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 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.

Genesis 23: Sarah’s Death

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Abraham’s wife, Sarah, dies at the ripe old age of 127. We get to see Abraham displaying some humanity again as he mourns for her.

Abraham weigheth four hundred shekels of silver for the cave by Gerard Hoet 1728

Abraham weigheth four hundred shekels of silver for the cave by Gerard Hoet 1728

He then sets about finding a place to bury her. He goes to the Hittites and asks them to give him some property to use as a burial place for his family. The Hittites tell him that he’s “a mighty prince among us” (Gen. 23:6) and can have any piece of land he likes. So he asks for a place called Machpelah, currently owned by Ephron, the son of Zohar.

Ephron happens to be there, so he comes forward and tells Abraham that he can have it for free, but Abraham says: “No no no, I couldn’t possibly!” and insists that he wants to pay. Finally, Ephron agrees to let him have it for 400 shekels, which Abraham pays.

Abraham now owns a field in Machpelah, with a cave at the end in which he can bury his dead. He buries Sarah in the cave.

This was a pretty short chapter and it really felt like the authors were trying to drag it out with all this “here, take my field!” “No, I couldn’t!” “Please, I insist!” “No, no, I couldn’t possibly!” It would almost qualify as comedy if it we’re a burial place for Abraham’s wife they were arguing over…