Clarity and concluding Genesis

It is nighttime, and I have time to myself, to reflect, to pray, and just be thankful. My mind was frazzled earlier from being cooped up with my kids, but now it is at ease. I instantly felt relief the moment I saw my husband and was able to get out of the house with him and the kids. Sometimes being inside all day is just not good for the three of us.

I began the final course of my graduate program today, and I was a bit frazzled by that as well. For the first week we are supposed to have already selected a potential project that will be implemented during our field experience. I was having the most difficult time coming up with something. Finally, I did the only thing I know to do when my thoughts are all over the place. I sat down with a good old fashioned piece of paper and pen and started brainstorming. For me, some things just work better the old fashioned way.

I had ten topics on that piece of paper within minutes, and found one that enables me to use my ability to develop people’s talents and skills to the benefit of an organization–leadership training. It only took a few more minutes to find several articles that offered supporting information. I am excited to get started and thank God for giving me this clarity.

I am also thankful for this time alone to read more of Genesis. If a person is to believe in karma, Jacob certainly gets his as the story continues.

After fleeing Laban, Jacob goes into Edom, land of his estranged brother, Esau. These two haven’t seen each other or spoken in almost twenty years. Jacob is understandably hesitant about entering his brothers’ territory–after all of his shady dealings in the past, he has no idea how Esau will receive him (isn’t it interesting how Jacob’s character, particularly in spiritual terms, has flourished while he is no longer under the care of his deceptive mother?). Jacob sends messengers ahead of them, undoubtedly to tell Esau Jacob was on his way through and possibly to see whether or not Esau still had hostility toward his brother. The messenger comes back and informs Jacob that Esau is on his way, with four hundred men, no less. Jacob is afraid–again this shows character development, because before, it seems as though he had no remorse or anything for his actions–and reacts by dividing his company into two camps, so that if Esau’s group attacked one camp, at least the other may have the chance to flee. Jacob sends up a prayer to God. In the morning, he selects from his vast flocks a gift of “choice cuts”: 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 female camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, 10 male donkeys, and a partridge in a pear tree (just kidding). That is a pretty impressive bribe…I mean gift. (Kidding again. I do believe Jacob is showing sincere remorse and is attempting to make good out of his past misdeeds, although he does say “And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’ ” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” Gen. 32:20). I wonder how many animals Jacob had to begin with!

Jacob does not go with the gifts–he sends them ahead with servants/messengers. That night Jacob and his remaining Co. cross into Jabbok, where he sends them and his possessions over the ford first. Here it gets interesting: The Bible states that “a man wrestled with him til daybreak”, and “when the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled the man”.

Seems kind of random, doesn’t it? Who was this man?

Two ideas have been elicited from this passage of Scripture–that this “man” was an angel, or that He was a theophany of God. (Theophany referring to God’s various appearances, either as a man, burning bush, etc). My belief is that the man was God. Why?

Who else could wrench Jacob’s hip from the socket with one touch?

There is also something else from this exchange that boosts my belief that the man was God–it is at this time that Jacob’s name is changed to Israel. The only person who was responsible for name changes in the Bible is God. God instructs the name changes when he is establishing that person’s new identity and purpose in accordance to his will for them, such as with Abram/Abraham–“high father/father of a multitude”–and even Saul/Paul (the Apostle). I do not think any angel ever renamed anyone.

It is also interesting to note that Jacob requests that the man bless him–I do not recall angels blessing anyone, they are simply God’s messengers, who bring to earth prophecy and execute God’s judgment–but I may have to research that one. Also, Jacob asks for the man’s name, but he does not give it. Finally, Jacob names the place where he wrestled Peniel, saying “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Gen. 32:30). Jacob walks away from the encounter, but with a limp. Chapter 32 ends with “Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon”.

Now it is time for Jacob to meet Esau. As Esau approaches, Jacob divides his company yet again, putting the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children second, Rachel and Joseph in the rear. I find this order interesting. Obviously this is how Jacob prioritizes his family and possessions. If Esau were still hostile, his camp would kill all the servants first, meaning two of the mothers of some of Jacob’s children–Bilhah and Zilpah–would have died, followed by Leah, who is still the underdog, with Rachel and Joseph receiving the most protection. However, in an act of submission and humility, Jacob bows seven times (number seven again!) as he approaches Esau.

Apparently time does heal all wounds! Esau receives his brother with great emotion. (Score one for the brothers!). Esau initially refuses the gifts his brother has given him, but Jacob insists, so he accepts them. The two brothers are reconciled and again go their separate ways. Jacob makes his way to Shechem in Canaan, and things get ugly.

Dinah, Jacob’s daughter with Leah, ventures out to make some friends in the city and is raped by Shechem, son of Hamor the Hivite. (That is kind of confusing–a guy named Shechem in the city of Shechem? But I digress). I must say, as a rape survivor any stories of rape are bound to make me bristle, and the thought of a woman marrying her assailant in order to remain remotely pure is absolutely absurd to 20th/21st century me. According to the Bible, Shechem’s heart was drawn to Dinah and he “loved” her–here comes the modern me, because a man who loves a woman does not rape her, but I again digress. Shechem asks his father to secure Dinah as his wife.

Jacob and sons are none too pleased with the situation, obviously. Besides the fact that Dinah has been violated and defiled, it is not proper for her to marry a Hivite. Hamor makes the request to Jacob, and goes so far to ask that all of their company be allowed to intermarry with them. He offers to give Jacob any price he so desires for Dinah.

Dinah’s brothers have vengeance in their hearts already when they respond. They offer to accept Hamor’s invitation to have their families intermarry as long as the Hivites be circumcised.

The problem? That is not their job. God entered into the covenant with Abraham and made circumcision a part of the covenant. Those brothers had no authority to make that determination and offer, hence the deceit.

Hamor and Shechem do not know any better, and they bring this proposal to the men of the city, who agree to it. Shechem appears to have great influence over his father. They also seem to be motivated by greed to accept the deal: “Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours?..” (Gen. 34:23).

All of the men are circumcised, and three days later while they are still healing, Dinah’s brothers go into the city and kill every last one of the men, including Hamor and Shechem, before removing Dinah from the house. They looted the entire city and carry of the women and children and everything from their houses as plunder. Jacob is distressed that his sons have done something that will possibly cause people to look at him unfavorably, but they feel that they are justified in avenging their sister.

Jacob moves on. God has told him to go to Bethel and settle there. Jacob instructs for everyone–this now includes the Shechemites–to get rid of their foreign gods, purify themselves, and change clothes in preparation for the journey. The people do as told. Again this is a sign of development in Jacob. He wants for his entire company to be at their best for God.

Jacob takes the foreign gods and the rings from their ears buried them under an oak tree in Shechem, and they make their way on what could have been a dangerous journey to Bethel. God is with them, and causes terror along the way for any people who may think to harm Israel. During the journey God appears to Jacob again and re-confirms his name change to Israel. Jacob calls the place where God spoke to him Bethel.

Why did God reappear to tell Jacob the same thing he had told him a few chapters ago? Maybe Jacob needed some refreshment and encouragement after his journey. Sometimes when life gets us down, we need an affirmation of God’s faith, and that can come in many ways. In this case, it was God reminding Jacob exactly what he had in store for him. Undoubtedly that gave Jacob the motivation to continue.

I can only imagine how tedious it was traveling with what seems like hundreds of people. Sometimes family trips can get nerve-wracking–and we have the luxury of cars, airplanes, trains, buses, etc., not to mention television and video games to keep kids occupied, rest stops for food, etc.

Remember how Rachel claimed she could not get up when Laban came to search her for the god she had stolen from him? I am not sure, as I thought she was just menstruating, but she could have been referring to her pregnancy. In that case, the time for childbearing has come, and she dies giving birth to her final son, Benjamin. She is buried along the way to Bethlehem, but the trip must continue. At the end of chapter 35, we read that Reuben sleeps with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah; are given a record of Jacob’s sons, organized according to their mother; and find out that Isaac dies at the age of 180 and is buried by Jacob and Esau (there is no mention of Rebekah). After this, a record of Esau’s descendents is given.

Unfortunately, Jacob has not learned anything about parental favoritism and sibling rivalry from his own childhood, and he perpetuates the cycle among his own children. He has settled in Canaan, and Joseph is now 17. The Bible says that Jacob loved Joseph because he had been born in Jacob’s old age–then doesn’t that mean he should have favored Benjamin? Perhaps he did not because Benjamin had been borne of Rachel’s death, I do not know. Either way it goes, Jacob preferred Joseph to his other sons, and they knew it.Jacob made Joseph an ornate coat of many colors, and obviously refused to do the same for his other sons.

Joseph’s ability to have and interpret symbolic dreams infuriates his brothers even more. In Gen. 37:6-7, Joseph tells his brothers:

“He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it”.

He has a second dream, and reveals it to his father and brothers in Gen. 37: 9: “Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

What were the meaning of these dreams? Were they foreshadowing what was going to happen? The first dream depicts his brothers bowing down to him, and they interpret it as such. The second dream has the same tone, with the sun and moon being thought of as being his mother and father. The eleven stars are his brothers.

I wonder if Joseph was aware as to the extent of his brothers’ hatred toward him, and if so, why did he reveal those dreams to them? I don’t know, but the second one pushed them over the edge. They conspired to get rid of him (as I have said before, nothing perverts the mind of men as quickly and consistently as money and/or power).

One day, Joseph’s brothers are tending the flocks near Shechem, and Jacob sends Joseph to check on them. On his way, he met a man who directed him to them… The Bible does not say who that man was, and I am curious as to his identity and significance. As Joseph approaches his brothers make their plan–the initial thought is to kill him, but Reuben steps in to spare his life. According to the Bible, Reuben’s intention was to rescue Joseph and take him back to Jacob.

The brothers strip Joseph of his beloved robe and throw him down into a cistern (well) that has no water, then sit down to eat a meal. As they do so, a caravan of Ishmaelites approaches, and Judah suggests selling Joseph to them. For whatever reason, Reuben is not around during this exchange–he comes back after the transaction has occurred (for twenty shekels of silver). The Ishmaelites take Joseph to Egypt, and now the brothers have to do some damage control.

When Reuben returns and finds Joseph gone, he rips his clothes, a sign of mourning. But the plan continues. The brothers dip Joseph’s coat in the blood of a goat they slaughter and present it to Jacob, saying that they found it that way, enabling him to draw his own conclusion. Jacob’s conclusion is that Joseph had been devoured by an animal, and he is distraught.

It is interesting that those brothers did all of that with that coat, an obvious object of scorn and intense jealousy among them. (No wonder envy and covetousness are sinful behaviors, look what they lead people to do!)

Jacob is inconsolable, and Joseph is sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials.

In Chapter 38 we learn about Judah’s character and bloodline.

It gets kind of confusing:

Judah has left his brothers and gone to stay with a man named Hirah. There he meets, marries, and impregnates a Canaanite woman named Shua. Judah’s firstborn son is named Er, his second son is Onan, and a third son is named Shelah. Judah secures a wife for Er, Tamar. But God determines that Er is wicked and puts him to death. Judah then commands his second son Onan to sleep with Tamar so as to produce an heir for Er. Onan sleeps with her alright, but knowing that whatever baby she produces will not be considered his, he purposefully spills his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. God does not like this, and puts him to death as well. A couple of interesting things from this passage: Onan still has sex with Tamar on more than one occasion, knowing he has no intention on providing an heir for his brother. Why? Possibly because if he had no other heir to contend with (except for his younger brother), he may receive a larger share of his father’s inheritance. Or maybe he just didn’t want to be bothered with raising his brother’s son. I don’t know. Either way, God did not approve.

Judah tells Tamar to live as a widow until his youngest son Shelah grows up… but it does not seem like that is what he wants, for he thinks to himself, “He may die too, just like his brothers”. Did that mean he was waiting to get his hands on Tamar? Let’s see. After awhile, Shua, Judah’s wife, dies. He grieves and goes to Timnah to shear his sheep. Tamar follows him, but covers herself with a veil to disguise her appearance. The Bible says that “For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife” (Gen. 38:14).

When Judah sees her, he thinks she is a prostitute because of the veil. He propositions her, not knowing she is his daughter-in-law. They have to agree to payment terms: He offers to send her a young goat from his flock, but she wants something until then to secure the payment–his seal, cord, and staff. The seal was almost like a fingerprint in terms of its uniqueness, and was hung around the neck by the cord. Judah agrees, sleeps with Tamar, and she achieves her goal of becoming pregnant and this perpetuating his bloodline. Her possession of the seal will enable her to prove that the baby she is carrying belongs to Judah.

When Judah tries to send the goat, he finds that this “shrine prostitute” is a ghost. Three months later, Tamar’s pregnancy is revealed, and Judah is told she is a prostitute. He exclaims, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” I am sure you can guess what happens next–she produces the seal and staff, and Judah, realizing his wrong for not giving her to Shelah, leaves her be and does not sleep with her again. She gives birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah.

Ahh, I am getting to some good stuff, but I am tired. More tomorrow. In the meantime, I find it compelling the deception that has already occurred in this first book of the Bible. It just shows that there is nothing new under the son in terms of humans. This first book has it all–adultery, murder, lying and deceit, sexual sin, alcohol use, you name it!

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