Tuesday, July 31, 2012

XXVI - Chapter 42 and 43 - Joseph Reunites With His Brothers

Only God could take the child of a Hebrew shepherd and place him as the second ruler of the most powerful country on earth.  As we saw in the last post, Joseph has gained the respect of all mankind whom he has dealt with.  And he has been rewarded.  He now stands with all his regalia, with all his power and authority, still giving his best effort in serving God and man.  He has also been blessed with two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  Joseph's life seems complete.  It would seem that Joseph is in want for nothing.  However, Joseph is still a Hebrew in a foreign land, without any of his family.  I'm certain this has left a void in Joseph's heart.

Chapter 42  -  As stated earlier, the famine was everywhere, including Canaan, where Jacob and his eleven sons lived.  Jacob had heard that there was grain for sale in Egypt.  Everyone in Canaan and everyplace else were running desparately short of food.  A famine is no small matter.  A famine is caused by drought, which means not only was there no food for men, women, and children, but there was hardly any food or water for the livestock either.  An estate even as large and as strong as Jacob's could collapse within three or four years of severe famine.  In verse one Jacob asked his sons, "What are you standing around looking at each other for?  Go down to Egypt and buy some grain or we will all die of starvation."   In vss 3-5, we see that Jacob sent all of his sons to Egypt except Benjamin.  (Here we go again with parental favoritism.)  Benjamin, as was Joseph, was born of Rachel, whom Jacob loved so much.   And Benjamin was Jacob's youngest son.

Vss 6 - The ten brothers arrived in Egypt to purchase grain and of course was brought to the only man with the authority to sell them any:  Their brother Joseph.  They did not recognize Joseph.  (Of course they wouldn't recognize him.  It has been at least fifteen years since they saw Joseph, and he was just a teenager at that time.  Also, Joseph had his head and face shaved and dressed as an Egyptian official.  Additionally, the brothers did not know that Joseph had been taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelite merchants.)   And when they were brought before Joseph, they all bowed down before him (remember Joseph's dream when he was a child?).  Joseph of course recognized all of them.  They were dressed in traditional Hebrew garments, and they would not have changed in appearance as much as Joseph did.  But Joseph acted like he did not recognized them and he spoke harshly to them.  He inquired as to their purpose and they told him they were there to purchase grain.  But Joseph acted like he didn't believe them and accused them of being spies.  Verses through 13 tell of the brothers trying to convince this man that all they came for was to buy food.  In vss 14-17 Joseph wants to see the other brother they spoke of (Benjamin) and will hold 10 of them hostage until one of them goes and brings Benjamin to him.  But then it seems Joseph wanted to rethink this a bit, so he cast them into custody for three days.  Vs 18 - Joseph gets them out of prison and proposes a test for them.  He would send all but one back to Canaan with the grain and would only release the remaining one to them if they brought back their youngest brother.  Vss 21,22 tells us that all the brothers had a guilty conscious about what they did to Joseph many years ago, and Reuben reminds them of it.  (Reuben was opposed to their evil plan from the beginning.)  Vs 23 tells of them talking among themselves in Joseph's presence.  They didn't realize Joseph could understand the Hebrew tongue because Joseph was using an interpreter when communicating with them.  In vs 24 it shows where Joseph was about to break down and weep over his brothers and had to leave from their presence to compose himself.

As their camels were being loaded with the grain that was purchased, Joseph arranged for the silver used for payment to be secretly put back into the sacks and would be taken back with the brothers.  It noted that the one brother kept in Egypt as ransom was Simeon.  (Not that it makes any differnence, but I would have guessed him to keep Judah, as Judah seemed to be the instigater of the whole plan to get rid of Joseph in the first place.)  Vss 27,28 - As they were travelling back to Canaan they discovered the silver was still in their possession.  Fear came upon all of them.  but instead of returning hastily to Egypt, they decided to continue on to their father.  When a person becomes extremely fearful, he will always seek the familiar.

When they finally got home to Jacob they gave him the full account of their journey (vss 29-34).  However, when Jacob heard all of this, he was distraught.  He lashed out at them in disappointment.  "Why did you tell them about Benjamin anyway?"  he scolded.  He went on to lament, "Joseph is dead, they will probably kill Simeon, and now you want to take Benjamin?  Absolutely not!"  At this time Reuben (Reuben was the oldest and always seemed to have more sense that the others) tells his father that he may kill both of Reuben's sons if Reuben fails to bring back both Simeon and Benjamin to him.  In verse 38 Jacob rejects Reuben's offer and refuses to allow Benjamin to go with them beause "he is the only one left", meaning the only one of Rachel's sons left.

Chapter 43 - I'm not sure how much time has passed from their arrival back home till now.  Vs 1 - The famine lingered on which only gets worse with each passing day that it lingers.  Jacob told his sons to go back to Egypt and get more food.  Judah spoke up and said they could not go back unless they brought Benjamin with them.  In vs 6 Jacob again scolds "Why did you tell the man that you had another brother?  What was the point in offering such information to a man who was already speaking harshly with you?"  They answered sheepishly to their father that they were just answering the man's questions, having no idea what it might lead to.  Then Judah spoke up and took the lead.  He told Jacob to let him take Benjamin and swore that he would bring him back alive and well.  If not, Jacob could blame Judah for the rest of his life.  Judah adds in vs 10 "if we hadn't spent so much time argueing about this we could have gone and gotten back by now".  (good point.  don't waste time argueing about something when all parties know what the inevitable is.)

Vss 11-14 show how Jacob wants to do everything he can to gain favor with the Egyptian official.  Has has them load up double the silver, some balm, honey, spices, myrrh, some pistachios and almonds.  That was the best that the land could offer.  He prays God's mercy on them and mentions Benjamin again.  (what about the safe return of Simeon and the ten others?)

This time when they got to Egypt, everything was different.  When Joseph saw that they had Benjamin with them, he had them taken to his house and instructed his servants to prepare a lavish mid-day meal for them.  They were all nervous and suspicious when they got to Joseph's house.  So before they entered the house they told the steward at the front door about the silver that was supposed to belong to Egypt, and in the spirit of honesty, they were bringing it back.  But the steward reassured them that everything was well, and it was actually him that put the silver back into their sacks, according to the orders given him by Joseph.  The steward proceeded to take them into the house and let them wash up for the meal.

When Joseph arrived home they presented to him all the gifts they brought and again bowed down before him.  He asked them about their father and was he still living.  They said Jacob was still alive and well, then they bowed prostrate before him.  (Bowing down prostrate is lieing face down on the floor with arms and legs spread out.  It signified the most humble of reverence.)  Joseph looked down and saw Benjamin, his only full blooded brother, "his own mothers son".  So moved was Joseph at the sight of all of his brothers, that he hurried out to a private place to weep.  When he returned after composing himself, he instructed the servants to serve the food.  Notice the manner in which the food was served in vss 32-33.  It was considered detestable for Egyptians to eat with Hebrews, Canaanites, or anyone else who was not an Egyptian.  (Egyptians considered themselves above everybody else.)  Now remember:  Joseph's brothers still did not know Joseph's true identity.  To them, he was a high ranking Egyptian who held their fate in his hands.  Notice how Joseph protected his secret during the serving of the meal.  Joseph was served first and separately.  Then his Hebrew brothers were served and they ate separately.  Then the Egyptians who were present were served separately and they ate by themselves.  So, in the eyes of every person in that house, the customs were being observed.  Joseph ate with neither the Hebrews nor the Egyptians.  (noone could make this stuff up.)  Also interesting to note that Joseph made sure Benjamin received a considerably larger portion of food than any of his brothers.

We'll continue on with this in Chapter 44 in the next post.

Monday, July 30, 2012

XXV - Chapter 41 - Joseph and Pharaoh

Now it's been two years since Joseph interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker, but up to this point Joseph was unfairly forgotten by the cupbearer.  God now considers Joseph to be ready.  He is a full grown man now and has passed every test, mastering servitude to the fullest.  And most of all, Joseph KNEW that God was in charge of his life and everything else.

Chapter 41 - Pharaoh had a dream:  Seven sleek and fat cows came up from the river Nile, grazing in the meadow.  After them came seven skinny an unhealthy cows up to the fat cows and ate them up.  Pharaoh was awaken by this unpleasant dream, but managed to go back to sleep, at which time he had another dream:  This time there was a corn stalk (KJV) bearing seven fat and healthy ears of corn.  Then beside it came a stalk with seven withered and thin ears.  The withered ears ate the fat ears.  Later it tells that in each dream, the skinny cows and ears did not get bigger after they ate the fat ones.  Vs 8 - Of course a dream like this would trouble Pharaoh, so the next day he called for his magicians and wise men to have them tell him what the dreams mean.  Although I'm sure these men tried to give lame interpetations (they always wanted to please Pharaoh), but Pharaoh was not sold on their false interpretations.  Then in vs 9 the cupbearer surprisingly speaks up and confesses his own shortcoming.  It had dawned on the cupbearer that there was an absolutely perfect interpretor of dreams, a Hebrew that was in prison with him.  He proceeded to give the full account to Pharoah.

By this time Pharaoh was frustrated and desparate.  Pharaoh didn't seem to give much thought as to how much truth there was to the cupbearer's story, so right away he sent for Joseph.  The Scripture makes note that Joseph shaved himself before he was brought before Pharoah.  {In this time in History, it was customary for the Egyptian hierarchy to have shaved heads and faces.}  When Joseph was brought to Pharaoh, (vs 15) Pharaoh told him "I had a dream that noone is able to interpret.  But I've heard you can".  What are the first words out of Joseph's mouth in response to this?  Vs 16 - "I cannot do that, but God will give you the answers HE desires".  Joseph is wise, devout, and humble.  Just right.  I'll bet God feels so refreshed by this fine young man and can't wait to shower more and more blessings upon someone like Joseph who really deserves it.

In vss 17-24 Pharaoh tells both of his dreams to Joseph and shares with him that his magicians could not tell him anything of comfort.  Then in vs 25 Joseph responds to Pharaoh, firstly saying that both dreams mean the same thing.  Then Joseph tells Pharaoh that "God has revealed to Pharoah what He is about to do".  This was the perfect thing for Joseph to say.  That statement put Pharaoh is a special position.  (Joseph repeats this in vs 28)  That makes Pharaoh feel special and already he was growing to like this young Hebrew, and wanted to hear more.  Joseph interprets the dreams:  The seven fat cows and the seven plump ears of corn represent seven prosperous years of harvest for Egypt.  The lean cows and the shriveled ears of corn represent seven years of famine in Egypt, and will ravage the land.  Joseph expounds on the dreams, going on to say that the drought will be so severe that all the people will not even remember the previous years of plenty.  Then in vs 32 he tells Pharaoh that the reason for the two dreams instead of one is that it has been firmly decided by God and He will make it happen soon.

So Joseph has interpreted Pharaoh's dreams in such a way that Pharaoh is convinced.  Joseph adds some statements that suggest a sense of urgency to the situation and Pharaoh is all ears.  Everything Joseph has told Pharaoh makes perfect sense.  Not only is Pharaoh convinced, but all of the officers of his court are amazed at what they have heard this young Hebrew man say.  (In addition to all the obvious traits God has given Joseph, I believe He has also given Joseph a "commanding presence", which meant that all the people in the room would pay much attention to him whether he was speaking or not.  I'm told that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both had a "commanding presence" as I've described.  It's a very valuable trait, regardless of one's objectives in life.)  Now Joseph had God-given wisdom.  Read vss 33-36.  This is Joseph talking.  He is giving Pharaoh a plan for these fourteen years to come.  And a perfect plan at that:

1.  Find a discerning and wise man
2.  Put him in charge of the land of Egypt (less than total authority would not work)
3.  Appoint commissioners to take a portion of the harvest during the first seven years
4. Collect the grain in storage and guarded by the Pharoah's military
5. Have storage facilities in every city so in-gathering and distribution could be made efficient
6. Distribute in the next seven years as needed and to the descretion of the man placed in charge

Vs 37 - This plan sounded good to Pharaoh and all the officials.  Pharaoh is convinced that there in a tragedy coming, but is also convinced of the plan that will overt a disaster.   Pharaoh is about to dodge a bullet, thanks to this man of God.  So Pharaoh asked his court if anyone knew of such a man qualified for this undertaking.  Noone stepped forward because it was indeed quite a task.  Then Pharaoh did the smartest thing he ever did in his life:  He commissioned Joseph to be in charge of everything.  Only the Pharaoh himself would hold authority over Joseph.  Vs 41  The WHOLE land of Egypt.  Egypt was a big place.  I think it was then even bigger then, than it is today.  Then Pharaoh made it official by giving Joseph his signet ring, offical clothes to wear, a gold chain for a necklace which indicated position, and had him ride in the chariot that signaled to all Egyptian people that Joseph was second in command.  Amazing.  Read vss 41-44.  Then in vs 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian name, Zaphenath-Paneah (best I could find, this means "sustainer of life").  Pharaoh also gave Asenath as a wife for Joseph.  She was the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On (better known as Heliopolis), which was the center of worship to the sun gods Re and Atum.  This doesn't mean much to us, but in Egypt, Asenath would have been the highest ranking female that would have been available for marriage.  She was hand chosen by Pharaoh for Joseph.  That probably didn't mean much to Joseph, but Pharaoh was doing this to honor Joseph and any objections voiced by Joseph would have been considered an insult.

Vss 46 -->  Joseph was 30 years old when he was placed in this position.  The years of abundance yielded crops so big that Joseph stopped recording where how many bushels went where.  All he knew was that every warehouse was bursting at its seams with grain.

During the seven years of plenty, Joseph and Asenath had two sons.  The oldest was Manasseh (means "forget").  The younger son was named Ephraim ("twice fruitful").

After the seven years, the abundandant crops ended and the famine began, not only in Egypt but all over the populated regions of the world.  But there was plenty of food in Egypt's warehouses.  When the Egyptians started to feel the effects of the famine, they appealed to Pharaoh, who sent them all to Joseph.  Joseph maintained control, as he knew he must make the food last until the good crops returned.

Please read vs 57.  "And the WHOLE WORLD came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe EVERYWHERE."  Nobody got food unless Joseph said they could have it.  Such is the qualification of my earlier statement that Joseph was the most powerful man in the History of civilization.  And he handled that power excellently.  But let's remember:  First, he handled servitude just as excellently.

Next post:  Chapter 42 - Joseph's brothers go to Egypt

Sunday, July 29, 2012

XXIV - Chapter - The Cupbearer and the Baker

In yesterday's post, Potifar had Joseph cast in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Joseph will be in prison for years.  Early in his prison stay, the warden promoted him time after time until Joseph had charge of the entire prison.

We've seen how Joseph, in a relatively short time, was elevated to increasing levels of responsibility and authority in two different sets of circustances:  1) In Potifar's household, where at the beginning he was assigned to the most unpleasant of tasks.  and 2) In prison, where also he would have been assigned the most unpleasant and disgusting tasks when he was first put there.  In order for a person to be promoted so rapidly in either of those situations, he would have to have performed his duties not only to an extreme level of excellence, but also would have performed them with a cheerful attitude.  Additionally, he would have performed additional duties in order to draw such positive attention to himself.  If we don't learn anything else from studying this fine man, we can certainly follow his example in work ethic.  All of this was to serve as training for the task God assigns to Joseph later.

Chapter 40  -  There is no reason given, but at some time while Joseph was managing the prison, the Pharoah's cupbearer and his baker had been cast into prison.  {The cupbearer's duties were to serve the Pharoah wine, and to taste of the wine to ensure proper quality, and to make sure it was not poisoned.  The pre-tasting was always done the previous day to give any poison time to work on the cubearer before it was served to Pharoah.  It was also pre-tasted again in Pharoah's presence right before it was served.  Needless to say, the cupbearer was to be a man of trust.  Also noteworthy is the fact that the cupbearer had constant contact with Pharoah.  The baker, on the other hand, was one of the Pharoah's many cooks, and had little if any personal contact with Pharoah.}

After these two men were in prison for a while, they both had dreams at about the same time.  Probably recurring dreams.  Evidently they had discussed their dreams with each other and were perplexed as to their meaning.  Vs 6  -  Joseph, being a caring leader and supervisor, recognized that these two men seemed "down in the dumps", and inquired of their well-being.  They both shared with Joseph about their dreams and they really wanted to know what the dreams meant because they somehow knew those dreams were important.

Notice in vs 8b that Joseph always gives the credit to God.  Joseph knows where his abilities come from and has the courage to say.

Vs 9  -  The cupbearer told Joseph his dream:  There was a vine with three branches.  When the branches budded and yielded fruit, the cupbearer squeezed the juice from the fruit into Pharoah's cup and served it to him.  Vs 12 - Joseph proceeds to interpret the dream:  In three days the cupbearer would be release from prison and restored to his positon in Pharoah's palace.  Notice in vs 14 that Joseph asks the cupbearer to mention Joseph to Pharoah.  He explains to the cupbearer that he was innocent of the charges that imprisoned him.

Vs 16  -  Then it was the baker's turn:  The baker dreamed that there were three baskets on his head, full of bread, and birds were eating the bread from the three baskets.  Joseph told the baker that his dream meant that in three days he would be taken out of prison and executed, after which his body would be hanged on a pole and birds would eat it.  (if I was the baker, I'd be sorry I asked.)

Three days later Pharoah was celebrating his birthday with a lavish feast.  On that day he brought the cupbearer and the baker out of prison.  He restored the cupbearer to his previously held position, and executed the baker, exactly as Joseph predicted.

But this chapter ends on a rather sad note:  The cupbearer forgot about Joseph and his request.  Have you ever been forgotten about?  Being forgotten about will bring a feeling that will put a hole in the pit of your stomach.  I've seen that happen to me, my family members, and others.  And I always hated it.  Being forgotten about is the result of indifference.  A wise man once said "The opposite of love is not hate.  The opposite of love is indifference"  I believe that.  To hate someone, you must at least care a little, one way or another.  Total indifference is total disregard.  Remember Jesus said "I would rather you be cold, than luke warm".  He was talking about our attitudes concerning Him.

The next post will be in chapter 41 which will put Joseph in contact with Pharoah.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

XXIII - Chapter 39 - Joseph and Temptation

Brief note:  You might have noticed that sometimes I'll type the abrevaition "vss" followed by "-->"  ie. vss 34-->  This means verse 34 and follows.

In the last post we covered chapter 38 and saw a rather dark side of Jacob's fourth son Judah.  Chapter 39 comes as a welcome relief as we pick back up on the life of Jacob's eleventh son Joseph.  Joseph's moral integrity stands in stark contrast to Judah's questionable conduct.   A quick reading of the scripture through Genesis 40, it would seem that God has forsaken Joseph, but as we study Joseph's life in its entirety we see that God was at work in Joseph's life every step of the way.  And nowhere that I can find did Joseph ever voice a single complaint.

Joseph was 17 years old when he was taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelites and sold as a slave.  It so happened that he was purchased by Potifar, the Egyptian Captain of the Guard, a very high ranking official in the Egyptian government.  Vs 2 says the Lord was with Joseph and Joseph prospered, which meant that he performed well and in such a fashion that promoted trust in him by others.  I believe God's hand was in Joseph being puchased as a household servant because common sense tells me that a young healthy 17 year old would have been placed in the fields or some type of manual labor.  But instead he was placed in the home of an Egyptian official which probably served as a training ground in Egyptian administration, which would come in handy later.  Joseph had performed so well that Potifar promoted him to his personal attendant, in charge of everything he owned, including the other slaves.  Vss 5-->  Potifar  noticed that God was blessing not only Joseph, but also everything Potifar had in his whole estate.  He gave over everything he had to Joseph's charge and did not concern himself with any part of his business, which left Potifar the time to concentrate on the Pharoah's affairs, thus placing Potifar in a more favorable position with Pharoah.  So Joseph seems to have found his nitch.  Everybody was happy, and Joseph's life as a slave was about as good as it could be.  But we know things like that don't last long.

Vs 6b-->  Joseph was well built and handsome, and after not too long, Potifar's wife took notice of Joseph and tried to seduce him sexually.  But Joseph refused, not  allowing temptation to get a foothold.  He gave her two reasons for rejecting her advances:  1)  Potifar entrusted to him everything he owned and he wouldn't think of betraying him.   2)  It would be a sin against God.  Vs. 10 tells us that Potifar's wife was persistant, as she persued him day after day.  {I'm sure Potifer's wife was not accustomed to being rejected.  She probably got everything she wanted for quite some time up to this point.  Human nature has shown us that the thing a person will want the most, is the very thing he/she cannot have.  Ask Eve.}

Vss 11,12:  Merely talking to Joseph wasn't getting Potifar's wife what she wanted so, out of desperation, she arranged for all the household servants to be gone, and she physically lays her hands on Joseph, pleading with him to lie with her.  Here is an example of Joseph doing the proper thing in response to a bad situation like this:  He ran.  He simply ran.  Sometimes, we have no better option than to flee a situation which we know can lead to nothing but trouble.  He could not have persuaded her to stop this sinful behavior.  She was so aggressive that to physically ward off her advances would only result in injury to one or both of them.  Joseph made the right decision.  And he knew this was not going to turn out good, not matter what.  He became the proverbial "victim of circumstance".  I've never been aggressively seduced by a woman, but I've been in situations that have placed me as a victim of circumstance.  Life offers plenty of those.  We must be prepared for them.

Vss 13-18 tells the story of a "woman scorned".  She was rejected and she's going to exact revenge no matter what.  Amazing, isn't it?  The person whom she wanted so much was the very person she instantly came to hate.  As determined as she was to get Joseph to lie with her, she will now be equally detemined to make him pay.  {An additional quick thought about human nature:  Evil hates good more than good hates evil.  Joseph not only rejected her advances, but he took the high road while she was trying to drag him down into the muddy hole of sin and wrong doing.    Sinful wrong doers have always tried to drag good people down to their level.  I have been victimized by this and I'll bet you have too.  Shining light on the darkness of evil will always cause an aggressive response.}

She screamed for the servants to come.  Notice what she tells them in vs 14.  She says "this Hebrew has been brought in to make sport of us".    When I read this, I think of this "Hebrew" being promoted over all of you "Egyptians" and has been made your boss.  "And now look what happened", she said.  To me, she has stirred up a sensitive subject to these other servants, making them immediately sympathetic to her claims.  KJV says in verse 14 "See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us.....  In front of the servants, she is also placing some blame on Potifer.  Something tells me at this point that Potifar's marriage wasn't all that great, and she has criticized him in front of other people in times past.  Notice in verse 17 after Potiphar returns home, she says "That Hebrew slave YOU brought us came to me to make sport of me".  Adam tried to pull this on God back in capter 3.  Ever notice that guilty people will point the finger at as many people as they can so as to keep suspicion away from themselves?  People haven't really changed much through the centuries.

When Potifar returned, his wife had her tearful story, the testimony of the other servants, and Joseph's pile of clothes as evidence.  This was a perfect framing of Joseph for a crime he did not commit.  And I suspect she had an "I told you so about this Hebrew" to lay on Potifar as well.  Vs 19 says Potifar burned with anger and tossed Joseph in prison.  I am inclined to believe that Potifar was a bit suspicious about this whole matter, but opted to proceed with judgement against Joseph for fear that his servants would lose repect for him, not to mention the chilling atmosphere that would be in his home.  The Scripture doesn't give an account of Joseph being arrested and explaining himself, but I'm certain that Potifar himself approached Joseph about the incident.  I'm convinced of this because of where Jacob was imprisoned.  It says the place where the king's prisoners were confined.  This might be a stretch, but I've found that the prison of the king's was near the king's palace and was not so dungeon-like as the prison for the regular law breaking citizens.  But none the less, Joseph was now a prisoner.  He has gone from the son of Jacob, carrying the royal bloodline, to slave in a foreign country, to prisoner in a foreign country, none of which was caused by his own doing.  Joseph has the right to be a little discouraged right now.  But let's finish the chapter.  Vss 21-23  -  The Lord was with Joseph in prison.  He granted him favor in the eyes of the warden.  {By the way, although we as Christians are not to be OF the world, we must still be IN the world.   We must deal with both Godly and un-Godly people.  God will use both as vehicles to bless us and watch over us.  A good prayer to remember is to ask God to grant you favor in the eyes of the people that are in control of circumstances that effect your life and the lives of your family.}  Vs 22 tells us that the warden put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners plus everything that went on in the prison (administrative duties; jailers; security; etc.)  I am not sure how long Joseph was in prison before the warden gave him such responsibility and authority, but I would suspect a number of months.  In vs 23 the warden, like Potifar earlier, did not worry about anything when Joseph was in charge "because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did".  We all need to take lessons from Joseph.

Next post  -  Chapter 40  -  The Baker and the Cupbearer.

Friday, July 27, 2012

XXII - Chapter 38 - Judah and Tamar

Chapter 38 seems to interrupt our study of Joseph, but the account given in this chapter takes place at the time when Joseph is being taken to Egypt by his new "owners", a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants.

The Bible is a frank and honest accounting of History.  It does not spare anyone of a complete expose' of the person's character.  We see an accurate picture if we study and learn the Bible in its entirety.  This chapter is one of the startling revelations of the low levels to which even Bible heroes could sink.

Judah, Leah's fourth son visited a Canaanite town Adullam, about twelve miles northeast of Hebron.  He made friends with a man named Hirah.  Judah also took a Canaanite woman named Shua as his wife (will they never learn?).  There near Adullam,  Shua gave birth to two sons, Er and Onan.  Then she .gave birth to a third son named Shelah.

When it was time for Judah's oldest son Er to be married, Judah found him a wife.  (this was not uncommon for the parents to choose whom their offspring would marry.)  Judah chose a Canaanite woman named Tamar for Er to marry.  But not too long after Er married Tamar, God put Er do death because he was so evil.  We'll see here what is to become an established custom among Israelites:  The brother of a man who died leaving a childless widow was obliged to marry the widow and rear a family by her in the name of the deceased brother (Dueteronomy 25).  So Judah commands his second son Onan to marry his older brother's widow.  Onan resented the fact that the children born to him and Tamar would not be his legal heirs.  He therefore withheld himself, making it impossible for Tamar to concieve.  On top of Onan's refusal to do the right thing by his family, he, like his brother, was considered evil by God, and God brought Onan to an early death, just like He did with Er.

This story begs the question of how it could happen that two of Judah's sons would grow up to be evil men.  Choosing a Canaanite wife for his eldest son didn't help.  This is not the last we'll see righteous men having evil offspring (Book of Judges plus many more).  I've often wondered about this, but I realize we all have weaknesses and our children are still exposed to the evil influences that become constants in their lives.

So now Judah has lost two sons who died before they sired any grandchildren for Judah.  Tamar is a woman who has lost two husbands but remains childless.  But Judah knows what the right thing was for him to do.  He told Tamar to depart, live like a widow, and when his third son Shelah is old enough, he will become her husband.  It's clear to me, as it was clear to Tamar that Judah had no intentions of honoring his part of this agreement.  Perhaps Judah considered his sons' deaths to be Tamar's fault, and did not want his only remaining son Shelah to suffer the same fate.  Perhaps Judah hoped that if enough time passed, Tamar would find someone else to marry.  One clue to this is that vs 12 says "after a long time".

Vss 13-->  After Judah got over his grief from his wife dieing, he went to visit his old friend Hirah, which happened to be the area where Tamar had gone to wait for Judah to keep his promise.  Vs 14 tells that Judah's third son Shelah had been grown up by this time. So, realizing that Judah was not going to honor his commitment, Tamar felt like she had to take matters into her own hands.  She changed out of her widows garments and put on a veil to disguise herself, and waited by the road on which she knew Judah would be traveling.

Vs 15 - When Judah saw her he thought she was a prostitute and approached her.  As payment for her services he offered to send her a young goat from his flock.  But Tamar insisted on him giving her a pledge token until he sent her the goat.  He agreed to give her in ernest his seal with its cord and his staff.  So Judah had sex with who he thought was a faceless prostitute, and unwittingly impregnated her with the bloodline into which she originally married.  Vs 19 says when she returned home she put back on her widow's clothes.  {I guess Tamar is more of a principled woman than we're inclined to consider her to be earlier in the chapter.}  Vs 20 tells that Judah sent the goat to her by a friend, but of course he couldn't find her because that woman dressed like a prostitute did not exist any more.  So the messenger reported back to Judah that the prostitute was nowhere to be found.

Vs 24 says that about three months later, it was reported to Judah that Tamar, his son's widow was pregnant  This could only have happed if Tamar had prostituted herself.  Judah then demanded satisfaction by having her burned (seems rather harsh).  Vs 25 When called before Judah,Tamar reveals to Judah his own seal, cord, and staff, stating that she is pregnent by the owner of these.  And the most decent thing Judah does in this story is in vs 26 when he acknowledges that she is a better person than he.

Vss 27-30 - When Tamar delivers, she has twins, Perez and Zerah, who are direct descendents of Judah, actually his sons.

In the next posting, we will resume our study of Joseph.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

XXI - Chapter 37 - Joseph the Dreamer

You might remember that in my post on July 20th, I made the statement that Joseph was the most powerful human being in the History of civilization.  I will qualify that in detail as we look at the life of Joseph in the next few postings.  But briefly, Joseph was granted control of the ancient world's supply of food.  He was actually the one man that decided who would receive food and who would not.  Gingas Khan, Nepoleon, Hannibal, and Hitler had no power and authority that could be compared to that which God gave to Joseph.  And Joseph performed that position of authority well.  I believe that Joseph was prepared for such a position of authority because he first mastered humility and servitude.  I am convinced that this is the way God wants us to prepare ourselves for positions of authority.  We'll see all of this in our study of this magnificent patriarch.

Chapter 37  -  Jacob had settled with his family in the land of Canaan.  Jacob grew his estated and raised his family in this area of Canaan, close to where his father Isaac made his home.

Vs 2 begins the account of Joseph, who was Jacob's favorite (we've already learned how damaging parental favoritism can be).  This time, the results are even more damaging.  Joseph was 17 years old, and was tending flocks with his brothers who were sons of Bilhah and Zilpah.  The brothers who were sons of Leah were in a different location.  Joseph made problems for himself because he was a tattletale.  Jacob added to that problem by allowing Joseph to tattle on his brothers.  Vs 3 tells us that Jacob favored Joseph.  This was due to the fact that Joseph was born in Jacob's old age, but also because Joseph and Benjamin were sons born to Rachel, the love of Jacob's life.  Jacob made no
secret of his favoritism toward Joseph.  He made Joseph the famed "coat of many colors".  This coat (robe) would probably be a garment that was to be worn over other clothes and went to the ankels, such as the ourter garments worn by princes of that time period.  This colorful, full-bodied garment was a billboard and a constant reminder that Joseph was his father's favorite.  The Scripture makes it very clear that Joseph's brothers were jealous and hated him.  I submit that Joseph didn't have a clue as to the impact that Jacob's favoritism was making in the minds and hearts of his brothers.  Their hatred for him was so severe that they "could not speak a kind word to him".   I'll go so far as to say that favoritism is a sin.  Parents beware.  This instance of it will cause brothers to plot one's murder.
Vs 5-8  -  To makes matters even worse in the brothers' relationship, Joseph had a dream, and he was too young and immature to know that he should keep it to himself.  He dreamed that all of them were harvesting in the field and his brothers' sheaves of grain would bow down to Joseph's sheaf.  His brothers had the proper interpretation of this dream and it angered all of them.  Although they
knew what the dream meant, they did not know it was a prophetic dream.

Vs 9 - Joseph had another dream.  He told this one to his brothers in the presence of his father.  He said that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars would bow down to him.  His father Jacob immediately rebuked him.  This dream suggested that not only his brothers, but also his father and mother would bow down to him.  This angered his brothers even more and at the end of vs 11 it seems that Jacob was sobered by this, thinking deeply about the this stange dream.  I think that Jacob started to suspect that these were indeed prophetic dreams.

Vss 12-->  Jacob had sent his brothers to Shechem to graze the flocks.  {Shechem was about fifty miles from Hebron where their home was.  Sheep must be moved constantly to new grazing locations.  Unlike cattle, which graze on the grass and surface foliage, sheep tear the plants up by the roots, leaving the ground barren for a number of months.  Therefore, sending a flock fifty miles away was not unusual.}  Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers and report back to Jacob.  This situation making Joseph the messenger only adds to his being placed in a different status than his brothers.  When Joseph reached Shechem he learned that his brothers had moved the flock another 15 miles north to Dothan.  So Joseph continued on toward Dothan.  Vs 18 says his brothers recognized him coming from far away (probably because of that coat he was wearing).  And they plotted to kill him and throw him into a cistern to hide the body.  Cisterns were broad and shallow wells used to collect and hold rain water.  Vs 21 - But Reuben (the oldest and probably the leader) talks them out of killing him before they throw him in a cistern.   {Reuben secretly planned to return later to rescue Joseph}  In vs 25 they see a caravan of Ismaelites on their way to Egypt.  {Dothan was in the
trading lane that was used when carrying goods back and forth between Macedonia and Egypt.}  When Judah saw the caravan he sugested they sell Joseph as a slave to the Ishmaelites, knowing that these men would further sell Joseph as a slave in Egypt, making him disappear forever.  So they sold Joseph for twenty shekels of silver.  I'm not certain where Reuben was during this time, but he was not present when this happened.  Reuben later returned to the cistern to rescue Joseph, but it was empty.  Reuben tore his clothes.  This was a sign of grief and sorrow.

Meanwhile, the other brothers continued in their plot to kill Joseph and cover themselves from suspicion or blame.  In order to accomplish this, they must decieve their father into not only thinking Joseph was dead, but make it such that Jacob would not send out a hunting party to find Joseph.  So they put blood all over Joseph's coat and took it to their father Jacob, which would prove to Jacob that a wild animal killed and devoured Joseph, his favorite son.  When you think about it, this was disrespectfully cruel to their father, knowing his feelings for Joseph.  It says Jacob put on sackcloth and mourned many days, refusing to be comforted.  Sackcloth was a scratchy burlap type of material, very uncomfortable as an inner garment.

So Joseph is in the hands of the Ismaelite merchants.  It says in vs 36 that they sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Paraoh's officials, the captain of the guard.

In the next post we'll look at chapter 38, which detours our story of Jacob, and tells of Joseph's brother Judah and and how he got outsmarted by Tamar.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

XX - Chapters 34-36 - Dinah, Reuben, Esau

We've seen in recent chapters how the beloved patriarch Jacob has been transformed from an unlikable "trickster" to a man of God.  He has become wise, patient, honest, and hard working.  He has become a very wealthy man and has earned his stripes.  But God knows that Jacob remains in need of some more refinement.  But before we go on with Jacob, we'll take a slight detour and pick up on the unfortunate incident concerning Dinah.  Dinah was Leah's daughter.  Leah also gave birth to six sons:  Rueben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.

Chapter 34  -   Jacob had settled around Succuth, a part of Canaan chiefly occupied by the Hivites.  The Hivites would always be a nuiscence to Israel.  The ruler of the Hivites was Hamor, a descendent of Ham.  (remember Noah's son Ham?)  Hamor had a son named Shecham, after which Hamor named a city.  Shecham seemed like a spoiled child who was unaccustomed to rejection. He saw Dinah, persued her romanticly, and when she did not return his affections, he raped her.  It says also that he demanded of his father, the ruler of the territory to "get me this girl as my wife".

Vs 5 -->:  When Jacob heard that his daughter had been defiled, he did not act on it until his sons returned from tending the flocks and herds.  While Jacob waited for his sons to return, Hamor went to talk to Jacob.  He hadn't gotten very far before the sons returned, having already heard the news about their sister being raped, and they were furious.  Hamor offered Jacob and his sons intermarriage between the families (no way would hebrews agree to such).  He also offered free range for their flocks and herds.  Hamor sensed none of this was putting a dent in the anger of Jacob and his sons, so Hamor said "name your price".  My son has his heart set on Dinah.  But in vss 13-17, Jacob's sons
interrupted this bargaining by telling them that they could not grant any intermarriages with uncircumsized men.  Remember Shechem really wanted Dinah, so he committed not only himself to be circumsized, but all the men in the Hivite region of Canaan.  (I think the reason that spoiled brat wanted Dinah so bad was just because he couldn't have her.  Remember, he is the wealthy son of the ruler, and probably had his pick of the other women anytime he wanted them.  Reminds me of Sadam Huissein's sons in Iraq.)   Hamor and his son talked the rest of the men into agreeing to
circumcision by appealing to their greed.

Vss 25-29  -    So all the Hivite men near Shechem got circumsized.  But three days after their circumcisions, when the men were still sore and not healed yet, Simeon and Levi stormed into the city, killing every man in Shechem.  Then they got their sister Dinah and went home.  Jacob's other sons pillaged the city, taking everything valuable, including their women and children for slaves.  Vs.  30 tells how Jacob scolded Simeon and Levi, saying that they will make the Hivites and the Perrizzites to join forces and come and destroy the family.  Simeon and Levi were unrepentant of their actions protecting the honor of their sister.

Chapter 35  -  The situation at Shecham became too dangerous due to Simeon's and Levi's hasty acts of revenge, so God call on Jacob to move on to Bethel.  {Succuth was north, near where Lebenon is today, while Bethel is near modern day Jerusalem.}

The last portion of chapter 34 and the beginning of chapter 35 give us some clues as to why God needed to further refine Jacob and his leadership for the new nation Israel.  Vs 2  Jacob told his entire household to get rid of all the foreign gods. (which begs the question, "What are foreign gods doing in their possession anyway?  But we cannot be too hasty in our thoughts.  The Ten Commandments have not been established yet.)  He further instructed them to bathe and change their garments.  This was like a cleansing ritual, separating them from their sins.  It says they gave to Jacob all their gods and earrings (probably considered as "magic charms").  Jacob buried them under an oak tree.  Then they began their journey to Bethel under the protection of God.  If God had not protected them, the Perrizites and Hivites would have gathered themselves together and exacted revenge upon Jacob and his entire family for what Simeon and Levi did.   Vs 5 says the terror of God fell on the towns around them.  I mentioned earlier that the God of Israel would be feared throughout the Old Testament.  Upon arriving at Bethel, Jacob built and altar and worshipped God.

Vs 8 tells that Rachel's nurse Deborah died and Jacob buried her under an oak tree and named the place Allon Bakuth, which means "oak of weeping".  In vs 9 God repeats to Jacob that his name henceforth will be Israel.  When God had finished speaking with Jacob, God departed and Jacob set up stones for another altar and it was then that Jacob named this place Bethel, which means "house of God".

During this time Rachel had concieved and was carrying Israel's twelveth son Benjamin, whoh would be the twelveth tribe of Israel.  When Benjamin was born Rachel named him Ben-oni (son of my sorrow), but Jacob changed it to Benjamin (child of fortune).  But sadly, Rachel died during childbirth.  Think about that: Rachel, like Rebekah and Sarah, wanted to bare children as being the most important thing in their lives.  And delivering a child is what ended the life of this lady that Jacob loved so so much.  At this point in our study of Jacob, I am reluctant to be critical, but all the other family members were buried in what seems to have been "special" places, but Jacob buried Rachel someplace along the way to Ephrath.  I find that strange, especially knowing that Jacob and the lesser wife Leah were both buried in the family tomb in Machepelah.

Still in chapter 35, vs 21 tells us that Israel moves on toward Ephrath.  While Israel was living in the region just south of Ephrath, Israel's oldest son Rueben slept with Bilhah, his mothers maidservant.  It says Israel learned of this but the Scripture goes into no further detail.  The remainder of the chapter relists the twelve sons of Israel.  (Joseph and Benjamin would become the favored sons).  Israel would eventually settle in Hebron, considered the home of both Abraham and Isaac.  It was in
Hebron that Isaac died at the age of 180.  Esau and Jacob were together again to bury their father.

Chapter 36 recounts the lineage of Esau.  These people were to become the Edomites (Edom means red.  Esau had red skin from birth).  The Edomites were not of the royal family because Esau was not chosen to carry the bloodline. Esau married three women, a Hittite, and Hivite, and an Ishlmaelite.  Looking over the entire chapter 36, you can see that Esau became very wealthy, powerful, and well organized.  His kinship were mighty warriors, to be feared when angered, and only by the Hand of the Mighty God of Israel would Edom be defeated in battle.

We just covered chapters 34, 35, and 36.  Once again, God chose not to hide the human imperfections of His people.  We saw the defilement of Dinah, The bloody revenge taken by her brothers Rueben and Simeon, idolatrous gods kept by Jacobs family, the adultry commited by Reuben and Bilhah.  We've also gotten to know some of these precious people and have had to read of their lives coming to an end.  But this is all within God's plan.  I've come to know Jacob a little better this time.  He's one of those men, who the more you know, the better you like him.  We've quickly studied his life, from a selfish spoiled trickster who wanted the birthright, regardless of how he got it, to a man fully committed to God and God's purpose for all of His people.  But as important about these three chapters:  This is one of the great watershed passages in the Bible.  From this point forward, the focus of the Abrahamic covenant shifts from individuals to a nation; from the great patriarchs to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Next post  -  Joseph the Dreamer

Monday, July 23, 2012

XIX - Chapters 32,33 - Jacob Meets Esau

Note:  I've been meaning to mention to you:  Most Bibles have a set of maps in the very back.  I should have had you to locate these locations on a map of the "patriarchal era".  It gives you some bearings.  The areas we have been dealing with thus far covers modern Israel, Syria, Lebenon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.  (however much of the old Babylonian Empire included modern day Iraq, which is where the Tygert and the Euphrates Rivers meet.)

Jacob and Laban parted in peace.  This very difficult chapter in Jacob's life was finaly over.  Now Jacob had to prepare for dealing with someone potentially much more dangerous than Laban:  His brother Esau.  Jacob was heading for home in Beersheba, where he knew Esau was.

At the very beginning of chapter 32 we can see that God is going to take special care of Jacob.  Jacob had traveled to a place about fifteen miles north of the River Jabbok, which was only a few days journey from where he will meet up with Esau.  God sends a band of angels to meet Jacob to encourage him and remind him that God will take care of him and his family.  Jacob named that place Mahanaim, which means "two camps".  {There is nothing wrong with asking God for a band of angels.  He has plenty of them.  We need to remember this.}

But Jacob still had to come up with a plan to deal with Esau.  Vss. 3-5 - Jacob felt it would be best to send word ahead telling his brother Esau that he was coming home.  So he sent messengers ahead to Seir, Esau's stronghold city.  They were to tell Esau three things:  Jacob's long stay with Laban, his vast wealth, and his desire to meet peacefully with him.  Vs. 6 - The messengers returned to Jacob from Seir, and the news was frightening:  Esau was coming to meet Jacob and four hundred men were with him.  What must be going through Jacob's mind?  Why would Jacob imagine Esau would be coming with a good size army?  Jacob could not think of a favorable reason for this.  (Niether can I)  The only thing favorable to have thought was that Esau had grown into such a powerful prince that it would be customary to travel with such an escort.  That still seems to me like a stretch.

Vss 7,8 - Jacob was a nervous wreck.  With good reason.  All those years he had to put up with Laban, and now his life might end at the hands of his twin brother.  {We cannot disregard the History of these two brothers.  They fought inside the womb.  Esau won the battle to get out of the womb first.  He was always the stronger of the two.  Try to imagine them as young boys.  I picture them fighting more frequently than most brothers do, and Esau would always be victorious in any physical match.  And let's remember that they departed bitter enemies with Esau swearing he was going to kill Jacob.}   Jacob's plan was to divide his entire camp into two groups.  If Esau fell upon one group and destroyed it, either his thirst for revenge would be satisfied, or perhaps he would think he destroyed all that Jacob had.  Either way, the other group would have some time to escape.

After he had done all he could to prepare for Esau, he went to God in prayer, vs 9.  In the following verses Jacob speaks to God, firstly humbling himself, saying he was unworthy of all God had already done for him.  (Jacob has come a long way.)  He feared that Esau "would smite the mother with the children"(KJV)  This was a phrase used when describing extreme cruelty.  Jacob acknowledged that he was deserving of no more from God, but threw himself on God's mercy.  Pulling out all stops, Jacob sheepishly reminds God of His promise.

Vss 13-21 tell us that Jacob continues to refine his plan, leaving nothing to chance.  The next morning he prepared a fabulous gift for Esau:  550 animals in all.  He wanted to arrange it so as to make the greatest possible impression on Esau.  He divided all the animals into several groups, assigning each group to a servant leader.  He would  have them head toward Esau, keeping a space between one another.  And he gave each the same SPECIFIC set of instructions for when they saw Esau:  They were to say that all these belonged to "your servant Jacob".  They were then to tell Esau that all of these animals were a gift to Esau.  And they were to tell him that Jacob was coming behind them.  Jacob figured that each gift would soften Esau's heart toward Jacob and might totally smooth the rough edges of Esau's heart toward him.  We don't know for sure, but perhaps Jacob was trying to, in a small way, repay Esau of some of the birthright value that Jacob had earlier stolen from him.

So all of the groups of gifts left to meet up with Esau, but Jacob decided to stay in the camp for the night.  vs 24-->  Jacob wanted to be alone with his fears, his problems, and with God.  Jacob is a smart man.  He was starting to do all the right things.  It says in vs 24 that a man wrestled with Jacob till daylight.  Hosea 12 suggests it was an angel.  {I think that is correct.  There were planty of angels in that area at that time.  There are always plenty of angels everywhere.  That should be a comforting thought.}  Whether or not it was and angel, Jacob recognized that the encounter was with God.

Vs 25 -  The angel saw he could not overcome Jacob so he touched Jacob's hip/thigh and it was wrenched, rendering Jacob lame for the rest of his life.  As day was about to break the angel told Jacob to let him go.  Jacob would not let him go until the angel blessed him.  At that time (vs 28) God through His angel changed Jacob's name to Israel.  Israel means "he struggles with God".  Jacob had dealt almost face-to-face with God.  He named that place Penuel which means "face of God".

Chapter 33:  I'm really impressed with Jacob in the beginning verses of this chapter.  There is sooooo much in the details.  Jacob saw Esau and his 400 man army coming.  He had a pecking order for his family:  The female servants Bilhah and Zilpah went first with their children.  Then Leah and her children.  Then Rachel and Joseph (Benjamin wasn't born yet).  But the impressive thing is that Jacob went out to meet Esau first, instead of trying to hide.  (modern day terrorists kill women and children, then hide among them so more decent people would not risk harming the innocent)  Vs 3 says that Jacob went toward Esau, bowing down seven times on his way.  Try to envision what Esau is seeing.  His once arrogant brother was running toward him, limping and bowing seven times as he is running.

But look what happens in verse 4.  Esau runs to Jacob and embraces him in tears of joy.  God had softened Esau's heart.  All was forgiven.  Imagine what was going through Jacob's mind.  Esau asked who all of these people were.  He wanted to meet all of Jacob's family, who were of course Esau's family too.  When Jacob introduced each of them to Esau they all humbly bowed.  Jacob had raised his family well.  Esau mentioned the multitude of gifts sent to him by Jacob and said he did not need these animals because Esau himself had grown extremely wealthy.  But Jacob insisted.

Esau offered to escort Jacob and his estate, but Jacob said he would be fine without an escort.  (Jacob had started relying on God for everything now.)  Believe it or not, there is no record that Esau and Jacob ever saw each other again after that, until the death of Isaac.  Esau went back to Seir and Jacob settled in Succuth.  He probably remained in Succuth for many years as it says he built a house for himself and shelters for his livestock.  From Succoth Jacob moved about twenty miles west across the Jordan to Shechem, where he bought a field and erected an altar and called it El-elohe-Israel, which means "mighty is the God of Israel".

The God of Abraham and Isaac has now become the God of Israel.  God will be known as and refered to the "God of Israel" for much of the Old Testament.

Eleven of the twelve tribes have been established.  Benjamin will be the twelveth, but he has yet to be born.

Next post:  Leah's daughter Dinah

Saturday, July 21, 2012

XVIII - Jacob's Last Years With Laban

As we've seen in the last post, eleven out of the sons have  born to Jacob, which will represent eleven of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Six sons were born of Leah, two of Bihah, two of Zilpah, and one of Rebekah.  All of this took place between the eighth and the fourteenth year of Jacob's residence in Haran, working for this uncle Laban.

Jacob had now completed the fourteen years committed to Laban and vss 25,26 he asks Laban to let him go back home.  Vs 27 Laban acknowledges that he has been blessed and prospered mostly due to Jacob.  Laban urges Jacob to stay and tells him to name his price.  The conversation between these two men never made much sense to me.  It is as though Laban had an emotional hold on Jacob.  Jacob should have been free to go at this time, as well as other times in the past, but he still begs for Laban's permission.  Jacob continues to try to talk Laban into letting him go.  As Jacob makes his case to Laban, suggesting that he had been taken advantage of, also expounding on how much Jacob has "given".  So Laban asks in vs 31, "Then what shall I give you to make this right?".  Vs 32 Jacob says "don't give me anything".  (I would have said "just let me go".)  So Jacob goes on to make
another deal with Laban.

Jacob agreed to stay on and work for Laban.  His wages would be all the speckled and spotted sheep and goats plus all the dark or black sheep.  And Jacob told Laban that he could check any time he
wanted to, and if there were any plain livestock in Jacob's flock, he could consider them stolen.  Laban must have thought Jacob was really foolish for making this deal.  Laban must have said to himself, "Who in his right mind would settle for a few scrub animals for wages?"  We must realize that in the eastern territory back then goats were usually black or dark brown, seldom white or spotted.  Sheep were usually white, rarely black or speckled.  Same is true for sheep today. 
(however, looking slightly forward into chapter 31 God showed Jacob in a dream that there would be many offspring of Laban's flock that would be spotted and dark.)  Then (vss 24-36) Laban wants every advantage, so he has his sons separate all speckled and dark from the herd and take them about 60 miles away from the rest of Laban herds and flocks.  It doesn't say, but I'm certain that this was to keep any crossbreeding from happening.  We must be careful with whom we do business.  Laban was not only dishonest, but he always "stacked the deck".

But Jacob could outsmart Laban.  As told in vss 37-42, Jacob used visual influences placed at the watering troughs to affect the markings of the offspring of all the solid-colored goats and sheep.  I cannot explain how this works, except that God intervened and actually made this happen.  I don't think God was willing to allow Laban to kick Jacob around any more. The last verse in chapter 30 says Jacob became exceedingly prosperous.  Like the saying goes "if God be for me, who can stand
against me?".  When the cards are stacked against you, this is a good phrase to keep telling yourself.  It seems like serious Christians always have cards stacked against them.

Chapter 31 begins with Laban's sons complaining because the were envious of Jacob due to his prosperity.  Throughout our study thus far, people were always envious of the prosperity of the
patriarchs.  Jacob also notices Laban's attitude has changed toward him.  Then in vs 3 God tells Jacob to go back home to Beersheba.  God tells Jacob that He will not allow Laban to stand in his way.  Vss 4-9, Jacob begins to gather his family and estate and prepare for the journey.  Vs 10-13 tells of the dream Jacob had that I mentions a few paragraphs back.  This is a good time to mention that after Jacob had completed the fourteen years of serving Laban, Jacob had worked another SIX years under the agreement concerning the livestock.

I find vs 14-16 interesting.  When Jacob mentioned this hasty departure to Leah and Rachel, their attitude was one that indicated they didn't trust their own father, who would cheat them out of any inheritance they might have coming to them anyway.  Vs 16 they say surely anything God took away from our father belongs to us anyway, so therefore we're not stealing anything.  Basicly they were saying that by cheating Jacob, Laban was cheating them and their children also, which is very true.  Then they told Jacob "Do as God tells you".   Then Jacob gathered his vast estate and headed back to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

Now it's interesting to note that they were leaving in a hurry while Laban was busy sheering sheep.  They were trying to leave without Laban noticing.  (Like I said earlier, Laban seems to have an emotions hold on Jacob.)  But while they were packing up, Rachel stole her father's household
gods.  My research tells me that these were probably family relics placed in the residence of the clan leadership, and were considered very valuable.

As soon as Laban heard about Jacob leaving, he gathered his servants and took off after them.  He also had discovered that the valuable relics were missing.  Now he should have stopped chasing
Jacob after the first week because God told Laban in a dream to leave Jacob alone (vs 24).  (Laban never reminded me of a person that would listen to God or anybody else).   Laban knew he could catch him.  Moving an entire family with children, servants, livestock and 20 years of accumulated wealth was a very slow process.  Laban and his men were probably travelling very light and totaly on camelback, which was relatively fast.

Laban finally cought up with Jacob in the mountains of Gilead.  He accuses Jacob of dragging his daughers off like common prisoners vs 26.  He went on to tell Jacob that it was a public insult to sneak off while Laban was away.  Laban said he was denied the customary privilege of giving them a proper send-off with a banquet for his daughters and grandchildren.  Laban mentioned that he was even denied the chance to kiss his family good-bye.  Laban goes on to remind Jacob that he
has the power to do him harm, but he feared God would punish him if he did.

Then Laban mentions the stolen relics, which Jacob knew nothing about.  In vs 31 Jacob makes a frightening vow:  You can search all of our belongings.  If you find your stolen relics, the theif will be put to death.   (Jacob was not aware that Rachel was the one who stole them.)  Laban made a thorough search for the stolen relics.  When Rachel realized she could be put to death if her father found the relics, she hid them in a camel bag and sat on it.  When Laban came to her tent to search,
she told him that she could not get up because she was on he period.  So Laban was unable to find them and he had to drop the subject.

But Laban continued scold and inquire as to Jacob's behavior.  In vss 43 and 44 he remided
Jacob that Rachel and Leah were still his daughters.  Their children were still his grandchildren.  He even laid claim to Jacob's flocks.  Laban was getting desperate.  He could feel the best that he had was slipping through his fingers and he was running out of ideas.

Vss 51-54 tell of Laban and Jacob agreeing to a peace treaty to be sealed upon the stacking of stones and witnessed.  This chapter ends with Laban rising the next morning, kissing his family good-bye, and departing in peace.

This concludes our study of Jacob's dealings in Paddan-Aram with his uncle Laban.  Jacob has had it very hard for these twenty years.  He's not the same untrustworthy trickster he was 20 years ago.  But God is not finished refining Jacob just yet.  The next post will deal with Jacob's journey back to his homeland.

Friday, July 20, 2012

XVII - Israel Is Born

In the last two chapters we see that Jacob's life has changed drastically.  He was chased out of his plush home in Beersheeba where he was coddled by his mother, and onto a difficult journey covering many miles.  He had a personal encounter with God and we can already see that Jacob is a changed man, although even more changes are yet to come.

Chapter 29, vss 1-14 tells the story of how Jacob met Rachel, whose womb would carry the royal bloodline.  From Bethel, Jacob continued his journey and came to the territory of his mother:  The land of Nahor, Abraham's brother.  The early verses tell of the custom of keeping the water well overed up until all the flocks of sheep were gathered.  I guess this was done to prevent hoarding or the problems that would arise from a "first-come-first-serve" system.  When Jacob asked the shepherds where they were from they said Haran.  This must have been music to Jacob's ears.  His journey is over.  He has reached his destination.  Jacob asked about Laben and his well-being.  The shepherds said he was well, and in fact, here comes his daughter Rachel.  (Notice what Rachel is doing.  Vs 9: she was a shepherd.  Rare for a woman back then.  Women were usually relegated to carrying water and doing domesticated "chores" around the tents. I'll have comments about shepherds later, especially when we get to Luke.)   Notice how Jacob acts toward Rachel in vss 9-14.  First he opens up the well for her, disregarding the custom I mentioned earlier.  He kissed Rachel (more greeting than romance) and he wept.  He told Rachel he a close relative.  Rachel runs to tell her father Laben who goes out to meet his nephew as "his own flesh and blood".

In the remainder of this chapter and on into the next, we'll see how God teaches Jacob some seemingly harsh lessons through Jacob's uncle Laban.

Vs 14b -->  Jacob has stayed with Laban and his family for about a month.  Seems to me Jacob was doing a lot of work during this time, probably trying very hard to impress Laban.  It is very clear:  Jacob wants to marry Rachel.  Working hard to impress her father is good strategy.  Laban said "why don't you stay, and I'll pay you wages",  Jacob saw this as an opportunity to get Rachel as his wife.  But Laban had two daughters.  Rachel and her older sister Leah.  It says Rachel was beautiful and shapely.  But Leah had weak eyes.  Sparkling bright eyes were considered beautiful.  Jacob's
response to Laban urging him to stay was to offer seven years of service in exchange for the younger daughter Rachel.  Vs 19 says Laban agreed.  At this point it's difficult to fault Laban too much, although seven years seems like a very long time, but Laban was not the one who made that proposal.  Jacob did.  Also, to Laban, it was good that his daughter would be married to a pure hebrew as opposed to who knows what else.  And, Although Rachel was the younger, and it was customary that the older daughter would get married first, Laban probably figured that Leah would
be married by the time the seven years was up.  So this was a good situation for Laban all the way around.

So Jacob served Laban the seven years as agreed upon.  And now Jacob was ready to recieve his reward for all that work:  Rachel.  Laban seemed to comply with the agreement.  He held a banquet in their honor to celebrated the occassion.  But instead of giving Jacob Rachel, sly Laban switched daughters on him and gave him Leah.  (the old "bait & switch.)  It says in vss 25, 26 that Jacob and Leah consumated their marriage (I can only figure that Jacob drank too much to know the difference?).  In the morning Jacob realized what had happened and approached Laban in anger.  Laban acted like he did nothing wrong.  Laban then agreed that he would give Rachel to Jacob for another seven years of service.  Plus Jacob was to fulfill his husbandly duties to Leah for a week
before he could marry Rachel, and the seven years of service would be paid after he got to marry Rachel.

Vs 31  -  God blessed Leah with fertility but Rachel was barren.  Now you might see some names you

1.  Leah delivers a first son Rueben  (name means "see" for God saw my misery)

2.  Leah delivers Simeon (one who hears)

3.  Leah delivers Levi (attached)

4.  Leah delivers Judah (praise)

Chapter 30  -  Does this story sound familiar?  Rachel is jealous of her sister Leah and proposes that she give Jacob her maidservant Bilhah.

5.  Bilhah delivers Dan (he has vindicated)

6.  Bilhah delivers Naphtali (my struggle)

When Leah realized she was not concieving any more, she thought she would do as Rachel did and offered her maidservant Zilpah to bare Jacob more sons.

7.  Zilpah delivers Gad (good fortune)

8.  Zilpah delivers Aher (happy)

Vs 14 begins story of how Rueben went out and found some mandrakes and gave them to his mother Leah.  Madrakes were supposed to be a fertility herb.  The next few verses indicate the bitter rivalry of these sisters. 

God blessed Leah again with fertility:

9.  Leah delivers Issachar (reward)

10. Leah delivers Zebulun (honor)

After Zebulun was born, Leah delivers a daughter - Dinah.  We'll talk more about Dinah in a couple more chapters.

Then Rachel is blessed with another pregnancy:

11.  Rachel delivers Joseph (may he add)

Joseph is clearly my favorite Old Testament character.   Second only to Jesus Himself, Joseph will become the most powerful man in the entire History of civilization.

This post ended with Gen. 30: 22.  We'll start the next post at vs 23.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

XVI - Genesis 29 - Jacob Wakes Up

Genesis 28 is a very important chapter, and will probably be all that's covered in this post.

Indeed few are the men who have made a mark for God who have not first been broken by God.  Jacob was no exception. If you have little sympathy or respect for Jacob at this point in our study, those thoughts will begin to mellow somewhat while covering the next few chapters.  God was harsh with Jacob.  I think He had to be.  He had to refine away the old cheating nature that always looked for shortcuts to success.  If not, Jacob would never have been of the proper caliber of man to become Israel. 

God needed this man alone where there were no resources with which Jacob could use to rely on himself.  Therefore, God sent him from his comfy abode in Beersheba with his coddling mother, to Padan-aram to be at the mercy of his uncle Laben.  Padan-aram was in the area where Syria is today.  The town of Haran was just northeast of modern day Damascus. 

Note in vs 1 that Isaac called for Jacob to wo he could repeat the blessing {Comment:  Isaac was a man of God.  Although he probably didn't like the way he was tricked by Jacob any more than you or I do, Isaac KNEW that Jacob was God's chosen (Gen 25)}  But again the Scripture seems to emphasize Isaac and Rebekah's insistance that he not take a Canaanite woman as his wife.  Padan-aram where Bethuel and Laben lived had a rich concentration of Hebrews.  Jacob's choice for a wife being so important to Isaac, he make a good choice for the location for Jacob to live.  The family of
Rebekah were descendents of Aram, a descendent of Noah's son Shem.  (you cannot be expected to remember all these things which is the reason I stick in these reminders.  God is consistant with His plans)

Vss 3-5 re-states the lavish blessing Isaac bestows upon Jacob as parting words for him as he begins his arduous journey.  Vss 6-9 is interesting about the frustrated Esau.  Esau evidently was not present to see his brother off, but he heard about how Isaac warned Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman.  Realizing that Esau's mistake in his choice of wives really upset his parents, and being desparatThis time to a daugher of Ishmael, which was just as bad as marrying a Hittite.  Esau just doesn't get it.

 Vs 10 -->  Back to Jacob.  Jacob's journey from southern Palistine to northern Syria took him through Bethel, which is a good thing.  Remember Bethel?  Abraham had worshipped at Bethel when he was travelling from Haran.  He worshipped there again after he returned to Canaan from Egypt.  Bethel (formally named Luz) was located about 15 mile north of modern day Jerusalem.    I'm not certain whether or not Jacob was aware of how special this place has been.  I doubt it. 

Let's not disregard Jacob's state of mind at this point.  By this time it has dawned on Jacob of just how badly his life had become compared to what is what just a few days ago.  Just take a moment to consider Jacob's sweet life of Riley then, and a fugitive in a strange land now.  Anyway, he was probably in the lowest valley of his life right now.

Vs  11 (he's in Bethel) he takes a stone to use as a pillow (I guess this was not an uncommon practice back then, but I'll bet he did not use a stone for a pillow when he was living with Isaac and Rebekah).  Vs 12 - He had a dream.  A very vivid dream.  There was a stairway from earth to heaven.  Angels were going up and down on this stairway.  At the top stood God.  This is an easy sight to invision. 

When I picture the angels going up and down, I always considered the ones going up as carrying our prayers and concerns to God, while the angels going down are carrying
God's provisions and His messages down to His people on earth.  I am comforted when I picture one of the angels carrying a scroll with one of my prayer requests written on it along with my name.  The angel is carrying it with special care because the angel knows how special it is to me and ultimately special to God.    This might not do anything for you, but try to picture this the next time you pray for God's intercession.  It just might give you an indescribable comfort.  I hope so.}  

Vss 13-15 - At the top of the ladder stands God Himself.  God repeats the promise to Jacob, and
adds that He will not allow anything to happen to Jacob until all these things are accomplished.

Vss 16 -->  When Jacob woke up he had a sobering realization.  God was real.  The covenant was real.  God knows all and sees all.  Jacob has been a terrible sinner and God knew it.  Jacob had been jolted into a spiritual awakening much like Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-8).  Suddenly Jacob felt a deep reverance and awareness of God plus deep remorse for his own life practices.  He said "this is the gate of heaven".  Interesting. 

In vs 18 Jacob takes the stone he used for a pillow and made an altar.  Then he named the place Bethel.  Bethel was the name Moses had been using for this location, but it was not named Bethel until now.  Bethel means "house of God". 

Then Jacob makes a vow in vs 20.  This vow can be misunderstood if we're not careful.  Jacob starts with "if", and proceeds with "then".  This wording is used in KJV also.  It can seem conditional by this verbage, but that would not be correct.  God doesn't make deals.  I believe that this is a firm commitment to God from Jacob, with intentions of living his life from this point forward as a Godly man, placing God's interests before his own.  I believe that when we become born again believers, it is a result of a consious decision we make in the presence of God.  I will expound on this in much more detail as we proceed through God's word, both Old Testament and New Testament.    I think I have an understanding of what Jacob was saying.  I probably shouldn't attempt to give a hypothetic example in writing, but I shall try briefly.  - - - - A man says to me, "I'm going to give you this lawn mower and some gasoline, and I want you to cut the grass growing on this acre of ground"  I respond by saying, "IF you give me the lawn mower and the gas, THEN I'll darn sure cut this grass".  That probably isn't a good example but it's all I could think of.

The last phrase of this chapter Jacob said he would give God a tenth (tithe).  This is the second mentioning of  tithing.  The first was in Gen. 14:20 when Abraham was with Melchizadek.

To briefly conclude, Jacob at this time was not a mature saint, but rather a weak man on his way to
conversion.  It's not too early to mention that 20 years later beside the River Jabbok, this master manipulater would become a prince in God's sight.  Bethel was a beginning.  Jacob would never forget it.  He would return to Bethel to worship with his family many years in the future.  This place was special to Jacob.  Places are special to people then and now.  Think of a few places that are special to you.  Two places are special to me.  One is Adam Sreet in downtown Fairmont, WV where I first saw my wife.  Another special place is Suffolk, Virginia where my two children
were born.  I could name others.

Next post  -  Israel is born                   

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

XV - Chapter 27 - The Stolen Birthright

We saw in chapter 25 that Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for some food.  Esau made this deal willingly, but surely he made it frivilously, thus making it very doubtful that he had any intentions of honoring this after the dust settled.

A new disaster was about to strike.  Although I personally like these two people, Isaac and Rebekah were much to blame for this because of their favoritism toward their two sons.  By this time the battle has taken place for many decades, festering and growing deeper in the hearts of the twin sons.  The only thing that made this rivalry tolerable to the two of them was that they were hardly ever together.  Esau was always outdoors, working the fields, tending to the livestock, or going out on hunting trips.  Jacob, on the other hand, was always around the house playing a less traditional role of a son, all the while gaining in cunning and wisdom, as he was an acute student of human nature.

Chapter 27 vss 1-4:  Isaac is getting old and knew he wasn't going to live much longer.    He was also blind and unhealthy in other ways (one of his meals was two young goats.  how healthy could he be?  even I don't eat that much).  Isaac knew that it was his responsibility to pass the torch before he died. 

So he summoned Esau and told him to go kill some wild game, cook it up and bring it for Isaac to eat.  And then Isaac would give him the blessing of the birthright.  Esau forgot about or ignored his deal with Jacob or he would have mentioned it to Isaac long before this.

vss 5-10:  Rebekah eavesdrops and hears the timing is now.  She plots the interception of the blessing by her favorite son Jacob.  She thinks for certain that she can do this mainly because Isaac is blind and she could take advantage of that.  Vs 11:  Jacob gets cold feet and is worried that if Isaac discovers what's going on that Isaac would curse Jacob. But Rebekah reassures Jacob by saying "You let me worry about that".  So Jacob brings Rebekah the two young goats, just as she instructs him.  She cooked them just like Isaac likes them.  Then she dresses Jacob in Esau's clothes so that he will smell like Esau.  She wraps goatskin on the bare parts of Jacob's smooth skin so he will feel like
Esau, then sent him in to Isaac with the food to steal the blessing.    {Comment:  I believe Rebekah knew that Jacob was God's chosen to be the standard bearer of the nation Israel.  I also think she fell into the same trap that gets many of us in trouble:  The old WRONG adage:  The End Justifies The
Means.  Lying is still Lying and Cheating is still Cheating.  We cannot expect the ultimate goal having been accomplished to redeem us for such practices.  Rebekah should have loved both of her sons equally, treating them equally and allowing God to have Jacob get the blessing HIS way and not Rebekah's way.  Now we are deprived of knowing how God, in His perfect genious, would have made that happen.}

vss 18-->  Jacob hurries because he knows Esau is due back soon.  When Jacob gets there Isaac asks
how he did all this so quickly.  Ever the quick thinker, Jacob gave the perfect answer:  God blessed me.  On through these verses, there's little doubt that Isaac was suspicious.  You kind of wish Isaac had not been so passive at this time. Isaac actually asks outright "are you really Esau?  Then Jacob lies outright "I am".  Then (vs 25b) Isaac ate the two goats then proceeds to give the blessing to Jacob.  The important part of this blessing was that "you will be lord over your brothers and they will bow down to you".  This is the part that makes Jacob the head of the family, which makes him the decision maker. 

vs 30:  No sooner than Jacob left, Esau comes in to Isaac with the dish full of the cooked wild game.  Esau was ready for the blessing, but Isaac said "Who are you?"  Can you imagine what each of them must have been thinking.  It says in vs 33 that Isaac trembled violently.  Esau was livid, but asked for a blessing anyway, but Isaac was now limited.  He could not give lordship over the family to two people.  However he did promise Esau victory in battle plus many of the same blessings he gave Jacob, but could not include family leadership.  He also said that there would come a time when Esau would break Jacob's yoke from his neck.  That seems to me to be an unspoken wish of Isaac.  Nobody
likes to be tricked into doing something they don't want to do.  And Isaac was tricked by the best "trickster" in recorded History.

vs 41 says this made Esau hate Jacob and swore to kill him out of revenge.  vs 42  Rebekah heard about Esau's threat and sent Jacob away to her brother Laben (remember him?) until
Esau cools down.  He will end up staying there twenty years.

vs 46  The Hittite women are mentioned again.  They have made life miserable for Rebekah. 

We'll continue this story in the next post which will begin with chapter 28.  But to quickly summarize this sad story:  It never turns out well when we take God's work into our own hands.  We should never try to make our will God's will, but rather we should always try to make God's will our will.  Rebekah interferring and doing things her way resulted in grief and misery for her whole family.  Everybody paid a price. 
>Esau lost his birthright. 
>Isaac ended his life in deep regret and humiliation having made a foolish mistake. 
>Rebekah lost both of her sons. ( Esau knew what she did and what little relationship they had was
   destroyed and Jacob had moved far away for 20 years)
>Jacob became a fugitive in his homeland and had to live in exile under the lordship of someone 
   he will come to despise.  (Laben)

Rebekah should never have interferred.  Agree? 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

XIV - Chapter 26 - Jacob and Esau

Chapter 26 - Jacob and Esau

Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old. Isaac died when he was 180. Isaac was never an aggressive personality, but he was smart and obedient. His life was overshadowed by his father Abraham and his dynamic son Jacob. Chapters 25 and 26 give a rather brief accounting of Isaac's life in Gerar and Beersheba, on which we must base much of our knowledge of him. Isaac quietly appreared on the scene, fulfilled God's purpose for his life, then quietly slipped away. But he is still listed as one of the major patriarchs of the Bible and the nation Israel.

  Chapter 26 - verse 1: Another famine in the land of Canaan. This isn't the first one and won't be the last. A famine marks a period of time that renders the ground barren, unable to produce enough crops for the people or the livestock to eat. In order for a "drought" to become a famine, it must span beyond two years and two crops. We don't hear about modern day famines in that part of the world because it has so much oil, they can buy all the food they want.

Notice that God sent Isaac north. God sent both Abraham and Jacob south to Egypt to escape the drought, but sent Isaac north. Note that the north was also drought-stricken. This makes me think a little more highly of Isaac.

He went north to Gerar, in the land of the Philistines. Abimelek was still the king of that land. Remember Abimelek? Abraham dealt with him successfully due to Abimelek's respect for the God of Abraham. God repeats His promise to Isaac at Gerar. God repeats His promise to these patriarchs many times. Perhaps as a reminder or an encouragement. Bear in mind the number of years that pass from one reminder to the next. Vs. 5: ......because Abraham obeyed Me.........

Interesting in verse 7 that when in Gerar, isaac told the same lie about Rebekah that Abraham told about Sarah, also in Gerar, which was under the rule of the same king Abimelek. The only thing I can figure about this is that Isaac thought that if it worked for Dad and Mom, it'll work for me and Rebekah. Like Sarah, Rebekah was beautiful and Isaac, like Abraham, feared for his life. -

But Isaac got careless. Abimelek saw Isaac and Rebekah with each other and concluded that they were definately NOT brother and sister. (Maybe Abimelek was a Peeping Tom (just kidding))

Abimelek confronted Isaac with this in verse 9. I'm surprised he didn't say "You're just like your father!" Abimelek had the right to scold Isaac (vs 10), but Abimelek had an unusually great fear of the God he did not worship. However, Abimelek told Isaac to move on because of the size of his estate.

 Vss 12-16: Isaac was a smart farmer, rancher, and business man. He became very wealthy in drought-stricken conditions. This made the Philistines envious. So they filled up Isaac's wells. What a great bunch of guys! Sabatoging water wells in those days was considered an act of aggression, leading to many wars between neighboring clans. Isaac could have retaliated or appealed to Abimelek, but remember what kind of man Isaac was. He was peaceful and passive. Therefore he just kept moving around away from the trouble being caused by the Philistines. The problems kept following Isaac because the Philistines knew that they just had to fill up a water well to get rid of him. They filled up one and Abraham called the well Esak (means dispute). He moved on, dug another well, which the Philistines filled up and he called it Sitnah (means opposition). He moved on and finally dug one in a place later called Beersheba and they left him alone. He called that well Rehoboth (means room) as God gave him room to flourish undisturbed.

After Isaac settled in Beersheba God spoke with him, repeating His promise once again. Isaac did the proper thing and built and altar to honor God.

Vs 26: Abimelek came to Isaac in Beersheba, bringing two high-ranking officials with him. Isaac does not greet him in a friendly manner because Abimelek treated him harshly earlier.

Abimelek couldn't help but notice that everywhere Isaac went, he prospered at the same time all the Pilistines were subdued by the famine. So, Abimelek wanted to make a treaty with Isaac, which I think was a smart move. Chapter 26 closes with and interesting last two verses: When Esau (first born) was forty, he married two Hittite women. Big mistake and Esau should have known better. Vs 35 says that these two women were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah. This was quite a blow to Isaac and Rebekah. Esau's wives were not members of the ancestral family. That was then, and would continue to be, a fatal mistake for any Israelite first-born son to make.

Next posting: The Stolen Blessing

Monday, July 16, 2012

XIII - The Birth of Jacob and Esau

We've reached the half way point of the book of Genesis. Notice how much has been covered in those first 24 chapters? We covered the entire creation in just two chapters. Just 25 short sentances. Less than five minutes reading for the average adult. ----------------------The fall of man was covered in just one chapter. The next two chapters told of the time between Adam and Noah. Chapters six through eleven deal with the flood, and the rest of the first half of Genesis records the growth of the human race through the life of Abraham, concentrating mainly of course on the nation of people that will soon become known as the nation of Israel.------------------------But now the pace through time will slow down. For example, in the same space (two chapters) that it took to cover the entire creation, it will cover the relatively short time to transfer Jacob and his kinship from Canaan to Egypt.--------------------As you've seen, the early part of Genesis is concerned with the human race in general. The remainder of our study, particularly in the OldTestament, the Scripture concentrates on one particular family: The family of Abraham, which will go on to become the nation Israel.--------------------- In Genesis Chapter 25, the Scripture sets the stage for the next five to six hundred years of History. Vs.1 tells us that after Sarah's death, Abraham took another wife named Keturah. Keturah bore Abraham six sons. (One son was Midian who was an ancestor of Moses's wife Zipporah. Zipporah was a daughter of Jethro, priest of Midian.) Vs 5: Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac, which was God's intent. Abraham of course loved his other sons, so he gave them gifts (generous ones, I'm sure) and sent them to settle with their families in the east (away from Isaac). Abraham also probably wanted these other sons away from Isaac as Isaac needed no disputes or challenges while establishing his family in the promised land. Did this cause some problems with Keturah and her sons? Probably, but this was of small consequence in the whole scheme of things. Vs 7>> Abraham dies and is buried beside Sarah. Interesting to note that Ishmael came back for his father's funeral. Being buried beside Sarah may or may not have been Abraham's wishes, but Isaac "ruled the roost" now and made ALL decisions. Ishmael, Keturah and/or her sons would have had no say in such matters.-------------------------- Vss 12-18 tell briefly of the remainder of Ishmael's life. Few people realize that Ishmael (like Jacob) also had twelve sons who became twelve tribal leaders, forming the entire ancestry of the modern-day Arab nations.------------------------ Vs 19 begins the story of Isaac and his family. Like his mother Sarah, Isaac's wife Rebekah was barren and could not bare Isaac children. So Isaac prayed. God heard Isaac's prayers and Rebekah became pregnant. Vs 22: The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she prayed about it, worried that something was not right. { Comment: Had any human had twins before? I don't think there is record of it. Therefore, this would have been a "different" pregnancy, even if the twins were not struggling against each other so much. } Read in vs 23 what God tells her. TWO nations are in your womb. They will be separated. One will be stronger than the other. The older will serve the younger. All of these things must have sounded strange and alarming to Rebekah. I think all unheard of, especially about the older serving the younger. This prenatal struggle between these two boys set the stage for the endless conflict between their families and descendants, the Israelites and the Edomites.------------------Vs 24: It's time for the babies to be born. The first one was red and hairy. They named him Esau (means "the hairy one"). When Esau came out of the womb, the second one had hold of his heel. (they couldn't even get along long enough to get born.) They named the second one Jacob (means "grabber or supplanter"). The Scripture goes on to tell how the boys grew up to be different in every way. Esau was a hunter, a man of the fields. Jacob was content to stay home, indoors. It goes on to say that Isaac had a taste for wild game and favored Esau. Rebekah prefered Jacob.--------------------- Vs 29 begins dealing with the story of Esau selling his birthright. Esau came in from hunting, famished. Jacob had been cooking stew. (remember, Jacob prefered indoors and probably enjoyed cooking and was probably good at it.) Esau told Jacob he needed something to eat. Jacob sensed weakness, and said he would sell Esau the stew for his birthright. Esau agreed. He was a short-sited, shoot-from-the-hip type of thinker. He squandered his entire birthright, robbing his future generations as well, for immediate gratification in the form a meal. His rational: What good is the birthright if I'm going to die of starvation? How ridiculous! Last phrase in the chapter it says Esau despised his birthright. I'm not sure "despised" is the correct word for this, but I think perhaps the word "disrespected" fits. While Esau took his birthright too lightly, it meant EVERYTHING to Jacob. Nothing was more valuable to Jacob, of course. Consider just how valuable it was. It's hard to condone Jacob's methods, but we cannot fault him for placing the proper level of value on the birthright. Jacob was a schemer by nature. He knew that the birthright belonged to the oldest son, and there was no way to get it other than 1) killing Esau before he has sons, or 2) have Esau willingly give it to Jacob. Jacob had high asperations, and he was smart enough to figure out a way and certainly able to recognize an opportunity when it presented itself.---------------The spirit of Esau abounds in our materialistic age. Few are willing to endure the discipline of self-denial. It's always a danger signal when material things or things of comfort take precedence over higher spiritual priorities. Our decisions in our daily lives reveal where our minds and hearts are.