WISDOM FROM THE BEGINNING – PART VII- SECTION II
JACOB AND HIS
SONS – CHAPTERS 35 AND 36
I. After the disaster regarding Dinah, God steps in and calls upon Jacob to correct the mistake that let everything else happen, the decision to live among pagans, rather than the return to Bethel as Jacob had promised.
A. God does not directly
comment on Jacob's failure to protect his daughter, nor upon the sons'
revenge. In Genesis, unlike later books of the Bible, God does
not often hand down judgments on past events. Rather he gives
instructions for the future. It is often best when the faith begins
in a person or a culture to focus more on the future than the past.
1. Thus, at one
level, the call to return is simply a call to fulfill his original plan
of returning to his father's residence, where the faith was presumably
practiced among Isaac's people.
4. Here God refers
to the patriarch as Jacob, not Israel, for he must be restored back
to that glorified status.
1. His children are from their late teens to early 20s; and at least some of them are apparently worshipping idols, probably along with Rachel and the handmaids. The fact that his household still has these idols over 20 years after his marriage to Leah and Rachel indicates that Jacob has not been teaching religion to his children well. This fact, like such a situation in any family, does not bode well for the future.
- Some instruction
would also be needed because of the seizure of the women and children
from Shechem. However, if the children had been raised well, they
would have known not to allow the pagan idols among the captives.
- A similar
situation later occurs when the Chosen People had entered the Promised
Land and Jacob tells them to get rid of their pagan gods and serve the
Lord, now after over 40 years of God's guidance and power. Josh.
- There would
be two likely responses to the slaughter at Shechem. There could
be a desire to avenge the violence by attacking Jacob and his sons.
On the other hand, there could be fear at people who would commit such
a bold act, and a desire to see them leave. God insures that the
reaction would be the latter one.
II. The time in Bethel is one of glory and sadness intertwined.
1. The town was
going by its old name Luz, for the sanctity of the place was being forgotten.
2. Bethel would
continue to be a center of worship for years to come. The Ark
of the Covenant would later be kept there for a time when Israel was
being ruled by the judges just before the time of the kings. See
Judges 20:18-28. It appears that Samuel went there to consult
with God. Later, when the kingdom split into two, Bethel was a
center of worship in the northern kingdom, unfortunately often involving
pagan rites. See 1 Kings 12:26-33; Amos 7:12-13. The good
southern king Josiah captured in and ended the pagan worship, see 2
Kings 23:15-20, but it probably began again. The city was later
destroyed by the Persians in the fifth century B.C., but rebuilt later
by the Greeks and Romans, to be maintained until about the fifth century
A.D., when it was later destroyed as the Byzantine (eastern Roman) empire
began to leave the region.
within about five years, Eber, Noah's great-great grandson and Abraham's
last living ancestor dies. The old order is passing away.
- The dedication
of the stone is similar to the one that occurred before, except that
wine as well as oil is poured on top of it. The symbolism of wine
may add a notion of sharing a banquet with God Himself, a greater sense
of unity. Wine, or a chalice of wine, would become a symbol
of prosperity and God's blessings in the Old Testament, to be fulfilled
in the Eucharist. See Ps. 4:8, 23: 5; 104:5; Prov. 3:10, 9:2;
Is. 55:1; Joel 2:24, 4:18. (God's wrath could also be compared to
a cup of wrath that brings illness. See, e.g., Ps. 75:9; Rev.
III. Bethel, as sacred as it is, will not be the dwelling place of Israel. The family must return to Isaac before he dies. And so, they depart for Mamre, or Hebron, and go on journey that involves joy and sorrow, holiness and treachery.
1. That family
would later be the birthplace of King David. And the prophet Micah
would foretell that the future king must come from the same town.
See Ruth 4:11; 1 Sam. 16; Micah 5:1.
B. In any case, the journey to Bethlehem is an occasion of both joy and sorrow at the birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel.
1. Here once
again Rachel gives birth. She is by now probably about in her
mid to late 40s, for it has been about 23 years since she was married
to Jacob, and about 30 years since they were first engaged.
C. Presumably shortly after the death of Rachel, Reuben has relations with her handmaid Bildah.
1. His actions
may have been motivated by: lust; a desire to assert authority above
his brothers or even against his father; revenge for Rachel being the
preferred one of Israel's wives, as opposed to Rueben's mother Leah;
a desire to have the first children of the next generation; her desire
to connect with someone powerful in the next generation; or some combination
IV. The chapter, and the centrality of Jacob's role, ends with a list of his sons and the death of Isaac.
1. The text once
again refers to Jacob, not Israel. The sons do not yet seem to
grasp God's calling that would form them as the people Israel.
2. Dinah is mysteriously
missing. It would appear that she was still living, for she apparently
went into Egypt with the family years later. See Gen. 46:15.
It may be that she did not have any children and, as a result, was not
critical to later history.
3. Eleven of
the sons would have been from about age 17 to 24, with Joseph being
the youngest and Reuben the oldest. Benjamin was at this point
B. The family finally
arrives at Mamre, where Isaac is living, to be with him in his old age
and to rejoin his people, including those who descended of the tribe
Abraham had led, with him. But they were not heirs of the promise
C. The text lists Isaac as dying at the age of 180. The reference is interesting because if it means that he died at exactly age 180, his death would have occurred about 50 year later, just before the whole family migrated to Egypt, after the events surrounding Joseph in the next several chapters.
1. It may be
that the event is placed here to close out the references to Isaac,
even though he lives much longer, or it may be that 180 was simply a
V. Chapter 36 then completes the account of Esau by describing his numerous descendants, who will become the people of Edom.
A. Like Lot long before, Esau avoids any conflict with his relatives by moving away to the south, not far from where Lot had stayed. However, unlike the hapless Lot, he prospers quickly and becomes, even in his lifetime, a great chieftain and the father of many children.
- Most commentators
think that Esau was already living in Seir to the southeast of the Dead
Sea when Jacob returned, for he seemed to come towards Jacob from the
south. However, it is very possible that he remained near Isaac
until Isaac's death, only then leaving for the south.
1. When the Chosen
People were returning to the Promised Land, the people of Edom did not
let them go through their land. See Num. 20:14-21. Nevertheless,
Moses told the people not to interfere with Edom; and in fact he seemed
to want good relations with them. See Duet. 23:8-10.
2. It does seem
that the people of Edom were known for wisdom during the time shortly
before and after the entrance of the Chosen People into the Promised
Land, for the prophets would later speak of wisdom departing from Edom.
See Jer. 49:7; Obad. 1:8. In fact, the names and locations of
Job's friends could indicate that the events described in that book
took place there. See Job 2:11.
relations between Israel and Edom would deteriorate. At first,
Israel took control of Edom under Kings Saul, David and Solomon.
However, Edom won independence. Later Edom would support the Assyrians
in their attack on the southern kingdom of Judah at the end of the eighth
century B.C. As a result, the prophets declared, wisdom would depart
from Edom and it would decline and fall. See Jer. 49: 8-22; Obad.
C. Most of the names on the various lists in chapter 36 are now unknown. However, two factors shine forth. First, the nation was very successful, at least for a time, conquering the Midianites to the south at one point. Second, verses 31-39 indicates that the succession of kings was not based upon family relationships; the throne was not handed down from father to son. That fact can be good or bad. It can be a good thing if the leading people were able to find the most qualified candidate. It can be a very negative thing if the result was violence to obtain the throne. There was perhaps some of one, and some of the other. Here as elsewhere the Bible leaves much room for the imagination, and perhaps room to see how similar experiences can play out in the life of one's own land.