Lot’s wife “looked back” on Sodom longingly or regretfully. She wanted to be back there. Maybe she was thinking of her beautiful house, or the nice things they had accumulated while they lived there. Maybe she had some close friends who she knew were now dying, and maybe – just maybe – she disagreed with Jehovah’s decision to execute judgment on those cities where not even ten righteous people could be found.
So, she didn’t die because she turned around. She died because in her heart, she thought Jehovah was wrong and she wanted to be back in her comfy home in Sodom. This makes a powerful lesson for us when it comes to the relative place that material comforts, luxuries, and other nice things have in our hearts. If they – or anything else, really – are more important to us than our relationship with Jehovah and remaining faithful to him, we run the risk of becoming His enemy.
27 Abraham went up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Jehovah. 28 He looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and saw that the smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace.
29 When God destroyed the cities of the plain, God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the middle of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.
It’s interesting to note that verse 29 intimates that Lot and his family were spared for Abraham’s sake. When we see the way Lot and his family acted during and immediately before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, we can tell that, while there’s still reason to believe they’re generally righteous people who want to do what’s right, there’s also plenty of signs that their poor judgment and bad choices has had a negative impact on their attitudes and behavior.
That being the case, might they have died along with the rest of Sodom if Abraham wasn’t such a faithful man? Perhaps. We don’t know.
What comes next tends to make me say yes, but make up your own mind on that.
30 Lot went up out of Zoar, and lived in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to live in Zoar. He lived in a cave with his two daughters.31 The firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in to us in the way of all the earth. 32 Come, let’s make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve our father’s family line.” 33 They made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father. He didn’t know when she lay down, nor when she arose. 34 It came to pass on the next day, that the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let’s make him drink wine again tonight. You go in, and lie with him, that we may preserve our father’s family line.” 35 They made their father drink wine that night also. The younger went and lay with him. He didn’t know when she lay down, nor when she got up. 36 Thus both of Lot’s daughters were with child by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son, and named him Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son, and called his name Ben Ammi. He is the father of the children of Ammon to this day.
What the flying heck?!?! Just a short time after watching God destroy two entire cities because of their rampant sexual immorality, Lot’s daughters decide that the best thing they can do while living in a cave in the mountains outside Zoar is to get their old father drunk and have incestuous sex with him so they could raise his sons/grandsons to carry on the family name.
Flat out messed up. There’s no other way to describe it. That’s plain old crazy talk. And, it’s interesting to note that the Moabites and the Ammonites – both almost constant thorns in the Israelites’ sides during their history in and around the Promised Land – were spawned from this ridiculous, disgusting, non-God-sanctioned soap opera.
Guess who’s apparently still a hottie at 90 years old? Sarah, that’s who.
1 Abraham traveled from there toward the land of the South, and lived between Kadesh and Shur. He lived as a foreigner in Gerar. 2 Abraham said about Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man, because of the woman whom you have taken; for she is a man’s wife.”
4 Now Abimelech had not come near her. He said, “Lord, will you kill even a righteous nation? 5 Didn’t he tell me, ‘She is my sister’? She, even she herself, said, ‘He is my brother.’ I have done this in the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands.”
6 God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also withheld you from sinning against me. Therefore I didn’t allow you to touch her. 7 Now therefore, restore the man’s wife. For he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live. If you don’t restore her, know for sure that you will die, you, and all who are yours.”
8 Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ear. The men were very scared. 9 Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done!” 10 Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see, that you have done this thing?”
11 Abraham said, “Because I thought, ‘Surely the fear of God is not in this place. They will kill me for my wife’s sake.’ 12 Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 When God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is your kindness which you shall show to me. Everywhere that we go, say of me, “He is my brother.” ’ ”
14 Abimelech took sheep and cattle, male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored Sarah, his wife, to him. 15 Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you. Dwell where it pleases you.” 16 To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. Behold, it is for you a covering of the eyes to all that are with you. In front of all you are vindicated.”
17 Abraham prayed to God. God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his female servants, and they bore children. 18 For Jehovah had closed up tight all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
So, once again, Sarah’s hotness initiates mass contraception and nearly gets an entire unsuspecting city killed.
But seriously, here’s just another example of God’s intense views toward the sanctity of marriage. Even knowing that Abimelech went into kidnap-and-deflower mode thinking Sarah was a single lady, Jehovah caused all the females in his household to become temporarily barren because Abimelech thought about having relations with Abraham’s wife. Then, He sent Abimelech a dream in which he threatened the entire city with death if he didn’t give Sarah back to Abraham immediately.
That’s a pretty intense attitude toward marriage, especially for us in modern times to consider when upwards of half the world’s marriages end in divorce and cheating has become so commonplace they’ve given it a name and a lifestyle (an open relationship, or swinging) and it happens all the time on primetime TV.
So the 90-year-old hottie catches prego and has a son, just like God promised. I love her attitude about it, highlighted in verses 6-7.
1 Jehovah visited Sarah as he had said, and Jehovah did to Sarah as he had spoken. 2 Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 4 Abraham circumcised his son, Isaac, when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was one hundred years old when his son, Isaac, was born to him. 6 Sarah said, “God has made me laugh. Everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 She said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.”
8 The child grew and was weaned. Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. 10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this servant and her son! For the son of this servant will not be heir with my son, Isaac.”
11 The thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight on account of his son. 12 God said to Abraham, “Don’t let it be grievous in your sight because of the boy, and because of your servant. In all that Sarah says to you, listen to her voice. For your offspring will be named through Isaac. 13 I will also make a nation of the son of the servant, because he is your child.” 14 Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread and a container of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder; and gave her the child, and sent her away. She departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. 15 The water in the container was spent, and she put the child under one of the shrubs. 16 She went and sat down opposite him, a good way off, about a bow shot away. For she said, “Don’t let me see the death of the child.” She sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice, and wept. 17 God heard the voice of the boy.
The angel of God called to Hagar out of the sky, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Don’t be afraid. For God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.18 Get up, lift up the boy, and hold him with your hand. For I will make him a great nation.”
19 God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, filled the container with water, and gave the boy a drink. 20 God was with the boy, and he grew. He lived in the wilderness, and as he grew up, became an archer. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran. His mother got a wife for him out of the land of Egypt.
So let’s take apart this odd little story, because it’s actually quite important:
Ishmael was 14 years old when his half-brother, Isaac, was born. We already know (from chapter 16) there was some pretty serious tension in the household – especially between Sarah and Hagar – over this situation, but technically, Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn son, which meant a lot in those days. Back in chapter 17, Abraham appealed to Jehovah to bless his firstborn and Ishmael was also circumcised along with Abraham and every male in his household. But, as He stated on that day and confirmed again here, God intended for his promise to Abraham about his descendants (and the overarching prophecy started in Genesis 3:15 about a “seed” that would conquer Satan) to be fulfilled by means of a son that Sarah would deliver.
When that promised child, Isaac, was “weaned” – an event traditionally celebrated on the child’s fifth birthday as a sort of coming-of-age ceremony in that culture and time period – Ishmael was 19, a young man who likely knew at least the basics of the circumstances surrounding his and Isaac’s births and the promises Jehovah had made. He’s also quite a bit older than Isaac and should really have been able to hold off on harassing the poor kid. But apparently, he decided to start “mocking” Isaac. Based on Sarah’s quick and extreme reaction, it’s reasonable to assume Ishmael’s mocking was more than just innocent sibling rivalry or trash talk, and that had something to do with him being the firstborn and how Isaac didn’t stand to inherit what Ishmael did from Abraham’s huge holdings.
According to the Apostle Paul’s commentary on this account in Galatians 4:22-31, Ishmael’s mocking of Isaac amounted to “persecution.” Therefore, this marks the beginning of the 400-year period during which Abraham’s offspring would be “afflicted”, as foretold in chapter 15. At the end of that period, his offspring would be brought back to the Promised Land to take possession of it (as described in the Book of Exodus.)
Considering Isaac’s privileged place in the outworking of Jehovah’s purposes, even a limited understanding of the situation should have been enough to keep Ishmael’s mouth shut under the circumstances. But, considering what happened as soon as Hagar became pregnant with Abraham’s child (again, in chapter 16) her attitude may very well have rubbed off on her son, to the point that he “despised” Isaac just as she had despised Sarah 19 years earlier. We don’t know this for sure, the Bible doesn’t say. But just the possibility teaches a powerful lesson about how much influence parents have on their children, for good or for bad.
So, despite his natural love for the boy, at God’s order, Abraham listens to Sarah’s request and sends Hagar and Ishmael out of his home to wander in the wilderness. With Jehovah’s help, however, they are protected and both mother and son survive and thrive, eventually becoming ancestors to the nation of the Ishmaelites, as God promised.
22 At that time, Abimelech and Phicol the captain of his army spoke to Abraham, saying, “God is with you in all that you do. 23 Now, therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son. But according to the kindness that I have done to you, you shall do to me, and to the land in which you have lived as a foreigner.”
24 Abraham said, “I will swear.” 25 Abraham complained to Abimelech because of a water well, which Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away. 26 Abimelech said, “I don’t know who has done this thing. You didn’t tell me, and I didn’t hear of it until today.”
27 Abraham took sheep and cattle, and gave them to Abimelech. Those two made a covenant. 28 Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.29 Abimelech said to Abraham, “What do these seven ewe lambs, which you have set by themselves, mean?”
30 He said, “You shall take these seven ewe lambs from my hand, that it may be a witness to me, that I have dug this well.” 31 Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because they both swore an oath there. 32 So they made a covenant at Beersheba. Abimelech rose up with Phicol, the captain of his army, and they returned into the land of the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and called there on the name of Jehovah, the Everlasting God. 34 Abraham lived as a foreigner in the land of the Philistines many days.
This little legal session over the well in Beersheba helps show the great respect with which Abraham was treated by the people living in the land of Canaan at the time. Abimelech, king of the Philistine city of Gerar, (and the same one, by the way, who wanted to get busy with Sarah in chapter 20,) travels to Abraham and offers a covenant of peace between them. Abraham makes him aware of the fact that some Philistines had taken Abraham’s well away by force and Abimelech swears he knows nothing about it, which is probably true. Finally, Abraham agrees to the covenant idea and seals the deal with seven sheep.
That’s not how kings of the day would have normally treated your average nomadic camping family. But Abraham and his household were something special, which Abimelech already knew perfectly well from having spoken directly with God while Abraham and Sarah were temporarily living in Gerar. No doubt this king’s view of Abraham had an impact on the rest of the Philistines. But it wouldn’t last. Later on, we’ll find another Abimelech (either this one’s son with the same name, or Abimelech may have been a title similar to Pharaoh or Ceasar) making a similar covenant with Isaac, but the Philistines as a whole were pains in the butt to Isaac throughout his life.
20 years passes. Isaac is about 25, and Abraham is 125 - a full 50+ years have passed since Abraham and Sarah first left Ur and headed out to live in tents in Canaan at Jehovah’s request. Finally, with Isaac growing up and perhaps considering marriage and starting a family, all of the promises God had made looked like they were finally, FINALLY, going to come true.
So, of course, Jehovah tells Abraham to kill Isaac.
And Abraham says, “Ok.”
1 After these things, God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”
He said, “Here I am.”
2 He said, “Now take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go into the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of.”
3 Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his donkey; and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place far off. 5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there. We will worship, and come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. He took in his hand the fire and the knife. They both went together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and said, “My father?”
He said, “Here I am, my son.”
He said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
8 Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they both went together. 9 They came to the place which God had told him of. Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, on the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to kill his son.
Let’s pause here a second with the knife in midair and notice a few important points in the preceding verses:
Abraham walked with his son and two servants toward Moriah, but then told the servants to stay with the donkey because, “we will worship and come back to you.” Granted, Abraham was willing to bend the truth a bit when lives were at stake (like when he insisted on Sarah calling him her brother instead of her husband in Egypt and Gerar) but there’s no indication anywhere in the Bible that he was a liar. While it’s certainly possible to guess that a righteous man under this level of extreme stress could weaken and tell a fib to make things easier. But, if he truly thought he’d be walking back with blood on his hands and say, “just kidding, I was actually killing the kid over there,” and they’d all laugh and turn around and walk home…
So it sounds to me like Abraham was at least 99% sure that, even if he had to go ahead and kill Isaac, Jehovah could and would bring Isaac back to life, immediately if necessary. This assumption is supported by Paul’s description of this scene in Hebrews chapter 11 where, among many other points, he states that Abraham, “concluded that God was able to raise up even from the dead.” This is pretty awesome since Abraham had never seen a resurrection take place. In fact, based on the Bible record, no one had ever been raised from the dead in all of human history. But Abraham’s faith was such that he figured, “Ok, so Jehovah made all these promises based on Isaac growing up and having kids of his own, and I know God can’t lie, so, he must plan on raising Isaac up from the dead after I kill him. Cool.”
Let’s also give props to Isaac here, since – as noted at the beginning of the chapter, Isaac wasn’t still a little 5-year-old kid at this time. He was 25 years old, and no doubt more than a match for his 125-year-old father. But he obviously allowed Abraham to bind him, lay him down on a flammable altar, and raise a knife up, ready to plunge into his chest…
Both these men had incredible faith. And that’s why Jehovah steps in at the last second:
11 Jehovah’s angel called to him out of the sky, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”
He said, “Here I am.”
12 He said, “Don’t lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
13 Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and saw that behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place “Jehovah Will Provide”. As it is said to this day, “On Jehovah’s mountain, it will be provided.”
15 Jehovah’s angel called to Abraham a second time out of the sky, 16 and said, “ ‘I have sworn by myself,’ says Jehovah, ‘because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 that I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your offspring greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the gate of his enemies. 18 All the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, because you have obeyed my voice.’ ”
On first blush, this may seem kind of anticlimactic. After this intense, arguably cruel, test Abraham and Isaac passed with flying colors, all they get is a repeat of the same promises Abraham had already received in the past.
But let’s consider what was different about this time:
First, this is the first time Isaac heard a divine voice from the sky promising his Dad wonderful things. That had to be incredibly faith strengthening and motivating for him, especially coming at a time when Abraham was getting on in years and Isaac would be starting his own family and moving along in the foreseeable future. As far as we can tell, it’s also the first time Jehovah has repeated this promise to Abraham in over 25 years. Not that this mountain of faith had wavered (as illustrated by passing this test,) but how cool must it have been to hear it again from a booming voice in the sky? And in front of your son? AND in juxtaposition with that incredibly stressful test and the adrenalin rush that accompanied hearing that voice and seeing that ram?
That had to be an amazing experience for everyone involved.
19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba. Abraham lived at Beersheba.
20 After these things, Abraham was told, “Behold, Milcah, she also has borne children to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.
Keep Bethuel and his daughter Rebekah in mind. They become important later on…
1 Sarah lived one hundred twenty-seven years. This was the length of Sarah’s life. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath Arba (also called Hebron), in the land of Canaan. Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. 3 Abraham rose up from before his dead and spoke to the children of Heth, saying, 4 “I am a stranger and a foreigner living with you. Give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”
5 The children of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, 6 “Hear us, my lord. You are a prince of God among us. Bury your dead in the best of our tombs. None of us will withhold from you his tomb. Bury your dead.”
7 Abraham rose up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, to the children of Heth. 8 He talked with them, saying, “If you agree that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, 9 that he may sell me the cave of Machpelah, which he has, which is in the end of his field. For the full price let him sell it to me among you as a possession for a burial place.”
10 Now Ephron was sitting in the middle of the children of Heth. Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the children of Heth, even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, 11 “No, my lord, hear me. I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the children of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead.”
12 Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land. 13 He spoke to Ephron in the audience of the people of the land, saying, “But if you will, please hear me. I will give the price of the field. Take it from me, and I will bury my dead there.”
14 Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, 15 “My lord, listen to me. What is a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver between me and you? Therefore bury your dead.”
16 Abraham listened to Ephron. Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the children of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the current merchants’ standard.
17 So the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all of its borders, were deeded 18 to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre (that is, Hebron), in the land of Canaan. 20 The field, and the cave that is in it, were deeded to Abraham by the children of Heth as a possession for a burial place.
Why is this chapter here? At first glance, it seems like a laboriously recorded legal transaction. But there’s a very important secondary purpose here, and that’s why this (and many, many other chapters to come in the Bible record) are meticulously recorded for us.
This chapter includes people’s names, financial figures, place names, directions, and other concrete details that can easily be referenced secularly to prove the accuracy of the Bible. While fairy tales and fables tend to rely on “once upon a time” and “in a galaxy far, far away,” the Bible pins its narrative – even the most fantastic-seeming aspects of it – on real people, real places, and real dates that can be – and have been – verified by other sources.
Granted, the Bible isn’t written as a history textbook or any other sort of scholarly text. It was written for and preserved for the express purpose of giving mankind the information necessary to come to know and draw close to Jehovah God (as expressed in Romans 15:4, 2 Timothy 3:16) and to eventually qualify to live as He originally intended (according to John 17:3.) But in instances where geography, geology, biology, astronomy, anthropology, archeology, or any other “ology” can be called in to verify or dispute what’s recorded in the Bible, it ends up proving the Bible correct or – in the worst case – admitting we just don’t have enough information to go on at this point.
I’m going to be releasing a book soon called, “Why I Believe in the Bible and Why You Should Too” that will discuss all the evidence that supports trusting the Bible as the inspired word of God.
Remember when I told you to remember about Bethuel and Rebekah? Here’s where they enter the scene. Bethuel is Abraham’s nephew, and Rebekah is his daughter – Abraham’s grandniece. As we’ll see here, Rebekah ends up being chosen as a wife for Isaac, her first cousin once removed.
In Bible times it was customary for parents – especially Fathers – to have a lot of say in who their kids married, just as it still is today in some cultures. Although “arranged marriages” per se weren’t the norm, the arrangement described here was not unusual, except in one detail: the effort to which Abraham insisted on selecting a wife for Isaac from among his own relatives.
You see, as we already know, Abraham lived a long way from where he grew up and where his relatives still were, in Mesopotamia. His brother, Nahor’s, family had settled in Haran, the same city Abraham and Sarah stayed in during his father, Terah’s, final years. After Terah died, Abraham and Sarah continued on to Canaan but evidently Nahor’s family settled in or around Haran. Since Abraham is living near Beersheba at this point, he’s asking his servant to make[* a journey of some 665 miles*], give or take, to find Isaac a wife.
No small feat when all travel was on foot or on some sort of living four-legged beast. (In this case it required no less than 10 camels, no doubt loaded down heavily with provisions for the trip.) This was a potentially dangerous journey that would easily have lasted months, at great expense.
So pay close attention to why Abraham told his servant to make this journey, and what Bethuel’s and Rebekah’s reactions are.
1 Abraham was old, and well advanced in age. Jehovah had blessed Abraham in all things. 2 Abraham said to his servant, the elder of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Please put your hand under my thigh. 3 I will make you swear by Jehovah, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live. 4 But you shall go to my country, and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
Apparently “put your hand under my thigh” was a customary means of demanding a solemn oath at the time. Sounds strange to us, but if we promised something to Abraham and said, “cross my heart and hope to die,” he’d probably think that was weird too.
5 The servant said to him, “What if the woman isn’t willing to follow me to this land? Must I bring your son again to the land you came from?”
6 Abraham said to him, “Beware that you don’t bring my son there again. 7 Jehovah, the God of heaven—who took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my birth, who spoke to me, and who swore to me, saying, ‘I will give this land to your offspring—he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman isn’t willing to follow you, then you shall be clear from this oath to me. Only you shall not bring my son there again.”
9 The servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter. 10 The servant took ten of his master’s camels, and departed, having a variety of good things of his master’s with him. He arose, and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. 11 He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time that women go out to draw water. 12 He said, “Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham, please give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water. The daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let it happen, that the young lady to whom I will say, ‘Please let down your pitcher, that I may drink,’ then she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink,’—let her be the one you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”
Yes, you heard that right. Abraham’s servant arrives at “the city of Nahor” – most likely Haran – after this arduous 665 mile trip, and we realize neither he nor Abraham have any idea who Isaac’s prospective wife is! This hasn’t been arranged prior. They’re simply relying on Jehovah to reveal the right individual and make everything fall into place.
Let’s see how that works out:
15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher on her shoulder. 16 The young lady was very beautiful to look at, a virgin. No man had known her. She went down to the spring, filled her pitcher, and came up. 17 The servant ran to meet her, and said, “Please give me a drink, a little water from your pitcher.”
18 She said, “Drink, my lord.” She hurried, and let down her pitcher on her hand, and gave him a drink. 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will also draw for your camels, until they have finished drinking.” 20 She hurried, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again to the well to draw, and drew for all his camels.
Let’s pause just a minute and note that this one young woman has just voluntarily offered to provide water for ten camels, just off the desert trail. What’s that involve?
Well, let’s assume these were Arabian (or Dromedary) camels, which have one hump and were more prevalent in the time and place described. It’s well known that camels are ideal beasts of burden in desert conditions because of their uniquely hardy disposition and their ability to go long distances and periods without needing water. One of the many reasons for this ability is the fact that, when water becomes available, they are able to drink incredible amounts. On average, a very thirsty camel needing to replenish itself will drink as much as 35 gallons (or 135 liters) of water in just 10 minutes!
Granted, there’s no reason to think that Abraham’s servant arrived at Haran with all of his camels nearly spent from thirst, so let’s assume they each needed only half that much water to be satisfied. We’re still talking about one young woman running back and forth from the spring to the drinking trough with 175 gallons of water in short order! With each gallon weighing 8.6 pounds (3.9 kg), that means she physically moved just under 1500 pounds of water while the servant sat and watched.
Not only was Rebekah “very beautiful to look at,” but, more importantly, she was kind, generous, humble, and hard working as well, all wonderful qualities in a prospective spouse. But, at this point, Abraham’s servant doesn’t even know who she is…
21 The man looked steadfastly at her, remaining silent, to know whether Jehovah had made his journey prosperous or not. 22 As the camels had done drinking, the man took a golden ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold, 23 and said, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me. Is there room in your father’s house for us to stay?”
24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 She said moreover to him, “We have both straw and feed enough, and room to lodge in.”
26 The man bowed his head, and worshiped Jehovah. 27 He said, “Blessed be Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his loving kindness and his truth toward my master. As for me, Jehovah has led me on the way to the house of my master’s relatives.”
Beautiful, industrious, humble, generous, hospitable, and… EXACTLY WHO HE WAS LOOKING FOR!!! Did we just witness the answer to a very specific prayer? Indeed we did.
Oh, and by the way, Abraham’s servant gifted Rebekah with just under $5000-worth of jewelry by today’s standards before even asking her name. Abraham was a pretty wealthy guy. (He gave her 10.5 shekels of gold in the form of two bracelets and one nose ring. A shekel equals 11.4 grams, and I used the official price of one gram of gold today – October 28, 2016 – which is $40.73.)
28 The young lady ran, and told her mother’s house about these words. 29 Rebekah had a brother, and his name was Laban. Laban ran out to the man, to the spring. 30 When he saw the ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s hands, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, “This is what the man said to me,” he came to the man. Behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. 31 He said, “Come in, you blessed of Jehovah. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house, and room for the camels.”
32 The man came into the house, and he unloaded the camels. He gave straw and feed for the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. 33 Food was set before him to eat, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told my message.”
Laban said, “Speak on.”
34 He said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 Jehovah has blessed my master greatly. He has become great. Jehovah has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 Sarah, my master’s wife, bore a son to my master when she was old. He has given all that he has to him. 37 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but you shall go to my father’s house, and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son.’ 39 I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not follow me?’ 40 He said to me, ‘Jehovah, before whom I walk, will send his angel with you, and prosper your way. You shall take a wife for my son from my relatives, and of my father’s house. 41 Then you will be clear from my oath, when you come to my relatives. If they don’t give her to you, you shall be clear from my oath.’ 42 I came today to the spring, and said, ‘Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham, if now you do prosper my way which I go— 43 behold, I am standing by this spring of water. Let it happen, that the maiden who comes out to draw, to whom I will say, “Please give me a little water from your pitcher to drink,” 44 then she tells me, “Drink, and I will also draw for your camels,”—let her be the woman whom Jehovah has appointed for my master’s son.’ 45 Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her pitcher on her shoulder. She went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She hurried and let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink.’ So I drank, and she also gave the camels a drink. 47 I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her hands. 48 I bowed my head, and worshiped Jehovah, and blessed Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the right way to take my master’s brother’s daughter for his son. 49 Now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me. If not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left.”
50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered, “The thing proceeds from Jehovah. We can’t speak to you bad or good. 51 Behold, Rebekah is before you. Take her, and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as Jehovah has spoken.”
Now we’re finally getting the big picture here (although you probably already guessed this.) Abraham was so intent on sending his servant on such a long journey to seek out a wife for Isaac from his own relatives because he knew they were fellow servants of Jehovah.
While there’s evidence that Jehovah is well known and respected throughout the land of Canaan – for instance, the account involving Melchizadek and both accounts involving Abimelech – Abraham knows that the overwhelming majority of the population of Canaan do not worship Jehovah. In fact, although Sodom and Gomorrah were apparently particularly bad in relation to surrounding cities, it’s reasonable to believe that the same type of widespread immorality and godlessness that permeated those cities was present to some extent in and among the rest of Canaan as well. Otherwise, why would a wealthy and powerful man like Abraham remain living in tents well into his very old age – a decision that no doubt meant sacrificing comforts and conveniences that any aging man would want for himself and his household if it were possible.
That’s why he was so adamant that his servant travel outside of Canaan and to his God-loving relatives in Mesopotamia to find Isaac’s wife-to-be. He didn’t want his son to marry a woman whose moral and spiritual upbringing were different from – and, potentially hazardous to – Isaac’s. After all, not only was Isaac Abraham’s son, whom he no doubt loved with all his heart, but he was also Abraham’s promised seed – the start of a line of descent that Jehovah Himself had promised would result in “all the nations of the earth” being blessed.
Abraham couldn’t take chances with Isaac’s moral and spiritual well being. As we’ll see in a few chapters with Isaac’s own sons, that proved to be a very wise decision.
52 When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself down to the earth to Jehovah. 53 The servant brought out jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave precious things to her brother and her mother. 54 They ate and drank, he and the men who were with him, and stayed all night. They rose up in the morning, and he said, “Send me away to my master.”
55 Her brother and her mother said, “Let the young lady stay with us a few days, at least ten. After that she will go.”
56 He said to them, “Don’t hinder me, since Jehovah has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.”
57 They said, “We will call the young lady, and ask her.” 58 They called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?”
She said, “I will go.”
59 They sent away Rebekah, their sister, with her nurse, Abraham’s servant, and his men. 60 They blessed Rebekah, and said to her, “Our sister, may you be the mother of thousands of ten thousands, and let your offspring possess the gate of those who hate them.”
61 Rebekah arose with her ladies. They rode on the camels, and followed the man. The servant took Rebekah, and went his way. 62 Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he lived in the land of the South. 63 Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the evening. He lifted up his eyes and looked. Behold, there were camels coming. 64 Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she got off the camel. 65 She said to the servant, “Who is the man who is walking in the field to meet us?”
The servant said, “It is my master.”
She took her veil, and covered herself. 66 The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife. He loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
This is really beautiful.
Now, as we’ve already discussed earlier in Genesis, there’s no getting around the fact that the Bible includes many cringe-worthy examples of sexism against women, not because it’s being glorified or that it’s approved by God, but because the Bible is a faithful record of what has actually occurred over the course of human history, and no one can deny women have been treated poorly by men basically forever.
But in this account we see how God-fearing, humble people who grew up in spiritually- and morally-beneficial surroundings handle the less-than-ideal male/female relationships of the day:
Rebekah realizes that, since Bethuel has already died, her older brother, Laban, has the authority to give her to any man he wants to. From a legal standpoint in those days, a woman was essentially the property of the family and would be either given or sold to another family as a wife. You’ll notice that Laban doesn’t even hesitate to agree to the servant’s proposal that he leave with Rebekah so she can be Isaac’s wife. Laban recognized Jehovah’s hand in the matter and immediately decided it was the best thing for everyone involved. But this wasn’t some callous financial transaction akin to selling an ox. The next morning when Abraham’s servant surprises everyone with his desire to leave immediately with Rebekah, the family starts to balk at that – not because they regret agreeing to the marriage, but because they love Rebekah and want a chance to get used to the idea of her leaving. And, they’re no doubt concerned with Rebekah having to deal with such a dramatic turn of events so quickly.
So, they ask Rebekah’s views on the matter. And it’s important to reiterate here that no one had to do that. Legally, Rebekah had no rights under the circumstances and couldn’t have stopped or altered the situation at all even if she wanted to.
But, no doubt also recognizing God’s hand in the entire situation, Rebekah agrees to leave immediately and embark on her new life as Isaac’s soon-to-be wife. So we can add “spiritually-minded” and “hella brave” to the long list of this young woman’s fine personality traits.
Remember, another 600+ mile journey through the hot and dry desert on the back of a camel awaited her. When they finally arrived and she stepped down from the camel, there’s her fiance heading out to meet them. So, without even a chance to freshen up or fix her hair, she covers her face (a customary sign of respect under the circumstances) and goes to meet him.
As we keep seeing with these Godly people, she shows an incredible amount of faith in Jehovah and his direction, and humility in her willingness to follow that direction wherever it may lead.
[*Ooowee! *]At somewhere upwards of 150 years old, Abraham could still get it up and ends up fathering six more sons! Rascally old dog. :)
1 Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan became the father of Sheba, and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5 Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, 6 but Abraham gave gifts to the sons of Abraham’s concubines. While he still lived, he sent them away from Isaac his son, eastward, to the east country. 7 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one hundred seventy-five years. 8 Abraham gave up his spirit, and died at a good old age, an old man, and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9 Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is near Mamre, 10 the field which Abraham purchased from the children of Heth. Abraham was buried there with Sarah, his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac, his son. Isaac lived by Beer Lahai Roi.
And with those simple words we come to the close of the life of Abraham – an incredible example of faith, humility and determination. Despite the fact that the love of his life – and wife of likely more than a century – was physically unable to have children, Abraham had faith in Jehovah’s promise that he would become father to innumerable people, many nations.
And, as we can see by looking at the list of all of Abraham’s children, that’s exactly what happened: Abraham is genealogically the common ancestor of the Israelites (through Isaac and Jacob,) the Ishmaelites, the Edomites (through his grandson, Esau,) the Medanites and the Midianites (through two sons of Keturah) and likely others that fade from the Bible record, likely because they traveled far enough away to have little or no dealings with the Israelites in the centuries to come.
But, more than anything else, we know and remember Abraham as a loyal servant of Jehovah God and – by means of God’s promise regarding Abraham’s seed – an ancestor of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. (A lot more on that to come!)
12 Now this is the history of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to the order of their birth: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebaioth, then Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa,15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their villages, and by their encampments: twelve princes, according to their nations. 17 These are the years of the life of Ishmael: one hundred thirty-seven years. He gave up his spirit and died, and was gathered to his people. 18 They lived from Havilah to Shur that is before Egypt, as you go toward Assyria. He lived opposite all his relatives.
19 This is the history of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham became the father of Isaac. 20 Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Paddan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian, to be his wife. 21 Isaac entreated Jehovah for his wife, because she was barren. Jehovah was entreated by him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her. She said, “If it is like this, why do I live?” She went to inquire of Jehovah. 23 Jehovah said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb.
Two peoples will be separated from your body.
The one people will be stronger than the other people.
The elder will serve the younger.”
24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red all over, like a hairy garment. They named him Esau. 26 After that, his brother came out, and his hand had hold on Esau’s heel. He was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
What the heck did Esau look like? After what sounds like a particularly miserable pregnancy, Rebekah gives birth to twin boys. Almost as if this were a horror movie where we need to see the origin of the monster, Esau – the firstborn – comes out “red all over, like a hairy garment.”
So, was Esau born with lanugo – the fine hair found on some newborns that sheds within the first month? Was this a case of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) – a hormonal imbalance that results in excessive hair growth from birth on? Or is it some strange literary license being used by Moses in telling the story so that we immediately take a dislike to Esau?
Frankly, we don’t know what Esau looked like, exactly. Since he was able to live a normal life as an active member of society, and even a leader of men, it’s unlikely that he looked like a werewolf. But, considering his name itself actually means “hairy” proves Moses wasn’t making it up.
27 The boys grew. Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field. Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he ate his venison. Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Jacob boiled stew. Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with some of that red stew, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom.
31 Jacob said, “First, sell me your birthright.”
32 Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die. What good is the birthright to me?”
33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”
He swore to him. He sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew. He ate and drank, rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.
So this account kind of jumps up out of nowhere, seemingly soon after the twins’ birth. But the brief interlude in verses 27 and 28 show that some time has passed. Perhaps the brothers are teens or even young adults at this point.
Esau’s despising of his birthright is a vitally important account for two reasons:
1) It explains why Jacob – the second of Isaac’s two sons – ends up receiving the greater blessing and inheritance normally reserved for the firstborn. And,
2) It explains why Jehovah’s prophecy to Rebekah about the older son serving the younger one could reasonably come true.
The fact that Esau legally gave up all his rights as firstborn for the sake of a bowl of stew showed a gross disrespect for his family’s spiritual heritage and the amazing promises from Jehovah that were yet to be fulfilled in their lives. Had he appreciated all these things, Esau would have thought twice before agreeing to throw away his privileged place in all this. But he didn’t think for a second.
And the worst part of this situation is this: Jacob was boiling up some stew. What are the chances that he took his pot and supplies and traveled a long way from the tents to set up his fire and go about cooking? Pretty slim, right? He was probably right outside their tents, where, presumably, there were other food stuffs available for Esau to munch on if he was truly that hungry. Literally a few steps away!
But this gross lack of respect for spiritual things proved to be an ongoing problem for Esau, as we’ll see going forward.
Like father like son…
1 There was a famine in the land, in addition to the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, to Gerar.2 Jehovah appeared to him, and said, “Don’t go down into Egypt. Live in the land I will tell you about. 3 Live in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you. For I will give to you, and to your offspring, all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. 4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of the sky, and will give all these lands to your offspring. In your offspring all the nations of the earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my requirements, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
6 Isaac lived in Gerar. 7 The men of the place asked him about his wife. He said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say, “My wife”, lest, he thought, “the men of the place might kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to look at.” 8 When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was caressing Rebekah, his wife. 9 Abimelech called Isaac, and said, “Behold, surely she is your wife. Why did you say, ‘She is my sister?’ ”
Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘Lest I die because of her.’ ”
10 Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us!”
11 Abimelech commanded all the people, saying, “He who touches this man or his wife will surely be put to death.”
So, once again, it’s apparent that Rebekah is just as much of a hottie as Sarah was. (Must be some really good stuff in that particular gene pool…) So, Isaac tries to pull the same trick as his father did – although, admittedly, his claim to saying, “she really is my sister” is a bit more tenuous since she’s his cousin-once-removed, not his half-sister, but I digress.
What’s interesting is that he tried pulling it on the same guy (or possibly that Abimelech’s son, the account offers no way to confirm this,) and it ends with almost the same outcome. Obviously, although Abimelech came to know about Jehovah, and even received a life-saving divine warning from him back when this situation occurred with Abraham and Sarah, the likelihood of him or one of his Philistine subjects to engage in sexual immorality was still very high, to the point that he was actually upset at Isaac for putting them in that position.
As history unfolds, the entire population of Canaan shows themselves to be just as morally corrupt if not worse.
12 Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year one hundred times what he planted. Jehovah blessed him. 13 The man grew great, and grew more and more until he became very great. 14 He had possessions of flocks, possessions of herds, and a great household. The Philistines envied him. 15 Now all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped, and filled with earth. 16 Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”
17 Isaac departed from there, encamped in the valley of Gerar, and lived there.
18 Isaac dug again the wells of water, which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham. He called their names after the names by which his father had called them. 19 Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found there a well of springing water. 20 The herdsmen of Gerar argued with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” He called the name of the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21 They dug another well, and they argued over that, also. He called its name Sitnah. 22 He left that place, and dug another well. They didn’t argue over that one. He called it Rehoboth. He said, “For now Jehovah has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.”
23 He went up from there to Beersheba. 24 Jehovah appeared to him the same night, and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Don’t be afraid, for I am with you, and will bless you, and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”
25 He built an altar there, and called on Jehovah’s name, and pitched his tent there. There Isaac’s servants dug a well.
26 Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath his friend, and Phicol the captain of his army. 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me, and have sent me away from you?”
28 They said, “We saw plainly that Jehovah was with you. We said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, even between us and you, and let’s make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, as we have not touched you, and as we have done to you nothing but good, and have sent you away in peace.’ You are now the blessed of Jehovah.”
30 He made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 They rose up some time in the morning, and swore an oath to one another. Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace. 32 The same day, Isaac’s servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water.”33 He called it “Shibah”. Therefore the name of the city is “Beersheba” to this day.
So Abimelech kicks Isaac out of Gerar because he’s becoming too wealthy and powerful for comfort, but he later comes to visit him and make a covenant of peace as well. It’s interesting to note that, once again, Abimelech has no problem understanding the reason behind Isaac’s prosperity. “You are now the blessed of Jehovah,” he says. And they eat and drink and make their promises, then Abimelech goes back home and continues worshiping his own gods and acting however he wants to.
It’s an amazingly thickheaded attitude when you think about it that way.
34 When Esau was forty years old, he took as wife Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 They grieved Isaac’s and Rebekah’s spirits.
No, this wasn’t just simple in-law troubles. Judith and Basemath may have been really nice girls. But the “grieved Isaac’s and Rebekah’s spirits” because they were Hittites – natives of Canaan who did not worship Jehovah. Since the record specifically states that Esau “took as wife” these two women, it’s pretty apparent that he didn’t ask permission of Isaac or allow Isaac any say in the matter. As we learned in the account of Abraham’s servant traveling to find Isaac a wife, this was not just strange for the times, it was probably pretty insulting to Isaac too.
A bunch more years pass and now Isaac is old. That means Jacob and Esau are both grown men, Esau already married and, presumably, living elsewhere. But the infamous matter of who is to be considered “firstborn” has apparently never factored into the family’s dealings until now…
1 When Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder son, and said to him, “My son?”
He said to him, “Here I am.”
2 He said, “See now, I am old. I don’t know the day of my death. 3 Now therefore, please take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and get me venison. 4 Make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat, and that my soul may bless you before I die.”
5 Rebekah heard when Isaac spoke to Esau his son. Esau went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it. 6 Rebekah spoke to Jacob her son, saying, “Behold, I heard your father speak to Esau your brother, saying, 7 ‘Bring me venison, and make me savory food, that I may eat, and bless you before Jehovah before my death.’8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to that which I command you. 9 Go now to the flock and get me two good young goats from there. I will make them savory food for your father, such as he loves. 10 You shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.”
11 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 What if my father touches me? I will seem to him as a deceiver, and I would bring a curse on myself, and not a blessing.”
13 His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son. Only obey my voice, and go get them for me.”
14 He went, and got them, and brought them to his mother. His mother made savory food, such as his father loved. 15 Rebekah took the good clothes of Esau, her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob, her younger son. 16 She put the skins of the young goats on his hands, and on the smooth of his neck. 17 She gave the savory food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.
18 He came to his father, and said, “My father?”
He said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?”
19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done what you asked me to do. Please arise, sit and eat of my venison, that your soul may bless me.”
20 Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?”
He said, “Because Jehovah your God gave me success.”
21 Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.”
22 Jacob went near to Isaac his father. He felt him, and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He didn’t recognize him, because his hands were hairy, like his brother, Esau’s hands. So he blessed him. 24 He said, “Are you really my son Esau?”
He said, “I am.”
25 He said, “Bring it near to me, and I will eat of my son’s venison, that my soul may bless you.”
He brought it near to him, and he ate. He brought him wine, and he drank. 26 His father Isaac said to him, “Come near now, and kiss me, my son.” 27 He came near, and kissed him. He smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him, and said,
“Behold, the smell of my son
is as the smell of a field which Jehovah has blessed.
28 God give you of the dew of the sky,
of the fatness of the earth,
and plenty of grain and new wine.
29 Let peoples serve you,
and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers.
Let your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you.
Blessed be everyone who blesses you.”
30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had just gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 He also made savory food, and brought it to his father. He said to his father, “Let my father arise, and eat of his son’s venison, that your soul may bless me.”
32 Isaac his father said to him, “Who are you?”
He said, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.”
33 Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who, then, is he who has taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before you came, and have blessed him? Yes, he will be blessed.”
34 When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, my father.”
35 He said, “Your brother came with deceit, and has taken away your blessing.”
36 He said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright. See, now he has taken away my blessing.” He said, “Haven’t you reserved a blessing for me?”
37 Isaac answered Esau, “Behold, I have made him your lord, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants. I have sustained him with grain and new wine. What then will I do for you, my son?”
38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have just one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, my father.” Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.
39 Isaac his father answered him,
“Behold, your dwelling will be of the fatness of the earth,
and of the dew of the sky from above.
40 You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother.
It will happen, when you will break loose,
that you will shake his yoke from off your neck.”
41 Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him. Esau said in his heart, “The days of mourning for my father are at hand. Then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
So let’s break this down a touch. Isaac is getting old, he knows he may die soon, so he calls in his firstborn and asks for a favor, after which he plans to give Esau his blessing as firstborn. At that point, Rebekah and Jacob go into Mission: Impossible mode.
First of all, what was this “blessing”? In patriarchal times, it was customary for fathers to “bless” their sons before they died. This was a powerful tradition that often served as a verbal Will in which inheritances were doled out, and where longstanding matters of disagreement or tension could be finally settled so the dying and the surviving could separate in peace. In some cases – including this one – righteous men are recorded in the Bible pronouncing blessings on their offspring that were actually prophetic in nature. Later on, Jacob does the same for his 12 sons (and two of his grandsons). Esau’s reaction to Isaac telling him Jacob had stolen his blessing makes it clear just how important this was to these individuals.
Wasn’t it wrong for Rebekah and Jacob to blatantly lie to Isaac? Very interesting question. Without a doubt, lying in general is wrong. Later on in the Bible, when the Mosaic law is written down, several laws against lying feature prominently. Even later, in the Christian era, the Apostle Paul and others mention lying among several practices that can destroy one’s relationship with God and prospects for future blessings. So that’s not in question. And lying for the sake of personal gain would seem to be even worse.
However, in this case, Rebekah and Jacob’s elaborate lie served to accomplish Jehovah’s stated purpose regarding Jacob. Remember, when Rebekah was pregnant, Jehovah told her that the older twin would serve the younger. If Isaac had bestowed his blessing on Esau (as he intended) he would have foretold that Jacob would go on to serve Esau. We also need to note that there were clear favorites between the two: Esau was Isaac’s favorite (because he was a good hunter and provider for the family) while Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite (because he was mild and peaceable.)
Isaac was a righteous man and, no doubt, he and Rebekah had discussed Jehovah’s prophecy regarding their sons, so he likely had head knowledge of the fact that God purposed for His promises to Abraham and Isaac to come true through Jacob’s offspring, not Esau’s. Although it’s not stated in the Bible, it’s also possible that Jacob let Isaac and Rebekah know about Esau’s having sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. We can assume that based on Isaac’s lack of reaction when Esau mentions this after receiving his secondary blessing. Despite potentially knowing all of this and wholeheartedly wanting to do what was right, is it possible Isaac harbored a weakness when it came to his favorite son, Esau, such that he desired to give Esau his primary blessing regardless? And is it possible Rebekah knew this, and decided to act as she did to ensure Jehovah’s will took place despite Isaac’s imperfection.
All of that is possible. We simply don’t know for a certainty. However, there are many other examples in the scriptures of righteous people either misleading unrighteous people (Joshua, chapter 2) or refusing to provide necessary information (Luke, chapter 23), in an effort to either serve God’s purpose or thwart efforts designed to get in the way of that purpose. And, one and all are praised in the scriptures as faithful and righteous. So, based on the circumstances, it appears that telling an untruth or a half-truth for the sake of God’s will can be acceptable to God. Considering His stated views on lying in general, however, it seems reasonable that resorting to a lie would be a desperate measure one would attempt only after going to great lengths to accomplish the goal another way.
42 The words of Esau, her elder son, were told to Rebekah. She sent and called Jacob, her younger son, and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban, my brother, in Haran. 44 Stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury turns away— 45 until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send, and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?”
46 Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these, of the daughters of the land, what good will my life do me?”
So, just as Abraham did with his servant (on Isaac’s behalf), Rebekah sends Jacob to Haran to their relatives. In this case, it served two purposes: to give Esau some time to chill out so he didn’t follow through on his desire to kill Jacob, and also so Jacob could find a good wife among worshipers of Jehovah, unlike his brother.
Would you believe that Jacob is now 77 years old? Single and still living at home!
1 Isaac called Jacob, blessed him, and commanded him, “You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Paddan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father. Take a wife from there from the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, that you may be a company of peoples, 4 and give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your offspring with you, that you may inherit the land where you travel, which God gave to Abraham.”
Just as a closing thought related to the previous chapter, Isaac’s words and actions here prove that – whether he agreed with their methods or not – he did not regret having blessed Jacob as he had. In fact, he repeats and expands on the blessing in these verses, plainly stating that all the promises God had made to Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob.
5 Isaac sent Jacob away. He went to Paddan Aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.
6 Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan Aram, to take him a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a command, saying, “You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan;” 7 and that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Paddan Aram. 8 Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan didn’t please Isaac, his father. 9 Esau went to Ishmael, and took, in addition to the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife.
Sibling rivalry at its finest: “Oh, you don’t like my two Canaanite wives? Fine, I’ll get an Ishmaelite wife too. So there!”
10 Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 He dreamed and saw a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 Behold, Jehovah stood above it, and said, “I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give the land you lie on to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your offspring, all the families of the will earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.”
16 Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, “Surely Jehovah is in this place, and I didn’t know it.” 17 He was afraid, and said, “How awesome this place is! This is none other than God’s house, and this is the gate of heaven.”
18 Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, and Jehovah will be my God, 22 then this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, will be God’s house. Of all that you will give me I will surely give a tenth to you.”
Here is the famous account of “Jacob’s Ladder” – although the actual Hebrew word being used is more accurately translated “stairway”. It’s served as the basis of artwork, poetry, and – perhaps most importantly – as inspiration for one of the most popular rock songs ever, “Stairway to Heaven”. (Rush did a song called Jacob’s Ladder which was also pretty good, but neither of these tunes really had anything to do with the Biblical account.)
So what was Jacob’s dream really all about? Although, for some reason, the emphasis has often been placed on the stairway with angels walking up and down on it, the real import of the dream has to do with Jehovah’s words. This is the first time that Jehovah has actually spoken to Jacob, reaffirming for him the promises made to his father and grandfather before him. In appreciative response and righteous fear, Jacob responds by setting up an altar to Jehovah as a memorial and vowing to “give the tenth to you”, a precursor of the tithe (tenth-part) contribution that later became law for the nation of Israel.
Apparently, the only import of the heavenly stairway Jacob saw was to place in his mind the definitive impression that he was indeed experiencing a message from Jehovah God. (Not necessarily worthy of multiple songs, poems, and paintings.)
In the maps above, you’ll be able to follow Jacob’s journey over the next few decades as he marries (twice) and ends up having over a dozen kids.
1 Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the children of the east. 2 He looked, and behold, a well in the field, and saw three flocks of sheep lying there by it. For out of that well they watered the flocks. The stone on the well’s mouth was large. 3 There all the flocks were gathered. They rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again on the well’s mouth in its place. 4 Jacob said to them, “My relatives, where are you from?”
They said, “We are from Haran.”
5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban, the son of Nahor?”
They said, “We know him.”
6 He said to them, “Is it well with him?”
They said, “It is well. See, Rachel, his daughter, is coming with the sheep.”
7 He said, “Behold, it is still the middle of the day, not time to gather the livestock together. Water the sheep, and go and feed them.”
8 They said, “We can’t, until all the flocks are gathered together, and they roll the stone from the well’s mouth. Then we water the sheep.”
9 While he was yet speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she kept them. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban, his mother’s brother, Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. 11 Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. 12 Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative, and that he was Rebekah’s son. She ran and told her father.
Much like we read in chapter 29, there’s every reason to believe Jehovah had a hand in allowing Jacob to arrive in the vicinity of Haran at exactly the right place and time to “run into” the daughter of the man he was sent to stay with – whom he would later marry. However, in this case, the miraculous coincidence was more subtle in that Jacob didn’t specifically pray for a sign to point out the right person. Is this perhaps because Jacob enjoyed a closer relationship with Jehovah than Eliezar (Abraham’s servant to traveled to find a wife for Isaac)? We don’t know. Jacob has already received at least one vision from Jehovah, so maybe he got another one along his trip that’s not recorded in the Bible. Or, maybe he simply considered this a happy happenstance that only strengthened his conviction that he was doing the right thing.
Whatever the situation, as a righteous and faithful man, Jacob went with it. As did Rachel, eventually.
13 When Laban heard the news of Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet Jacob, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things. 14 Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” Jacob stayed with him for a month. 15 Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what will your wages be?”
16 Laban had two daughters. The name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and attractive. 18 Jacob loved Rachel. He said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter.”
19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you, than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.”
Did Laban just sell his daughter to Jacob? Lest I continue to harp on the Bible’s anti-feminist situation, I should bring up the subject of the “bride price” or dowry. As we’ve already discussed earlier in Genesis, there’s no getting around the fact that women were far from treated as equals to men in Bible times. In fact, from a legal standpoint, daughters and wives were the property of their fathers and husbands, much like any slaves they may purchase to help around the house. Of course, from the standpoint of how women were supposed to be treated, we find ample evidence both in the Mosaic Law and later in the letters to the Christians that children who wanted to be pleasing to God would “honor their mother” just as much as their father, and “obey your parents” – both of them. Husbands were also to love their wives, treat them with dignity and respect, and – like Jehovah specifically told Abraham to do in the account regarding the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael – to “listen to her voice”, or seek out and respect her opinion in all things.
While it may sound degrading or odd to the modern Western woman, the custom of demanding a bride price or dowry was – and still is, in many cultures – a sign of the latter attitude more than the former. Basically, the custom involved a young man (or, more often, his father) paying a significant sum of money or goods to the father of the young woman in order to “seal the deal” on the marriage. This was not considered to be the price of a slave, in fact slaves were cheap while the bride price was normally hefty, as exemplified by Jacob’s willingness to work for seven full years to pay this one. Rather, this was considered a symbolic gesture acknowledging that, by taking the daughter away from her parents home, the groom was both removing a valued and cherished member of the family AND a significant portion of the family’s labor pool and skills. In exchange, the bride price could serve to ease the pain of separation and – if they chose to do so – to hire or purchase laborers to assist at home in place of their daughter.
As time progressed, the customary dowry in Israel came to be 50 silver shekels (just under $330 based on the value of silver on November 3, 2016), which was obviously more symbolic than practical. It amounted to approximately three-months’ wages for the average laborer. However, using the same calculation (about a quarter of a shekel for a full day’s work and work being done six days per week) Jacob ended up paying over $9800 in today’s silver price for the honor of marrying Rachel.
20 Jacob served seven years for Rachel. They seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had for her.
21 Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.”
22 Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. 23 In the evening, he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to Jacob. He went in to her.24 Laban gave Zilpah his servant to his daughter Leah for a servant. 25 In the morning, behold, it was Leah! He said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Didn’t I serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?”
26 Laban said, “It is not done so in our place, to give the younger before the firstborn. 27 Fulfill the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you will serve with me for seven more years.”
28 Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week. He gave him Rachel his daughter as wife. 29 Laban gave Bilhah, his servant, to his daughter Rachel to be her servant. 30 He went in also to Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him seven more years.
[* What the holy heck??? *]Yes, you read that correctly. Laban pulled the old switcheroo on Jacob after Jacob worked for seven full years in order to marry Rachel, giving him Leah – Rachel’s older sister – instead. How this could have possibly worked, I really couldn’t say since the context indicates Jacob “went in to her” – meaning he consummated the marriage, having sex with Leah – but apparently didn’t realize it was Leah and not Rachel until the next morning. Was he drunk? Maybe. Did Leah and Rachel look that similar? It’s unlikely since the scriptures make it pretty clear that Rachel was hot and Leah was not. And, regardless of how the logistics went down, how must Leah have felt to be thrown in as the booby prize (no pun intended) of Laban’s scheme to get Jacob to work for him for seven more years?
All in all, this is another example of a worshiper of Jehovah (Laban) who is still an imperfect, and not very nice, man. This won’t be the only example of this fact before Jacob finally leaves.
31 Jehovah saw that Leah was hated, and he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 Leah conceived, and bore a son, and she named him Reuben. For she said, “Because Jehovah has looked at my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again, and bore a son, and said, “Because Jehovah has heard that I am hated, he has therefore given me this son also.” She named him Simeon. 34 She conceived again, and bore a son. Said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. 35 She conceived again, and bore a son. She said, “This time I will praise Jehovah.” Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing.
The ancient Hebrew woman (much like women in many cultures still today) considered bearing children – and especially male children who could legally inherit their family’s wealth and carry on the family name – to be the ultimate privilege and their chief purpose in life. We can debate all day long whether or not this was right or wrong, but at the time, these women considered it nothing short of an honor to bear many children for their husbands. And, conversely, it was a huge disgrace to be barren – unable to conceive. In this case, we can picture the wacky dynamics in this household where the first wife – Leah – was never even on Jacob’s radar, but she’s now popping out baby after baby, desperately hoping this one will make her husband love her. Meanwhile, the second wife – Rachel, whom Jacob apparently loved dearly – suffers the disgrace of barrenness while her sister keeps popping those kids out.
While polygamy was customarily practiced in patriarchal times and later in ancient Israel, it obviously was God’s original plan for marriage. Right at the beginning when He brought Adam and Eve together as the first couple, the account in Genesis chapter 2 notes that “a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Later, in Christian times, monogamy once again became the rule – as God originally intended – and it still is today. Looking at the situation facing Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, and many others throughout the scriptures, polygamy simply can’t work to form a strong and loving family dynamic the way monogamy can.
Rachel says something stupid, Jacob blows a gasket, and then the same craziness that happened in Abraham’s house happens here too.
1 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I will die.”
2 Jacob’s anger burned against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in God’s place, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”
3 She said, “Behold, my maid Bilhah. Go in to her, that she may bear on my knees, and I also may obtain children by her.” 4 She gave him Bilhah her servant as wife, and Jacob went in to her. 5 Bilhah conceived, and bore Jacob a son. 6 Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice, and has given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan. 7 Bilhah, Rachel’s servant, conceived again, and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Rachel said, “I have wrestled with my sister with mighty wrestlings, and have prevailed.” She named him Naphtali.
Not to be outdone, Leah hands Jacob wife #4. This is sibling rivalry at its best.
9 When Leah saw that she had finished bearing, she took Zilpah, her servant, and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Zilpah, Leah’s servant, bore Jacob a son. 11 Leah said, “How fortunate!” She named him Gad. 12 Zilpah, Leah’s servant, bore Jacob a second son. 13 Leah said, “Happy am I, for the daughters will call me happy.” She named him Asher.
14 Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother, Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
15 Leah said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes, also?”
Rachel said, “Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.”
16 Jacob came from the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, “You must come in to me; for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.”
And Jacob is bought like a two-dollar whore.
No seriously, what’s up with the mandrakes? The mandrake is a relative of the potato that was considered to be an aphrodisiac and an aid in conceiving children, as well as an antispasmodic and narcotic pain killer. Basically, Rachel valued the supposed medicinal qualities of the mandrakes Reuben found so much, she traded an opportunity to have sex with Jacob for some of them.
How Jacob felt about that isn’t known, but if we consider the fact that the guy’s right around 90 years old at this point, he probably didn’t mind too much.
He lay with her that night. 17 God listened to Leah, and she conceived, and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Leah said, “God has given me my hire, because I gave my servant to my husband.” She named him Issachar. 19 Leah conceived again, and bore a sixth son to Jacob. 20 Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good dowry. Now my husband will live with me, because I have borne him six sons.” She named him Zebulun. 21 Afterwards, she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah.
22 God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her, and opened her womb. 23 She conceived, bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24 She named him Joseph, saying, “May Jehovah add another son to me.”
As we’ll see soon, Jacob now has 11 of his eventual 12 sons with the birth of Joseph. Although all 12 of his sons are vitally important to the Bible record – since they became ancestors to the 12 tribes of Israel – three in particular are of note because of their tribes’ roles in Bible prophecy and God’s purposes:
Judah – Leah’s fourth son – His personal history is not really special, in fact the Bible records some serious mistakes he made. But it is through Judah’s line of descent that Jehovah’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are to come true. Israel’s royal line, starting with King David, are from Judah. Eventually, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is born into the tribe of Judah.
Levi – Leah’s third son – When the Mosaic Law comes into being, it is the tribe of Levi who are given the weighty responsibility to serve as priests and to care for the nation’s spiritual wellbeing. As a result, the tribe of Levi is not counted among the 12 tribes of Israel (since they will not inherit their own plot of land) which requires that the 12 tribes are made up another way…
Joseph – Rachel’s first son – Joseph eventually becomes Jacob’s favorite and ends up going through a whole host of problems with his brothers as a result. When it’s all said and done, he proves himself incredibly faithful and righteous and is therefore blessed with his two sons – Manasseh and Ephraim – taking his place in the tribes of Israel. Rather than having one tribe of Joseph, Joseph’s descendants make up two tribes, giving Joseph the privilege usually afforded the firstborn, and providing a replacement tribe for the priestly tribe of Levi.
25 When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own place, and to my country. 26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know my service with which I have served you.”
27 Laban said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, stay here, for I have divined that Jehovah has blessed me for your sake.” 28 He said, “Appoint me your wages, and I will give it.”
29 Jacob said to him, “You know how I have served you, and how your livestock have fared with me. 30 For it was little which you had before I came, and it has increased to a multitude. Jehovah has blessed you wherever I turned. Now when will I provide for my own house also?”
31 Laban said, “What shall I give you?”
Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this thing for me, I will again feed your flock and keep it. 32 I will pass through all your flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted one, and every black one among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats. This will be my hire. 33 So my righteousness will answer for me hereafter, when you come concerning my hire that is before you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and black among the sheep, that might be with me, will be considered stolen.”
34 Laban said, “Behold, let it be according to your word.”
35 That day, he removed the male goats that were streaked and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white in it, and all the black ones among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons. 36 He set three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.
Are you with us still? So Jacob wants to leave but Laban says, “no, stay, I’ll pay you to keep working for me.” Jacob says, I don’t want money, I want livestock (because that’s what wealth was back then.) And he devises a plan to care for just the pure white sheep and goats and hand over to Laban all the ones that have some color.
What’s this all about? Well, it seems that Jacob has some husbandry tricks up his sleeve that Laban doesn’t know about. And/or Jehovah is miraculously blessing him in a hilarious way. Check it out:
37 Jacob took to himself rods of fresh poplar, almond, and plane tree, peeled white streaks in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods. 38 He set the rods which he had peeled opposite the flocks in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink. They conceived when they came to drink. 39 The flocks conceived before the rods, and the flocks produced streaked, speckled, and spotted. 40 Jacob separated the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the streaked and all the black in Laban’s flock. He put his own droves apart, and didn’t put them into Laban’s flock. 41 Whenever the stronger of the flock conceived, Jacob laid the rods in front of the eyes of the flock in the watering troughs, that they might conceive among the rods; 42 but when the flock were feeble, he didn’t put them in. So the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. 43 The man increased exceedingly, and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.
In other words, whatever it was Jacob was doing with the rods (which makes no scientific sense, so it was likely a miracle – although this isn’t expressly noted) caused the sheep Jacob was able to keep as his wages to be strong, healthy, and valuable, while Laban’s remaining flocks were weak and sickly.
Basically, Jacob used livestock breeding methods to rip off his father-in-law who’d been ripping him off for upwards of seven years now.
Of course, that kind of fleecing (pun totally intended) can only last for so long before even someone like Laban figures it out…
1 Jacob heard Laban’s sons’ words, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s. He has obtained all this wealth from that which was our father’s.”2 Jacob saw the expression on Laban’s face, and, behold, it was not toward him as before. 3 Jehovah said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers, and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
4 Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field to his flock, 5 and said to them, “I see the expression on your father’s face, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I have served your father with all of my strength. 7 Your father has deceived me, and changed my wages ten times, but God didn’t allow him to hurt me. 8 If he said, ‘The speckled will be your wages,’ then all the flock bore speckled. If he said, ‘The streaked will be your wages,’ then all the flock bore streaked. 9 Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock, and given them to me. 10 During mating season, I lifted up my eyes, and saw in a dream, and behold, the male goats which leaped on the flock were streaked, speckled, and grizzled. 11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 He said, ‘Now lift up your eyes, and behold, all the male goats which leap on the flock are streaked, speckled, and grizzled, for I have seen all that Laban does to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you vowed a vow to me. Now arise, get out from this land, and return to the land of your birth.’ ”
So it’s more clearly confirmed in this section that God was indeed behind the ultra-cool genetic manipulation going on in Laban’s flocks. Now Jacob is looking to take the money and run.
14 Rachel and Leah answered him, “Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? 15 Aren’t we considered as foreigners by him? For he has sold us, and has also used up our money. 16 For all the riches which God has taken away from our father are ours and our children’s. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.”
17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives on the camels, 18 and he took away all his livestock, and all his possessions which he had gathered, including the livestock which he had gained in Paddan Aram, to go to Isaac his father, to the land of Canaan. 19 Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep; and Rachel stole the teraphim that were her father’s.
What was “the teraphim”? The teraphim was a type of idol or statue that served as “family gods” in the culture of the time. While it’s obvious that they played some part in the family’s worship, they also had legal significance in that whomever possessed the family’s teraphim could make a legal case for collecting the father’s inheritance if there was any controversy over who should rightfully do so. With this in mind, we learn a few things in this account, including what follows: 1) Although Laban was supposedly a worshiper of Jehovah, the presence of teraphim in him house may indicate he was not quite as faithful as he should have been. His deceptive and greedy treatment of Jacob supports that conclusion. 2) The legal value of the teraphim was apparently so high in Laban’s mind that he was willing to pursue Jacob and his family for a full week in order to try to retrieve them. 3) Rachel had a bit of a bad girl streak in her, although she likely felt justified stealing the teraphim from Laban because of how he had treated Jacob all those years, feeling that Jacob was owed any inheritance the family gods could get him down the road. Of course, Jacob had no idea Rachel stole the images. And, later on, they would likely have been buried along with all the other images Jacob buried under a tree near Shechem, as described in Chapter 35.
20 Jacob deceived Laban the Syrian, in that he didn’t tell him that he was running away. 21 So he fled with all that he had. He rose up, passed over the River, and set his face toward the mountain of Gilead.
22 Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled. 23 He took his relatives with him, and pursued him seven days’ journey. He overtook him in the mountain of Gilead. 24 God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Be careful that you don’t speak to Jacob either good or bad.”
25 Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountain, and Laban with his relatives encamped in the mountain of Gilead. 26 Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword? 27 Why did you flee secretly, and deceive me, and didn’t tell me, that I might have sent you away with mirth and with songs, with tambourine and with harp; 28 and didn’t allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now have you done foolishly. 29 It is in the power of my hand to hurt you, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you don’t speak to Jacob either good or bad.’ 30 Now, you want to be gone, because you greatly longed for your father’s house, but why have you stolen my gods?”
31 Jacob answered Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Lest you should take your daughters from me by force.’ 32 Anyone you find your gods with shall not live. Before our relatives, discern what is yours with me, and take it.” For Jacob didn’t know that Rachel had stolen them.
33 Laban went into Jacob’s tent, into Leah’s tent, and into the tent of the two female servants; but he didn’t find them. He went out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the teraphim, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. Laban felt around all the tent, but didn’t find them. 35 She said to her father, “Don’t let my lord be angry that I can’t rise up before you; for I’m having my period.” He searched, but didn’t find the teraphim.
36 Jacob was angry, and argued with Laban. Jacob answered Laban, “What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me? 37 Now that you have felt around in all my stuff, what have you found of all your household stuff? Set it here before my relatives and your relatives, that they may judge between us two.
38 “These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not cast their young, and I haven’t eaten the rams of your flocks. 39 That which was torn of animals, I didn’t bring to you. I bore its loss. Of my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 This was my situation: in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41 These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. 42 Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”
43 Laban answered Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine! What can I do today to these my daughters, or to their children whom they have borne? 44 Now come, let’s make a covenant, you and I. Let it be for a witness between me and you.”
45 Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar. 46 Jacob said to his relatives, “Gather stones.” They took stones, and made a heap. They ate there by the heap.47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48 Laban said, “This heap is witness between me and you today.” Therefore it was named Galeed 49 and Mizpah, for he said, “Jehovah watch between me and you, when we are absent one from another. 50 If you afflict my daughters, or if you take wives in addition to my daughters, no man is with us; behold, God is witness between me and you.” 51 Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap, and see the pillar, which I have set between me and you. 52 May this heap be a witness, and the pillar be a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and that you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” Then Jacob swore by the fear of his father, Isaac. 54 Jacob offered a sacrifice in the mountain, and called his relatives to eat bread. They ate bread, and stayed all night in the mountain. 55 Early in the morning, Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them. Laban departed and returned to his place.
So, Jacob finally loses his temper after 20 years of taking it up the wazoo in Laban’s house. However, it’s a credit to Jacob’s peaceful personality, his respect for his elders, and his desire to maintain some sort of positive relationship despite all that Laban did to him. Rather than storming off, making threats, or otherwise making the situation worse, he had his say, then calmed down and ended up making a covenant of peace with Laban.
1 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When he saw them, Jacob said, “This is God’s army.” He called the name of that place Mahanaim.
3 Jacob sent messengers in front of him to Esau, his brother, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom. 4 He commanded them, saying, “This is what you shall tell my lord, Esau: ‘This is what your servant, Jacob, says. I have lived as a foreigner with Laban, and stayed until now. 5 I have cattle, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.’ ” 6 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau. He is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and was distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks, and the herds, and the camels, into two companies; 8 and he said, “If Esau comes to the one company, and strikes it, then the company which is left will escape.” 9 Jacob said, “God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, Jehovah, who said to me, ‘Return to your country, and to your relatives, and I will do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the loving kindnesses, and of all the truth, which you have shown to your servant; for with just my staff I crossed over this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and strike me and the mothers with the children. 12 You said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which can’t be counted because there are so many.’ ”
So, Jacob sends messengers ahead of him to seek out his brother, Esau, whom he hasn’t seen for over 20 years. And, if you’ll remember from a few chapters ago, they didn’t leave each other on the best of terms. In fact, Esau wanted to kill Jacob and Rebekah sent Jacob away to Laban to save his life. So, when the messengers come back and say, “Esau’s coming to meet you with 400 men,” Jacob is understandably scared.
He immediately turns to Jehovah in prayer, demonstrating faith on par with that of his grandfather, Abraham, in that he knows Jehovah’s promise regarding Jacob’s offspring must come true, and therefore leaving it in Jehovah’s hands to protect his family from Esau.
13 He stayed there that night, and took from that which he had with him a present for Esau, his brother: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milk camels and their colts, forty cows, ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten foals. 16 He delivered them into the hands of his servants, every herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass over before me, and put a space between herd and herd.” 17 He commanded the foremost, saying, “When Esau, my brother, meets you, and asks you, saying, ‘Whose are you? Where are you going? Whose are these before you?’ 18 Then you shall say, ‘They are your servant, Jacob’s. It is a present sent to my lord, Esau. Behold, he also is behind us.’ ” 19 He commanded also the second, and the third, and all that followed the herds, saying, “This is how you shall speak to Esau, when you find him. 20 You shall say, ‘Not only that, but behold, your servant, Jacob, is behind us.’ ” For, he said, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.”
21 So the present passed over before him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.
But, interestingly, although he’s obviously putting his faith in God’s ability and desire to protect his family, Jacob also takes practical measures to try to soften his brother up and hopefully change his mind (just in case he planned to kill everyone.) This shows what’s referred to elsewhere in the scriptures as “practical wisdom.” And, although the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves” does not actually appear in the Bible, the sentiment is true enough.
22 He rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them, and sent them over the stream, and sent over that which he had. 24 Jacob was left alone, and wrestled with a man there until the breaking of the day. 25 When he saw that he didn’t prevail against him, the man touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained as he wrestled. 26 The man said, “Let me go, for the day breaks.”
Jacob said, “I won’t let you go unless you bless me.”
27 He said to him, “What is your name?”
He said, “Jacob”.
28 He said, “Your name will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
29 Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”
He said, “Why is it that you ask what my name is?” He blessed him there.
30 Jacob called the name of the place Peniel; for he said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose on him as he passed over Peniel, and he limped because of his thigh. 32 Therefore the children of Israel don’t eat the sinew of the hip, which is on the hollow of the thigh, to this day, because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.
[*OK, what the holy heck was that all about? *]This has always seemed to me to be one of the weirdest, most random accounts in the Bible. And that’s saying quite a bit because there are a lot of very random accounts strewn throughout the scriptures, (which, by the way, is another great reason to believe the Bible is exactly what it claims to be: an inspired account of history and prophecy, penned by amateurs. A professional writer of fiction would have done a much better job of making odd scenes like this one flow neatly in the narrative.)
So, after safely getting his family across the river in preparation to meet Esau the following day, Jacob apparently gets accosted by “a man” who is really an angel. This is apparent from a few clues, including Jacob’s saying he has “seen God” and the guy’s refusal to provide a name, which would have been no big deal for a human being. They grapple all night long – which is a pretty crazy wrestling match when you think about it – and the angel finally begs mercy because it’s almost dawn. Does he need to be back in heaven by a certain time or something? Who knows. But Jacob refuses to let go until the angel blesses him. So, the angel does (after leaving him with a permanent limp.)
The most important point to come out of this odd interchange is that Jacob receives a name change (much like his grandfather) that indicates the role he plays in Jehovah’s purposes: he is now Israel, which means “Contender with God”. And, as we all know, the nation that eventually springs from Jacob’s offspring isn’t called the nation of Jacob or Jacobites. They’re Israelites. So that’s important.
Don’t be shy, Jacob, let us know who your favorite is…
1 Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau was coming, and with him four hundred men. He divided the children between Leah, Rachel, and the two servants. 2 He put the servants and their children in front, Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph at the rear. 3 He himself passed over in front of them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
“You two… “almost wives”… take your kids and stay in front just in case my brother wants to kill everyone. That will give the rest of us time to start booking. Leah, you go next with your kids. I’m going to keep Rachel and Joseph waaaaaayyyyyy back here. Thanks.”
4 Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, fell on his neck, kissed him, and they wept. 5 He lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, “Who are these with you?”
He said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” 6 Then the servants came near with their children, and they bowed themselves. 7 Leah also and her children came near, and bowed themselves. After them, Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed themselves.
8 Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company which I met?”
Jacob said, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.”
9 Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; let that which you have be yours.”
10 Jacob said, “Please, no, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present at my hand, because I have seen your face, as one sees the face of God, and you were pleased with me. 11 Please take the gift that I brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” He urged him, and he took it.
12 Esau said, “Let’s take our journey, and let’s go, and I will go before you.”
13 Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender, and that the flocks and herds with me have their young, and if they overdrive them one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Please let my lord pass over before his servant, and I will lead on gently, according to the pace of the livestock that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord to Seir.”
15 Esau said, “Let me now leave with you some of the people who are with me.”
He said, “Why? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.”
16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 Jacob traveled to Succoth, built himself a house, and made shelters for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.
18 Jacob came in peace to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan Aram; and encamped before the city. 19 He bought the parcel of ground where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. 20 He erected an altar there, and called it El Elohe Israel.
So, as it turns out, Esau and Jacob have a friendly reunion. No one is killed, and lots of livestock changes hands. There’s no explanation as to why Esau thought it was necessary to bring a veritable army with him to say “hi” to his estranged brother. Was he initially intending to do bad things and Jacob’s series of presents changed his mind? Was he scared of traveling alone? Was he just trying to show off his position of apparent wealth and authority? We don’t know. In fact, little else is revealed about Esau in the Bible record after this instance, beyond the fact that he helped Jacob bury Isaac 20 years later.
Next comes another one of those wonderful, cheery Bible accounts involving the making of friends, rape, genital mutilation, and mass murder.
1 Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. 2 Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her. He took her, lay with her, and humbled her. 3 His soul joined to Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young lady, and spoke kindly to the young lady. 4 Shechem spoke to his father, Hamor, saying, “Get me this young lady as a wife.”
In case it wasn’t obvious, “humbled her” means “raped her”.
5 Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah, his daughter; and his sons were with his livestock in the field. Jacob held his peace until they came. 6 Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to talk with him. 7 The sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it. The men were grieved, and they were very angry, because he had done folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing ought not to be done. 8 Hamor talked with them, saying, “The soul of my son, Shechem, longs for your daughter. Please give her to him as a wife. 9 Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You shall dwell with us, and the land will be before you. Live and trade in it, and get possessions in it.”
11 Shechem said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you will tell me I will give. 12 Ask me a great amount for a dowry, and I will give whatever you ask of me, but give me the young lady as a wife.”
13 The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father with deceit when they spoke, because he had defiled Dinah their sister, 14 and said to them, “We can’t do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised; for that is a reproach to us. 15 Only on this condition will we consent to you. If you will be as we are, that every male of you be circumcised, 16 then will we give our daughters to you; and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. 17 But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our sister, and we will be gone.”
It’s important to note here that what Hamor and Shechem were proposing was not a shotgun wedding to appease for Shechem’s rape of Dinah. In fact, they don’t mention the rape at all. Either they thought it was unknown, or it simply didn’t strike them at all as something to be ashamed of or worried about. What they were proposing was a much larger agreement to enter into a marriage alliance with Jacob’s family – a means of intertwining the family’s wealth and influence with that of the city of Shechem.
Dinah’s brothers make what really should have been a ridiculous demand of Shechem and all the males of his city – “You can marry Dinah if you snip off the tip of your ying-yang first.” But Hamor and Shechem jump on the idea…
18 Their words pleased Hamor and Shechem, Hamor’s son. 19 The young man didn’t wait to do this thing, because he had delight in Jacob’s daughter, and he was honored above all the house of his father. 20 Hamor and Shechem, his son, came to the gate of their city, and talked with the men of their city, saying, 21 “These men are peaceful with us. Therefore let them live in the land and trade in it. For behold, the land is large enough for them. Let’s take their daughters to us for wives, and let’s give them our daughters. 22 Only on this condition will the men consent to us to live with us, to become one people, if every male among us is circumcised, as they are circumcised. 23 Won’t their livestock and their possessions and all their animals be ours? Only let’s give our consent to them, and they will dwell with us.”
24 All who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor, and to Shechem his son; and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.25 On the third day, when they were sore, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword, came upon the unsuspecting city, and killed all the males. 26 They killed Hamor and Shechem, his son, with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. 27 Jacob’s sons came on the dead, and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks, their herds, their donkeys, that which was in the city, that which was in the field, 29 and all their wealth. They took captive all their little ones and their wives, and took as plunder everything that was in the house. 30 Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have troubled me, to make me odious to the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites. I am few in number. They will gather themselves together against me and strike me, and I will be destroyed, I and my house.”
31 They said, “Should he deal with our sister as with a prostitute?”
Whoa. So the men of the city agree to Dinah’s brothers’ demand and every single one of them get circumcised. Knowing they’d be pretty sore for a few days, Levi and Simeon walk into the city after this happens and proceed to KILL EVERY MALE RESIDENT OF THE CITY!!! Then, the eight other sons of Jacob (I’m assuming 5-year-old Joseph stayed home) go into the city and take all the women and children captive, steal all the goods, and bring everything home.
Then, Jacob’s reaction is basically, “come on, guys! You’re making me look bad here.”
This tells me a lot about the kind of attitude and conduct that was considered acceptable and normal in these days and in this area. There was apparently no rule of law to speak of, no authority beyond the word of the oldest male in each family, and no protection from blood feuds like this one. Much later, in the book of Leviticus, God creates the Mosaic Law for the Israelites as a means of dramatically setting them apart as different from the Canaanites whose land they were ordered to take over. Considering this brief account and others we’ll be reading in the next few chapters, that was a significant difference indeed.
Next, God speaks directly to Jacob again. It’s important to try to keep in mind how incredibly rare and powerful an experience that must have been. The Bible tends (for obvious reasons) to focus on these instances one after another, so we can grow immune to a simple set of words like, “God said to Jacob…”. But for even these incredible pillars of faith - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob - it only occurred a handful of times in their 100+ year lifetimes.
1 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and live there. Make there an altar to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.”
2 Then Jacob said to his household, and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, change your garments.3 Let’s arise, and go up to Bethel. I will make there an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me on the way which I went.”
Another interesting point here: even under Jacob’s righteous headship, his extended family and household (including servants) had “foreign gods” among them. Idols, including the teraphim Rachel had stolen from her father a few chapters back. But, at this point, having been ordered by Jehovah to take specific action to establish true worship at Bethel, Jacob insists on a complete purification of his household, ensuring that nothing they were holding on to – whether they were actually using them for false worship or not – would end up offending Jehovah from that point forward. And, as we can see in the next verse, they all complied with his orders.
4 They gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. 5 They traveled, and a terror of God was on the cities that were around them, and they didn’t pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 He built an altar there, and called the place El Beth El; because there God was revealed to him, when he fled from the face of his brother. 8 Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; and its name was called Allon Bacuth.
9 God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan Aram, and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob. Your name shall not be Jacob any more, but your name will be Israel.” He named him Israel. 11 God said to him, “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations will be from you, and kings will come out of your body. 12 The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, and to your offspring after you I will give the land.”
This may feel like unnecessary repetition at this point, but God’s restating of this covenant to Jacob now, that he’s already stated to Abraham and Isaac, continues a vital thread that proceeds through the entire Bible, eventually culminating in Jesus’ birth, ministry, sacrificial death, and resurrection into heavenly life as a ruling King. So, yeah, it’s pretty important.
13 God went up from him in the place where he spoke with him. 14 Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he spoke with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him “Bethel”.
16 They traveled from Bethel. There was still some distance to come to Ephrath, and Rachel travailed. She had hard labor. 17 When she was in hard labor, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for now you will have another son.”
18 As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Benoni, but his father named him Benjamin. 19 Rachel died, and was buried on the way to Ephrath (also called Bethlehem). 20 Jacob set up a pillar on her grave. The same is the Pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. 21 Israel traveled, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Eder. 22 While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it.
So Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel – mother of Joseph and, now, Benjamin – dies in childbirth. Interestingly, the site described here as “on the way to Ephrath (also called Bethlehem) is disputed by historians and archaeologists, but the most widely recognized location of Rachel’s grave has been a site of veneration among Jews, Muslims, and Christians for centuries. It’s currently called the Bilal bin Rabah mosque, as well as the Qubur Beni Isra’in (or The Tomb of the Mother of the Descendants of Israel) outside of modern day Bethlehem, less than two miles from Jerusalem. Whether or not the modern day edifice (which has been rebuilt and remodeled hundreds of times over the centuries) actually lay over Rachel’s true grave is unknown, but the site is considered holy by three major religions, and is considered the third-most holy location in the “Holy Land.”
What’s up with Reuben and Bilhah? So, Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, (who’s probably only in his early 20’s at this point) has sex with his father’s concubine and mother of two of his half-brothers. This situation is just quickly brushed over here, but it’s going to be brought back up later when Jacob is on his death bed and pronouncing his blessings on his sons. Reuben ends up losing his rights as Jacob’s firstborn as a result of this disrespectful and semi-incestuous act. There’s no way to know for sure if this was a matter of falling victim to lust, or if it was a more premeditated act. It’s possible Reuben wanted some way to ensure that Bilhah (Rachel’s servant) wouldn’t take Rachel’s place as Jacob’s favorite wife, thereby keeping his mother, Leah, in a better position in Jacob’s eyes. Of course, sexing up his half-brothers’ mom was an ill-conceived method of accomplishing that, but he was also a dumb kid growing up in a weird situation. Importantly, there’s no indication that rape was involved here. Bilhah was apparently a consensual partner, which gives some more indication of the funky dynamic that goes on in a polygamous household.
Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. 23 The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24 The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25 The sons of Bilhah (Rachel’s servant): Dan and Naphtali. 26 The sons of Zilpah (Leah’s servant): Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram. 27 Jacob came to Isaac his father, to Mamre, to Kiriath Arba (which is Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac lived as foreigners.
28 The days of Isaac were one hundred eighty years. 29 Isaac gave up the spirit and died, and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. Esau and Jacob, his sons, buried him.
This final paragraph is a tiny bit misleading from a chronological standpoint because without any indication of the fact, it jumps ahead about 23 years in time. Based on the chronology established in earlier chapters, we can place Isaac’s death at 180 years of age in the year 1738 BCE, but Joseph’s birth was way back in 1767 BCE. So when Isaac died, Joseph was already 29 years old and (as we’ll see in a few chapters) had already been a slave in Eqypt for a number of years. That would put Jacob and Esau at about 120 years old when they came together again to bury their father.
So the events recorded in chapters 37-40 all occur chronologically before the final paragraph of chapter 35.
Out of the blue, Moses decides to throw a full chapter of names to trace the lineage of Esau and to name the “sheiks” and kings of what eventually became the nation of Edom – Esau’s descendants – for several generations.
The only item of real interest in this chapter (beyond what we’ve already noted about these kinds of records helping prove the authenticity of the Bible) is found in verse 31 where Moses states “These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the children of Israel.” Some scholars try to claim this must have been added long after Genesis was first written, since there were no kings in Israel while Moses was alive or for centuries after, so how could he have known that there would ever be a king reigning over the children of Israel? This view, however, discounts the power of prophecy and Moses’ faith in its fulfillment.
You see, Jehovah promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their descendants would include kings and rulers, and that their offspring would become “a mighty nation”. Going further, Moses himself was inspired to prophecy to the nation when he was leading them that they would eventually demand and receive a human king in place of Jehovah’s heavenly rulership of their nation. So, when he makes this seemingly offhand statement in verse 31 about the kings in Edom reigning before there were any kings in Israel, it’s a reflection of his solid faith that there eventually would be kings reigning in Israel, just as Jehovah promised.
1 Now this is the history of the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). 2 Esau took his wives from the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon, the Hittite; and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon, the Hivite; 3 and Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebaioth. 4 Adah bore to Esau Eliphaz. Basemath bore Reuel. 5 Oholibamah bore Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. These are the sons of Esau, who were born to him in the land of Canaan. 6 Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, with his livestock, all his animals, and all his possessions, which he had gathered in the land of Canaan, and went into a land away from his brother Jacob. 7 For their substance was too great for them to dwell together, and the land of their travels couldn’t bear them because of their livestock. 8 Esau lived in the hill country of Seir. Esau is Edom.
9 This is the history of the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir: 10 these are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz, the son of Adah, the wife of Esau; and Reuel, the son of Basemath, the wife of Esau. 11 The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, and Gatam, and Kenaz. 12 Timna was concubine to Eliphaz, Esau’s son; and she bore to Eliphaz Amalek. These are the descendants of Adah, Esau’s wife. 13 These are the sons of Reuel: Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These were the descendants of Basemath, Esau’s wife. 14 These were the sons of Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon, Esau’s wife: she bore to Esau Jeush, Jalam, and Korah.
15 These are the chiefs of the sons of Esau: the sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau: chief Teman, chief Omar, chief Zepho, chief Kenaz, 16 chief Korah, chief Gatam, chief Amalek. These are the chiefs who came of Eliphaz in the land of Edom. These are the sons of Adah. 17 These are the sons of Reuel, Esau’s son: chief Nahath, chief Zerah, chief Shammah, chief Mizzah. These are the chiefs who came of Reuel in the land of Edom. These are the sons of Basemath, Esau’s wife. 18 These are the sons of Oholibamah, Esau’s wife: chief Jeush, chief Jalam, chief Korah. These are the chiefs who came of Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, Esau’s wife.19 These are the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these are their chiefs.
20 These are the sons of Seir the Horite, the inhabitants of the land: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, 21 Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. These are the chiefs who came of the Horites, the children of Seir in the land of Edom. 22 The children of Lotan were Hori and Heman. Lotan’s sister was Timna. 23 These are the children of Shobal: Alvan, Manahath, Ebal, Shepho, and Onam. 24 These are the children of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah. This is Anah who found the hot springs in the wilderness, as he fed the donkeys of Zibeon his father. 25 These are the children of Anah: Dishon and Oholibamah, the daughter of Anah. 26 These are the children of Dishon: Hemdan, Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran. 27 These are the children of Ezer: Bilhan, Zaavan, and Akan. 28 These are the children of Dishan: Uz and Aran. 29 These are the chiefs who came of the Horites: chief Lotan, chief Shobal, chief Zibeon, chief Anah, 30 chief Dishon, chief Ezer, and chief Dishan. These are the chiefs who came of the Horites, according to their chiefs in the land of Seir.
31 These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the children of Israel. 32 Bela, the son of Beor, reigned in Edom. The name of his city was Dinhabah. 33 Bela died, and Jobab, the son of Zerah of Bozrah, reigned in his place. 34 Jobab died, and Husham of the land of the Temanites reigned in his place. 35 Husham died, and Hadad, the son of Bedad, who struck Midian in the field of Moab, reigned in his place. The name of his city was Avith. 36 Hadad died, and Samlah of Masrekah reigned in his place. 37 Samlah died, and Shaul of Rehoboth by the river, reigned in his place. 38 Shaul died, and Baal Hanan the son of Achbor reigned in his place. 39 Baal Hanan the son of Achbor died, and Hadar reigned in his place. The name of his city was Pau. His wife’s name was Mehetabel, the daughter of Matred, the daughter of Mezahab.
40 These are the names of the chiefs who came from Esau, according to their families, after their places, and by their names: chief Timna, chief Alvah, chief Jetheth, 41 chief Oholibamah, chief Elah, chief Pinon, 42 chief Kenaz, chief Teman, chief Mibzar, 43 chief Magdiel, and chief Iram. These are the chiefs of Edom, according to their habitations in the land of their possession. This is Esau, the father of the Edomites.
At this point, we start learning about the last great character of the book of Genesis, Jacob’s next-to-last son, Joseph. As we’ll see starting in this chapter, Joseph is in for a mess of problems in his early life, but everything turns out alright in the end. There’s quite a bit of sibling rivalry in Jacob’s household – which is understandable with 12 sons from four different mothers vying for the attention of one Dad. And, to make it worse, Jacob isn’t very good at hiding the fact that Joseph is his favorite by far.
So, just as you’d expect under the circumstances, Joseph’s brothers contemplate murdering him, but then settle on selling him to passing merchants as a slave.
Boys will be boys…
1 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s travels, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the history of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. Joseph brought an evil report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age, and he made him a tunic of many colors. 4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, and they hated him, and couldn’t speak peaceably to him.
5 Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brothers, and they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and behold, your sheaves came around, and bowed down to my sheaf.”
8 His brothers asked him, “Will you indeed reign over us? Will you indeed have dominion over us?” They hated him all the more for his dreams and for his words. 9 He dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, “Behold, I have dreamed yet another dream: and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.” 10 He told it to his father and to his brothers. His father rebuked him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves down to you to the earth?” 11 His brothers envied him, but his father kept this saying in mind.
Probably, Joseph kept having dreams after this, but because he’s not an idiot, he apparently kept them to himself.
12 His brothers went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. 13 Israel said to Joseph, “Aren’t your brothers feeding the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.” He said to him, “Here I am.”
14 He said to him, “Go now, see whether it is well with your brothers, and well with the flock; and bring me word again.” So he sent him out of the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 A certain man found him, and behold, he was wandering in the field. The man asked him, “What are you looking for?”
16 He said, “I am looking for my brothers. Tell me, please, where they are feeding the flock.”
17 The man said, “They have left here, for I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’ ”
Joseph went after his brothers, and found them in Dothan. 18 They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them, they conspired against him to kill him.19 They said to one another, “Behold, this dreamer comes. 20 Come now therefore, and let’s kill him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say, ‘An evil animal has devoured him.’ We will see what will become of his dreams.”
21 Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand, and said, “Let’s not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father. 23 When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him; 24 and they took him, and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty. There was no water in it.
Since this section of the Genesis account moves back and forth in time a little bit in relation to surrounding chapters, it’s not completely clear whether or not Reuben had already poked his half-brothers’ mom or not, but based on his actions in this case, he was apparently a stand-up guy most of the time. It seems he really wanted to do the right thing by his father, even though he likely didn’t like Joseph any more than the rest of them did.
But, alas, his efforts were for naught.
25 They sat down to eat bread, and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not let our hand be on him; for he is our brother, our flesh.” His brothers listened to him. 28 Midianites who were merchants passed by, and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. The merchants brought Joseph into Egypt.
And just like that, Joseph is headed to Egypt. 17 years old, favored son of a wealthy man and part of a large household, he is suddenly a slave, heading into years of servitude in a foreign land.
It’s interesting to note that the crime of kidnapping – including forcibly selling someone into slavery – officially became a crime under the Mosaic Law that was punishable by death, as noted at Exodus 21:16.
29 Reuben returned to the pit, and saw that Joseph wasn’t in the pit; and he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The child is no more; and I, where will I go?” 31 They took Joseph’s tunic, and killed a male goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 32 They took the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father, and said, “We have found this. Examine it, now, and see if it is your son’s tunic or not.”
33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s tunic. An evil animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces.” 34 Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, “For I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” His father wept for him. 36 The Midianites sold him into Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the guard.
As an aside, it’s too bad they didn’t have DNA testing back then. Jacob could have had the blood tested and given his sons a stern talking to when the results came back.
But anyway, Joseph’s now a slave in the household of a high-ranking Captain of Pharoah’s guard named Potiphar. We’ll catch up with him later…
We’re going to take a brief aside here to follow Judah, who is somewhere around 20 years of age, as he strikes out on his own and immediately gets his horny self married and has a couple kids. Then, in a few sentences, we jump ahead at least 20+ years to when his oldest son, Er, gets married and promptly gets himself executed by God.
What happens next is a mind-blowing sex-drenched soap opera that includes the origin of the term “onanism”, weird marriage and sexual traditions in patriarchal times, and Judah’s daughter-in-law having sex with Judah – not because he wanted to, but because he thought she was a prostitute, which somehow made it all alright… until he tried to burn her alive. Then, of course, there’s the perineal rupture… but I’m getting ahead of myself!
Sit back, relax, and enjoy another classic WTF Bible moment:
1 At that time, Judah went down from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 There, Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite man named Shua. He took her, and went in to her. 3 She conceived, and bore a son; and he named him Er. 4 She conceived again, and bore a son; and she named him Onan. 5 She yet again bore a son, and named him Shelah. He was at Chezib when she bore him. 6 Judah took a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in Jehovah’s sight. So Jehovah killed him. 8 Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 Onan knew that the offspring wouldn’t be his; and when he went in to his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. 10 The thing which he did was evil in Jehovah’s sight, and he killed him also. 11 Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, until Shelah, my son, is grown up;” for he said, “Lest he also die, like his brothers.” Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.
12 After many days, Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died. Judah was comforted, and went up to his sheep shearers to Timnah, he and his friend Hirah, the Adullamite. 13 Tamar was told, “Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 She took off the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gate of Enaim, which is on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she wasn’t given to him as a wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought that she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 He turned to her by the way, and said, “Please come, let me come in to you,” for he didn’t know that she was his daughter-in-law.
She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”
17 He said, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.”
She said, “Will you give me a pledge, until you send it?”
18 He said, “What pledge will I give you?”
She said, “Your signet and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.”
He gave them to her, and came in to her, and she conceived by him. 19 She arose, and went away, and put off her veil from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. 20 Judah sent the young goat by the hand of his friend, the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, but he didn’t find her. 21 Then he asked the men of her place, saying, “Where is the prostitute, that was at Enaim by the road?”
They said, “There has been no prostitute here.”
22 He returned to Judah, and said, “I haven’t found her; and also the men of the place said, ‘There has been no prostitute here.’ ” 23 Judah said, “Let her keep it, lest we be shamed. Behold, I sent this young goat, and you haven’t found her.”
24 About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has played the prostitute. Moreover, behold, she is with child by prostitution.”
Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “I am with child by the man who owns these.” She also said, “Please discern whose these are—the signet, and the cords, and the staff.”
26 Judah acknowledged them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, because I didn’t give her to Shelah, my son.”
He knew her again no more. 27 In the time of her travail, behold, twins were in her womb. 28 When she travailed, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This came out first.” 29 As he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out, and she said, “Why have you made a breach for yourself?” Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out, who had the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.
So, if you’re having trouble keeping score, I’ll sum up for you:
Perez and Zerah – the twins who ripped open their mom’s wazoo in their zeal to be born – are Judah’s last two sons, probably born when he was well past 50. They were conceived on a sunny day in a cozy little room near the gate of the city of Enaim where Judah happened to glance over and saw a veiled woman on the side of the road who he assumed to be a prostitute, and his dong took over for a few minutes.
Now, Tamar – the prostitute who wasn’t – did this all very calculatingly, and she was obviously a pretty sharp thinker, because it worked out splendidly. See, Judah’s oldest and second sons – Er and Onan – had both married Tamar and promptly kicked the bucket. We know that it’s because they were judged worthy of death by God, but Judah probably didn’t know that. He just saw Tamar as some kind of bad luck charm. Since the tradition at the time – and it continued for centuries among the Jews, even up to Jesus’ day – was that if a man died before having children to continue the family line his next-younger brother should marry his widow and have children with her. (The firstborn of that union would legally be considered the older brother’s heir and then all other children would be the legal heirs of the living brother.) Based on that, Tamar had the right to expect that Judah’s third son, Shelah – who was apparently still a young kid or teenager at the time – should marry her and conceive heirs for both his brothers and himself. However, Judah – not wanting to lose all his own sons to this black widow – tells her “just hang out at your dad’s house until Shelah’s old enough.” But he never brings him back.
So, filled with righteous indignation (and probably not a little sexual frustration) Tamar realizes – years later, mind you – that she’s been duped and is destined to spend the rest of her life as an unmarried, childless widow in her father’s house. So, like any self-respecting woman would, she found out where her father-in-law was going to be, dressed herself up as a lady-of-the-night, and mounted him for money. (Actually, a goat, but I guess that was worth more back then…)
Three months later, Judah finds out his daughter-in-law – who he knew perfectly well was supposed to be wallowing away in self-pity at her father’s house and certainly should not be getting laid or getting pregnant – had indeed gotten laid and was now pregnant. So, just like you probably would if it was your estranged daughter-in-law, Judah ordered that she be burned alive. But, at the last moment, Tamar produces the items Judah had left with the prostitute (since he’d failed to bring the goat to their little rendezvous – which is probably a good thing, because who knows what might have happened if there was an innocent goat in that room too,) therefore proving Judah was the father of the children in her womb.
And so Judah basically says, “Ok, you got me. Don’t burn her, guys. My bad.” And that’s it. It doesn’t say he marries her. In fact it says he never had sex with her again. (Which I guess I can understand since, I mean, when is the mood ever going to be right after a backstory like that?) And, Shelah didn’t end up marrying her either. So, as far as we can tell, Tamar went on to be a single mother who probably got some sort of child support for her two kids, but that’s about it.
Final note: I want to stress again that this is yet another example of the horrible light the Bible seems to put women in, and I don’t mean to make light of it with my commentary. Tamar was a obviously a prisoner of her culture, time period, and traditions, and what she did was probably considered justified – albeit weird – by her contemporaries. The whole story just stands out to me as 1) another incredible snapshot of how jacked up the human race has become just a few thousand years into its existence, and 2) why we can trust the Bible record – since its writers had no qualms whatsoever in pointing out the stupid, gross, and downright nasty thoughts and actions of even its most prominent characters, in this case Judah – father of the royal tribe of Judah and forebear to no less than King David and Jesus Christ.
[*Chapter Thirty-nine *]
Now let’s get back to what’s going on with Joseph in Egypt. And if you’re still a little shaken up by the story in chapter 38, don’t worry: this one only involves attempted rape, false imprisonment, and the complete destruction of a young man’s hard earned reputation. Enjoy!
1 Joseph was brought down to Egypt. Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the hand of the Ishmaelites that had brought him down there. 2 Jehovah was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man. He was in the house of his master the Egyptian. 3 His master saw that Jehovah was with him, and that Jehovah made all that he did prosper in his hand. 4 Joseph found favor in his sight. He ministered to him, and Potiphar made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, Jehovah blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake. Jehovah’s blessing was on all that he had, in the house and in the field. 6 He left all that he had in Joseph’s hand. He didn’t concern himself with anything, except for the food which he ate.
A few key points here. Although you’ve probably already guessed this, this is the first time we get confirmation that Joseph is a faithful worshiper of Jehovah, and that Jehovah is keenly watching over him and blessing him, even as he deals with the consequences of his brothers’ jealous crime. And Potiphar – not a worshiper of Jehovah, but an intelligent man who knows a good thing when he sees it – marks Joseph as superior to the average slave. He puts him in charge of the entire household, and he gets rich and is otherwise blessed as a result.
Now, the fact that verse 3 says “his master saw that Jehovah was with him” doesn’t necessarily mean that Potiphar understood – much less acknowledged – Jehovah’s role in Joseph’s status as a good luck charm. We can assume that from the fact that in a little while, he’ll promptly send Joseph off to rot in jail without even giving him a chance to explain himself. If Potiphar viewed Joseph as being directly blessed by some superhuman force, he probably wouldn’t let him go quite so easily. Rather, it means that he could see the results of Jehovah’s blessings and was smart enough to take advantage of them.
Joseph was well-built and handsome. 7 After these things, his master’s wife set her eyes on Joseph; and she said, “Lie with me.”
8 But he refused, and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, my master doesn’t know what is with me in the house, and he has put all that he has into my hand. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am, and he has not kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
Here’s a really important point that differentiates Joseph from all his other brothers, but may provide an important clue as to why he was his father’s favorite: did you notice his thought process when Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce him? He asks, “how can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” He didn’t say, “sin against Potiphar” or her, or himself… he was concerned about sinning against God – which is interesting because technically, there was no law in place.
How did Joseph know that having sex outside the marriage arrangement – in this case with a woman who was married to another man – would constitute a sin against God? After all, his brother Judah – raised in the same God-fearing household as Joseph – had no qualms about boffing a random whore on the side of the road. Reuben thought it was cool to sex up his father’s wife. So why would Joseph (rightly) consider this to be wrong?
He knew this because he was a spiritually-minded man who had paid attention when his father – also a spiritually-minded man – had instructed him about what Jehovah does and does not approve of. No doubt, Joseph was familiar with the fact that Jehovah had performed the first wedding ceremony in Eden and that His intention was that husband and wife become “one flesh” and that breaking up that union was against God’s will. (Genesis 2:24) He also had likely heard the stories of his great-grandmother Sarah and his grandmother Rachel being placed in dangerous situations in Egypt and Philistia, and how Jehovah had miraculously protected them from becoming victims of adultery.
As a spiritually-minded person who cared what God thought and who had put the time and effort necessary into applying his knowledge to his daily activities, Joseph was quick to realize that what Potiphar’s wife was suggesting would have been wrong in Jehovah’s eyes. And let’s be real for a second here: Joseph was a 18 or 19-year old virgin at this point. And Potiphar was a high-ranking Egyptian official who likely wouldn’t have married a fat, ugly woman. There’s no reason at all to think that Joseph wouldn’t have loved the opportunity to play house with a rich older woman while her husband was away – at least in his imperfect human side, which we all have to deal with.
But spirituality won out. And that’s uber-impressive. Even more impressive, she doesn’t take no for an answer, but he sticks to his guns:
10 As she spoke to Joseph day by day, he didn’t listen to her, to lie by her, or to be with her. 11 About this time, he went into the house to do his work, and there were none of the men of the house inside. 12 She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!”
He left his garment in her hand, and ran outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and had run outside, 14 she called to the men of her house, and spoke to them, saying, “Behold, he has brought a Hebrew in to us to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice. 15 When he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment by me, and ran outside.” 16 She laid up his garment by her, until his master came home. 17 She spoke to him according to these words, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought to us, came in to me to mock me, 18 and as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment by me, and ran outside.”
19 When his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, “This is what your servant did to me,” his wrath was kindled. 20 Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were bound, and he was there in custody. 21 But Jehovah was with Joseph, and showed kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 The keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever they did there, he was responsible for it. 23 The keeper of the prison didn’t look after anything that was under his hand, because Jehovah was with him; and that which he did, Jehovah made it prosper.
So, after failing numerous times to seduce Joseph, Potiphar’s wife goes as far as physically trying to drag him to bed, but he runs away, leaving his shirt in her hand. Pissed off as only a scorned woman can be, she lies to her husband saying that Joseph tried to rape her. Immediately, Potiphar has Joseph arrested and sent to the same prison as enemies of the Pharoah (probably not a very nice place.)
But, Jehovah is still with Joseph, and he quickly ends up accomplishing the same thing in prison as he did as a slave in Potiphar’s house: he’s put in charge of everything and likely has about as comfortable a stay in prison as anyone can hope for.
It’s really neither here nor there, but I’m going to officially object to a tiny translation issue in the WEB (which you’ll note in my Foreward has garnered a great deal of my respect as a lover of scripture and someone who believes everyone ought to be able to access the Bible wherever and whenever they want.) In the first verse of chapter 40, the WEB calls one of Pharoah’s servants his “butler.” That’s so… 19th century England.
Many other translations use the term “cup bearer” here, which is, I believe, a lot more accurate of a rendering, and the WEB uses it as well, starting in verse 2. It’s not that ancient Egyptian Pharaohs didn’t have the equivalent of the classic English butler somewhere in the their ranks of servants, it’s just that the image it inevitably puts in my mind is so incredibly jarring, I just can’t let it lie there.
Historically, the Pharoah’s cup bearer was a servant who enjoyed a position of considerable trust and honor. He was not just responsible for handing the Pharoah his cup of wine at meals, but was charged with ensuring that the food and wine the Pharoah consumed was not poisoned (a common method of assassination at the time.) So, the cupbearer, quite literally, had the Pharoah’s life in his hands.
1 After these things, the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord, the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cup bearer and the chief baker. 3 He put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound. 4 The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he took care of them. They stayed in prison many days. 5 They both dreamed a dream, each man his dream, in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the cup bearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were bound in the prison. 6 Joseph came in to them in the morning, and saw them, and saw that they were sad. 7 He asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, saying, “Why do you look so sad today?”
8 They said to him, “We have dreamed a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it.”
Joseph said to them, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Please tell it to me.”
As noted in chapter 37, Joseph had had a few dreams of his own, and that trend may have continued, even after he decided to stop sharing them with his less-than-thrilled family. Based on his eager response to the cup bearer and baker in verse 8, it seems Joseph was convinced that his own dreams were of diving origin. As we’ll see in later chapters, he’s absolutely right.
9 The chief cup bearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream, behold, a vine was in front of me, 10 and in the vine were three branches. It was as though it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters produced ripe grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.”
12 Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 Within three more days, Pharaoh will lift up your head, and restore you to your office. You will give Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, the way you did when you were his cup bearer. 14 But remember me when it is well with you. Please show kindness to me, and make mention of me to Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house. 15 For indeed, I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.”
16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Joseph, “I also was in my dream, and behold, three baskets of white bread were on my head. 17 In the uppermost basket there were all kinds of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds ate them out of the basket on my head.”
18 Joseph answered, “This is its interpretation. The three baskets are three days. 19 Within three more days, Pharaoh will lift up your head from off you, and will hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh from off you.” 20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants, and he lifted up the head of the chief cup bearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21 He restored the chief cup bearer to his position again, and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; 22 but he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet the chief cup bearer didn’t remember Joseph, but forgot him.
Can you imagine being the baker in this scenario? He’d just heard Joseph interpret the cup bearer’s dream and heard that the cup bearer would be released from prison and brought back to his lofty position next to Pharoah in just three days, so he’s all, “me next!” And Joseph says, “in three days, you’re going to be hanged and beheaded.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Joseph’s interpretation of their dreams was right on the money. Could Joseph actually interpret dreams and foretell the future? No. He himself explained in verse 8 that “interpretations belong to God.” So, in this instance, Joseph proved to be a prophet, foretelling the future as Jehovah miraculously provided him the necessary information to do so.
And as we’ll see in later chapters, this wasn’t the first time Joseph proved to be an inspired prophet.
Two more years go by. Joseph is still in prison (albeit enjoying the benefits of essentially running the place) when Pharoah himself has a dream, and suddenly the forgetful cup bearer remembers, “Oh yeah, there’s this kid in prison who totally interpreted my dream accurately. You should check him out.”
1 At the end of two full years, Pharaoh dreamed, and behold, he stood by the river. 2 Behold, seven cattle came up out of the river. They were sleek and fat, and they fed in the marsh grass. 3 Behold, seven other cattle came up after them out of the river, ugly and thin, and stood by the other cattle on the brink of the river.4 The ugly and thin cattle ate up the seven sleek and fat cattle. So Pharaoh awoke. 5 He slept and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, healthy and good. 6 Behold, seven heads of grain, thin and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy and full ears. Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. 8 In the morning, his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all of Egypt’s magicians and wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.
9 Then the chief cup bearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “I remember my faults today. 10 Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, with the chief baker. 11 We dreamed a dream in one night, he and I. Each man dreamed according to the interpretation of his dream.12 There was with us there a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard, and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams. He interpreted to each man according to his dream. 13 As he interpreted to us, so it was. He restored me to my office, and he hanged him.”
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon. He shaved himself, changed his clothing, and came in to Pharaoh.15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have dreamed a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It isn’t in me. God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”
One word: humility. That is all.
17 Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, “In my dream, behold, I stood on the brink of the river; 18 and behold, there came up out of the river seven cattle, fat and sleek. They fed in the marsh grass; 19 and behold, seven other cattle came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for ugliness.20 The thin and ugly cattle ate up the first seven fat cattle; 21 and when they had eaten them up, it couldn’t be known that they had eaten them, but they were still ugly, as at the beginning. So I awoke. 22 I saw in my dream, and behold, seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, full and good; 23 and behold, seven heads of grain, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads of grain. I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”
25 Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dream of Pharaoh is one. What God is about to do he has declared to Pharaoh. 26 The seven good cattle are seven years; and the seven good heads of grain are seven years. The dream is one. 27 The seven thin and ugly cattle that came up after them are seven years, and also the seven empty heads of grain blasted with the east wind; they will be seven years of famine. 28 That is the thing which I have spoken to Pharaoh. God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Behold, seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt are coming. 30 Seven years of famine will arise after them, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will not be known in the land by reason of that famine which follows; for it will be very grievous. 32 The dream was doubled to Pharaoh, because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.
33 “Now therefore let Pharaoh look for a discreet and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt’s produce in the seven plenteous years. 35 Let them gather all the food of these good years that come, and store grain under the hand of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 The food will be to supply the land against the seven years of famine, which will be in the land of Egypt; so that the land will not perish through the famine.”
37 The thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants. 38 Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Because God has shown you all of this, there is no one so discreet and wise as you. 40 You shall be over my house. All my people will be ruled according to your word. Only in the throne I will be greater than you.” 41 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand, and put it on Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in robes of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 He made him ride in the second chariot which he had. They cried before him, “Bow the knee!” He set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh. Without you, no man shall lift up his hand or his foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45 Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-Paneah. He gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On as a wife. Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.
So is this the ultimate rags-to-riches story or what? The kidnapped slave who became a prisoner – unjustly imprisoned and forgotten – is suddenly and inexplicably handed the keys to the kingdom, second only to the Pharoah in power and glory throughout the entire land of Egypt. Incredible.
Does this serve as a faith-strengthening lesson in the power of God’s blessings and the virtue of patience and reliance on him? For over 12 years, Joseph experienced one completely undeserved hardship after another. And now, rather than rotting in an Egyptian prison, he’s serving as Pharoah’s right hand man, the second most powerful man in the nation. And all because he kept considering Jehovah’s thoughts and feelings ahead of his own, and gave Jehovah all the credit for the blessings he received. And, despite all the power he now has, we’ll see that trend continue unabated.
46 Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt. 47 In the seven plenteous years the earth produced abundantly. 48 He gathered up all the food of the seven years which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities. He stored food in each city from the fields around that city. 49 Joseph laid up grain as the sand of the sea, very much, until he stopped counting, for it was without number. 50 To Joseph were born two sons before the year of famine came, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him.51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh, “For”, he said, “God has made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.” 52 The name of the second, he called Ephraim: “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
53 The seven years of plenty, that were in the land of Egypt, came to an end. 54 The seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread, and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.” 56 The famine was over all the surface of the earth. Joseph opened all the store houses, and sold to the Egyptians. The famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 All countries came into Egypt, to Joseph, to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all the earth.
Just to recap, in line with Pharoah’s dreams and Joseph’s God-inspired interpretation of them, Joseph spent the next seven years of plenty in Egypt gathering as much of the excess grain as he possibly could into storehouses in preparation for the coming seven years of famine. Then, when the famine came – right on time, exactly as predicted – Egypt was well prepared because there was plenty of stored up grain for the Egyptian population AND many people from surrounding nations. No doubt, Joseph’s reputation grew even grander as all this came about.
We’re getting back into chronological order at this point as the seven-year famine occurs approximately 10 years after Isaac’s death. So Joseph was in Egypt – as slave, prisoner, and government official – for over 20 years before what occurs in the next few chapters takes place.
So, from hundreds of miles away, a drama begins to unfold as Jacob hears that Egypt has grain in the midst of this great famine. So he sends his sons – you know, the ones who sold Joseph into slavery and lied about it to their dad – to Egypt to buy grain. Guess who they have to deal with?
1 Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” 2 He said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there, and buy for us from there, so that we may live, and not die.” 3 Joseph’s ten brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob didn’t send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers; for he said, “Lest perhaps harm happen to him.” 5 The sons of Israel came to buy among those who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. 6 Joseph was the governor over the land. It was he who sold to all the people of the land. Joseph’s brothers came, and bowed themselves down to him with their faces to the earth. 7 Joseph saw his brothers, and he recognized them, but acted like a stranger to them, and spoke roughly with them. He said to them, “Where did you come from?”
They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.”
Be honest, if you were in Joseph’s place, wouldn’t you mess with your brothers’ heads a little bit? I know I would. :)
8 Joseph recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him. 9 Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed about them, and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land.”
10 They said to him, “No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all one man’s sons; we are honest men. Your servants are not spies.”
12 He said to them, “No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land!”
13 They said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is today with our father, and one is no more.”
14 Joseph said to them, “It is like I told you, saying, ‘You are spies!’ 15 By this you shall be tested. By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go out from here, unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of you, and let him get your brother, and you shall be bound, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you, or else by the life of Pharaoh surely you are spies.” 17 He put them all together into custody for three days.
Hee hee… that must have been fun. But he’s not done. In fact, he’s not goofing around at all. He’s testing them…
18 Joseph said to them the third day, “Do this, and live, for I fear God. 19 If you are honest men, then let one of your brothers be bound in your prison; but you go, carry grain for the famine of your houses. 20 Bring your youngest brother to me; so will your words be verified, and you won’t die.”
They did so. 21 They said to one another, “We are certainly guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us, and we wouldn’t listen. Therefore this distress has come upon us.” 22 Reuben answered them, saying, “Didn’t I tell you, saying, ‘Don’t sin against the child,’ and you wouldn’t listen? Therefore also, behold, his blood is required.” 23 They didn’t know that Joseph understood them; for there was an interpreter between them. 24 He turned himself away from them, and wept. Then he returned to them, and spoke to them, and took Simeon from among them, and bound him before their eyes. 25 Then Joseph gave a command to fill their bags with grain, and to restore each man’s money into his sack, and to give them food for the way. So it was done to them.
So what type of test is Joseph pitting against his brothers? We get a clue from his reaction to their conversation among themselves (when they didn’t think the Egyptians could understand them.) Even after close to 20 years, Joseph’s 10 half-brothers’ consciences are paining them over what they did to him. Reuben is still pulling out the “I told you so,” that he’s probably been pulling out the entire time. And that fact brings Joseph momentarily to tears.
He’s testing them to see if they’ve repented from their sins and turned around. This conversation was a good sign, but there’s a lot more testing needed before he’s convinced.
26 They loaded their donkeys with their grain, and departed from there. 27 As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey food in the lodging place, he saw his money. Behold, it was in the mouth of his sack. 28 He said to his brothers, “My money is restored! Behold, it is in my sack!” Their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” 29 They came to Jacob their father, to the land of Canaan, and told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly with us, and took us for spies of the country. 31 We said to him, ‘We are honest men. We are no spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is today with our father in the land of Canaan.’ 33 The man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your houses, and go your way.34 Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I will know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. So I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land.’ ”
35 As they emptied their sacks, behold, each man’s bundle of money was in his sack. When they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid.36 Jacob, their father, said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children! Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin away. All these things are against me.”
37 Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “Kill my two sons, if I don’t bring him to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him to you again.”
38 He said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he only is left. If harm happens to him along the way in which you go, then you will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.”
This must have been incredibly stressful for everyone involved. Not only did they have the fear of God put in them by the governor in Egypt (who they didn’t realize was Joseph), but they made it halfway home with plenty of grain before realizing they still had all the money they had brought, meaning they’d technically stolen grain from the guy who had already accused them of being spies and had kept Simeon prisoner until they returned with their youngest brother, Benjamin. Then, of course, Jacob says, “no way Jose! You’re not taking Benji too!”
And so, they all sit tight, no doubt stewing in stress as they eat their stolen grain.
Side Note: I believe this is the first time the term “Sheol” has appeared in the text, so it’s a good time to lay down the official definition. “Sheol” is a Hebrew word that refers to “the place of the dead” or “where the dead reside”. However, it’s important to understand that ancient Hebrew and Jewish traditions contained no concept of life in some spirit realm after death or of any kind of eternal torment in a fiery Hell. Yet some translations try to use the Bible’s repeated use of the Hebrew word “Sheol” (and the Greek word “Hades”, which means the same thing,) as a linguistic support for the completely unscriptural doctrine of Hell.
The most accurate modern English rendering of “Sheol” is “the grave” – whether referring to the literal place in the ground where an individual’s dead body is buried or the figurative state of inactivity that the grave represents. No one is currently suffering – or doing anything else – in Sheol.
After some time passes and the food runs out again, Jacob is forced to reconsider:
1 The famine was severe in the land. 2 When they had eaten up the grain which they had brought out of Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little more food.”
3 Judah spoke to him, saying, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you’ll send our brother with us, we’ll go down and buy you food; 5 but if you don’t send him, we won’t go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’ ”
6 Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly, telling the man that you had another brother?”
7 They said, “The man asked directly concerning ourselves, and concerning our relatives, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?’ We just answered his questions. Is there any way we could know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down?’ ”
8 Judah said to Israel, his father, “Send the boy with me, and we’ll get up and go, so that we may live, and not die, both we, and you, and also our little ones. 9 I’ll be collateral for him. From my hand will you require him. If I don’t bring him to you, and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever; 10 for if we hadn’t delayed, surely we would have returned a second time by now.”
Let’s be fair to Judah now. A few chapters ago, I spent a long time explaining what an immoral shmoe this guy was. But at this point – likely at the age of around 25-30, since he still speaks of his sons Er, Onan, and Shelah as “little ones” – he’s literally placing his life on the line for the sake of his extended family and taking responsibility for the health and well-being of his youngest half-brother, Benjamin, in order to secure Jacob’s approval of taking Benjamin along with them to get grain in Egypt. That’s pretty cool.
11 Their father, Israel, said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: Take from the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry down a present for the man, a little balm, a little honey, spices and myrrh, nuts, and almonds; 12 and take double money in your hand, and take back the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take your brother also, get up, and return to the man. 14 May God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release to you your other brother and Benjamin. If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”
15 The men took that present, and they took double money in their hand, and Benjamin; and got up, went down to Egypt, and stood before Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and butcher an animal, and prepare; for the men will dine with me at noon.”
17 The man did as Joseph commanded, and the man brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 The men were afraid, because they were brought to Joseph’s house; and they said, “Because of the money that was returned in our sacks the first time, we’re brought in; that he may seek occasion against us, attack us, and seize us as slaves, along with our donkeys.” 19 They came near to the steward of Joseph’s house, and they spoke to him at the door of the house, 20 and said, “Oh, my lord, we indeed came down the first time to buy food. 21 When we came to the lodging place, we opened our sacks, and behold, each man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. We have brought it back in our hand. 22 We have brought down other money in our hand to buy food. We don’t know who put our money in our sacks.”
23 He said, “Peace be to you. Don’t be afraid. Your God, and the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks. I received your money.” He brought Simeon out to them. 24 The man brought the men into Joseph’s house, and gave them water, and they washed their feet. He gave their donkeys fodder. 25 They prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there.
26 When Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves down to the earth before him. 27 He asked them of their welfare, and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he yet alive?”
28 They said, “Your servant, our father, is well. He is still alive.” They bowed down humbly. 29 He lifted up his eyes, and saw Benjamin, his brother, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?” He said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Joseph hurried, for his heart yearned over his brother; and he sought a place to weep. He entered into his room, and wept there. 31 He washed his face, and came out. He controlled himself, and said, “Serve the meal.”
32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians don’t eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 33 They sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth, and the men marveled with one another. 34 He sent portions to them from before him, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. They drank, and were merry with him.
Talk about mind games: Joseph’s brothers can’t have known what to think at this point. They expected the worst and came down to Egypt scared to death. Then, instead of being yelled at again, or arrested, or executed, they’re wined and dined and blessed by this odd Egyptian governor.
Meanwhile, Joseph is having a hard time containing his emotions, but there’s still one more major test needed. So, he keeps up the charade:
1 He commanded the steward of his house, saying, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in his sack’s mouth.2 Put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth of the youngest, with his grain money.” He did according to the word that Joseph had spoken. 3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their donkeys. 4 When they had gone out of the city, and were not yet far off, Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men. When you overtake them, ask them, ‘Why have you rewarded evil for good? 5 Isn’t this that from which my lord drinks, and by which he indeed divines? You have done evil in so doing.’ ” 6 He overtook them, and he spoke these words to them.
7 They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing! 8 Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks’ mouths, we brought again to you out of the land of Canaan. How then should we steal silver or gold out of your lord’s house? 9 With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.”
10 He said, “Now also let it be according to your words. He with whom it is found will be my slave; and you will be blameless.”
11 Then they hurried, and each man took his sack down to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 He searched, beginning with the oldest, and ending at the youngest. The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and each man loaded his donkey, and returned to the city.
To quickly recap, here’s the final test: Joseph had his own silver cup – evidently both a valuable object in its own right, and a superstitiously powerful symbol to the Egyptians – secretly placed in Benjamin’s bag before the brothers left with their new supply of grain. Then, he has his steward chase after them and “find” the cup after the brothers agree that, if the cup is found among them, whoever stole it should die, or at least become a slave. So, once the cup is found, they really freak out and all go back with Benjamin to Egypt.
Did Joseph actually “divine” using his silver cup? As we know from earlier chapters, Jehovah empowered Joseph to understand and interpret dreams, using him as a prophet to foretell the future when it suited His will. Combining that knowledge with what we learn elsewhere in the scriptures about God’s view of human “foretellers of events” – all of whom relied on the power of demons to accomplish their feats unless they too were prophets of God – we can safely assume that Joseph did not actually use his silver cup to tell the future. However, it’s reasonable to believe that the highly superstitious Egyptians who were understandably in awe of Joseph likely attributed his miraculous foresight to spiritistic causes, and even that he allowed such an erroneous understanding to spread instead of placing his own position and authority in jeopardy by insisting that the Egyptians recognize the power of his God, Jehovah.
14 Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, and he was still there. They fell on the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Don’t you know that such a man as I can indeed do divination?”
16 Judah said, “What will we tell my lord? What will we speak? How will we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants. Behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and he also in whose hand the cup is found.”
17 He said, “Far be it from me that I should do so. The man in whose hand the cup is found, he will be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
So, finally, we reach the crux of the final test: Joseph is giving the ten sons of Jacob, who had hated him so much 20 years earlier that they sold him into slavery and pretended he’d died, the opportunity to save themselves by doing the same thing again to Benjamin. Was Benjamin now Jacob’s favorite? It’s possible, since Joseph was called Jacob’s favorite because “he was the child of his old age,” and Benjamin was born when Jacob was even older. So how would the brothers react?
18 Then Judah came near to him, and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and don’t let your anger burn against your servant; for you are even as Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ 20 We said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother; and his father loves him.’ 21 You said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 We said to my lord, ‘The boy can’t leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 You said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will see my face no more.’ 24 When we came up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 Our father said, ‘Go again and buy us a little food.’ 26 We said, ‘We can’t go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down: for we may not see the man’s face, unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Your servant, my father, said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn in pieces;” and I haven’t seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.’ 30 Now therefore when I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us; since his life is bound up in the boy’s life; 31 it will happen, when he sees that the boy is no more, that he will die. Your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant, our father, with sorrow to Sheol. 32 For your servant became collateral for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I don’t bring him to you, then I will bear the blame to my father forever.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant stay instead of the boy, my lord’s slave; and let the boy go up with his brothers. 34 For how will I go up to my father, if the boy isn’t with me?—lest I see the evil that will come on my father.”
Impressive. Judah steps up and offers to take Benjamin’s place as a slave to the Egyptian governor rather than cause his father Jacob any more pain by once again returning without his favorite son. This is all Joseph needed to hear.
1 Then Joseph couldn’t control himself before all those who stood before him, and he called out, “Cause everyone to go out from me!” No one else stood with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 He wept aloud. The Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Does my father still live?”
His brothers couldn’t answer him; for they were terrified at his presence. 4 Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.”
They came near. He said, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 Now don’t be grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are yet five years, in which there will be no plowing and no harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to save you alive by a great deliverance. 8 So now it wasn’t you who sent me here, but God, and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry, and go up to my father, and tell him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says, “God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me. Don’t wait. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you will be near to me, you, your children, your children’s children, your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you; for there are yet five years of famine; lest you come to poverty, you, and your household, and all that you have.” ’ 12 Behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. You shall hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 He fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. 15 He kissed all his brothers, and wept on them. After that his brothers talked with him.
16 The report of it was heard in Pharaoh’s house, saying, “Joseph’s brothers have come.” It pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants. 17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals, and go, travel to the land of Canaan. 18 Take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and you will eat the fat of the land.’ 19 Now you are commanded to do this: Take wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. 20 Also, don’t concern yourselves about your belongings, for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours.”
21 The sons of Israel did so. Joseph gave them wagons, according to the commandment of Pharaoh, and gave them provision for the way. 22 He gave each one of them changes of clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothing. 23 He sent the following to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and provision for his father by the way. 24 So he sent his brothers away, and they departed. He said to them, “See that you don’t quarrel on the way.”
25 They went up out of Egypt, and came into the land of Canaan, to Jacob their father. 26 They told him, saying, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” His heart fainted, for he didn’t believe them. 27 They told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them. When he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob, their father, revived. 28 Israel said, “It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
So, in what was no doubt a very awkward and difficult reunion, Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers and then invites them to go get Jacob and all their households and come down to Egypt for the remaining five years of famine he knew was coming. And Pharoah – who obviously loved Joseph like a brother at this point – agrees and offers the Hebrews “the good of all the land of Egypt.”
As Joseph clarifies for us – just in case we hadn’t yet figured it out – this entire series of unfortunate events, from Joseph’s unjust enslavement to his brothers needing to go to Egypt to buy food, has all been according to Jehovah’s plan to save the descendants of Abraham through the seven-year famine. He had promised Abraham (then Isaac, then Jacob,) that his descendants would eventually become a great nation. But if He hadn’t made special arrangements by means of Joseph, Abraham’s line would likely have died off before this awful famine finished.
This kind of intricate manipulation of people and events in the outworking of His will – and the prophecies that foretell its outcome – is a constant feature throughout the Bible. While some may enjoy talking about “luck” or “coincidence,” and, granted, there’s a place for those concepts in this crazy world, there are simply too many grand schemes of this nature recorded in the Bible over the course of human history to discount them all as having occurred by chance.
On the way to Egypt, Jacob – now nearly 130 years old – receives a final direct message from Jehovah. And, it’s a good thing too: Here Jacob was getting ready to leave the land he’d been told his family would inherit out of necessity (and desire to see Joseph) because of the famine. What would Jehovah think of his actions? Was he doing the right thing?
1 Israel traveled with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac. 2 God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob!”
He said, “Here I am.”
3 He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Don’t be afraid to go down into Egypt, for there I will make of you a great nation. 4 I will go down with you into Egypt. I will also surely bring you up again. Joseph’s hand will close your eyes.”
Man, wouldn’t it be awesome if God would speak to us every time we’re concerned about whether or not we’re making the right decision? This must have felt good for an old man who’d been through a heck of a lot in his 130 years of life. It also serves as Jehovah’s first foretelling of what would eventually become know as “The Exodus” of the nation of Israel out of Egypt.
5 Jacob rose up from Beersheba, and the sons of Israel carried Jacob, their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him. 6 They took their livestock, and their goods, which they had gotten in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt—Jacob, and all his offspring with him, 7 his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters, and he brought all his offspring with him into Egypt.
Next, as he’s wont to do, Moses falls back into a detailed genealogical listing of all the male members of Jacob’s extended family who made the trip into Egypt, ending up with a total count of 70 – not counting all the wives, daughters, servants, and livestock.
8 These are the names of the children of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons: Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn. 9 The sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. 10 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman. 11 The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 12 The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah; but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. The sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. 13 The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Iob, and Shimron. 14 The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. 15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan Aram, with his daughter Dinah. All the souls of his sons and his daughters were thirty-three. 16 The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. 17 The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and Serah their sister. The sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. 18 These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah, his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob, even sixteen souls. 19 The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin. 20 To Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. 21 The sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. 22 These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob: all the souls were fourteen. 23 The son of Dan: Hushim. 24 The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. 25 These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel, his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob: all the souls were seven. 26 All the souls who came with Jacob into Egypt, who were his direct offspring, in addition to Jacob’s sons’ wives, all the souls were sixty-six. 27 The sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two souls. All the souls of the house of Jacob, who came into Egypt, were seventy.
28 Jacob sent Judah before him to Joseph, to show the way before him to Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. 29 Joseph prepared his chariot, and went up to meet Israel, his father, in Goshen. He presented himself to him, and fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive.”
31 Joseph said to his brothers, and to his father’s house, “I will go up, and speak with Pharaoh, and will tell him, ‘My brothers, and my father’s house, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 These men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.’ 33 It will happen, when Pharaoh summons you, and will say, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 that you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we, and our fathers:’ that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”
1 Then Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, and said, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks, their herds, and all that they own, have come out of the land of Canaan; and behold, they are in the land of Goshen.” 2 From among his brothers he took five men, and presented them to Pharaoh. 3 Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?”
They said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, both we, and our fathers.” 4 They also said to Pharaoh, “We have come to live as foreigners in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks. For the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now therefore, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.”
5 Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, saying, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. 6 The land of Egypt is before you. Make your father and your brothers dwell in the best of the land. Let them dwell in the land of Goshen. If you know any able men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock.”
The Land of Goshen was most likely on the eastern side of the Nile delta, and it was actually among the best land Egypt had to offer: fertile, temperate, and perfect for raising livestock. The fact that Egyptians apparently considered shepherds to be an inferior group who they didn’t want to associate with only helped protect and insulate the descendants of Jacob all the more so as their numbers grew over the years they remained in Egypt.
7 Joseph brought in Jacob, his father, and set him before Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8 Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How old are you?”
9 Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are one hundred thirty years. The days of the years of my life have been few and evil. They have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” 10 Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from the presence of Pharaoh.
11 Joseph placed his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all of his father’s household with bread, according to the sizes of their families.
It’s safe to assume at this point that Jacob, his sons, and his sons’ families are safe and well cared for for the remains of the famine. The rest of Egypt, on the other hand…
13 There was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan fainted by reason of the famine. 14 Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the grain which they bought: and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. 15 When the money was all spent in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph, and said, “Give us bread, for why should we die in your presence? For our money fails.”
16 Joseph said, “Give me your livestock; and I will give you food for your livestock, if your money is gone.”
17 They brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses, and for the flocks, and for the herds, and for the donkeys: and he fed them with bread in exchange for all their livestock for that year. 18 When that year was ended, they came to him the second year, and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord how our money is all spent, and the herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands.19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants to Pharaoh. Give us seed, that we may live, and not die, and that the land won’t be desolate.”
20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for every man of the Egyptians sold his field, because the famine was severe on them, and the land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he moved them to the cities from one end of the border of Egypt even to the other end of it. 22 Only he didn’t buy the land of the priests, for the priests had a portion from Pharaoh, and ate their portion which Pharaoh gave them. That is why they didn’t sell their land. 23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh. Behold, here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 It will happen at the harvests, that you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four parts will be your own, for seed of the field, for your food, for them of your households, and for food for your little ones.”
25 They said, “You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s servants.”
26 Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth. Only the land of the priests alone didn’t become Pharaoh’s.
So, for lack of a better term, Joseph negotiated one of the biggest real estate schemes in the history of mankind: In exchange for food (literally, their lives) he took possession of all the Egyptians’ livestock and all the Egyptians’ land, and he arranged for the entire nation (minus the priests) to pay to Pharoah 20% of everything they ever earned from their land. Incredible business sense. And the Egyptians loved him for it.
27 Israel lived in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen; and they got themselves possessions therein, and were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly. 28 Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were one hundred forty-seven years. 29 The time came near that Israel must die, and he called his son Joseph, and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me. Please don’t bury me in Egypt, 30 but when I sleep with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place.”
Joseph said, “I will do as you have said.”
31 Israel said, “Swear to me,” and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself on the bed’s head.
How time flies… another 17 years fly by and Jacob is on his deathbed. So, in the next chapter, we read the prophetic deathbed “blessings” Jacob has for his sons.
Just as Isaac’s blessings on his children was prophetic and scripturally significant, so are the prophetic blessings of Jacob for his 11 sons and Joseph’s two sons. First, it’s highly significant that Joseph receives the right of the firstborn in that both of his sons are essentially “adopted” as full sons of Jacob from an inheritance standpoint – both of them becoming forefathers of tribes in the nation of Israel. Secondly, the specific “blessings” (which are actually prophecies) that Jacob pronounces for each son will see very detailed, specific fulfillment in the recorded history of the nation of Israel centuries down the line.
1 After these things, someone said to Joseph, “Behold, your father is sick.” He took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 Someone told Jacob, and said, “Behold, your son Joseph comes to you,” and Israel strengthened himself, and sat on the bed. 3 Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful, and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you into Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh, even as Reuben and Simeon, will be mine. 6 Your offspring, whom you become the father of after them, will be yours. They will be called after the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died beside me in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to come to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (also called Bethlehem).”
8 Israel saw Joseph’s sons, and said, “Who are these?”
9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.”
He said, “Please bring them to me, and I will bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he couldn’t see well. Joseph brought them near to him; and he kissed them, and embraced them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I didn’t think I would see your face, and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.”12 Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near to him. 14 Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 He blessed Joseph, and said,
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has fed me all my life long to this day,
16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads,
and let my name be named on them,
and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac.
Let them grow into a multitude upon the earth.”
17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him. He held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.”
19 His father refused, and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also will become a people, and he also will be great. However, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his offspring will become a multitude of nations.” 20 He blessed them that day, saying, “Israel will bless in you, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh’ ” He set Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you, and bring you again to the land of your fathers.22 Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.”
Although Joseph didn’t understand or appreciate it at the time, Jacob was apparently moved by Holy Spirit to prophetically note that Ephraim would end up more powerful than Manasseh despite Manasseh being the firstborn. This doesn’t appear to be any sort of punishment of Joseph or the kids, but rather a prophetic pronouncement that ended up being fulfilled in the fact that Ephraim eventually became the most prominent tribe of the 10-tribe northern kingdom of Israel.
Chapter 49 is made up entirely of Jacob’s prophetic blessings of his sons, so I’ll note each prophecy’s scriptural fulfillment(s) after it:
1 Jacob called to his sons, and said: “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which will happen to you in the days to come.
2 Assemble yourselves, and hear, you sons of Jacob.
Listen to Israel, your father.
3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength;
excelling in dignity, and excelling in power.
4 Boiling over like water, you shall not excel;
because you went up to your father’s bed,
then defiled it. He went up to my couch.
In this “blessing”, Jacob calls Reuben out for having jumped Bilhah’s bones decades earlier. Who knows if Jacob ever actually confronted Reuben about this in earlier years, but he was obviously still stewing about it inwardly. Describing Reuben as “boiling over like water,” Jacob was identifying the lack of self-control that apparently led to Reuben’s inappropriate union with his father’s concubine. By saying, “you shall not excel,” Jacob confirms what Reuben likely already knew: that he had lost his rights as firstborn and would receive no special attention in the inheritance of Jacob’s wealth.
5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers.
Their swords are weapons of violence.
6 My soul, don’t come into their council.
My glory, don’t be united to their assembly;
for in their anger they killed men.
In their self-will they hamstrung cattle.
7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce;
and their wrath, for it was cruel.
I will divide them in Jacob,
and scatter them in Israel.
In this “blessing”, Jacob again brings up another painful memory to indicate how serious of an effect it would have on his sons’ futures. Simeon and Levi were the two brothers who committed mass murder in the city of Shechem in response to their sister, Dinah’s, rape by a prominent inhabitant of that city. As Jacob notes, “their anger was fierce, and their wrath… was cruel.” As a result, he says, “I will divide them… and scatter them in Israel.” Over 200 years later, when the Promised Land is being divided up among the 12 tribes of Israel, both the tribe of Simeon and the tribe of Levi ended up receiving a number of cities within the boundaries of other tribes’ land, rather than a land inheritance of their own. In that way, Jacob’s deathbed prophecy was aptly fulfilled.
8 “Judah, your brothers will praise you.
Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies.
Your father’s sons will bow down before you.
9 Judah is a lion’s cub.
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down, he crouched as a lion,
as a lioness.
Who will rouse him up?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs.
To him will the obedience of the peoples be.
11 Binding his foal to the vine,
his donkey’s colt to the choice vine;
he has washed his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be red with wine,
his teeth white with milk.
Using both prophetic and poetic language, Jacob is here describing Judah’s destiny to be an ancestor of royalty. Even early in the history of Israel as a nation, the tribe of Judah and its representatives often took a leading role in national activities. But it wasn’t until King David took the throne that “the scepter” became Judah’s and “would not depart.” Although the Davidic royal line only lasted for around 1000 years before ceasing to exist, his foremost descendant was none other than Jesus Christ. And, as King of God’s Kingdom, Jesus continues to provide proof of the fulfillment of Jacob’s deathbed prophecy about the scepter never leaving Judah. Interestingly, in support of this understanding, Revelation 5:5 describes Jesus Christ in his heavenly role as “the lion of the tribe of Judah.”
13 “Zebulun will dwell at the haven of the sea.
He will be for a haven of ships.
His border will be on Sidon.
The eventual land allotment given to the tribe of Zebulun was situated at the far north of the Promised Land, near the traditional border of the land of Sidon, and was between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, giving Zebulun easy access to both bodies of water.
14 “Issachar is a strong donkey,
lying down between the saddlebags.
15 He saw a resting place, that it was good,
the land, that it was pleasant.
He bows his shoulder to the burden,
and becomes a servant doing forced labor.
Well, this doesn’t sound good. But, it actually is. While we tend to associate donkeys with the trait of stubbornness and “forced labor” with oppression, they were both actually viewed quite differently in Jacob’s time. The donkey was a hard-working beast of burden that could be relied on to keep pushing – no matter what the day presented – until the work was done. Likewise, a servant doing “forced labor” willingly and effectively – as Jacob describes Issachar “bowing his shoulder to the burden,” – was highly valued and appreciated. The tribe of Issachar eventually inherited a very fertile portion of the Promised Land, but taking full advantage of that provision would require a legacy of consistent hard work, which Issachar’s descendants apparently willingly and admirably took on.
16 “Dan will judge his people,
as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 Dan will be a serpent on the trail,
an adder in the path,
That bites the horse’s heels,
so that his rider falls backward.
18 I have waited for your salvation, Jehovah.
Again, this sounds a lot worse than it is based on our modern interpretation of the images presented. The idea of “judging” can have a negative connotation today, but in Jacob’s day (and for centuries after) those who were entrusted with judging were highly respected leaders in the community. For many years, “judges” actually served as administrative and military leaders in the nation of Israel, one of the most famous being Samson, a descendant of Dan. Likewise, being compared to a snake in the grass doesn’t sound positive to us today, but Jacob’s prophetic description of Dan as “a serpent in the trail, an adder in the path,” well described the tribe of Dan’s valued position as rear guard during the nation’s wilderness trek, where they had to repeatedly protect the nation with swift, devastating attacks on their enemies.
19 “A troop will press on Gad,
but he will press on their heel.
Short and sweet: In their eventual position with lands to the far east of the Promised Land, the tribe of Gad had a long history of defending the nation against marauding “troops” that tried to “press on” them, and fighting them back, even to the extent of chasing them back to their own lands, in effect, “pressing on their heel.”
20 “Asher’s food will be rich.
He will produce royal dainties.
Again, this one’s short and sweet, with the prophecy referring to the eventual conditions the tribe would enjoy in their land inheritance: Asher received some of the most fertile and abundantly productive land in all of Israel, along the Mediterranean coastal plains for most of the length of the Promised Land. As a result, rich foods, exquisite “dainties” and much wealth was produced by Asher’s descendants.
21 “Naphtali is a doe set free,
who bears beautiful fawns.
By referring to Naphtali as “a doe set free,” Jacob is painting the word picture of a running deer – graceful, swift, and powerful. The tribe of Naphtali proved to be just that as a valiant, mighty, and successful military force in behalf of the nation of Israel on many occasions over the course of their history.
22 “Joseph is a fruitful vine,
a fruitful vine by a spring.
His branches run over the wall.
23 The archers have severely grieved him,
shot at him, and persecuted him:
24 But his bow remained strong.
The arms of his hands were made strong,
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
(from there is the shepherd, the stone of Israel),
25 even by the God of your father, who will help you,
by the Almighty, who will bless you,
with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that lies below,
blessings of the breasts, and of the womb.
26 The blessings of your father have prevailed above the blessings of your ancestors,
above the boundaries of the ancient hills.
They will be on the head of Joseph,
on the crown of the head of him who is separated from his brothers.
Whew! As if everyone didn’t already know Jacob liked Joseph best, there’s this huge mouthful after spending two seconds each on Asher and Naphtali. The allusions to being harassed by archers and needing to climb a wall aptly fit Joseph’s decades-long suffering as a result of his brothers’ animosity. They also well foretold his sons’ descendants in the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim as soldiers who willingly took a leading role in securing the Promised Land from the Canaanites and whose inherited land placed them in a defensive role along the nation’s eastern border. Finally, Joseph’s being “separated from his brothers” was in evidence early on, since he was Jacob’s favorite, and was later confirmed in that he had apparently been singled out for special attention by Jehovah God as well. In the future, Joseph would continue to be “separated from his brothers” in the respect that he received the firstborn’s double share of the inheritance because both of his sons came to be among the 12 tribes of Israel.
27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf.
In the morning he will devour the prey.
At evening he will divide the plunder.”
This is really interesting. On the surface, Jacob’s prophecy regarding Benjamin simply refers to the fact that the tribe of Benjamin proved to be highly skilled in warfare, and a great boon to the nation during its many military battles. However, beyond that, a further more detailed fulfillment involves the “morning” and “evening” that are noted here. In “the morning” (near the beginning) of Israel’s history as a nation, the tribe of Benjamin produced Saul, the nation’s first king and a fierce warrior against Israel’s enemies. Likewise, in “the evening” (near the end) of Israel’s history – after the exile and a relatively short time before the Messiah’s appearance – the tribe of Benjamin produced both Mordecai and Queen Esther who orchestrated the Jews’ victory over forces that wished to stamp them out completely.
28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them, and blessed them. He blessed everyone according to his own blessing. 29 He instructed them, and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite as a burial place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah, his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah, his wife, and there I buried Leah: 32 the field and the cave that is therein, which was purchased from the children of Heth.” 33 When Jacob finished charging his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, breathed his last breath, and was gathered to his people.
With his final task complete, this faithful old man, Jacob, dies while with all 12 of his sons, and likely many more members of his family as well. And he requests that he be buried in the same place where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah were buried: in the cave of Machpelah, back in the Promised Land.
1 Joseph fell on his father’s face, wept on him, and kissed him. 2 Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians, to embalm his father; and the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 Forty days were used for him, for that is how many the days it takes to embalm. The Egyptians wept for Israel for seventy days.
4 When the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to Pharaoh’s staff, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, 5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, “Behold, I am dying. Bury me in my grave which I have dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father, and I will come again.’ ”
6 Pharaoh said, “Go up, and bury your father, just like he made you swear.”
7 Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8 All the house of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s house. Only their little ones, their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen. 9 There went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10 They came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and there they lamented with a very great and severe lamentation. He mourned for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan. 12 His sons did to him just as he commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field, as a possession for a burial site, from Ephron the Hittite, near Mamre. 14 Joseph returned into Egypt—he, and his brothers, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us, and will fully pay us back for all the evil which we did to him.” 16 They sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father commanded before he died, saying, 17 ‘You shall tell Joseph, “Now please forgive the disobedience of your brothers, and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ Now, please forgive the disobedience of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also went and fell down before his face; and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to save many people alive, as is happening today. 21 Now therefore don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little ones.” He comforted them, and spoke kindly to them.
And here we see the final fulfillment of Joseph’s prophetic dreams from back in chapter 37: his brothers, all bowing before him, acknowledging his special role in the outworking of Jehovah’s purposes.
22 Joseph lived in Egypt, he, and his father’s house. Joseph lived one hundred ten years. 23 Joseph saw Ephraim’s children to the third generation. The children also of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born on Joseph’s knees. 24 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am dying, but God will surely visit you, and bring you up out of this land to the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old, and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
And with the death of Joseph, so ends the book of Genesis. The fledgling nation of Israel – now likely several hundred or over a thousand strong – are residing in the beautiful land of Goshen under the protection of a Pharoah who knows and respects Joseph, and who likely has nothing but the best intentions for these descendants of Jacob.
But, regrettably, that ideal situation wouldn’t last for long. The Pharoah that knew and respected Joseph eventually died too, and his successors had a very different view of this massively growing community of Hebrews who were infesting the best land Egypt had to offer. So, as we’ll see in the book of Exodus, the foretold period of “affliction” would continue with the Hebrews being made slaves to the Egyptians.
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You may especially appreciate the “Common Sense” series of booklets regarding specific aspects of scriptural truth:
Why Evolution Makes No Sense (Coming soon)
Why the Holy Trinity Makes No Sense (Coming soon)
Why Belief in an Immortal Soul Makes No Sense (Coming soon)
Why the Idea of Hellfire Makes No Sense (Coming soon)
Why Belief in Predestination Makes No Sense (Coming soon)
Why the Idea of “Once Saved, Always Saved” Makes No Sense (Coming soon)
Why I Believe in the Bible (Coming soon)
â€œIn the beginningâ€ are the first words of the first verse of the first book of The Bible, and their Hebrew translation is where we get the word â€œGenesisâ€. Written approximately 1513 BCE by Moses while the nation of Israel trudged around the Wilderness of Sinai, the book covers the time period between Godâ€™s creation of everything on the Earth to the death of Joseph in about 1657 BCE. Since Genesis was originally the first part of the five-part Torah (or Book of the Law), the end of Genesis flows smoothly into the beginning of the second book, Exodus, which picks up with Jacobâ€™s descendants still in Egypt, where they settled down in Josephâ€™s day. What makes Genesis so interesting and compelling? In many ways, itâ€™s an action-packed story, for one thing. For a mere 50 chapters, itâ€™s got epic sweep and scope. It provides simple answers to incredibly profound questions like, â€œwhy are we here?â€, â€œhow did we get here?â€, and â€œwhy do good people have to suffer?â€ And thatâ€™s all just in the first few chapters. Another reason itâ€™s so interesting is because â€“ unlike some sections of the Bible â€“ it focuses almost exclusively on ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. When we read about Noah building the Ark and surviving the Flood, or about Abraham traveling the Land of Promise at the age of 100, or about Joseph being sent to prison on false charges, we can put ourselves in their positions and relate. Itâ€™s like a good novel in that regard, but itâ€™s more than that too. In the activities of these early peoples, both the incredible and the mundane, we can see how faith works: not just as an abstract concept, but as a living, breathing active force that affects our choices and shapes how we live. While the same can be said of many other Bible books, Genesis is an excellent place to go to immerse yourself in the day-to-day struggles of those who loved Jehovah, and those who didnâ€™t, and to see how each fared in the end. If youâ€™re starting your study of The Bible here at its first book, I encourage you to be open minded. There are aspects of the story â€“ especially in the first several chapters â€“ that will instantly make your BS meter twitch if youâ€™ve always been a strictly rational and scientifically minded person. Believe me when I tell you, I understand your instant inclination to shake your head and say, â€œthis is all just a bunch of crazy fairy tales.â€ But, as I stated in the Foreward, if you read Genesis from the standpoint of believing that it is indeed part of the inspired Word of God, then youâ€™ll have the patience to see your study through and youâ€™ll realize just how accurate it actually is. If you have yet to develop that level of faith and are studying this book purely from an academic point of view, then I understand if I lose you in the first few chapters. All I can say is, every academic enterprise requires you to take something on faith, even if itâ€™s simply the accuracy of the textbook in front of you. Taken from the well-rendered WEB translation, and interspersed with snarky commentary by Bron K.L. Toob, this is the quintessential starting point for an enjoyable daily Bible reading habit. So, regardless of your attitude toward it, I give you the first book of The BKLT Bible: Genesis.