Sacramental Present Truths

This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 36 - Esau's Family, Judah's Sin, and Introduction to Joseph's Story (Chapters 36-40)

As we begin this lesson, from the outset we are going to be skipping around a little as there is a sort of interspersion of parts to this aspect of the story.  Therefore, we will begin this lesson in Chapter 36, then go to Chapter 38, and then revisit Chapter 37 and connect it to Chapters 38-39.  Genesis has been noteworthy for having "intermissions" in the story throughout the narrative, and this one is similar to those as the story of Joseph, which covers pretty much the remainder of the book, is interspersed with a brief genealogy of Esau in Chapter 36 - this will be the last reference to Esau in Genesis - and also a moral transgression by Judah with his daughter-in-law Tamar in Chapter 38.  The structure of this lesson will parse together the parts of Joseph's story that are divided by the Judah account in Chapter 38.

As we begin in Chapter 36, the whole chapter is a genealogy of Esau's family.   After this genealogy, little is said about Esau in Scripture, as he and his descendants have little involvement with the plan of salvation that God is communicating through Scripture.  However, in the extrabiblical texts, Esau is mentioned first in Jasher 56, where he mourns his brother's death and then has a dispute with Joseph over Jacob's burial, as Esau's family is trying to resist the burial.  A battle ensues, and Joseph along with his Egyptian allies, prevail and Jacob is laid to rest.  However, this causes a war that ensues all the way through Jasher 60, when a grandson of Esau's, Zepho, is said to have fled from the Egyptians and somehow becomes a ruler in Italy.  Esau is recorded in Jasher 56:64 as being killed in battle by Dan's son Chushim, and he is decapitated at that time just prior to Jacob's burial.  So, then, it is the extrabiblical sources that record the death of Esau rather than Genesis, but this is understandable as again Esau's lineage plays little part in the overall plan of salvation recorded in Scripture itself (references to Jasher from Ken Johnson, The Ancient Book of Jasher.  Olathe, KS:  Biblefacts Ministries, 2008.  pp. 126-141).  

Returning to the Genesis account, the genealogy of Esau is summarized in the chart below regarding Genesis 36:1-30:

Esau had 3 wives, all of whom are documented in this passage - Adah was a daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah the daughter of a man named Ana, and Basemath is Ishmael's daughter.  The chart above though misdocumented one thing - Eliphaz, Esau's son, had Amalek as a son by one of his concubines Timnah, and the others mentioned are also Eliphaz's rather than Esau's sons.  Amalek would later by the progenitor of his own nation, the Amalekites, who would figure prominently during the era of the Judges later as the early Israelites had to contend a lot with the Amalekites in the land of Canaan.

From verses 31 to the end of the chapter, there are a list of Edomite kings that extends for several generations, and no doubt this was included in the Genesis account to provide background for the later dealings that Moses and his successors would have in Canaan with Edom and others.  It is also worth mention that a later descendant of Esau would rule Judah - during the Hasmonean period many centuries later, as the Hasmoneans began to have internal conflicts among themselves and Rome was starting to take advantage, an opportunist named Antipater seizes the opportunity to court Rome and gain influence over the Judean court, and eventually he even marries one of his sons to a daughter of one of the Hasmoneans.  Antipater was an Idumaean, which means he was from a region east of the Dead Sea called Idumaea, which is a Latinized name for Edom, the land of Esau's descendants.  In essence, Antipater was a descendant of Esau, and his sons, the Herodians, would rule the region for at least three generations.  Although adopting the Jewish religion (at least outwardly) and gaining favor with the Sadduccee caste in Palestine at the time, the Herodians were thoroughly Edomite in origin.  It was one of the few times a descendant of Esau ruled over the children of Israel, but many centuries later.

Proceeding now to Chapter 38, we have the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar.  The story starts with Judah taking a Canaanite woman by the name of Shua as a wife, and she bears him three sons - Er, Onan, and Shelah.  When Er, Judah's oldest, comes of age, he arranges a marriage for him with a beautiful local girl named Tamar.  However, Er is apparently not a nice guy, as the Scriptural account in this chapter records him as being evil, and a course of divine judgment ends his life.  As was the custom, the widow Tamar is then given to the next brother, Onan.  Onan apparently has some scruples about him, and doesn't feel right about the arrangement, and rather than consummating his marriage with Tamar, he instead ejaculates his sperm on the ground.  This action of Onan's is also seen as evil by God, as there would soon be strict commandments against this sort of thing in later Mosaic law as recorded in Leviticus, so Onan loses his life in judgment as well.  Tamar is promised by Judah to the third son, Shelah, but Shelah is still too young yet to marry.  Therefore, until Shelah comes of age, Tamar is sent back to her family.   In the same time period, Judah's wife Shua dies, and in order to cope with the loss and as part of the mourning process, Judah goes to the nearby area of Timnah to sheer sheep with his herdsmen.  Tamar finds out that Judah is in the area, and fearing for her own lack of posterity and the fact that she would be much older than her betrothed, she conspires to seduce Judah into bearing children by dressing up as a prostitute and seducing him.

Obviously, consorting with whores was wrong, and Judah should have known better.  However, he decided to indulge himself of some "pleasure," and negotiates to pay Tamar (whose identity is hidden) a goat in payment for her "services."  Knowing full well what she was doing, Tamar coyly makes Judah pledge on the payment by asking for his signet ring and staff (signs of his authority) as collateral until payment is made, and Judah obliges her.   Judah's tryst with Tamar results in a pregnancy, which was her plan, and this presents a problem.  When Judah tries to pay the supposed whore for her "services" by sending the goat to her, she is nowhere to be found and the local people know of no prostitutes in their town.  However, in due time Judah does learn of the pregnancy, and he initially wants her killed as a penalty for her fornication (since she was legally betrothed to Judah's son Shelah, technically this would have been considered an act of adultery).

Upon demanding the father of the child's identity, Tamar sends to Judah his own staff and ring with a message that they belong to the father.  Judah by this time feels stupid about it, and despite the embarrassment caused by the whole incident, he acknowledges what he did and never "knew" her again.  In due course of time though, Tamar gives birth, and she ends up having twins.  When the first - Zerah - puts out his hand, Tamar ties a scarlet thread around it, but the hand withdraws and the actual first-born - Perez - comes out first instead.  Perez would be the line from which eventually all the kings of Israel and Judah, as well as the future Messiah, would come.

Going back to Chapter 37, we now begin the story of Joseph, which will dominate the remainder of Genesis.  Joseph was first off a dreamer of dreams, and this is something that cannot be underestimated even today.  God often communicates to people, both in Biblical times and throughout history to today, through the imagery of dreams, and it is important not to dismiss dreams when one has them.  Now, obviously not all dreams are words from God - some are the result of too much Chinese food eaten too late, and others are just more or less a representation of things that may be on the person's mind which sort of manifest themselves in dream sequences.  However, there are times when dreams do carry significance, and it is important to maybe pay attention to them because they may be revealing something to us from God.  Joseph was one of those people who not only had the special vocation of being a "dreamer of dreams" but also he had a gift of understanding what he dreamed as well.  It is these dreams which form the impetus of the classic "rags to riches" story of Joseph that we will also continue to read about in the next couple of lessons.

The first part of the chapter shows that Joseph was a favorite of his father Jacob - he was the oldest son of his beloved wife Rachel, and probably a lot about Joseph reminded Jacob of her too.  Therefore, being a younger son and also the oldest of Rachel's, he was also spoiled to a degree too.  One of the gifts his father gave him was a vividly multi-colored coat.  Over the years, as people learned this story in Sunday Schools, it inspired a lot of creativity  - country star Dolly Parton even composed a song called "Coat of Many Colors" that was inspired by this story as it related to her poor Appalachian childhood, and of course megachurches throughout the United States have staged productions of a popular retelling of the story in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.   In the story though, we see a greater typology as many Church Fathers (notably Chrysostom) also observed - Jacob's love for Joseph prefigures God the Father's love for His only begotten Son, Jesus.  Many parallels of Jesus can be seen later in the life of Joseph as well, which will be discussed at appropriate sections of this study. 

Jacob's lavishing attention on Joseph was not lost in sight of his brothers, as they, through envy, grew to hate him.  Fueling this growing resentment further was a series of dreams Joseph had about his brothers and him - dreams of sheaths of wheat bowing to his, and the sun, moon, and stars bowing to him as well.  Even Jacob, despite his love of Joseph, has to rebuke him for such dreams.  In time, however, this would come to a head, and it would lead to a series of events which would shape the history of the embryonic Israelite nation for generations to come.

After some time, the brothers are starting to get to the point that they really hated Joseph, and they conspire to act on this hatred.  One day, Jacob sends Joseph out to the fields to check on his brothers, and possibly to bring them provisions, and they see their chance.  Initially, they want to kill him and stage it as if an animal mauled him to death, but older brother Reuben steps in and stops this before it is carried out.  Instead, they seize Joseph, strip his coat off him, and throw him in a pit.  A little while later, a group of Midianite traders heading for Egypt comes by, and Judah gets the "bright" idea to sell Joseph as a slave to them.   The Midianite Bedouins pay the brothers 20 pieces of gold for him, and they take him off to market in Egypt.  In this we have also a picture of Christ, who was sold for 30 pieces of silver due to the greed of an "older brother" named Judas.   After that transaction goes down, the brothers then kill a goat, dip Joseph's coat in it, and then tell their father Jacob that Joseph was devoured by a wild beast.  Jacob is devastated naturally by this tragedy, but of course Joseph is not dead at all - his story is just beginning! 

In Egypt, Joseph is sold as a slave to a captain in the Pharaoh's guard by the name of Potiphar.  In time, God's favor with Joseph leads Potiphar to trust him completely to run the affairs of his house, but there is a problem - Potiphar's oversexed wife.  Genesis records Potiphar as being a "eunuch," and if that were the case, it means that he probably didn't have any intimacy with his wife, and therefore she had "needs."  Joseph is young, virile, and soon attracts the attention of the lonely housewife, who then proceeds to attempt to seduce him.  Joseph knows this is wrong, and resists her advances, but in the course of that he attempts to flee but she strips his garment, and he runs away naked.  This is not looking good for Joseph at all at this point!   Not happy at being rejected, the lecherous wife of Potiphar plots revenge, and she accuses Joseph of trying to molest her!  Potiphar of course feels both upset and betrayed, and he casts Joseph in jail.  At this point, Joseph's life has hit bottom, but as we see later all of this was for a greater purpose. 

Artistic rendering of Joseph being sold to Potiphar

Painting of Potiphar's wife seducing Joseph

Joseph has hit rock-bottom at this point, but as my late mentor Fr. Eusebius Stephanou often said, this was one of those situations where "man's disappointment becomes God's appointment."  Although in an unfortunate situation in a foreign prison, Joseph displays a great deal of grace and becomes a model prisoner, earning the respect of the jail-keeper.   In time, the jail-keeper even promotes Joseph to look after other prisoners, and two of those other prisoners end up being right out of Pharaoh's palace.  The baker and the butler of the Pharaoh end up in jail because both of them did something apparently that ticked off their master.  At some point after their arrival, both of these men have dreams - the butler dreams of a three-branched grapevine that he harvests, makes into wine, and serves to the Pharaoh, while the baker dreams of having three baskets of baked goods on his head that are being eaten by black birds.    Joseph senses both of these men are troubled, and he asks them what is wrong.  So, they tell him of these dreams, and Joseph, being gifted in this area, interprets them for them.   The butler's dream represents a three-day period in which he would be released and restored to his position.  The baker's dream is bad news - in three days he will be executed by hanging and will himself be scavenged by birds.  Of course, all this comes to pass, and despite Joseph asking the butler to remember him, the cupbearer forgets and goes on with his life while Joseph stays in prison. There are several lessons in the cupbearer's attitude.  First, the cupbearer also forgot the witness Joseph provided of a God who delivered the cupbearer from his misfortune.  Second, the butler (cupbearer) was more enamoured with his own prestige than he was about the suffering of others.   Third, God actually allows the forgetfulness of the cupbearer to be part of His plan for Joseph later, as we see in the next lesson.  This reminds us both of Romans 8:28 - "all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose" - as well as the old axiom "coincidence is God being anonymous."   

The baker's dream

The butler's dream

In closing, there is no doubt God works even in adversity, although often we only see how it all comes together in retrospect.  Joseph's story serves to remind us that even in the midst of trials God is indeed with us, and it is an important lesson for all of us to learn that maybe we should look at a trial as an opportunity rather than a tragedy, and make the most of our situation.   As we will see in the next couple of lessons, this was an attitude Joseph embodies, and it would prove providential for him and indeed his whole family later.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 35 - The Story of Jacob Part II (Genesis 31-35)

As with the last lesson and continuing until the conclusion of this study, at this point the narrative becomes more of "telling the story" and will not be so much digging for great theological insights, but there are still some to be found.  At this point we are still looking at Jacob's story, which continues where we left off with him leaving his father-in-law/uncle Laban's place.

In 31:1-21, Jacob actually leaves.  At this point, and as we briefly touched on in the last lesson, Jacob is feeling the "vibes" so to speak of Laban's growing displeasure over his success.   At this point, God Himself gives Jacob the proverbial "green light" to take off as well, and so Jacob makes the preparations.  If anything is to be gleaned from this passage though, it is that God's timing is important, even in our own lives today.  Had Jacob left sooner, he may have ran into Esau, who at this point was still steaming over his brother's deception, and it could have cost him his life.  Had he stayed longer, he would have had a similar issue with Laban, who was growing more agitated with his son-in-law/nephew by the day.  As we see though, God has perfect timing for everything, and He knew the right time to put the plan in motion so that Jacob would be protected.  And, Jacob trusted God. In life, we tend to get too impatient as well with things without realizing that there are reasons for delays, and perhaps by having the delay God is either protecting us from something or preparing the way for us for what He wants.   Unfortunately, we have a tendency to force God's hand, and it can lead to disastrous consequences when God relents and steps back, because then we expose ourselves to unnecessary risks.  In times where situations like that arise, this would be an important story to refer back to.

The next part of this passage is puzzling.  When Jacob gathers his family and servants together, in verse 19 we notice that the wives, Rachel and Leah, have concerns of their own.  After all, their father is pretty wealthy, and they as his children want to obtain an inheritance of that wealth.  So, as a security measure, Rachel actually steals some of the household idols of her father's without Jacob's knowledge, and she stashes them in her belongings as she packs.  We see a sort of issue here that we didn't expect - first, wasn't Laban now suppose to be serving YHWH alone, which is why Isaac and Rebekah sent Jacob there for a wife in the first place?  If that be the case, then what on earth are idols doing in Laban's possession in the first place.  There are a couple of possible explanations for this that I will now explore, one being my own thesis and the other being based on some of the writings of the Church Fathers who have commentary on this passage.  The idols were called teraphim, and as I look at this passage I see something more legally significant than I do religious in the possession of these things, and it is based on the earlier concerns that both Leah and Rachel had about inheriting their part of their father's estate.  These small teraphim were often made of gold and had small jewels on them, and that would have made them very valuable market-wise.  Stealing such items would ensure that some of the family wealth was obtained.  Another possible explanation I noted was something I came across on a website ( - accessed October 13, 2016) that documents that these items often conferred property rights and family status, and the one who possesses them would be entitled to a transfer of ownership of family assets.  Perhaps then by Rachel's taking these items, she was also thinking she was doing her husband a favor by indicating that Jacob was no longer in the service of Laban and now had entitlement to Laban's estate.  In that case, these small idols would act more as a sort of deed of title of ownership than they would objects of worship, and that would make perfect sense.  It also reflects the Mesopotamian culture of the time too, in which often the temples of certain deities also served as magistrate courts of sorts, and by "swearing on the gods" the priest/magistrate would issue one of these teraphim in lieu of legal documentation, symbolizing that the action was official.   This would seem to be the most plausible reason for Rachel's absconding with these items.

Examples of teraphim from Sumer

The Church Fathers though had another take on this.  St. John Chrysostom, for instance, states in his Homilies on Genesis that despite the fact that this family now served YHWH, there was still a tendency to cling onto ancestral habits - Chrysostom notes that Rachel went through a lot of effort to steal only the teraphim and didn't seem to be interested in anything else of her father's wealth, and that she did it covertly without Jacob knowing about it, lest he should be upset as idol worship was incomprehensible to him (Mark Sheridan, ed.  The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - Old Testament Vol II:  Genesis 12-50.  Downer's Grove, IL:  Intervarsity, 2001.  pp. 206-207).  In my estimation, it is possible that both of these were true at the same time, but the religious aspect maybe a little different.  I don't believe that Rachel actually worshipped these teraphim, but her priorities were affixed on her father's wealth, which was in itself a type of idolatry.  She really didn't need to do this, as Jacob was already quite wealthy in his own right as we have seen, yet she does it anyway.  Greed can be a nasty taskmaster, and it is my assertion that this was perhaps Rachel's real motivation for stealing her father's teraphim.  In principle though, the possession of the idols, even if only for a legal reason, would not have been acceptable to Jacob in that their very presence could tempt worship, and they were still pagan idols despite their non-religious purpose.  And, that would explain why Rachel did what she did covertly.

Classic painting depicting Jacob's fleeing Laban

Jacob, having his affairs in order, leaves Haran and heads back south toward Canaan.  After three days, Laban finally notices Jacob is missing, and is not happy about it.  So, he gathers a posse of his servants and attempts to pursue Jacob.   No doubt at this point, and as we see later, Laban was probably upset that those teraphim were missing as well, and no doubt was also determined to recover them by any means possible, as this was his wealth at stake.  However, that night while Laban rests, God comes to him in a dream and tells him to not "speak evil" of his son-in-law, and now looking again at St. Chrysostom's Homilies, we see kind of what this means.   God was, in effect, telling Laban to watch his tongue and not do anything he might regret, yet God also understood Laban's situation too, which is why He allowed Laban to pursue Jacob.  God was, in effect, wanting Laban and Jacob to patch up their differences and part on good terms - this foreshadows the mission of Christ as the Prince of Peace we read about later in Scripture.  And, although Chrysostom believed Laban was still an idolator, he also proposes that God allows His own words to come forth from "the testimony of an infidel" in order to confirm in Jacob's mind that what he was doing was right.  At any rate, by verse 26 Laban catches up with Jacob, and they have some sorting out to do.

Although Laban tempers himself thanks to God's guidance, he is still understandably upset about a couple of things, and he and Jacob actually do have a lively exchange over those.  Laban first wants to know where on earth his teraphim are, and of course Jacob has no idea - in modern vernacular, he would be saying at this point, "What in blue blazes are you talking about?".  So, Laban does a search of his own in Jacob's tents, and the idols are recovered from Rachel's tent.  There seems to be no record here of whether or not Rachel owned up to what she did, but apparently something gets resolved later.  The bigger issue for Laban that he voices is the fact that they left without even a proper goodbye, and this makes Laban upset as well - after all, these are his daughters, and also his grandchildren, so in his mind he should have at least been allowed to see them off for the last time. Laban's indignant rantings on these things provoke a sharp rebuke from Jacob then in verses 31-42, and after they sound off and cool down, they then begin to talk rationally, and this results in a covenant ceremony we see in verses 43-54.  To initiate the covenant between himself and his father-in-law, Jacob first sets up a stone pillar and he then instructs his "brethren" (perhaps Laban's sons that accompany him, his brothers-in-law in effect) to gather stones and make a pile.   Then, Jacob and Laban have a meal.  As a condition of the covenant, Laban makes Jacob essentially swear to not marry other women, nor to pass beyond the heap of stones with ill intent.  Jacob covenants not to do so, and they break bread together to seal the covenant.  In essence, Laban has now given his blessing to Jacob to return home, and what could have been a bad meeting ended up having a good end, despite obviously some initially strong feelings on both sides.  At this point, there is a friendly parting, and Jacob continues on his way.

Jacob and Laban covenant over the heap of stones

Jacob has now dodged one proverbial "bullet" with his father-in-law, but he now has another issue facing him as he approaches home, and that is dealing with his brother Esau.   Recall, Jacob's name means "deceiver" or "supplanter," and he did exactly that in regard to Esau.   Esau initially wanted to kill Jacob over it once it set in what Jacob had done and what Esau lost, and Jacob knew (and understandably feared) any confrontation with Esau.  In order to offset this a little, Jacob does two things.  First, he sends messages and gifts of his own flocks to Esau as a gesture of goodwill.  Secondly, in case that didn't work, he divides his party up into two groups, sending them in different directions - this would assure that at least some of his group would survive if Esau was still angry.   But, Esau does send word back that he wants to meet with Jacob, and at this point Jacob is sweating bullets!  That night he actually is so distraught that it affects his sleep, and God uses this as an opportunity to teach Jacob a valuable lesson.

At the point Jacob crosses the Jabbok River (known today as the Zarqa River in northwest Jordan) and not being able to sleep, he is outside pondering things when a strange figure appears and attacks him.  Although Jacob holds his own, the strange man touches Jacob's hip and disables it.  Jacob demands that the stranger blesses him when the stranger wants to be released.   By this time, Jacob has figured out that it is God Himself who is there, possibly identifiable with the same "Angel (Word) of the Lord" that visited his grandfather Abraham on so many occasions.  At this point, the stranger (whom we now know to be a manifestation of God) renames Jacob Israel ("May God Prevail") and there are reasons behind this.  First, Jacob has went from being a "supplanter" to being an "overcomer," when he gives over his own issues to God who allows him to prevail. Secondly, it assures Jacob (now Israel) that despite what happens, God is in control of the outcome, and His plan will prevail because His promises are true.  There are important lessons for us in this even today - we face struggles and situations, and yes, we even have our own "fights" with God (I can testify to that many times personally!) but in the end God's will prevails, and it works for our good (Romans 8:28).  It was this lesson that God wanted to teach Israel in this struggle, and it was just the thing he needed to bolster and encourage him regarding the upcoming meeting with Esau that next day.  Mission accomplished, Jacob releases the stranger and then demands a name, and God reveals to Jacob that it is Himself.  The biggest lesson for us to glean from all this however is that often it is in our weakness that God can best use us, as my late spiritual mentor Fr. Eusebius Stephanou often said "Man's disappointments are God's appointments." 

Wrestling with God

After an involved night, the next day Esau and Israel meet, and although Israel was expecting the worst, the meeting actually turned out to be a warm reunion between the brothers.  As it turned out, God had also blessed Esau so much that Esau really didn't need or desire the Covenant inheritance, and I think Esau also came to terms with the fact that this was Jacob's destiny, not his.  At any rate, Esau and Jacob resolve their differences, and for the remainder of their lives they got along nicely it seems.  Having had a good reunion with Esau, Jacob then continues on until he arrives at Salem (Jerusalem) and as was the practice he sets up an altar.  

Jacob's warm reunion with Esau

In Genesis 34, there is an odd interlude.  After Jacob (now Israel) returns home, some time passes and his sons come of age.   Jacob also has a young daughter with Leah by the name of Dinah, and at some point she captures the eye of a young, spoiled nobleman by the name of Shechem.  Shechem is so obsessed with Dinah that he rapes her, and upon hearing of this, his father, a local king of a Hivite city by the name of Hamor, needs to do damage control and goes to Jacob to negotiate a marriage to sort of diffuse a bad situation.  It must be also remembered that generations earlier, Abraham had established his family as a powerful local entity in the area, and many of the local tribes and groups of people knew who Abraham's family were and also were aware of their influence.  Therefore, for a local king's son to act like a pig to a granddaughter of Abraham was quite serious, and Hamor knew that.  Although Jacob appears to at least want to hear out Hamor, his sons want nothing of it, and demand that Shechem needs to be circumcised before he can go any further.  Although Shechem complies, it is obvious Shechem has some sex hangups - he would be similar to a Bill Clinton in our time, in other words, in that he felt no compunction about taking liberties with vulnerable young girls, and his lack of self-control is evident.  Also, his feelings for Dinah were not true love, but rather lust. However, the sons of Israel were not without fault in this either - although they give Shechem this requirement, and he complies, they also have no intention of letting their little sister be married off to such a repulsive character.   Now, if you are a male and have ever been circumcised as an adult, it is not pleasant (having experienced that myself, I can verify that fact!), so Shechem and the other males of his city whom were ordered to have this procedure done were recovering.  Two of the brothers - Simeon and Levi - see this as an opportunity, and while the inhabitants of Hamor's city were vulnerable, they attacked and slaughtered them. When their father hears of it, he is not happy with the boys, and he harshly rebukes them.  However, Simeon and Levi justify their actions as a legitimate defending of family honor, and their response was "shall our sister be treated as a common whore?"  Putting this in the perspective of moral theology, what we have here is an issue of distributive vs. communicative justice.  Distributive justice means simply that justice is dispensed by those in authority to do so, while communicative justice is based on individual retribution.  Aquinas notes that no individual should intend to kill despite whether or not the intention is good, but rather this judgment should be reserved for those in authority to do so - a good intention in this case led to an evil end.   It is also of note that there was not a justifiable reason for this murder either - there was no proportionate cause for the murder since the brothers were not attempting to preserve their own lives (self-defense), and the punishment far exceeded the crime that they exacted upon Shechem (Christopher Kaczor, Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition.  Washington, DC:  The Catholic University of America Press, 2002. pp. 24-25).  It is for this reason that Jacob was a little upset at his boys - he knew too that Shechem's rape of his daughter was wrong, and maybe did not want Shechem in his family either, but he was attempting to resolve it through more licit means. 
The focus of the story is that both parties (Shechem as well as Simeon and Levi) sinned, and this sin is serious in lieu of the action/reaction factor.

Shechem's abduction and rape of Dinah

Chapter 35 finishes out this lesson by covering several things.  First, we have Israel going to Bethel to build an altar as an act of personal sanctification at Bethel - this involves cleansing the idols from his home that some of his servants and even his wives may have been messing around with, and he buries those under a tree near Shechem.  When this happens, God reaffirms to Jacob the name change, that he is now to be called Israel, and this also is a reaffirmation of God's Covenant which was first given to Abraham some decades before.  Beginning in verse 16, we also see Rachel's passing away in childbirth as she gives birth to Benjamin, Israel's youngest son.  At her passing, his eldest son Reuben sees an opportunity to lust after and violate Bilhah, Rachel's maid, and this upsets Jacob.  The anger is understandable, considering what had just happened to Dinah and Simeon and Levi's reaction to that.  These actions may have been what led Israel to do some self-examination of his own household, as evidently there were things that needed to be addressed and fixed with his own sons.   Also, it reminds us of the concupiscence we all unfortunately epigenetically have inherited from our forefather Adam - just because someone is chosen doesn't necessarily imply automatic righteousness, as even the righteous are imperfect and prone to sinful behavior if the temptation presents itself and we are not properly grounded.  

Death of Rachel and Benjamin's birth

In verses 23-26, we have the first listing of all of Israel's sons, and they are as follows:

1.  From Leah's issue - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon

2.  From Rachel's issue - Joseph and Benjamin

3.  From concubine Bilhah's issue - Dan and Naphtali

4.  From concubine Zilpah's issue - Gad and Asher

Over half of Israel's sons (as well as his daughter Dinah) are from Leah, his first wife.  However, all the sons are equally Israel's despite different mothers, and God would through all of them raise up a chosen nation later which would be fully realized in the generations to come.

This chapter concludes with the death of Isaac at the age of 180.  Jacob and Esau come together one last time to bury him, and there is no indication that the brothers have any contact after that point, although their descendants would interact later.  

Esau and Jacob (Israel) bury Isaac after mourning at his passing

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 34 - the Story of Jacob Part I (Genesis 26-30)

At this point, we have now talked a lot about Abraham, as he figures prominently in the Genesis account as the beginning essentially of the bloodline of the Messiah.  We also began to focus on the brief account of Isaac - generally, Isaac is one of those people who, although integral to the story, has little detail of his life documented in Scripture.  At this point, we now begin to transition to Jacob's story, as there is a lot more to say about him in the next several chapters.

Genesis 26 is one of those inserted interludes in the story that gives an account of Isaac's dealings with Abraham's old friend King Abimelech.  As you read these accounts, you begin to feel somewhat sorry for Abimelech, as Abraham has messed with him on more than one occasion.  In that story, we see in Abimelech's long-suffering a picture of God's mercy toward us as well - although we are chosen people, we tend to treat God shabbily at times, and yet He still loves us and reaches out to us.  Seeing that same long-suffering attitude in Abimelech (and he really has tolerated a lot!) reminds us that God also puts up with a lot from us too, and like Abimelech in the Scriptural accounts, God still gives us other chances even when we don't deal with Him squarely too.  It also is a lesson to us that not all of the "Gentiles" in the Bible were necessarily bad people - at times, they act better than the Chosen do! That being said, we see in Genesis 26 some experience Abimelech has with Isaac, and it proves the point further.

If we look at the first 33 verses of Chapter 26, we see what is going on.  Rebekah, you recall from the last couple of lessons, was an extremely beautiful woman.  At this point in time, a famine occurs near where Isaac lives, and Isaac is forced to seek better pasture land for his herds, and he goes to Abimelech for help.  Abimelech, who had previously been mentioned as being "King of Gerar," is now called "King of the Philistines," and in this account we have the first revelation of Abimelech's nationality, as well as the first mention of a group of people that would later cause the Israelites a lot of problems.  The Philistines, according to the Genesis 10 "Table of Nations," are descendants of Caphtor, who was a son of Ham's son Mizraim.   On a more secular historical note that sort of corroborates with the Biblical record, the Philistines were originally from the island of Crete, and perhaps were part of the same culture that created the earlier Minoan civilization on Crete before the Indo-European Mycenaean peoples (descendants of Japeth's son Javan, according to the Scriptural record) supplanted them later.  Secular sources also note the strong ties that Minoan Crete had with ancient Egypt ( - accessed  10/6/2016) and this would make sense in lieu of the fact that the Minoans and Egyptians may share a common heritage.

The palace of Knossos, the epicenter of the ancient Minoan civilization on Crete, from which the origins of the Philistines are believed to be.

An early fresco depicting Minoan seafarers, which may explain how the Philistines arrived in Canaan.

Egyptian bas-relief depicting Phillistine POW's.

Early carving of a Phillistine warrior

It would appear that the earliest Philistines, who were seafarers, probably arrived on the coast of Palestine (a name that was derived from them, incidentally) sometime prior to Abraham's arrival in the land.  That being said, it is reasonable to assume that the Philistines probably had an established civilization at an early age, and Abraham encountered them at around that time as well.  This is why Abimelech, who was ruler of the Philistine settlement of Gerar, was such a person of influence.  

The location of Gerar in Abraham and Isaac's time

As we saw in earlier lessons, Abraham had a lot of his own encounters with Abimelech, and although he didn't particularly deal fairly all the time with Abimelech, it appears as if the king remained a loyal friend to Abraham over the course of his life, even allowing Abraham grazing land for his herds in his domain.  It is probable that Isaac was definitely aware of Abimelech (who would have been quite along in years at this point) and perhaps he knew that Abimelech would be able to help him out during this natural disaster of famine that hit his own area.  So, this is why he visits Abimelech.

When he arrives in Abimelech's realm, Isaac falls to the same temptation his father Abraham had, and he attempts to "pimp out" Rebekah to Abimelech as a feeble attempt at self-preservation. Again, Abimelech figures out this ruse, and he demands an explanation from Isaac, who gives it to him - surprisingly, all is forgiven, and Abimelech then orders Rebekah off-limits to anyone else upon penalty of  death. 

But, as fate would have it, another repetition of an old dispute arises when Abimelech's and Isaac's servants conflict with each other over a series of wells. This too is soon resolved, and there seems to be no further trouble between Isaac and Abimelech after this.  

At this point too (vv. 26-33) Abimelech and Isaac also covenant among themselves regarding the well issue, and then Isaac goes to Beersheba nearby where God endows Isaac with the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant (vv 23-25).  At this point, the story then shifts to Esau for a chapter or so.

Esau, in verse 34, is documented as marrying two Hittite (or Hethite, to be more accurate) women, but Isaac is not thrilled about it - still thinking Esau is to inherit the Covenant promises, he wants his son to be pure and to marry a wife of his choosing.  Notice though that unlike in Isaac's case when Rebekah was chosen, in Esau's place God was silent - that silence alone should have alerted Isaac to the bigger issue, although Jacob and Rebekah are now about to enlighten him.

As Chapter 27 opens, we see Isaac as being old and somewhat frail.  Apparently, he suffered from cataracts or some other visual impairment which rendered him almost blind, and he is aware his time is growing short so he wants to take care of last-minute business with his sons.   This being the case, Isaac calls Esau to him and instructs him to shoot a deer and make a stew out of it for him.  I don't think this was a normal mealtime activity, nor was it due to the fact that Isaac just loved Esau's cooking either, but I believe it was a bigger issue.  Esau, by taking the effort to kill and prepare this for his father, is performing a ceremonial act of some sort, as he knows his father is about to die and may be setting his affairs in order.  Therefore, Esau dutifully obeys.  While Esau is meeting with his father, Rebekah (who favors Jacob) is eavesdropping in on the conversation and knows she must do something - she may even be aware at this point of the earlier forfeiture of Esau's birthright, and knows it would be a huge violation in protocol if Esau claimed what he no longer had rights to.  Therefore, she now springs into action while Esau is out hunting, and she instructs Jacob to bring her two goats.  She prepares stew from the goats - one thing about goat meat is that it is remarkably similar to deer in taste - and she instructs Jacob to take it to his father to get that blessing.  However there is a problem that Jacob observes quickly - he is not of the same physical makeup as his brother, in particular the hairiness Esau has.  But, Rebekah has this covered too, as she dresses Jacob with the goat skins and in Esau's clothing.  She then sends Jacob to Isaac with instructions to claim his blessing. 

Given Isaac's current condition, Jacob easily fools him, although Isaac is a bit surprised that "Esau" has come back so early from the hunt.  As Isaac eats the stew, he imparts the Covenant blessing to Jacob there, and at that moment Jacob becomes the heir to God's plan.  Then, Esau returns!  Esau finds out what happened and is understandably upset about it, and Isaac is now confused, as he basically said to Esau "didn't we do this already?"  Although however Esau didn't get the blessing, he does get a blessing from Isaac, but it still doesn't resolve things in Esau's mind.  Esau, you recall from earlier, was just back from what possibly was a successful assassination of Nimrod, and he was too exhausted at that point to think about what he was doing.  Therefore, the forfeiture of the birthright probably didn't really sink in, or perhaps it slipped his mind about what had happened.  This being said, Esau has a murderous intention toward Jacob, and wants to kill him.  Rebekah, sensing the danger, sends Jacob off to her brother's house.  Isaac later blesses the journey and Jacob is instructed by his mother to go to her brother Laban's house.  In the meantime, Esau is still stewing, and takes yet another wife, this one being a first cousin, his uncle Ishmael's daughter.  

In Chapter 28, we see Jacob on his way north, and at some point on the journey he stops and beds down for the night.  While sleeping, he has an incredible dream of a ladder (or staircase) reaching into heaven, and angels are descending up and down from it.  At the very top of this ladder stands God Himself, and God reaffirms the Covenant with Jacob - his seed will be numerous and cover the entire earth, and he is promised that he can return to the land in due season.  When Jacob awakes, he names the place Bethel ("God's House") and constructs an altar there, making a covenant vow of tithe before he continues on his journey.   This is the source of the story behind the famous Black spiritual song "Jacob's Ladder," which you will remember has these lyrics:

 We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Soldiers of the cross.


In Genesis 29, Jacob arrives in Haran, and he meets a bunch of shepherds.  At a distance away, he notices a beautiful girl named Rachel, who herself is a shepherdess, approaching.  Jacob, wanting to be noble, rolls the stone away from the well for her so she can water her flocks, and after the animals are watered, he gives her a kiss and she is so happy seeing him that she weeps in joy.  Her father is Laban, Jacob's uncle, who is also elated to see his nephew arrive.  Therefore, Jacob is welcomed in, and he stays a while with Laban working for him.

At some point, Laban begins to, in a sense, negotiate Jacob's contract.  If Jacob works for Laban seven years, he will have Rachel as his wife.   But, Laban also has interests of his own, as he wants to marry off Leah, his older daughter, first, but he doesn't reveal that yet.  At this point, let me just address something briefly.  It is assumed that for some reason Leah was an ugly sister to the beautiful Rachel, but that may have not been the case.  It is quite possible that Leah looked just fine, but the feeling Jacob had for her sister Rachel was not with her - he didn't love her, in other words.  But, he ends up married to her by finding out at the last minute - his wedding day! - that the woman under the veil was not the one he bargained for!  Jacob was probably not very happy about this, but his wily uncle was shrewd - Laban says, "OK, boy, work for me another seven years and I will let you have her too."  Jacob agrees, and this time does get Rachel.  Again, in reference to this polygamist arrangement, God is in no way sanctioning this happening, as polygamy was never His plan.  He tolerated it for a season, but toleration in no means implicated blessing.  That being said, in addition to Rachel and Leah, Jacob also gets their handmaidens Zilpah and Bilhah as sort of concubines.  Sensing there was a problem and that Jacob was ignoring Leah - his first wife - and lavishing his attention upon Rachel, God closes Rachel's womb and opens Leah's, and with her Jacob would eventually have 6 sons - the first four are listed in this passage (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah).  Later in the chapter, Leah bears two more sons  - Issachar and Zebulon - as well as a daughter named Dinah.  

In all this, Rachel begins to grow upset and impatient with Jacob because she doesn't have children, and it sort of exasperates Jacob, who essentially tells her, "What do you expect me to do about it, woman?"  So, taking matters into her own hands much as Sarah did some years earlier, Rachel offers her made Bilhah to Jacob as a concubine (this was not the best idea!) and she bears him Dan and Naphtali.  Leah, not to be outdone by her little sister, likewise offers her maid Zilpah, who then bears Jacob two sons as well - Gad and Asher.  This doesn't seem to solve Rachel's issue, so another incident ensues in which  Rachel tries an old remedy for infertility to increase her chances of children.

The story here involves a plant called a mandrake.  A mandrake is a highly toxic and hallucinogenic plant native to the region that had roots resembling a human figure.  Although highly toxic, it was often used for anesthetic or sedative purposes.  In reading this however, I came to the conclusion that the actual mandrake plant may have not been what was referenced by this passage, as it may have been something else.  Back when I was a kid, a common herb that was often sought out for its value was ginseng, and a productive day of "sanging" could yield high returns, as the Chinese medicine market even today offers sometimes $500 a pound for dried ginseng roots.  Ginseng, unlike the actual mandrake plant, is harmless to humans when consumed, and was believed by many to increase virility as well as acting as a natural aphrodisiac.  The roots also looked similar as well - ginseng roots also resemble human figures.  Rachel, who was probably well-schooled in folk medicine of the time, probably knew what these were used for, and when Leah's son Reuben went out and dug up a bunch of them, Rachel wanted them so bad that she offered to let Leah have Jacob for a night for them.  Leah agrees, and her visit with Jacob is what resulted in the birth of Issachar.  The mandrake story is important because, folk medicine or not, God created all vegetation for mankind's service, and many wild plants do have therapeutic properties.  As we will see now in Chapter 30, something apparently worked, for Rachel finally bears her first son. 

The true (and highly toxic) mandrake plant

Ginseng, the actual "mandrake" in this passage

Chapter 30 opens up with Rachel giving birth to her first son Joseph.  At this point, Jacob is ready to return home, but Laban is trying to negotiate him into staying on.  Part of the bargain involved dividing the flocks up, and the way this took place was by taking a bunch of poplar (as well as almond and chestnut) rods, and placing them about the herds.  As it was agreed, the animals that reflected the pattern in the rods were to be Jacob's, while Laban would retain the solid-colored ones. However, this plan didn't go well for Laban, as Jacob ended up with a sizable herd of his own and it would begin to lead to some serious issues.  It is at that point the next lesson picks up with Genesis 31. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 33 - Isaac Gains a Wife

As we reach the halfway point of the book of Genesis, we begin to see a transition in the story from Abraham to Isaac.  Isaac's story is actually rather brief in the narrative, as it is often interwoven with either his father Abraham's story or with his son Jacob's.  The remainder of Genesis, as a matter of fact, will actually focus more on the stories of Jacob and Joseph than it does anything else.

As we begin chapter 24, Abraham begins to realize that Isaac has come of age and needs a wife, and he enlists the assistance of his faithful servant Eleazar to make sure this happens the right way.  If you recall from earlier studies, Eleazar was almost like a son to Abraham, and when Abraham was trying to figure out God's covenant to him before Isaac's birth, he was even considering naming Eleazar his heir.   Not much is said about Eleazar in the Genesis narrative, but apparently he had served Abraham for a long time, and perhaps came with him from Haran when Abraham first arrived in Canaan.  It is even quite possible that Eleazar could have been a second cousin, as he may have even been the son of one of Terah's brothers - again, this is speculating, as Scripture is silent as to the details of Eleazar's life because he only plays a peripheral role in the story.  However, given his status with Abraham, what can be certain is that there was a close bond between Abraham and Eleazar, so much that Abraham made him a sort of steward of his estate and trusted his judgment and counsel.  That is why it was Eleazar that Abraham charges with the particular task of finding Isaac a suitable mate.

It is at this point the story gets somewhat bizarre for our modern sensitivities, as Abraham demanded from Eleazar a special type of oath in the first ten verses.  The oath entailed a ceremony in which Eleazar had to actually lay his hand on Abraham's inner thigh and then swear to carry out what Abraham wanted him to do.  This practice, although weird to us in this day and age, was actually a standard oath, and there is much to discuss about this.  To begin, an oath like this was always in regard to a family issue.  Secondly, the thigh was considered a source of posterity, and in essence what this meant was that the taker of the oath had to swear literally on the testicles of the one he was swearing the oath to ( - accessed September 2, 2016).  There are two reasons for this type of oath in particular, and they are as follows:

1. Seed - Abraham was making his servant swear literally "on his seed" to find Isaac a wife.
2. Circumcision - This was also swearing on the covenant of circumcision as well.

The reason for this practice may be found in the etymology of the word testify itself, which shares the same root as the word testicle.  According to psychologist Dario Mastripieri, the Romans named this from observing baboons bonding in their journeys to northern Africa (  Accessed September 2, 2016)  However, upon further research, the word testis, which forms the root for so many terms such as testify, testament, and of course testicle, comes from a Latin cognate consisting of two terms involving the concept of "a third standing by," a legal supporter or witness.  It also translates as "two glands side by side," and has the same basic idea.  This being the case, the concept for testify in Scripture most likely came from St. Jerome's Vulgate translation of Scripture, and hence why it is used here in regard to swearing an oath - if you swear an oath, after all, you are testifying to your own word.  Catholic writer/teacher Taylor Marshall also notes in regard to this practice that the testicles of Abraham symbolize in a very real way his descendants ( - accessed September 2, 2016).  Rabbinic sources on this seem to bear this out, in that the phrase "hand under the thigh" was an idiom for the male genitalia, an due to the sign of the covenant (circumcision) happening there, its implication in this case would be invoking the power and presence of God as guarantor of the Covenant promises ( - accessed 9/29/2016).  So, there is a deeper truth here that is being conveyed by this ceremony - the assurance of Abraham's seed carrying out the fulfillment of the Covenant hinged very much on getting the right wife for Isaac, one of God's choosing.  Abraham wanted to make sure that Eleazar understood the implications of this, and swore him to faithfully execute the task.  

Painting of Abraham giving his servant Eleazar instruction

Eleazar, who is committed to his master Abraham, faithfully does carry out Abraham's order by departing the following day for the city of Nahor in upper Mesopotamia, where Abraham's brother (whose name the city is given) and his family lives.  One part of the oath Eleazar swore to Abraham as well was to assure that Isaac did not marry a Canaanite woman, and there are two possible reasons for this:

1.  A Canaanite woman would be outside the covenant, and thus would jeopardize it in at least two ways:
a.  Taints of immorality and idolatry.
b.  Possible recessive Nephilim genetics evident in Canaan's descendants would pollute the chosen bloodline.

2.  God's direction was important in all of this as well - the chosen bride would have to be one of God's choosing.

Also of note is that Isaac was not allowed to go with Eleazar to Nahor to pick his own wife.  The theory here is that at the time Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac on Moriah, it is possible that the resulting encounter with God bound Isaac to the land so he could not leave lest he risk being harmed or killed, thus disrupting God's plan. This would mean that as a condition of the covenant promises, Isaac was to be sheltered and protected at all costs.  

Eleazar begins his trek north with ten camels, and as one final instruction, Abraham tells Eleazar to await the "Angel of the Lord" (recall from earlier studies that this is not an angel in the normal sense, but rather is rendered in some translations as Word, and is substantiation for a possible pre-Incarnational appearance of Christ) for guidance. Also, the chosen girl was not to be forced to go, but would do so on her own free will.  In verse 14, the guidance is given, and essentially the instructions are to wait for a virgin who agrees to give water from the well to him and the camels - the woman who did this would be the chosen bride for Isaac. 

Rebekah watering the camels of Eleazar (Genesis 24:15-28)

Eleazar arrives at Nahor, and upon his arrival he sees a strikingly beautiful shepherdess at a well and asks her for a drink.  This shepherdess is in reality Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham's nephew Bethuel.  Rebekah, who is an undefiled virgin, gives Eleazar a drink, and then she offers to water the camels as well, and an inner voice of God affirms to Eleazar that this is who Isaac will marry.  So, having the assurance that she is the one, Eleazar gives her the gifts he brought once the camels finished their drink, and this consists of a large amount of gold baubles and other jewelry.  He then asks her if he can lodge at her father's house, and he is warmly welcomed.

At this point, it is also worth mentioning that a trusted servant like Eleazar had a lot of privilege he was allotted.  Essentially, he would be received and honored as if he were Abraham himself, as that is who he represents.  It is an important point to mention in that the "faithful servant" parables we hear later from Jesus convey that same context - the trusted servant of one's household is given great responsibility, and that the reward for obeying and carrying out the responsibility is great for a faithful servant.  The lesson for us is very Christological as well - if a mere servant is treated with such respect by a godly master, then how much so will we, who are actually adopted as sons in the Son, be loved by our heavenly Father?  That is just a side issue to ponder. 

Eleazar is first introduced to Laban in verses 29-47, who as eldest son was also more or less the one who ran the estate.   Laban would figure prominently later as well, as this is the same Laban whose daughters Rachel and Leah Isaac's son Jacob would marry later on.  Laban extends hospitality to Eleazar by having his feet washed and then offering bread.  However, Eleazar has little time to spare and gets to the point, which is that he is there to find a wife for Isaac.  After stating his case, Laban and his father Bethuel give their blessing to this proposal, as they know that God is ordering all this.  Eleazar then distributes the gifts he has brought, and then he eats, drinks, and spends the night.  He needs to rest up for the long journey back the next day!

Before starting back to Canaan, Rebekah's family tries to negotiate her waiting ten more days before leaving, but Eleazar reminds them that there is no time and he insists on the departure at that point.  As God had instructed, the question was then put to Rebekah as to what she wished, and she agrees to leave immediately as well.  So, they travel back, and upon getting close to home, Isaac from a distance spots Rebekah for the first time, and he is immediately smitten with her.  The narrative doesn't give a lot of detail, but only says that somehow a ceremony happens in Sarah's tent, and she became Isaac's wife.  Why Sarah's tent?  Two theories have been proposed in research I have come across, one being that perhaps this symbolized the end of Isaac's mourning over his mother's recent passing, and that the love he and Rebekah now have was to be his new focus.  The second theory is that now Rebekah has assumed the role of her deceased mother-in-law as the new matriarch of the family, and the symbolism of her being in Sarah's tent seals that role for her ( - accessed 9/29/2016).  I personally believe that both of these are involved, and may add another idea.   This is totally speculation, but given that Melchizedek was still around (being our thesis in these lessons is that he is synonymous with Shem) it is totally within possibility that he or another person endowed with priestly authority would have formalized the ceremony, and that Sarah's tent would have been the place for that to happen.  After a formalization of the ceremony, it is also possible that Sarah's tent served as a sort of "honeymoon suite" for the young couple to consummate their new lives together in the marriage covenant.  If this is the case, we see an early picture of sacramental grace happening.  This is also one reason why the sacred covenant of matrimony is also sacramental as well, being it was ordered by God Himself and blessed by His holy priest.  

Icon depicting Rebekah's returning with Eleazar to meet Isaac

At this juncture, we have a break in the narrative in which an interlude regarding Abraham's second wife is interjected at the beginning of Genesis 25.  As Sarah has passed away and Abraham was a widower, he chose to remarry, and the girl he remarries is named Keturah.  In the Book of Jasher Chapter 25, Keturah is said to be of Canaanite origin, which is odd considering that there was a prohibition of Isaac marrying a Canaanite, so why did Abraham do so?  My speculation here is that perhaps Abraham, after much soul-searching, got the blessing from God to marry this particular Canaanite girl because she may have been free of the taint of Nephilim DNA that plagued her family as a descendant of Ham's son Canaan.  Also, being that any offspring from this point would not have any bearing on the Covenant promises, maybe it just didn't matter and God allowed Abraham this woman.   Whatever the case, Abraham marries her when he is very old, and she bears him five sons - one of them, Midian, would become the father of the Midianite nation we hear about later, the same Midianites from whom Moses's future father-in-law, Jethro, would be descended.  Midian, along with his five brothers as well as Ishmael's clans, would also constitute what would later be the Arab peoples, and Midian's descendants in particular during the time just preceding the New Testament would establish a powerful desert empire called the Nabataean Kingdom which would prove a formidable trading power as well as providing resistance against Roman expansion later.   In other words, we will be hearing more about the descendants of Midian in ages to come!

Despite the fact Abraham now had at least six other sons by other women, Isaac is still the son of promise and it is Isaac that receives the full inheritance of Abraham along with the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant.  This means that when they came of age, the other sons were sent eastward, which essentially means the Arabian Desert, and this is why their descendants today are known as "Arabs."  

In Genesis 25:7, Abraham passes away at the age of 175, and Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury him at the Cave of Machpeleh with Sarah.  It is now that the legacy of  Abraham is passed onto his descendants, and we begin to see an acceleration of the promises of the Covenant begin to happen.

Painting depicting the burial of Abraham by Isaac and Ishmael

At this point, a number of genealogies, both of Ishmael and Isaac, are documented.   Ishmael's is addressed by the passage first, as it notes that he has 12 sons by two wives.  The Book of Jasher in Chapter 15 verse 18, names one of the wives as Ribah, who is an Egyptian (possibly the same marriage his mother Hagar arranged for him) and the second is a Canaanitess by the name of Malchath.  The sons are called "Twelve Princes" and each son has a city named after him (v. 16).  
The passage then goes on to record Ishmael's death at the age of 137 (v. 17).  Effectively, this ends the specifics of Ishmael's family in Holy Scripture, although we do know that these 12 sons of his became a major base of the future Arab nation as well. 

The focus now shifts back to Isaac.  Scripture says Isaac was about 40 when he married Rebekah, who obviously was considerably younger.  It took about 20 years, when Isaac became 60, for Rebekah to conceive and have their first children, and she becomes pregnant with twins.  The pregnancy is of interest, because these twins are struggling inside her even while she carries them, and a prophecy of two nations surfaces regarding them - "the older shall serve the younger."  The first-born of the twins ("the older") is Esau, and he comes out red with a hairy body - he therefore is named accordingly.  However, the second-born of the twins, Jacob (whose name can mean "persuader," "deceiver," or "supplanter," depending on the context) takes hold of Esau's heal with his hand as they are birthed.  They ended up being radically different from each other, and the narrative of their birth changes gears to some years later at this point.  It is also worth noting that The Book of Jasher also inserts a detail to this narrative regarding Arphaxad, Shem's son, who reposed according to that account when Isaac was 48 years of age.

The story now shifts to some years later, when the boys were either in their late teens or early adulthood.  Esau, as he grows, is skilled at hunting, and is an outdoorsman.  Jacob, on the other hand, is agrarian and tends to flocks and crops.  You will notice something oddly parallel to the earlier story of Cain and Abel as well, and in this case the outcome will be different.  This difference is not lost on the parents either, as Isaac favors Esau yet Rebekah favors Jacob.  God was about to teach Isaac a lesson in His plans that will blow away Isaac's preconceptions, and oddly He uses a covert situation to do it.

One day, Jacob is making himself a lunch while out doing his farm work, and it is possibly a red lentil stew.   Esau soon appears, and is exhausted.  Although Esau is a hunter by profession, a normal stag hunt would not cause the type of exhaustion Esau displays here, and when we begin to look outside the narrative of Scripture, there may just be something that provides the missing link to the story.  Back again to the Book of Jasher in Chapter 27, there is an odd account of an encounter Esau had with the despotic Antichrist-like figure Nimrod.  Nimrod, if you recall from Genesis 10, was also this "mighty hunter," and may have also been a gigantic Nephilim as well.  In reading this story, you get the picture of a sort of rivalry going on between Nimrod and Esau, and for some reason Esau wants to "off" Nimrod.  So, upon seeing Nimrod's hunting posse approach, Esau hides in a clump of woods, and when Nimrod and two of his attendants get too close, Esau jumps out and decapitates Nimrod.  At this point in the Book of Jasher, Nimrod is said to have been 215 years of age. Nimrod's attendants also engage Esau, and he kills them as well.  When Nimrod's accompanying guard rush to see what is going on, Esau flees the scene and is reported to have taken the "sacred garments" (which were believed to be the first clothing of Adam and Eve, which Noah took with him, Ham then stole, and they passed onto Nimrod).  The Jasher account asserts that this is the reason for Esau's exhaustion when he encounters Jacob.  There is some logic in this too, for if Nimrod was a Nephilim, it would have been an epic battle for Esau to kill him, and Esau could have even sustained some injury from the encounter too.  

Any rate, Esau is wiped out, hungry, and Jacob sees this as an opportunity.  He tells Esau that he can have some of this lentil stew if he gives Jacob the birthright privilege.  Esau is sort of like "Whatever! just let me eat!" and therefore surrenders the birthright without conflict.  Jacob then makes Esau swear by it, thus securing the right for himself, and we see that story picking up in the next lesson in Genesis 27.

Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew

A post-script to all this entails us revisiting the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.  There is a marked contrast here between these two accounts, in that in the Genesis 4 account it is Cain, the older sibling, who prevails when God rejects his sacrifice in favor of Abel's.   Esau in reality was like Cain, but if we take the Jasher story as valid, he also did a tremendous service to civilization by committing tyrannicide which rid the world of an oppressive dictator named Nimrod.   Also, like Cain, Esau was not overly concerned about covenant or anything else - he was more concerned with self-preservation.  However, whereas Cain sinned grievously by slaying Abel, Esau gave up something that actually meant little to him with hardly a struggle, and God used that to fulfill His plan.  However, it would dawn on Esau later as to what he lost, and when that happens, it will create a conflict with Jacob that almost ends in disaster, until Esau is blessed in his own right and he and Jacob make up their differences later in the next lesson.  It is here we will continue next time. 

All references to the Book of Jasher come from Ken Johnson, Ed.  Ancient Book of Jasher.  Lexington, KY:  Biblefacts Ministries, 2008.