1 Chronicles 4-5: The Tribal Histories

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In these two chapters, we get something of an infodump on the tribes of Judah, Simeon, Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The portions about Judah and Simeon (1 Chron. 4) seem largely taken from Joshua 15 and Joshua 19, respectively. It seems that the two tribes were rather closely related, and that Simeon was at some point absorbed into Judah.

In 1 Chron. 5, we get the Transjordan tribes: Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (the Transjordan portion of the tribe).

Judah

We begin with the sons of Judah: Perez, Hezron, Carmi, Hur, and Shobal. Following Shobal’s line, we get Reaiah, and Reaiah’s son Jahath. Jahath was the father of Ahumai and Lahad. These, we are told, were the families of the Zorathites.

It’s clear right from here that this is a very different kind of history than the one we got a few chapters ago. This list of Judah’s sons bears little resemblance to the one we got in 1 Chron. 2:3-8. More to the point, I recognize many of the names as place names. I think it likely that this is a list of founders (mythical or otherwise) of the various settlements in Judah.

If I read the grammar correctly, we then skip over to a Hur, son of Ephrathah (the founder, or “father” of Bethlehem). He had two sons: Etam, Penuel, and Ezer. Etam’s children were Jezreel, Ishma, and Idbash (plus a daughter, Hazzelelponi), Penuel fathered Gedor, and Ezer fathered Hushah.

Ashhur, Tekoa’s father, had two wives: Helah and Naarah. Naarah gave birth to Ahuzzam, Hepher, Temeni, and Haahashtari. Helah gave birth to Zereth, Izhar, and Ethnan.

Koz fathered Anub, Zobebah, and the families of Aharhel (the son of Harum).

We start seeing a little more detail with Jabez, who “was more honorable than his brothers” (1 Chron. 4:9). His name, which means “he giveth pain,” was given to him by his mother after what appears to have been a particularly difficult labour. We are told that Jabez prayed to God to bless him, give him more land, and not hurt him. His prayer was granted, inspiring a Bruce Wilkinson book titled The Prayer of Jabez, which has been accused of flirting with the prosperity gospel (the essence of which is that praying and giving all your money to your pastor will lead to earthly prosperity).

It’s easy enough to see how this mini-story might lend itself to something like the prosperity gospel (though I can’t say that Wilkinson actually falls into that, since I haven’t read the book). However, given the cultural context and the power names were thought to have had, it seems likely that this was just a little detail meant to show that, through faith, Jabez was able to overcome the curse of his name.

Chelub was brother to Shuhah and father of Mehir, and Mehir was father of Eshton. Eshton, in turn, fathered Bethrapha, Paseah, and Tehinnah. Tehinnah fathered Irnahash. These guys were from a place called Recah.

Kenaz fathered Othniel and Seraiah. Othniel fathered Hathath and Meonothai. Meonothai fathered Ophrai. Seraiah fathered Joab, who fathered Geharashim (which, we are told, was so called because they were craftsmen – 1 Chron. 4:14).

Caleb, the son of Jephunneh (almost certainly the same Caleb as can be found in Joshua 15:13-19), had the following sons: Iru, Elah, and Naam. Elah fathered Kenaz. My New Bible Commentary points out that this Caleb’s genealogy does not link up at any point, reinforcing the notion that he was a non-Israelite who was adopted into Judah (p.373).

A Jehallelel fathered Ziph, Ziphah, Tiria, and Asarel, while an Ezrah fathered Jether, Mered, Epher, and Jalon. Mered married Bithiah, the daughter of a Pharaoh, and they produced Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah (Ishbah fathered Eshtemoa). Mered also had a Jewish wife, who bore Jered (who fathered Gedor), Heber (who fathered Soco), and Jekuthiel (who fathered Zanoah).

Someone by the name of Hodiah married a sister of Naham. Their sons were the fathers of Keilah the Garmite and Eshtemoa the Maacathite.

A Shimon fathered Amnon, Rinnah, Benhanan, and Tilon. Ishi fathered Zoheth and Benzoheth (a rather strange arrangement, given that “Benzoheth” would mean “son of Zoheth”).

Shelah, Judah’s son, fathered Er (father of Lecah), Laadah (father of Mareshah), and the families of the linen workers of Bethashbea.

Jokim and the men of Cozeba, Joash, and Saraph ruled in Moab, but returned to Lehem. They were the potters and inhabitants of Netaim and Gederah, and lived there to work for the king. My New Bible Commentary brings up an interesting note: “Archeology has shown that the potter’s craft was hereditary” (p.373). The more you know.

Simeon

For the second part of 1 Chron. 4, we turn to Simeon. I noted above that Simeon was apparently absorbed into Judah at some point. It’s a point that many of my sources claim without commentary or explanation. A fact that I found rather frustrating.

It took a little bit of a digging, but I started to find some textual clues. For example, Genesis 49:5-7 links Simeon with Levi – the landless priestly tribe – and promises to “divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” By the time we get to Moses’s blessing in Deut. 33, Simeon is absent entirely.

As for its absorption into Judah, specifically, we can turn to Joshua 15:26-32, where several of Simeon’s towns are listed as being allotted to Judah.

The final piece comes from this very chapter. When the towns of Simeon are listed, the passage ends by stating that: “These were their cities until David reigned” (1 Chron. 4:32). I find that this one small verse is solidifying the perception of David that I got through reading 1-2 Samuel and 1 Kings – that he was a local warlord who came to control his tribe and, from there, continued his warlord-y activities. Evidently, that seems to have included an ongoing campaign against surrounding tribes.

We also learn in 1 Samuel 27:6 that David came into possession of Ziklag, one of the towns we will see listed as those belonging to Simeon.

From this, it seems rather clear that Simeon had ceased to be a distinct group long before the Chronicler came to write his account (despite the fact that they seemed to have maintained some kind of separate identity, at least for a while, as “they kept a genealogical record” – 1 Chron. 4:33). So why would the Chronicler bother to include them in his treatment of the tribes? The obvious answer is that the first portion of Chronicles is meant to present an ideal Israel, of which Simeon is a part.

As with Judah, the genealogy is clearly not meant to be such. We begin with a list of sons which deviates rather significantly from what we’ve seen before. Here, Simeon’s sons are Nemuel, Jamin, Jarib, Zerah, and Shaul. In Genesis 46:10, Nemuel is Jemuel, Jarib seems to be Jachin, Zerah seems to be Zohar, Ohad is added, and only Jamin and Shaul remain unchanged.

The next connection is unclear, as we are told that “Shallum was his son” (1 Chron. 4:25), but the “his” is not identified. From there, Shallum’s son is Mibsam, who fathered Mishma.

The sons of Mishma are Hammuel, Zaccur, and Shimei (though the grammar makes it possible that this is a lineage, Mishma to Hammuel to Zaccur to Shimei). Shimei had 16 sons and 6 daughters, but his brothers didn’t have many children, “nor did all their family multiply like the men of Judah” (1 Chron. 4:27). We see this represented in Numbers where, in the first census, the tribe held 59,300 men capable of fighting (Num. 1:22-23), whereas by the time of the second census, they had only 22,200 (Num. 26:12-14).

The text goes on to list their cities, which roughly corresponds to their allotment in Jos. 19:2-8: Beersheba, Moladah, Hazarshual, Bilhah (appearing as Balah in Joshua), Ezem, Tolad (appearing as Eltolad in Joshua), Bethuel (appearing as Bethul in Joshua), Hormah, Ziklag, Bethmarcaboth, Hazarsusim (appearing as Hazarsusah in Joshua), Bethbiri (possibly corresponding to Joshua’s Bethlebaoth), and Shaaraim (possibly corresponding to Joshua’s Sharuhen), which they controlled until David’s reign. This list is only missing Sheba from Joshua’s version.

Next come their villages, which again corresponds to Jos. 19:2-8: Etam (which does not appear in Joshua), Ain, Rimmon, Tochen (which does not appear in Joshua), and Ashan. The Joshua version also adds a town called Ether, making the count five here and four in Joshua.

While the tribe of Simeon, as a whole, was shrinking, some families seem to have been doing all right. The following princes’ houses “increased greatly” (1 Chron. 4:38: Meshobab, Jamlech, Joshah son of Amaziah, Joel, Jehu son of Joshibiah (the son of Seraiah son of Asiel), Elioenai, Jaakobah, Jeshohaiah, Asaiah, Adiel, Jesimiel, Benaiah, and Ziza son of Shiphi (the son of Allon son Jedaiah son of Shimri son of Shemaiah).

These princes migrated to the better pastureland in Gedor, in lands that used to belong to the descendants of Ham. In the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, they came and destroyed the Meunim who were living there, and settled down (it seems that they had maintained a nomadic lifestyle up until that point, see the reference to tents in 1 Chron. 4:41).

Another group, or perhaps an offshoot group, went to Mount Seir. These were led by the sons of Ishi: Pelatiah, Neariah, Rephaiah, and Uzziel. There, they killed off the remnant of the Amalekites.

Reuben

Reuben’s section kicks off 1 Chron. 5. Right off the bat, we are given an explanation for why he does not appear at the head of the list despite being the first-born son of Jacob (here consistently called Israel). It is, of course, because he “polluted his father’s couch” (1 Chon. 5:1), presumably a reference to his sleeping with his father’s concubine in Gen. 35:22.

From The History of Joseph and His Brethren, illustration by Owen Jones, 1869

From The History of Joseph and His Brethren, illustration by Owen Jones, 1869

Instead, continues the Chronicler, Reuben’s special portion (a “double portion,” according to Deut. 21:15-17) transferred to the sons of Joseph. This makes little sense to me, since Joseph was not the next in line. Looking at Gen. 29-30, we see that the next children were, in order, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Since Simeon and Levi were “scattered,” that leaves Judah as the principle inheritor (which would make sense). However, 1 Chron. 5:1 specifically states that “his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph,” who wasn’t born until Gen. 30:23-24, making him the penultimate son (Benjamin being the youngest).

The explanation is, of course, both that Joseph received a “double portion” by having both of his sons inherit as if they were his brothers, and in the fact that both Ephraim and Manasseh were large tribes in control of comparatively large patches of territory. But in the personification story, it makes little sense.

The narrative then moves on to the sons of Reuben, listed here as: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. This corresponds neatly to the list found in Num. 26:5-6, but for some reason doesn’t include the further descendants from Num. 26:7-9 (was the Chronicler not interested? Or did he not have access to the complete list?).

We then move on to the lineage of Joel, whose connection to Reuben’s genealogy is not clear, but at least the final of which was a Reubenite chieftain. It goes from Joel, to Shemaiah, to Gog, to Shimei, to Micah, to Reaiah, to Baal, and finally to Beerah, who was carried into exile by Assyria’s Tilgath-pilneser.

His (I assume this refers back to Beerah) kinsmen were Jeiel (a chief), Zechariah, and Bela. Bela was the son of Azaz, who was the son of Shema, who was the son of Joel. Perhaps the same Joel as above. Joel lived in Aroer, as far as Nebo and Baalmeon, but it seems that the group’s territory was forced east as their herds multiplied.

While Saul was king, the Reubenites fought and won against the Hagrites.

Gad

Strangely, this section does not list the sons of Gad (which can be found in Gen. 46:16), but rather goes straight into a discussion of its prominent members. Except that this doesn’t match the similar list found in Num. 26:15-18.

Here, the descendants of Gad who live “in the land of Bashan as far as Salecah” (1 Chron. 5:11) are: Joel the chief (the same as the Reubenite Joel?), Shapham, Janai, and Shaphat. They had the following kinsmen: Michael, Meshullam, Sheba, Jorai, Jacan, Zia, and Eber. These seven were the sons of Abihail, who was the son of Huri, who was the son of Jaroah, who was the son of Gilead, who was the son of Michael, who was the son of Jeshishai, who was the son of Jahdo, who was the son of Buz. Their chief seems to have been a certain Ahi son of Abdiel (who was the son of Guni).

These names were all recorded in the days of King Jotham of Judah and King Jeroboam of Israel. The importance of these men is not stated, and they were likely included simply because they were names that the Chronicler had available to him.

Just as a point of interest, it seems that the Moabite Stone (or Mesha Stele) specifically mentions the men of Gad. From this, we know that Gad was known as its own tribal identity at least in this point of time – around 840 BCE.

The Hagrite War

Before finishing up the record of the Transjordan tribes, the narrative turns to a description of war against the Hagrites, likely the same as was mentioned above.

The Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had great warriors who did normal warrior things and had normal warrior equipment. In this account, there were 44,760 men, across the three tribes, who were ready to fight. The number is almost certainly inflated, of course.

This massive number of soldiers moved against the Hagrites. Specifically, these Hagrites: Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab. The Transjordan tribes cried out to God during the battle and, because of this (and surely not their massive numbers), they won the war. This allowed them to carry off 50,000 camels, 250,000 sheep, 2,000 donkeys, and 100,000 people. Unfortunately, the number of people they were able to carry off was diminished by the high casualties on the loser’s side, “because the war was of God” (1 Chron. 5:22).

The Hagrites seem to have been an Arab group. The name itself sounds rather like Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden and the mother of Ishmael. That’s flimsy enough, but two of the Hagrite names (Jetur and Naphish) can be found in the list of Ishmael’s sons in Gen. 25:12-15.

The half-tribe of Manasseh

Finally, we reach the final Transjordan tribe. It might seem strange that the details about the war against the Hagrites was crowbarred in the middle, but the reason will shortly become apparent.

The description of the half-tribe of Manasseh (that would be the portion of it located in the Transjordan) begins by emphasizing just how numerous they were.

The house heads were: Epher, Ishi, Eliel, Azriel, Jeremiah, Jodaviah, and Jahdiel. These men are described as mighty warriors and famous men, despite the fact that I‘ve never heard of them.

Unfortunately, they transgressed against God by worshipping the “gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them: (1 Chron. 5:25). Because of this, God sent Assyria’s Pul and Tilgath-pilneser to conquer and take them into exile.

In other words, the exact opposite of what happened in the war against the Hagrites, where the people prayed to God instead of being unfaithful.

All three Transjordan tribes were taken into exile, and brought to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, where they live even “to this day” (1 Chron. 6:26). This list corresponds, despite the absence of Medes, to the one given in 2 Kgs 17:6 and 2 Kgs 18:11-12.

James Pate points to one possible take-away of this story: That the Transjordan tribes doomed themselves by choosing lands for themselves, rather than waiting for God’s allotment (Numbers 32). However, as he points out, the victory against the Hagrites seems to argue against this interpretation, since they were still granted victory so long as they continued to be faithful to God.

Thoughts

In reading these two chapters, I was struck by how haphazard it seems. While the author(s) of Judges and Deuteronomy each employed a predictable formula to organize their subjects, adding details here and there, these accounts present quite different kinds of information for each tribe. It feels as though the Chronicler only had access to whatever records each tribe happened to keep, the priorities of each tribe depending on its particular flavour.

Names are included without much rhyme or reason. Perhaps censuses were taken, so these were just the names the Chronicler had available.

Genesis 28: A Dash of Xenophobia

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Our story actually begins with Genesis 27:46. This is one of those places where the chapter break is really weird. I once heard a story that the person who was dividing the Bible up into chapters and verses was a very busy man and had to travel a lot, so he got some of his work done while on horseback. The weird divisions are there because every so often the horse would bump him and his pen would slip!

So there’s another little “Just So” myth for you.

Xenophobia

Back at the end of Chapter 26, we were told that Esau married two Hittite (that is, Canaanite) women, and that “they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen. 26:34). I commented at the time that this passage was presented without any context, so that the reader is not told why these women made life “bitter” for their in-laws.

Now we get to find out, and the reason is good ol’ fashioned hatred.

Rebekah goes to Isaac and complains that she’s “weary” of her life because Esau’s married some Hittite women. “If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women such as these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (Gen. 27:46). Bit dramatic, really.

Isaac’s response is to send Jacob back to Rebekah’s homeland, so that he can marry one of Laban’s daughters.

This is clearly from a different tradition than Chapter 27. My guess would be that both communities shared a story in which Jacob was in Haran, so both came up with separate stories to get him there. In Chapter 27, he escapes the wrath of Esau after stealing his blessing. In this one, he’s travelling to find a bride.

Esau overhears that his parents are upset that he’s married Canaanite women, so he takes one of Ishmael’s daughters, Mahalath, as a third wife. At this point, I feel the need to remind everyone once again that traditional/biblical marriage is clearly not between one man and one woman. The people who claim that it is are just talking out of unusual orifices.

Jacob’s dream

Jacob's Dream by William Blake c.1805

Jacob’s Dream by William Blake c.1805

On his way to Haran, Jacob stops for the night. He uses a stone for a pillow and goes to sleep. That night, he dreamed that there was a ladder that reached up to heaven, and he could see the angels of God going up and down on it.

God speaks to Jacob, introducing himself as the god of Abraham and Isaac. He then goes into that incredibly tiresome list of all the stuff he’s going to give to this family (which they’re still waiting for). For those of you keeping score at home, this is the sixth time we’ve heard this promise!  (Chapters 13, 15, 17, 22, and 26.)

When Jacob wakes up, he stands the stone he had been sleeping on and pours oil over it (which makes me think of the Shiva Linga and giggle). With his rock well oiled, he decides to rename the place Bethel. Of course, it was already named Bethel when Abraham was there in Genesis 12:8 and 13:3, but never mind. We’ll humour Jacob.

Amusingly, we’re told that prior to Jacob’s renaming, “the name of the city was Luz” (Gen. 28:19). One can only wonder what the citizens of Luz thought of this weird guy who uses rocks as pillows and tells them that their city’s just been renamed because of a dream he’s had.

There’s certain things that people can only get away with in the Bible.

Anyways, Jacob vows that if God takes care of him, giving him bread to eat and clothes to wear, and gets him back to Beersheba safely, he’ll become his god.We also get the origin of tithing – part of the vow is that Jacob will give a tenth of everything God gives him back to God.

The god of this place

“Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16).

In ancient times, gods were frequently associated with particular places. A traveller would often worship the local gods rather than his own in the belief that his own were too far away to hear. Rather than simply living in “the sky” like the Abrahamic god, they lived on the tops of certain mountains (Olympus), for example.

But the Abrahamic god is, instead, associated more with a bloodline than a specific place. He has places, of course, such as Mount Sinai, or Bethel. But he lives in the generic “sky.”

I’m not surprised that this form of deity emerged from a semi-nomadic culture – and if we accept the date of the Old Testament’s authorship (or at least, the bulk of its compilation) as being close to the Babylonian Exile, it makes even more sense. A people severed from their land doesn’t get much value from a deity who is overly location-specific. The Abrahamic god has to be able to travel.

Genesis 24: Finding a wife for Isaac

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In this chapter, Abraham sends his servant back to Mesopotamia – where most of Abraham’s family still lives – to find a wife for Isaac, because he doesn’t want one of those dirty Canaanite girls with their alternative deities and all that.

So he calls to his servant and asks him to grab his testicles. Seriously. He says to his servant: “put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord” (Gen. 24:2-3). Boy, if I had a nickel for every time a guy’s said that to me!

I’d still be woefully nickel-less. But Abraham’s servant would clearly have at least one!

Aaanyways, the point of all this testes-fisting is apparently an old form of oath taking. One would think that spitting into one’s hands and shaking them was sufficiently disgusting, but these guys like to go all out. In any case, the servant vows to go to Mesopotamia and never ever ever ever to allow Isaac to marry a local.

But the servant is concerned – what if he goes all the way to Mesopotamia, finds a girl, and she isn’t willing to come back with him? Not to worry, says Abraham. If that happens, he’ll be freed from the oath. So the servant sticks his hand under Abraham’s thigh and swears.

Meeting at the well

Rebekah at the well by Valerio Castello, c.1645

Rebekah at the well by Valerio Castello, c.1645

When the servant gets to Nahor, he sets up shop beside the well (which, apparently, is where all the lovely ladies like to congregate). Now, the servant wanted to make sure that he got the right lady for Isaac, so he prayed to God that, when he goes up to a lady and asks her if he could drink from her jar, the right lady will respond by saying: “Drink, and I will water your camels” (Gen. 24:14). Gotta make sure his master’s new lady comes ready-domestic!

So he’s barely done talking when Rebekah comes waltzing up to the well. Rebekah, if you remember, is Abraham’s grand-niece. What we haven’t been told is that Adam and Eve were created with only three fingers on each hand. The five we have today is from all the incest.

Anyways, the servant (poor guy doesn’t even gets a name) goes up to Rebekah and goes through his spiel of asking her for a drink of water. She answers him: “Drink, my lord” and lets him have her jar. At this point, ancient readers (before TV took entertainment to the next level) were probably on the edge of their seats. Will she say it? OMG, will she?

She did! Sort of… What she actually says is “I will draw for your camels also, until they have done drinking” (Gen. 24:19). Right, well not exactly what she was supposed to say for the magics to work, and it’s pretty much what anyone would say in that situation, but the servant seems to be okay with a bit of fudging. She got the gist of it right, at least.

So the servant gives Rebekah a gold ring and two gold bracelets, and asks whose daughter she is and whether there’s room for him in her father’s house. Rebekah tells him her lineage – which pleases the servant because she is suitably closely related to Abraham &son to satisfy God’s penchant for incest – and says that there is room in her father’s house.

Meeting the Family

Rebekah runs home to let her family know that the servant is coming. Her brother, Laban, sees her new bling and gets rather excited. So he goes out to meet the servant and invites him in very warmly. Yes, it says that he “saw the ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms” (Gen. 24:29) and that’s when he goes out to meet the servant. The implication is rather clear.

But before the servant will have dinner, he wants to re-cap the entire chapter for Rebekah’s family. The reader is therefore treated to the entire story we’ve covered so far for a second time, and it isn’t all that shorter this time around. He does, blessedly, leave out the part about grabbing testicles.

Of course, he does dwell on how much stuff Abraham has. “The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and fold, menservants and maidservants, camels and asses” (Gen. 24:35). It’s important, I find, when introducing someone to list all of their possessions. Make sure to mention that they have slaves (both male and female!). Is he a drunk? Is he violent? Does he have a history of trying to sacrifice his kids or sending them off into the wilderness? Perhaps a history of raping members of his household?

See, if I were considering whether or not to send my daughter off to live in some guy’s household, these are the kinds of things I’d like to know. I’m not frankly all that concerned about how many flocks and herds he has.Although the slave ownership bit might be some indication of what this poor girl is getting into.

The servant even tells Rebekah’s parents about Rebekah telling them who her parents are. He lists her genealogy right there, in front of her genealogy. I’m sure they were riveted and oh-so-very glad that he’s made everyone wait before eating dinner to hear this.

Ancient Hebrews: big on being good hosts, not so much on being good guests.

By the way, that ring he gave Rebekah? It’s totally a nose ring. Rebekah is hard core. Also, the servant is the one who stuck it in her nose (Gen. 24:47). I find that hilarious.

On the delaying of having dinner, Matthews explains that the servant “demonstrates his own shrewdness by refusing to accept the hospitality of Laban’s house before beginning the negotiations. He does not wish to be unfavorably obligated to Laban, and thus it is only after the bargain is struck that he willingly enters the house and eats a meal” (Manners & Customs, p.37). It all comes down to the laws of hospitality – the obligations of host to guest and guest to host. Something Lord Walder Frey really ought to learn something about.

She said yes!

The servant finishes off by asking if he can take Rebekah back to Canaan for Isaac, and her father and brother answer: “Behold, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son” (Gen. 24:51). Don’t bother asking her or anything. Heck, even for an arranged marriage, this is pretty crappy background checking. All he did was give her a nose ring and a couple bangles, that doesn’t mean that anything he’s said is true! Are they not even going to go meet Abraham? Check out the household? Make sure he’s really as wealthy as he claims (assuming that this is their primary concern, rather than, say, his history of trying to off his own kids)?

But it’s cool, cause the servant then gives “jewelry of silver and of gold, and raiment” to Rebekah and some “costly ornaments” to her brother and mother (Gen. 24:53).

In the morning, the servant announces that he’ll be taking Rebekah back to Abraham now, and her family asks if she can at least stay ten days. But the servant insists. Bit rude for someone they only the day before, I say…

But finally, someone thinks to ask Rebekah for her opinion, so they ask her if she wants to go right away or wait a bit. In what I can only imagine is an air of resignation, Rebekah agrees to go post haste. Thus, Rebekah and her maids get on a bunch of camels and ride back to Canaan with Abraham’s servant.

Meeting Isaac

So Isaac’s hanging out in the Negeb and goes outside to meditate. When he opens his eyes and looks out, he sees camels coming. Rebekah happens to look up at precisely the same moment and they see each other.

She asks the servant who the man is and he confirms that it’s Isaac. So she covers herself up with her veil. Her future husband shouldn’t see her, but it’s fine for everyone else, apparently. Modesty rules are weird…

The servant meets Isaac and tells him everything we’ve covered so far in the chapter (thankfully, it isn’t all spelled out this time). Isaac then “brought her into the tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife” (Gen. 24:67). Wait… He “took” her and then she became his wife? That’s not the order my Sunday School told us to do things…

Despite what my Sunday School had to say about such relationships, Isaac does love Rebekah. In fact, getting with his new lady-friend totally comforts him after his mom’s death. So yay!

Genesis 22: The Attempted Murder of Isaac

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After telling Abraham to abandon his first-born son and Hagar in the wilderness, God now turns his sights on Abraham’s other son. He tells Abraham to take Isaac into the land of Moriah and “offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2).

This time, Abraham doesn’t protest. Either he’s learned his lesson from Chapter 21, or he just doesn’t like Isaac as much. Either way, he wakes up early and gets things ready to murder his son.

This is a really creepy chapter because there’s absolutely no indication that Abraham has any reaction to God’s command. All we get is a narration of him packing up his knife and kindling. No tears are shed, he never complains or begs God to spare his son. It’s all very cold and methodical, it’s almost psychopathic. Just to make the whole scene seem even more cruel, he makes Isaac carry the wood on which he intends to burn him.

Isaac is still fairly human at first, asking his dad where the sacrificial lamb is (normally a fair question when one is carrying a bunch of pyre wood up a mountain, but rather chilling in this particular situation). Abraham lies and tells him that God will be bringing that himself. But then we’re told that Abraham “bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood” (Gen. 22:9). At no point does Isaac say “Hey, dad, why are you binding me up?” or “okay, pa, I can overlook the whole binding me part, but putting me on the sacrificial pyre? What exactly do you think you’re doing?”

There’s no reaction from Isaac, no emotion from Abraham. And remember, this isn’t Isaac being stoic – Abraham lied to him and he has no idea that he is the lamb God will be providing. Yet he doesn’t seem at all concerned.

In the nick of time

The Sacrifice of Abraham by Andrea del Sarto

The Sacrifice of Abraham by Andrea del Sarto

As Abraham raises his knife to kill Isaac, the angel of the Lord calls down to him, saying “Woah, dude! I was just kidding! I didn’t think you’d actually go through with it!”

Interestingly, his exact words are: “For now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12). There are two problems with this.

The first is the implication that God has to test Abraham to know whether he fears God or not. In other words, God not only cannot predict the future, he also cannot even read our minds.

The second problem is that God refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son.” Does Ishmael suddenly not exist? He’s been cast out, sure, but he’s being made into a nation because he is Abraham’s son even after having been abandoned. Unless part of the abandonment was a total disowning. If this is the case, it might explain the literal issue, but it only raises a moral one.

I do think it’s important to note that, while God does stop Abraham from killing his son, it’s “without ever suggesting that the act of slaughtering one’s own child is immoral” (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p.97). Once again, God prevents a crime because it serves his own purposes, not because the crime itself is wrong. Furthermore, it’s insane to think of this as having really happened. Imagine if someone today claimed that they heard the voice of God telling them to kill their child! That person would be locked up, but paraded as a paragon of faith!

But God does stop Abraham from killing Isaac and, because Abraham was totally willing to go through with it, God will reward him with a blessing. “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:17-18). For those of you counting at home, this is the fourth time God is promising these things to Abraham.

Abraham goes back down the mountain with Isaac and they all go home.

Is a lie still a lie if it turns out to be true?

Abraham makes a couple statements that seem out of place given what he’s supposed to know:

  • When he gets to the mountain, he says to his servants: “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Gen. 22:5);
  • When Isaac asks where is the lamb for the offering, Abraham answers: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8).

In both cases, Abraham is lying to avoid suspicion. But in both cases, the lie turns out to be the truth. Is this the authors’ idea of humour?

Prophecy

By the way, this chapter is a favourite of Christians who claim that Jesus is prophesied throughout the Old Testament. There are two passages cited:

When asked about the sacrifice, Abraham says: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8). This, clearly, is not supposed to answer the question he has just been asked (even though it fits perfectly in this context). Rather, it’s letting the reader know that God will be sending a lamb (*wink wink nudge nudge*) to be sacrificed for our sins.

When God tells Abraham for the fourth time that he’ll have oodles of descendants, he adds: “By your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves” (Gen.22:18). If you turn your head to the side, squint, ignore the context of the passage, and pretend that “descendants” is actually in the singular, this is totally letting us know that the future messiah (Jesus!) will be descended from Abraham.

More Genealogy

After all that excitement, the authors decide to bring us back down with another genealogy. This time, we’re jumping over to Abraham’s brother, Nahor.

From his wife, Milcah (who, if we remember, is also his niece), he has eight sons: Uz (or Huz), Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel. Kemuel fathers Aram and Bethuel fathers Rebekah.

Not content with just a wife and her eight sons, Nahor also takes a concubine, named Reumah, and has four kids: Tebah, Gaham, Thahash, and Maachah.