Genesis (Part 206)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 46:1-4

46 So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

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This section details Jacobs inquiry, with God, to get permission to leave. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(1) Israel . . . came to Beer-sheba.—Though Jacob, in the first tumult of his joy, had determined upon hastening to Egypt, yet many second thoughts must have made him hesitate. He would call up to mind the boding prophecy in Genesis 15:13, that the descendants of Abraham were to be reduced to slavery, and suffer affliction in a foreign land for four hundred years. It might even be a sin, involving the loss of the Abrahamic covenant, to quit the land of Canaan, which Abraham had expressly forbidden Isaac to abandon (Genesis 24:8). Isaac, too, when going into Egypt, had been commanded to remain in Palestine (Genesis 26:2). Jacob therefore determines solemnly to consult God before finally taking so important a step, and no place could be more suitable than Beersheba, as both Abraham and Isaac had built altars there for Jehovah’s worship (Genesis 21:33Genesis 26:25), and, moreover, it lay upon the route from Hebron to Egypt.

The note brings up things Jacob/Israel may have been thinking over before going, including the Genesis 15 prophecy, as well as the commandments not to leave the land.

The note also reminds the reader of the historic significance of Beersheba. Both Abraham and Isaac built alters there to God. In verse 2, God speaks to Jacob and gives permission for the journey (allaying any concerns that might exist over whether he was breaking a commandment by leaving.) From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 46:2

And God (Elohim) spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob—the name Jacob being employed probably to remind Jacob of what he had been (Lawson, Bush, Wordsworth), and repeated ut magis attentus reddatur (Calvin). And he said, Here am I—literally, behold me (cf. Genesis 22:1),

And he said, I am God, the God of thy father—literally, I am the El (the Mighty One), the Elohim of thy father. Though in consequence of this phrase the section (Genesis 46:1-7), indeed the entire chapter, is usually assigned to the Elohist (Tuch, Bleek, Vaihinger), yet the contents of this theophany are felt to be so substantially Jehovistic in their import (Hengstenberg), that certain critics have been constrained to give Genesis 46:1-5 to the Jehovist (Colenso), or, omitting the last clause of Genesis 46:5, to the redactor (Davidson). In Genesis 28:13 the designation used is “I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham thy father.” As on that former occasion when setting out for Padanaram, so now, when departing for Egypt, he receives a comforting assurance. Fear not to go down into Egypt. Them was reason for Jacob’s apprehensions, since Abraham had been in peril in the land of the Pharaohs (Genesis 12:14-20), Isaac had been forbidden to go thither (Genesis 26:2), and Egypt had been foreshadowed as a place of servitude for his descendants (Genesis 15:13). מֵרְדָה is an irregular infinitive רֵדָה for רֶדֶת (cf. דֵּעַה for דַּעַת, Exodus 2:4), with מִן. prefixed after a verb of fearing. For I will there make of thee a great nation—literally, for to a great nation will I put thee there (cf. Genesis 21:13). Jacob had previously received the injunction, accompanied by the Divine benediction, to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 28:3). Twice over had it previously been predicted that he should develop into a multitudinous people (Genesis 28:14Genesis 35:11). The present promise was an indication that the fulfillment of the prophecy was at band.

Jacob hears from God via visions during the night.

visions = מַרְאָה marʼâh, mar-aw’; feminine of H4758; a vision; also (causatively) a mirror:—looking glass, vision.

The text is not abundantly clear about what goes into having a vision. Is it a dream? Does it occur after specific actions? (Note that the word itself refers to a mirror.) The *how* is not important in a substantive sense, though it might provide some clues regarding the way that the religious worship of Abraham and his descendants occurred.

Genesis 46:3

And he said, I am God, the God of thy father—literally, I am the El (the Mighty One), the Elohim of thy father. Though in consequence of this phrase the section (Genesis 46:1-7), indeed the entire chapter, is usually assigned to the Elohist (Tuch, Bleek, Vaihinger), yet the contents of this theophany are felt to be so substantially Jehovistic in their import (Hengstenberg), that certain critics have been constrained to give Genesis 46:1-5 to the Jehovist (Colenso), or, omitting the last clause of Genesis 46:5, to the redactor (Davidson). In Genesis 28:13 the designation used is “I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham thy father.” As on that former occasion when setting out for Padanaram, so now, when departing for Egypt, he receives a comforting assurance. Fear not to go down into Egypt. Them was reason for Jacob’s apprehensions, since Abraham had been in peril in the land of the Pharaohs (Genesis 12:14-20), Isaac had been forbidden to go thither (Genesis 26:2), and Egypt had been foreshadowed as a place of servitude for his descendants (Genesis 15:13). מֵרְדָה is an irregular infinitive רֵדָה for רֶדֶת (cf. דֵּעַה for דַּעַת, Exodus 2:4), with מִן. prefixed after a verb of fearing. For I will there make of thee a great nation—literally, for to a great nation will I put thee there (cf. Genesis 21:13). Jacob had previously received the injunction, accompanied by the Divine benediction, to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 28:3). Twice over had it previously been predicted that he should develop into a multitudinous people (Genesis 28:14Genesis 35:11). The present promise was an indication that the fulfillment of the prophecy was at band.

In the next verse, God addresses Himself to Jacob.

I am God, the God of thy father—literally, I am the El (the Mighty One), the Elohim of thy father.

“El” is an important name for God. We see its plural form more often “elohim” – including within this very verse – but we also see it used as a part of God’s name (ex: El Shaddai.) From Wiki:

ʼĒl (also ‘IlUgaritic: 𐎛𐎍 ʾīluPhoenician: 𐤀𐤋 ʾīlHebrew: אֵל ʾēlSyriac: ܐܺܝܠ ʾīyl; Arabic: إيل ʾīl or إله ʾilāh; cognate to Akkadian: 𒀭, romanized: ilu) is a Northwest Semitic word meaning “god” or “deity“, or referring (as a proper name) to any one of multiple major ancient Near Eastern deities. A rarer form, ‘ila, represents the predicate form in Old Akkadian and in Amorite. The word is derived from the Proto-Semitic *ʔil-, meaning “god”.

Specific deities known as ‘El or ‘Il include the supreme god of the ancient Canaanite religion and the supreme god of East Semitic speakers in Mesopotamia’s Early Dynastic Period. Among the Hittites, El was known as Elkunirsa.

In northwest Semitic use, ʼĒl was a generic word for any god as well as the special name or title of a particular god who was distinguished from other gods as being “the god”. ʼĒl is listed at the head of many pantheons. In some Canaanite and Ugaritic sources, ʼĒl played a role as father of the gods, of creation, or both.

However, because the word ʼĒl sometimes refers to a god other than the great god ʼĒl, it is frequently ambiguous as to whether ʼĒl followed by another name means the great god ʼĒl with a particular epithet applied or refers to another god entirely. For example, in the Ugaritic texts, ʾil mlk is understood to mean “ʼĒl the King” but ʾil hd as “the god Hadad“.

The Semitic root ʾlh (Arabic ʾilāh, Aramaic ʾAlāhʾElāh, Hebrew ʾelōah) may be ʾl with a parasitic h, and ʾl may be an abbreviated form of ʾlh. In Ugaritic the plural form meaning “gods” is ʾilhm, equivalent to Hebrew ʾelōhîm “powers”. In the Hebrew texts this word is interpreted as being semantically singular for “god” by biblical commentators. However the documentary hypothesis developed originally in the 1870s, identifies these that different authors – the Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, and the Priestly source – were responsible for editing stories from a polytheistic religion into those of a monotheistic religion. Inconsistencies that arise between monotheism and polytheism in the texts are reflective of this hypothesis.

The stem ʾl is found prominently in the earliest strata of east Semitic, northwest Semitic, and south Semitic groups. Personal names including the stem ʾl are found with similar patterns in both Amorite and Sabaic – which indicates that probably already in Proto-Semitic ʾl was both a generic term for “god” and the common name or title of a single particular god.

The Egyptian god Ptah is given the title ḏū gitti ‘Lord of Gath‘ in a prism from Tel Lachish which has on its opposite face the name of Amenhotep II (c. 1435–1420 BCE). The title ḏū gitti is also found in Serābitṭ text 353. Cross (1973, p. 19) points out that Ptah is often called the Lord (or one) of eternity and thinks it may be this identification of ʼĒl with Ptah that lead to the epithet ‘olam ‘eternal’ being applied to ʼĒl so early and so consistently. (However, in the Ugaritic texts, Ptah is seemingly identified rather with the craftsman god Kothar-wa-Khasis.) Yet another connection is seen with the Mandaean angel Ptahil, whose name combines both the terms Ptah and Il.

In an inscription in the Proto-Sinaitic script, William F. Albright transcribed the phrase ʾL Ḏ ʿLM, which he translated as the appellation “El, (god) of eternity”.

The name Raphael or Rapha-El, meaning ‘God has healed’ in Ugarit, is attested to in approximately 1350 BCE in one of the Amarna Letters EA333, found in Tell-el-Hesi from the ruler of Lachish to ‘The Great One’

For the Canaanites and the ancient Levantine region as a whole, ʼĒl or ʼIl was the supreme god, the father of mankind and all creatures. He also fathered many gods, most importantly Hadad, Yam, and Mot, each sharing similar attributes to the Greco-Roman gods: ZeusPoseidon, and Hades respectively.

As recorded on the clay tablets of Ugarit, El is the husband of the goddess Asherah.

Three pantheon lists found at Ugarit (modern Ras ShamrāArabic: رأس شمرا, Syria) begin with the four gods ‘il-‘ib (which according to Cross; is the name of a generic kind of deity, perhaps the divine ancestor of the people), ʼĒl, Dagnu (that is Dagon), and Ba’l Ṣapān (that is the god Haddu or Hadad). Though Ugarit had a large temple dedicated to Dagon and another to Hadad, there was no temple dedicated to ʼĒl.

ʼĒl is called again and again Tôru ʼĒl (“Bull ʼĒl” or “the bull god”). He is bātnyu binwāti (“Creator of creatures”), ‘abū banī ‘ili (“father of the gods”), and ‘abū ‘adami (“father of man”). He is qāniyunu ‘ôlam (“creator eternal”), the epithet ‘ôlam appearing in Hebrew form in the Hebrew name of God ‘ēl ‘ôlam “God Eternal” in Genesis 21.33. He is ḥātikuka (“your patriarch”). ʼĒl is the grey-bearded ancient one, full of wisdom, malku (“King”), ‘abū šamīma (“Father of years”), ‘El gibbōr (“ʼĒl the warrior”). He is also named lṭpn of unknown meaning, variously rendered as Latpan, Latipan, or Lutpani (“shroud-face” by Strong’s Hebrew Concordance).

“El” (Father of Heaven / Saturn) and his major son: “Hadad” (Father of Earth / Jupiter), are symbolized both by the bull, and both wear bull horns on their headdresses.

In Canaanite mythology, El builds a desert sanctuary with his children and his two wives, leading to speculation that at one point El was a desert god.

The mysterious Ugaritic text Shachar and Shalim tells how (perhaps near the beginning of all things) ʼĒl came to shores of the sea and saw two women who bobbed up and down. ʼĒl was sexually aroused and took the two with him, killed a bird by throwing a staff at it, and roasted it over a fire. He asked the women to tell him when the bird was fully cooked, and to then address him either as husband or as father, for he would thenceforward behave to them as they called him. They saluted him as husband. He then lay with them, and they gave birth to Shachar (“Dawn”) and Shalim (“Dusk”). Again ʼĒl lay with his wives and the wives gave birth to “the gracious gods”, “cleavers of the sea”, “children of the sea”. The names of these wives are not explicitly provided, but some confusing rubrics at the beginning of the account mention the goddess Athirat, who is otherwise ʼĒl’s chief wife, and the goddess Raḥmayyu (“the one of the womb”), otherwise unknown.

In the Ugaritic Ba’al cycle, ʼĒl is introduced dwelling on (or in) Mount Lel (Lel possibly meaning “Night”) at the fountains of the two rivers at the spring of the two deeps. He dwells in a tent according to some interpretations of the text which may explain why he had no temple in Ugarit. As to the rivers and the spring of the two deeps, these might refer to real streams, or to the mythological sources of the salt water ocean and the fresh water sources under the earth, or to the waters above the heavens and the waters beneath the earth.

In the episode of the “Palace of Ba’al”, the god Ba’al Hadad invites the “seventy sons of Athirat” to a feast in his new palace. Presumably these sons have been fathered on Athirat by ʼĒl; in following passages they seem to be the gods (‘ilm) in general or at least a large portion of them. The only sons of ʼĒl named individually in the Ugaritic texts are Yamm (“Sea”), Mot (“Death”), and Ashtar, who may be the chief and leader of most of the sons of ʼĒl. Ba’al Hadad is a few times called ʼĒl’s son rather than the son of Dagan as he is normally called, possibly because ʼĒl is in the position of a clan-father to all the gods.

The fragmentary text R.S. 24.258 describes a banquet to which ʼĒl invites the other gods and then disgraces himself by becoming outrageously drunk and passing out after confronting an otherwise unknown Hubbay, “he with the horns and tail”. The text ends with an incantation for the cure of some disease, possibly hangover.

As we have discussed in prior posts, El and/or Elohim in Hebrew refers to God or “the Gods” in a generic way. Sometimes the word clearly refers to Yahweh, contextually. At other times, though, it refers to “lower case g” gods. There are verses in the Old Testament wherein elohim refers to disembodied spirits generally (such as the Prophet Samuel’s ghost when it appeared after Saul summoned him via the Witch of Endor.)

1 Sam. 28:13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.”

She says here that she sees “an elohim” coming up out of the earth. She is talking about Samuel’s ghost. The implication is that elohim can be used to mean disembodied spirit.

Returning to the comment above, we see here that El or Elohim is laden with context in the surrounding region as well. When you read throughout the Bible that the Israelites fell into Ba’al worship, it is important to keep in mind that from a religious terminology standpoint, the two might not have seemed far apart at the time.

The article above makes note of the idea that El or Elohim is part of a pantheon. There is a persistent argument from some scholars that the religion of the Hebrews / Israelites was originally polytheistic, but changed into monotheism. This is a confusion that is solved if we define terms carefully. Throughout the Old Testament, God, YHWH, is referred to as “Most High,” “Lord of Hosts,” etc. The Bible is abundantly clear that the spiritual realm is inhabited by many other spiritual beings. Monotheism is not a denial of that. The thing that makes monotheism something other than polytheism is the belief that YHWH is unlike the other spiritual beings (the other elohim / gods.) His attributes (power, knowledge, etc.) are different. He is the only one worthy of worship. Erecting a temple for the worship of angels (spiritual beings, but lower) would be a shockingly sacrilegious thing to do.

Taking this a step farther, let’s look back at Genesis 6.

the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.

“sons of God” comes from the Hebrew ben (sons) elohim (god / the gods). Again, the clear implication here is that the spiritual realm is inhabited by spiritual beings other than YHWH. However, none of the others are like YHWH. Another example:

Psalm 82: God has taken his place in the divine council;
    in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
    and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
    maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Here we have Elohim in the divine council, judging the bad elohim.

Returning to the text, at verse 4, with Ellicott:

(4) Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.—Both among the Jews and Greeks it was the duty of those nearest in blood to close the eyes of a deceased relative. The promise conveyed the assurance that Jacob would die peacefully, surrounded by his friends. For the fulfilment see Genesis 1:1.

And with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 46:4

I will go down with thee into Egypt;—not a proof that the Hebrews believed in a local deity following them when they changed their abodes, and confined to the district in which they happened for tire time being to reside (Tuch, Bohlen), but simply a metaphorical expression for the efficiency and completeness of the Divine protection (Kalisch)—and I will also surely bring thee up again (literally, and I will bring thee up also, bringing thee up; a double emphasis lying in the use of the infinitive absolute, with גַּם preceding, as in Genesis 31:15, meaning that God would assuredly recover his body for interment in Canaan should he die in Egypt, and his descendants for settlement in the land of their inheritance): and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes—i.e. will perform for thee the last offices of affection by closing thine eyes in death, a service upon which the human heart in all ages and countries has set the highest value. “A father at the point of death is always very desirous that his wife, children, and grandchildren should be with him. Should there be one at a distance, he will be immediately sent for, and until he arrive the father will mourn and complain, ‘My son, will you not come? I cannot die without you.’ When he arrives, he will take the hands of his son, and kiss them, and place them on his eyes, his face, and mouth, and say, ‘ Now I die.'”.

God tells Jacob that he will die peacefully, with his beloved son Joseph at his side. He promises to be with Jacob’s family during their sojourning as well. Thus, with the journey divinely ordained, Jacob and his kin leave for Egypt. The next section details the group that went with him.

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