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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 38 - The Finale: From Canaan to Egypt (Genesis 46-50)

This last lesson wraps up our journey through the book of Genesis, and this lesson will have two parts - first is the lesson entailed in the passage that is the focus of the lesson, and second is a summary of what we have studied in this first book of the Canon of Scripture.  There are many dimensions to this whole narrative that we have explored, and hopefully as we have gone through the study you have gained further insight and maybe fresh perspectives on certain things.

Chapter 46 picks up where Chapter 45 left off, when Pharaoh extends to Joseph an invitation to bring his family to Egypt to ride out the famine that was well underway at this point.  Jacob, after some deliberation, sees that God is at work in all this and agrees to go.  In Chapter 46, we see in the opening verses his preparations for travel, and this is of note.  When my wife and I travel anywhere, it is a routine necessity that we pray to God before embarking on our trip for traveling mercies.  To be honest, it is a good practice to get into, and as we see here it was also modeled for us in Genesis with Jacob's example.  Note that before Jacob starts his journey to Egypt, he stops off in Beersheba (Well of the Oath) and offered a sacrifice.  Apparently, this was also a stop on the journey, and they put up for the night there as well.  Note where this is - the Well of the Oath, the very place his father and grandfather were established in divine covenant too with God.  A lot was probably going through Jacob's mind at this point as he prepared the sacrifice, and no doubt it was impacted by the history of this place and the promises he was aware of that were made here and what those symbolized.  One thing that had to be crossing his mind was this - So, God made this covenant with Grandad and Dad, yet we are going to Egypt now.  Does this mean something has changed?   So, as Jacob slept, God used that situation as an opportunity to visit Jacob in what was called a "vision of the night."  This vision may not have been a dream, and perhaps Jacob had so much on his mind that he slept light, and therefore God appeared to him.  When God does appear, He reassures Jacob first that this is right, and that for some reason he is supposed to go into Egypt for that season.  God also tells Jacob that it will be in Egypt where his descendants will be grown into a great nation.  This is significant too, as throughout Scripture we see Egypt playing this pivotal role in the chronicle of God's people, even going back to Abraham, and later with the Exodus, and still later entailing both the Ark of the Covenant and Jesus Himself.  Part of what God said stipulates that this time in Egypt was for a season only, and that Jacob's descendants would in the future return to the land promised by God to their fathers.  A puzzling aspect of this "night vision" was specific to Joseph - God tells Jacob that Joseph will "put his hand on your eyes," and this has a mysterious curiosity for us who read it now.  Apparently it also did for the early Fathers of the Church, as many of them had a lot to say about it.  St. Ambrose, for instance, proposed in his writings that Jacob, because of advanced age at this point, had either impaired vision or was even totally blind.  However, St. Chrysostom proposes something else - Joseph would get to see Jacob before Jacob passed away, and would "close his eyes in death."  I would propose that perhaps both of these were true - Jacob's eyesight was failing, but also because of his advanced age he would die in Egypt but would at least get to see his beloved son Joseph before he did so.   At any rate, God's encouragement to Jacob was probably what he needed, and there is a lesson in this for us.  When we make important decisions, it is important to seek God's counsel on those decisions.  As we discussed in the earlier study on the Lord's Prayer, the late Roman Catholic theologian Romano Guardini identified the petition "Thy will be done" as the "gateway petition" to the whole prayer for a reason, and Jacob's example beautifully illustrates that for us.  We as Christians fail to do this on many occasions, and that leads me to a bit of soapboxing in lieu of the coming election that is on the horizon as I am typing this (in November 2016).

Recently on social media discussions, I found myself engaged in some heated discussions over who was better to vote for, and often in the United States these days when it comes to elections we tend to settle for a "lesser evil" rather than seeking the higher good.  In a recent Moral Theology class assignment at my university, we were required to read selected chapters of a book by Germain Grisez entitled Christian Moral Principles, and if you are familiar with the work, Grisez is writing it in a similar (albeit more readable) style of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologia, and one part I want to focus on in that text is in Chapter 4, Question C, where he is discussing the mistaken theories that are often advanced regarding moral principles.  One of those theories he debunks in this section is similar to an idea called proportionalism, which essentially presupposes that one can determine the right course of moral action by weighing the good and evil consequences, and then choosing what is called the "lesser evil."  This mentality pretty much summarizes the election that is about to take place at the time I am typing this lesson up, and it is refuted by Grisez on a couple of levels.  First, Grisez argues that such a view makes a moral norm subject to validation by personal choice, and that in effect nullifies relying on God's will in the matter, or trying to fit God's will into a preconceived proportionalist box.  As Grisez also correctly points out, it also risks ignoring clear standards God has established in natural law, which He Himself created, and it leads to three facts that Grisez lays out for us:

1.  Although some duties can be avoided or assumed by choice, it doesn't excuse moral responsibility for those choices.

2.  Arguments used to support this variation of proportionalist thought are often based on equivocations, speculations, and the feelings of those supporting it rather than on objective reasoning based on supernatural Revelation and natural law.  Decisions therefore are based on bad judgment, and choice is based on bad action.

3.  Moral norms can be true yet ignored, while a law can be obeyed and still be immoral.

It is because of these facts that both natural law and supernatural Revelation dictate to us the necessity of submission to God's will in all things, and that is why Jacob sets for us an example here of doing just that.  Jacob understood, as we should, that decisions lead to choice, and both the decision and the choice must fall in line with God's will, as much was at stake.  Therefore, by seeking God, Jacob aligned his decision and choice to journey to Egypt with God's will for him doing so, and thus he got the "green light" to go.

Jacob was obviously not alone on the journey either, as he had at least 74 other people with him, of which 66 were males, including his other 11 sons.  When they arrive, Joseph meets them in the land of Goshen where they would settle thanks to Pharaoh's invitation, and would continue their livelihood as pastoralists.  This again substantiates why it stands to reason that the Hyksos regime ruled this part of Egypt at the time, in that the Pharaoh was extremely welcoming and generous concerning Joseph and his folks, which would not have been necessarily the case if a native Egyptian Pharaoh would have been in power (as we see later during the Exodus).  Goshen was also chosen as well because shepherds were not looked upon kindly by the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34 states that the Egyptians thought shepherds to be an "abomination," probably due to the Hyksos raids that maybe were carried out against them by marauding nomadic herdsmen).  St. Chrysostom also sheds light on another reason - due to the mystical nature of the Egyptian religion and the more practical pursuits of the nomadic herdsmen, the shepherds had no time to mess around with Egyptian mysticism.  If that was true, this meant that the Egyptians probably felt as though foreign herdsmen were disrespecting their religious practices, and that was abominable to them too.  Like many other areas in the Genesis narrative, it is possible all of this was true simultaneously.  Therefore, Joseph and ultimately Pharaoh in their wisdom may have seen Goshen as an appropriate and safe area for Joseph's family to settle, in that few native Egyptians messed around or lived there, and thus, being Jacob was devoted to worshipping the true God, it would have also removed temptation to participate in idolatry from Jacob's family as well (note - accessed 10/14/2016).

Although Joseph was able to meet up with his folks, Pharaoh had not yet met them but wanted to, and therefore Joseph advised they had arrived.  There is an endearing quality here to Pharaoh's hospitality, and in reading the account in Chapter 47, one thing that stands out is the great reverence and respect Pharaoh displays regarding the elderly Jacob.   This also suggests further evidence that this Pharaoh was not a native Egyptian either, as most native Egyptian Pharaohs saw themselves as "gods" as well and would not even associate with their own people, much less foreigners.  However, Pharaoh not only shows Jacob a very high regard, but even sits down with him for an informal chat.  Pharaoh first of all inquires of their work, and they reply as Joseph coached them to identify as shepherds.  Pharaoh then formally welcomes them, and even offers some of the more capable of Jacob's party to be overseers of his own herds in the area, which in itself was a high honor. In verses 7-12, we see Pharaoh sitting down and catching up with Jacob.  He asks in casual conversation Jacob's age, which he replies is 130 at that point, and then something interesting happens - Jacob blesses Pharaoh!  This is, in my opinion, one of the most down-to-earth passages in the Genesis account, and there is something about it that just resonates personally with me in reading it - the respect that Pharaoh shows Jacob, and the kindness Jacob extends to Pharaoh by blessing him, is just something that warms the heart.  There is no trace of formality or royal decorum seen in a casual reading of this passage, but rather it is just an informal conversation between the king of a great country and an old man that has garnered the king's respect as an elder.  This too would have been very uncharacteristic of a native Egyptian pharaoh, and in what we see here there is a valuable insight to be seen - God times everything perfect, and the Hyksos ruling this part of Egypt at exactly this time and with these events (namely the famine) shows who really is ordering things.  This is one of those Romans 8:28 moments.

 Location of the Land of Goshen in Egypt

What Goshen's landscape looks like today

Depiction of Jacob's meeting with Pharaoh

Now that everyone has been formally introduced, Joseph's family settles in.  However, Joseph has bigger proverbial "fish to fry," in that the famine is intensifying.   As the grain reserves start to run low, Joseph introduces a sort of annuity plan to assure that the Egyptians can still eat and that Egypt also keeps its head above water.  The plan comes in stages, and looks like this:

1.  Stage 1 - the monies collected from grain sales are given as incentive stipends to the people to help them buy their needed provisions.

2. Stage 2 - Joseph institutes a barter program in which he allows provision for cattle to be traded for grain.

3. Stage 3 - As funds run low, Joseph begins to buy up land and moves people to the cities, in essence creating the conditions for employment that agriculture could not provide.  The temple lands, in respect for Egyptian customs, are exempt from this.

4.  Stage 4 - For the grain that is able to be grown, Joseph institutes a 20% tax - 20% is allotted to Pharaoh, and the remaining 80% remains to those who possess it.  It is an embryonic "flat tax" program for its time.

This wise planning in essence helps Egypt ride out the famine, and it also demonstrates the wisdom God gave to Joseph to be a wise steward over that which he was responsible.  

As mentioned, Jacob is very advanced in age, and perhaps realizes his time on the earth is about to come to an end.  So, he calls Joseph to him, and makes him swear with one of those "hand under thigh" oaths we discussed in an earlier lesson, to bury his remains back in Canaan.  At this point, Jacob has been in Egypt about 17 years, as this passage notes he is 147 years old at the time of this oath.  A short time after that, as Genesis 48 records, Jacob becomes very ill, and he wants to bless Joseph's sons.  So, Joseph brings Ephraim and Manasseh before their grandfather, and they postrate themselves upon Joseph's prompting - Ephraim is on the left side of Jacob, and Manasseh on the right.  It is not stated how old these boys were at this point, although possibly they could have been older adolescents or young adults.  In verse 15, Jacob blesses them by laying hands first on Ephraim, who is the younger.  This perturbs Joseph, as that was not protocol, and he attempts to correct the supposed error himself by trying to move Jacob's hand to Manasseh's head.  Jacob, however, assures Joseph that he knows what he is doing, and the reason for this is prophetic - Ephraim's seed shall become a "multitude of nations," and shall be greater than Manasseh's.  The reason for this unfurls later in the Scriptural record as we begin to see the story of the nation of Israel unfurl, but for now that is all the detail given on this ceremonial blessing by Jacob of his grandsons.

Artist's rendering (although chronologically incorrect) of Jacob blessing Ephraim and Manasseh

As Jacob senses his time on earth coming to an end, he begins to get his affairs in order by imparting blessings and wisdom to his sons, which is recorded in Chapter 49.  Here is the breakdown of how that is recorded:

1. Reuben  (name means "vision of the son")- natural son, but not a "work of his father."  The meaning is enigmatic, but the Christological typology is evident.  Jesus, in the same way, is confessed by the Creed as being "begotten and not made." 

2.  Simeon and Levi  (names mean "hears and obeys" and "joined" respectively) - they are blessed together by Jacob, and are mentioned as being "good by nature, evil by choice."  This is one of those things we understand better when reading Aquinas, in that all being is good, but nature can be corrupted, and as mentioned, a choice is acting upon decision, and if the decision is wrong the choice will be evil.

3.  Judah (name means "praised") - Judah is "he whom his brothers shall praise," in that it is his line through which the future Messiah would come.  Verse 10 also carries overtones of the Kerygma with it, as it is complementary to passages in Isaiah such as 11:1, and in the New Testament we see fulfillment of this particularly in Hebrews 7:14 and Revelation 5:5.

4.  Zebulon (name means "to dwell with")  - the first geographic reference;  his descendants will inherit land on the coast bordering Lebanon, and shall be a "haven for ships."  Zebulon's territory is today where the modern city of Haifa sits. 

5.  Issachar (name means "to be rewarded") - there are overtones here to intense labor and slavery.  

6.  Dan (name means "judge") - His descendants shall exercise judgment (indeed Samson was a descendant of his).

7.  Gad (name means "good fortune") - He will be overtaken at first, but shall prevail in the end.

8.  Asher (name means "happy")- His descendants may be seen as inhabiting an agriculturally-rich area.

9.  Naphtali (name means "gained by struggle")- a "deer let loose"(?) whose descendants are also apparently articulate.

10.  Joseph (name means "may God add") - By God's help, Joseph's overcoming of adversity has led to great blessing.

11.  Benjamin (name means "son of old age") - a "ravenous wolf" who will "divide the spoils." (?)

Time does not permit a thorough discussion of what Jacob actually meant by what he was saying to his sons, but apparently these pronouncements would either have some significance in their own lives, or in those of their descendants.  

In verses 28-33, we have Jacob's passing recorded, and it mentions that Joseph mourned for 70 days and then he gets Pharaoh's permission to bury his father back in their homeland.  An additional seven days are observed in the funerary rite, and the Egyptians also mourn the death in such a way that the local people think it must be something of high importance, and it says they named the place accordingly.  As Jacob is being buried, there are some problems ran into with Esau and his tribesmen, as Jasher records and we discussed last lesson.  Esau opposes the burial, and as a result Jasher 56 records, a battle ensues at which point Esau is taken out by Dan's disabled son (the account has him as being deaf and dumb) Chushim, who decapitates Esau in this accounting.  This extrabiblical account of Esau's demise is the last mention in any literature of Esau's name, and although Genesis omits it for the reason that the focus there is on Jacob's passing, it is still significant historically.  

With Jacob's passing and once he is buried and life begins to return to normal, Joseph's brothers start to get very worried.  They recall what they did to him years ago, and are afraid that with their father out of the way Joseph will take revenge on them.  However, this is not Joseph's way, and he reassures them that all is forgiven due to the fact that it was God who allowed all that to happen for a greater good, namely a good that resulted in the saving of many lives.  Therefore, Joseph promises his brothers that they will be cared for and have nothing to worry about, and they all lived out their days in Egypt, and Jasher actually records when each of them dies.   That account, recorded in Jasher 62, has Reuben, Dan, Issachar, Asher, and Gad all dying at the age of 125, Judah at age 129, Naphtali at age 132, and in Jasher 63, Levi at age 137, and in Jasher 61, Zebulon at age 114 (he could have been the first to pass) and Simeon at age 120.  Benjamin's death, oddly, is not recorded at all.  It is mentioned that sometime prior to Levi's death was when things started going sour for Jacob's descendants in Israel as well, as this would have probably been about the time the Egyptians drove out the Hyksos, and due to the contempt the native Egyptians had, this could have been the scenario which created the conditions for the Exodus later.   

In the midst of all the above, Joseph at some point passes away at the age of 110, and in verses 22-26 it is recorded that he saw his great-grandchildren grow up.  He then speaks prophetically before his passing of his own interring back in Canaan, and also he reaffirms that which God spoke to Jacob some years before - that their descendants would return.  This essentially ends the Genesis account, and what we have now set is the stage for the events leading up to the arrival of Moses some years later and the ensuing Exodus.

Genesis therefore concludes here - a story that started in Paradise in the Garden ends in a coffin in Egypt.  Man was created originally in the image of God, and given health and immortality, but then he forfeited it when he sought to fear his own mortality over fearing God, and that led to a gradual decline in lifespan - those who once lived 900+ years now could expect to be accomplishing a lot if they made it past 100.  The effects of the Fall did take time, but they were felt nonetheless.  And, that leads to some concluding thoughts on the whole story.

Genesis is historical, it is literal, and it is of supernatural origin.  It has been the position throughout this study that although Genesis was written long after the events it recorded, a combination of passed-down oral traditions as well as "filling in the gaps" through Moses directly communing with God to receive this marvelous account on the Mount gives us the story of our origins, both as a race and for the universe as a whole.  There are many today who cannot rationalize what Genesis says, and they try to reinterpret it and spiritualize it, but the fact remains that God's Word is authoritative, and because He is true, His Word is true also.   That is the approach we take in this study, and hopefully it was edifying to you and challenging, as it truly was to me preparing it. 

Sources used for this lesson:

Cornwall, Judson, and Stelman Smith.   The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names.  North Brunswick, NJ:  Bridge-Logos, 1998.

Grisez, Germain.  Christian Moral Principles.  Chicago:  Franciscan Herald Press, 1983.

Johnson, Ken. ed.  The Ancient Book of Jasher., 2008.

Sheridan, Mark, and Thomas Oden, eds.  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament Vol II - Genesis 12-50.  Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 2002.  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 37 - Joseph's Story: Rags to Riches (Genesis 41-45)

This lesson focuses upon the meteoric and miraculous rise of Joseph from a prisoner/slave to the second most powerful leader in Egypt.  As we study this, it must be remembered that there are two important facts to this whole story.  First, what Joseph accomplished was by divine guidance and not his own merit - Joseph humbled himself, and God exalted him.  Secondly, it encourages us and reminds us that whatever adversity we may be currently facing, it is only temporary - as Romans 8:28 reminds us, "all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose." I am pretty certain that St. Paul, as an educated man, probably had the story of Joseph in mind as he reflected upon his own situation in the Roman prison he sat in as he wrote those words, and this too serves to remind us that, as my late mentor Fr. Eusebius Stephanou often said, "Man's disappointments are God's appointments."  The person who yields his or herself to God becomes a pliable vessel that God can use for His glory, and the story of Joseph personifies that beautifully.

In Genesis 41:1-36, the story from last lesson picks up.  To recap a bit, Joseph was wrongly accused by Potiphar's oversexed, lonely wife of something he was not guilty of, and he ended up in prison where he won the trust of the jailer and subsequentially came into contact with a butler and a baker who had recently gotten on the wrong side of Pharaoh.  Both of these men had dreams that troubled them, and Joseph, who was gifted at dream interpretation, counsels them by explaining the meaning of what they dreamed.  The butler's dream was good news for him, but unfortunately not so much for the baker, who is later executed.  The butler is restored to his position, and despite Joseph's request to remember him to Pharaoh, the butler goes on about his business and forgets all about what had happened.  That is, until Pharaoh started having dreams that troubled him!  It is at this point the story picks up.

The Pharaoh has two troubling dreams about essentially the same thing, with the same imagery, and he is so perplexed over them that he is trying to find out by any means possible what they mean.  At this point, his butler has a brief moment of memory clarity, and said in essence, "Oh yeah, there was this guy in the jail who might be able to help you out, Your Highness."  Apparently, these dreams were so disturbing that Pharaoh in essence says, "What the heck, why not?   Bring this guy to me and we'll see what he can do."  So, Joseph is brought before Pharaoh, and Pharaoh tells him the dreams.  As Joseph is gifted in this area, he sees almost instantly what the dreams meant, and he interprets them to the detail, even without Pharaoh telling him what they were.

At this point, I want to interject some history into the conversation, because anyone who knows anything about ancient history would understand that a typical Pharaoh would not give the time of day to a foreign slave, especially one who was in prison.   However, this was not just any Pharaoh, but rather he was possibly a leader of an invading Semitic people called the Hyksos who occupied northern Egypt at around this time and established their own kingdom and dynasty.  Although this is a matter of debate among some Biblical scholars, I believe it is plausible that Joseph encountered a Hyksos Pharaoh just by the way events played out.  If so, it also substantiates that God was indeed in control of things and had Joseph in the right place and at the right time, as only a Pharaoh who could to some degree identify with a person like Joseph would take what he said seriously.  God controls the events of history as well, and although He does not order them arbitrarily or robotically, He works through human events to accomplish His purpose.  And, this was one of those events. 

Ancient depiction of the Hyksos invasion of Egypt.

The two dreams Pharaoh had entailed similar imagery - seven lean cows consuming seven fat cows, and seven bad ears of grain consuming seven full ears.   As Joseph interpreted the dream, he notes that there are a total of 14 items in each dream, and the numbers represent years.  For seven years, there would be abundant crops and good harvests, but then a seven-year famine would ensue that would consume the resources that the abundance created.  Joseph then counsels Pharaoh to prepare by appointing a sensible steward to manage the abundant resources while they had them, and in doing so the nation could be spared much of the ravages of the ensuing famine.  By this point, famines and dry spells had become a fact of life, as the primal conditions which existed before the Flood of Noah's day some centuries earlier were forever altered, as was the landscape.  We have seen in the example of Abraham, Joseph's great-grandfather, that bad famines had hit the region before, and like Abraham, people were forced to Egypt as a sort of refuge - this is odd in itself, as Egypt is essentially a desert region after the Flood, with the ever-expanding Sahara to the west encroaching upon the nation more each year.   Therefore, Joseph's counsel to the Pharaoh was prudent and possessed a wisdom beyond Joseph's young years, and this was something that got Pharaoh's attention as well.

Pharaoh was quite impressed that Joseph was able to share this insight with him, and so much so that he basically said to Joseph, "I believe you are the man for the job."  So, Pharaoh essentially makes Joseph the prime minister of Egypt on the spot, and then seals the deal with a ceremony.  First, Pharaoh has Joseph clothed in the fine linen of the aristocracy, which was a custom that the Hyksos adopted as they did many things from their native Egyptian subjects. Pharaoh then confers upon Joseph his personal signet ring, which was a universal symbol of royal authority and in essence the Pharaoh was giving Joseph authority to act on his behalf.   He then confers a title upon Joseph, noted in Scripture as being Zaphenath-Paaneah ("the one who furnishes nourishment of life") which directly corresponds to Joseph's counsel.  He then gives Joseph a bride - a young lady named Asenath, who was the daughter it says of  Potipherah, the "priest of On."  There is some weird logic here, as in the first place the reader of this text may ask, why would God allow Joseph to marry the daughter of a pagan priest?  In looking at the context, On was the city where this priest lived and probably served a temple, and the name Potipherah means "priest of the sun," while On itself means "sun."  As the principle deity of the Egyptians (probably adopted to some degree by the Hyksos rulers) was Amun-Ra, this would make sense as Amun-Ra was a sun deity.  Therefore, Joseph was betrothed to the daughter of a priest of the sun-god, and again there is some ambiguity as to why God allowed it.  There is very little in the Biblical record about Asenath as Joseph's wife, and the only other mention of her is when she gives birth to their two sons later on.  However, in the Book of Jasher Chapter 49, in verse 37 there is a description given of her as being a beautiful virgin daughter of Potipherah, and it was by Pharaoh's decree that she be made the wife of Joseph, perhaps to give him the status and legitimacy he needed to carry out the duties of his office.  Therefore, perhaps God allowed Joseph to be integrated into the Egyptian social order through this marriage in order to carry out the plans He had for Joseph.  Genesis 41:46 notes Joseph was 30 years old when this all took place.

Conferring the authority of the signet upon Joseph

The new Prime Minister.

As Joseph settles down into his new life with his new bride, at some point she bears him two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  Scripture seems to imply that these boys were twins, and they were born during the seven years of abundance Joseph had accurately predicted would happen.  The name Ephraim, who was the younger of the two boys, means "doubly fruitful," while the name Manasseh meant "one who causes forgetfulness."  Jasher 50:15 records that Joseph was 34 at the time of their birth, which again implies that the boys were twins.  The subsequent verses in Jasher also document that both sons had instilled in them by their father a love of God, and that he also made sure they were well-educated, and in Jasher 50:17 they even gained favor among the aristocracy for their character that Joseph instilled in them.  If this be the case, something else was happening here too which prefigures what Jesus would do later for humanity as the completion of God's plan of salvation - this essentially could invite the implication that Asenath, Joseph's wife, also came to worship the true God.  That in itself is an act of God Himself, in that the daughter of a pagan priest essentially attained a type of salvation as a result of the marriage to and influence of Joseph.  It also shows that even at the beginning, God's will was that all mankind would be able to have the opportunity of salvation, and this is also part of the Abrahamic Covenant that Joseph would also have been an heir to.  

In due season, the time of plenty ends and the famine arrives.  However, during the previous seven years Joseph had wisely made provision for this happening, and Egypt was prepared for it.  However, it appeared that the famine was not just confined to Egypt, but also extended to the surrounding region, as Jacob and his family began to feel the effects of it in Canaan.  Word has spread fast to the surrounding nations that a wise minister had managed Egypt's resources to create a surplus, and this would also prove fortuitous for the Egyptians too, as they not only had enough grain to feed themselves, but they could also profit from other nations who would be buying from Egypt, which is another aspect of Joseph's plan.  It also proves that Joseph was being used of God not only to save Egypt, but a wider circle of population.  Again, the disappointment of Joseph's mistreatment at the hand of his brothers was an evil God turned into good, and the appointed time of Joseph's arrival in Egypt was all orchestrated by God Himself.  And, as we see, it also impacted his own family hundreds of miles away.

Like many people in the region, Jacob had gotten word that Egypt was offering surplus grain for sale to surrounding nations and his family needed to replenish their supply.  So, he sends his sons (with the exception of Benjamin, who was yet too young) to Egypt to buy grain.  They have no idea that their brother Joseph was used by God to make all this possible, and upon their arrival Joseph recognizes them but they fail to recognize him.  If you recall when Joseph was younger in the previous lesson, he had a series of dreams of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, as well as a bunch of wheat bundles bowing to his bundle, and this was a major bone of contention for his brothers, which is why out of jealousy they sold him down the river.  Now, however, those dreams were beginning to come to pass, as now the brothers were compelled to show Joseph honor by bowing before him and respecting his authority.  Joseph decides to have a little fun with this, since his brothers don't recognize him, and he pretends to accuse them of being spies and has them tossed into jail.  After staying in jail three days, they are released on the condition that one of them has to stay behind and that they have to bring Benjamin back with them.  Simeon volunteers to stay, and Joseph sees the other brothers off with the grain they came for.  In 42:26-38, the brothers begin their journey home, but as they are traveling, they discover that their money is in the sack of grain, and they are mortified over it.  As they inspect the other sacks, more of their money is found, and this creates a panic that haunts them as they return home.  They tell their father what has happened, and he too is concerned and chastises his sons.  In the parallel account in Jasher 51, it gives a somewhat different account of Simeon's incarceration - although Simeon did volunteer, he did so with great conflict as it also seems that he was also left there by a consensus of the other brothers.   Although Simeon's name means "one who obeys," it appears he only did so with great struggle according to the account in Jasher.  Apparently Simeon put up a fight when Joseph's men tried to apprehend him, as he is said in this account to be a man who was very strong and able to resist.   However at some point Joseph's son Manasseh, who is now of age, has had enough of this nonsense from his uncle (whom he did not realize as such at this point), and he essentially whacks him on the back of the head and knocks him cold, and he is able to be apprehended.  After that happens, Joseph then fills their grain sacks and sends them on their way, and it is Levi who discovers in his sack the returned money, and the brothers almost immediately view it as a sign of God's judgment against them for what they did to Joseph some years earlier.  Although a somewhat different account, Jasher correlates with Genesis and also provides more detail to the story.

Any case, the brothers return home, and of course Jacob is concerned that Simeon is not with them, so Judah takes it upon himself to tell his father what happened.  Jacob is not in the least happy, and when Judah tells him what Joseph's stipulations are, Jacob initially refuses.  But, after a certain amount of time, they need to replenish their grain supply, and have to make another trip.  Judah reminds Jacob of the stipulation of this visit, and offers to personally look after Benjamin while there. After some deliberation, Jacob grudgingly relents, and Benjamin is allowed to go with them.

When the brothers arrive, Joseph instructs his deputies to bring them to his house, and considering the money incident on the last trip, the brothers are mortified and confess to Joseph what happened.  Joseph, of course, had planted the money in their bags himself, and he assures them that there is nothing to worry about and all is forgiven.  At this point too he also releases Simeon.  At the sight of his youngest (and full) brother Benjamin, Joseph is overcome with emotion and has to excuse himself so his brothers won't see him express it.  And, he also formulates another plan.  

The brothers are invited to have dinner with Joseph at his house, and while there Joseph has his personal goblet concealed in Benjamin's bags.  He then loads them up with a lot of food and sends them on their way.  When they leave, he has one of his stewards to track them down, and they are to be searched.  Upon doing this search, the missing goblet is found and Joseph, feigning indignation, demands that the one who stole the cup become his personal servant.  Knowing it was Benjamin's belongings where the cup was found, and the devastation their father would feel if anything happened to Benjamin, Judah throws himself on the chopping-block.  In this, we see yet another Christological type - Jesus, who would come through Judah's lineage, also offered Himself in our place, but not as a substitute.  As God Incarnate, the love Jesus has for humanity far exceeds the sinfulness of humanity, and is more than just a substitution - it is propitiation (an exercise of love on behalf of an offending party to appease the wrath of the offended).  Judah embodies a propitiation for his younger brother that our "older brother," Jesus, would do for us as part of the divine economy of the central kerygma of the salvation legacy.  This selfless act on Judah's behalf is also driven by love - a love of his father, as well as a voluntary act of love for his younger brother Benjamin.  This is an important gem to unearth in this story.

All of this finally becomes too much for Joseph, and in Genesis 45 he finally reveals to his brothers who he really is.  It is left to the design of the imagination as to what the initial action of his brothers would have been, as it definitely would have gotten a response from them.  But, the end result was a joyous reunion between Joseph and his enstranged brothers, and the past was left behind.  This is what salvation - and particularly Calvary - does for us;  although we may see God as wrathful and we know we deserve the most severe of judgments, then Jesus reveals Himself and offers Himself in joyful and loving fulness so that we might also be reconciled with Him.  Again, this is a central aspect of the kerygmatic core of the legacy of salvation, and an important lesson for us.  After this revelation and reunion of Joseph with his brothers, Joseph then tells Pharaoh, and being that he and Pharaoh also share a closeness (one gets the impression reading this that Pharaoh not only trusted Joseph with his life, but that he also considered Joseph a friend too) Pharaoh tells Joseph to welcome his family to Egypt to live out the famine, and now the family has the full endorsement of the Pharaoh himself.  

Jacob, upon the return of his sons and the news that Joseph was alive and in the position of authority, is of course initially confused - it is a lot for an old man to take in finding out a son given up for dead is not only alive, but is prospering!   However, once it all sinks in, Jacob is overjoyed and agrees to go to Egypt, if even only temporarily.  The next lesson, which will also conclude this series, will get into more detail regarding their arrival and settling in Egypt. 

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