Old Testament Week 9: Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 24–36

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1) Genesis 24:64 is the oldest recorded account of cigarette smoking. ☺ 2) [SLIDE 2] Customs of the Ancient Near East. a) Genesis 24 has a number of passages that show some of the customs found among the peoples of Mesopotamia. Some of these customs seem foreign—or even shocking—to us, yet many are still practiced today, and some can even be found in Western culture. b) Genesis 24:1–9. Abraham, who was quite old, sent his servant ―unto my country, and to my kindred‖ (24:4) to find a wife for his unmarried son, Isaac. There are three interesting issues here: i) Kinship marriage. (1) The servant was told to seek a wife among Abraham’s own family. Marriage within close family is an ancient practice that is still common today outside of Western culture.1 (2) The key point here—the reason why Abraham looked for a wife for Isaac among his own family—is that he was concerned that Isaac ―not take a wife…of the daughters of the Canaanites‖ (24:3), who worshipped false gods. (a) This resonates with Latter-day Saints today, as we have been taught to marry ―within the covenant.‖ ii) Arranged marriage. (1) This is another custom that is foreign to us. Westerners today marry for love, which is actually a strange, modern notion. (a) The vast majority of historical marriages—and still many today in much of the world—are political, financial, or religious arrangements between families. (b) So we shouldn’t be at all surprised to see Isaac married to a woman whom he has never met and about whom he had no say. iii) Oath-taking. (1) Abraham had his servant take this oath by having the servant put his hand under Abraham’s thigh (24:2, 9).2 (2) As we discussed briefly last week, anciently solemn oaths were taken ―by the life‖ of something.

1 ―Marriages between first and second cousins account for over 10% of marriages worldwide. They are particularly common in the Middle East, where in some nations they account for over half of all marriages.‖ Wikipedia editors, ―Cousin marriage,‖ Wikipedia, 10 November 2013 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin_marriage). 2 The Joseph Smith Translation of these two verses changes the word ―thigh‖ to ―hand.‖ This is not a significant doctrinal change, but rather appears to be an attempt by Joseph to emend a passage that a Westerner would find troubling, or at least difficult to understand. There is a similar passage in Genesis 47:29 that Joseph did not change, which seems to indicate that Genesis 24:2, 9 were changed only because they were noticed. Based on what we understand of ancient Near East culture, the change from thigh to hand does not appear to be a restoration of an ancient original text.

© 2013, Mike Parker

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For personal use only. Not a Church publication.

Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class

Old Testament: Isaac and Jacob

Week 9, Page 2

(3) [SLIDE 3] Hugh Nibley:
The oath is the one thing that is most sacred and inviolable among the desert people and their descendants…. But not every oath will do. To be most binding and solemn an oath should be by the life of something, even if it be but a blade of grass. The only oath more awful than that “by my life” or (less commonly) “by the life of my head” is…“by the life of God” or “as the Lord liveth”…. Anciently it was an awful thing, as it still is among the desert people.3

(4) In this case, the oath was directly related to Abraham’s descendants, through Isaac, and the Lord’s promise of posterity ―as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore‖ (22:17), so, in this context, it makes sense that the servant would take the oath while touching or holding Abraham’s genitalia.4 (a) This seems like a bizarre and offensive act to us, but the ancients were perfectly at home with such customs. (b) This is another reminder that we need to be careful that we don’t read our modern, Western cultural values and expectations into ancient, Eastern texts. c) [SLIDE 4] The servant traveled to Haran, the home of Abraham’s nephew, Bethuel.5 Bethuel had two children, Rebekah and Laban. Abraham’s servant prayed fervently that he could accomplish his mission, and the Lord heard his prayer: The servant encountered Rebekah outside the city walls, when she came to draw water from the well. i) [SLIDE 5] Genesis 24:16 describes Rebekah as ―a virgin, neither had any man known her,‖ which sounds repetitive, unless we understand the Hebrew behind the phrase. (1) In Hebrew there is no word for ―a woman who has never had sexual intercourse with a man.‖6 (2) The word translated ―virgin‖ here is ‫( בתולה‬bethuwlah), which refers to a young woman of marriageable age. Most of the time it’s found the Old Testament, the context indicates that it means virgin in the traditional sense, but not always.7 (3) So the text here describes Rebekah as a bethuwlah, but then clarifies that she was without sexually experience (―neither had any man known her‖).8

3 Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1988), 128– 29 (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1107&index=13). 4 ―Talmudic tradition takes these verses [Genesis 24:2–9; 47:29–31] to indicate that the oath was sworn while the circumcised membrum of the Patriarch was held in hand, and derives from this interpretation the rule that all Jewish oaths must be sworn while some ritual object is held in hand. Ordinary people must hold a Torah scroll; scholars may hold any ritual object.‖ D. R. Freedman, ―Put Your Hand Under My Thigh–the Patriarchal Oath,‖ Biblical Archaeology Review 2 (1976), 2–4, 42 (http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=2&Issue=2&ArticleID=2). 5 Isaac and Rebekah were first cousins once removed. See the genealogical chart ―The Family of Abraham,‖ a handout from lesson 8 (http://bit.ly/ldsarcot08h1). 6 There is such a word in Greek, which was the language of the New Testament: παρθενος (parthenos). In Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:27, Mary is called a parthenos, or ―virgin.‖ The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament prepared in Egypt in the 2nd century B.C.) generally renders the Hebrew bethuwlah as parthenos, even when the context doesn’t demand it. 7 See, for example, Joel 1:8, where k’bethuwlah (young women) mourn after the death of their husbands. 8 I bring this up partly because it will become important when we discuss the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 in lesson 19.

© 2013, Mike Parker

http://bit.ly/ldsarc

For personal use only. Not a Church publication.

Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class

Old Testament: Isaac and Jacob

Week 9, Page 3

d) In Genesis 24:22, the servant gave Rebekah a gold nose ring9 that weighed a beka (about 2/5 of an ounce), and two gold bracelets that weighed ten shekels (about 4 ounces). In 24:53, he ―brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment [clothing], and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things [valuable gifts].‖ i) These gifts represent a bride-price—a payment made to the bride's family's in exchange for the loss of her labor.10 ii) This is still practiced today in parts of the Far East and Africa. iii) Latter-day Saints are probably best acquainted with this practice from the film Johnny Lingo, where the eponymous hero offers the unheard-of price of eight cows for Mahana’s hand in marriage.11 e) Finally, in Genesis 24:65, Rebekah donned a veil as part of her bridal attire. This ancient custom is still practiced today by brides in Western society. f) Studying customs like these can help us understand the actions and motivations of the individuals in the Old Testament record. 3) The sons of Isaac. a) [SLIDE 6] Genesis 25:20–26. Isaac married Rebekah and, after Isaac prayed on her behalf, she gave birth to twin sons, whom she named Esau and Jacob. i) The two sons ―struggled together‖ inside her womb, which the Lord told Rebekah was a foreshadowing of the future struggle of their descendants.12 (1) Esau became the father of the Edomites (Genesis 36:9), who were constantly at odds with the Israelites, who descended from Jacob.13 ii) Esau’s name was given him because he was reddish and hairy,14 while Jacob received his name because he came out holding Esau’s heel.15 (1) Jacob’s name is particularly important because it indicates someone who is striving to overcome or overtake others who are ahead of him. b) [SLIDE 7] Jacob did eventually overtake Esau by obtaining the birthright and blessing reserved for his older brother, as the Lord foretold to Rebekah (25:23b).16 i) Genesis 25:29–34. This chain of events began with Esau selling his birthright to Jacob simply because he was hungry.17
9 The King James Version translates ‫( נזם‬nehzem) as ―earring,‖ but it actually refers to simply a ring, and it’s up to the context to tell us what kind. In this case, Rebekah received a nose ring, which were commonly worn by women of her time and place. Proverbs 11:22 tells us that ―As a jewel [nehzem] of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.‖ 10 Contrast this with a dowry, which is a gift by a bride’s father to the bride, representing the daughter’s share of her inheritance as she leaves the family. 11 Johnny Lingo (Judge Whitaker, 1969) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfahoLfrddU). 12 Rebekah’s cry during her difficult pregnancy, ―If it be so, why am I thus?‖ (KJV Genesis 25:22) is a Hebrew idiom that means something like ―If it is going to be like this, I’m not so sure I want to be pregnant!‖ (NET). 13 See, for example, Numbers 20:14–21; 1 Samuel 14:47; 2 Samuel 8:13–14; 2 Kings 8:20–22. 14 The Hebrew word translated ―reddish‖ is ‫’( אדמוני‬admoni), which forms a wordplay on the Edomites, Esau’s descendants. The word translated ―hairy‖ is ‫( שצר‬se’ar), which is another wordplay on Mount Seir, the home of the Edomites. 15 Hebrew ‫’( צקב‬aqev). The name probably means something like ―may he protect,‖ that is, as a rearguard, dogging the heels. 16 In the New Testament, Paul uses the events of Esau and Jacob’s birth as an example of how God foreordains some according to his own purposes; see Romans 9:10–14.

© 2013, Mike Parker

http://bit.ly/ldsarc

For personal use only. Not a Church publication.

Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class

Old Testament: Isaac and Jacob

Week 9, Page 4

ii) It concluded with Rebekah encouraging Jacob to deceive Isaac so that Jacob would receive his father’s blessing. (Genesis 27.) (1) This story is an interesting example of doing the wrong thing for the right reason: (a) Rebekah knew that Jacob was supposed to receive Isaac’s blessing because it was explained to her by revelation from the Lord before the sons were born (25:23). (i) It is possible that Rebekah acted quickly, out of desperation, in an attempt to prevent Esau from receiving the blessing. (b) Jacob was worried about being caught by his father and cursed as a deceiver. Rebekah told him she would take responsibility if that happened. (27:11–13.) (2) Regardless of the shortcomings of the individuals involved, Isaac affirmed that Jacob would hold the birthright and the blessing by declaring to Esau, ―yea, and he shall be blessed‖ (27:33b). (a) He could have revoked it and blessed Esau, but chose not to. Why? (i) Possibly he realized by the Spirit that Jacob was the correct choice. (3) These circumstances resulted in tremendous suffering for everyone involved: (a) Esau swore that he would take Jacob’s life once Isaac died (27:41), and there was enmity between them for twenty years. (b) Jacob was forced to flee to Haran to avoid Esau’s wrath (27:42–44). His mother died while he was away; he never saw her again in this life. (4) One of the characteristics of the Old Testament narrative is that it doesn’t gloss over the imperfections of anyone. Even the great patriarchs (who have entered into their exaltation—D&C 132:37) had weaknesses and personal faults, just like the rest of us. 4) Jacob’s first vision. a) Before Jacob departed for Haran, his father Isaac blessed him that he might receive all the blessings of Abraham (Genesis 28:3–4). i) Isaac himself had previously received the same covenant promises from the Lord (26:2–5). ii) Note that Jacob here did not receive the covenant blessing, he was only blessed by his father in anticipation that he would receive it. b) [SLIDE 8] Genesis 28:10–16. On his way to Haran, Jacob had a dream in which he saw a ladder or stairway18 ―erected on the earth with its top reaching to the heavens. The angels of God were going up and coming down it and the Lord stood at its top.‖ (NET Genesis 28:12–13a.)19
―And Jacob sod pottage‖ (KJV Genesis 25:29) means he ―cooked some stew‖ (NET). The Hebrew noun ‫( סלם‬sullam) appears to be based on the Akkadian word simmiltu which has a specialized meaning of ―stairway‖ or ―ramp.‖ 19 This is another example of the cosmological understanding of ancient Hebrews: To them, the earth was a flat disk covered by a dome (firmament) that was the sky. The builders of the tower of Babel expected to reach heaven by constructing a building tall enough to reach the dome. In Jacob’s dream, a ladder reached from the dome down to the surface of the earth. See lesson 3, pages 4–6 (http://bit.ly/ldsarcot03n) and lesson 6, page 7 (http://bit.ly/ldsarcot06n).
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© 2013, Mike Parker

http://bit.ly/ldsarc

For personal use only. Not a Church publication.

Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class

Old Testament: Isaac and Jacob

Week 9, Page 5

i) In this dream or vision, Jacob received the covenant promises of Abraham that his father blessed him to receive (28:13b–15), with one new element added: God ―will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of‖ (28:15). (1) Jacob then realized the meaning of the vision of the ladder or staircase: God is over all the earth, and is not just the God of one region or territory (28:16). (a) The common understanding of the ancient world was that El, the head of the council of gods, had divided up the world among his deity sons, with each one receiving his own inheritance.20 Therefore the god in charge of one land was not the same as the god in charge of another, and moving place to place would require a human being to shift his allegiance to the local god. (b) Jacob’s vision informed him that this is not the case, because the one true God stands at the top of a stairway connecting heaven and earth, which he uses to send his angels down to patrol the earth and report back to him.21 (i) An interesting comparison can be made between this vision and the use of stairs in the Telestial Rooms of the Salt Lake and Manti Temples: The ordinance workers who portray God’s messengers in the endowment descend to carry out God’s directives, and then ascend to ―return and report‖ on their assignments. 5) [SLIDE 9] Jacob in Haran (Genesis 29–31). a) Jacob returned to his grandfather’s ancestral homeland, where he met Laban, his second cousin. (Genesis 29:1–14.) b) Jacob served Laban seven years that he might marry Rachel, Laban’s daughter, [9.1] but Laban deceived Jacob by giving him his older daughter, Leah, instead.22 When Jacob protested, [9.2] Laban allowed him to marry Rachel also, in exchange for another seven years of service. (Genesis 29:15–30.) c) Jacob had twelve sons and one daughter by four wives.23 (Genesis 29:31–30:24.) d) Jacob’s flocks, servants, wealth, and influence eventually grew to exceed even Laban’s enormous holdings. (Genesis 30:25–31:2.) e) After twenty years in Haran, the Lord commanded Jacob to return to his father’s land. (Genesis 31:3–16.) f) Laban pursued Jacob, but they resolved their differences and made a covenant with each other. (Genesis 31:17–55.)

See the NET translation of Deuteronomy 32:7–9 (https://net.bible.org/#!bible/Deuteronomy+32:7). In a 21 May 1843 discourse at Nauvoo, Joseph Smith used the imagery of Jacob’s ladder, paired with Paul’s vision in 2 Corinthians 12: ―Paul ascended into the third heavens, and he could understand the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder—the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms, where Paul saw and heard things which were not lawful for him to utter. I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision [of the degrees of glory—D&C 76] were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.‖ History of the Church 5:402 (http://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/5/22.html#402); Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 304–05 (http://scriptures.byu.edu/stpjs.html#304). 22 For those of you keeping score at home, Leah and Rachel were Jacob’s second cousins once removed. 23 Jacob’s other two wives were Bilhah and Zilpah, the handmaidens (female servants) of Rachel and Leah, respectively. (Genesis 29:24, 29; 30:1–13.)
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© 2013, Mike Parker

http://bit.ly/ldsarc

For personal use only. Not a Church publication.

Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class

Old Testament: Isaac and Jacob

Week 9, Page 6

i) On his return trip, Jacob was consumed with worry about how his reunion with Esau would fare. On hearing the Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men, Jacob offered a moving prayer to ask for the Lord’s protection and deliverance from what Jacob assumed would be Esau’s wrath. (Genesis 32:9–12.) 6) [SLIDE 10] Jacob’s second vision. a) After this comes one of the most mysterious passages in scripture, where Jacob wrestled with a divine being all night and finally obtained a blessing. (Genesis 32:24–30.) i) The passage identifies his opponent only as ―a man‖ (32:24), but it’s clear that it was something more than a man, perhaps an angel, or even the Lord God himself.24 ii) Whoever the being was, he was not able to defeat Jacob, so he struck Jacob’s hip socket, dislocating his hip (32:25). Jacob refused to let him go, and demanded that the person bless him. (1) The man blessed Jacob, changing his name to Israel ( means ―God fights.‖ ), which literally

(2) By interpretation, this could mean that God fights on behalf of Jacob and his descendants, or it could mean that God fights or struggles with Jacob and his descendants. (a) The latter is clearly indicated in the context of Jacob’s wrestling with the man. (b) Ultimately, however, the dual meaning describes perfectly the Lord’s relationship with the children of Israel—he will fight for them against their enemies, and they will struggle against him and his commandments. b) Esau and Jacob reconciled, and, sometime later, the Lord appeared again to Jacob and renewed his covenant promise and blessing with him. (Genesis 35:10–12.) 7) [SLIDE 11] Next week: a) Joseph and the sons of Jacob (Genesis 37–50).

In Genesis 32:30 ―Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.‖ It seems at least that Jacob (or the author of Genesis 32) believed that he had experienced God personally.
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© 2013, Mike Parker

http://bit.ly/ldsarc

For personal use only. Not a Church publication.

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