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“Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. “Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.” But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me.”” – Gen. 27:11-13
Rebekah has just laid out her plan to assist Jacob in obtaining the blessing instead of Esau. Jacob does not appear to be opposed to this plan at all, surprisingly, but rather, as I mentioned in my previous post, his main concerns are not getting caught, and tarnishing his reputation with his father Isaac, if he is found out. Rashi points out that the sages teach that their voices were similar (they are, after all, twins) which may explain why Jacob’s main concern is not the obvious – that his voice would give him away.
This scene, together with the scene regarding the birthright, shows us that Jacob vehemently desired the favored and sacred position of firstborn in the family, and was even willing to do questionable things to attain this.
Rebekeh’s response is likewise fascinating. Now that she knows Jacob understands her plan, and is on board with it aside from these reservations, she appeases her son by stating she will take the blame, even the curse, if they are caught. In essence, Jacob would be guilty of ‘obeying his mother’s voice’ – which in itself is an honorable thing to do.
The oracle concerning her sons’ birth – that the older will serve the younger – may have given Rebekah the confidence to move forward with this plan. Though, Everett Fox points out that after this chapter, Rebekah eerily disappears from the narrative, and her death is not specifically mentioned in the scriptures. We may have a small inkling as to her death, as when her nurse, Deborah, dies in Genesis 35:8, and it refers to her being buried underneath an oak tree which was referred to as the ‘tree of weepings’ (plural). Some scholars believe that Rebekah was buried at the same time as Deborah.
In the past two years, my study resources have greatly expanded, my writing ability (hopefully) somewhat augmented, and I have had the privilege of taking part in a Torah study at a local church. As such, I have decided to revise and further expound upon some early postings, as well as add much more commentary on Genesis 1 through 6. I have decided to back-date the postings as as not to interrupt the flow of the site while browsing. You can access the new writings via the side menu as always, or by using this shortcut:
You can now get my ongoing essays on the Book of Genesis directly in your e-mail, making it simple to share a post you like with friends and family – just enter your e-mail address using the widget on the left menu. I keep all e-mail addresses private and do not sell or share them in any way. It’s just an easy way to stay on top of my postings – they come right to you instead of having to check back to my site regularly for updates. Sign up today!
Hello dear reader,
The past year, writing this blog has been quite enjoyable for me, and I hope it has been enjoyable for you as well. On average I have updated this site every 3-4 days. Rather than come back and have to catch up on several postings, why not subscribe to know when new updates are avaiable? Just click on “Subscribe to feed” in the upper left-hand corner. This way you can get the postings in your inbox, which makes it even easier to share a post you like with friends.
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Our grandfather Adam was given blessing through no merit of his own; he was created by God, and placed in the perfect beauty of God’s garden in complete innocence. There was never a time when Adam did not know God. Noah, on the other hand, was found to be a righteous man who walked with God, and thus preserved humanity through the flood. The recorded interaction between God and Noah occurs when Noah is 600 years old. The beginning of Abram’s story is different still.
Abram was not born into an ideal situation such as Adam; nor was he referred to as righteous in the eyes of God like Noah initially. Abram was born in Ur of the Chaldeans, an idolatrous land, with a father who practiced idolatry (Joshua 24:2). And though Abram was 75 years old when our story starts, he has not at this point proven himself righteous as far as we know, but rather he receives a seemingly random calling from God, along with promises for following that calling. Though it is somewhat late in his life (as life spans have been drastically since both the flood and the dispersion) Abram is just beginning a new journey by this calling of God.
There is a strong thread of consistency among the stories of Adam, Noah and Abram: Request for Obedience. Adam with the single command not to eat of the fruit, Noah to build the ark in light of the coming judgment, and Abram to simply “go”. Adam was given his command with the simple instruction that if he failed to obey he would surely die, though we don’t know if Adam had a full comprehension of how God meant it. With Noah, the commands given were extremely specific for the building of the ark, and God chose to reveal information about his coming judgment in detail to Noah as well, though God does not give much detail about the end result of the flood, other than everything and everyone being dead. Noah himself isn’t specifically told he will survive.
With Abram, it is a simple , though difficult, calling: to go. Where? “To the land which I will show you” (Gen. 12:1) Why? No specific reason is given as to why Abram should go at this point; only promises given by God concerning future blessings if he obeys. God asked Abram to do three things, (really just one – to leave) and offered 7 promises in return for obedience. These promises are very large in scope and borderline unbelievable to a 75 year old man, and are, in a sense, a revelation hinging upon his obedience. To be made into a nation? Divine protection and blessings? And then when Abram takes that step and goes to Canaan, God adds another promise “To your descendants I will give this land.” How? The text tells us just before this that “the Canaanite was in the land.”
The revelation of these promises to Abram of a bright and wonderful future are in stark contrast to the revelation of utter destruction given to Noah with no certain promise concerning the future. In all, a cycle is formed: Through Adam, a beginning; through Noah, a judgment and ending; and through Abram, yet a new beginning. Thus, through the righteous, the chosen are saved. Righteous Noah acted as a savior for the people and animals from Adam until now that God had chosen. In a spiritual interpretation, we see Jesus as the righteous savior, saving the chosen children of faith of Abraham.
“You shall make the altar of acacia wood…you shall make its horns on its four corners;” Exodus 27:1-2
We may not think much about the altar in today’s modern world where sacrifices are no longer taking place. We may not even recall the description given to build an altar having “horns” on it. What were the “horns” of the altar for?
“The priest shall also put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense which is before the LORD in the tent of meeting; and all the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.” Leviticus 4:7
The horns may have been used to tie down the sacrifice. They were also smeared with blood as part of the sacrificial rite. Additionally, the horns of the altar became known as a place of temporary refuge for a criminal based on the text from Exodus 21:13-14.
How important was the altar? Judaism revolved around it. Without the altar, there can be no sacrifice. Without sacrifice, there can be no atonement. Without atonement there can be no reconciliation with God. The portable altar was part of the tabernacle that traveled with the Israelites while they were semi-nomadic, and later altars were made more permanent when the temple was erected. Since the last temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Roman army, no atoning sacrifice can be made by a high priest on behalf of the Jews. And since the Jews would insist upon any new temple being rebuilt in the same place as the previous temples, a logistical problem presents itself; modern Israel harbors a litany of holy sites for all three Abrahamic and monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity/Catholicism and Islam. As Islam recognizes Abraham as well, they have since laid claim to the temple mount, which was the original location where Abraham was prepared to offer his son to God (many Moslems believe Ishmael was the son offered, whereas the Jews and Christians believe it was Isaac.) Today this holy site is known as the Dome of the Rock, and it is the prominent golden dome you see in most pictures of Jerusalem.
Viewing several pictures of ancient altars quickly evoked imagery in my mind of two things; a king’s crown, as well as the crown of thorns placed on Jesus prior to His crucifixion. As a Christian I truly believe Jesus was the ultimate atoning sacrifice, and as He is known to me as both Jesus and God incarnate, it would only be fitting for Him alone to be able to fulfill the role of both altar and sacrifice. Was not the sacrificial blood upon those thorns on His head? Was His blood not poured out at his feet, at the base of the cross? Is Jesus not where we bring our spiritual sacrifices and offerings? Is Jesus not the one we come to for refuge when we know we are guilty? Does He not provide it?
And just as the altar and sacrifice were critical to Judaism, Jesus, the Christ, is both our altar and sacrifice today and forever.
Sarai was barren; she had no child. Gen. 11:30
Sarai is the first mention of a barren woman in scripture. We know she ultimately has a child, but until that time she was barren. The curious thing about this condition is that it prevents a woman from completely enduring the curse that God proclaimed back in the garden on Eve. (Gen. 3:16) At the same time, not all women have children or even attempt to. So it would seem they avoid this part of the curse by their choices. Any truly barren woman however need not take such pains to avoid it.
There are interesting parallels that can be drawn of the people from Nimrod’s time and the people of today. Men – cities and countries of men – are largely godless and continually strive to make a name for themselves. A modern-era example in America would be the NASA space program. The primary purpose of the government space program may be scientific, yes; but consider the great propulsion of national pride behind it. The desire to ‘make a name for ourselves’ as evidenced by the space race. Another example may be the current trend of places like Dubai and their extreme expenditure of wealth, largely for pleasure-oriented things.
And as for solidarity, on the level of the country we speak of things like the missle shield for protection, whereas at the planet-level we dream of a future asteroid shield to save us from a life-ending threat. You could view this as our fear of being ‘scattered’. And as we live in a day and age where almost the entire world is interconnected and globalized, even among warring nations there remains a general concern for the overall safety and survival of humankind from global extinction and even large scale catastrophes. We are willing to band together, and have a strong desire to do so in times of crisis or perceived crisis. This trait of humanity itself is not bad or sinful; it merely shows the face of fear in the people, and counter to that, their hope and determination that they can and will overcome whatever the threat is.
The problem with this behavior during Nimrod’s time was that God had promised the man Noah, and his children just two generations ago, after the flood, that He would not flood the earth or destroy every living thing again. God also acknowledged the inherent wicked tendencies of mankind, and still purposed not to destroy us. He even blessed Noah and his children. And so rather than live in the comfort of those promises of God, the people of Nimrod’s time showed by their actions that they either did not know God or they did not trust God and instead saw Him as an enemy in some way. This is much like the people of today, thousands of years later. Many do not know God, and many who believe in him choose not to worship him over our human-based emotional concerns, not realizing that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways our not our ways (Isaiah 55:8).
It is intriguing to me how the opinion of antiquity was that Nimrod incited the people to war against God, seeking revenge for the flood (though it is not strongly alluded to in the text.) Even if they did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, the sages of old could not deny the parallels of their understanding with what ultimately plays out at the end, which had the same general cause behind it: The people being incited against God:
“When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” (Rev. 20:7-9)
What destruction must have been seen by the eyes of Noah upon looking out the lone window of the ark! How drastically the landscape would have changed! Were all the bodies washed away, or were they scattered about, up on rooftops even? Were there any buildings left standing at all? Josephus’ account reads as if Noah and his descendants were so terrified of the aftermath of the flood that fear is what drove Noah to make offerings to God, to entreat Him not to destroy the earth with a flood again. The scriptural account in 8:20-22 does show that after Noah’s offering, God does state that He will not in fact destroy the earth in such manner in the future, though I think Noah’s survival of the flood alone would have been cause enough to offer sacrifice. Josephus does offer some potentially interesting insight into this time after the flood and leading up to the Tower of Babel however.
In Genesis 8:1, the scripture says that when God remembered Noah that He caused a wind to pass over the earth to cause the floodwater to subside. The same Hebrew word for “wind” (“ruwach”) in this verse is that same word used in Genesis 1 for the “Spirit of God” that is moving over the face of the waters. Some have also noted other parallels between the story of creation (as the building up) and the flood (as the tearing down of creation), and then other parallels as the flood ends, such as Genesis 1:9 “let the dry land appear” to 8:5 “the tops of the mountains became visible”; God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” in both Genesis 1:28 and again in 8:17. A sort of “re-creation” perhaps.
It is baffling to me that scientists and historians today who are not of a persuasion of faith outright deny the possibility of a large, catastrophic flood in the past. I suppose the geological evidence could be confusing and possibly not cut-and-dry (or else there probably wouldn’t be such doubt about the flood in the first place) however something that cannot be ignored is the veritable mountain of written evidence of such a flood. And I’m not simply referring to many copies of the Hebrew scriptures.
It may come as a surprise to those reading, but the biblical account of Noah’s flood is not the only account of a flood story. Some may have also heard of the Epic of Gilgamesh as well (see below for more on this story), but in addition, there are probably in excess of 100 written stories of a great flood from a great number of peoples, countries and continents that have emerged over the years. This alone would seem enough evidence that some great flood occurred, since almost every ancient culture had their own written version of it.
One may question if the flood really killed everyone but Noah and his family if so many accounts exist, however it seems just as plausible that an event of such magnitude would have been noteworthy and therefore preserved and passed down through the generations after Noah’s children. We must also remember that one of the next major events in scripture was the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel. This could explain why a flood story exists in so many different languages – the story would have been passed down beyond Noah’s children and captured in whatever language they spoke.
There are, of course, differences in the flood stories. Some are quite long, some short; many are written as if fictional, involving gods such as those of the Greeks and Romans, or characters such as Gilgamesh who are half-divine, but the basic elements of the accounts are similar in that they involve a large flood that kills many with only few survivors, the flood being brought on by God (or gods) and a hero or survivor of the story.
As for the Epic of Gilgamesh, many assume Gilgamesh was the equivalent of Noah’s character. Gilgamesh is a king however – not the person who actually endures the flood. The plot of the story isn’t even the flood itself, but rather Gilgamesh loses his best friend, and then becoming very afraid to die, he seeks a way to eternal life. He has heard of an individual who survived the great flood brought by the gods before his time, named Ut-Napishtim (which we would equate to Noah) and seeks him out to know how he can live forever as well. There are varying accounts of this story and some do not get into much detail about Ut-Napishtim’s character, so you may want to research what is available if you decide to pick up a copy at your local bookstore.