Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find the previous posts HERE. This post is a recap of the last few chapters, and topics we have discussed therein, in an FAQ form.
FAQ is probably being generous. We’ll say “Occasionally Asked Questions.” This is not a definitive list of questions for this material – not remotely. I reserve the right to add to this list and/or change my answers over time. I hope that this list of questions and answers will cover a lot of the more interesting bits of ground we have traveled in this section:
- Who was Esau’s third wife?
* Mahalath was, according to the Bible, the third wife of Esau, daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebaioth. Esau took Mahalath from the house of Ishmael to be his wife, after seeing that Canaanite wives (as was the case of his first two wives, Basemath and Judith) displeased his father, Isaac (Genesis 28:6–9).
Esau sought this union with a non-Canaanite, in an effort to reconcile his relationship with his parents, namely with his father Isaac whose blessing he sought (Genesis 28:6–9). However, there is no record of his parents’ approval for the union of Esau and Mahalath. She bore a son, Reuel, to Esau. (Genesis 36:4)
- What was the meaning of Jacob’s dream about the ladder to heaven?
* (From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary) Behold a ladder. . . . —Isaac had confirmed Jacob in the possession of the blessing before he started on his long journey, but it was necessary that he should also have the Divine ratification of his appointment; for the chief privilege was the covenant with God previously confirmed to Isaac, his father (Genesis 17:19-21). Day after day, then, he travels forward, anxious and oppressed, feeling as he went farther from his home the responsibilities attendant upon that birthright which he had coveted so eagerly. His lot was now a repetition of that of Abraham; but he had travelled from Haran with a noble following, and by express command. Jacob had at most but a few attendants, and no voice from God had ever as yet reached him. But faith in Him was growing strong, and the Divine ratification to him of the Abrahamic covenant was at length vouchsafed. In his sleep he sees a ladder, or staircase, rising from the ground at his side, and reaching up to heaven. It tells him that heaven and earth are united, and that there is a way from one to the other. Upon these stairs “messengers of Elohim are ascending and descending,” carrying up to God men’s prayers, and the tale of their wants and sorrows, of their faith and hope and trust; and bringing down to them help and comfort and blessing. At the head of the ladder Jehovah himself stands. The word is that used in Genesis 24:13, and signifies that the Deity was not there accidentally, but that He holds there His permanent station. Finally, Jehovah from His heavenly post confirms to Jacob all the promises made from the time when Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees, and assures him of His constant presence and protection.
It has been pointed out that each of the three stages in the dream has emphasis given to it by the word behold, and that this rises to a climax at the third repetition, when the covenant God is seen stationed at the head of this pathway between earth and heaven. But besides this, the value of Jacob in Jehovah’s sight arises now from his being the appointed ancestor of the Mesciah, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed (Genesis 28:14). Christ, too, is the Way symbolised by this ladder (John 14:6), and the bridge of union between the material and the spiritual world (1 Timothy 2:5). Our Lord, accordingly, Himself claims that “the angels of God ascend and descend upon Him” (John 1:51),
Much more written at Part 124
- What is the special significance of the stone Jacob slept on when having the ladder dream/vision?
* Within the text, this stone is place atop a pillar and became a place of worship called Bethel. Beyond the text, there are rich and somewhat fantastical beliefs associated with the stone in later times.
Some Scottish legends surrounding the Stone of Scone, traditionally used for coronations of Scottish kings in the High Middle Ages, have identified this stone with the Stone of Jacob. Supposedly the Stone of Jacob was brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah and thence to Scotland.
These legends also feature prominently in British Israelism a belief system that holds the British royal family is descended from King David. From 1308 to 1996, the Stone of Scone rested in the Royal throne of England at Westminster. On 23 December 2020 it was announced by the Scottish Government that the stone is to be relocated to a newly renovated ‘Hall of Destiny’ in Perth’s city centre, only a few miles from Scone.
Read more at Part 125.
- How old was Rachel when she met Jacob?
* The Bible does not say when Rachel was born, nor how old she was when she married Jacob, nor how long she lived. The restrictions on her date of birth are:
She married Jacob when she was old enough to carry an adult responsibility, because Jacob met her when she was leading a flock of sheep to water. Jacob then offered to wait seven years to marry her.
If she was old enough to conduct adult responsibilities, but still too young to marry right away, Rachel was likely 11 or 12 when Jacob meets her. However, this answer is quite speculative.
- What does it mean that Leah had “weak eyes”?
* There is not definitive consensus here but the most likely answer is that she was physically unattractive.
Genesis 29:17 17 Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.
If “weak eyes” does not mean physically unattractive, then why contrast this term with “beautiful in form and appearance”? Adding to this is the Hebrew meaning of Leah’s name:
Leah = לֵאָה Lêʼâh, lay-aw’; from H3811; weary; Leah, a wife of Jacob:—Leah.; לָאָה lâʼâh, law-aw’; a primitive root; to tire; (figuratively) to be (or make) disgusted:—faint, grieve, loathe, (be, make) weary (selves).
(Imagine being born and your parents deciding to give you a name that means this.)
- How did Jacob marry “the wrong sister” on his wedding night?
* Before the marriage was consummated, the family celebrated with a feast:
feast = מִשְׁתֶּה mishteh, mish-teh’; from H8354; drink, by implication, drinking (the act); also (by implication) a banquet or (generally) feast:—banquet, drank, drink, feast((-ed), -ing).
The implication with this word is that perhaps some strong drink was imbibed. Leah was also quite likely brought to Jacob while veiled. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(23)He took Leah his daughter.—As the bride is taken to the bridegroom’s house closely veiled (see Note on Genesis 24:65), and as probably there was some similarity in voice and form between the two sisters, this deception was quite easy. But Leah must have been a party to the fraud, and therefore Jacob’s dislike of her was not altogether without reason.
The note makes the point that Leah was a party to the deception and thus she may have therefore earned some of her dislike from Jacob. That may be true.. However, it is worth remembering that Leah was disliked by Jacob before the ruse and also that she may not have even had a choice with respect to her participation. Rachel – beloved of Jacob – almost certainly also participated (willingly or not.)
Jacob marries Rachel as soon as his marriage feast with Leah ends, but he agrees to serve an additional seven for Laban as the bride price for the second wife.
- Did God bless Leah with children because she was hated?
* The answer here appears to be yes. Was the point to change Jacob’s heart? I would argue that the point of this blessing was to change Leah’s heart. From the text at Genesis 29:31:
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. 34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.35 And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing.
Verse 31 tells us that God opened Leah’s womb after seeing that she was hated. By verse 35, we are not told that Leah is no longer hated. However, Leah has been changed for the better despite her husband’s failure to love her.
- Where does Reuben’s name come from?
* The text of the Torah gives two different etymologies for the name of Reuben, which textual scholars attribute to different sources: one to the Yahwist and the other to the Elohist; the first explanation given by the Torah is that the name refers to God having witnessed Leah’s misery, in regard to her status as the less-favourite of Jacob’s wives, implying that the etymology of Reuben derives from raa beonyi, meaning he has seen my misery; the second explanation is that the name refers to Leah’s hope that Reuben’s birth will make Jacob love her, implying a derivation from yeehabani, meaning he will love me. Another Hebrew phrase to which Reuben is particularly close is ra’a ben, meaning behold, a son, which is how classical rabbinical literature interpreted it, although some of these sources argue that Leah was using the term to make an implied distinction between Reuben and Esau, his uncle. Some scholars suspect that the final consonant may originally have been an l (similar to an n in the early Hebrew alphabet), and Josephus rendered the name as Reubel; it is thus possible that Reuben’s name is cognate with the Arabic term Ra’abil, meaning wolves.
- Is there controversy regarding the existence of the tribe of Simeon?
According to the Book of Genesis, Simeon (Hebrew: שִׁמְעוֹן, Modern:Šīmʾōn, Tiberian:Šīməʾōn) was the second son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Simeon. However, some Biblical scholars view this as postdiction, an eponymousmetaphor providing an etiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation. With Leah as a matriarch, Biblical scholars regard the tribe as having been believed by the text’s authors to have been part of the original Israelite confederation. However, the tribe is absent from the parts of the Bible which textual scholars regard as the oldest (for example, the ancient Song of Deborah). Some scholars think that Simeon was not originally regarded as a distinct tribe.
- What is the connection between Judah and the Messiah?
* For both Jews and Christians, it is believed that the Messiah will (or did) come from this genealogical line. Christians of course believe that the Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth. The Jewish belief, as summarized in an article at chabad.org:
One of the principles of Jewish faith enumerated by Maimonides is that one day there will arise a dynamic Jewish leader, a direct descendant of the Davidic dynasty, who will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, and gather Jews from all over the world and bring them back to the Land of Israel.
All the nations of the world will recognize Moshiach to be a world leader, and will accept his dominion. In the messianic era there will be world peace, no more wars nor famine, and, in general, a high standard of living.
All mankind will worship one G‑d, and live a more spiritual and moral way of life. The Jewish nation will be preoccupied with learning Torah and fathoming its secrets.
The coming of Moshiach will complete G‑d’s purpose in creation: for man to make an abode for G‑d in the lower worlds—that is, to reveal the inherent spirituality in the material world.
- Jacob has two wives and two concubines. Does God approve of this?
* The text never tells us outright that God disapproves. One might infer from the difficulty Jacob experiences with his wives and sons that an implicit disapproval exists, though. There is also subsequent text from Leviticus (written after Jacob’s time) that seems to forbid marrying sisters.
Lev 18:18 Do not marry a woman as a rival (lizror) to her sister (el achotah) and uncover her nakedness in the other’s lifetime.
Even this verse, narrower than a general prohibition against polygamy, seems to be open to some interpretation.
I will direct your attention to an article at thetorah.com by Dr. Hacham Isaac S. D. Sassoon titled “The Biblical Prohibition of Polygyny? for some more discussion on the topic.
- Is Dan the “evil” tribe?
* I think that might be pushing the perception too far. However, the tribe does have a reputation.
According to the Book of Genesis, Dan (Hebrew: דָּן, Dān, “judgment” or “he judged”) was the fifth son of Jacob and the first son of Bilhah. He was the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Dan. In the biblical account, Dan’s mother is described as Rachel‘s handmaid, who becomes one of Jacob’s wives. (Book of Genesis, Genesis 30:1–6)
He was the father of Hushim, according to Gen 46:23. Samson was a descendant of Dan.
Owing to the Book of Judges, in the account of Micah’s Idol, describing the tribe of Dan as having used ephod and teraphim in worship, and Samson (a member of the tribe of Dan) being described as failing to adhere to the rules of a Nazarite, classical rabbinical writers concluded that Dan was very much a black sheep. In the Book of Jeremiah, the north of Canaan is associated with darkness and evil, and so rabbinical sources treated Dan as the archetype of wickedness.
In the apocryphal Testaments of the Patriarchs, Dan is portrayed as having hated Joseph, and having been the one that invented the idea of deceiving Jacob by the smearing of Joseph’s coat with the blood of a kid. In the apocryphal Prayer of Asenath, Dan is portrayed as plotting with the Egyptian crown prince, against Joseph and Asenath. In the Blessing of Jacob, Dan is described as a serpent, which seems to have been interpreted as connecting Dan to Belial, a connection made, for example, in the apocryphal Testament of Dan.
Early Christian writers, such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus, even believed that the Antichrist would come from the tribe of Dan drawing the belief from a verse from the Book of Jeremiah which states “the snorting of [the enemy’s] horses was heard from Dan”.
John the Apostle omits the tribe of Dan when mentioning the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, in regard to the 144,000 sealed Israelites. Instead of Dan, the tribe of Joseph appears twice (being also represented by Manasseh).
- What’s the deal with Rachel and mandrakes?
* It appears that Rachel wanted them to assist with her barrenness. Here is the odd section of verses:
14 In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.” 16 When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. 17 And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.
Rachel seems to have wanted mandrakes, so that she could bear Jacob a child, and the immediate and surprising result of that action was that Leah became pregnant again.
Mandrakes.—Heb., love-apples. It is generally agreed that the fruit meant is that of the Atropa mandragora, which ripens in May, and is of the size of a small plum, round, yellow, and full of soft pulp. The plant belongs to the same family (the Solanaceœ) as the potato, and the egg plant, the fruit of which is largely used as a vegetable in North America.
The mandragora has a long carrot-shaped root, from which grows a mass of leaves of a greyish colour, not unlike those of the primrose, but larger, and which lie flat upon the ground, and from among them rise blossoms, singly, of a rich purple colour. Canon Tristram (Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 467) says that the fruit is not unpleasant, and that he has often eaten of it without experiencing any soporific or other bad effect. But in the East it has been, and is, the subject of many superstitions, and its Hebrew name arose from the popular belief that it was a specific against barrenness. Rachel, therefore, who still hankered after children of her own, was anxious to obtain some of the fruit, and Leah consents only upon the proffered condition that Jacob shall spend the night in her tent.
- Was Rachel’s prolonged barrenness a punishment?
* This is speculative but it might be argued that it was at least intended to humble her. From the text at Genesis 30:22-23:
22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.”
The Hebrew word for “reproach” means:
reproach = חֶרְפָּה cherpâh, kher-paw’; from H2778; contumely, disgrace, the pudenda:—rebuke, reproach(-fully), shame.
You could read her statement then to mean “God has taken away my rebuke.” We have some reason to believe that Rachel may have merited some measure of rebuke. She was Jacob’s favorite. She tried to use mandrakes to bring about conception rather than (or perhaps in addition to) prayer. She was first of the two sisters to offer up a handmaid for Jacob to wife, in order that she might have a legal claim over the sons her handmaid bears. Rachel also subsequently steals idols from Laban before she and Jacob flee.
- Is there a tradition in Judaism that the Messiah will come through the line of Joseph?
* Yes. At least in some quarters.
In Jewish eschatologyMashiach ben Yoseph or Messiah ben Joseph (Hebrew: משיח בן־יוסף Mašīaḥ ben Yōsēf), also known as Mashiach bar/ben Ephraim (Aram./Heb.: משיח בר/בן אפרים), is a Jewish messiah from the tribe of Ephraim and a descendant of Joseph. The figure’s origins are much debated. Some regard it as a rabbinic invention, but others defend the view that its origins are in the Torah.
For much more on this, read Part 133.
- What happened with the wage negotiation between Jacob and Laban?
* The text appears to give us the account from differing perspectives.
Perspective A: Jacob, rather than negotiating a straight-forward payment from Laban, offers instead to continue tending Laban’s flocks if Laban allows him to claim the undesirable part of said flocks for his own personal possession.
Jacob’s plan was to tip the bargain in his own favor, and to place before the ewes and she-goats at breeding time objects of a speckled color, and as he put them at their watering-place, where everything was familiar to them, they would, with the usual curiosity of these animals, gaze upon them intently, with the result, physically certain to follow, that many of them would bear speckled young.
Jacob in this section appears to be a deceiver of Laban, but it is a deception made possible by the fact that Jacob seems to be doing all of the work with the flocks without Laban’s active involvement.
Perspective B: Jacob tells his wives that it is Laban who is the cheater. Jacob tells them that Laban has changed his wages ten times. From the text of Gen. 31:
6 You know that I have served your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. 8 If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped.
Here Jacob attributes his successes to God with no mention of tricks employed in the previous section of verses to tip the scales in his own favor.
Perspective C: Jacob converses with the Angel of God and in this conversation we see confirmation that Laban is cheating Jacob AND confirmation that God’s direct intervention will not allow this cheating to succeed.
The communication with the angel is particularly interesting inasmuch as the angel appears to be addressing both the beginning portion of these events and the end (i.e. “I see what Laban is doing to you and I have addressed that so now leave for Canaan.”)
Prof. Rabbi Herbert Basser writes at article at thetorah.com titled, “Shakespeare Plays on the Questionable Source of Jacob’s Wealth.” It’s an interesting article which discusses the competing narrative explanations for how Jacob becomes wealthy at Laban’s expense, as well as the scholarly attempts to blend these explanations. The article also shares how Shakespeare used this story as well.
- Do we ever learn why Rachel stole her father’s teraphim?
* No. A note at The Pulpit Commentaries states that scholarship is quite divided on this issue.
Rachel’s motive for abstracting her father’s teraphim has been variously ascribed to a desire to prevent her father from discovering, by inquiring at his gods, the direction of their flight (Aben Ezra, Rosenmüller), to protect herself, in case, of being overtaken, by an appeal to her father’s gods (Josephus), to draw her father from the practice of idolatry (Bazil, Gregory, Nazisnzen, Theodoret), to obtain children for herself through their assistance (Lengerke, Gerlach), to preserve a memorial of her ancestors, whose pictures these teraphim were (Lightfoot); but was probably due to avarice, if the images were made of precious metals (Pererius), or to a taint of superstition which still adhered to her otherwise religious nature (Chrysostom, Calvin, ‘Speaker’s Commentary ), causing her to look to these idols for protection (Kalisch, Murphy) or consultation (Wordsworth) on her journey.
- How long was Jacob with Laban?
* A debate exists as to whether he was there twenty years or forty years.
The twenty year view provides that Jacob worked 14 years for his two wives and then an additional six years after tending flocks and obtaining his wages.
The forty year view – the view I find most compelling – is more complicated and requires more explanation (please bear with me):
Let’s start with some verses we have not yet covered.
Gen 47:8-9 And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou? 9 And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years:….
Now we have a starting point from which we can work our way back in time. In Genesis 45:1-13, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and tells them to bring his father to Egypt. The Bible gives us our next time marker when Joseph sends his brothers to bring back their father.
Gen 45:6 For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.
Therefore, since Jacob stood before Pharaoh, 2 years into the famine, at the age of 130, then Jacob’s age when the famine began was 128.
We also know that the 7 years of famine began after the 7 years of plenty ended.
Therefore, Jacob was 128 years old when the famine began, and we can subtract 7 years, for the years of plenty. This would make Jacob 121 years old when the years of plenty began.
The Bible also gives us Joseph’s age when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams regarding the 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine. Joseph was 30 years old when he stood before Pharaoh and when the famine began.
Gen 41:46 And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt. 47 And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls.
Therefore, since Joseph was 30 years old, and Jacob was 121 years old when the 7 years of plenty began, then we can know that Joseph was born when Jacob was 91 years old in Haran (121-30=91).
If the 20 year stay in Haran is still correct, then Jacob would have worked another 6 years after the birth of Joseph, thus making Jacob 97 years old when he fled from Laban with his family.
And if we subtract Jacob’s (presumed) 20 year stay from his age at departure, then Jacob was 77 years old when he arrived at Haran.
Jacob’s twin brother Esau, who, if we are able to determine any timelines from (because they were twins), may shed some helpful information regarding the length of time Jacob worked for Laban. Here is what we know:
Gen 28:5-9 And Isaac sent away Jacob: and he went to Padanaram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother. 6 When Esau saw*that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padanaram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan; 7 And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padanaram; 8 And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father; 9 Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.
Here we have the account of Isaac sending away Jacob to Haran (Padanaram). According to the text, Esau sees this, *then* he goes and takes a wife from Ishmael his uncle (his father Isaac’s brother). In other words, Jacob leaves first, then Esau leaves.
What do we know about Ishmael? We know that Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 years old. (Gen 16:16)
We know Ishmael dies at the age of 137. (Gen 25:17)
We know Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 Years old. (Gen 21:5)
Therefore, this makes Ishmael 14 years older than Isaac (100 – 86=14).
We know that Jacob and Esau were born when their father Issac was 60 years old. (Gen 25:26)
Therefore, when Ishmael died at 137, his brother Isaac was 123 years old (137 – 14= 123).
This would mean that Jacob and Esau were 63 years old when Ishmael died (123 – 60= 63).
Here is what the above information leads us to conclude:
Esau went to Ishmael to take a wife after Jacob departed, this means that Esau had to do this before Ishmael died.
This means that the *oldest* Esau could have been when he went to see Ishmael, was 63, before Ishmael died.
Jacob was the same age as Esau, and since he departed before Esau, the *oldest* Jacob could have been when he left his parents to go to Haran was also 63 years old.
But as we’ve concluded earlier, based on the presumed 20 year stay, Jacob’s age when he left Haran was 97. And we surmised that if the 20 year stay was correct, then the oldest Jacob could have been when he arrived at Haran was 77 years old.
Thus, we have a problem, if we are led by the plain reading of the text of Gen 31:38 & 41, we will be led to believe that Jacob worked for Laban for only 20 years. But if we go through the Bible for confirmation, we discover that Jacob could not have been 77 years old when he arrived in Haran, as a matter of fact, Jacob could not have been older than 63 years old, as the numbers which God provides, show. This leaves us with a 14-year gap that is unaccounted for, if we believe the 20 year work period is correct.
The proof therefore leads us to the conclusion that Jacob did indeed stay 40 years in Haran and not 20. This more than compensates for the 14 missing years, and since we know that those years are actually the 20 additional years he spent working with Laban. We can also now know Jacob’s correct age when he arrived in Haran to be 57. (Jacob is 97 when he leaves Haran, minus the 40 years he stays there = 57).
Finally, we are able to understand that the two 20-year periods mentioned in Genesis 31 are two separate periods of time.
Gen 31:38 This twenty years have I been with thee; …
Gen 31:41 Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle:
Jacob is describing two 20 year periods. One set of 20 was when Jacob was in Laban’s house (Gen 31:41), while the second 20 year period is when Jacob moved with his family, 3 days journey, while still working for Laban.
- What are the details of the covenant between Jacob and Laban?
* And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar—or Matzebah, as a memorial or witness of the covenant about to be formed (Genesis 31:52); a different transaction from the piling of the stone-heap next referred to (of. Genesis 28:18; Joshua 14:1-6.15.27).
The terms of the agreement, from Genesis 31:
43Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne?
51 Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. 53 The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, 54 and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.
- Who are the Angels of God met by Jacob after his final parting with Laban?
* A note from Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
Angels of God.—Numberless conjectures have been hazarded as to who were these “messengers of Elohim,” and how they were seen by Jacob. Some, taking the word in its lower sense, think they were prophets; others, that it was a caravan, which gave Jacob timely information about Esau’s presence in Seir; others, that it was a body of men sent by Rebekah to aid Jacob in repelling Esau. More probably, as Jacob on his road to Padan-aram had been assured of God’s watchful care of him by the vision of the angels ascending and descending the stairs, so now also in a dream he sees the angels encamped on each side of him, to assure him of protection against his brother.
- What is the significance of the name Mahanaim?
* In the Biblical narrative, the first mentioned of Mahanaim occurs in the Book of Genesis as the place where Jacob, returning from Padan-aram to southern Canaan, had a vision of angels (Genesis 32:2). Believing it to be “God’s camp”, Jacob names the place Mahanaim (Hebrew for “Two Camps”, or “Two Companies”) to memorialize the occasion of his own company sharing the place with God’s. Later in the story, Jacob is moved by fear at the approach of his brother Esau (whom he has reason to fear) and as a result divided his retinue into two hosts (two companies), hence the town built on the site took two hosts as its name.
We see “two camps” theme twice in Chapter 32, first with the second camp of angels, and then again when Jacob split his own party into two groups.
- Who did Jacob wrestle with before meeting Esau and what was the significance of this encounter?
* In Gen. 32:24 the text tells us that Jacob wrestled a man:
A man = אִישׁ ʼîysh, eesh; contracted for H582 (or perhaps rather from an unused root meaning to be extant); a man as an individual or a male person; often used as an adjunct to a more definite term (and in such cases frequently not expressed in translation):—also, another, any (man), a certain, champion, consent, each, every (one), fellow, (foot-, husband-) man, (good-, great, mighty) man, he, high (degree), him (that is), husband, man(-kind), none, one, people, person, steward, what (man) soever, whoso(-ever), worthy. Compare H802.
More on this from Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
A man.—Such he seemed to be to Jacob; but Hosea (Genesis 12:4) calls him an angel; and, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob recognises in him a manifestation of the Deity, as Hagar had done before, when an angel appeared to her (Genesis 16:13). There is no warrant for regarding the angel as an incarnation of Deity, any more than in the case of Manoah (Judges 13:22); but it was a manifestation of God mediately by His messenger, and was one of the many signs indicative of a more complete manifestation by the coming of the Word in the flesh. The opposite idea of many modern commentators, that the narrative is an allegory, is contradicted by the attendant circumstances, especially by the change of Jacob’s name, and his subsequent lameness, to which national testimony was borne by the customs of the Jews.
The key point of this encounter seems to be Jacob wining a blessing and then receiving a new name. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And he (the man) said, Let me go (literally, send me away; meaning that he yielded the victory to Jacob, adding as a reason for his desire to depart), for the day breaketh—literally, for the morning or the dawn ascendeth; and therefore it is time for thee to proceed to other duties (Wilet, Clarke, Murphy), e.g. to meet Esau and appease his anger (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). Perhaps also the angel was unwilling that the vision which was meant for Jacob only should be seen by others (Pererius), or even that his own glory should be beheld by Jacob (Ainsworth). Calvin thinks the language was so shaped as to lead Jacob to infer nocturna visions se divinitus fuisse edoctum. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. The words show that Jacob now clearly recognized his mysterious Antagonist to be Divine, and sought to obtain from him the blessing which he had previously stolen from his aged father by craft.
The “man” wrestling with Jacob asks his name and then gives him a new name. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(28) Israel.—That is, a prince of God, or, one powerful with God. (See Note on Genesis 17:15.) Esau had given a bad meaning to the name of Jacob, nor had it been undeserved. But a change has now come over Jacob’s character, and he is henceforth no longer the crafty schemer who was ever plotting for his own advantage, but one humble and penitent, who can trust himself and all he has in God’s hands. The last words signify, for thou art a prince with God and men; or possibly, for thou hast striven with God and men.
Israel = יִשְׂרָאֵל Yisrâʼêl, yis-raw-ale’; from H8280 and H410; he will rule as God; Jisraël, a symbolical name of Jacob; also (typically) of his posterity:—Israel.
- Who are the Hivites?
* Gen. 34:2 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.
In verse two we meet one of the Hivites. These are among the descendants of Canaan:
Genesis 10: 15 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16 and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17 the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18 the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed.
From the Encyclopedia of the Bible:
HIVITES hī’ vīts (חִוִּ֖י; LXX, ̓Ευαῖοι). One of the names appearing in the lists of peoples dispossessed by the Israelites (Exod 3:8, 17; 13:5; 23:23, 28; 33:2; 34:11; Deut 7:1; 20:17; Josh 3:10; 9:1; 11:3; 12:8; 24:11; Judg 3:5; 1 Kings 9:20, cf. 2 Chron 8:7). In Genesis 10:17, the Hivite is one of the sons of Canaan. Hivites were located in the Lebanon hills (Judg 3:3) and in the Hermon range (Josh 11:3). In the reign of David they are listed after Sidon and Tyre (2 Sam 24:7), implying their location near these cities. Hamor, the father of Shechem, is called a Hivite (Gen 34:2). The inhabitants of Gibeon to the N of Jerusalem are identified as Hivites (Josh 9:7; 11:19). Many equate the Hivites with the Horites, assuming an early textual corruption of r(esh) to w(aw). A certain Zibeon is called a Horite (Gen 36:20-30), whereas in v. 2, the same man had been called a Hivite. The LXX of Joshua 9:7 and Genesis 34:2 reads “Horite” instead of MT “Hivite.” Some MSS of the LXX read “Hittite” for MT’s “Hivite” (Josh 11:3; Judg 3:3). Clearly these strange ethnica confused the scribes.
- How did Simeon and Levi deceive Shechem and what were the consequences?
* From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And the sons of Jacob (manifestly without the knowledge of their father) answered Shechem and Humor his father deceitfully, and said,—the object of the verb said is to be found in the next verse, “we cannot do this thing,” the clause commencing “because“ being parenthetical (Rosenmüller, Furst), so that it is unnecessary either to take דְבֶּר in the unusual sense of doles struere (Schultens, Gasenius, Keil), or to supply after said “with deceit” from the preceding clause (Onkelos, Ainsworth, Murphy, et alii)—because he had defiled Dinah their sister (to be taken parenthetically, as already explained): and they said unto them (these words revert to the preceding verse), We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised (vide Genesis 17:11); for that were a reproach unto us. The ground on which they declined a matrimonial alliance with Shechem was good; their sin lay in advancing this simply as a pretext to enable them to wreak their unholy vengeance on Shechem and his innocent people. The treacherous character of their next proposal is difficult to be reconciled with any claim to humanity, far less to religion, on the part of Jacob’s sons; so much so, that ‘Jacob on his death-bed can offer no palliation for the atrocious cruelty to which it led (Genesis 49:6, Genesis 49:7). But in this (i.e. under this condition) will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised (literally, to have circumcision administered to you every male); then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us (i.e. to be our wives), and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. This proposal was sinful, since
(1) they had no right to offer the sign of God’s covenant to a heathen people;
(2) they had less right to employ it in ratification of a merely human agreement; and
(3) they had least right of all to employ it in duplicity as a mask for their treachery. But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised; then (rather, sc. then we will not consent to your proposal, and) we will take our daughter,—who was still in Shechem’s house (Genesis 34:26)—and we will be gone.
They offer to make a covenant without the authority to do so, they then make this covenant as part of a duplicitous scheme, and then they murder a village of people – an action which is not just an overreaction but also one that potentially placed all of their company in danger of violent reprisal.
This action was so egregious in the eyes of Jacob that he remembers it on his death bed and holds it against his two sons.
From Gen. 49:
5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords.
6 Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.
For more on the rape of Dinah and the slaughter of Shechem, read Part 153.
- What is the significance of Bethel?
* From the text in Gen. 35:
35 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”
Bethel = בֵּית־אֵל Bêyth-ʼÊl, bayth-ale’; from H1004 and H410; house of God; Beth-El, a place in Palestine:—Beth-el.
Bethel is mentioned as early as Genesis 12:8:
From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.
Bethel is also mentioned in Genesis 28 at verse 19:
He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
Bethel (Hebrew: בֵּית אֵל, romanized: Bēṯ ’Ēl, “House of El” or “House of God”, also transliterated Beth El, Beth-El, Beit El; Greek: Βαιθήλ; Latin: Bethel) was an ancient Israelite cultic site frequently mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.
Bethel is first referred to in the bible as being near where Abram pitched his tent. Later, Bethel is mentioned as the location where Jacob dreams of a ladder leading to heaven, and which he therefore named Bethel, “House of God”. The name is further used for a border city located between the territory of the Israelite tribe of Benjamin and that of the tribe of Ephraim, which first belonged to the Benjaminites and was later conquered by the Ephraimites. In the 4th century CE, Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome described Bethel as a small village that lay 12 Roman miles north of Jerusalem, to the right or east of the road leading to Neapolis.
Most scholars identify Bethel with the modern-day village of Beitin, located in the West Bank, 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) northeast of Ramallah; few scholars prefer El-Bireh. In 1977, the biblical name was applied to the Israeli settlement of Beit El, founded nearby. In several countries—particularly in the United States—the name has been given to various locations.
Edward Robinson identified the Arab village of Beitin in the West Bank with ancient Bethel in Biblical Researches in Palestine, 1838–52. He based this assessment on its fitting the location described in earlier texts, and on the philological similarities between the modern and ancient name, arguing that the replacement of the Hebrew el with the Arabic in was not unusual. Most academics continue to identify Bethel with Beitin.
Beitin in 1894, from the book Holy Land photographed by Daniel B. Shepp
David Palmer Livingston contradicts this view, based on the lack of positive identification by means of inscriptions and relying on the distance from Jerusalem according to Eusebius and Jerome. He identifies Bethel with El-Bireh, suggesting that Beitin might be biblical Ophrah; however, Ophrah is commonly identified with the nearby village of Taybeh.
- Why does God give Jacob the name Israel twice?
* The answer may be as simple as reiteration – in the same way we see God repeatedly reiterate the promise to the entire line of Abraham that they will have innumerable descendants.
Dr. Rabi Tzemah Yoreh provides a potential explanation for this in an article titled Jacob Is Renamed Israel (Twice): Why Does the Name Jacob Remain? and I will include some excerpts therefrom below:
Critical scholars have long argued that each of these name changes derives from different sources. The source of the second renaming, in ch. 35, is easy to identify as Priestly, since it refers to Jacob’s arrival from Paddan-aram, the name used in Priestly texts.
The first renaming of Jacob, in ch. 32, after he wrestles with the angel, likely derives from the E source. This is evident from the use of the word Elohim in the explanation of the name, which is the standard name for God in this source, as opposed to in J, which uses YHWH. The J source, then, does not include a renaming story.
Both the E and P stories seem clear: Jacob is no longer going to be called Jacob, only Israel. And yet, even after these renaming episodes, the patriarch is still referred to as Jacob in E, J, and P texts.
This contrasts with how the name change functions in the story of Abram and Sarai, both of whom are renamed in chapter 17:
This solution is elegant, but unfortunately does not comport with what the text says: The texts in Genesis 32 and 35 never say or imply that Israel is an extra name; they both state clearly that the name Jacob is replaced by Israel.
E is unique among the Pentateuchal sources, having been composed in the Northern Kingdom, which was called Israel. J, in contrast, was composed in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, as was P and most of the Bible.  For E, Jacob/Israel is the most important patriarch. But for J, Abraham, the patriarch of the south, was the most important ancestor.
I recommend reading the entire article at the link provided above. The source critical evaluation of Genesis makes a certain amount of sense but it is also not without its own problems. As always, I encourage reading widely and deeply to develop an informed opinion.
- How did Benjamin get his name?
* From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And it came to pass, when she was in hard labor (literally, in her laboring hard in her parturition), that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also—literally, for also this to thee a son; meaning either that she would certainly have strength to bring forth another son, or, what is more probable, that the child was already born, and that it was a son.
And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing,—literally, in the departing of her soul; not into annihilation, but into another (a disembodied) state of existence (vide Genesis 25:3)—for she died (a pathetic commentary on Genesis 30:1), that she called his name Ben-oni (“son of my sorrow,” as a memorial of her anguish in bearing him, and of her death because of him): but his father called him Benjamin—”son of my right hand;” either “the son of my strength” (Clericus, Rosenmüller,. Murphy), or “the son of my happiness or good fortune” (Gesenius, Keil, Kalisch), with allusion to Jacob’s now possessing twelve sons; or as expressive of Jacob’s unwillingness to see a bad omen in the birth of Rachel’s child (Candlish); or “the son of my days,” i.e. of my old age (Samaritan), an interpretation which Lunge pasaes with a mere allusion, but which Kalisch justly pronounces not so absurd as is often asserted (cf. Genesis 44:20); or “the son of my affection” (Ainsworth; cf. Genesis 50:18)
Ben-oni = בֶּן־אוֹנִי Ben-ʼÔwnîy, ben-o-nee’; from H1121 and H205; son of my sorrow; Ben-Oni, the original name of Benjamin:—Ben-oni.
Benjamin = בִּנְיָמִין Binyâmîyn, bin-yaw-mene’; from H1121 and H3225; son of (the) right hand; Binjamin, youngest son of Jacob; also the tribe descended from him, and its territory:—Benjamin.
- Where is Rachel’s Tomb and what is the modern significance?
* Rachel’s Tomb (Hebrew: קבר רחל translit. Qever Raḥel, Arabic: قبر راحيل Qabr Rāḥīl) is the site revered as the burial place of the matriarch Rachel. The tomb is held in esteem by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The site is also referred to as the Bilal bin Rabah mosque (Arabic: مسجد بلال بن رباح).
The tomb, located at the northern entrance of Bethlehem, is built in the style of a traditional maqam. The burial place of the matriarch Rachel as mentioned in the Hebrew Bible of Judaism, the Old Testament of Christianity and in Muslim literature is contested between this site and several others to the north. Although this site is considered unlikely to be the actual site of the grave, it is by far the most recognized candidate.
The earliest extra-biblical records describing this tomb as Rachel’s burial place date to the first decades of the 4th century CE. The structure in its current form dates from the Ottoman period, and is situated in a Christian and Muslim cemetery dating from at least the Mamluk period. When Sir Moses Montefiore renovated the site in 1841 and obtained the keys for the Jewish community, he also added an antechamber, including a mihrab for Muslim prayer, to ease Muslim fears. According to the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, the tomb was to be part of the internationally administered zone of Jerusalem, but the area was ruled by Jordan, which prohibited Jews from entering the area. Following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, though not initially falling within Area C, the site has come under the control of the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs.
Following Montefiore’s purchase of the site it began to take special “cultic” significance amongst Jews in the area; in contemporary Israeli society it is now considered the third holiest site in Judaism and has become one of the cornerstones of Jewish-Israeli identity. According to Genesis 35:20, a mazzebah was erected at the site of Rachel’s grave in ancient Israel, leading scholars to consider the site to have been a place of worship in ancient Israel. According to Martin Gilbert, Jews have made pilgrimage to the tomb since ancient times. According to Frederick Strickert, the first historically recorded pilgrimages to the site were by early Christians, and Christian witnesses wrote of the devotion shown to the shrine “by local Muslims and then later also by Jews”; throughout history, the site was rarely considered a shrine exclusive to one religion and is described as being “held in esteem equally by Jews, Muslims, and Christians”.
Following a 1929 British memorandum, in 1949 the UN ruled that the Status Quo, an arrangement approved by the 1878 Treaty of Berlin concerning rights, privileges and practices in certain Holy Places, applies to the site. In 2005, following Israeli approval on 11 September 2002, the Israeli West Bank barrier was built around the tomb, effectively annexing it to Jerusalem; Checkpoint 300 – also known as Rachel’s Tomb Checkpoint – was built adjacent to the site. A 2005 report from OHCHR Special Rapporteur John Dugard noted that: “Although Rachel’s Tomb is a site holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, it has effectively been closed to Muslims and Christians.” On October 21, 2015, UNESCO adopted a resolution reaffirming a 2010 statement that Rachel’s Tomb was: “an integral part of Palestine.” On 22 October 2015, the tomb was separated from Bethlehem with a series of concrete barriers.
- What was Reuben’s sin and the consequence that resulted from it?
* From Gen. 35:
21 Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.
22 While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it.
From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(22) Reuben.—Again another grief for Jacob to mar his return home, and this time it arises from the sin of his first-born, who thereby forfeits the birthright. It was the thought of these miseries, following upon his long years of exile, which made Jacob speak so sorrowfully of his experience of life before Pharaoh (Genesis 47:9).
And Israel heard it.—The Masora notes that some words have here fallen out of the text, which the LXX. fill up by adding, “And it was evil in his sight.”
We see Reuben’s sin remembered wen Jacob is lying on his death bed and giving his blessings to his sons. From Gen. 49:
3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power.
4 Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.
Reuben loses his place as Jacob’s leading heir as a result of this incident. With Simeon and Levi already losing their places, after the sacking of Shechem, Judah takes the role as the son receiving the blessing of his father. This is significant in that Judah becomes the tribe through which the name “Jew” derives, it has its own kingdom at one point, it is the kingdom of Judah which is restored after the Babylonian captivity (whereas the tribes from the Kingdom of Israel are not returned and restored), and the tribe of Judah is the tribe through which both Jews and Christians believe the Messiah will (or did) come.
In short, Reuben’s briefly mentioned sin is a big deal.
- How old is Isaac when he dies?
* From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years. At this time Jacob was 120; but at 130 he stood before Pharaoh in Egypt, at which date Joseph had been 10 years governor. He was therefore 120 when Joseph was promoted at the age of 30, and 107 when Joseph was sold; consequently Isaac was 167 years of age when Joseph was sold, so that he must have survived that event and sympathized with Jacob his son for a period of 13 years.
As with Abraham, we see that Isaac’s death is announce, within the text, well before it occurs within the story.
It is interesting that this entire section happens between a moment when Isaac appears to be on his deathbed, giving his sons blessings, and many decades later when the actual death occurs. The assumption at the start of this section is that Rebekah will call back Jacob after Isaac’s imminent death. The reality, though, is that many decades later, it is Rebekah who has died while Isaac continues to live.
Following the death of Isaac, the focus of the Genesis narrative shifts to Joseph for the rest of the book.
And with that, I will conclude this section. I reserve the right to amend answers, change answers, delete questions/answers, or add new questions/answers at a later date if they occur to me.
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