1 Samuel 21: David’s escape

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Having escaped, David makes a stop in Nob to visit Ahimelech. Notice how both here and in 1 Sam. 19, he chooses to flee to a figure of religious authority (in that case, he had gone to Samuel). Ahimelech is terrified to see David alone, but no explanation is given for why this would be the case. Perhaps he knows of the animosity between David and Saul and suspects that David is on the run? That’s my best guess, because David reassures him by lying, saying that Saul has sent him – and a group of men waiting for him at “such and such a place” (1 Sam. 21:2) – on a super secret mission (presumably, David’s companions are fictional, meant to convince Ahimelech that David truly is out on official business). He asks Abimelech if he can spare some food.

Ahimelech gives David the sword of Goliath, by Aert de Gelder, c.1680-1690

Ahimelech gives David the sword of Goliath, by Aert de Gelder, c.1680-1690

Unfortunately, Ahimelech only has holy bread. According to a few sources, this would be bread that could only be consumed by members of the priesthood, yet Ahimelech offers it to David. His only condition is that neither David nor his companions have slept with women recently. David explains that he and his men keep their vessels holy on missions, even on common journeys, so that’s not a concern. The argument will later be made (Mk 2:23-28) that this passage allows for flexibility in the cultic rules when they interfere with the wellbeing of people. Even though David isn’t a priest and therefore has no business eating the holy bread, he is allowed to take it because he has need.

David next asks if Ahimelech has any weapons he could have, “for I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste” (1 Sam. 21:8).

This is difficult to reconcile with the story in 1 Sam. 20, where David suspects that Saul might have it in for him and then plans his absence from the court. Rather, it seems better to follow after his flight in 19:11-17, where his wife shoves him out of a window in the middle of the night. This would better explain why David has so little with him.

The only weapon Ahimelech has to give is Goliath’s sword, which he keeps behind the ephod. As in 1 Sam. 14:3, the ephod is here implied to be a box containing sacred objects, not an item of clothing.

In the middle of David’s exchange with Ahimelech, we learn that an Edomite named Doeg, a servant of Saul’s, happens to be in Nod at that time. He was “detained before the Lord” (1 Sam. 21:7), likely meaning that he is ritually impure for some reason and is waiting for his term to end. The detail seems out of place here, but I peeked ahead and it seems that the author/editor was establishing a fact for a later occurrence.

David at King Achish’s court

His old enemy’s sword in hand, David then moves on to the Philistine city of Gath. There seems no reason for this episode, and it certainly turns out to have been a mistake. Highlighting that Saul has very good reason to feel threatened by David, the Philistines recognize David and mistakenly believe that he is Israel’s king, citing the same song that we heard in 1 Sam. 18:7:

Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his ten thousands. (1 Sam. 21:11)

Probably quite wisely, David realizes that this is potentially a very bad situation. If King Achish of Gad believes him to be the king of Israel (or, at least, politically important), might he not read the situation as a very good opportunity to easily get rid of an enemy.

So he decides to play the fool. Literally. He makes marks on the doors of the city gate, and lets spittle run down into his beard. I’m not sure how making marks on city gates is supposed to be an indication of madness, unless it means that he is smearing feces or something.

Anyways, King Achish is fooled, and he asks his servants why they bothered bringing a madman to him. “Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence?” (1 Sam. 21:15). This provides David with a means of escape, of course, but also reads like a joke at Philistia’s expense. Is King Achish’s court so glutted with madmen?

Deuteronomy 23-25: In which your humble narrator is first much impressed, then much disappointed

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As with last week’s post, I’d like to look at these three chapters thematically (using themes entirely made up by me).

Banking and Economics

The ordinance against lending at interest is repeated, but this time there is an exception – it’s okay to lend at interest to foreigners. If we take that to mean actual foreigners – such as travelling merchants – I suppose it makes sense (since they may be borrowing for business purposes, whereas a local may be more likely to be borrowing out of desperation). But if ‘foreigner’ refers to anyone outside of the faith community, it just becomes yet another in-group/out-group thing.

Still, I find it interesting that while I have heard arguments made that Christians shouldn’t be borrowing on interest, I don’t think I’ve ever heard, say, a Duggar or a Gothard say that banks shouldn’t be allowed to charge interest. It’s a little strange to see such a “live and let live” attitude when both these ministries are so vocal against homosexuality.

When taking collateral for a loan, the lender is not allowed to take a mill or an upper millstone. This makes perfect sense in any society where bread is a staple food. If someone is taking out a loan because they’ve had a bad harvest, taking away their ability to process their food would be absurdly cruel (and forcing them to pay for the use of someone else’s mill could very well cement their desperation). In modern terms, we might talk about repossessing someone’s car when it’s the only way they can get to work, for example.

Later on, a widow’s garment is added as something that’s off limits for collateral. In this case, if a widow is taking a loan out of desperation because her husband did not leave her with the means to provide for herself (and potentially her children, as well) after his death, taking her clothes on top of everything else would just add insult to injury.

When collecting on a loan, the lender may not go into the recipient’s home to take the collateral. Instead, they had to stand outside and have it brought to them by the loan recipient. If the recipient is poor, the collateral can be taken, but must be returned at the end of the day, “that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you” (Deut. 24:13).

When I posted about this to my Facebook page, I had someone ask if this was related to rules against stealing: “because taking something that doesn’t belong to you shouldn’t be okay just because someone else owes you money?” I answered that I think it has more to do with the idea of the home being sacred. Putting something up as collateral is clearly seen to be a legal exchange, so the issue here would have to do with sovereignty in the home.

There’s a bit about paying all labourers (even if they are sojourners) for their labour before the end of the day. The reasons for this are given in the text: “for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it” (Deut. 24:15).

There is a prohibition against owning “two kinds of weights” (Deut. 25:13-14). This goes back to the prohibition against using “dishonest standards” that we saw in Leviticus 19:35-36. The implication here being that the seller might use a heavier weight when displaying quantities, but a lighter when when actually measuring quantities for sale.

Law & Order

According to Deut. 24:17, justice must be blind. A person may not be treated differently in legal matters just because they are a sojourner or have no father (except, I suppose, in those ways that have been specifically allowed).

If someone is found guilty and sentenced to receive a beating, the number of hits (I assume this would be with a cane) must be proportional to his crime, and no greater in number than 40.

Stealing, treating people like slaves, or selling people (“one of his brethren,” so this would not apply to sojourners) are all punishable by death. This is odd given some of the other things that have been said about Hebrew slaves. I found this very interesting, in no small part because of the easy conflation between slavery and theft.

It also seems to sum up the change in how slavery is viewed in Deuteronomy. In Deut. 15, Hebrew slaves are discussed, but there’s no mention of selling them. But the specification regarding “treat[ing] him as a slave” (Deut. 24:7) is new. What does it mean to treat someone like a slave? Except, perhaps, if we look back to Deut. 15 and the stipulation that Hebrew debt slaves must, at the end of their term, be sent away with payment for service. In other words, does “treats him as a slave” refer to withholding payment?

Lastly, there’s a rebuke to the concept of inheritable guilt: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16). Hopefully, this isn’t meant to literally mean that every man shall be put to death!

Regardless, it’s a rather direct answer to, for example, Exodus 20:5-6, or Exodus 34:6-7.

Sex & Marriage

Cultic prostitution is right out. Israelites are not allowed to become temple prostitutes, nor are they allowed to bring one into the temple “in payment for any vow” (Deut. 23:18).

liberationtheologyAlso interesting is the term “dog” used as an insulting term for a male prostitute (yes, this whole bit specifically addresses both male and female prostitutes).

A newly married man shouldn’t go out with the army “or be charged with any business” (Deut. 24:5), which I take to mean business that would require travelling. Rather, he should remain at home for a full year.

I get this. Given the lack of emphasis on dating and getting to know each other as a couple prior to marriage, it strikes me as a very good idea for the married couple to have an opportunity to get to become familiar with each other before kids are added to the mix. Having a kid, I can attest that the amount of time my husband and I have left to recharge our relationship batteries can be very limited (and that can mean even as little as just having a conversation that is not about – and interrupted by – our child). I credit our having a solid foundation and learned mutual understanding with our being able to “recharge” in short-hand.

I mean, I suspect that the justification probably had more to do with giving men a change to conceive a potential heir before they must return to their national duties, but I could certainly see a side benefit.

On divorce, we’re told that a man may divorce his wife if “she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her” (Deut. 24:1-1). All he has to do is write a bill of divorce and put it in her house (with no mention of alimony or what happens with the children).

If the wife remarries and then is either divorced again or is widowed, her first husband cannot remarry her, because “she has been defiled” (Deut. 24:4).

The indecency that might be found is unspecified, but Collins writes:

Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.89:

There is no legislation concerning divorce in the Hebrew Bible. The practice is simply assumed. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 became the focal text for discussions of divorce in later tradition. Verse 1 envisions the case of a man who divorces a woman “because he finds something objectionable about her” – most probably impurity or sexual misconduct. There was a famous debate about the meaning of the phrase between the schools of Shammai and Hillel in the first century B.C.E. The Shammaites attempted to restrict the man’s power of divorce to cases of adultery, but the school of Hillel ruled that divorce was permitted “even if she spoiled a dish for him.” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.89)

Matthews adds a few more possibilities:

Divorce was an option for an Israelite man whose wife had committed some “indecency” (Deut 24:1-2). This was probably adultery, although other ancient Near Eastern law codes also list childlessness (CH 138) and taking a job outside the home (CH 141) as grounds for divorce (ANET, 172). (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.121)

Matthews adds the observation that “there is no law in the biblical text allowing a woman the right to divorce her husband,” even though we have seen some protections against, for example, unsubstantiated accusations.

The other question raised in this passage if about the declaration that the wife “has been defiled” (Deut. 24:4). James Bradford Pate has collected a few thoughts on the term in Why Was the Ex-Wife Defiled? 

Most interesting is that she is defiled only insofar as her first husband is concerned, since there is nothing to prevent any other man from marrying her. This suggests that it is not a description of her state, but rather of the marriage between both of those people. And the fact that another man saw her as worthy of marrying suggests that whatever indecency the first husband saw in her may not have really been an issue.

Another theory James covers is that bracketing of the marriage to the first marriage may make the interim marriage an adulterous action, even if she was legally married to her “lover” at the time.

It could also be to curb frivolous divorces, or to discourage seeing women as property that can be thrown out or reclaimed at will. Or that the second marriage “utterly alienates her from her first husband […] It’s like her second marriage seals the deal that her first marriage is over.”

The last bit relating to marriage has to do with the Levirate Marriage, where the brother of a man who dies without an heir must marry his wife. Her first son is then counted as the deceased brother’s heir, rather than her current husband’s. You may remember an example of this (almost not) in practice from Genesis 38, where Tamar’s husband dies and she subsequently marries his whole family, one after another.

The only real Deuteronomical variation is the specification that this only apply “if brothers dwell together” (Deut. 25:4).

If he refuses to try to impregnate his brother’s wife, she gets to spit in his face and take his sandal, so that his family name should henceforth be known as “The house of him that had his sandal pulled off” (Deut. 25:10). The association between the removal of the sandal and shame is an interesting one, and has some interesting implications for God’s demand that Moses remove his shoes before approaching him in Exodus 3.

Mutilation & Illness

Those afflicted with leprosy must be very scrupulous in doing everything the priests tell them to do.

Those with crushed testicles or with their penises cut off may not enter the assembly of God. Commenter BHitt on The King and I argues that this has to do with the priestly desire for everything to fit into easily-defined categories, as we discussed last week in relation to wearing the clothing of the opposite gender. In this case, a man without testicles or a penis doesn’t fit neatly into the male category, and “things that violate this order are unholy and must not come in contact with designated holy spaces/items.”

Bastards are also forbidden entry in the assembly – “even to the tenth generation” (Deut. 23:2). As are Ammonites and Moabites, also to the tenth generation. The reason for the latter two groups being that they did not offer proper hospitality to the Israelites leaving Egypt, and because they hired Balaam to curse the Israelites.

But because the Edomites are related to the Israelites, their third generation may enter the assembly. As can the Egyptians from the third generation, “because you were a sojourner in his land” (Deut. 23:7), which seems like a rather radical reversion of previously expressed feelings toward Egyptians.

If two men are fighting, and the wife of one tries to rescue her husband by crushing the other man’s “private parts,” her hand should be cut off (Deut. 25:11-12).

I got a kick out of BHitt’s comment on how oddly specific the situation seems:

Yeah, sounds like the author had a very specific incident in mind. “No balls-grabbing, and you know who you are! Even if you do have a ‘history’ with a certain priest and even if said priest called you a certain name when you left him to marry a total douchebag!”

Owen Ball and David Wong of Cracked offered a rather amusing theory as well, taking this passage in light of the prohibition on those who have damaged genitals entering the assembly of God from Deut. 23:

“Emasculated by crushing?” Gah! Everything in the Bible has to be understood in context of the times these people were living in. And, apparently, these people lived in a time when “crushing” the nuts was so common that the crushed-nuts victims were an entire demographic that had to be accounted for in the law. Call these commandments savage if you want, but if you were God, how many nuts would you have to see “crushed” before you overreacted? We’re thinking the answer is two.

On a slightly more serious note, Claude Mariottini has a very interesting discussion of the law in three parts on his blog.

He first discusses the possibility that this could be an application of the lex talionis, or the legal principle of “an eye for an eye.” But this is difficult to call because there is no actual reference to injury, only that she “puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts” (Deut. 25:11). Without injury, the punishment of amputation would not fit with the talionic principle.

If, however, it is assumed that there is injury and the man becomes unable to sire children, it is still difficult to fit into the lex talioniz because “it is difficult to understand how the cutting of the woman’s hand would be comparable to the man’s loss of his testicles, since the talionic law requires the punishment to be comparable to the injury inflicted. The punishment inflicted upon the woman, the amputation of her hand, is not equal to the man’s injury, the loss of his testicles.”

Mariottini then explores the possibility that the issue could have to do with values rather than injury. Specifically, that it could be “a rejection of the woman’s sexual aggression and the offensive nature of the attack as a violation of social sexual mores present in the Israelite society.”

The sexual norms in Israelite society declared that sexual contact between a married woman and a man other than her husband was absolutely forbidden. Thus, the punishment required by the violation of these sexual norms emphasizes the gravity of the offense of a married woman initiating sexual contact with another man.

Another interpretation is that the action could be construed as an attack on both literal and metaphorical manhood:

If the Deuteronomic law deals with the issue of shame, then this law is addressing an act that brings shame on the man who was attacked by a woman. […] To be the loser in a fight was shameful in itself, but to lose a fight because a woman interfered by grabbing his genitals was a shame that a man could not bear. Such an act would bring intense shame for that man in a patriarchal community.

The woman’s act would bring shame on the husband because he won the fight because his wife grabbed his opponent’s genitals. The action would bring shame on the woman because she violated the sexual norms of her society by touching the genitals of a man who was not her husband.

Humanitarian Rules

The laws in this category are seriously awesome. Like, really really awesome. Starting us off with a bang, “you shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you” (Deut. 23:15). I would have liked it better if it just unequivocally came out against slavery, but this is huge!

The runaway slave should, instead, be allowed to dwell “in the place which he shall choose within one of your towns, where it pleases him best; you shall not oppress him” (Deut. 23:16).

According to Collins, this rule is made even more awesome in light of local cultural context:

In contrast, the laws of Hammurabi declared that sheltering a runaway slave was punishable by death. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.90)

Some theft is made permissible. It is allowed to go into someone’s vineyard or standing grain and eat “as many as you wish” (Deut. 23:24), so long as you do not put any in a vessel or use a sickle. I take this to mean that that theft is okay so long as the thief does not take more than they need to satisfy immediate needs. The rule is intended, I imagine, as a sort of implicit charitable system, a kind of welfare safety net by which community resources are used to ensure that people aren’t starving to death.

Once crops are harvested, farmers must not go back for any forgotten sheaf or remaining gleanings. Rather, these are to be left for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. This is a repetition of the rule we saw in Leviticus 19:9-10 and Leviticus 23:22 and, again, seems to be essentially a welfare system.

Farmers are prohibited from muzzling their oxen while treading out grain. I’m assuming that this is so that the oxen can graze while they work, which is why I included it in the humanitarian category.

Miscellaneous

When preparing for war, soldiers must be careful to mind their ritual purity. Anyone who is “not clean by reason of what changes to him by night” (Deut. 23:10), he must go outside the camp for the whole day, then bathe before he can return. I assume this refers to nocturnal emissions?

There’s a lot of concern for the ritual cleanliness of the camp, which sometimes translates to literal cleanliness. Soldiers must leave camp with a stick whenever they want to use the bathroom, and use the stick to dig a hole to poop into. Once they have defecated, they must bury their excrement. This must be done “because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp” (Deut. 23:14), and no one likes shit on their shoes.

(While a hilarious image, I don’t think I buy the explanation I’ve seen from several bloggers that presumes a corporeal god who can, actually, step in poop. Rather, I think that it’s more likely that the camp is essentially turned into a sacred space as a way of inviting God’s protection and aid in achieving victory.)

That being said, it’s rather disappointing that the reason given for not crapping where you eat and sleep is cast in purely ritualistic terms, rather than hygienic ones. Though the result may be the same. After all, an army decimated by cholera probably won’t be winning any wars.

When making a vow to God, don’t dawdle in fulfilling it. If your heart wasn’t in it, you shouldn’t have made the vow in the first place. After all, “if you refrain from vowing, it shall be no sin in you” (Deut. 23:22).

And then, after a few groaners and a whole lot of awesome, we get: “when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies round about, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Deut. 25:19).

Because the Bible can’t just tell people to feed the hungry, or protect the poor from exploitation through usury, or help runaway slaves without also adding it a bit about ethnic cleansing.

 

Exodus 15: Songs of praise

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Miriam by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1872

Miriam by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1872

Now that they are out of Egypt and the Egyptians are dead, the Hebrews take some time to sing their praises to God.

The first song is quite long and we’re told that it was sung by “Moses and the people of Israel” (Exod. 15:1). What’s interesting about this song is that it never thanks God for delivering the people from Egypt. Instead, the focus is all on how “the Lord is a man of war” (Exod. 15:3), with a right hand that “shatters the enemy” (Exod. 15:6).

The closest the song comes to acknowledging their new-found freedom is when they sing about being lead into Canaan, where God puts the fear of, well, God into the people of Philistia, Edom, Moab, and Canaan (Exod. 15:14-16).

It’s a brutal song that glorifies violent resolutions to diplomatic conflict.

One interesting verse goes: “Who is like thee, O Lord, among the gods?” (Exod. 15:11). The existence  of other gods appears to be assumed, and the distinction is merely made that God is the most powerful. Passages like these make it clear that the early Hebrews were henotheists.

Miriam’s timbrel

Miriam is described as Aaron’s sister, which would presumably make her Moses’ sister as well. Tradition has Miriam as the sister who watched over baby Moses when their mother placed him in the reeds back in Exodus 2. She’s also described here as a prophetess.

Miriam grabs a timbrel and leads the Hebrew women in a song of their own, which is much shorter and, according to my study bible, from a much older tradition. Even so, it covers the same ground as the first.

Bitterness

The Hebrews start off their journey through the wilderness of Shur, but start to get a bit desperate after three days without finding water. When they finally find some at Marah, the water tastes bitter. If playing Oregon Trail has taught me anything, it’s that there’s typhoid in them thar water sources!

Not to worry, though, because God shows Moses a tree that, when dunked in the water, purifies it and makes it taste sweet.

We close our chapter as the Hebrews make their camp at Elim – a lovely place with twelve springs and seventy palm trees!

Genesis 36: Another Genealogy

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Fair warning, this is going to be another dreadfully boring chapter.

Before I get into this horrendously long list of names, I just want to point out an issue with Genesis 36:31, where the authors write: “These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites.” Now, tradition has it that Moses is the author of Genesis, and yet Moses died before the Israelite monarchy was established. As John Collins points out (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.28-29), passages such as this prove that the Mosaic origin of the Torah is “problematic.”

The descendants of Esau

We’re told again about the wives of Esau:

  • Adah, daughter of Elon the Hittite
  • Aholibamah, daughter of Anah, daughter of Zibeon the Hivite
  • Bashemath, daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebajoth

If you remember back from Genesis 26, we’re told that Bashemath was the daughter of Elon the Hittite, not Ishmael. And in Genesis 28, we’re told that he marries Ishmael’s daughter Mahalath, who doesn’t appear in this list at all. Speaking of disappearing women, Esau’s second wife listed in Genesis 26 is Judith,  daughter of Beeri the Hittite. Where’s she?

Esau also has a bunch of kids. Here are the kids, listed by their moms:

  • Adah’s children: Eliphaz.
  • Bashemath’s children: Reuel.
  • Aholibamah’s children: Jeush, Jaalam, and Korah.

In Genesis 36:6, we get a nice long list of Esau’s possessions, and we’re told that he had to leave with them  to live in the hill country of Seir. The reason is that he and Jacob both have too many possessions, so they can’t both occupy the same land. This is the same reason that forced Abraham and Lot apart back in Genesis 13. Once again, the Bible puts concerns over wealth ahead of family.

Just in case you didn’t get it the first time, the children a listed a second time before we can get into their sons.

  • Sons of Eliphaz: Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz.
  • Son of Eliphaz by his concubine, Timna: Amalek.
  • Sons of Reuel: Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah.

Now we get to hear the whole genealogy again, but this time all the names have the title of “chief.” Seriously, most boring chapter evar.

Children of Seir the Horite

Now we get a genealogy for Seir the Horite!

  • Sons: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. They are all named as “chiefs” (or “dukes,” if you’re reading the King James) of the Horites.
  • Daughter: Timna.

And on to Seir’s grandchildren:

  • Children of Lotan: Hori and Hemam.
  • Children of Shobal: Alvan, Manahath, Ebal, Shepho, and Onam.
  • Children of Zibeon: Ajah and Anah. We are also told that this Anah is the one who found mules in the wilderness while he was out feeding his father’s asses (Gen. 36:24). That’s quite a distinguishing accomplishment! Another note on Anah: S/he is listed as male here, but as female in Genesis 36:2, 14 (although my RSV corrects this to “son of Zibeon” with a note at the bottom, in teensy-tiny font, saying that the Hebrew says “daughter of Zibeon”).
  • Children of Anah: Dishon and Aholibamah (this latter is a daughter).
  • Children of Dishon: Hemdan, Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran.
  • Children of Ezer: Bilhan, Zaavan, and Akan.
  • Children of Dishan: Uz and Aran.

The kings of Edom

Now we get to read about a succession of kings. Brace yourselves.

  1. Bela, son of Beor. His city was Dinhabah.
  2. Jobab, son of Zerah of Bozrah.
  3. Hasham of the land of Temani.
  4. Hadad, son of Bedad, who smote Midian in the field of Moab. (It’s unknown if this is the same Midian who is the son of Abraham, seen in Genesis 25. Either way, it’s a better distinguishing factor than having found a bunch of mules.) The name of his city is Avith.
  5. Samlah of Masrekah.
  6. Saul of Rehoboth.
  7. Baalhanan, son of Achbor.
  8. Hadar. The name of his city is Pau. His wife’s name is Mehetabel, daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.

Conclusion

To conclude the chapter, we’re told that the following chiefs/dukes come from Esau: Timnah, Alvah, Jetheth, Aholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram, and that Esau is the father of the Edomites.

Phew, we made it! The next one has a plot, I promise!

Genesis 25: Jacob takes his brother by the heel

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The first bit of this chapter is just another genealogy. Sorry.

Abraham takes another wife, named Keturah, and has a bunch of kids with her.

  • Keturah’s kids: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.
  • Jokshan’s kids: Sheba and Dedan.
  • Dedan’s sons: Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim.
  • Midian’s sons: Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abidah, and Eldaah.

Abraham gives all his possessions to Isaac (remember, it’s very important that we keep track of those possessions! Reading the Old Testament makes me feel like an accountant…). But don’t worry, he isn’t completely abandoning all those other kids he’s fathered! He’s making it up to them by giving them gifts! Yay!

By the way, it says “but to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts” (Gen. 25:6). Concubines? Plural? Does Keturah count? If not, it would seem that her kids get nothing. So I’ll assume that she’s just being counted as a concubine. But that’s still only one. Does Hagar count?

Anyways, so he gives these sons some gifts, which is good. But then he “sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country” (Gen. 25:6). Abraham has a habit of abandoning his kids. I’m just hoping that his “gifts” were a little more than some bread and a skin of water this time…

Abraham lives 175 years before kicking the metaphorical bucket (poor bucket – gets kicked by absolutely everyone!). His sons, Isaac and Ishmael bury him in the cave of Machpelah, which Abraham purchased in Chapter 23, so that he can be next to Sarah. Aaaw.

It’s a bit sad that Ishmael would come back to bury his father after the way he’d been treated. There’s also no mention of an awkward reunion with Isaac, which you’d think would be inevitable considering… One also has to wonder where Abraham’s other kids are. Ishmael came back, why didn’t they?

Anyhoos, Isaac lives by a well called Lahairoi. And that’s enough of that. Now we get to hear about Ishmael’s genealogy!

  • Ishmael’s sons (by birth order): Nebajoth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.

These guys each father their own tribe, so that the Ishmaelites (who are the proto-Arabs, by the way) get twelve tribes just like the Israelites will be getting later on.

Ishmael lives 137 years. Then he, too, kicks that poor abused bucket.

Jacob and Esau

Birth of Esau and Jacob as an example of twin's fate against the arguments of astrology by Francois Maitre, c.1475-1480

Birth of Esau and Jacob as an example of twin’s fate against the arguments of astrology by Francois Maitre, c.1475-1480

So back when Isaac was a young buck of 40 years, he married Rebekah. But she, like his mom, turned out to be barren (only women can be barren, apparently). Isaac prays and, after twenty years, God answers him because this is going to be a pretty short book if Isaac doesn’t have any kids. And, as is the pattern so far, whenever God causes a barren woman to conceive, the kids are male. Why bother with the effort of a miracle if we’re just going to be making girl babies?

But now, Rebekah is not only pregnant, but she’s pregnant with twins! As commonly occurs for barren women who either pursue in-vitro or are characters in myths.

All is not well with Rebekah’s womb, however. Her twins hate each other so much that they’ve already started to fight. So Rebekah goes to God and asks him why this is happening. God tells her that she has two nations in her womb (yikes!) and that “one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Wuh? How is that possible? Inheritance laws would never allow such a thing!

Well, Rebekah finally gives birth and the first baby is red and hairy and they name him Esau (he stands in for the Edomites). The second baby comes out with his hand grabbing Esau’s heel, so they name him Jacob. Taking by the heel apparently means supplanting someone, so it’s all very forshadowy when they name him Jacob, which can mean “he takes by the heel” or “he supplants.” Cue dramatic music.

Esau turns out to be a great hunter, while Jacob is quiet and likes to stay closer to home (this apparently symbolises the epic struggle between hunters and shepherds).

Isaac, ever the pragmatic one, likes Esau better because he brings home the bacon. Rebekah, on the other hand, likes Jacob better – presumably because he hangs out close to home and is a bit of a momma’s boy.

But for all of Esau’s strength, Jacob gets the brains of his family. So one day, as he’s sitting around at home making dinner, Esau comes in starving and asks for some food. Jacob, ever the sly one, says that he can have dinner, but only if he sells his birthright in exchange. Esau agrees and BAM! God’s prediction about the elder serving the younger comes to pass.

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