Saturday, March 9, 2013

Genesis 27:1-29:35


We are just over halfway through the book of Genesis.

Of the stories of the Patriarchs, I like the Jacob saga best. He is a trickster, and I find the stories about him highly entertaining. He also shows the most character development of the Patriarchs. Abraham is portrayed inconsistently; Isaac doesn't do much; Joseph (who probably doesn't count as a Patriarch, but whose story takes up a good deal of Genesis) is two-dimensional, he goes through a lot but does not change; but Jacob...Jacob grows.

Do you have a favorite Patriarch?

In Genesis 27 Isaac has grown old. His eyesight has failed, but his other senses are intact. He tastes savory food. He smells his son's clothes. He touches his his son's hand. And he hears his son's voice. Isaac's mind is still sharp, too. He is suspicious but, in the end, he is deceived.

Rebekah and Jacob take advantage of Isaac's blindness and trick him into giving Jacob a blessing that rightly belongs to Esau. Did I mention that this is a dysfunctional family?

There is some comedy in this story. To impersonate Esau, Jacob covers his hands and neck with goat skins. Esau is said to be a hairy man, but, come on, no one is that hairy!

So Jacob cheats Esau once more. Esau's despair is almost palpable as he cries out, "Didn't you save a blessing for me?" Isaac does his best, but the blessing he gives Esau sounds more like a curse. At least it puts a limit on Isaac's blessing. "You will serve your brother..." but one day you'll get out from under his yoke.

The Edomites, said to be the descendants of Esau, were enemies of Israel. Edom will be conquered by Israel's first king, Saul. Later, Edom will participate in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Esau swears that after their father's death, which is not far off, he will kill Jacob. This sets up a lot of the action to come.

Partly to get Jacob away from Esau, and partly to get him a wife who is not a Hittite woman, his parents send him away to visit Rebekah's brother, Laban. Jacob is about to meet his wily match.

Chapter 28 opens with a notice that Esau, in an attempt to please his parents, takes a third wife, this one an Ishmaelite, a descendant of Abraham.

Then we read the story of Jacob's ladder, or stairwell, or zigurat, or whatever it is. In a dream, Jacob sees angels ascending and descending from God in the sky. God, high above, makes promises to Jacob. He will receive the blessings promised to Abraham, and God will be with Jacob in his travels. Jacob names the place Bethel ("House of God") and promises to give God "one tenth of what you give me"--a tithe, though it sounds a little like a kickback.

When I wrote about Genesis 24, I mentioned a trope in biblical literature:
     the hero leaves home to find a wife;

     he meets a woman at a well;

     water is drawn;

     a marriage contract is made.

Here in chapter 28, we encounter that trope for the second time. As always, it tells us something about the hero. Jacob left home partly to find a wife, but partly to escape his brother's wrath. As the story plays out, Jacob's trickery comes back to bite him.

The woman Jacob meets at the well is the shapely Rachel, younger daughter of uncle Laban. Her older sister, Leah, has eyes. There's something about her eyes, though no one seems to be quite sure what. They may be "soft" and lovely. They may be "weak." They may even be crossed! It hardly matters. Jacob only has eyes for Rachel.

Jacob agrees to work for Laban 7 years in order to pay the bride price for his beloved. The years fly by. The wedding night comes and Laban sneaks Leah into Jacob's bed. In the morning, Jacob, rightly upset, is told that "We don't marry off the younger daughter before the older one in these parts." It just isn't done. And so the deceiver is deceived in a way that parallels the dirty tricks he played on his older brother.

It might be good to note at this point that women in Bible times were considered the property of their men. They belonged first to their father, then to their husband, and then, if widowed, to their sons who supported them.This does not mean that women were necessarily mistreated or unloved. It does mean, however, that women were vulnerable and dependent in ways that are hard to imagine today.

No one seems to have consulted Leah about this marriage to a man who had the hots for her little sister. What do you imagine she thought of it?

After a week (for the wedding festivities?) Jacob is permitted to marry his beloved Rachel, as well. Notice that uncle Laban has got himself out from under the responsibility of keeping two daughters and has rooked Jacob into working for him another 7 years to boot.

In addition to two wives, Jacob acquires two female slaves, Leah's maid Zilpah and Rachel's maid Bilhah. Let the games begin.

Rachel, like so many other women in Scripture is unable to have children. Unloved Leah is plenty fertile, however, and presses the small advantage that gives her by having sons for Jacob. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah will become the namesake ancestors of 4 of the twelve tribes that made up the nation Israel.

Next: Genesis 30-31

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