Monday, October 28, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 9: Genesis, Chapter 27 - 28

Note: This continues directly from Part 8, or you can find the whole series here. All quotes are from the King James Bible.

Chapter 27:
1 And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, here am I.

2 And he said, Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death:

3 Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison;

4 And make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.

Note that Isaac may be old and blind here, but he doesn't actually die for a good twenty years or more. Actually, it looks like whoever put Genesis together from oral tales had trouble fitting this story into the mix. It doesn't make much sense here, but it wouldn't make any sense in later chapters, either.

In Chapter 25, we saw that Isaac and Rebekah favored different sons. (Apparently, it's too much to expect that they'd love both children.) Isaac loved Esau and wants to bless his son before he dies. But Rebekah hears this and persuades Jacob to impersonate his twin.

She makes a "savoury meat" from two young goats, and uses their skin to cover Jacob's hands and neck, so the blind Isaac will think it's actually Esau. (Apparently, Esau is really hairy!)
22 And Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said, The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.

23 And he discerned him not, because his hands were hairy, as his brother Esau's hands: so he blessed him.


28 Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine:

29 Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee [sons? there's only Esau and him, isn't there?]: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.

You have to wonder what the big deal is here, don't you? Why wouldn't a father bless both of his sons? And if this is just a matter of inheritance,... well, Isaac isn't dead yet, so why can't he change his mind (write a new will, so to speak)?

But that's not how it works, and Esau is devastated to learn that he won't get his father's blessing after all:
34 And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.

35 And he said, Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing.

36 And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?

37 And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son?

38 And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.

Jacob seems to be a real asshole, doesn't he? (So, inevitably, that's the guy God favors.) I agree with Esau. Does a father have just one blessing to give? Why? Apparently, this isn't a blessing as we'd understand it, but magic. Nothing else makes sense here.
39 And Isaac his father answered and said unto him, Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above;

40 And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck.

41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand [not really; Isaac doesn't die for a good twenty years yet]; then will I slay my brother Jacob.

Esau says this "in his heart," but someone still overhears it - don't ask me how that works - and tells Rebekah. So she warns Jacob, her favorite, telling him to flee to her brother Laban until Esau calms down and "forget(s) that which thou has done to him." (Yeah, that's not going to take long, is it?)

Besides, she has an ulterior motive:
46 And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?

Get that? In Chapter 26, Isaac and Rebekah were both grief-stricken that Esau had married two Hittite girls ("daughters of Heth"), instead of marrying a close relative, like the rest of them keep doing (Abraham even going so far as to marry his own sister).

If Jacob does the same, what good is her life anymore? Yeah, she's a real bigot, isn't she? Pity her daughters-in-law!

Chapter 28:
1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.

2 Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother.

Isaac seems to have recovered quite well from being blind and near-death, don't you think? Apparently, he's also forgotten all about that trick Jacob just played on him (which is supposed to be the main reason Jacob is leaving).

Certainly, Isaac blesses his son again. So much for having just one blessing, too.
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.

Poor Esau. He just can't win, can he? OK, he's got two wives already (don't you just love that 'traditional marriage' in the Bible?), but if his parents want him to marry a relative, he'll marry a relative! But for his third wife, he picks a daughter of Ishmael, who was sent away from the family himself (since his mother was just a concubine).

No more is mentioned about this in the Bible - not that I've seen, at least - but can't you just imagine how that went over? Mahalath's mother and her grandmother were both Egyptian, at least one of them a slave. Yeah, she might have been Esau's first cousin, but I don't think that's what his parents had in mind!

Meanwhile, Jacob gets it right, making the family even more inbred. But I'll get to that in the next post.
12 And he [Jacob] dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;

14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

This is Jacob's ladder,... and there's a funny thing about that. Remember the cosmology here? As we saw in Chapter 1, God had put the Sun, the Moon, and the stars in the firmament, not far above the Earth. "And God called the firmament Heaven." Rain actually came from above Heaven. It really wasn't that far up.

In fact, in Chapter 11, God was worried that human beings would build a brick tower that high. That's why he confused their speech and scattered them across the Earth, because he was afraid they'd build a brick tower high enough to get to Heaven (and ruin the neighborhood, I suppose). So a ladder to Heaven wasn't necessarily a metaphor. In their minds, Heaven wasn't so very high up in the air.

The other funny thing here is how God continues to be hopelessly inept at picking his favorites. Remember Noah, drunk and disorderly? Remember Abraham, pimping out his wife? (Twice!) Remember Lot, raping his own children? Well, here's Jacob, who wouldn't feed his own starving brother without demanding Esau's birthright in payment, and who then pretended to be Esau in order to steal their father's blessing.

Of course, God promises that his seed will be "as the dust of the Earth," and that hasn't happened, either (although Jacob makes a good start at that).
20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,

21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:

22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.

I assume that this is where tithing comes from - a tenth of everything goes to God. But this isn't referring to money, here. There aren't even any priests to support.

What Jacob is talking about is burnt offerings, right? He's pledging a tenth of everything as a sacrifice - and almost certainly blood sacrifice, since we've already seen how God loves the smell of burning flesh. No vegetables, please! (Seriously, everything in the Bible so far indicates that animal flesh is what God wants - and human patriarchs, too. Plant foods just don't match up.)

OK, this is pretty short, I know, but Chapter 29-31 fit together, so I don't want to go any further right now. I'll leave those three chapters for next time.

Note: Again, links to all of the posts in this series are here.


Chimeradave said...

Another great role model :) I have a hard time seeing what we are supposed to get out of this. Why were these stories deemed inportant enough to pass down.

Chimeradave said...

I don't know how much you are looking into this but I didn't want you to miss how Ishmael, Isaac's brother is considered the ancestor of the Islamic religion and Isaac is the ancestor of Jewish religion.

WCG said...

Thanks, John. I didn't know that about Ishmael. But then, I don't know much about Islam.

Maybe someday I'll read the Koran, but I doubt it. I'll be doing well to get through all of the Bible!

WCG said...

I think they were considered important as ancestral stories, John, but they were also entertainment. Their similarity to trash TV isn't coincidental, I suspect.

But as religion developed - Judaism and, later, Christianity - they were given a significance they might not have had at the beginning. If the Bible was God's word, there had to be some moral lesson here, right? To believers, it couldn't have been just an ancient version of a soap opera.

And, of course, morality has changed. The treatment of women in the Bible, for example, is astonishing to us, but the men who ruled these societies wouldn't even have noticed that.