JEF Sunday School Lesson 10

February 26, 2006 | 51 comments
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Lesson 10: Genesis 24-29

I will concentrate my questions on Genesis 25:19-34 and 27:1-45, and I will add Genesis 33:1-20 to the reading because I think it rounds out the story of Genesis 27.

Chapter 25

Verse 19: We expect a genealogy to follow when we are told, “these are the generations of so-and-so,” but here none follows. What meaning does the word “generations” have in this verse? Does that tell us anything about the usual meaning of genealogy? Does it add any depth to our understanding of genealogy? The form of this genealogy is unusual in that it first mentions Isaac and then goes back to Abraham, his father rather than going immediately to Isaac’s descendants. How would you explain this unusual form?

Verse 20: Why do you think the writer mentions Isaac’s age when he married? Why is it important that Bethuel and, therefore, also Rebekah and Laban, were Syrian? (See also Deuteronomy 26:5.)

Verse 22: Rebekah is having a difficult pregnancy and asks, “If this is the way it is, why am I here?” In other words, “Why do I continue to live?” Though many pregnant women have asked this question, perhaps all and especially those with multiple babies, her case is different: she asks the Lord about it and receives an answer. Compare Genesis 27:46. What do you make of the similarity of the complaint? Is it significant that Isaac intreated the Lord for his wife because she was not conceiving, but that she goes to the Lord for herself about the difficulty of her pregnancy?

Verse 23: The answer has the form of a poem:

Two nations are in thy womb,
and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels;
and the one people shall be stronger than the other people;
and the elder shall serve the younger

Does seeing this as a poem tell us anything about what the Lord has said to Rebekah? Do you think that Rebekah understood what this poem meant until later? If so, how? If not, why was she given this answer when she asked? If we did not already know what is going to happen, we could understand the first line as a repetition of the Abrahamic blessing. The second line is more specific, but “two people” could be the descendants of one child, so it still does not necessarily tell Rebekah that twins will be born. Also, wordplay seems to be at work here (though almost certainly a wordplay that Rebekah would not have understood or perhaps even noticed): the word for “shall serve” (more literally translated “will be a slave of”) rhymes with “Jacob” and has the same three consonants; the Hebrew word for “younger” may be a word play on one of the names for Esau, Edom. If Rebekah didn’t understand this wordplay, what is its point? We do not know whether traditional Jewish inheritance laws applied in Isaac’s time, but many interpreters assume that they did. According to those laws (see Deuteronomy 21:17), the eldest son got two shares of the inheritance (birthright) and each other son got one share. But that could be changed if the father desired. Since the Lord could control birth order, why do you suppose he arranged things in this way, a way contrary to what would be expected? Why do you suppose the younger brother so often is the leader in both scripture and Church history?

Verse 25: David, too, was described as reddish or ruddy. (See 1 Samuel 16:12 and 17:42.) Is that significant? Here is another wordplay: “reddish” is a wordplay on “Edom,” in other words, Esau. In the ancient Near East, hairiness was considered to be, by itself, a sign of being uncivilized. What is the writer doing by giving us this detail?

Verse 26: Though the name “Jacob” seems to mean something like “May God protect,” since it sounds like the word for “heel” in Hebrew, the writer uses that play on words to make his point. Why does the writer do this, make up an etymology for the word “Jacob”?

To understand the Old Testament we must gain a taste for such plays on word and puns and for things like patterns of speech, etymologies (true or false), parallels, the forms of story, and the idea that an event can be both real and symbolic. Those kinds of textual matters and attitudes are generally overlooked, thought inconsequential, thought of as secondary traits (“only metaphor”), or denied by those of us brought up on the kind of thought that has been the norm in European and American cultures since about 1500. That isn’t how we write history. However, when we overlook them, think them insignificant or merely secondary, or deny them, we are insisting that the writers of the Old Testament must have (or should have) thought like us and that they must have (or should have) written as we would have written. That is arrogance, an attitude that will cause us to read things into the Old Testament that are not there and to overlook important things the writers included. We need to practice reading the scriptures as the writers wrote them rather than as we would have written them. If we are to read what they wrote literally—in other words, as they wrote it and for what the text itself says (rather than for what it would say if it were understood as a modern text, as a transcription of a video recording)—then we cannot insist on reading it in our terms and with our methods.

Why do you think Moses and the other Old Testament writers were interested in puns and plays on words, etc.? Why does the verse tell us Isaac’s age when Esau and Jacob were born? What do we see by comparing what we learn here about Isaac’s age with what we learn about it in verse 21?

Verse 27: What is the contrast between the two brothers? Why might this contrast be included in the story? Specifically, what do the words “cunning” and “simple” show us? Is it significant fact that Esau liked the outdoors and Jacob preferred to stay around the tents? Does the contrast between these two brothers teach us anything about either them or ourselves? The word translated “simple” is problematic. The most natural translation is “perfect,” but that seems unlikely, even if we understand “perfect” as discussed in Lesson 6 http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2891. (Note, however, that the Hebrew word for “perfect” here is not the same as that in Genesis 6:9.)

Verse 28: Isaac prefers Esau because Esau provides the food he likes; Rebekah loves Jacob. Why aren’t we told the reason for Rebekah’s preference?

Verse 29: “Sod” means “made.” Pottage isn’t anything in particular. It just means “something boiled in a pot.” Later we learn that it is red (verse 30) and then that it is a lentil stew (verse 34), though lentils would probably not make the stew red. Why do you think that this verse gives us no details when it describes the stew, though the details are given later? Why was Esau faint, in other words, exhausted? Here “field” does not mean a cultivated field, but the open country side.

Verse 30: The Hebrew says something like: “Let me swallow [a formal word rather than an ordinary one] some of that red stuff.” What does this show us about Esau? Why do you suppose the story emphasizes the word “red”? Esau is red, he asks for red pottage, the word “Edom” is a play on the word for red (as is the name “Adam”). What might that color be here to indicate?

Verse 31: Esau has said “please” (verse 30), but Jacob’s response is curt: Sell me your birthright right now.” What do you make of this difference in the way the two brothers speak to each other?

It is tempting for us to moralize at this point, trying to decide whether Jacob was right to ask for the birthright, especially since almost all readers know what is going to happen in a chapter or two. But is Moses interested in the moral question? Rather than asking about what we are interested in, we should ask, “What does the story itself tell us to look at and think about, above and beyond what we are interested in?” It isn’t that we can’t discuss the morality of what occurs. Neither is it that we can’t have sympathy for Esau. Though he portrays Esau as uncouth, Moses clearly has sympathy for him. (See, for example, Genesis 27:33 and 27:38, where Esau is portrayed very sympathetically.) Other biblical writers are also sympathetic to Esau. (See, for example, Hosea 12:2-3 and perhaps Jeremiah 9:3). However, we don’t want to get so involved in those aspects of the story that we miss its real point.

What is the real point of this story? What does it tell us about the lives and blessings of Jacob and Esau? What does it tell us about these events from Jacob’s point of view? from Esau’s? Word Biblical Commentary (2:178) suggests that the word translated “right of the firstborn” (bkrh) is an anagram of the word that we translate “blessing” (brkh). If that is right, there is another wordplay at work here. What could the writer be doing with that wordplay?

Verse 32: How seriously should we take Esau’s statement that he is about to die? Is there anything in the story that will help us decide whether he is actually on the verge of death or whether he is just exaggerating because he is hungry? How does what we say in answer to this question affect what we take to be the meaning of the last half of this verse? Can you think of any reasons why Esau might have thought that his birthright was of no value to him? Does the contrast between Esau and Jacob that we saw in verse 27 help us understand what is going on here?

Verse 33: Jacob responds with what is, in Hebrew, a three-word reply that we can represent as “swear to-me now.” Why is everything that Jacob says in this story so curt? There are traditional Jewish stories that say the birthright was represented by a holy garment of skins (the garment given to Adam, the garment Noah was not wearing when Ham mocked him). If we accept those stories, what might we infer about the transaction between Esau and Jacob?

Verse 34: It is possible to interpret the pottage of lentils as different than the red pottage that Esau requested. (See D. Daube, Studies in Biblical Law 193-200.) In that case, Esau asks for one thing (red pottage), makes a deal for it, and gets something else (lentil pottage). What might that reading suggest about how to understand this story? Notice the terseness of “and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way.” The Hebrew is even more terse. We could translate it, “He ate, drank, got up, and went away.” What might Moses be trying to show us by writing in that way? Why does Esau, who has previously in the story been rather talkative, say nothing at all now? It is rare that the narrator in Genesis intrudes to make a point. Usually he just tells the story and does so in a way that allows the story to make its own point. Here, however, he inserts a moralizing conclusion: “So Esau showed contempt for the firstborn rights.” Why does Moses insert that comment?

Chapter 27

Verses 1-5: This is the first of five dialogues that Moses uses to tell this story. The others are verses 6-17, verses 18-29, verses 30-40, and verses 41-45. Consider studying the chapter by focusing on those five “scenes” and asking what each scene is supposed to show readers. The story in these verses is straightforward: Isaac asks Esau to prepare a meal for him and promises Esau a “deathbed” blessing. Since meat was exchanged as a symbol of ancient covenants (cf. Genesis 15:8-11, 17), the meal Isaac asks for may be symbolic of the fact that a covenant is to be established or passed on. Is it normal for the father to summon only one son for his deathbed blessing? (Compare Genesis 49 and 50:24-25.) Most other blessings to sons are given when the father knows he is going to die and as part of the preparation for death. (See, for example, Genesis 47:29 and 50:24, and Joshua 23:14.) What is the significance of the fact that Jacob says that he does not know when he will die (verse 2)? Why does Isaac add “such as I love” to his request for savory meat? Why does Isaac say “[so] that my soul may bless thee” rather than simply “so I may bless you”? What do these verses show us about Isaac’s intentions? Suppose that you had never read the Bible before and, so, did not already know the story as it will unfold. What would you think at the end of verse 5?

Verses 6-10: Here too the story is straightforward. The writer is an excellent story teller. We see Isaac’s expectations described in the first four verses of this scene, then we see the plot that is to come about in its next six verses. There aren’t going to be any surprises, so those reading the story will have to concentrate not on the ending, but on how that ending comes about and what it means to those involved. In verse 5, Esau was referred to as “his son.” In verse 6, Moses refers to Jacob as “her son.” Why does he do that? Isaac said, “that my soul may bless thee.” Why does Rebekah change that to “that I [. . .] may bless thee” (verse 7)? What is the significance of the phrase “before the Lord”? Why does Rebekah offer to prepare the stew (verse 9) rather than have Jacob prepare it, as Isaac expected Esau to do? Does what we know of Laban, Rebekah’s brother, (Genesis 24:29-31)) help us understand this story?

Verses 11-12: The culture of the Bible differs from other ancient Near Eastern cultures in that it gives more strength to the mother’s authority. Here, for example, Jacob seems genuinely torn between obeying his mother and deceiving his father. (See the inclusion of mothers also in places such as Exodus 20:12 and 21:15 and 17, as well as Proverbs 1:8 and 6:20. However, see also Numbers 30, the entire chapter.) Is Jacob torn by duty, motivated by fear, protesting insincerely, . . . ? How are we to understand what he says in these verses, and what in the text justifies your answer? Is Deuteronomy 27:18 relevant to our understanding of Jacob’s response?

Verse 13: What do we see of Rebekah here? If the blessing given to Jacob could not be changed and given to Esau, how could the hypothetical curse, had it been pronounced on Jacob, have been transferred to Rebekah? Is this merely something that Rebekah and Jacob overlook, or is her offer a rhetorical way of encouraging her son, a way of saying “That will never happen”? Rebekah says the same thing to Jacob at the beginning of verse 9 and at the end of verse 13, but she doesn’t say it in the same way. How do you explain that difference in tone?

Verses 14-17: Why do you think the writer includes so many details, many of which are repetitions of things he has already told us? Who does most of the acts in these verses, Jacob or Rebekah? What does that tell us? How does each act, with any noticeable alacrity or enthusiasm?

Verses 18-24: Which persons appear in this scene (verses 18-30)? Which do not appear? Why is the scene built in that way? Do we see Jacob hesitating here? Does that change our reading of the previous verses, or do we see that Jacob has changed? Does Isaac doubt that he’s speaking with Esau? How many proofs does he demand? Might Jacob’s three deceptions have anything to do with Peter’s denial? Is a type of some sort at work here?

Verses 26-27: What finally convinces Isaac that he is dealing with Esau? Notice how Jacob has gradually gotten closer and closer to Isaac and finally is intimately close to him. There is something very poignant about verse 27. The tension has mounted and mounted: Isaac thinks he hears Jacob, but he is told it is Esau. But he has returned from the hunt too quickly; . . . . Step-by-step we see Isaac questioning who he is dealing with, and we can imagine Jacob becoming more and more fearful that he will be exposed. Isaac feels his hands and still isn’t reassured. So he asks who he is speaking to and Jacob must lie to him if the ruse is to succeed. Isaac agrees to eat, but still seems hesitant. Finally, Isaac asks for a kiss, the final test. We can imagine how frightened Jacob must have been. But Jacob pulls it off: Isaac is finally convinced by the smell and immediately gives his blessing. Why does this ruse work when there were so many places that it could have gone wrong?

Verses 28-29: Notice the connection between Esau’s clothing (verse 27) and the blessing that follows. How would you explain the point that Isaac is making? Does that point also have relevance to Jacob? Isaac promises Jacob perhaps three things: the bounty of the earth, rulership over others, and that those who curse him will be cursed while those who bless him will be blessed. (The last of these three may not be a separate blessing. It may be a repetition of the second blessing.) Part of the first promise (“plenty of corn and wine” or “new grain and wine”) may indicate the materials used in the temple ritual. If so, the bounty of the earth includes priesthood authority. The second promise also can be construed as priesthood authority, especially in a patriarchal period. If the third promise is a separate blessing, what might it have to do with the priesthood? How does the blessing’s wording differ here from its occurrence in other places (e.g., Genesis 25:23)? Are those differences significant? Is it connected to Joseph’s dream (Genesis 37:7, 9) and the bowing that his brothers will do?

Verse 30: Why might Jacob have left so quickly after the blessing was given? Notice how Moses moves the story along: just as Isaac finishes his blessing and Jacob leaves, Esau returns. Just as we were beginning to feel some relief from the tension building up as Jacob passed the tests his father posed, just as we might have begun to feel comfortable with what has happened, Moses shifts the perspective of the story to Esau and a new tension begins to build. Now we will see Esau’s reaction.

Verses 31-33: Notice how quickly Isaac is convinced that he is indeed speaking with Esau. Does Moses want us to feel sympathy for Isaac? What makes you think he does or doesn’t? Why does Moses go to such lengths to allow us to see Esau’s and Isaac’s emotions? He doesn’t normally tell us very much at all about people’s emotions. Why is Isaac is such a panic? (The Hebrew word translated “trembled” is used to refer to the trembling associated with great fear, as in Genesis 42:28, Exodus 19:16, and 1 Samuel 21:1.) What is the significance of the end of verse 33, the last part of Isaac’s cry?

Verse 34: It is difficult to read this verse without hearing Esau’s cry. The writer portrayed Esau so unsympathetically before, why does he now portray him so sympathetically?

Verses 35-38: Can you hear the resignation in Isaac’s answer to Esau (verse 35)? What tone of voice do you imagine Esau using when he says what he says in verse 36? In verse 37 Isaac seems at a loss. He’s already given everything to Jacob. How does Esau’s tone change in verse 38? Is it the same as in verse 36? Is it the same as in verse 34? What is Esau asking about in verse 38? Do we know of other father’s deathbed blessings in which only one son was blessed or one was excluded? Does this suggest anything about Isaac and Esau’s original plan?

Verses 39-40: Esau’s blessing, too, has three parts. The first part is the almost same: the riches of the earth (but without the promise of “plenty of corn and wine,” the ritual materials that perhaps indicate priesthood and temple service). Modern commentators tend to read verse 39 privatively: these things are being taken from Esau rather than given to him; he is to become a wanderer like Cain. If that is true, what do you make of this scene? The second part of this “blessing” is the reverse of the second part of Jacob’s blessing: you will serve your brother. How can that be a blessing? How is it a blessing to serve Jacob? Given the kind of authority implied for Jacob, what kind of service might be implied for Esau? The third part is the promise that Esau will be able to throw off his brother’s yoke. The third blessing indicates that Jacob (or his descendants) will put a yoke on Esau’s neck. The yoke indicates more than just the service of a lesser brother; it indicates slavery. Thus, though Jacob has received a wonderful blessing, the blessing on Esau indicates that the authority given to Jacob and his descendants is an ambiguous one. It can be exercised unrighteously and, when it is, those over whom it is exercised unrighteously will be blessed to break that yoke off of themselves.

Verse 41: Now what is Esau’s mood? How have we seen that mood change in the last few verses? Has it shifted from one thing to another, or has it grown in generally one direction? What kind of character do we see in Esau? Why does he postpone his vengeance? What becomes of Esau’s threat? (See Genesis 33:1-15.)

Verses 42-45: If the Esau’s hatred was something that he said in his heart (verse 41), how was it reported to Rebekah (verse 42)? Once again we see resourceful Rebekah. She tells Jacob to stay with her brother a few days. How long did he end up staying (Genesis 31:38)? Why do we see no response to Rebekah by Jacob?

What might this story about Jacob, who later is called “Israel,” and his dominance over Esau have said to the nation Israel about its self-understanding? What might it say to us about our self-understanding as latter-day Israel?

Genesis 33

Verses 1-3: What do we expect to follow these verses? Does Jacob/Israel arrange his family in order of his feelings for them, with the favorites at the rear, or does he arrange them according to their birth order? (Compare Genesis 32:7-22.) Verse 3 tells us that Jacob/Israel was at the head of the procession. Does that help us decide what he is doing? Does Jacob/Israel’s bowing have anything to do with the blessing he received (Genesis 27:29)?

Verse 4: Why is this such a surprise? Has Esau changed his character, or does this show him as he was before, impulsive? Does this event change the meaning of what happened earlier? The parable that we usually refer to as that of the “prodigal son” (though it is also about a father and a second son) uses the language of this verse to describe the welcome the father has for his lost son. The language of running, embracing, falling on the neck of the other person, and weeping is common to stories of relatives meeting each other in the Bible. Does that tell us anything about the early Christian understanding of this story?

Verse 5: Some commentators have noticed that Jacob/Israel doesn’t refer to his children and other possessions as “blessings,” but as things that have come by the grace of God. (See also verses 8 and 10.) Why might Jacob emphasize grace or favor rather than blessing?

Verses 8-9: See through the formalities and customs of ancient people. What is going on here?

Verse 10: Why does Jacob/Israel allude to his experience with God here? (See Genesis 32:24-33.) In effect, he says, “Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me [as god has accepted me?], so you should accept these gifts.” How do we make sense of his comparison of his relation to his brother and his relation to God?

Verse 11: Does this verse answer the question of verse 5, about blessing and favor? Jacob/Israel says, “Take back the blessing I received because God has been gracious to me.” What point is he making?

51 Responses to JEF Sunday School Lesson 10

  1. Jonathan Green on February 26, 2006 at 9:11 am

    Jim, thanks for your notes again. The only clarification I’d suggest concerns “sod,” which doesn’t precisely mean “made.” Rather, it’s the now archaic preterite form of “seethe” = “to boil,” a very nice example of a strong verb of the first Ablaut class that preserves in the -th/-d alteration the effects of grammatical shift (Verner’s law). Cf. German sieden/sod, Sodbrennen = “heartburn.” I’m sure you see how this changes the whole way we look at the story of Jacob and Esau.

  2. Gary Novak on February 26, 2006 at 10:09 am

    I wanted to take a moment this morning and thank you for your lesson notes. I guess I have been gospel doctrine teacher for something like seven years now and although I only rarely use your materials directly, I read them carefully each and every week. And on a more waggish note, sometime the comments are rather like being in class, all those years ago.

    So as I say to my nieces, thanks for doing this. You are the best.

  3. nhilton on February 26, 2006 at 11:53 am

    Jonathan–what is your source for the Hebrew etymology you’re sharing? It is very interesting and helpful, thanks.

  4. nhilton on February 26, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    Jim, I read your source of Word Blibical Commentary & wonder how you’re accessing this. The CD version is very EXPENSIVE (approx. $500 used) & I’m wondering if there’s an on-line version via Gospelink.com or if you’ve got a desk copy.

  5. Jim F. on February 26, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    Jonathan Green: Thanks very much for the clarification. I should have looked up “sod” more carefully, but I’ll never forget its meaning now. And it radically changes the way I’ve been reading the passage.

    Gary Novak: I’m glad to hear that you find the notes useful, even if they are “rather like being in class.” I have never intended these to be notes for a lesson, at least not directly. Instead, they are notes for study of the lesson material. I assume that a teacher who has studied the material can create a lesson based on that study.

    Nhilton: I’m pretty sure that Jonathan is sharing the etymology of the English rather than the Hebrew. I’m accessing a CD version of the commentary that I bought through logos.com, though I didn’t pay nearly $500 for it. I don’t recall how much I paid, but I bought it when they were developing it and got a very good deal on it. I have quite a few of their products. A desk copy? If only.

  6. Gary Novak on February 26, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    Jim, the notes are not like being in class, but the comments are, or at least can be. Your class, to be precise. Sometimes the comments I read here remind me of what went on when we read The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. And with that comment, I think I’ll go back to lurking and learning mode.

  7. Kevin Barney on February 26, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    nhilton, the Hebrew uses the hiphil form of the verb *zud*, which does indeed mean “to boil.” There would appear to be a linguistic relationship among he Hebrew, German and English forms of this verb.

  8. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 26, 2006 at 9:32 pm

    Really enjoyed this one as well.

  9. Jonathan Green on February 26, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    Ack, Kevin, no. I admit that there are a good number of freaky word correspondences with Hebrew, but laxity in phonetic criteria gives me the hives. I don’t have the handbook at hand that I’d like, but presumably the Germanic dental is a word derivational element extending a root *seu, and for establishing a genetic relationship you wouldn’t want Germanic word-derivational elements in your Hebrew root. (But with respect to your recent comment about humility and etymology, I won’t rule out anything entirely.)

    Jim, glad I could help. If you ever need to invest Esau’s mess of pottage with pseudo-sacral significance, be sure to point out that seethe/sod is connected etymologically to Gothic sauths = “sacrifical animal”. If you speak fast enough, no one will have time to notice the lack of a connection to Genesis.

    (nhilton: Yes, what Jim said. Sorry for the confusion, and for the general irrelevance of the original comment.)

  10. Jim F. on February 26, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    Jonathan Green: If you speak fast enough, no one will have time to notice the lack of a connection to Genesis.

    I’ve found this a useful strategy for other things, such as The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, as well as for Genesis.

    Gary Novak: Don’t just lurk!

  11. Robert C. on February 27, 2006 at 7:24 am

    Jim, this is fun, reading about the importance that Robert Alter attaches to the lentil stew after reading your recent ode to food. In particular, Alter makes the case that Esau, at least in this story, has a boorish attitude toward food: “[L]et me have a swallow of that red stuff there” (Gen 25:30, NASB; discussed in The World of Biblical Literature, pp. 93-96) he says, which stands in contrast to Jacob’s domestic care in the kitchen and seemingly desperate desire to please his father with vegetarian dishes to earn the kind of praise Esau’s venison evoked. Thus I can’t help but imagine Jacob tending to his herb garden while pondering Heidegger and conjuring thought-provoking questions for his Sunday school class….

    I think I’m not alone in feeling uncomfortable about the deception of Isaac regarding the birthright blessing in Gen 27. And I don’t think saying that Jacob was just being obedient to his mother resolves the issue. Referring to Jacob as Israel sort of softens this discomfort—maybe Israel felt remorse for his former deception of Isaac—but I can’t help thinking about this deception every time I sing or read about Israel. I also tend to project a guilt complex onto Jacob motivating his fawning treatment of Esau in Gen 33, doesn’t it seem he doth protest too much?

    So I’d really appreciate hearing others’ views on this.

  12. Jim F. on February 27, 2006 at 11:17 am

    Robert C.: Thanks for that. I’ll have it printed up to show to the family. Perhaps that will get me some respect!

    RE: Jacob, Esau, etc.: wasn’t the whole situation banged up from the beginning? Isaac plans to give Esau the blessing even though he isn’t yet on his deathbead, and he appears not to be planning to invite Jacob. That is unlike anything else we see in OT fathers’ blessings. I agree that “Jacob was just being obedient to his mother” won’t work as an explanation. He was also supposed to be obedient to his father, and in that culture the obligation wasn’t symmetrical: he owed his father obedience more than his mother.

    So, whatever answers we give to those questions, I think they will be a little complicated. However, the question still remains: is the writer as interested in the question of Jacob’s or Rebekah’s morality as we are?

  13. Kurt on February 27, 2006 at 2:35 pm

    On 25:30, the Hebrew is a repetition of “ha adom ha adom” which is for emphasis, in other words “very red” or “deep red”. Lentils are not typically this color. Given Esau’s penchant for wild game, it is suggestive that Jacob deliberately created a stew that looked like blood and enticed Esau with that, which implies Esau is a blood eater, prohibited in Gen. 9:4, thus revealing Esau’s nature. Additional comments and references here.

  14. Robert C. on February 27, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Jim, typically your poker-face question-responses leave us all wondering if you have any opinions about any of these topics, or at least what your opinions might be—but the fact that you interpreted my description of Jacob as a compliment tells us something!

    If the writer isn’t concerned about the morality of the characters in the narrative, what is the writer concerned about? One developed theme seems to be the contrast between the impulsive and unrefined nature of Esau (symbolized by red) and Jacob’s calculating, and nuanced nature (perhaps an implicit greenness to him). And since Jacob will be the progenitor of Israel, I would think there’s an implicit lesson (and I have a hard time reading scripture without looking for some sort of lesson–is this a fault?) that this nature, which interestingly seems to have carried itself down to modern-day stereotypes about Jews, has positive and negative aspects to it. Perhaps we can read the story like a patriarchal blessing for Jacob’s posterity, a blessing that lists strengths and weaknesses of character, knowledge of which can be used to look for opportunities to serve others with our strengths and to be on guard against our weaknesses.

    Mind you, I’m not conceding that the writer is not concerned about the morality of the characters. I believe it is significant that Jacob and Rebekah seem to undergo a lot of sorrow and strife in their lives after the deception to obtain the birthright. There also seems to be a conspicuous lack of praise for Jacob and Rebekah (and Isaac and Esau) like we can find for Abraham. And I think we can find interesting relationships between the sorrow Jacob experiences with Joseph that are related to Jacob’s treatment of his father. Furthermore, I think the word play with Jacob’s name (isn’t there a connotation of deception in it?) and doubly-ironic reversal of roles in Gen 33 (e.g Jacob calling Esau lord in v. 14) serve to implicitly condemn Jacob for his cunning actions in obtaining the birthright.

    Though I don’t think this means we should view Jacob as a bad person. Like with Lot, the writer doesn’t seem intersted in having flat, black-and-white characters, but I do think he paints the exploitive and deceptive acts of Jacob as non-laudatory.

  15. Robert C. on February 27, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    Kurt, though I agree that the red soup is a significant symbol of blood, I don’t agree that Gen 9:5 is a prophibition on meat. How do you read Gen 9:3? The discussion here and here suggests v. 3 is an allowance (though perhaps a comporomise from a more celestial law) for the eating of meat, and v. 5 is a prohibition against raw meat of non-kosher meat.

  16. Robert C. on February 27, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    Sorry: “or” non-kosher meat, not “of” non-kosher meat (#15 last sentence).

  17. Robert C. on February 27, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    And I meant v. 4, not v. 5 (#15)….

  18. Kurt on February 27, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    Robert C & Jim F

    With respect to the blessing in Gen 27, you have to look at Rebecca as being the only spiritual one in the family at that point. Isaac is not spiritual (note his name is never changed as is Abram’s and Jacob’s, and the only revelation received by anyone in the story is received by her not him, and he ends up only doing the Lord’s will of blessing Jacob by accident because he was going to bless the wrong one for the wrong reasons). Both sons are schlubs, one is an irresponsible jerk who shirks his family duties to go off and play wild man (and he is murderous), and other is a momma’s boy who schemes to take over the family business dishonestly. It is only afterwards, when precipitated by the need to flee on threat of death, that Jacob really is converted to the Lord, covenants with Lord, has his name changed, and so forth. Isaac was blind to what the Lord had revealed to Rebecca.

    The moral of the story is that the Abrahamic covenant wasnt disrupted by one not-so-great person, the Lord’s will continuted regardless of the some not-so-great people, and failure to be spiritual and communicate with your family results in some very messy and difficult situations.

    Robert C,

    No, its not a prohibition on eating meat, its a prohibition on drinking blood. The Lord permits the consumption of animal flesh, but restricts the consumption of the blood, because its is representative of the animal’s life, which still belongs to the Lord, even if men may eat their flesh.

  19. Robert C. on February 27, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    Kurt, sorry, I didn’t read your comment carefully enough (about drinking blood)—good point. I agree with your points about the significance of the name changes. I’m less convinced about Rebecca being as righteous as you seem to paint her. After all, she’s the one who convinces Jacob to deceive Isaac, but I’ll look at this more carefully when I have time….

  20. Jim F. on February 27, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    Kurt: The moral of the story is that the Abrahamic covenant wasnt disrupted by one not-so-great person, the Lord’s will continuted regardless of the some not-so-great people, and failure to be spiritual and communicate with your family results in some very messy and difficult situations.

    I’m not as convinced as I think you are that Rebekah is a heroine, except relatively. Nevertheless, I think you’ve described well what the moral(s) of the story is/are.

  21. Kurt on February 28, 2006 at 10:15 am

    I’m not saying Rebecca is all that righteous, only that she is the only spiritual one among them (or more spiritual one, if you like), until Jacob has his converting experience. Her deception with Jacob, I think, is intended to be more indicative of the poor relationship between herself and Isaac than of any desire to be wilfully duplicitous on her own part. The Lord told her Jacob was to excel over Esau, and she knew of no other way to make sure he got the blessing, so she has to resort to this preposterous charade. What does that say about her relationship with Isaac, and Isaac’s lack of spirituality? Couldnt she just say “Husband, Isaac, the Lord told me…”? No? I’d say Rebecca is spiritual, but eminently human.

  22. Kevin Barney on February 28, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Jonathan #9, thanks for the info. In retrospect I should have posed this as a question to you, the Germanist, rather than as a simple casual observation.

  23. Ben S. on February 28, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    Nhilton: You can get the 58 volume Word Biblical Commentary for $289 US from an Australian company. (The price they list is in Australian dollars.)

  24. Robert C. on March 1, 2006 at 7:42 am

    Ben, wow, that’s a great price, thanks. Can someone tell me if you can download the WBC onto your hard drive or do you have to run it as a CD each time you use it? Also, can you download it onto multiple computers (i.e. if I want it on my laptop, but upgrade my laptop in a couple years am I out of luck)? I’ll try calling the publisher if I don’t get a response here, or maybe order one CD volume first as a test-run. (I’m also curious as to the quality of the material if anyone cares to comment on that. To avoid feeding this threadjack feel free to leave me a message on my Feast wiki page or send me an email.)

  25. Ben S. on March 1, 2006 at 10:13 am

    It’s all on 1 CD, and you get a license to put it on 2 computers. Stick it all on your hard-drive. It’s in Logos format, so you can integrate it with all kinds of other stuff, anything from http://www.logos.com such as the Anchor Bible Dictionary.

    The program that runs it can be downloaded for free, but then you pay for books (though there are a few freebies.)

    I have a lot of Logos stuff, so if you have any more questions, drop me an email. spackmanatuchicagodotedu

  26. Jim F. on March 1, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    Ben, now that you have mentioned it, I’m pretty sure that I got the WBC from koorang, and I am pretty sure that you put me onto it. Thanks, again.

  27. Robert C. on March 2, 2006 at 9:48 pm

    Ben, thanks for the info (#25). I’ve been checking out the Word Biblical Commentary and the Anchor Bible Dictionary at BYU’s library—I’ll probably be emailing you some questions later.

    Kurt, thanks again for making your lesson materials available on-line—I enjoyed reading your comments on Genesis 27 (esp. your comments about types).

    I’ve been thinking and reading more about the story, and particularly liked Nahum Sarna’s perspective on Jacob’s morality.

    Now I’m wondering about Isaac. Just reading Genesis, I would not think Isaac is a particularly examplary individual (as Kurt points out, he never receives a new covenant name). But Matthew 8:11, D&C 132:37, and many other LDS scriptures discuss Isaac as dwelling with God (entered into exaltation the D&C says). Did Isaac live “good enough” to receive exaltation, even though he wasn’t exemplary? Is the Genesis narrative embellished in a way that doesn’t reflect Isaac’s actual righteousness? Am I misreading the Genesis narrative regarding Isaac? Are there other possibilities??

  28. Robert C. on March 2, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    Interestingly, D&C 138:38-47 adds favorable epithets for the other prophets being listed, but conspicuously does not add a favorable epithet to Isaac and Jacob (v. 41). Which makes me think of another possiblity in addition to those I listed above: perhaps Isaac and Jacob were unduly blessed because of Abaraham’s righteousness, not their own righteousness. (Or of course there are a host of “such-and-such a verse must be mistaken” possibilities….)

  29. BrianJ on March 3, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    Kurt–your notes are very helpful in understanding “The Case of the Stolen Birthright.” I still need to ponder it more, but it helps me with a problem I’ve had in the reading: trying to determine why Moses tells this story. Moses inlcudes a brief commentary to show that Esau despised his birthright–and because Moses so infrequently makes these kinds of comments, it really stands out. If he wanted to show that Jacob was the rightful heir, he could have skipped all the deception. Instead, he shows deception after deception, making it also stand out in the reader’s mind. I like your interpretation that the effect is to teach Israel that that they must strive for birthright blessings, not just sit around expecting them.

    Robert C–I like the study you are suggesting in posts #27-28. I think that Isaac and Jacob are frequently favorably mentioned in the scriptures. The phrase “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” comes to mind as being a good example. Then again, perhaps it is just used to show continuity of lineage, not righteousness.

    Jim F–I was struggling quite a bit with this lesson and your notes only made that struggle greater. I was ready to use this Sunday as a time to teach a “Why We Have a Hard Time with the Old Testament” lesson and use these chapters as an example. Then I felt like this was a cop-out: “The OT is hard to understand, but worth it if you keep trying” doesn’t seem to mesh with my plan to avoid the tough chapters. But when I say that your notes made my struggle greater, I mean that as a good thing. Your questions helped to draw me into the lesson and force me to wrestle with the ideas. Now I think (hope, pray) that I have a good message to share with my class this Sunday.

    Regarding CH 25:22, I read some translator’s notes and they interpreted the Hebrew differently than your description above. Their interpretation was, “If it is going to be like this, I’m not so sure I want to be pregnant!” (It is the New English Translation, if you are interested.)

  30. BrianJ on March 3, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    Does anyone have thoughts on the “Marriage in the Covenant” lesson? The teacher’s manual makes a BIG point of this, but I just do not see it. Abraham doesn’t want Isaac to marry a Canaanite, but I fail to see how marrying a Syrian is “in the covenant.” His relatives outside of Canaan are idol worshippers, aren’t they? We see this with Laban, who has his idols stolen by Rachel. We also see Isaac and Rebekah concerned about Jacob marrying a Hittite, but marrying Rachel and Leah (who are presumably idolatrous like their father Laban) is okay with them. Esau notices his parents’ concern and chooses to marry Ishamael’s granddaughters–this seems more “in the covenant” than anyone in Nahor’s (Abraham’s bother) line.

    Why do I care? Because it seems we could get into a big contradiction when we look at other marriages in the Old Testament. Joseph marries an Egyptian, Moses an Ethiopian, and I don’t remember who the 12 tribes of Israel marry.

    Is there some other explanation of why Abraham, et al were so concerned with marriage to Canaanites and Hittites? Did they just want to avoid forming alliances with close neighbors?

  31. Robert C. on March 5, 2006 at 10:28 am

    BrianJ, Nehama Leibowitz takes up this question in Studies in Bereshit (Genesis> (Chapter “Hayye Sarah 2: Marrying Out”), although he’s more interested in the question of Abraham finding Isaac a wife since one could (and many have) argued that Esau’s “unfortunate experiences” from marrying local women prompted Isaac to command Jacob not to marry amongst the local women.

    The Midrash Hagadol suggests that Abraham’s thinking is “Since I engage in making proselytes, I shall proselytize among my own family and father’s house who come first, and what is more, they are nearer repentance. This text prompted the dictum: A man should always give first consideration to his relatives…. It is similarly stated in Isaiah 58:7: ‘From thine own flesh do not hide thyself’.”

    After discussing some possible problems with this interpretation, Leibowitz discusses possible political motivations: If Abraham had intermarried with [the Canaanites], this would have precluded the Israelites at a later date from expelling the Canaanites from their land. They would have been kinsmen and would have come under the same category as the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites whom God had bidden not to fight or vex.”

    After calling this politically-motivated explanation “far-fetched”, Leibowitz offers what he sees as the best answer: “[I]t was not the ideas and beliefs of the family of the girl destined to be the mother of the nation that were apt to endanger the whole nation, (either through heredity or example and education) but evil deeds. Now the Torah frequently denounces the inhabitants of Canaan not just as idol worshippers (in which context no other nation was an improvement on them), but as the perpetrators of abominations.”

    Leibowitz supporsts this by quoting Leviticus 18:3 and commentators who take this to mean that the Egyptians and Canaanites were more corrucpt than any other nation. Others have also argued that marrying locally means that the surrounding environment (of wickedness) will have more influence on the woman than if a foreign woman is imported away from her family and friends: “[Were] Isaac to intermarry with the surrounding peoples, he was bound to assimilate, whereas were he to take a wife from a distant country, she was bound to assimilate into the dominant environment that of Abraham’s household.” This is also why Abraham made such a to-do about not burying his wife in their burial ground. And why he was called “Abraham the Hebrew” (Hebrew meaning “a person from the other side”), having symbolic and literal significance of not assimilating with the local wickedness.

  32. BrianJ on March 5, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    Robert C:

    Thank you for the response and your time. I think that Nehama Leibowitz’s view does not support certain points made in the lesson manual (such as who it’s okay to date).

    Regarding name changes: In pondering the fact that Isaac did not have a name change, I came to wonder if there is also something to the way Jacob’s name was changed. Abraham and Sarah had relatively small changes made to their names, perhaps signifying that they were already fairly righteous, whereas Jacob’s name is changed entirely, perhaps reflecting the total change of heart that comes with repentance.

  33. Clinton on March 5, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Robert C,
    Why does Leibowitz think that the politically motivated answers are far-fetched. I thought that these explanations were by and far the most logical of those provided in the post.

    I also enjoyed the post by Brian J. I agree that these stories don’t support the “Marriage in the Covenant” point made by the lesson. When our Sunday School teacher brought up this point it was interesting to here class members responsed. The class members responses were much more astute than the teachers comments. Brian your point about Moses marrying an Egyptian is also VERY important considering God’s response when his associates brought this up as a point of contention.

  34. Robert C. on March 5, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    BrianJ, regarding marriage in the covenant, I agree that it seems the lesson manual seems to be trying to cut a corner here, trying to get to a nice moral lesson to teach that doesn’t seem supported by the text. Nevertheless, here are two possible counterpoints: (1) NL’s reading does seem to support a more generalized version of the moral lesson, “don’t marry someone wicked” or possibly even “don’t marry someone from a wicked culture” (inasmuch as NL’s point is that the Canaanites were more wicked than those on the other side of the river). (2) Regarding NL’s foreign land and culture argument, I think this is a great response to those who criticize missionaries finding a wife amongst those whom they labor, or possibly even the “go to BYU from the so-called mission field and bring back a wife” strategy! :-)

    Clinton, NL only has one short paragraph on this, and since it’s pretty dense (i.e. I fear I’d miss a point trying to paraphrase it), so I’ll just quote it:

    “But this political motivation is far-fetched. The land had been promised to Abraham and his seed by the almighty and even its border, and the ephoch of occupation, (“the fourth generation shall return thither”) specified—after the “iniquity of the Amortie was complete.” Nothing was said to him about military conquest and when Abarh asked: “How shall I know that I shall posess it” (15:8) he was not told by what means. Is it concevable that Abaraham, the supreme believer should make such calculations in the face of a Divine promise and Covenant? Furthermore had he made such political caclulations, he might well have deliberately intermarried with the Canaanites and through that subterfuge inherited the land. The Torah however is at pains to emphasize that it was God who granted the land to Abarham and his seed. The reason therefore for this rejection of the Canaanite daughters must be sought elsewhere. That same revulsion against the Canaanite is expressed by Isaac in respect ot he marrying of his son Jacob, inspired by a more Abrahamic trend of thought.”

    I included the last couple sentences only b/c I’m not sure I understand the point he’s trying to make with the phrase “a more Abrahamic trend of thought.” NL’s next paragraph starts the argument about how the Canaanites and Babylonians were both idolatrous, but the Canaanites seemed to be more wicked and thus less inclined to become a faithful follower of Abraham’s God.

  35. Clinton on March 5, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    Thank you Robert C for the extended quotation. However I do not get his point.

    “If Abraham had intermarried with [the Canaanites], this would have precluded the Israelites at a later date from expelling the Canaanites from their land. They would have been kinsmen and would have come under the same category as the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites whom God had bidden not to fight or vex.â€?

    From this I read that the late authors of this work choose to tell the story this way so that they can villify the Canaanites and justify their genocide. If Abraham and his seed had married the Canaanite children then Aaron and his retinue of Hebrew followers could not wipe out the Canaanites just as they could not wipe out the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites. If this is what NL is saying then his explanation in the paragraph you quoted has no relevance to this interpretation. The fact that the Canaanites are occupying the land promised to Abraham’s family when the lands were divided to Noah’s sons suggests that Abraham doesn’t want his children marrying them and thus legitimizing their right to live in the area. The decision seem entirely political to me.

  36. Jim F. on March 5, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    Robert C and Clinton: Just for the record: NL is a “she.”

    This has been a great discussion. Thank you all.

  37. Robert C. on March 5, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    Clinton, I think the political motivation NL is putting forth (and subsequently criticizing) is slightly different than what you’re saying (I think your argument is stronger). I think NL is saying that if Abraham’s main concern was to get the land that God had promised him (as Shadal Luzzatto suggests), then this wouldn’t provide sufficient motivation for Abraham to avoid intermarrying with the Canaanites for two reasons: (1) Not intermarrying with the Canaanites for this reason would’ve constituted an attempt at second-guessing God’s promise by Abraham (something unbecoming of a man as faithful as Abraham). (2) This motivation seems to presuppose Abraham knowing that the Canaanites would’ve been forced by to leave the land by military conquest, something that doesn’t seem a natural assumption for Abraham to make.

    The argument you seem to be making differes in that it is focusing on the Canaanites right (or rather lack of right) to be in the land, not Abraham’s desire to get them out of the land.

  38. Robert C. on March 5, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    BrianJ (#32), I’ve been wondering about the name changes myself. It seems the name changes are rather inconsistent. For example, we never hear of a new name for Isaac (though one could argue Isaac might not’ve been the same kind of model of righteousness that Abraham and Israel became; but we never hear of a new name for Enoch either…), nor do we hear of a new name for Joseph (unless you count the name that Pharoah gave him in Gen 41:45).

    I think the name changes have more to do with other types of change, not just spiritual covenant-making. One consistency between Abraham and Israel’s name changes that seems unique to them is the renewal of the promise regarding great posterity. Other reasons for the name change that I can think of don’t seem to have much consistency….

  39. Robert C. on March 5, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    Jim F., thanks for pointing out my very embarrassing gender-blunder, lest I embarrass myself further!

  40. Jim F. on March 5, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    Robert C: It isn’t obvious to an English-speaker that Nehama is a woman’s name, so you needn’t be too embarassed.

    Name changes? Let me speculate a little, in a slightly different direction than either you or BrianJ have taken. Name changes seem to suggest that the person has been changed or even that reality has changed for the person. Abraham’s covenant marks such a change, and I think that Jacob’s renewal of that covenant does too. (Notice that Jacob’s encounter occurs in the context of his worry about meeting his brother, Esau, and in that meeting Jacob seems to be a new person, someone who can be generous to his brother and who can say that he has enough, even perhaps offering back the birthright.)

    But Isaac doesn’t have the kind of experience that Abraham and Isaac had, namely an encounter with God. I don’t know that that is tied directly to his righteousness. The Lord renews his covenant with Jacob and not with Isaac, but I don’t know why. Perhaps it didn’t need to be renewed with Isaac for some reason.

  41. Capt. Obsidian on March 6, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    In all the speculation about Isaac’s spirituality, I think we may be overlooking his part in Abraham’s sacrifice. Remember that Isaac was a willing participant in the sacrifice. He was willing to lay down his life at the hands of his father because he believed that God had commanded it. I would say that it was just as much a test for Isaac as it was for Abraham. As such, I would suggest that his calling and election was made sure through his participation. From latter-day revelation we know that Isaac has been exalted alongside Abraham and Jacob (see Alma 5:24, D&C 132:37, D&C 138:41). I think suggesting that Isaac was less righteous than Abraham or Jacob is off base.

    Jim F. (#40):“But Isaac doesn’t have the kind of experience that Abraham and Isaac had, namely an encounter with God. I don’t know that that is tied directly to his righteousness. The Lord renews his covenant with Jacob and not with Isaac, but I don’t know why. Perhaps it didn’t need to be renewed with Isaac for some reason.”

    I think it is more likely that the covenant was renewed with Isaac, but was not mentioned. For some reason, Moses has not given us very much detail about Isaac in this context. Perhaps he felt that Isaac’s major role was as the sacrifice (being a type of Christ) and as the father of Israel. Note the importance of Abraham as the initiator of the Abrahamic covenant and the importance of Jacob as the founder of the House of Israel. In such a light, their covenants with God would be of supreme importance to show that the Israelites are the chosen people. Any covenants with Isaac are not as important to the story, as Isaac is portrayed mainly as an intermediate step between Abraham and Jacob. This could explain why nothing is mentioned about God’s covenant with Isaac.

  42. Robert C. on March 7, 2006 at 7:42 pm

    Nahum Sarna suggests that Isaac’s name didn’t change because it was already divinely ordained (see Gen 17:19). He (I double-checked his gender!) suggests other name changes symbolized “transmutation of character and destiny”. He lists as examples: Jacob (Gen 32:29, 35:10), Joseph (Gen 41:45), Joshua (Num 13:15), Eliakim (2 Kings 23:24??), Mattaniah (2 Kings 24:7??) and Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego (Dan 1:7).

  43. BrianJ on March 7, 2006 at 10:28 pm

    I thank all of you for helping me. Let me share an analogy that illustrates how I have been feeling about the topic of Isaac:

    I used to work as a dinosaur fossil preparator. I would chisel pieces of fossilized bone from the surrounding rock, then try to fit them into the larger piece I was working on. When I could not determine how a piece fit, it went into a pile to be worked on later. Other pieces would eventually fit after further polishing. Sometimes it was difficult to distinguish between rock and fossil. Some fossils were preserved in a hundred pieces, making restoration difficult; other specimens were preserved completely intact and the surrounding dirt could be removed by hand with little effort.

    Here are some ideas I am working with as I try to chisel my way through Genesis:

    1) Isaac’s Name Change
    As mentioned above, Abram’s and Sarai’s names were changed to indicate that they had taken on a new covenant. Jacob’s name was changed more dramatically, showing that he not only entered into the covenant but also repented and took on a new way of life (post #40). Isaac’s name was not changed, because:
    a) He was born in the covenant (post #42), so did not need a name change like his parents, and
    b) He was always righteous, so did not ever need major repentance like Jacob. (Note that this idea disagrees very much with some of the posts here, and I address this below).

    2) God Talked to Isaac, Renewed Covenant
    Gen 26:1-5 differs from post #40 and others (“But Isaac doesn’t have the kind of experience that Abraham and Isaac had, namely an encounter with God.�) Read Genesis, “And the LORD appeared unto [Isaac], and said…will bless thee…perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father…and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.�

    3) Isaac’s Righteousness
    Genesis 26 and D&C 132:37 actually bothered me most when I tried to make the “Isaac fossil� fit into the “just an unrighteous link in the chain� hole. Gen 26 tells a story of Isaac digging wells. It seemed like a silly chapter at first: who cares about wells and the pranks of the Philistines? But I think the wording tells us something about Isaac. It states that Isaac dug the same wells that his father Abraham dug and called them by the same names. I think we might retell this story by saying, “Isaac followed in his father’s footsteps.� This chapter shows other parallels between Isaac and Abraham: claiming his wife was his sister, covenanting with Abimelech, building altars. (I have more thoughts on this chapter, but I fear I will already overstay my welcome with this long post.)

    4) Isaac: Poster-child of Complacency or Symbol of God?
    The Isaac in Ch 26 is very different from the Isaac in Ch 27. Which chapter shows the real Isaac? I think the intent of Ch 27 may be to use Isaac as an allegory, rather than to say anything about him personally. Roughly, here is my thinking:

    Ch 27 is about how Jacob (we) must strive for blessings from Isaac (God). Rebekah (God, or Holy Ghost) motivates Jacob (us) to strive. Esau (us) thinks to always court Isaac’s (God’s) favor because Esau (us) provides savory meat (animal sacrifice or physical part of ordinances) to Isaac (God). The greatest blessing goes to Jacob (us), whereas Esau (us) is blessed to a lesser degree. This reading uses two different people, Isaac and Rebekah, to illustrate the two sides of God and worship: namely, that God (Isaac) is pleased by outward observance of ordinances, but God (Rebekah) will give the greatest reward to those who heed God’s (Rebekah’s) call to strive.

    Note that in Ch 28: 1-5, we are back to an Isaac that is much more like the one we met in Ch 26: a righteous patriarch that talks and acts like Abraham. Isaac blesses Jacob again—perhaps to indicate to the reader that Ch 27 was largely allegory and that Jacob legitimately received the covenant from a knowing, lucid Isaac.

  44. Mel E. on March 8, 2006 at 2:21 pm

    >>Since the Lord could control birth order, why do you suppose he arranged things in this way, a way contrary to what would be expected?

    >>With respect to the blessing in Gen 27, you have to look at Rebecca as being the only spiritual one in the family at that point. Isaac is not spiritual (note his name is never changed as is Abram’s and Jacob’s, and the only revelation received by anyone in the story is received by her not him

    We call it the Patriarchal Order, but is it in fact the patriarch or matriarch that is the determining factor? The birthright was passed from Abraham to Isaac, even though Isaac was the second son of Abraham. But Isaac was the eldest son of Sarah. The birthright was passed from Isaac to Jacob, even though Isaac was the second son of Abraham. But Jacob was the favored son of Rebekah. Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob, but he was the eldest son of Rachel.

    Given that, is the birth order (in this story and the others) really contrary to what would be expected?

    It seems to me that the birthright is determined by the mother and the blessings of the birthright are determined by the father (and of course the individual’s worthiness).

    To speak to the second point I quoted above, perhaps the reason Rebekah was given the revelation had nothing to do with Isaac’s spirituality. If the birthright was to be determined by Rebekah, as the matriarch, why wouldn’t she be the one to receive the revelation?

    (((For those wondering who I am — this is my first post. I just got called to be Gospel Doctrine teacher and was sent here by a friend.)))

  45. Clinton on March 8, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    Brian J,
    Many of your comments about Issac as an achetype parellel very well with the Sepher HaZohar’s interpretation of Issac. If you are interested in Kabbalistic interpretations of this story then I highly recommend the Zohar’s take on this matter.

  46. Jim F. on March 8, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    Mel E.: Welcome. I hope that you’ll keep coming, and I especially hope that you’ll keep commenting.

  47. BrianJ on March 9, 2006 at 8:29 am

    Clinton,

    Thanks for the info. While I am not interested in Kabbalistic interpretations, per se, I appreciate any direction I can get.

    Mel E,

    I think that Times&Seasons’ Julie M Smith has written some interesting posts that relate to the wife’s/mother’s role in judging/directing the actions of the husband/father. Specifically, look for her posts titled, “Authority on Her Head” and “Dear Anon”

  48. Geoff J on March 11, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    I’m teaching this lesson tomorrow so I very much appreciate this discussion. Here are a couple of thoughts:

    It seems to me that serious consideration of the notion that much of the story of Isaac we have was included much after Moses by folks with a political interest in showing that the land of Canaan was rightfully theirs (as given by God). The downside of that view is that it is somewhat cynical and naturalistic. The best argument against it is that the political motivation by later scribes does not explain why such unflattering pictures are painted of Isaac and Jacob in Gen. 27… I’m not sure what to make of all of it still.

    I actually appreciated BrianJ’s allegory attempt in #44. It seems like quite a stretch but I appreciated the effort. (God is both Isaac and Rebekah? We are both Jacob and Esau? It is more righteous to deceive the Isaac version of God at the prompting of the Rebekah version of God?…Doesn’t quite fit…)

    When we are looking at the question with later scribes in mind the Gen. 26 version of Isaac parallels Abraham’s story a bit too closely. The whole thing about well-digging and pretending his wife was his sister again seems to me like later scribes were trying to add info to tie their own forebear more closely to Abraham. (Forgive me if that sounds cynical, but you know the 8th Article of Faith: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly;”)

  49. Kathy J on March 12, 2006 at 4:40 am

    #30- Yes, Rebecca is Syrian, and Rachel’s family is idolatrous, but they are still connected to the covenant by blood. Abraham spoke of the priesthood and its blessings as a birthright he wanted to lay claim to. He also pointed out that not all of his relatives had turned their backs on God (remember the two righteous virgins who were sacrificed as his father intended him to be–presumably their father(s) was(were) not righteous, but they apparently were). It seems like this was their version of marriage in the covenant. It didn’t mean to them what it does to us–the covenant seems much more tied to geneology then than it is now. I guess that just begs the question as to why that would be, and I don’t have an answer for that, but maybe someone else does. I do think the other reasons brought up so far are very interesting, but I think the covenant marriage parallel is legitimate.

    #18, #20– It seems it would be possible for Isaac to be a righteous person, who renewed the covenant in his own right even though his name was not changed (is that a requirement?) and still have a blind spot where his son is concerned. I like the ambiguity and imperfections revealed in the OT. It also seems to parallel Abraham’s reluctance to send Ishmael and Hagar away (another story that can make people cringe and that calls into question the character of the wife). Interestingly in both cases, the wife trumps the husband (though Sarah seems to operate more within her rights and straightforwardly than Rebekah does) Both wives saw a threat to the proper passage of the birthright and both wives took matters into their own hands to rectify the problem in ways that seem questionable (cruel, dishonest?). Both husbands were reluctant participants, and in both cases the Lord ratified the wife’s decision (come to think of it, would it be too big a stretch to draw a parallel to Eve here too?). Isaac and Rebekah are cast in a more human and less favorable light, but the parallels are interesting.

    I have been really struck by the HUGE role women play in the OT so far. I used to think of it as such a male dominated book, but it certainly doesn’t start out that way! We sure get a lot about women’s concerns–marriage, barrenness, handmaids, surrogate children, etc. and one could make a great case for wives’ roles in helping their husbands reach financial security (if only by being beautiful enough to entice and later guilt trip kings into giving large gifts or creating favorable alliances).

    By the way, I’m also pretty new to this. I’ve been teaching GD for a couple of years now, but just found your site this year. Usually I just read and ponder, but sometimes its good to subject my thoughts to peer review and see what new insights I can get. I really enjoy the questions you ask Jim F. They have really added depth and insight to my personal study and prep for my lessons. Thanks for posting. I seem to be a week behind though since we already had Ward conference this year.

  50. BrianJ on March 12, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    Geoff J: I appreciate your comments in post #48 on my ideas. I like how Kathy J put it: “peer review.” Not only am I familiar with that process, it is also flattering to think of myself as a peer of the people who post here. At some future date I hope to have my thoughts on the Isaac/Rebekah/God allegory spelled out more clearly. I will welcome your comments and scrutiny, but I would first like to follow up on Clinton’s reference.

    Regarding your comment, “…much of the story of Isaac we have was included much after Moses….” Given that the story of Isaac as we have it is so short to begin with, I think your suggestion leaves Moses ignoring him (almost) entirely. This doesn’t mean, however, that you aren’t right.

  51. Jim F. on March 13, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    Kathy J: Thanks for your full responses. The more we each add, the more help these can be to others. I’m glad you found these helpful. I always hope that teachers aren’t the only ones who find these questions useful, but I’m afraid that very few besides teachers do.

    I don’t think you’re a week behind. I just try to stay a week ahead so that people can have plenty of time. It also gives me some wiggle room for weeks, like this, when I haven’t had time to finish preparing the questions before Sunday. (I hope to get the next set of questions up tonight.)