Genesis 32

GENESIS:  

“The Gospel According to Torah” 

Posted daily at www.hereticslikeus.com 

Weekly summaries also at www.billbrucewords.com 

Concurrently at www.trinityunitedkw.ca  

Summer Reading 2018 

 

ISRAEL’S HOMECOMING 

Reading Week from July 8 

Garret Talk , Tues July 11 

Genesis 31-36: Mon July 9 to Sat July 14 

Now Jacob leaves his conflicted relation with Laban, whom he has fleeced, and faces an uncertain reception from Esau, whom he has deceived in the past.  As a moral person in our modern culture which aspires to equal opportunity for individuals, playing by free market rules, Jacob is a villain.  Are the rules different for earlier readers, or is Jacob justified by his exceptional role in God’s covenant, or is he a bit repentant? 

Having concluded a truce in a rearguard action with Laban, representing Aramea to the north, now he has to send advance parties to ensure safe arrival with his rival brother, representing Edom in the south.  What if you reframe this whole saga as a definition of boundaries and borders for Israel in relation to ancient markers and claimed northern and southern frontiers? 

Yaakov risks committing his 2 wives, 2 maids, and 11 children to the new land, crossing the Jabbok into the land, at Peniel, and he himself stays behind at the borderland, liminal space, and his dream is of wrestling with God.  We love this story, with the ‘introspective conscience of the West’ as some scholars call it.  We love tales of psychodrama and struggles… 

This story also offers another etiological legend of a northern sacred place, and an Elohist story of dealing with God.  Yaakov, the trickster, is now called Israel, one who strives with God. The transition from an individual heroic saga to an epic celebrating a nation and its tribes gets a ‘hermeneutical key’ here, close to a proposal that we read the whole thing as an allegory with clean correlation of ‘this means that’ – though Calvin, and our own Northrop Frye, prefer the language of typological reading of a metonymic use of language: this is that. 

Genesis Chapter 32

NRSV

Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him; 2and when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ So he called that place Mahanaim. 

3 Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4instructing them, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; 5and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favour in your sight.” ’ 

6 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him. 

’7Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies,  8thinking, ‘If Esau comes to one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.’ 

9 And Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good”, 10I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. 11Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. 12Yet you have said, “I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.” ’ 

13 So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16These he delivered into the hand of his servants, each drove by itself, and said to his servants, ‘Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.’ 

 17He instructed the foremost, ‘When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, “To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?” 18then you shall say, “They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.” ’  

19He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, ‘You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him, 20and you shall say, “Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.” ’  

For he thought, ‘I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’  

21So the present passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the camp. 

22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 

24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 

25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 

 26Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’  

But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ 

 27So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 

 28Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ 

 29Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ 

 But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’  

And there he blessed him. 

 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’  

31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  

32Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle. 

 

Genesis 31

GENESIS:  

“The Gospel According to Torah” 

Posted daily at www.hereticslikeus.com 

Weekly summaries also at www.billbrucewords.com 

Concurrently at www.trinityunitedkw.ca  

Summer Reading 2018 

 

ISRAEL’S HOMECOMING 

Reading Week from July 8 

Garret Talk , Tues July 11 

Genesis 31-36: Mon July 9 to Sat July 14 

 

Jacob heads south with all he has accumulated, and Laban chases him down and there is a showdown, culminating in a pile of stones that neither will cross thereafter.    

How do you leave one homeland for another?  What is owed where you left, and what is yours to take alone?  For those left behind, what is their claim, and how do they tell the story of emigrants?   

Laban and Jacob each hustled the other – at some point, one sets up good fences for good neighbours, or as Tom Wolfe wrote ‘you can’t go home again’.   

What have you left un-reconciled behind you, and what boundary markers have you set between yourself and that past?  

This year, our reading and related conversations are veering away from these psychodynamics, perhaps due to our spring reading of Joshua and Judges in terms of ‘Settlers’ in today’s Israel and in post TRC Canada.  Our chat sounds like this instead: 

After newcomers live alongside locals for a generation, and particularly as the newcomers prosper, human envy seems likely.  Who gets their ‘just deserts’?  Who is owed a living – who earns, by labour or by shrewd dealing?  Laban’s kids resent Jacob’s success. 

Jacob gets his wives onside first – he’s asking them to choose him over his in-laws, their birth clans.  He claims God has given, and God is sending.  They agree that Laban is spending their dowry, and treating them as property – compare this to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot’s married daughters could not convince their local husbands to flee with Lot – only the unmarried ones escaped with their father.  These are stories struggling with the existential threat for a minority of assimilation and intermarriage with a majority culture. 

In fact, if you read this as a story about resisting assimilation, and taking one’s due with you, Rachel’s thefts of Laban’s household gods are a different message.  She claims what she is due – not what Jacob is due.  She deceives her uncle.  Can lying be justified by the weak woman being threatened, to the strong man threatening violent vengeance?  Reread this in terms of diplomacy! 

The etiological legends connect this story to particular markers around Gilead and the West Bank – the border and frontier with Arameans.   

Genesis Chapter 31

NRSV

Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s; he has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.’ 

 2And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him as favourably as he did before. 

 3Then the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your ancestors and to your kindred, and I will be with you. 

’4So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was, 5and said to them, ‘I see that your father does not regard me as favourably as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me.6You know that I have served your father with all my strength; 7yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me. 8If he said, “The speckled shall be your wages”, then all the flock bore speckled; and if he said, “The striped shall be your wages”, then all the flock bore striped. 9Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father, and given them to me. 

10 During the mating of the flock I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats that leaped upon the flock were striped, speckled, and mottled. 11Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, “Jacob,” and I said, “Here I am!” 12And he said, “Look up and see that all the goats that leap on the flock are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and return to the land of your birth.” ’ 

 14Then Rachel and Leah answered him, ‘Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? 15Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us. 16All the property that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you.’ 

17 So Jacob arose, and set his children and his wives on camels; 18and he drove away all his livestock, all the property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. 

19 Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. 21So he fled with all that he had; starting out he crossed the Euphrates, and set his face towards the hill country of Gilead. 

22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23So he took his kinsfolk with him and pursued him for seven days until he caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 

 24But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night, and said to him, ‘Take heed that you say not a word to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 

25 Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsfolk camped in the hill country of Gilead. 

26Laban said to Jacob, ‘What have you done? You have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword. 27Why did you flee secretly and deceive me and not tell me? I would have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre. 28And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? What you have done is foolish. 29It is in my power to do you harm; but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, “Take heed that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.” 30Even though you had to go because you longed greatly for your father’s house, why did you steal my gods?’ 

 31Jacob answered Laban, ‘Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsfolk, point out what I have that is yours, and take it.’  

Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods. 

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent, and entered Rachel’s. 34Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. Laban felt all about in the tent, but did not find them. 35And she said to her father, ‘Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.’ So he searched, but did not find the household gods. 

36 Then Jacob became angry, and upbraided Laban. Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is my offence? What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me?37Although you have felt about through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsfolk and your kinsfolk, so that they may decide between us two. 

 38These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks. 39That which was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it myself; of my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40It was like this with me: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. 41These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you for fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.42If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked you last night.’ 

43 Then 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 today about these daughters of mine, or about their children whom they have borne?  

44Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I; and let it be a witness between you and me.’ 45So Jacob took a stone, and set it up as a pillar. 46And Jacob said to his kinsfolk, ‘Gather stones,’ and they took stones, and made a heap; and they ate there by the heap. 47Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed. 

 48Laban said, ‘This heap is a witness between you and me today.’ Therefore he called it Galeed, 49and the pillar Mizpah, for he said, ‘The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other. 50If you ill-treat my daughters, or if you take wives in addition to my daughters, though no one else is with us, remember that God is witness between you and me.’ 

51 Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘See this heap and see the pillar, which I have set between you and me. 52This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53May 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, 54and Jacob offered a sacrifice on the height and called his kinsfolk to eat bread; and they ate bread and tarried all night in the hill country. 

55 Early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them; then he departed and returned home. 

 

ISRAEL’S HOMECOMING

Reading Week from July 8

Garret Talk NOT July 1, but resumed Tues July 3

Genesis 31-36: Mon July 9 to Sat July 14

Sunday, July 08

Sunday Summary

Jacob extricates himself from Laban, marking a border behind him, then crosses another boundary to face reception by Esau.  In between, he gets another theophany, wrestling with an angel or God. Esau and Jacob dance out a plan of coexistence, then Jacob turns to the ‘people of the land’, a perennial issue.

I warned you last week when Dinah was born of the role of her rape in setting of her brothers’ rage and genocide.  Try reading it more carefully as a tale of peoples, and the rhetoric of female honour justifying male violence. The week will end with reasserted territorial claims, setting us up to start the Joseph cycle.

Monday July 9: Genesis Chapter 31

Jacob heads south with all he has accumulated, and Laban chases him down and there is a showdown, culminating in a pile of stones that neither will cross thereafter.   How do you leave one homeland for another? What is owed where you left, and what is yours to take alone? For those left behind, what is their claim, and how do they tell the story of emigrants?  Laban and Jacob each hustled the other – at some point, one sets up good fences for good neighbours, or as Tom Wolfe wrote ‘you can’t go home again’. What have you left un-reconciled behind you, and what boundary markers have you set between yourself and that past?

Tuesday July 10: Genesis Chapter 32

Now Jacob faces an uncertain reception from Esau, whom he has deceived in the past.  Having concluded a truce in a rearguard action, now he has to send advance parties to ensure safe arrival.  Yaakov risks committing his 2 wives, 2 maids, and 11 children to the new land, crossing the Jabbok into the land, at Peniel, and he stays behind at the borderland, liminal space, and his dream is of wrestling with God.  There’s another etiological legend of a northern sacred place, and an Elohist story of dealing with God. Yaakov, the trickster, is now called Israel, one who strives with God.

Wednesday July 11: Chapter 33

Visualize this strategic procession south to meet Esau.  Yaakov goes first, to risk the wrath of his brother Esau, however mollified by the gifts sent on ahead, behind him he risks first the maids and their children, then Leah and hers, and last but anything but least, Rachel and Joseph.  Esau invites or at least permits Yaakove to join him in the south, but Yaakove settles first in the north, with etiological references to Succoth, and Shechem. There is a claim that he buys this turf from the sons of Hamor, more land claims, and that he builds an altar from this antiquity.  What would you risk in facing the unknown ahead? What would you claim when you arrive?

Thursday July 12: Genesis Chapter 34

Here is the tale of ‘the rape of Dinah’.  This is the one named daughter of Yaakov, by Leah.  The Hamorite, Canaanite, Hivite named Shechem seizes her by force, but falls in love with her, and asks his father Hamor to haggle a nuptual agreement.  Her brothers are angry at the way it began, but propose that if Hamor’s tribe is circumcised to make one people. Rather than lose Dinah, the Hamorites accept circumcision.  While they are vulnerable from the painful act, Simeon and Levi kill all the men. Yaakov castigates them for the risk they draw to their minority people – but they protest that their sister cannot be treated like a whore.  Can you read this not as moral personal tale, but as a figure for the plight of minorities resisting assimilation but keeping pride?

Friday, July 13: Genesis Chapter 35

God relocates Yaakov from Shechem to Bethel, and there the people are expected to ditch their accumulated ‘foreign gods’ they have picked up on their way among other people.  More etiological legends are echoed, including the burianl of Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, buried at Bethel. The sacred shrine of Bethel is reinforced with another vision, ritual, and promise.  This competing shrine to Jerusalem, in Samaria, in the north, will remain a countermelody to the songs of the temple in the south. On the way to Isaac’s home in Hebron, Benjamin is born to Rachel, precious youngest, born in Judea – though Rachel dies in childbirth, buried in etiological legend of Bethlehem, Ephrath.   The 12 sons of Yaakov are lists: 6 from Leah, 2 each from Rachel and the maids. Esau and Yaakov together bury Isaac, just as Ishmael and Isaac had together buried Abraham. We have arrived.

Saturday July 14: Genesis Chapter 36

Can you name the 50 states of the USA to our south?  Neither can I – but we can sure give it a fair try! Can you name the states of Australia?  The home counties and shires of Ulster or Eire? If you read chapter 37:2, you’ll see this summed up as part of the toledot of Jacob – even though it is the recital of the rivals, the cousins, in Edom to the south of Israel.  Can we understand ourselves apart from those we are not? Can understanding our ‘twins separated at birth’ like USA or Australia, or our cousins in Ulster or Eire, enrich our self-understanding as Canadians? Dismiss this all at your own loss and impoverishment!

 

Genesis 30

Saturday July 7
Genesis Chapter 30

Keep reading the romance and intrigues of life in the harem if you prefer.  The ‘maids’ bear sons who will be ‘fathers’ of the coastal and northern hinterland tribes.  Get a map now, and track the regional placements of the tribes tied to Bilhah, Dan and Naphtali, through Rachel’s maid Bilhah.  Then find Gad and Asher, associated with Zilpah, Leah’s maid.

These days, we have to deal with Margaret Atwood’s success with Handmaid’s Tale, now on TV as well as movie, and a vision of misogyny in its expression in a wife supervising the husband’s impregnating of her maid, to ensure legitimate offspring.  Is the threat of a patriarchal religious tyranny our great risk?  I think our greater risk is in our cult of atomized individuals, rights-bearing consumers, without empathy for those with less power and more reason to affirm group identities, whether through various religious resurgences, or ethnic and nationalist identities of the ‘right’.  

There’s a strange tale of aphrodisiac and fertility remedy mandrake plants resulting in Leah’s fifth and sixth sons, and daughter Dinah. She may seem an afterthought, unless you recall the part she will play in Schechem and a massacre in the name of her honour, which was not honourable.  Her full brothers over-reach in anger, and others acquiesce, without asking God’s opinion.

Once Joseph is born in the old country, (and once on the way, Benjamin will be born to Rachel in Ramah, though she will die in her second childbirth, Jacob starts lobbying Laban to let him re-emigrate with his flocks.  The 12 tribes of Israel and Judah were born outside the Promised Land.  

Jacob the trickster comes back into his own.  He tricks his uncle Laban, who had tricked him with his daughter’s wedding.  Jacob uses animal husbandry and breeds strong striped animals for himself.  Do we tell the story of immigration as ‘those with get up and go, got up and went’, or as ‘bring me your tired… huddled’ refugee charity? Rags to riches is the familiar narrative.

Think again of peoples and nations, rather than individuals.  Idi Amin ousted a South Asian minority in Uganda, and imposed currency controls on what they could bring.  The 1930’s were a nightmare of human flight in the face of Nazi racial policies.  Now the story is of new waves migrants and refugees flowing out of Africa across the Mediterranean, out of Syria through Turkey, Balkans and Greece. It’s familiar human nature, not moral modeling – these are people carrying all they can in cash with them.


Genesis 30

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!
 
’2Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’
 
 3Then she said, ‘Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.’
 
 4So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her. 5And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son.
 
 6Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son’; therefore she named him Dan.
 
7Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son.8Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed’; so she named him Naphtali.
 
9 When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife.
 
 10Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11And Leah said, ‘Good fortune!’ so she named him Gad.
 
 12Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13And Leah said, ‘Happy am I! For the women will call me happy’; so she named him Asher.
 
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.’ 15But 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 for your son’s mandrakes.’
 
 16When 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.
 
 17And God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18Leah said, ‘God has given me my hire because I gave my maid to my husband’; so she named him Issachar.
 
 19And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. 20Then Leah said, ‘God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honour me, because I have borne him six sons’; so she named him Zebulun.
 
21Afterwards she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah.
 
22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb. 23She conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach’; 24and she named him Joseph, saying, ‘May the Lord add to me another son!’
 
25 When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country. 26Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know very well the service I have given you.’
 
 27But Laban said to him, ‘If you will allow me to say so, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you; 28name your wages, and I will give them.’
 
 29Jacob said to him, ‘You yourself know how I have served you, and how your cattle have fared with me. 30For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly; and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?’ 
 
31He said, ‘What shall I give you?’ 
 
Jacob said, ‘You shall not give me anything; if you will do this for me, I will again feed your flock and keep it: 32let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages. 33So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.’
 
 34Laban said, ‘Good! Let it be as you have said.’ 35But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in charge of his sons; 36and he set a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob was pasturing the rest of Laban’s flock.
 
37 Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the rods. 38He set the rods that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering-places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, 39the flocks bred in front of the rods, and so the flocks produced young that were striped, speckled, and spotted.
 
40Jacob separated the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and the completely black animals in the flock of Laban; and he put his own droves apart, and did not put them with Laban’s flock.41Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob laid the rods in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the rods, 42but for the feebler of the flock he did not lay them there; so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. 43Thus the man grew exceedingly rich, and had large flocks, and male and female slaves, and camels and donkeys.


 

Genesis 29

Friday July 6
Genesis Chapter 29

Just as Isaac got a wife in the old country so Jacob gets his.  But – this time it’s not the slave Eliezer fetching as agent for Abraham to arrange a marriage for Isaac.  This time it’s not a purchase with a ring in the nose – but a fugitive accepting indentured service for his rewards.

These still are not moral models of incestuous inbreeding with cousins, but crucial narratives of the toledot. The first 11 chapters of Genesis nailed our universal common humanity and shared identity.  Chapters 12-25 with the toledot of Abraham gave us a people chosen, set apart, by a conditional promise.  Abraham had to get up and go, and leave his father, his home, his familiar.  Isaac is a bridge, as son of one, father of another. – 

Here is a guy acting as his own agent, not waiting for permission or help to roll the stone away and enjoy water for Rachel’s flocks.  She runs to tell her father, who is Jacob’s uncle.  Again, I read something less than individual incest, and more like ethnic preferences in domestic partnerships, for loyalty and security, and to resist assimilation.

Laban haggles terms with Jacob, using the four women as collateral.  Laban tricks the trickster, and we delight in the poetic justice.  Does it help more to consider Laban as representing the sharp-dealing of Syrian allies, and a warning to stay on one’s toes in trade with them?

Here in Aram, Jacob becomes patriarch with 12 sons from four mothers.  His new name Israel fits a nation claiming territory in the names of 12 tribes.  Good land and bad land, near to Jerusalem heartland or out at the frontiers, is implicitly ranking the tribes.   It’s like that T-shirt: ‘Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite!’  

The most beloved Rachel is mother to Joseph and Benjamin.  Steady, faithful Leah bears the solid set of ‘home counties’.  The outlier tribes and territories are attributed to the ‘maids’ – take a look at the maps, and think about Newfie jokes, western alienation, or northern hinterlands. Or enjoy the romantic tale of a man loving sisters, if you must!

Here in chapter 29 are Leah’s first four sons.  Less beloved, she is most fertile: Reuben, then Simeon, Levi, and Judah.  Later, we will find justification to demote the eldest: Reuben slept with his father’s maid, mother of his half-brothers.  Simeon and Levi led the excessive genocide of Schechem in the name of vengeance for Dinah, their sister, and her honour.  Judah will stand for centuries, along with Joseph’s tribal representatives.

Chapter 29

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. 2As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. 
 
The stone on the well’s mouth was large, 3and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.
 
4 Jacob said to them, ‘My brothers, where do you come from?’ They said, ‘We are from Haran.’ 5He said to them, ‘Do you know Laban son of Nahor?’ They said, ‘We do.’ 6He said to them, ‘Is it well with him?’ ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.’
 
7He said, ‘Look, it is still broad daylight; it is not time for the animals to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.’ 8But they said, ‘We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.’
 
9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. 10Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban.
 
 11Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. 12And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.
 
13 When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14and Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh!’ And he stayed with him for a month.
 
15 Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’
 
16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful.
 
 18Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ 19Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’
 
 20So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
 
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.’ 
 
22So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24(Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.)
 
 25When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’26Laban said, ‘This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. 
 
27Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me for another seven years.’
 
 28Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. 29(Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her maid.) 
 
30So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.
 
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. 
 
32Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, ‘Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.’
 
 33She 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 named him Simeon. 
 
34Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons’; therefore he was named Levi.
 
35She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord’; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing.


 

Genesis 28

Thursday July 5
Genesis Chapter 28

Isaac sends Jacob off to Syria, to the cousins up north and east, hoping that he’ll someday return to claim the land promised to Abraham, where Isaac lived as resident alien, rather than surrendering the emigrant’s dream.  Isaac is too civil to his son, so soon after chapter 27 – a change of voice or source.

Esau tries to please the clan by marrying a daughter of Ishmael, at least a branch of Abraham’s toledot, to join his harem.  Is the tradition affirming that alliance with Arabs was less threatening than with Africans, for Israel?  

Jacob leaving Beersheva, heading north, stops at Bethel, ‘House of God’. It’s another etiological legend about ‘bet-el’, house of God, the competing shrine in the north to Jerusalem’s temple in the south.  That’s a particular interest of the Elohist voice, the northern Israel prophetic tradition.  

‘Jacob’s ladder’ is a key theophany, revealing of the divine to a human in a dream, at this key liminal or boundary-crossing point from south heading north.    Just as Abram then Abraham got a promise of land, blessing, and descendants, and then Isaac got replays, so not Jacob receives the assurances.  Dreams for moderns like us are non-justiciable, beyond empirical testing – but we’re the exceptions to human norms of how to discern the divine.

Is this a bald land claim added to those made on Hebron, Machpelah, Schechem, and Beer-sheva already?  Is it an existential claim to belong, to claim a home-land?  How is that twisted today?
   
The cultic summary points out the oil-annointed standing rock of the ancient shrine, introduces tithes, giving 10% of wealth to God, beyond the basic rite of  circumcision to mark group identity.

Our subculture loves this text as an affirmation of the presence of God in an unlikely place.  How often have settlers felt like strangers in a strange land in this ‘New World’ for Europeans, then sought and found assurance of divine presence – ‘surely God was in this place, and I did not know it’?

Of course, all places are sacred, but most are not recognized as such, and too many are desecrated by our human use and abuse of creation.  Luz was a city before Jacob visited and returned – just as First Nations existed and thrived before settler culture.  What is the nature of a belated or subsequent claim to be here, beside or with those already in the land?

Chapter 28

Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, ‘You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women. 2Go at once to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father; and take as wife from there one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.
 
3May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and numerous, that you may become a company of peoples. 4May he give to you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your offspring with you, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien—land that God gave to Abraham.’
 
 5Thus Isaac sent Jacob away; and he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.
 
6 Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he charged him, ‘You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women’, 7and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram.
 
 8So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please his father Isaac, 9Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael, and sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had.
 
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.
 
 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
 
 13And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.
 
 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
 
 16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ 17And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
 
18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
 
 20Then Jacob made 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 clothing to wear, 21so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.’

Genesis 27

Wednesday July 4
Genesis Chapter 27

Here’s another deceptively familiar tale: Jacob takes a blessing from Isaac: deceit and deception, initiated, aided and abetted by Rebekah.  Esau the elder was due the blessing from Isaac, but the old guy is blind enough and deaf enough to fall for the trickster’s charade in place of his brother.  

Sure, we recognize the human nature exhibited in each character’s role – but none are models of morality.  This is worse than heel-grabbing at birth, or trading a pot of red stew for the birthright.  What kind of father, or divinity, honours a blessing obtained by such tricksters?

Did it help to read this as a legend of peoples, not persons?  Esau stands for Edom, straddling the trade routes south.  Those peoples are closer than Ishmael’s Arab peoples, less distinct that Egyptian and Sudanese nations and empires.  Millennia of trade disputes ring more familiar this summer, perhaps.

Marriages then are less an issue of incest than of clan and ethnic loyalties, in the face of threatened assimilation.  Egyptian, Hittite wives are particularly threatening as signs of African alliances of Edom, in tension with Asia Minor alliances with Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey north of Israel.   

Esau gets a consolation prize, exiled from good land to martial freedom – the identity of Edom the nation south of Israel.  Esau won’t kill his brother pending mourning for their father, and Rebekah uses the time to orchestrate Jacob’s flight to Haran, away to the old country, like Michael Corleone hiding out in Sicily, to avoid the consequences of his deception.

In our affluence and privilege in the world, our subculture has trouble hearing these tales.  Our racism is inextricable from our estimation of gangs or ‘ethnic’ affiliation in racialized communities who feel the existential threat of assimilation of economic and social exclusion from our mainline.

This biblical pattern of God’s election of the younger, not necessarily more meritorious son, rather than the expected primogeniture, is subversive.  That’s good news for the underdog – what’s the message for you this time?  With whom did you identify most, or least, in this chapter?

Chapter 27
 
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, ‘My son’; and he answered, ‘Here I am.’ 2He said, ‘See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. 4Then prepare for me savoury food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.’
 
5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘I heard your father say to your brother Esau, 7“Bring me game, and prepare for me savoury food to eat, that I may bless you before the Lord before I die.” 8Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you. 9Go to the flock, and get me two choice kids, so that I may prepare from them savoury food for your father, such as he likes; 10and you shall take it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.’ 
 
11But Jacob said to his mother Rebekah, ‘Look, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a man of smooth skin. 12Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him, and bring a curse on myself and not a blessing.’
 
 13His mother said to him, ‘Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my word, and go, get them for me.’14So he went and got them and brought them to his mother; and his mother prepared savoury food, such as his father loved. 15Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; 16and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17Then she handed the savoury food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.
 
18 So he went in to his father, and said, ‘My father’; and he said, ‘Here I am; who are you, my son?’ 19Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.’ 
 
20But Isaac said to his son, ‘How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?’ He answered, ‘Because the Lord your God granted me success.’
 
 21Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.’ 22So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, ‘The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’ 23He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him.
 
 24He said, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ He answered, ‘I am.’ 25Then he said, ‘Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.’ So he brought it to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. 2
 
6Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come near and kiss me, my son.’ 27So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said,

‘Ah, the smell of my son
   is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. 
28 May God give you of the dew of heaven,
   and of the fatness of the earth,
   and plenty of grain and wine. 
29 Let peoples serve you,
   and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
   and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
   and blessed be everyone who blesses you!’
 
30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of his father Isaac, his brother Esau came in from his hunting. 31He also prepared savoury food, and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, ‘Let my father sit up and eat of his son’s game, so that you may bless me.’
 
 32His father Isaac said to him, ‘Who are you?’ He answered, ‘I am your firstborn son, Esau.’ 33Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, ‘Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him?—yes, and blessed he shall be!’ 
 
34When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, ‘Bless me, me also, father!’ 35But he said, ‘Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.’ 36Esau said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.’ Then he said, ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’
 
 37Isaac answered Esau, ‘I have already made him your lord, and I have given him all his brothers as servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?’ 38Esau said to his father, ‘Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!’ And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
 
39 Then his father Isaac answered him:

‘See, away from the fatness of the earth shall your home be,
   and away from the dew of heaven on high. 
40 By your sword you shall live,
   and you shall serve your brother;
but when you break loose,
   you shall break his yoke from your neck.’
 
41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’
 
 42But the words of her elder son Esau were told to Rebekah; so she sent and called her younger son Jacob and said to him, ‘Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. 43Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, 44and stay with him for a while, until your brother’s fury turns away— 45until your brother’s anger against you turns away, and he forgets what you have done to him; then I will send, and bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?’
 
46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I am weary of my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women such as these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?’

Genesis 26

Tuesday July 3
Genesis Chapter 26

Déjà vu all over again, eh?  Isaac’s famine pushes him southwest to offer up his wife to Philistine Abimelech as his ‘sister’.  Just as with Abraham’s surrender of Sarah, this is no family values role model, but a tale of living as resident aliens among more powerful locals.  We’ve been talking through the gender roles of a patriarch’s chief wife, managing the caravan’s business, and treating Sarah then Rebekah more like C-suite executives assuming a position at a bit of arms-length from a company’s founder or board.  It’s a stretch, worth the work.

It’s a pretty positive view of Philistines as patrons, not enemies – and a pretty sophisticated reflection on sex and power.  Isaac keeps ‘laughing and loving’ with Rebekah, as Fox translates the verb.  Abimelech restrains his sexual advances on Rebekah in favour of the intercourse of trade, and directs Philistines to do the same. The story also flows into an etiological land claims legend of a well near Beer-sheba, long a key marker in the southern reaches of desert.  

The idea that affluence led to negotiated separation between otherwise peaceable nomadic shepherds, rather than desperate need for scarce resources, is a key reframing of the counter-narrative driven by famine.  Just as Abraham and Lot had separated to settle, so Yitzaak moves away from the Philistines.  Petty disputes over key wells, with Philistines filling or claiming sources found by Yitzaak’s herders, mark the boundaries between them.  

You can reduce these to more etiological legends about the name of Rehoboth and Beer-sheba, as they are.  This time through, more than usual, I see it as a model of negotiating boundaries with a balance of challenge and consent, between peoples who will over millennia, until now, present competing claims to the use and access to water and other resources, more than land title.

The chapter closes with a dismissive reference to Esau’s parents ruing his choice of Hittite wives, local girls, outside the ethnic groups.  The story is of intense interest over the millennia for minorities facing the existential threat of assimilation and out-marrying.  Keep trying to empathize with that unfamiliar position, despite our dominant culture’s celebration of individual freedom and romantic love over arranged marriages and pragmatic household management and succession.

The slander against Esav’s Hittite wives may also reflect, in a wider frame of reading, less-favoured alliances between Edom and Egypt.  Such east-west alliances just south of Judah in effect block trade to either the Gulf or the Red Sea, sea routes to Africa and South Asia, for Philistia dealing with the Mediterranean coastal trade route, Aram, Ammon, and Moab and the King’s Highway leading to Asia and what we call the Silk Road.


Chapter 26

Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. 
 
And Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines.
 
 2The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you.3Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfil the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.
 
 4I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, 5because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.’
 
6 So Isaac settled in Gerar. 7When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, ‘She is my sister’; for he was afraid to say, ‘My wife,’ thinking, ‘or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.’
 
 8When Isaac had been there a long time, King Abimelech of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw him fondling his wife Rebekah. 9So Abimelech called for Isaac, and said, ‘So she is your wife! Why then did you say, “She is my sister”?’ 
 
Isaac said to him, ‘Because I thought I might die because of her.’10Abimelech said, ‘What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.’ 11So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, ‘Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death.’
 
12 Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in the same year reaped a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, 13and the man became rich; he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy. 14He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him. 15(Now the Philistines had stopped up and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham.) 16And Abimelech said to Isaac, ‘Go away from us; you have become too powerful for us.’
 
17 So Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar and settled there. 18Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham; for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the names that his father had given them. 19But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, 20the herders of Gerar quarrelled with Isaac’s herders, saying, ‘The water is ours.’
 
 So he called the well Esek, because they contended with him. 
 
21Then they dug another well, and they quarrelled over that one also; so he called it Sitnah. 
 
22He moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he called it Rehoboth, saying, ‘Now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.’
 
23 From there he went up to Beer-sheba.
 
 24And that very night the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.’ 25So he built an altar there, called on the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.
 
26 Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army. 27Isaac said to them, ‘Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?’ 28They said, ‘We see plainly that the Lord has been with you; so we say, let there be an oath between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you 29so that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.’  
 
30So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths; and Isaac set them on their way, and they departed from him in peace.
 
 32That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug, and said to him, ‘We have found water!’33He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba to this day.
 
34 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah

 

Genesis 25

GENESIS: 
“The Gospel According to Torah”
Posted daily at www.hereticslikeus.com
Weekly summaries also at www.billbrucewords.com
Concurrently at www.trinityunitedkw.ca
Summer Reading 2018

YITZAAK’S TWINS
Reading Week from July 1
Garret Talk NOT July 1, but resumed Tues July 3
Genesis 19-24: Mon July 2 to Sat July 7

Monday, July 2
Genesis Chapter 25

You want to jump to the last half of this chapter – but our ‘chapter a day’ and hearing the text read by another offers you a gift first.  Abraham has a whole other wife Keturah whose lineage give us Midianites and other tribes around Canaan.  Sure, the story goes that Abraham was over 100 when Yitzaak came along, and died at 175 – but I just don’t read a factual story here.

Ishmael is here presented as the origin of Arabs (and adopted by Muslims), and Isaac is presented as the origin of Jews through his son Yaakov, and Edomites by his son Esav, this lineage of Keturah places Midianites and other southern Canaanites.  

More striking, for those of us unfamiliar with the ‘pecking order’ among ancient tribes in the area, when Avraham dies, both Ishmael (who will live to a ripe old 136) and Yitzaak together bury him beside Sarah.  This reinforces the ancestral claim to Mamre, Machpelah, Hebron – key turf in all times.  Too few Christians recognize that  brotherhood of Jews and Arabs in the Torah scroll!  

Abraham buried in Hebron in the Mamre gravesite, and we rehearse the 12 sheiks and tribes of Ishmael, mirror to the 12 tribes of Jacob Israel yet to come!  What tribe is ours, as Christian readers?  Like Avraham, we claim God not just through our ancestors, but by our own choice and claim of the covenant word.

Rebekah’s twins, fighting in her womb, and born Esau first, red-haired, and Jacob heel-grabbing second.  They come of age, hunter outdoorsman Daddy’s boy, quiet man in tents Mama’s boy, and the elder sells his birthright for some red stew.  Sure. What if you find Edom on the map, hear that it has red soil, and blocks the trade routes south to the sea from Judea?  

Chapter 25

Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah.
 
 2She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.
 
5Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. 6But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, while he was still living, and he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastwards to the east country.
 
7 This is the length of Abraham’s life, one hundred and seventy-five years. 8Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.
 
 9His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah. 
 
11After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.
 
12 These are the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slave-girl, bore to Abraham. 13These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17(This is the length of the life of Ishmael, one hundred and thirty-seven years; he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria; he settled down alongside all his people.
 
19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 
 
21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord.23And the Lord said to her,

‘Two nations are in your womb,
   and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
   the elder shall serve the younger.’ 


24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
 
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
 
29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ 32Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ 33Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

YITZAAK’S TWINS: Reading Week from July 1

GENESIS: 
“The Gospel According to Torah”
Posted daily at www.hereticslikeus.com
Weekly summaries also at www.billbrucewords.com
Concurrently at www.trinityunitedkw.ca
Summer Reading 2018

YITZAAK’S TWINS
Reading Week from July 1
Garret Talk NOT July 1, but resumed Tues July 3
Genesis 19-24: Mon July 2 to Sat July 7

Sunday, July 01, Week 5
Sunday Summary

The middle patriarch of ‘Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’ is less familiar to us, even if we have read this book before.  The stories we get seem to feature Isaac as the character in others’ stories: how his parents’ reaction to his conception give him a name of ‘laugh’, how his father’s staff goes to fetch him a wife, how his twins fought each other and fooled him.  When we don’t get to be the hero or star of our own story, can we still have ‘agency’, or write some of the narrative, or take pride in how we contribute to others’ human nature and destiny?  I hope so, at this point in my life.  

We don’t even get a clean break from Abraham, as the J voice is old enough to want to acknowledge some Arab cousins in tribes traced through another wife Keturah (though Hagar carries the weight of mother of the 12 tribes of Ishmael) and the unnamed concubines whose kids get gifts in life, but no share of his estate or posterity.  

The account of Abe’s death, and burial by both Ishmael and Isaac, is in the much later and more ‘ecumenical’ postexilic voice of P.  The literary weight of the story putting both sons at graveside is enough for me, without historical evidence of who was interred in the one gravesite, by whom.  The recitation of the stub end of Ishmael’s line, which won’t be pursued in the chapters to come, is like anybody’s family genealogy, focusing on some lines among many mathematically possible relationships.

The crucial phrase, the ‘toledot of Yitzaak’, at 25:19, marks the next cycle in the late editorial shaping by the P voice, but most of the fun in this week’s texts comes from a lot of word play and sometimes crude humour that suggest rich oral traditions of telling these stories to personify nations, or edify hearers about human nature, as twins are hardly identical, and Mom always liked one best.  You’re dealing with a familiar bit of geography, the Gaza strip, the passes to the Gulf of Aqaba, the frontiers of the fluid borders of Judah over millennia.  

For a third and final time, (remember c.12:10-20 in the J voice, and c.20 in the E voice) we have a tradition of a patriarch cravenly calling his wife a ‘sister’ and risking her honour in the face of neighbours, this time Avimelekh, here a Philistine in Gerar, our Gaza, with the fewest lascivious details and the most civilized resolution of the 3 versions of the story, which must have more to do with patriarchy’s assumptions of the status of women as property, hard to possess exclusively in mixed company.

In the disentangling of voices, I notice that the P voice so blithely tolerant of a multi-ethnic post-exilic society still does not want a son to marry outside the ethnicity.  That’s a rich vein to mine in our own generations and the glib cosmopolitanism of affluent classes deferring or subcontracting child-rearing.  We move pretty quickly from sketching in the youthful rivalry of the twins to the morbid concern of Isaac for his mortality and legacy, developing more about the personalities and foibles of Rivkah, Esau and Jacob than about Isaac.  There is little innocence and a fair bit of shrewd duplicity here. 

Later this week, bookmark the maps in your bible, or online – the narratives of motive and character are great, but the dream at Bethel as Jacob runs north is a mix of J voice and E voice, and the shrine as a centre of northern devotion is a very big deal.  In turn, the territories associated with each of the 4 mothers and the 12 sons who stand in for tribes are as clear in original hearers minds as the provinces of Canada are in ours.  Victoria, Alberta, and Regina tie our dominion to a Victorian heritage, layered onto any number of first nations names now being reclaimed.

Anyhow, here’s hoping your eyes won’t glaze over during the enumeration of proper names and nouns – we’ll pick it apart day by day, I hope.

Monday January 30: Chapter 25
You want to jump to the last half of this chapter: Rebekah’s twins, fighting in her womb, and born Esau first, red-haired, and Jacob heel-grabbing second.  They come of age, hunter outdoorsman Daddy’s boy, quiet man in tents Mama’s boy, and the elder sells his birthright for some red stew.  Sure. What if you find Edom on the map, hear that it has red soil, and blocks the trade routes south to the sea from Judea?  

Back up to the original balance of the chapter before Sunday School selections, and you see a whole ‘nother wife Keturah whose lineage give us Midianites and other tribes around Canaan, Abraham buries in Hebron in the Mamre gravesite, and we rehearse the 12 sheiks and tribes of Ishmael, mirror to the 12 tribes of Jacob Israel yet to come!

Tuesday January 31: Genesis Chapter 26
Déjà vu all over again, eh?  Isaac’s famine pushes him southwest to offer up his wife to Philistine Abimelech as his ‘sister’.  Just as with Abraham’s surrender of Sarah, this is no family values role model, but a tale of living as resident aliens among more powerful locals.  It’s a pretty positive view of Philistines as patrons, not enemies – and a pretty sophisticated reflection on sex and power.  It also flows into an etiological land claims legend of a well near Beer-sheba.  The chapter closes with a dismissive reference to Esau’s parents ruing his choice of Hittite wives, local girls, outside the ethnic groups, threatening assimilation.

Wednesday February 1: Genesis Chapter 27
Here’s another deceptively familiar day and chapter, reciting the Sunday School tale of Jacob taking a blessing from Isaac: deceit and deception, aided and abetted by Rebekah.  Esau the elder was due the blessing from Isaac, but the old guy is blind enough and deaf enough to fall for the trickster’s charade in place of his brother.  Esau gets a consolation prize, exiled from good land to martial freedom – the identity of Edom the nation south of Israel.  Esau won’t kill his brother pending mourning for their father, and Rebekah uses the time to orchestrate Jacob’s flight to Haran, away to the old country, like Michael Corleone hiding out in Sicily, to avoid the consequences of his deception – and to avoid marrying a Canaanite or Hittite local girl.  

Thursday February 2: Chapter 28
Isaac sends Jacob off to Syria, to the cousins up north and east, hoping that he’ll someday return to claim the land promised to Abraham, where Isaac lived as resident alien, rather than surrendering the emigrant’s dream.  Esau tries to please the clan by marrying a daughter of Ishmael, at least a branch of Abraham’s toledot, to join his harem.  Meanwhile, Jacob has his dream, another familiar Sunday School tale, in the north, at Bethel.  It’s another etiological legend about ‘bet-el’, house of God, the competing shrine in the north to Jerusalem’s temple in the south – and introduces tithes, giving 10% of wealth to God, beyond basic circumcision.

Friday February 4: Genesis Chapter 29
Déjà vu or echoes, just as Isaac got a wife in the old country so Jacob gets his.  These still are not moral models of incestuous inbreeding with cousins, but crucial narratives of the toledot, setting us up for Jacob as patriarch with 12 sons from 4 mothers, Israel a nation claiming territory of 12 tribes.  Good land and bad land, near to Jerusalem heartland or out at the frontiers, is implicitly ranking the tribes.   It’s like that T-shirt: ‘Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite!’  The most beloved Rachel is mother to Joseph and Benjamin.  Steady, faithful Leah bears the solid set of ‘home counties’.  The outlier tribes and territories are attributed to the ‘maids’ – take a look at the maps, and think about Newfie jokes, western alienation, or northern hinterlands. Or enjoy the romantic tale of a man loving sisters, if you must!

Saturday, February 4: Genesis Chapter 30
Keep reading the romance and intrigues of life in the harem if you prefer.  The ‘maids’ bear sons who will be ‘fathers’ of the coastal and northern hinterland tribes.  There’s a strange tale of aphrodisiac and fertility remedy mandrake plants resulting in Leah’s 5th and 6th sons, and daughter Dinah. Once Joseph is born in the old country, Jacob starts lobbying Laban to let him re-emigrate with his flocks, tricking his uncle who had tricked him, with animal husbandry and breeding strong striped animals for himself.  Do we tell the story of immigration as ‘those with get up and go, got up and went’, or as ‘bring me your tired… huddled’ refugee charity? 

Genesis 24

AVRAM, ISHMAEL, YITZAAK
Saturday June 30:
Chapter 24

This is a long chapter, recounting the elaborate story of how Abraham sent his servant to fetch Isaac a wife Rebekah, lest he either marry a local Canaanite, or return to Haran from which Abraham had emigrated.   It suggests deep roots in oral histories.  On the other hand, in the formula ‘Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’, this middle guy doesn’t get much ink!

We are appalled, culturally, by the perception that Rebekah was simply property to be bought for one man from another.  The theme in context here is again about immigrants’ temptations of assimilation on one hand, and return to the ‘old country’ on the other to intermarry and honour the legacy and lineage.

In another week, we’ll have to compare and contrast Yaakov’s repetition of this trip back north to Haran, Syria or Turkey, to win wives from Laban.  For today, the chamberlain of the sheik is sent to fetch a strategic partner, and we might imagine the diplomatic management of royal marriages with political implications.  Gender roles might be more complex than ‘women as property’, related to tribal management, and this trip more like corporate headhunting for the C-suite than like human trafficking for brothels.  

Enjoy the story, which will take more of your 5 to 10 minutes today.  Don’t miss, near the end in v.68, that Rebekah’s family want to keep her as betrothed for 10 days (or 10 years) as a treaty promise, but not a hostage.  It’s Rebekah herself who takes on the risk of going to Canaan.
 

Genesis 23

AVRAM, ISHMAEL, YITZAAK
Friday June 29:
 Chapter 23


Here’s another land claim, this time to Hebron.  We are getting the idea, that over 4 millennia, people have been refugees, resident aliens, citizens or occupiers of this same geographic turf.  Who gets to claim ‘legitimate’ land title, not simply personal rights to occupy the land?

The names change over millennia.  Kiriath-arba is an old name.  Machpelah and the ‘oak of Mamre’ will recur.  Hebron has modern resonance.  Sarah’s death and burial in this key locality expresses the antiquity of the biblical claim to this part of the land of Canaan.  It will later be David’s base in the hills, in the first 7 years of his insurgency before he moved to Jerusalem for 33 years. 

The tale this time reflects some elaborate Oriental courtesies, as Abraham tries to buy land, declines to accept it as a favour, insists on paying and haggles a price.  The price is extravagant – perhaps less deniable.  The reference to ‘the merchant’s rate’ in silver comes from Babylonian language.   This key text has signs of the deeper Jahweh God source or voice, right through to the Priestly voice with concern for years, and Babylonian diction. 

In the end, this account justifies millennia of Jewish claims to Hebron’s heights as ancestral home.  Where are your people buried?  What is the basis of your land claim to your home – and how would first nations folks hear your claims?  How do ‘Crown Land’ claims hold up in the face of First Nations title?

Notice how the Hittites, and Ephron in particular, are happy to grant Abraham the privilege of burying his wife as a favour – but resist actually selling the title to the land.  Our language distinguishes between ‘rights’ and ‘’privileges’, ‘prohibitions’ or ‘permissions’, ‘hard lines’ and ‘concessions’ toward refugees, migrants, and legal residents of nations states.  Can you tour your ancestors’ graves?
 

Genesis 22

AVRAM, ISHMAEL, YITZAAK
Thursday June 28: 
Chapter 22

Abraham, who has appeared to abandon his son Ishmael to die of thirst, is now instructed to surrender his son Yitzaak.  This is pretty traumatic stuff, associated with child sacrifice.  

Muslims, as noted yesterday, connect Mecca and Kaabah, and end Ramadan with Eid al Fitr, then observe Eid al Adha, to celebrate this miraculous deliverance.  The broad Islamic tradition varies in observation and interpretation, but generally, affirms that Ishmael was told of the proposed sacrifice, and agreed to submit before God relented.

In Jewish tradition, the festival is called Akedah.  This biblical narrative of Isaac not knowing his father’s plan,but delivered by God’s intervention at the brink of execution, and provision of a ram in place of the son, is familiar to us.  The broad Jewish tradition includes varying assessments of God’s intent, whether it was a test, what virtues are affirmed.

Christians tell the story in the shadow of the cross, the assertions that God’s own son was sacrificed.  Hebrews pursues that reflection directly, and we join in the Muslim and Jewish ethical reflection of the implications of a call to submit.

Replay it a few times today, and wonder what it means about offering up your dearest.  What surrenders are faithful, and what sacrifices offend our narcissistic age?  

We’ll finish today’s chapter with the stuff you usually skip over, the toledot or begatitudes of Nahor.  Can you see how the lineage of Rebekah back up in Haran is relevant to the toledot of the patriarchs?  Can you see how it may not be a moral tale promoting incestuous marriages, but a way of describing the shared and separate roots of peoples? 
 

Genesis 21


AVRAM, ISHMAEL, YITZAAK
Wednesday June 27:
Chapter 21

The main voice of this chapter continues to be the Elohist, but opens with a bit of a visible editorial seam, first from the Jahweh God source affirming Sarah’s conception as fulfilled promise, and from the Priestly editorial voice noting God’s scheduling control, circumcision, and the age of Abraham as centenarian.

Once introduced, the story quotes a couple of old sayings in v.6 and v.7, revisiting the wordplay of ‘laughing’ connected to ‘Yitzaak’ – not just the Jahweh God allegation that Sarah laughed at the divine prediction of geriatric birth.  

Once 2 babies are playing in the same camp, Sarah’s Jealous protection of her son’s rights against Hagar’s Ishmael escalates.  The older Aramaic Masoretic translation from Hebrew does not name Yitzaak in this narrative, but the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate translation adds the name to the end of v.9.

Sarah tells Abraham to throw out slave Hagar and her son Ishmael, and Abraham resists till God reassures him directly, personally and privately as Elohim does in dreams and visions and messengers.  God has great plans for Yitsaak, but also for Ishmael. 

God shows mercy where Sarah denies it, and lets Abraham supply the child Ishmael with bread and water.  When that runs out, Hagar despairs and leaves the child to die in the desert.  Here she finds a well, and relieves Ishmael.  Islamic traditions tell the story with Ishmael digging to find the well, and later marking the event by building with his father Ibrahim around 2000BCE, now the site of Mecca and the Kabah.

Ishmael’s people in Genesis live in the Paran wilderness to the south of Beer-sheba, on the way to Arabia, with an Egyptian wife. Beer-sheba stands in relation between Arab and Jews as a frontier town, and we close with another etiological legend about Abimelech ceding the well to Abraham – though Abraham lives in Gaza as a resident alien. 

What do you make of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ of Arabs and Israelis, Saudi or Egyptian, Christian or Muslim, in our day?  We claim these stories and load them with a lot of freight!
 

Genesis 20

AVRAM, ISHMAEL, YITZAAK
Tuesday June 26: 
Chapter 20

Yes, this story sounds familiar, yet strange.  It was already told about Avram and Sarai  in Egypt! Go back to chapter 12:10-20, the Jahweh God version, with Pharaoh showering Avram with gifts, and letting the gifts go when plagues result from Pharaoh marrying Sarai. 

This one is attributed to the voice in Torah that calls God ‘Elohim’, associated with the northern prophetic traditions of Israel, and nomadic tribes settling in Ephraim, as distinguishable for the old Jahweh God roots of agrarian roots.  There is lots of justification, dream revelation, and the use of ‘Elohim’.

This time, we’re down in the Negev when the ‘she’s just my sister’ ruse is proposed.  It’s explicit that Abraham fears being murdered by host Abimelech as a means to take over Abraham’s clan and wife.  We’re not fans of honour and shame ethics in a patriarchal clan culture – but what’s transferable about keeping your integrity and culture when you are a minority culture?  

Our generation has begun a great experiment of intercultural living, beyond assimilation into WASP Christendom.  We remain proud of our liberal support for individual freedom to choose intermarriage beyond our ethnic subculture.  We have not yet engaged the legitimacy of communities’ incentives and discouragement of out-marriage, in terms of social coercion and sanctions.

Think perhaps of religious schooling, social services and supplementary health care, being permitted or provided tax relief or direct support from the public purse.  In the current election cycle, grants for student summer jobs in agencies opposing birth control choice, or sex education in schools, are hot buttons.  Is it more threatening if a religious patriarch/priest/imam runs the show, or if it’s all framed as ‘our sisters and their children’ in the border detention camps?

The Elohist God intervenes in dreams, (and often through angels) – and Abimelech, once warned off his good faith betrothal to Sarah, is scared by the divine warning and threat.  This Abraham quibbles that Sarah is ‘technically’ his relation through his father….

Poor Abimelech.  Here comes this Avraham and his family.  Abimelech takes Sarah in good faith as his wife – and everything goes wrong.  This ‘take my wife, please’ routine will be repeated, with less mincing around Avraham’s defence of his ruse.  This time through, try it as a tale of immigration and settlement of two peoples in one land.  

Assimilation is not the biblical option, rather peaceful coexistence where good fences make good neighbours, and the peoples are rarely equal in power.  I think of Abimelech as an early liberal, abusing his power, not even aware of it - but Avraham is no moral titan either, eh?  Sarah is left to bear the burden of the worst role. Imagine the tragic choices of racialized and cultural minority mothers and then start recognizing them all around us!

Genesis 19


AVRAM, ISHMAEL, YITZAAK
Monday June 25: 
Chapter 19

Two angels greet Lot.  (The text assumes you remember the end of chapter 18 on Saturday, where Jahweh God stayed back with Abraham to explain the plan, while the other divine visitors to Abraham and Sarah move on to Lit in Sodom.

Lot’s hospitality to the divine visitors is threatened by his neighbours’ mob, asking to ‘know’ the guests. Who or what is at risk in a violent anarchy? Lot seems to rank his guests and his own integrity as host above the physical safety of young women from his household.  How do you appease lynch plans?  

What’s the sin of Sodom?  Not homosexuality!  How quickly the mob turns to xenophobic slander against Lot.  He’s an immigrant himself, with no rights to set the rules for the nativist.  Ask any border security proponent about who is siding with families seeking asylum in the USA these days!

Lot is snatched from the hands of the mob by the divine visitors, and they blind the mob members to disable their attack.  For anybody standing up to a mob, it’s a reassuring fable in response to a scary reality.  What happens to allies?

Lot’s clan is saved from the brimstone shower, though they have failed to save the city – but Lot’s wife wavers and looks back.  That appeals to our relentlessly forward-looking amnesiac culture.    Keep your head down, and keep plodding.

Go to your maps, and suss out the etiological legends operating here, rather than seeking moral role models: the Dead Sea, the barren wastes, are the putative sites of these cities.  Don’t be like Sodom – or at least be like Lot.

The surviving ‘children’ of the lost city are insulted as the incestuous offspring of Lot’s daughters raping him in a drunken stupor: Moabites and Ammonites, in the Transjordan, east of the Dead Sea.
 

AVRAM, ISHMAEL, YITZAAK Reading Week from June 24

Sunday, June 24, Week 4. 
This summary gets a bit ahead of our daily reading.  Strictly, the key ‘toledot’ formula in chapter 25 next Monday announces the begettings of Isaac in c.25, and of Ishmael in c.36, to mark the last blocks of Genesis. The cycle of Joseph stories dominates the later narrative, though, till the family gathered for Jacob’s ‘Godfather’ style deathbed blessing of each of 12 sons of 4 mothers, anticipating the rest of Torah.  Is Joseph not a ‘patriarch’, or does he define ‘us’ differently?

The phrase ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’ is often repeated in scripture and tradition.  As I quoted, being a ‘monotheist’ is a bit like a monarchist.  It rules out various alternatives types of government – but begs the question of which one God, until this kind of naming is added.  I claim to believe and be in covenant relationship, and follow the same God as did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I claim to believe, belong, and behave as a child of the patriarchs.  There is no genetic claim, no geography in common. 

This week, we read the second half of the cycle of Avram / Abraham.  The fulfillment of the promise has been long delayed, from ‘get up and go’, ‘lech lecha’, through Haran and Egypt and back to Canaan, through the birth of Ishmael and the conception of Isaac.  This week’s cycle starts with Sodom and Gomorrah, the ‘open marriage’ incident with Abimelech, child abandonment of Ishmael, child sacrifice of Isaac, burial of Sarah, then bride purchase of Rebekah.  These are not a set of morally uplifting stories of great domestic role models – so let’s hope they illuminate being one people among many peoples.

Our moralistic shallow roots in modern evangelicalism may leave us blind and deaf to this week’s portions of Torah.  Our current indiscriminate relativism is little better, in our overcompensation from that recent history of moral imperialism and theocratic assumptions in family law.  Surely there is something more going on here than anthropological surveys of old customs.  Can we find a way to read these texts as Torah, not simply halakah law, but also haggadah story, to develop our own individual and communal identities in directions that are more faithful than if we did not hear this word?

Monday June 25: Chapter 19
Two angels greet Lot.  His hospitality is spoiled by his neighbours’ mob, despite his offer of young women from his household to appease their lynch plans.  What’s the sin of Sodom?  Not homosexuality!  Lot’s clan is saved, though they have failed to save the city – but Lot’s wife wavers and looks back.  Go to your maps, and suss out the etiological legends operating here, rather than seeking moral role models: the Dead Sea, the barren wastes, are the putative sites of these cities.  Their ‘children’ are insulted as the incestuous offspring of Lot’s daughters raping him in a drunken stupor: Moabites and Ammonites, in Transjordan.

Tuesday June 26: Chapter 20
Poor Abimelech.  Here comes this Avraham and his family.  Abimelech takes Sarah in good faith as his wife – and everything goes wrong.  This ‘take my wife, please’ routine will be repeated, with less mincing around Avraham’s defence of his ruse.  This time through, try it as a tale of immigration and settlement of two peoples in one land.  Assimilation is not the biblical option, rather peaceful coexistence where good fences make good neighbours, and the peoples are rarely equal in power.  I think of Abimelech as an early liberal, abusing his power, not even aware of it - but Avraham is no moral titan either, eh?  Sarah is left to bear the burden of the worst role. Imagine!

Wednesday June 27: Chapter 21
Isaac is born, as promised, younger of Abraham’s sons, but born to Sarah the wife, not Hagar the slave.  Sarah tells Abraham to throw out Hagar, and he does – but God shows mercy where Abraham and Sarah do not, and saves the child and promises a future for Ishmael’s people, living in the wilderness to the south, with an Egyptian wife. On that frontier is Beer-sheba, and we close with another etiological legend about Abimelech ceding the well to Abraham – though Abraham lives in Gaza as a resident alien. What do you make of ‘us’ and ‘them’ today?

Thursday June 28: Chapter 22
‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am!’ ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…’  Here’s a familiar tale, of the near-sacrifice of Isaac.  Replay it a few times today, and wonder what it means about offering up your dearest.  What surrenders are faithful, and what sacrifices offend our narcissistic age?  We’ll finish today’s chapter with the stuff you usually skip over, the toledot or begatitudes of Nahor.  Can you see how the lineage of Rebekah back up in Haran is relevant to the toledot of the patriarchs?  Can you see how it may not be a moral tale promoting incestuous marriages, but a way of describing the shared and separate roots of peoples?

Friday June 29: Chapter 23
Here’s another land claim, this time to Hebron.  Sarah’s death and burial in this key locality expresses the antiquity of the biblical claim to this part of the land of Canaan.  The tale this time reflects some elaborate Oriental courtesies, as Abraham tries to buy land, declines to accept it as a favour, insists on paying and haggles a price.  In the end, this account justifies millennia of Jewish claims to Hebron’s heights as ancestral home.  Where are your people buried?  What is the basis of your land claim to your home – and how would first nations folks hear your claims?

Saturday June 30: Chapter 24
This is a long chapter, recounting the elaborate story of how Abraham sent his servant to fetch Isaac a wife Rebekah, lest he either marry a local Canaanite, or return to Haran from which Abraham had emigrated.   It has the great literary shape of oral story-telling, with repetitions – I’ve preached it here, archived at www.billbrucewords.com if you want to review the details of the story, including some challenge to the perception that Rebekah was simply property to be bought for one man from another.  The theme in context here is again about immigrants’ temptations of assimilation on one hand, and return to the ‘old country’ on the other.   

Genesis 18

BABEL to AVRAM

Saturday June 23:

Genesis Chapter 18

Here’s a folksier etiological legend of divine visitation by angels or heavenly beings, disguised as humans, to deliver the promise of Isaac, and the threat to Sodom and Gomorrah. In context this week, notice that it is not Ishmael, father of the Arabs, or of all Islam, who is cursed, but a non-existent group, once said to have lived on what are now barren lands near the Jordan!

Avraham is 99, and Sarah not much younger, and though they are generous good hosts, they can’t resist a snicker at the prediction of a baby. Contrast that message carried by the same messengers to Sodom and Gomorrah of threat, anticipating inhospitality. The Jahwist voice, or perhaps the Elohist voice, is toying with how God communicates good and bad next consequences, without becoming the distant Priestly God who does not micromanage the universe.

Avraham haggles with God through these intermediaries, on behalf of his kin Lot, to say 10 righteous could save an evil city: ours? Is it ‘viable’ to continue with a minyan of 10 believers as a congregation? Yes. I think this ability and will to ‘talk back to God’ is what God wants, from Adam and Heva, from Avraham and Sarah, and from us. Humanity too submissive, with a God too predictable, is not free, and is less than fully human.

Contrast Avraham’s extravagant generosity, delivered by Sarah with laughter, with the inhospitality to start next week in Sodom and Gomorrah, which cannot be fixed even by the terror of Lot’s daughters.

Genesis 17

BABEL to AVRAM

Friday June 22:

Genesis Chapter 17

Circumcision of adults makes some guys queasy. Surely childbirth hurts more. The meaning of each is not in the nerve cells, but in the social meaning. Consider how this story works as an explanation of the origins of defining rituals of a cultural and religious group.

After 13 years, since Ishmael was born to Hagar. Avram changes name, getting another syllable: Avraham, ancestor of a multitude. Sarai’s name changes, too, to Sarah. Ishmael comes of age as a circumcised part of the clan. Avraham will be father of many nations, Sarah will be a princess – but Ishmael too will be father of 12 princes of 12 tribes, the Arab neighbours of the Jews.

Note the promises made to Ishmael, father of 12 princes, a great nation, though the covenant promise goes to the younger one Isaac – named but not conceived yet. Now, what do you make of circumcision – which includes Ishmael? In the biblical taxonomy, we start with 12 chapters of common universal humanity, children of Adam, children of Noah, scattered from Babel. Then there are children of Avram and of Avraham, many tribes and a couple of peoples, within that Abrahamic covenant prior to Yitzaak’s covenant, and in turn Yaakov’s covenant which includes 12 tribes.

We need more familiarity with Quranic parallel stories, and Muslim traditions about Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob. They say Abraham always loved Ishmael, visited often, never renounced him as son. We will see in very few days that Ishmael returns to bury Abraham with Yitzaak. Does being ‘chosen’ necessarily mean that the other is ‘rejected’? Can the other be differently ‘chosen’ for other collective identity and legacy?

On the other hand, collective identity evidenced by a mark like circumcision is partly given, and partly chosen. It is possible for an individual to reject the collective identity and its mark, and for the group to exclude a member who refuses the marks and behaviours required by the collective group. Cultural appropriation is what we call it if an individual claims to belong, without the group confirmation. Who is black, or native, or LGBTQ?

I expect there will be more resistance to my reading of chapter 17 than of others – in church terms, we ask ‘members’: Do you want to be a member? Do you believe in God your creator, redeemer, and guide? Will you grow with this people, participating in the church’s celebration and service? Then we ask the whole congregation, hearing affirmations of all three, ‘will you welcome them?’ There are no ‘second generation Christians’ – each in turn has to claim it

Genesis 16

BABEL to AVRAM

Thursday June 21:

Genesis Chapter 16

Evidence appeared to rebut God’s promise. Sarai’s barrenness leads her to offer Hagar to bear on her behalf. There is lots of matriarchal power in womens’ role to determine legitimacy and social sanctions of recognizing rank among the children of a tribal community like this. If we can suppress our subculture’s norms, this is an expression and exercise of power by Sarai.

We likely can’t get far with this theme this year, as Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale has new life as a television series following the movies and book. We are shocked by this dystopia of the male tyranny over this dystopian Gilead, and the personal anguish of wives and of concubines. What did ancients hear?

This story says that once she had conceived, she looked upon Sarai with contempt, and it implies that Sarai looked on Hagar with envy and spite. Avram acknowledges Sarai’s power to do with Hagar as she pleases, without our sentiment of romanticized pregnancy or individual human rights. Instead, Sarai’s role in maintaining order in the household rules. Sarai abuses Hagar, and Hagar runs away.

An angelic messenger at the spring of Shur sends Sarai home, with instruction to submit to her mistress, maintaining social order. The messenger promises to Hagar, as God did to Avram, offspring too many to count. Specifically, Hagar is promised a son – though it may be qualified as a prediction of a ‘wild ass of a man’ who will be in conflict with many.

The story is summed up as an etiological legend for the place name of Beer-lahoi-roi. But the name to remember today is the baby boy: Ishmael.

This is an account of the origins of the Arabian neighbours of the bible writers. It has been adopted in the tradition of Islam as the account of Muslim origins from Avram. Barren Sarai, and fertile Hagar her slave, give more dimensions of the relationships among these peoples.

Go on back to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and “call me Ishmael”, or to Margaret Lawrence’s character Hagar Shipley in Stone Angel if you have more time! How do you construe or construct the ‘other’ – or identify as one