1 Samuel 12: The Evil Request

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According to my study Bible, chapter 12 brings us back into the Late Source, and it is clearly suspicious of the monarchy. Even so, there’s no indication in the chapter that Israel has the option of going back to the loose tribal arrangement it had under the judges. Rather, when Samuel addresses the people, he makes it fairly clear that the fate of Israel is now intertwined with the king.

We’ve seen in the Deuteronomical books that speeches are used to signal important transitions. We saw it, for example in Joshua 1 and Joshua 23, framing the conquest. Now, it marks the beginning of the monarchy.

1 Samuel 12So presumably right after Saul’s affirmation at Gilgal (though it’s not specified and reads an awful lot like an editorial insert), Samuel gives a speech, often referred to as Samuel’s Final Address. Despite coming only 1/4 of the way through the books named after him, it certainly reads like a ceding of the reins.

Samuel begins by asking for anyone who has cause to complain about his tenure as Israel’s judge. Has he stolen any oxen? Accepted any bribes? The people affirm that no complaint can rightfully be made.

He then announces that he will list “all the saving deeds of the Lord” (1 Sam. 12:7). These begin when God sends Moses and Aaron to deliver the people from Egypt. The list includes all those times God sold the Israelites into the hands of their enemies (1 Sam. 12:9) which, presumably, is meant to preface the judges who delivered them and not to be taken as saving deeds themselves. The delivering judges named are Jerubbaal, Barak, Jephthah, and Samuel.

It’s interesting that Barak is named, not Deborah, even though his role in the narrative of Judges 4-5 is that of a subordinate. Other than that and the minor judges of Judges 3, Judges 10, and Judges 12, the list follows the narrative of the Book of Judges fairly well. Except, of course, that Samuel mentions himself rather than Samson – a very odd detail coming from Samuel’s own mouth. According to my New Bible Commentary, it seems that some manuscripts to have Samson’s name in Samuel’s place here (p.293).

The Warning

Having prefaced his speech by a listing of God’s mighty deeds – as Deuteronomist prophets are wont to do – Samuel moves on to his warning. It’s the same general stuff we’ve been getting since the Book of Deuteronomy; obey God’s law and things will be okay, but disaster will strike if/when the people stray.

This time, however, the king is included. Israel will prosper so long as both the people and the king obey the law.

To prove that he means business, Samuel calls a thunder storm. This appears to mirror the storm from Exodus 19:16. In this case, the miracle is made impressive because the storm occurs during the wheat harvest, which my study Bible says would be the equivalent of “snow in summer” (p.346).

This thunder storm will somehow show the people that they were wicked for demanding a king (1 Sam. 12:17), and they should pray for themselves because their request was so evil (1 Sam. 12:19). I just wish Sam would tell us how he really feels.

It seems that whatever reassurances God tried to give Samuel in 1 Sam. 8:7, he’s still rather sore about his office being replaced.

Joshua 23-24: Promises are made and people die

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I mentioned in my post about Joshua 1 that, according to Collins, “key points in this [Deuteronomistic History] are marked by speeches. A speech by Joshua in Joshua 1 marks the beginning of the conquest, and another in Joshua 23 marks its conclusion” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.94-95).

That’s pretty much the ground covered in Joshua 23.

Years have passed in peace and, now old, Joshua calls together all the elders. Strangely, he tells them that he has “allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off” (Josh. 23:4). Strange because for all the talk of peace for many years and the end of the conquest, it’s quite clear that there’s plenty of warring left to do if the Israelites are to accomplish their stated goals.

But at least he promises God’s support in the remaining conqueration.

Was Joshua’s task not to take the whole of the land promised to the Israelites? Why did he not finish? It seems like the author(s) was dealing with a conflict between the rhetoric of the story being set down and the reality they lived in.

I also think that the idea of ‘work left to do’ might serve another purpose. In the context of a land half-occupied by Assyrians and soon-to-be overtaken by Babylonians, I can well imagine that the people may have wanted to read: “The Lord your God will push them back before you, and drive them out of your sight; and you shall possess their land, as the Lord your God promised you” (Josh. 23:5).

Assuming that the authors are writing with purpose, Collins writes:

The need for fidelity to “all that is written in the law of Moses” is also emphasized in Joshua 23, the farewell speech of Joshua. Joshua concedes that the Canaanites have not been wiped out and warns against intermarriage with them (23:12-13). The prohibition of intermarriage is found already in Deuteronomy 7 with reference to the seven peoples of the land. It did not necessarily apply to all peoples. Some distinctions between Gentiles were possible. Deuteronomy 23 distinguishes between the Ammonites and Moabites, who may not be admitted to the assemble of the Lord “even to the tenth generation,” and the Edomites and Egyptians, who may be admitted after the third. The thrust of Deuteronomy, however, is to maintain a distinct identity, and this could be threatened by intermarriage with any Gentiles. After the Babylonian exile, moreover, a significant part of the Jewish people lived outside the land of Israel, and the need for boundaries over against the Gentiles became more urgent. In this context, distinctions between Ammonites and Edomites lost its significance and all intermarriage was discouraged. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.106)

Joshua then passes on to a summary of the story so far, starting with Abraham’s entry into Canaan, through Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Jacob going into Egypt, Moses and Aaron leading the people back out, and then fighting loads of people. There’s even a mention of Balaam (though his donkey is, sadly, absent).

The new covenant

As Brant Clements points out, Joshua speaks directly on God’s behalf, tripping only once in Josh. 24:7, where he reverts to the third person.

Joshua 2Mostly, the speech serves to reinforce that all the Israelite victories have been God’s, and that it was God’s hand who guided them through the last couple hundred years of their history. At the end of this, Joshua asks the people not to serve other gods, even if their fathers did. The people agree.

Joshua then reminds them that if they serve other gods, God will “consume you” (Josh. 24:20). The people promise a second time.

Finally, Joshua reminds them that by giving their word they serve as a witness against themselves if they ever backtrack. The people promise a third time.

The implication is that the people had the choice, at this point, between following God or not doing so, that it is this promise that binds them (and not the promises made earlier to Moses). This is reinforced when Joshua finishes my making “a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem” (Josh. 24:25).

I’ve been theorizing throughout this book that Joshua may have once been a prophet/founder figure competing with the Moses-based cult. I don’t think it gets any clearer than it does here, where Joshua appears to go through all the same motions as Moses with no real acknowledgement that it’s been done before (despite the mention of Moses in the historical summary).

He even, after giving the statutes and ordinances, write his own “book of the law of God” (Josh. 24:26).

To memorialise this new covenant, Joshua places a great stone under the oak in the sanctuary at Shechem (Josh. 24:26). The reference to anything being “in the sanctuary” feels rather anachronistic. Apologists online seem mostly to argue that the oak is in the same field as the ark, but it sounds an awful lot like there is an actual sanctuary at Shechem at this point, one where Joshua was known as the covenant-bringer, not Moses.

My study Bible does corroborate that Shechem had some covenant-related importance: “The Canaanite god worshiped at Shechem was called Baal-, or El-Berith, “god of the covenant” (Jg. 9.4,46). The city thus had covenant associations for the Canaanites as well as the Israelites” (p.292).

According to Victor Matthews, this story became important for the later Samaritans:

Instead, they [the Samaritans] declared Mount Gerizim near Shechem to be their place of worship (see Gen 12:6-7 and Josh 24 for events justifying their position). The Samaritans took advantage of Alexander’s political goodwill to construct an alternative temple on Mount Gerizim around 330 B.C. (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.165).

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that the oak at Shechem is mentioned. In Genesis 35:4, it is where Jacob buries all his household idols at God’s command.

Many deaths

At 110, Joshua dies and is buried on his land at Timnathserah.

Joseph’s bones – which had been brought up out of Egypt – are finally buried at Shechem, on the land that Jacob bought in Gen. 33:18-19.

Eleazar dies and is buried at Gibeah.

Deuteronomy 32: God’s chart topper

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At the end of the last chapter, Moses gathered together all the elders and officers of Israel to teach them God’s new song. This, finally, is that song.

It begins in the usual way: With a description of how awesome and totally cool God is, but everything goes wrong and it’s always someone else’s fault. The people didn’t respect him enough, so “they are no longer his children because of their blemish” (Deut. 32:5). While the sentiment is reversed within a couple lines, where Moses rhetorically asks: “Is he not your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” (Deut. 32:6) – which is it’s own little parental mindfuck – I find it rather horrifying that God would go there. I mean, a god turning away from a people who aren’t worshipping him properly is all well and good, but if he’s to use the parental imagery, he loses the right to keep pulling this “I turn away from you, you are no longer my children” stuff.

Moses and the Promised Land, by Joni Ware, 2009

Moses and the Promised Land, by Joni Ware, 2009

In his description of how God created the people, Moses sings about the sons of men, and how God “fixed the bounds of the peoples according tot he number of the sons of God” (Deut. 32:8). According to my study Bible, this line is supposed to mean that God allows other members of the heavenly court to govern the other nations, while God sees to Israel personally. Given that other parts of this very song come off very monotheistic, I really wish we had a more explicit cosmology to look at.

Moses then goes on to talk about how God took care of Jacob, making him “suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock” (Deut. 32:13) – a miracle, obviously, but also some very maternal imagery. Given that God is later conflated with a Rock (my study Bible capitalizes the word), it certainly makes it seem like God is playing the part of a Mother Goddess figure, nursing Jacob at the breast of the land. All of this is doubly interesting because I can’t recall anything in Genesis that would give an indication of this sort of relationship – except that it is Jacob’s descendent who are the tribal founders, making Jacob the founder of the whole nation.

Moses then goes on to talk about a Jeshurun, which from the context appears to be a anthropomorphism of Israel, who grows fat and complacent, eventually forsaking God. Ironically, Jeshurun apparently means “the Upright One,” according to my study Bible.

Then, he “stirred him [God] to jealousy with strange gods” (Deut. 32:16). I find all the references to God’s jealousy quite interesting. I have a friend in a poly relationship who once explained to me that jealousy comes from a lack of self-confidence, from feeling insecure in your position in a relationship. In other words, if you feel (consciously or subconsciously) that you are not worthy enough for your partner, you react with jealousy when you see your partner in a situation where they might encounter someone better. So take of that what you will.

With Jeshurun being such a meanie, God decides that he will provoke him back by sending a “foolish nation” (Deut. 32:21) after the Israelites, to heap evils on them and kill them – even “the suckling child” (Deut. 32:25). So there’s that mercy and ‘slow to anger’ stuff he’s been talking about. In fact, it seems that the only thing preventing him from destroying the people entirely is that the nations he sends in to do his dirty work might come to think that they achieved their victories for themselves, rather than crediting God with being so totally awesome.

God will also rub it all in a bit. When the people have been conquered, he will ask them Where are your gods now? “Let them rise up and help you, let them be your protection!” (Deut. 32:38).

Then God goes on for a bit about what a gross, vindictive jerk he is.

Go up the mountain

With the song finished, God sends Moses up to Abarim, Mount Nebo, to look down on the Promised Land. Once there, he will die, as Aaron died, because they “broke faith with me [God] at the waters of Meribath-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because you did not revere me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel” (Deut. 32:51).

Meribath-kadesh seems to be yet another name for Massah and Meribah from the stories we saw in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20.

Deuteronomy 1-3: Recapping with a slightly faulty memory

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Deuteronomy picks up the story from the end of Numbers. The Israelites are hanging out in Moab, on the wrong side of the Jordan, getting some last minute instructions from Moses. Before getting into the ordinances, however, Moses decides to make sure that everyone is up to speed on what’s happened so far.

Moses recalls feeling rather overwhelmed with the duties of being the leader, and he tells the story of selecting tribal leaders (and sub-leaders) to help him. He does not mention the involvement of his father-in-law (then called Jethro) – as told in Exodus 18 – where he notices that Moses seems a little tightly-wound and recommends that he do some delegating. We also don’t get the details from Numbers 11, with the prophesying and the involvement of Joshua.

But where this narrative does flesh things out a bit is with the instructions that Moses gave to his new judges during the delegation. In particular, he instructs them to judge “righteously,” whether between two Israelites or an Israelite and a non, whether when judging a “small” man or a “great” one, etc. They are also not to “be afraid of the face of man, for the judgement is God’s” (Deut. 1:17), which I take to mean that they shouldn’t allow fear repercussions (social, political, physical, etc) to influence the judgement rendered. Overall, these are great ideas in principle, though, of course, nearly impossible to enforce.

He also tells them that they are to come to him if the cases are too hard, and Moses will consult with God on their behalf. It’s not specified whether that means that they are to come to Moses specifically, or whether they are to come to whomever happens to be the leader or prophet at the time. The implications of either interpretation are rather important.

The Scouts

When Moses retells the story of the scouts, he gets a rather important detail wrong, and then it cascades from there.

He tells the Israelites about how “all of you came near me, and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us'” (Deut. 1:22). But if you’ll remember, back in Numbers 13, it was God who told Moses to send the scouts, saying: “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan” (Num. 13:1-2).

Why the difference?

Stained glass found in the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church

Stained glass found in the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church

One clue may be in Moses’ response. In Deuteronomy, he agreed to send the scouts, for “the thing seemed good to me” (Deut. 1:23).

The sin that condemns all the people to spend 40 years in the wilderness is still that they were scared by the scout’s report. In Numbers 13, we read about the “evil report” that the scouts brought back, but I noted then that it was unclear whether the “evil” part of the report was that it was untrue or whether it was just bad news.

The two books agree that Canaan is wonderful and has some nice fruit, but the Israelites say: “The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there” (Deut. 1:28).

Granted, they could simply be repeating what the lying scouts told them, but it seems to me now as it seemed to me in Numbers – that the scouts are punished for telling the truth because doing so makes the people falter. By warning them of what’s to come, they are guilty of introducing doubt where there should only be blind faith in God’s ability to win any war he pleases. So it matters whether it was the Israelites who had sent the scouts or God (because if God sent the scouts and then punished them for doing as instructed, it’d create a really tough situation for his PR team).

What’s really interesting here, though, is how the passage seems to be a continuation of Numbers 14. I had noticed then that when God lists the people who will be spared, he only lists Caleb and Joshua. He doesn’t mention either Moses or Aaron who, at that point in the narrative, were still goodies in God’s books.

We had to wait until much later, Numbers 20, for Moses to commit the sin that is explicit said to be the reason why he will be barred from entering Canaan. Yet here, Moses agrees with the Numbers 14 narrative that he is not an exception to the punishment:

The Lord was angry with me also on your account, and said, ‘You also shall not go in there’ (Deut. 1:37)

Moses plays the Blame Game in Deut. 3:26, as well:

But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not hearken to me.

Though, of course, it was entirely his own actions that damned him in Numbers 20.

I also find it interesting that, as in Numbers 14, Caleb’s exception to the punishment is mentioned first, and Joshua’s comes later, almost as an afterthought. In every instance where Joshua has appeared so far (except, tellingly, in Numbers 13 where he is listed as being among the scouts but his name is spelled quite differently), he feels added in – like a later editor had the book of Joshua and wanted to legitimize his leadership by giving him a history of associations with Moses. (I discuss this at greater lengths in this post about Joshua.)

Whom to kill, whom to spare

Moses retells the story of why the Israelites had to go around – rather than through – Edom. In Numbers 20:14-21, the Israelites sent messengers to Edom asking for passage. When Edom refused, they were forced to go around. In Deuteronomy 2:4-5, God was worried that the Israelites might spook Edom, and asked them to go around as a courtesy.

There’s a speech in there about how the Israelites are related to the Edomites (Jacob, patriarch of the Israelites, and Esau, grandsire of the Edomites, were brothers), so they should not harm them. Likewise, the Moabites and Ammonites are descended from Lot and should also be left alone.

In both cases, we are also told that they are living in lands that God has given them, so those lands are rightfully theirs.

David Plotz sees this as an explanation for why the Moabites were not punished – but the Midianites were – in Numbers 25, though women of both groups were caught trying to tempt the Israelites into the worship of other gods.

But not to worry, there were plenty of people that the Israelites were allowed to harass.

We get a repeat of the story from Numbers 20:14-21, where the Israelites are refused passage by the Edomites. Except that in Deuteronomy 2:26-31, the one doing the refusing is Sihon, king of the Amorites in Heshbon. This makes them fair game for harassment (and is presumably the reason why the Edomite refusal is conveniently unmentioned).

Of course, the reason given for King Sihon’s refusal is that God made him refuse:

But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him; for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as at this day. (Deut. 2:30)

So it’s not really Sihon’s refusal that dooms his people, but rather all part of God’s original plan. But, I guess not to appear the jerk, he orchestrates things so that it looks like Sihon deserved his fate. Or, more likely, God is like a cat that just tripped – he wants to make sure that everything knows that he totally meant to do that.

The Israelites also fight with King Of of Bashan. His and Sihon’s lands are divided between the Reubenites, Gadites, and half of Manasseh.

The multitudes

When addressing the Israelites, Moses says: “The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude” (Deut. 1:10). Does that mean that the multitudes part of the promise to Abraham has been fulfilled?

The reference certainly seems to suggest it, yet Moses is not yet satisfied:

May the Lord, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times as many as you are, and bless you, as he has promised you. (Deut. 1:11)

Closing business

Commenter Abbie from The King and I went through much of these chapters and found which parts of what stories were selected for retelling – and, most importantly, which sources those passages came from. Her analysis deals with the Documentary Hypothesis, which you can read more about on Wikipedia.

Her whole comment is quite interesting, so do go have a read. But in summary, she found that material is derived strictly from Exodus and Numbers, and that it seems to be “mostly drawn from chapters that have a mix of JE and P, but only containing JE references… except in ONE case… which is basically fossil rabbits in the precambrian.”

Deuteronomy 3 ends with the appointing of Joshua as Moses’ successor.

Numbers 32: The eager beavers

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While hanging out in Gilead, along the east bank of the Jordan river, representatives of the tribes of Gad and Reuben come to Moses, Eleazar, and the other tribal leaders. They point out that the lands they’re in now are actually kinda nice, and they’d really be rather quite content to just stay here.

Moses shames Gad and Reuben for letting “your brethren go to the war while you sit here” (v.6). He asks them if they would discourage the rest by bailing now, and reminds them of how their forefathers had discouraged the people after the scouting episode in Numbers 13. Remember, he says, God sentenced us to 40 years in the wilderness after that!

“Behold,” says Moses. “You have risen in your fathers’ stead, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness; and you will destroy all this people” (v.14-15).

Bit much? Sure. Bad enough that David Plotz is left rather uncomfortable with the Moses character arc:

Moses’ indignation comes from nowhere and seems entirely undeserved. […] Again, it’s hard not to feel that the brilliant and humane prophet who has dominated the Torah is slipping away, and that he has suddenly become an old, angry, vindictive tyrant.

I don’t think that Plotz is being fair here. An army can’t function if soldiers keep dropping out, en masse, along the way. If all the tribes are going to get their own land, all the tribes have to fight for it. Otherwise, the first couple get to settle down, and the remaining tribes will be too few in number to continue the campaign.

Moses has, absolutely, been acting like a tyrant. But I don’t think that’s the case in this particular chapter. Rather, Moses is telling Gad and Reuben that they don’t just get to take theirs and run. They have to stick it through until everyone gets their share.

I may not agree with the whole holy war / take the land through slaughter thing, but if you’re going to do it, at least do it as a team.

The Compromise

Gad and Reuben respond with a compromise. They propose that they build fortified cities “for our little ones” (v.16) and sheepfolds for their flocks, then march out with the Israelite army. That way, at least their animals, wives, and children would be safe while they fight. “We will not return to our homes until the people of Israel have inherited each his inheritance” (v.18).

Proving that Moses is not nearly as unreasonable in this chapter as Plotz made him out to be, he agrees to this compromise. Since he won’t be crossing the Jordan personally, he conveys the deal to Eleazar and Joshua.

The punishment if Gad and Reuben fail to uphold their part of the bargain is, by the way, incredibly light as far as biblical threats go. Moses says to Eleazar and Joshua that if Reuben and Gad don’t pull through, “they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan” (v.30). That’s right, if they fulfil their end of the bargain, they get the nice lands that they want. If they don’t, they get the perfectly fine lands that were originally planned for them. This is “old, angry, vindictive tyrant” Plotz is so concerned about?

As you can see from the map, Manasseh also has a little patch of land over on the east side of the river. They get stuck in here, totally as if they’d been in the deal from the beginning, as Moses dedicates the lands to the three tribes. Verses 34-42 just list all the various towns that the three tribes build.

Genesis 50: Jacob/Israel is buried

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Jacob/Israel is embalmed, and “forty days were required for it, for so many are required for embalming” (Gen. 50:3). This is consistent with my own impression, and a quick Google search bears it out.

Procession

From the 'Golden Haggadah,' early 14th century

From the ‘Golden Haggadah,’ early 14th century

Joseph asks permission from Pharaoh to bury his father in Machpelah, and this is granted. So Joseph heads out to Canaan along with “all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his fathers’ household; only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen” (Gen. 50:8-7).

This, by the way, would be a huge procession. If the medieval British monarchy is any indication, the ecological impact of this procession would be huge – not to mention the effects on the people who live in the communities the procession passes through. I also can’t help but to wonder what Pharaoh did while all his servants were off at this long distance funeral. Did he cook his own meals? Did he cart away his own gong?

At this point, my study bible mentions that there is an alternative tradition that has Jacob/Israel hew out a “tomb for himself east of the Jordan,” and that he was buried here instead of Machpelah. “This explains why the funeral cortege detoured to Trans-jordan, though a main road led from Egypt along the coast to Beer-sheba.”

Joseph buries his father and then the procession returns to Egypt.

Forgiveness

Now that Jacob/Israel is dead, the brothers start to get a bit nervous. I suppose they think that Joseph was being nice to avoid upsetting dad, but that now he has no reason not to “pay us back for all the evil which we did to him” (Gen. 50:15).

So they send a message to Joseph saying, “your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Forgive, I pray you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, we pray you, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” (Gen. 50:16-17).

Even if true, it’s a pretty nasty thing to do. The guy’s just lost his dad and the brothers are getting straight to business. If false (which it may well be, since there’s no indication that Jacob/Israel even knew what his sons did, let alone said anything about it), it’s even worse. On the other hand, Joseph could potentially press all of their children into slavery as revenge, so this is a far cry from the sort of family spat we’re accustomed to today.

Joseph reasserts that the brothers didn’t do anything but slavishly follow God’s plan – which is a horrible way to look at it, by the way. Should we open our jailhouse doors, because they didn’t do anything that wasn’t part of God’s plan? But in this case, the belief allows Joseph to forgive his brothers and he vows to protect them and their children.

Wrap up

Joseph lived to be 110, and to see his son Ephraim’s children of the third generation. We’re also told that Manasseh had a son, Machir.

When he lies dying, Joseph reminds his brothers that God will visit them and bring them out of Egypt, giving them the land that was originally promised to Abraham, then to Isaac, and then to Jacob/Israel.

With his final breath, Joseph “took an oath of the sons of Israel,” which I interpret to mean the people Israel, not Jacob specifically. The oath goes: “God will visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here” (Gen. 50:25). And with that, Joseph dies, is embalmed, and is put into a coffin in Egypt.

And with that we reach the end of Genesis!

Genesis 49: "All these are the twelve tribes of Israel"

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In previous chapters, kids have been stand-ins for various nations: Esau represented the Edomites, Mizraim represented the Egyptians, Ishmael represents the “Bedouin tribes of the southern wilderness.” But now, the sons all represent different factions within the Hebrew people, commonly known as the 12 (+1) tribes of Israel.

The setup is this: On his deathbed, Jacob/Israel brings up each of his sons and issues a description of them that is *wink wink nudge nudge* indicative of their tribe’s place in later Hebrew society.

Jacob blesseth his sons by Gerard Hoet, 1728

Reuben: First-born and, therefore, stands to be the principle inheritor. However, due to a little indiscretion, loses his primacy. My study bible says that Reuben “was once a leading tribe but in early times was overcome by the Moabites.” The confusing mention of him sleeping with his step mom in Genesis 35:22 is explained here as typifying “the tribe’s moral weakness and instability.” Now, Israel found out about this little bit of incest and didn’t say anything at the time, so it must come as quite the shock to Reuben to suddenly have this thrown into his face!

Simeon and Levi: These are the two who convinced the Shechemites back in Genesis 34 to cut off their foreskins and then killed them all while they were too sore to fight back. As punishment, they won’t get a territory to themselves, but instead Jacob/Israel will “divide them” and “scatter them in Israel” (Gen. 49:7). My study bible notes that Levi became the priestly caste, while Simeon was eventually absorbed into the tribe of Judah.

Judah: Up until now, Judah has generally acted as spokesman for the family whenever Jacob/Israel isn’t around. This all makes sense now as Judah is destined to be the ruling class of the Hebrews. But Jacob/Israel imposes a time limit, saying that he shall rule until his sceptre “comes to whom it belongs” (Gen. 49:10). In the King James version, this verse makes reference to a specific individual: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Wiki has a brief and somewhat lacking explanation of this difference.) Once Shiloh or the true owner of the sceptre comes, there will be so much plenty that “his eyes shall be red with wine” (Gen. 49:12). Note: You know you’ve had too much when your eyes turn red.

Zebulun: Zebulun gets to live by the sea (not him personally, of course, since he is in Egypt) and “become a haven for ships” (Gen. 49:13).

Issachar: Issachar is a “strong ass” (Gen. 49:14). This may well be true, but it’s not the kind of thing one says in polite company. This is apparently a comment on their willingness to “surrender political independence in subservience to the Canaanites.”

Dan: Dan will become the judiciary caste. My study bible indicates that when he is referred to as “a serpent in the way, a viper by the path” (Gen. 49:17), the reference is to the “insidious warfare of a small tribe in its rise to power.” Oooh, burn.

Gad: Gad will be raided, but “he shall raid at [the raiders’] heels” (Gen. 49:19). According to my study bible (on which I feel I am over-relying in this chapter), this is a commendation for “bravery in repelling Ammonite and desert marauders.”

Asher: Asher gets “royal dainties” (Gen. 49:20), referring to the rich and high yield lands he gets (the coastal strip between Mount Carmel and Phoenicia, says my study bible).

Naphtali: Naphtali gets compared to a “hind let loose” (Gen. 49:21). This is supposed to have positive connotations.

Joseph: Joseph gets blessings heaped on him and is commended for having continued to fight (“Yet his bow remained unmoved”) even when “fiercely attacked” (Gen. 49:23-24). He gets the “blessings of the breasts and of the womb” (Gen. 49:25). We also get a little pun at the end, where Joseph is said to receive all these blessings for he was “separate from his brothers” (Gen. 49:26), which could be taken literally as his separation from them while he lived in Egypt, or metaphorically as being set apart from the common rabble.

Benjamin: The ‘blessing’ given for Benjamin is presented without commentary from my study bible, so interpret as ye will. “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey, and at even diving the spoil” (Gen. 49:27).

Once all the blessings (to the extent that they are such) are dispensed, Jacob/Israel repeats his wish to be buried at Machpelah (the family burial plot that Abraham bought in Genesis 23).

And with that, he “drew up his feet into the bed, and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people” (Gen. 49:33).

Genesis 48: Jacob/Israel adopts Joseph’s kids and blesses them

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This is actually a fairly nice little chapter, and a welcome break from reading on and on about Joseph and God’s big plan to enslave all the Egyptians by starving them until they are desperate enough to sell their own bodies for food.

In this chapter, Jacob/Israel is ill and dying, so Joseph goes to him. Jacob/Israel tells his son that God had appeared to him at Luz and blessed him (seen in Genesis 35) and rehashes the whole God “will give you this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession” (Gen. 48:4) thing.Then comes the zinger: “And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine” (Gen. 48:5). They’re mine, all mine!

But it’s okay, because “the offspring born to you after them shall be yours” (Gen. 48:6). You’d think he might have asked first…

Blessings

Jacob/Israel tells Joseph to bring his children forward, which the latter does, and Jacob/Israel embraces the two boys. “I had not thought to see your face; and lo, God has let me see your children also” (Gen. 48:11). Even the old grump in me can’t help but to melt just a little at this scene.

Jacob, Ephraim, and Manasseh by Guercino

Jacob, Ephraim, and Manasseh by Guercino

Jacob/Israel begins his blessing of the two boys, but he puts his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left on Manasseh’s, even though Ephraim is the younger of the two! He begins his blessing, that they may “grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Gen. 48:16).

Joseph sees that his dad has his hands on the wrong boys and “he took his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head” (Gen. 48:17), but Jacob/Israel rebukes him, saying that this is the correct way for Ephraim’s posterity shall be the greater even though he is the younger brother.

Apparently, this is all a ‘just so…’ story explaining the fact that Joseph’s line “came to be divided into two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim, each claiming full rank with the other tribes,” or so says my study bible.

The blessing takes an odd turn when Jacob/Israel says: “God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.” (Gen. 48:20). They don’t need to be as Ephraim and Manasseh, they are Ephraim and Manasseh!

Nevertheless, this has been taken up as a traditional Jewish blessing that fathers give to their children on Friday evenings.

Tamar Fox puts forward two theories about why Ephraim and Manasseh were chosen as the names recited in a blessing given to children. The first is that this is the first set of brothers who are not pitted against each other. In fact, they don’t seem to have much conflict at all. The second theory is that they are the first kids raised in a “foreign land,” and that they retain their identity as Jews. In oth cases, the blessing conveys the fathers’ wish that his children emulate Joseph’s sons.

Inheritance

To conclude, Jacob/Israel tells Joseph that God “will bring you again to the land of your fathers” (Gen. 48:21) which, if I’m guessing correctly, never happens. But we’ll see.

“Moreover,” continues Jacob/Israel, “I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope which I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow” (Gen. 48:22). According to my study bible, this refers to a different tradition than the one that actually made it into the Bible, in which Jacob/Israel’s sons forcibly take Shechem (its foreskins along with it) – an act that Jacob/Israel had nothing to do with.

Genesis 47: The Pharaoh’s Monopoly

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As was planned out in the last chapter, Joseph introduces his brothers to Pharaoh and they admit to being shepherds. The plan works and not only are the Hebrews settled in Goshen, but they are also put in charge of Pharaoh’s own cattle.

Meeting Pharaoh

Joseph selling wheat to the people by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, 1655

Joseph selling wheat to the people by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, 1655

Jacob/Israel is then brought in to meet Pharaoh, and Pharaoh asks him how old he is. Jacob/Israel responds that he is 130 years old, and that “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning” (Gen. 47:9). This, according to my study bible, “reflects the view that there was an increasing shortening and troubling of man’s life.”

Well, granted that the lifespans are getting shorted, but is it fair to say that they’re more filled with trouble? Abel was murdered, Noah saw the death of everyone outside of his immediate family, and Abraham prostituted his wife twice in supposed fear for his life. As for Jacob/Israel, with the exception of a famine that his family profited from anyway, all his troubles were in some way his own fault.

Big Government

The famine continues and “the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished” (Gen. 47:13). We don’t get an update on what’s going on in the rest of the world, though.

Joseph keeps selling food until no one in either country has any money left. When they come to him begging, he takes all their cattle in exchange for food. The next year, when they come to him again, he makes them trade in their bodies and their land – they are now slaves and all the land in Egypt (except what the priests owned) now belongs to the state. How’s that for Big Government?

Plus, the only reason that the priests were exempt is because they “had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh, and lived on the allowance which Pharaoh gave them” (Gen. 47:22). Sounds like social security! And remember that all of this is part of God’s plan!

Have the Tea Baggers seen this?!

Come over here and grab daddy’s testicles

So the Hebs are “fruitful and multiplied exceedingly” (Gen. 47:27) in Egypt, thanks to Joseph providing for his family “according to the number of their dependents” (Gen. 47:12). This phrase sounds remarkably familiar… Meanwhile, the rest of Egypt starves.

Jacob/Israel goes on another 17 years (that makes 147 years in total). He calls Joseph to him and asks him to “put your hand under my thigh” (Gen. 47:29), which is truly one of the oddest cultural practices I’ve seen to date. He makes Joseph swear to bury him along with his forefathers, and not in Egypt.

Genesis 46: Hebrew moving day!

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The meeting of Jacob and Joseph in Egypt by William Brassey Hole

The meeting of Jacob and Joseph in Egypt by William Brassey Hole

Before heading into Egypt, Jacob/Israel makes a quick pit stop in Beersheba to chat with God. “Jacob, Jacob,” begins God, apparently forgetting all about Genesis 35:10 and 32:28.

God tells Jacob/Israel not to worry about going into Egypt, for “I will also bring you up again” (Gen. 46:4). Spoiler alert: He doesn’t. My study bible tries to explain away the lie by saying that Jacob/Israel technically lives on in his descendants, who are then brought out of Egypt. But let’s get real – would an old man concerned about a big move really interpret God’s statement in that way?

The sons of Jacob/Israel

And now we get another genealogy. At least this time, they did try to make it fit with the story by positioning it as a list of dudes who are entering Egypt (making me feel something like a border guard, honestly).

Jacob/Israel’s descendants by Leah:

  • Reuben’s sons: Hanoch, Phallu, Hezron, and Carmi.
  • Simeon’s sons: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul (this later being the son of a Canaanite woman).
  • Levi’s sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
  • Judah’s sons: Shelah, Pharez, and Zerah (plus Er and Onan, who have died). The sons of Pharez are: Hezron and Hamul.
  • Issachar’s sons: Tola, Phuvah, Job, and Shimron.
  • Zebulun’s sons: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel.

Zebulun, by the way, always makes me think of Zabulon, the leader of the Day Watch in Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series. Just sayin’.

Jacob/Israel’s sons by Zilpah:

  • Gad’s sons: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli.
  • Asher’s kids: Jimnah, Ishuah, Ishni, Beriah, and a daughter named Serah. Beriah’s sons: Heber and Malchiel.

Jacob/Israel’s sons by Rachel:

  • Joseph’s sons: Manasseh and Ephraim.
  • Benjamin’s sons: Belah, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard.

Jacob/Israel’s sons by Bilhah:

  • Dan’s son: Hushim.
  • Naphtali’s sons: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem.

We’re also given a bit of math. We’re told how many people are in each of Jacob/Israel’s wives’ parties, so of course I had to double check!

  • Leah’s party: Bible says 33 (including Dinah). My count is also 33. So far so good!
  • Zilpah’s party: Bible says 16, but I count 17. The only way I get the same number as the Bible is if I discount Serah, who is female. But then, shouldn’t we have discounted Dinah as well?
  • Rachel’s party: Bible says 14. The only way I get the right number is if I discount Rachel (for being dead), but then I would have to ignore Genesis 46:27 that says that we’re to tack Joseph and his sons on to the very end.
  • Bilhah’s party: Bible says 7. I get 8.

At the end of this, we’re told that we should come out with 66 people. We add to this Jacob/Israel himself, and then Joseph&Sons who will be met with in Egypt, and we should come out to a nice auspicious 70.

Unfortunately, both the Bible’s numbers and mine add up to 70 before I ever add the four additional people! So what we end up with is a decidedly inauspicious 74.

Abominations

Judah rides out ahead to fetch Joseph so that he can meet them on the road. When Joseph and Jacob/Israel see each other, they embrace and weep. Jacob/Israel announces that he can die now that he’s seen his son.

This next bit is a bit confusing, even with the study bible’s help. Joseph tells his family to say that they are shepherds, “for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians” (Gen. 46:34). Now, when I am relying on someone’s hospitality, I try to avoid making them think that I’m an abomination…

The study bible explanation is that Joseph wants them to settle in Goshen, which would put them near him. Convincing the Egyptians that they are abominations would make them more likely to settle the Hebrews “apart in the land of Goshen.” I can’t figure out if that means that the land of Goshen is otherwise uninhabited and that settling them there would make them apart, or if this is a trick to get them a spot of land all to themselves within Goshen.

Now, granted, the Hebrews are shepherds, and I’m sure that the Egyptians would have found out about it eventually. So it makes good sense to state it right up front. But the way it’s phrased is really awkward for this interpretation.

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