Genesis 1 (day 1)
1-5: Earth is pictured as a formless, empty, dark mass in the midst of a great ocean. God is hovering over it, God’s breath stirring the surface. Then God speaks, and light comes to be. Darkness is not destroyed, however, but only separated from the light. The first day is complete.
6-8: On the second day a space is made to accommodate the earth. God does this by placing a “firmament” in the waters. The firmament is a kind of tent or dome that holds the waters back. The watery mass above the dome is called Sky. Now we notice that the story follows a rhythm of up and down. First, the breath of God is on the surface, then the Sky is made. Next we can expect something below.
9-13: Which is exactly what happens – the waters under the sky are separated into seas to allow for the appearance of dry land, which God calls earth. Then life is created – plant life – to cover the land. It is significant that life is created on the third day.
14-19: Now we can expect to go “up” again. God creates the sun, moon and stars and secures them in the sky to provide the earth with light. You might argue that light was created on the first day, but I would counter that after light was created the earth was then created in the midst of the waters, making it necessary to provide sources of light directly shining on the land. In other words, according to the story, God created the sun, moon and stars and then imbued them with the light created on the first day.
20-23: On the fifth day the work of creation moves downward again, and then up. First God makes fishes and other sea creatures to romp in the oceans. Then God makes birds to fly across the sky.
24-25: The creation story comes back to earth again with God creating all the animals.
26-31 Still in the sixth day, God creates human beings. There are two ways to interpret this: either human being are intended as a continuation of the “down” cycle of creation, or they are intended as a climactic up-swing. I favor the latter interpretation because on the fifth day we already saw the down-then-up movement, all on the same day. Indeed, human beings are given dominion over everything else on earth and over the birds that fly above. They are not, however, trusted with dominion over the sun, moon and stars. That is probably why my grandmother thought space travel is a godless pursuit, and blamed a particular spate of bad weather on John Glenn’s orbital flight.
Human beings, and all the other animals, seem to be designed for a vegetarian diet.
Each day (except the second day) God has pronounced that whatever was made on that day was good. Only at the end of the sixth day does God pronounce everything very good.
Genesis 2 (day 2)
1-3: Perhaps the chapter break should have come four verses later, as these verses belong to the story being told in chapter 1. We are not told what God created on the seventh day, although the text says that God finished the work of creation on that day. Still, the primary creative activity on the seventh day is rest and relaxation, and that is announced to be the very purpose of the seventh day.
4-9: Scholars debate whether the first half of verse 4 belongs to the creation story in chapter 1, or to the story that follows. This is a second account of the creation of human beings. A picture is drawn of what we would call the primordial earth, mysterious and covered with mist. The first human being (“adam” in Hebrew) is made from the ground, and God’s breath is breathed into him (yes, it’s a boy!) in a touchingly personal scene. The human being is placed in a garden God has planted “east of Eden,” a location that has never been identified (and never will be, according to chapter 3, verse 24).
10-14: The garden is not in Eden, but east of it, and it is well watered, by four rivers. In the ancient mind this garden must have seemed to take up the entire Middle East! Only the Tigris and Euphrates are identifiable now, although the Gihon has been equated with the Nile because it was said to flow around the land of Cush (upper Egypt). Some say the Gihon is rather the Red Sea; it is not a river, but it “flows” around the land of Cush while the Nile flows through it.
15-17: The human being God made – the “adam” – is placed in the garden and given a job as the gardener. As compensation he is allowed to eat anything he can find, except the fruit of one tree – the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Take note: the “tree of life” is not forbidden!
18-25: God creates more animals and birds and brings them to the man, who gave them names. But the man could not find a mate from among all the other creatures God made. So God made him fall asleep, removed one of his ribs, and formed another human being, this one a bit different from the first. The man is pleased, names her woman, and they begin their married life naked and happy. But you have to wonder at the fact that the story never says Adam woke up!
Genesis 3 (day 3)
1-7: The “serpent” convinces the woman that the fruit of the forbidden tree will impart the knowledge of good and evil (verse 5), which is exactly what God called the tree to begin with. The serpent is right about that, and is also right that they won’t die for eating it – at least they won’t die immediately. In this detail the serpent seems to be telling the truth while God lied! Some explain this by saying that when God said, “in the day that you eat of it you will surely die,” God really meant that death would be introduced into the world on that day because God would subsequently withdraw access to the tree of life. Anyway, she eats it, gives some to the man and he eats it, and all of a sudden they know the difference between right and wrong.
When the Bible was put together more or less in the form we have today, I imagine the scribes who assembled it wanted to communicate the simple understanding that the difference between good and evil is this: good is obeying God; evil is disobeying God.
8-19: In these early chapters of the Bible there is an intimate relationship between God and humans. That relationship will grow more and more distant throughout the book of Genesis. God is walking in the garden, either in the early morning or late afternoon. The man and woman are hiding, but God has come especially for them, and begins to call. In the exchange that follows the man claims that nakedness is the problem, but he then confesses to the disobedience, but blames it on the woman, who blames it on the serpent. (The serpent seems to have lost his voice.) God curses the serpent and explains that from then on human beings and snakes will be enemies. Then God tells the woman the consequences for her: she will bear children in pain, but will nevertheless want to be with the man, giving him the advantage over her.
Upon the man (and by association, the woman as well, and all living things) is pronounced the sentence of death: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
20-21: Life and death is bound up in these two verses. First, the man rebukes God by naming the woman Eve, which is related to the word for “alive.” Then, God rebukes the man by giving them both the skins of dead animals to take away their nakedness. After all, that was the reason they hid from God, wasn’t it?
22-24: God told the man that if he ate the forbidden fruit he would die. Now God moves to enforce that sentence. The man and Eve are banished from the garden and the tree of life is forever protected by cherubim with a flaming sword. Interestingly enough, the cherubim only guards access to the tree of life, not to the garden itself. Still, the man and Eve have been banished from the garden, never to return.
Genesis 4 (day 4)
Summary: The Garden of Eden story establishes a pattern that is followed all through the Old Testament. People settle a place (the Garden); they disobey or rebel against God (ate the fruit); they lose their place (banned from the Garden); there is a sign of grace (God clothes them).
1-8: The first thing Adam and Eve do outside the Garden is have children. If they had stayed in the Garden of Eden, do you think they would have ever had children? Or is it their mortality that makes children necessary? Two sons are born, Cain and Abel. Cain is a farmer (probably of grain – wheat or barley) while Abel is a shepherd. Specifically, Cain is a “tiller of the ground, and so follows his father’s vocation (2:15). Time passes, and Cain and Abel both bring sacrifices to the LORD. There is as yet no organized religion, but ancient peoples seemed instinctively to want to solicit God’s cooperation by giving God a portion of that which they wanted God to bless. Cain brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground.” Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions.” God had regard for Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s.
Two questions immediately present themselves: How did they know that God preferred Abel’s offering? And, why did God prefer Abel’s offering? The simplest answer is that during the next season Cain’s crops did not do as well, but Abel’s flocks thrived, thus indicating God’s approval. And God preferred Abel’s offering because Abel offered the firstlings of his flocks, while Cain simply went through the motions. In other words, Abel’s offering represented a real sacrifice, while Cain’s offering was a mere gesture.
Cain is angry and jealous, and God warns him. Do well (make a real sacrifice) and you will be accepted; don’t do well (just go through the motions) and you will be lured into sin – tempted to make up for your poor performance by practicing dishonesty and deceit.
8-16: Cain murders Abel, then shrugs off God’s inquiry by asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Remember that Adam was placed in the Garden to “till it and to keep it.” Cain follows his father’s vocation (tilling) but does not have his father’s character (keeping). Now Cain loses his work, his livelihood, because of his crime. He is overwhelmed by the severity of the consequences of what he has done.
Let’s pause for a moment to look at the outline given in the summary above and see how this story follows the same pattern as the Garden of Eden story. People settle a place (unnamed in this case, but they farm and herd and so have settled); they disobey or rebel against God (Cain spills the blood of his innocent brother); they lose their place (Cain becomes a fugitive and wanderer); there is a sign of grace (God puts a mark on Cain to protect him).
By the way, we will see all through Genesis a pattern of God’s rejection of the oldest son. Ishmael takes a back seat to Isaac, Esau to Jacob, Reuben to Joseph. In Exodus, Moses is the younger brother of Aaron. Later, King David will be the youngest son of Jesse. Perhaps Cain’s behavior is the reason God passes over the oldest in these families. In the New Testament, however, Jesus is the oldest child of Joseph and Mary.
17-24: Cain settles somewhere else eventually. He finds a wife, which we find curious since we thought there weren’t any other people in the world at the time. One suggestion is that Adam and Eve were not the first two human beings, but rather were the first ones to have a direct relationship with God. God created human beings in Chapter 1:26. So there are other people in the world outside the Garden, and among them Cain found a wife. (Was this a corruption of human nature, for those who had direct contact with God to intermarry with those who did not?) They have a child. Cain builds a city named after his son. Obviously there is a substantial population available for such an enterprise. Cain’s descendants are named. Music is invented. Tools are developed. Then Cain’s great-great-great-grandson Lamech kills another man and claims Cain’s immunity from retribution.
25-26: Adam and Eve have a third son, Seth. Seth also apparently finds a wife and they have a son, Enosh. Now we are told that this is when people first begin to call on the name of the LORD. Some kind of organized religion was being practiced that early in human history.
Genesis 5 (day 5)
You may have noticed that God has been variously referred to as God, the LORD (all capital letters), and the LORD God. Scholars think this is a clue to various sources to which the stories of the Torah can be traced. The most prominent theory is called the JEPD hypothesis.
J stands for Jahwist (in English, Yahwist). Some stories use the sacred personal name for God, Jah (in English, Yah, or Yahu, or Yahweh). In order to guard against ever taking the name of God in vain, early on the convention arose that whenever that name appears in the text, the person reading it would substitute the word “adonai,” thus avoiding using the actual name for God. “Adonai” is the word for “lord.” When that word is used to denote the personal name for God, in English it is rendered in all capitals, LORD. When that word is used to refer to a human ruler, it is rendered Lord. When you see “LORD” in the text, that is a clue that the story comes from the J source.
E stands for “Elohim”, which is the Hebrew word we translate God. Whenever the text simply refers to God, that is a clue that the story might belong to the E source.
P stands for “Priestly,” and the theory is that some stories comes from a source that emphasized ritual things. So, when we are reading about altars and offerings and rituals and the like, those details might belong to the P source.
D stands for “Deuteronomic,” and is pretty much confined to the book of Deuteronomy, which reads like a retelling of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers from a different perspective. We don’t need to be concerned with D in the first four books of the Bible.
Chapter 1 of Genesis uses “God” exclusively, so is an E document. Beginning at 2:4, however, suddenly God is referred to as “the LORD God,” which continues through Chapter 3. Then, in Chapter 4 we suddenly have another change, to simply “the LORD.” In Chapter 5 and beyond the references are mixed. Each change probably signals a different original source for the story, and they were all eventually put together in the form that comes down to us today, a form that has been intact for probably 2500 years or more.
1-2: In the last chapter the descendants of Cain were listed; here we have the descendants of Adam, beginning with Seth, Cain’s younger brother. In each generation, the family tree is passed on through one child only. The names of the other children are not given until we get to Noah at the end. The reference to humans being made in God’s likeness is a repeat of !:26. Chapter 1 was also an E (Elohim = God) document.
3-5: Only Seth is mentioned here. Cain and Abel are forgotten. In each generation the same information will be given: the name, the number of years lived before his son is born (not necessarily the oldest son – Seth was not the oldest), the number of years lived after his son is born, a note that other children were born, and the age at death.
Several explanations have been offered about the lengthy lives in Genesis. 1) The record is accurate; folks back then lived hundreds of years because life was simpler and the world was unpolluted. 2) Ancient people kept time with lunar calendars, not solar ones. If you divide the ages given by 12, you get a reasonable number. 3) Records were not accurate, and over the generations some ancestors were forgotten while others were remembered. As time went by, the ages of the forgotten ones were simply added to the remembered ones, resulting in ever growing life spans. 4) The records are fanciful. The ancestors may have lived, but the years ascribed to them are inventions of later generations who wanted their ancestors to appear to be very important people. The life spans here are extraordinary, but much more restrained than records found in other ancient societies. Some Near Eastern kings were said to have lived hundreds of thousands of years.
6-8: Many of the names in Adam’s family tree are closely related to the names in Cain’s family tree. Thus Seth’s son is named Enosh; compare Cain’s son, whose name was Enoch.
9-11: Enosh has Kenan, which in Hebrew is very like Cain.
12-14: Kenan has Mahalalel: compare Mahujael in Cain’s line.
15-17: Mahalalel has Jared: sounds close to Irad.
18-20: Jared has Enoch, the same name as Cain’s son.
21-24: Enoch, who has the shortest life – a mere 365 years – is the father of Methuselah, who has the longest life – 969 years. Note the similarity between Methuselah and Methushael from Cain’s lineage. Enoch is also the first one to receive any special notice, that he “walked with God,” and therefore died young. In Chapter 4, Cain’s son Enoch also got special notice by having a city named after him.
25-27: Methuselah is the father of Lamech. In Cain’s lineage, Methushael is the father of another Lamech.
28-31: Lamech fathers Noah, and in the entire list, Lamech is the only one who utters a speech. In the last chapter, Cain’s descendant Lamech was also the only one to deliver a speech. The similarity between Cain’s list and Adam’s can only mean that, in the human race, there really isn’t that much difference between one family and another. We are all subject to the same foibles and the same noble leanings.
32: Noah, we are told, has three sons. He is the only for whom the names of all the children are given. Adam also had three sons, and the mention of three sons here may be a clue to us that humanity is about to have to start all over.
Genesis 6 (day 6)
1-4: The text records an ancient belief, or memory, that in the distant past divine beings mated with humans and produced exceptional offspring. God decrees that this situation will not continue, but that there will be a limit on just how exceptional humans can be.
5-10: It is not clear that the wickedness mentioned here has anything to do with the mating of gods and mortals mentioned above, but wicked they are, so much so that God determines they must be done away with. We wonder where all this is going to lead, and then see that it is leading us back to the genealogy of the last chapter; to Noah, who, like Enoch, has found God’s favor because he is righteous; that is, he lives as God wants us to live. We are reminded that he has three sons.
11-13: It seems that the primary wickedness at large in the world is violence. Humans are prone to violence, and that is specifically the reason God has decided to destroy them.
14-17: God tells Noah about his plans to destroy all living things. This comes as a surprise because it is human beings that are corrupt. The point of view seems to be that, if people are corrupt, all living things are thereby corrupted. We are finding this out again, aren’t we?
18-22: God offers a covenant with Noah. A covenant is an agreement in which each party pledges something with respect to the other party. As Genesis goes on, the idea of covenant will be refined. Noah is the first person with whom God offers a covenant. God’s part of the bargain is that Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives will be spared. Noah’s part of the covenant is to build the ark and bring on board a representative sampling of all the creatures of the earth.
Genesis 7 (day 7)
1-5: This paragraph is filled with sevens – 7 pairs of clean animals, 7 pairs of birds, seven days until the rain begins. Scholars say that is a clue that this part of the story, concerned as it is with righteousness and ritual, is from the Priestly source.
6-10: This is essentially a repetition of the previous paragraph, without specifying seven pairs of clean animals or the righteousness of Noah, and is probably from the Elohist source (note the use of the word God, whereas in the last paragraph the reference was to the LORD). The seven days that pass between gathering the animals and the onset of the flood is a common element in both sources.
11-16: The date is more specific, the source of the flood waters is from below and above. The rains fell for 40 days and nights – 40 is a symbolic number representing the completion of a trial (40 years in the wilderness for Israel, 40 days in the wilderness for Jesus). Noah and his family and all the animals enter the ark.
17-24: The flood rose for forty days, and stood for 150 days more. All living things that breath perished “on the face of the earth,” but later information makes it clear that the flood was more local than is usually surmised – the generations that follow found suitable mates from among the world’s populations, for instance.
Genesis 8 (day 8)
1-5: Creation begins again in verse 1. “God made a wind blow over the earth” = “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Just as the waters were parted in the creation story to make dry land appear (1:9), now the flood waters subside to allow dry land to appear. The “mountains of Ararat” have never been positively identified.
6-12: A forty-day period passes. The 40 days of waiting on the mountains of Ararat mirror the 40 days the flood mounted in the last chapter. Noah sends out a raven with no results. A dove is sent, which found no place to roost (even though mountaintops have already appeared – verse 5) and returns. Noah waits another 7 days (more creation imagery!) and sends the dove out again. This time it returns with an olive leaf, paralleling the creation story in Genesis 1 (the appearance of land is followed by the appearance of vegetation). Still Noah waits, another 7 days. The dove is sent out again but does not return, indicating that it has found a place to nest.
13-19: Roughly 10 ½ months have passed, the flood has gone completely, and Noah tears of the ark’s roof and lets the sunshine in. A couple of months later, the ground is dry enough to disembark (a word based on the root, “ark”). God gives the command and they finally leave their floating home behind, having lived in it for more than a year. The note that they went out “by families” echoes the creation story’s “male and female he created them” (1:27).
20-22: Now we see why 7 pairs of the “clean” animals were brought on board (although the concept of “clean” and “unclean” awaits the Law of Moses): so that Noah can offer a sacrifice to God. His sacrifice echoes that of Abel, who brought as an offering the firstlings of his flock (4:4). And just as God was pleased with Abel’s offering, so is God pleased with Noah’s. God concedes that human beings will do wicked things, that “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth” – that’s just how we are – and determines that, no matter how wicked we become, he will never again destroy the earth because of us.
Genesis 9 (day 9)
1-7: In the creation story of chapter 1 we were told that “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth (1:28).’” After the flood God starts all over again. God blesses Noah and his sons and tells them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” exactly the same words used before. But then God makes some modifications. Now, instead of “have dominion,” God recognizes that “the fear and the dread of you shall rest upon every animal of the earth.” Human beings are a violent species, and this time around God is acknowledging that and planning around it. Before, all the green plants were given for food to every creature that breathes. Now, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you … only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” The decline of humankind began with Cain’s spilling of Abel’s blood, and now this becomes the singular law just as “you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was the singular law in the Garden. Violence, specifically murder, is the one forbidden thing in this renewed creation. The reason given again harkens back to the creation story; “in his own image God made humankind” (see also 1:26). The command to “be fruitful and multiply” is reiterated.
8-17: God offers a covenant that the earth will never again be destroyed by a flood. The sign of the covenant is the rainbow. It only appears when it rains – in other words, at just the moment when Noah might fear another flood. It is a symbolic bow, a weapon that God has hung up in the sky pointing not toward earth, but toward heaven. God is no longer at war with all creation.
18-28: Some commentators wonder if Canaan was born on the ark, but the text is unclear. Noah, a righteous man, planted a vineyard, made some wine, drank it and got drunk and fell asleep in his tent naked. Ham, father of Canaan, saw it and told his brothers who covered Noah up without looking at him. How Noah found out about this is anybody’s guess. He somehow knows his “youngest son,” meaning his grandson, Canaan, has something to do with it, and curses him for it. Canaan will be a slave of the descendants of Shem and Japheth, he says, while they will be blessed. Ham, Canaan’s father, is not mentioned. The story is curious and difficult. Ham saw his father, not Canaan. But Canaan is cursed for it. Apparently something got lost from the story over the generations of passing it down orally.
Genesis 10 (day 10)
1-5: We are now presented with the genealogy of the descendants of Noah. His three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, will be treated in reverse order. Shem’s descendants will continue through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and eventually to Jesus (see Luke 3:23-38). Japheth’s line is given first. Although many of the names are not known elsewhere, some of the names given here represent clans with later connections to Israel. Generally these are peoples that lived to the north of the Assyrian Empire, and around the eastern and northern rims of the Mediterranean, including Greece and Italy (some think Tarshish was on the Atlantic coast of Spain). Note that it is said that each family of descendants of Japheth had their own language. We will have to consider that statement again when we come to chapter 11.
6-20: Ham is next. His lineage will be, generally speaking, the people who settled Canaan and then to the south and west into Egypt and up the Nile river. However, the most prominent name in the list is Nimrod, whose rule was clearly in the region of the Euphrates River, and who is considered by some researchers to have been an early king of Assyria. Babel in the land of Shinar will be treated in the next chapter, and Nineveh is the great city of which the book of Jonah is concerned. Special attention is given to Canaan, of course, since his descendants settled the territory that God eventually gave Abraham.
21-32: Shem’s lineage is listed next, although he is the oldest of Noah’s sons. Most of the names listed here can be traced to areas around the Assyrian Empire circa 8th-7th century B.C. Abraham’s line will come through Shem, Arpachshad, Shelah, Ever, Peleg. Peleg’s line will be given later. Notice that each section ends with the declaration that each of these family groups had their own languages (verses 5, 20, 31).
Genesis 11-17 (readings for January 11-17, 2010):
Summary: Following the tower of Babel fiasco, God steps into the human picture again and chooses another couple to live in a territory of God’s choosing – Abram and Sarai. But they are not to “till it and keep it.” They are to possess it for their own, and they are to fulfill God’s first commandment to humankind: be fruitful and multiply. Only, this time God is starting with an old couple unable to have children!
Genesis 11 (day 11)
1-9: The famous story of the Tower of Babel begins with the assertion that “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” Either we have gone back in time to an earlier period after the Flood, or, as we saw in the last chapter, there were already a multiplicity of languages among the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth. Verse 2 tells us that the people we are concerned with here lived in the valley of Shinar, which belonged to the kingdom of Nimrod (10:9-10), a descendant of Ham. So, the story of the Tower of Babel (Babylon) is a story about the branch of the Noah family with whom the Israelites later had the most trouble. The people of Shinar want to make a name for themselves because they think that will prevent them from being “scattered over the face of the earth.” God did not like their ambition and so interfered with their plans by confusing their language. Their fate was thus exactly what they feared; they were “scattered abroad over the face of the earth.” A curious feature of the story is when God says, “Let us go down,” echoing the “us” of Genesis 1:26. It is apparently a reference to other divine beings, perhaps angels. Many Christian commentators speculate that the use of the plural pronoun reflects the Trinity.
12-26: The family tree of Shem is given now in more detail. The form is exactly the same as that of Adam’s descendants listed in Chapter 5: The man lives so many years, has a son, lives so many more years and has other sons and daughters. The main difference is that the total age of each person is not given – we have to do the math ourselves. No other information is given about any of the names on this list until we get to Terah, who has three sons, just like Noah, who was the last one listed in Chapter 5. Terah’s three sons are Abram, Nahor (named after his grandfather), and Haran.
Genesis 12 (day 12)
1-3: In Genesis 3 we saw God forming two human beings and placing them in a garden. That “experiment” failed. The man and woman sinned and forfeited the land God had given them. Next, God allowed the man and woman to make more people – Cain and Abel. That “experiment” ended in even worse disaster, with Cain murdering his own brother, resulting in his being banished from the land. With each succeeding generation people became more and more violent until God banished all of them from the land except Noah and his family. A few more generations passed and Noah’s descendants settled in Shinar and tried to build a tower to heaven to show themselves as great as God. They, too, were banished from the land and scattered over the face of the earth.
At the end of each of these “failures” there was a sign of God’s grace: clothing for Adam and Eve, a protective mark on Cain, a covenant of peace with Noah. At the tower of Babel, however, there was no sign of grace; the people are simply scattered over the earth.
Now God is choosing another person, Abram, from Ur (dangerously close to the scene of the tower!). There is only one fact about Abram that distinguishes him from everybody else: his wife can’t have children (11:30)! God is starting over again with a man and his barren wife.
What’s more, this time God begins by uprooting the man and woman from the land they had settled! It is obvious that with the selection of Abram and Sarai, God is starting all over again with a different formula for success. God promises Abram right at the beginning that his name will be great, so the temptation to make a name for himself (like the folks who built the tower of Babel) is removed at the start.
What’s more, God has determined from the start with Abram that every family on earth will be blessed because of him, removing the possibility that the earth would be cursed again.
4-9: Abram goes to the land of Canaan where Ham’s descendants have settled (Abram is a descendant of Shem), and camps at Shechem. God appears to Abram there and promises to give the land to Abram’s offspring, although Abram’s wife is barren. Abram builds an altar there. He moves on the Bethel and builds another altar and calls “on the name of the LORD” (compare 4:25). He is heading toward the Negeb desert in the southern part of Canaan.
10-16: A famine strikes the land, and Abram goes down to Egypt just as his grandson Jacob will do many years hence. This is the first record of contact between the Israelites and the Egyptians. There will be many more. Abram tells Sarai to claim to be his sister because he is afraid the Egyptians might kill him if they know he’s her husband. She agrees, and soon finds herself in Pharaoh’s harem. Abram benefits greatly from the arrangement.
17-20: But God is teaching Abram and Sarai how to be God’s people, and so afflicts Pharaoh’s household with plagues; a situation that will be repeated years later in the time of Moses. It is clear that Pharaoh had taken Sarai as his wife, which disturbs us no end, especially since we know she is barren and Abram is thus risking nothing.
Genesis 13 (day 13)
1-7 Abram and Lot leave Egypt and return to Canaan, passing through the land back to Bethel and Ai in the highlands north of Jerusalem. Abram has grown rich in Egypt, and now his holdings and Lot’s are more than the land can sustain. Their respective hired hands begin to fight with one another.
8-13: Abram offers Lot a fantastic deal: take what you want, I’ll settle for what’s left. Lot chooses what appears to be the most fertile area in the region – the well-watered Jordan River valley. But all is not as it appears to be in the valley; Lot is settling among a wicked people.
14-18: Abram surveys what is left, and sees that God is giving him a vast territory indeed. Looking at the land, he also hears God promising him numberless descendants. God invites him to look around. Abram, always attracted to the desert, it seems, moves southward to Hebron, on the edge of the wilderness. This is the first time since Adam and Eve that God has placed a human couple in a place God has specifically chosen for them.
Genesis 14 (day 14)
1-12: The “kings” listed here might more properly be referred to as “sheiks,” or “warlords.” The towns in the Jordan Valley where Lot has gone have been forced to pay tribute (cold, hard, cash – well, gold and silver) to Chedorlaomer, king of Elam – Elam was a territory east of Israel – and they are ready to attempt a revolt. So the towns in the valley band together and a battle ensues. We might expect the troops in the valley to have the advantage of the home turf, but they are the ones who are hampered by the tar pits in the valley, and Chedorlaomer and his cronies sack Sodom and Gomorrah, capturing Lot in the process.
13-16: Abram is told, and summons his body guard – three hundred men, born in his household! It turns out that Abram is a warlord in his own right. His pursuit takes him all the way to Damascus and beyond – over a hundred miles. He defeats the eastern “kings” and rescues Lot.
17-24: A victory celebration is held. The king of Sodom is there (still sticky with tar, I suppose), and another king named Melchizedek of Salem appears. His presence is shrouded in mystery, and that has led to all kinds of speculation about who he was. Early Christian commentators, because he brought bread and wine, saw in him a reflection of Christ. Other scholars think he is a made-up character: Melchizedek means “King of righteousness,” and Salem, his city, means “Peace.” That’s just too good, say some. Abram, for his part, is grateful that a priest/king has arrived to invoke God’s blessing, and gives Melchizedek 10% of all the spoils of battle, giving rise to the practice of tithing.
The King of Sodom wants the “persons” back, but not the other stuff. Perhaps Abram has heard how the people of Sodom treat “persons,” and rebuffs the suggestion. He insists on giving his allies a share of the spoil, but will not keep anything for himself.
Genesis 15 (day 15)
1-6: God speaks to Abram a third time. In the first encounter with God, Abram was promised land (12:1). In the second encounter he was promised lineage (13:15) to inherit the land. But years have passed and still no heir has been born, and now Abram is worrying about his legacy. In this vision God tells Abram, “I am your shield;” a new promise we haven’t heard before, but appropriate in the light of the last chapter’s battles. But all the stuff Abram has accumulated through God’s blessings and through his own cleverness is no longer satisfying to him (this happens to all of us sooner or later), and he wants to know what’s going to happen to his stuff? As it stands, Eleazar of Damascus will inherit everything. No explanation is given as to the identity of this Eleazar. Early commentators speculated that he was the highly regarded servant who was sent to find a wife for Isaac later, but this is no more than speculation. Given what we know of the customs of the time, Eleazar must have been a close relative; but that raises the question of why Lot wouldn’t qualify.
Nevertheless, in a vision God assures Abram that his own son will be his heir. He tells Abram to go outside and look up at the stars, and God tells him his descendants will be just so numerous. Abram is convinced by the vision. He believes God, and God “reckons it to him as righteousness,” a statement that Paul latches onto (Romans 4:3ff) to prove his point about being saved through faith and not works.
7-11: Now the subject shifts from lineage to land. God promises Abram the land he has settled, a promise given before. Abram asks for a sign, and God tells him to bring certain sacrifices. Note that the three animals are to be three years old, a doubling of the number 3, which we have seen symbolizes the arising of life (which first appeared on the 3rd day of creation). It is nighttime, and although the text says that Abraham brought them and cut them in half, we are not sure this is actually happened because we have not been told that the vision has ended.
12-16: Indeed, it does seem to be a continuation of the vision, because now we are told that the sun goes down, but Abram has already been out to look at the stars! A vision is usually understood to be a “waking dream.” Now, though, he falls completely asleep and begins to dream. His dream is dark and terrifying, but in the midst of it God speaks and tells Abram what will happen in years to come. His descendants will be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years, but will be rescued in God’s time. Obviously this is a reference to the sojourn in Egypt. Abram himself is promised a peaceful death at a ripe old age.
17-21: In his dream he sees a smoking pot pass between the halves of his sacrifice – a signal that God has ratified the promise given – and hears God again promise the land to his descendants. The boundaries mentioned here will never be realized, though, unless you include their exile to Babylon (in the Euphrates valley) a millennium and a half hence.
Genesis 16 (day16)
1-6: It is interesting that Sarai blames God for her barrenness, and I would love to know if Abram has told her about the dream he had in which God promised him many descendants. However that may be, it appears that Sarai determined that if God wasn’t going to give her children for Abram, then she would take matters into her own hands. She offers Abram her Egyptian slave girl (acquired when they were in Egypt and Abram let her become part of Pharaoh’s harem?) for baby-making. Her plan succeeds, but then she doesn’t like Hagar’s attitude. Abram is smart enough not to get triangulated with this pair, and tells her to handle it. She cracks down on Hagar, and the girl, who has already displayed her immaturity by her haughty attitude, runs away.
7: We meet an important character, the “angel of the LORD,” a mysterious entity who will appear sporadically through Genesis and beyond. The Hebrew word “mal’ach” essentially means “messenger,” and the temptation is to simply translate the phrase “the messenger of the LORD.” Sometimes, though, the phrase is obviously intended to refer to an appearance of a divine (angelic) being, and sometimes it is used to describe a temporary manifestation of God himself in human guise.
8-9: So, Hagar is in the wilderness and a mal’ach finds her beside the spring on the way to Shur – a landmark that would have been familiar to anyone searching for her. He tells her to go back to Sarai, advice which any human adult might give to a wayward girl.
10: But now the mal’ach tells her something we would expect only God to say, that her descendants would be uncountable. This sounds like what God told Abram in his vision of the stars (15:5), which makes us wonder if that promise is to be fulfilled through Hagar.
11-12: The mal’ach tells her that she will have a son, and is to name him “Ishmael,” but then describes her son as a social misfit always in conflict with the rest of the family.
13-16: For her part, Hagar is convinced that she has indeed seen God face to face, and calls the mal’ach “El-roi,” “God who sees.” The spring is given a name that recalls the event, Beer-lehai-roi, “the well of the living one who sees.” She goes back to Sarai, has the baby, and names him Ishmael which means “God hears.”
Genesis 17 (day 17)
Abram was 75 years old when he came to Canaan (12:4). He was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (16:16). Between the last verse of chapter 16 and the first verse of chapter 17, 13 years have passed and Abram is 99 years old. 24 years have passed since God called him to leave his homeland and go to Canaan.
1-8: Believe it or not, God speaks to Abram for only the fourth time – 12:1-3, 12:7, and 15:1-16 were the other three. Surprised? This time the promise of descendants is repeated. Indeed, God even changes Abram’s name to reflect that promise: Abram (“exalted father”) becomes Abraham (“father of many”). This time God expands the promise to include whole nations and kings. This time God promises to extend the covenant with Abraham to his offspring for all the generations to come. This time God extends the promise of the land to Abraham’s offspring for all time to come.
9-14: This time God demands something of Abraham and his offspring – that they be circumcised, so that the covenant will be a sign in their flesh.
15-22: This time God changes Sarai’s name as well: she is now to be called Sarah. No explanation is given for her name change, but it is clear that this time the covenant with God is specifically applied to Sarah as well as to Abraham.
And this time Abraham falls on his face laughing! (Well, actually, Abraham was already on his face – see verse 3.) He thinks it is hilarious that a 100 year-old man (as he would be when the child was born) and an 89 year old woman would have a baby. He begs God to spare them such an upheaval of a comfortable old age, and accept Ishmael as the heir. But God insists that it will be the descendants of Abraham and Sarah together who will be in a covenant relationship with him. Ishmael will be blessed, but not with the covenant. At the end of the conversation, God “went up from Abraham.” You might want to check out the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1; it makes for an interesting comparison.
23-27: Abraham carries out the mark of the covenant by circumcising every male in his household (remember he had 318 armed men aside from servants and slaves – see 14:14) including himself, at the tender age of 99.
Genesis 18 (day 18)
1-8: Three men appear outside Abraham’s tent. He exercises the rules of oriental hospitality and offers them rest and food. “A little bread,” he says, and proceeds to butcher a calf and prepare a feast.
9-15: One of the men tells Abraham that Sarah will have a son “in due season.” Sarah laughs, and the text specifies that the LORD says, “Why did Sarah laugh?” So, we learn that at least one of the men is God.
16-21: As they leave, Abraham, ever the good host, walks with them a ways to send them on their way and God debates whether to tell Abraham what is about to happen. But who exactly is debating? Verse 19 has the speaker, clearly one of the three, refer to the LORD in the third person. Many Christian commentators believe the three men are representations of the three persons of God in the Christian understanding of God’s Trinitarian nature. However, the text will indicate in the next chapter that the two who set off toward Sodom while Abraham argues with God are angels.
22-33: Two of them set off toward Sodom, while Abraham engages God in an argument over what will happen. Remember that Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is in Sodom, and Abraham would naturally be concerned with his welfare. The conversation recorded here is usually presented as Abraham persuading God to change his mind, but that is not the only interpretation possible. God may well have already decided not to destroy the whole city if 10 righteous people are found there; it just takes Abraham a while to get down to that number. In other words, God was willing to be more forgiving than Abraham dared think.
Genesis 19 (day 19)
1-11: We have been in Sodom before, in chapter 14 where we read of the capture of Lot. King Bera of Sodom seems to have been a leader of those who rebelled against King Chedorlaomer, and was the first one out to meet Abraham when he returned with their belongings. Abraham had treated him with extraordinary deference, refusing to keep for himself any reward.
Now we enter Sodom again with the two angels. Lot, whom Abraham rescued from Chedorlaomer, is sitting at the gate and extends to them the hospitality any stranger hopes to receive. But they at first refuse, preferring to stay in the square, perhaps to see what goes on in the city from which God has heard such an outcry.
Lot persuades them to come with him, and soon the men of the city gather to demand that the two angels be brought out to them. Lot himself is a resident alien in Sodom, and probably not trusted by the townspeople. Their proposed treatment of the two visitors, however, is presented as evidence of the outcry against the city. Sexual abuse has always been a way, albeit perverted, of humiliating an enemy. It does not necessarily mean that the men of Sodom were homosexual men, but it does mean that they were in the habit of mistreating innocent travelers.
We have to expect that Lot knew something about the city’s morality (we may even wonder about his own initiation into such a society), but his offer of his own daughters is beyond defending and suggests to us that their immorality is rubbing off on him. The men of the city take his offer as an insult, and begin to threaten Lot, and the angels take matters into their own hands and pull Lot to safety and strike the mob with blindness.
12-14: Lot is invited to bring his daughters’ fiancés to safety, but they refuse. They think he is joking with them.
15-23: At dawn the men urge Lot to leave. He hesitates, and once again they have to grab hold of him and compel him to move. They tell him to flee to the hills, but he begs to go to a nearby town, Zoar, and they relent. At this point, notice that the “they” becomes “he.” What happened to the other “angel” we are not told.
24-26: While Lot and his family flee across the valley floor fire and brimstone begin to rain down on Sodom and the surrounding area in a scene that reads like a volcanic eruption. Lot’s wife is behind him (which isn’t very complimentary of Lot, I’m afraid). She looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. Indeed, that whole area became known as the Salt Sea (and Dead Sea) Valley and is heavy with mineral deposits, many of which look like statues eroded by centuries of exposure to the elements.
27-29: Abraham arises the next morning and witnesses the destruction that has taken place in the early dawn. Lot, we are told, is saved as a favor to Abraham.
30-38: Unwilling for whatever reason to stay in Zoar, Lot takes his daughters up into the hills and they settle in a cave. The first recorded case of incest is then reported as the two girls, convinced their father will never take them back to civilization, in turn get him drunk and have sex with him and become pregnant. The story is a slur against the Moabites and Ammonites, two historical enemies of Israel.
Genesis 20 (day 20)
1-7: Abraham and Sarah settle in the territory of king Abimelech. They tell everybody they are brother and sister. We’ve heard this before, in Egypt. Abimelech takes Sarah into his harem, but this is where the story differs from the earlier one (see chapter 12). This time God speaks directly to Abimelech rather than sending plagues as he had done in Egypt. And this time it is made abundantly clear that Abimelech did not have sexual relations with Sarah. Perhaps the reason this is emphasized is because in the next chapter Sarah will give birth to a baby boy, and it is necessary to make clear that this baby boy will be Abraham’s.
8-18: Abimelech confronts Abraham with the deception, and now we learn that Abraham and Sarah are half-siblings! Abimelech gives Abraham sheep, oxen, and slaves to make amends, and Abraham in turn prays for Abimelech, and we learn that over the course of the story, which must have taken some time, at least months, no children were conceived in Abimelech’s kingdom, but Abraham’s prayer puts things back to normal.
Genesis 21 (day 21)
1-7: Finally! Sarah has her baby, 100-year-old Abraham names him Isaac, and everybody has a big laugh.
8-14: Sarah, however, has never forgotten Hagar’s indignant behavior when she was pregnant with Ishmael. She sees Ishmael playing with Isaac, and is suddenly afraid that Abraham’s great wealth might actually get divided between them. Perish the thought! Nothing would do for her but that Hagar and Ishmael must be banished. Abraham does not like the idea, but God lets him know that Isaac will be the chosen heir and he should do as Sarah asks. Remember that Hagar became pregnant at Sarah’s bidding soon after God had promised Abram he would have many descendants (15:5). Ishmael’s birth was never God’s idea in the first place – it was Sarai’s and Abram’s way of claiming God’s promise of offspring for Abram.
15-19: Hagar runs out of water and decides to give up. She puts Ishmael under a bush and leaves him to die. Ishmael is at least 14 years old, for Abraham was 86 when he was born (16:16) and 100 when Isaac was born (21:5). Hagar begins to weep, and then we are told that God hears Ishmael’s voice! God’s angel calls out to Hagar, informs her that her son’s voice has been heard and promises her that they will survive and that her son will be the father of nations. She is made aware of a well nearby where she replenishes her supply of water. This is of course Hagar’s second experience with a messenger of God in the desert, the first being when she was pregnant with Ishmael (16:7-15).
20-21: Ishmael matures and thrives. Hagar finds an Egyptian wife. After all, Hagar herself is Egyptian (16:1).
22-24: Abimelech of Gerar, who had almost bedded Sarah in the last chapter, comes and makes a military pact with Abraham. Abraham, you will recall, has a rather formidable bodyguard of 318 men (14:14).
25-34: Now we get to see that the pact was successful. A dispute arises over the ownership of a well of water – Beersheba, the very well that saved Hagar (verse 14) – and Abraham complains to Abimelech. Abimelech claims ignorance about the dispute, but then accepts the payment Abraham offers as title to the property.
This is the first place in the Bible that mentions “the land of the Philistines.” The Philistines themselves were mentioned in 10:14 as being descended from Ham, Egypt, and Caphtor, but their territory was not identified. Now we learn that their territory is in the coastal plain of Canaan, and there will be interactions with Abraham and Isaac, and of course with Israel much later. In Genesis, at least, the relationships with the Philistines are profitable for the most part. Abraham lived there “many days.”
Genesis 22 (day 22)
1-8: It certainly seems a cruel test, but if God did not intend for Isaac to die, Abraham could not have sacrificed him. There is in fact no danger to Isaac. Still we have to wonder why God would require such an extraordinary show of faith. Why does God find it necessary to test Abraham again when he has already promised land and lineage to the man? Ah, well, ours is not to reason why. Abraham hears God’s voice, Abraham does what God says.
We are not told that Sarah knows what is going on. She probably does not, for it would be unimaginable for her not to protest.
The mention of “the third day” in verse 4 should signal us that something unexpected will happen, and even that there will be a positive outcome, because the third day symbolizes life (it was on the third day of creation that God created life). Another hint is given in verse 8 when Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide the sacrifice. Either Abraham thinks he is lying to Isaac, or he knows God will not require him to carry out the sacrifice of his and Sarah’s only son.
9-14: Abraham builds the altar, puts the wood in place, binds Isaac and lays him on it. He actually raises his knife to slaughter his son before the LORD’s angel stays his hand. The angel says that now he knows Abraham fears God. Abraham passes the test. He sees a ram caught in a thicket and sacrifices the animal instead of the son.
15-19: The angel speaks a second time, telling Abraham that, now he has been willing to sacrifice his only son (although Ishmael is also his son), the LORD will indeed bless him. Was not the LORD indeed going to bless him before? There is something disturbing about this to me, and I can’t help but suspect that we are missing some element of the story. Abraham returns to Beer-sheba, and again Sarah is not mentioned. In fact, Sarah hasn’t been mentioned since 21:12 when she had Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away, and when she dies she will be living elsewhere (23:1). Did the episode with Isaac drive a wedge between them, or were they already separated following the episode with Hagar and Ishmael?
20-24: Abraham receives word of his brother Nahor back in Haran that a number of children have been born to him and Milcah (see 11:29), and other children through the concubine, Reumah – Hagar’s counterpart back in the old homeland. The name that will concern us later is Rebekah. She is Isaac’s first cousin, once removed (that is, one generation removed – her father Bethuel is Isaac’s first cousin, Abraham’s nephew).
Genesis 23 (day 23)
1-16: Sarah dies in Hebron. Abraham was last seen in Beer-sheba, about 25 miles southwest of Hebron. Did the incident with Isaac result in a rift between them? In any case, Abraham comes to Hebron and secures a burial place for his family from one of the locals. They at first offer to sell him one of their tombs, but he wishes to have a separate burial ground and so offers to buy a specific piece of property. The account of the bartering between Abraham and Ephron is fascinating. It is told in great detail in order that there will be no mistake about who now owns the property.
17-20: Sarah is buried there. Abraham will be buried there as well, and so will their grandson, Jacob.
Genesis 24 (day 24)
1-9: Now that Sarah has died, Abraham decides it is time to find Isaac a wife. Isaac is the only child of Abraham and Sarah, and we wonder if his mother would have let him go while she lived. Abraham summons his eldest servant to give him instructions about how to go about securing a wife for Isaac. Commentators speculate that this might be Eliezer of Damascus, who was mentioned at 15:2 as the apparent heir if Abraham had never had children of his own. The prospective bride must not be a Canaanite girl but must come from Abraham’s old country and family; that is, in Haran where his father settled when they migrated from Ur (11:31). In addition, Isaac must not go back there, but must remain in Canaan because that is the land God had promised would belong to Abraham’s descendants.
10-14: The servant takes an impressive assortment of gifts to serve as a bride price and heads to Aram-naharaim in modern day Syria on a tributary of the Euphrates River. The “city of Nahor” is Haran, where Abraham left his brother Nahor and his father Terah. He stops at the well outside the city, a gathering place for all the young girls in town who would have the chore of fetching water. The servant’s prayer is in keeping with common Oriental courtesy: any girl to whom he said “give me a drink of water” would of course offer to water his camels as well. In other words, the servant was planning to pick a girl and was asking God to bless his choice.
15-21: Lo and behold, the first girl to show up was a cutie. She drew water, and the servant ran to meet her. He asked her the question and she responded as he expected any decent girl would. She watered his camels while he watched, wondering if he could really be so lucky.
22-27: He pulls out of his bag a selection of jewelry that could only be interpreted as a bid for a bride, and asks her about her family. When she tells him she is Nahor’s granddaughter he knows he has arrived at the right place, and gives thanks to God.
28-33: He gives her the jewelry and she runs home to tell her family. Her brother Laban sees the gold and heads for the wellspring to meet the man who brought it. He bows and scrapes and urges the servant to come to his house and enjoy their hospitality. They sit down to eat, but the servant insists on telling his errand first.
34-41: He tells them what we read in verses 1-9.
42-44: He tells them what we read in verses 11-14.
45-49: He tells them what we read in verses 15-27, then puts the question to them: can she go with me to marry Isaac, or not?
50-51: Her brother and father speak at the same time: Take her! They seem awfully eager, but then 10½ shekels is a lot of gold.
52-61: The servant bestows gifts on Rebekah, her brother Laban and her mother. We learn now that the servant has not made the trip alone but has an escort with him. They spend the night. The next day Laban and his mother try to persuade him to wait ten days (maybe there will be more gifts forthcoming?), but he refuses. They summon Rebekah, and she agrees to the journey, so they send her off to her new fate with a nurse and good-bye wave.
62-66: Isaac and Rebekah meet. Their marriage is consummated in his deceased mother’s tent, which apparently is not the same as his father Abraham’s tent. Isaac is a wounded soul, grieving for his mother and psychologically scarred from his near-death experience at the hand of his father. He will never be as decisive as his father Abraham, but we will see that Rebekah more than makes up for any shortcomings he has in that department.
Genesis 25 (day 25)
1-6: Abraham gets on with his life and remarries, to a woman named Keturah. They have a bunch of kids. Some of the names given are of individuals; many are of whole tribes. He gives them each a gift, but leaves his estate to Isaac, the only child he and Sarah had together. Sarah was always afraid these other sons would have a claim on the inheritance. She need not have worried.
7-11: Abraham dies, and it is good to see that his two oldest boys, Isaac and Ishmael, come together to lay him to rest beside Sarah. Isaac then moves on to Beer-lahai-roi.
12-18: Now the descendants of Ishmael are listed; he is credited with being the ancestor of virtually every group east and southeast of Israel.
19-28: Now we pick up the story of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac, like his father Abraham, marries a woman who cannot have children. And like Abraham and Sarah, they finally have children by God’s intervention. Rebekah is now pregnant with twins who struggle within her. They are born, Esau and Jacob. Esau is a hairy daddy’s boy who loves the outdoors. Jacob is a fair-skinned momma’s boy who loves the indoors.
29-34: Even though Esau is the oldest, Jacob is the one through whom the covenant with Abraham will be passed. Here is an explanation: Esau sold his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew. Esau should have known: never engage in property negotiations on an empty stomach.
Genesis 26 (day 26)
1-5: A famine in the land sends Isaac over to Gerar where another King Abimelech of the Philistines – it can hardly be the same Abimelech encountered by Abraham (20:2) for too much time has passed. But, the story that follows is so close to the story of Abraham’s dealings with Abimelech we have to wonder if somehow they became confused. While in Gerar God repeats the covenant arrangement to Isaac that he had made with Abraham. The promise of land and lineage is a constant theme.
6-11: Isaac passes his wife off as his sister, and the story is very much like the story of Abraham and Sarah in chapter 20, so much so that they may in fact be the same tale.
12-16: Isaac is very successful at farming and herding, until the Philistines are threatened by him and Abimelech asks him to leave.
17-22: Isaac camps a distance away from the city and reopens wells that the Philistines had filled in, wells that Abraham dug. Abimelech’s herders claim the first two wells as their own, but do not dispute the third well. This is again parallel to an Abraham story in 21:25.
23-25: He moves on to Beer-sheba, where God once again assures him of his protection. Isaac builds an altar there, and has a well dug. He plans to stay awhile.
26-33: Abimelech and Phicol we met before (21:22), but Ahuzzath is new. Ahimelech makes a treaty with Isaac just as he (or his father?) had done with Abraham. Another clue that these Isaac stories have become confused with Abraham stories is the name of the place, Beer-sheba. Here it is explained as being based on the word “shibah,” and implies that it is a new place name, but at 21:31 it was called Beer-sheba because Abraham and Abimelech swore an oath together there.
34: Esau marries a couple of Canaanite (Hittite) girls, giving Rebekah and Isaac no end of distress.
Genesis 27 (day 27)
1-4: Isaac wants to give Esau his blessing before he dies. Esau is the oldest son and therefore entitled to the blessing, which is a way of passing on the authority of head-of-family, and is of great legal value in the world of that day. He asks Esau to kill some wild game and prepare it, and perhaps to insure the fulfillment of the request promises to give Esau his blessing when he completes the task.
5-17: But Rebekah has other plans, perhaps because of Esau’s disagreeable wives. She cooks up a plan for Jacob to receive the blessing. She tells him to kill a couple of goat kids, and she will prepare the meat in such a way that Isaac will think it is Esau’s wild game. Jacob is not at all sure of the scheme, but Rebekah says she will bear the blame if their scheme is uncovered. She cooks the meat and dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes.
18-29: It is an almost comic scene. Isaac is suspicious from the very beginning. He recognizes Jacob’s voice, but wonders how the hunt went so quickly. He feels Jacob’s arm to see if they are hairy like Esau’s. He asks him to kiss him so he can smell him. Some of the old rabbis believe that Isaac knows all along it is Jacob, but blesses him anyway because he realizes that Jacob is the more capable of the two, and they surmise that he prefers Jacob to Esau now because Esau is married to those contentious women. So, he allows the ruse to succeed.
30-38: Esau arrives just as Jacob is leaving, and the deceit is discovered by Esau and Isaac. But Isaac will not reverse his position. He claims that once the blessing is given it cannot be taken back. Well, okay then, let it be, but bless Esau, too! Ah, but Isaac insists that he cannot give Esau the family blessing and the authority that goes with it. Esau is distraught and begs his father for a blessing. It is a sad sight to see; a grown man crying because his father will not bless him.
39-40: So, Isaac “answers” him, but does not bless him. The pronouncement recorded here is hardly a blessing, but at least it ends on a hopeful note. The point of the story, of course, is that Israel (Jacob) receives the blessing of the land, not Edom (Esau). In the centuries to come those two peoples will live in constant opposition.
41-46: Esau utters murderous threats, and Rebekah is informed, as she always seems to be. She tells Jacob to go to Haran to her brother Laban and stay until Esau’s anger is passed. Then she complains to Isaac about Esau’s wives and hints very strongly that it will be a disaster if Jacob marries one of the local girls.
Genesis 28 (day 28)
1-5: So, Isaac summons Jacob and sends him to Padan-aram (Haran) to marry a first cousin. He bestows upon Jacob the blessing of Abraham.
6-9: Poor dumb Esau. It finally dawns on him that his wives are a source of angst for his parents because they are Canaanite; so he goes and marries an Egyptian girl, Mahalath, his own first cousin, daughter of his uncle Ishmael.
10-17: Jacob’s dream is one of the best known stories of Genesis. He leaves Beer-sheba in the far south on the edge of the wilderness and travels northward toward Damascus and then on to Haran. He stops in the hill country for the night and there he dreams of a ladder or stairs reaching from earth to heaven, with the angels of God climbing up and down on it. In the cultural imagery of the time the ladder represents the road by which God’s messengers are sent to earth to perform their various duties and then return to heaven to report. In his dream God stands beside him (some translations have God standing above the ladder) and tells him that the promise made to Abraham will be passed on to him. He will be given the land, and his lineage will be too numerous to count. God also tells Jacob that the blessing of all the families of the earth will be carried out through his descendants. God also promises to watch over him and keep him until he comes back to Canaan. When Jacob awakens he is convinced he is in a holy place, and the thought frightens him.
18-22: He sets the stone pillow in a prominent place and pours oil on it. He names the place Bethel, which means “house of God,” although the place name has been mentioned before. Jacob then strikes a deal with God. If God will keep him safe, and if God will provide food and clothing, and if God will bring him back again in peace, then Jacob will accept the LORD as his God, and will give him a tenth of all he has. It sounds as if Jacob is trying to control the terms of his relationship with God, but remember that this was a dream he had, and although a dream can seem very real it is still a dream. The way Jacob has of testing the dream is to lay out the conditions under which he will be convinced that it is more than just a dream; that God has really been present there.
Genesis 29 (day 29)
1-3: Jacob arrives at a well, probably the same well at which Abraham’s servant had met Rebekah and brought her back to marry Isaac. Shepherds and flocks are gathered around it. The well is protected by a huge stone, perhaps to make it inaccessible to wild animals, or perhaps to prevent evaporation of the water during dry seasons.
4-8: Jacob is surely delighted and relieved to hear that the shepherds know his uncle Laban. As luck would have it, Laban’s daughter Rachel is approaching as they speak. Jacob then tries to get the shepherds to uncover the well, water their flocks and be on their way so he can meet Rachel alone, but they are a lazy bunch. They want to wait until everybody is there and they’ll have lots of help removing the stone cover.
9-12: Jacob sees Rachel and removes the stone all by himself, show-off! He draws water for her flock, then kisses her and cries and tells her he is her first cousin, her aunt Rebekah’s son. She runs to tell her father, probably not the reaction Jacob wanted to inspire.
13-14: Laban comes running and gets Jacob and brings him home with him, just has he had done many years earlier when his sister Rebekah ran home to say she had met the servant of Abraham at that well (see 24:28). Perhaps Laban expects to be rewarded with jewelry again, but it is not to be. Still, Jacob is his nephew, and so is offered the hospitality of Laban’s home and stays for a whole month. During that time, “Jacob told Laban all these things,” (verse 13), but we are not told what things exactly. Probably not the part about Jacob cheating his brother Esau out of the birthright and then stealing his blessing and Esau swearing to murder him and that is why he is in Haran. He probably kept that part to himself. Or maybe he did tell exactly that, which is what convinced Laban that “truly you are my bone and my flesh,” because we will learn that when it comes to dirty tricks, Jacob has nearly met his match in Laban.
15-20: Laban asks Jacob to name his wages. We learn now that there are two girls, Leah and Rachel. Something is up with Leah’s eyes, we don’t know exactly how to translate here, but Rachel is graceful and lovely and Jacob is already helplessly in love with her and offers to serve Laban seven years if he can marry her. Commentators believe this is evidence that Rachel is still a child at the time, perhaps 10 or even younger. In other words, Jacob, a grown man, falls in love with a little girl. There was no Safe Sanctuaries policy in force in Canaan in those days. Laban agrees, and Jacob settles down to the task and the time passes quickly.
21-30: Like uncle like nephew, goes the old saying, sort of. Jacob demands his “wages” at the end of seven years. Laban makes a great show of putting on a wedding, but sneaks his older daughter Leah into the tent instead. Jacob must have been so eager to enjoy the fruit of his labors that he isn’t paying very close attention and spends the entire night with the wrong girl. Or, maybe he knew it all along? In any case the next morning Laban makes a lame excuse, but, hey, what can Jacob do about it now? Laban says, I’ll give you the other daughter next week if you’ll stay another seven years. It seems extraordinary to us moderns, but Jacob says, okay, I’ll do it. That’s incredible.
31-25: Leah gets pregnant, Rachel doesn’t, which, in the book of Genesis is a clue that Rachel is the favored one. A baby is born, and she names him Reuben. A second one comes along, and she names him Simeon. The third one is named Levi and the fourth Judah. Each time the name of the child reflects something of her misery at being unloved by Jacob. If you’re feeling very sorry for her you might want to read chapter 49:29-32. It will put Leah in a different light.
Genesis 30 (day 30)
1-8: Rachel is distraught over her inability to conceive, and blames Jacob for not giving her children. Jacob in turn blames her. Actually, he puts the responsibility in God’s lap. So Rachel, like Sarah before her, rather than wait for God decides to take matters into her own hands and offers her maid Bilhah to Jacob. Bilhah promptly gets pregnant and has a son, whom Rachel names Dan. Jacob and Bilhah hook up again and Bilhah has another baby boy. Rachel names him Naphtali.
9-13: Leah, not to be outdone, sends her maid to get pregnant, and Zilpah in her turn has two sons by Jacob, Gad and Asher.
14-21: The competition heats up when Reuben finds some mandrakes in the field and brings them to his mother Leah. Mandrake is related to nightshade. It’s forked root resembles the human body and so it was believed to have fertility properties. It is, however, poisonous, and I’m not sure how it was used to promote fertility. Rachel begs Leah for some of them, but Leah is not about to help her until Rachel offers to let her sleep with Jacob. She gives Rachel some of the mandrakes then, and waylays Jacob when he gets home, and manages to get pregnant. Her fifth son is named Issachar. Maybe that encounter kindled the flame, because she gets pregnant twice more and has another son and a daughter, Zebulun and Dinah.
22-24: Finally, Rachel has some success with the mandrakes and has a son whom she names Joseph. The etymology of the name suggested here is that it is a prayer that she’ll have another son, and indeed she does, but much later – see 35:16-18. So, 12 sons and a daughter are born to Jacob by these four women. The 12 sons are the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel.
25-36: Incredibly, only 7 years have passed since Jacob married Leah and Rachel, and he asks Laban to let him take his leave and return home. Laban has prospered greatly because of him, though, and tells him to name his price for staying on. Jacob has been through this before, but can’t resist pressing his luck with Laban. He offers to work another 7 years if Laban will give him the sheep and goats that are speckled and spotted. Laban agrees, but then secretly removes all the animals that would be Jacobs and pastures them a safe distance away.
37-43: Jacob is not deterred. He hatches an elaborate scheme of putting stripped wooden rods in front of the animals when they mate, and begins to reap a harvest of speckled and spotted goats and sheep. There is no evidence to suggest such a thing actually results in speckled and spotted lambs and kids, but piebald genes are obviously already in Laban’s herds and flocks so that inevitably speckled and spotted offspring will be born. Jacob simply undertakes an ambitious selective breeding program and in 6 years has amassed an impressive amount of wealth which enables him to purchase donkeys and camels and slaves in addition to his flocks and herds.
Genesis 31 (day 31)
1-9: It comes as no surprise that tension grows between Jacob and Laban and his sons. Jacob senses that the LORD is telling him it’s time to go home, and this time he doesn’t bother to approach Laban. Instead he calls Leah and Rachel out to the field where they can talk confidentially, and he summarizes his dealings with their father. In his estimation he has been mistreated from the very start.
10-16: He tells them that his success is due to a dream God gave him, and that God is telling him it is time to return to Canaan. The girls agree. They can see that their father simply doesn’t have the wherewithal to be very successful whereas Jacob obviously does. They encourage him in his plan to leave.
17-18: So, off they go.
19-21: Laban is out of town attending to the annual sheep-shearing. Rachel seizes the opportunity to claim for herself the family idols, and Jacob and his wives and children hit the road back to Canaan.
22-24: Laban is told they have gone, and pursues them across the country. It takes him a week to catch up to them, and then his anger is stymied by a dream that he has in which God warns him not to say anything either good or bad to Jacob. In other words, no more deals!
25-32: Laban launches into a tirade about Jacob stealing his daughters and denying him the opportunity to organize a suitable send-off and tell them good-bye properly. Then he remembers his dream and backs off, but he demands to know why Jacob has stolen his household idols. Jacob invites him to search his camp, and because he doesn’t know what Rachel has done, says that whoever stole the idols will die. How will Rachel get out of this one?
33-35: Laban searches Jacob’s tent, and Leah’s tent, and Bilhah’s tent, and Zilpah’s tent, and of course finds nothing. Then he goes into Rachel’s tent, and the tension mounts. But the idols are not in Rachel’s tent. She’s sitting on them on her camel! She makes an excuse that only a woman can make for not alighting, and Laban is deceived. Her theft goes undiscovered.
36-42: Now it is Jacob’s turn to fume and fuss. He accuses Laban of all manner of deceptions and abuses. Interestingly we learn in his tirade that he has not completed the seven years agreed upon for his title to the sheep and goats, but only six.
43-50: Laban refuses to budge on the issue of ownership, but grudgingly grants that Jacob can take his wives and children and other people and things and go. He offers to make a treaty with Jacob, and Jacob responds by having his people make a pile of stones. They call this monument “heap of witness” (jegar-sahadutha in Aramaic, galeed in Hebrew). You often hear people recite Laban’s parting words, “The LORD watch between you and me while we are apart from one anoter,” thinking it is a blessing, but it is not. It is an acknowledgement that Jacob’s God is more potent than the Mesopotamian deities worshiped by Laban (and Rachel, it seems), and is a way of saying, “You’d better behave because Somebody is watching you!”
51-55: Laban continues outlining the terms of the treaty. Neither party is to pass beyond that heap of stones to harm the other, and he again invokes their respective gods – Abraham’s and Nahor’s – to judge between them. Nahor, you will recall, was Abraham’s brother. Laban is his grandson as Jacob is Abraham’s grandson. Jacob offers a sacrifice to the LORD, and they have a big party that lasts all night. Then Laban kisses his daughters and his grandchildren and mounts his camel and rides off into the sunset.
Genesis 32 (day 32)
1-2: A curious verse. As Jacob is preparing to break camp at the site of his encounter with Laban in the hill country of Gilead, two angels of God meet him. We are told nothing of the exchange, but Jacob once again is convinced that God is present in a place he has slept, and names the place Mahanaim (“two camps”).
3-5: The more pressing reality, though, is the imminent meeting with his brother Esau. He sends word to Esau that he is coming home, and mentions that he is quite able now to pay Esau for the trouble he caused 20 years before.
6-8: The messengers do not bring happy news, though. Esau is on his way to meet Jacob with 400 men. Curiously, Jacob continues on his course, although he does take action to present a less satisfying target to his estranged and probably still murderous brother.
9-12: Jacob prays for the first time in his life, as far as we know. He reminds God of the promise made to him 20 years before, admits his fear of Esau, and places himself at God’s mercy. It is truly an act of faith, considering how he left Esau.
13-21: But Jacob is a practical man as well, and he arranges for what he hopes will be an appeasing gift for Esau. He sets apart 5 groups of animals: 220 goats, 220 sheep, and 30 female camels with nursing young, 40 cows with 10 bulls, and 40 donkeys. He sends them ahead and instructs them each to tell Esau that they are gifts for him from his brother Jacob. So, 5 times Esau’s approach will be at least briefly delayed.
22-32: Jacob moves his entire encampment across the Jabbok, but he stays alone on the other side, and engages in a mysterious wrestling match with a man whom he comes to regard as none other than God. God does have a habit of showing up in common guise. They wrestle unsuccessfully all night although Jacob’s hip is put out of joint, and as the day is breaking his adversary tries to leave, but Jacob insists on a blessing. The man asks his name, and then gives Jacob a new name, Israel. Jacob in turn asks the man’s name, but is refused, perhaps because it would have been impertinent for Jacob to have given God a new name, too. Jacob names the place “Face of God,” because he believes he has had a direct encounter with the divine. I agree.
Genesis 33 (day 33)
1-3: Here comes Esau, and Jacob is frantic now with panic. In addition to the five groups of animal gifts he now divides his family between the maids and their kids, Leah and her children, and Rachel with the infant Joseph. By the time Esau gets to him he will have gotten a pretty good idea of who Jacob has become.
4-11: But Jacob needn’t have bothered. Esau runs to meet him, hugs and kisses him and cries with him. Jacob introduces all his wives and children to Esau. Coming into Esau’s territory, courtesy requires that he bring a gift, and he now presents Esau with the extravagant collection of domestic animals. Courtesy requires Esau to refuse to accept. Courtesy requires Jacob to insist. So now Esau has lots of stuff.
12-14: Esau offers to accompany him to their father’s home, but Jacob makes excuses. Does he not trust his brother?
15-17: Esau offers then to leave a contingency of his men to accompany Jacob, but Jacob again begs off. Does he not trust his brother? It appears not, for they go now their separate ways – Esau to Seir, Jacob to Succoth.
18-20: Arriving at Bethel, Jacob purchases a tract of land and builds an altar on which to present offerings to “God, the God of Israel.” Israel, at this point, is Jacob, of course.
Genesis 34 (day 34)
1-4: A tragedy strikes the family. Dinah, Jacob and Leah’s daughter, is raped by a local sheik who then wants to marry her. That is, he wants his father Hamor to purchase her for him.
5-7: Jacob learns of the rape, but decides to do nothing until he confers with his sons, so waits for them to return from the field. As luck would have it, Hamor arrives at the same time. Dinah’s brothers are enraged because of the “outrage in Israel.” There is no Israel, yet, but sometimes the writers forget that, which results in such anachronisms in the story.
8-12: Hamor proposes a treaty of happy coexistence. We learn now that Shechem has accompanied his father to the negotiations, and he blurts out that he will pay any price, any price whatsoever if they’ll just let him marry the girl. Shechem doesn’t mention anything about Jacob’s people living in the land with them and intermarrying with them and buying property and so forth. He just wants Dinah.
13-17: Dinah’s brothers take advantage of his eagerness combined with Hamor’s offer. They tell them that if all the men will be circumcised then they can intermarry with each other. Thus the sons of Jacob plan to deceive the people of Shechem – the city Shechem as well as prince Shechem. You might notice that they never specifically say they will give Shechem permission to marry Dinah.
18-24: But, of course, that is how Hamor and Shechem interpret their offer. So they go into the city and persuade the men of the city to go along with the program, and they are planning a little deceit of their own. Go along with the circumcision thing, they say, and “Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours?” In other words, eventually we will simply outnumber and overwhelm them. So, all of the men of Shechem had their foreskins cut off.
25-31: Simeon and Levi show up on the third day, just when they are at the height of the recovery period, and slaughter every man in Shechem, including Hamor and his son Shechem, the rapist. The other brothers then plunder the town and take everything that has any value, including the women and children (isn’t that just as bad as what Shechem did to their sister?). Jacob, always cautious, is worried that there will be retribution, but his sons are indignant that they will not allow their sister to be treated like a whore – that is, raped and then bought.
Genesis 35 (day 35)
1-4: Jacob perceives that God is calling him back to Bethel, where he had dreamed of the ladder reaching to heaven with God telling him that he would be with Jacob wherever he went (28:18-22). Perhaps he also feels that the time has come to leave the vicinity of his sons’ violent acts. He gathers his household and tells them where they are going, and that he will make an altar and sacrifice to God. He tells them to put away their “foreign gods,” meaning their idols and other icons that represented pagan deities. Now that they are back in Canaan, there is only one God to acknowledge. He collects all of the items, (but not really all, as we will learn later) and buries them under a tree near Shechem. He understands that this God who has been with him will not tolerate the worship of other gods, and so he will not take them with him to Bethel.
5-8: There is some concern that the people in the cities and towns near Shechem will band against them, but God protects them as they journey, and they arrive safely at their destination. Jacob builds an altar where he had set up the stone before. His mother’s nurse, Deborah, dies there. This is a surprise, since we left Isaac and Rebekah at Hebron (see ahead, verse 27).
9-15: There is some confusion in these verses because they seem to conflate two events; the dream of the ladder, and the wrestling match on the banks of the Jabbok. Verses 9-12 seem to be harkening back to the story of Jacob wrestling with God. That is where his name was changed to Israel. Verses 13-15 seem to refer back to the story of the dream where he saw angels ascending and descending the ladder. That is where he set up the pillar, anointed it with oil, and named the place Bethel. The purpose of the paragraph being inserted here seems to be to reinforce the divine promise of the inheritance of the land.
16-21: Now they begin to move southward toward Hebron, perhaps to visit his father. There is the possibility that his mother Rebekah has already died. She is not mentioned again until we are told in 49:31 that Isaac and Rebekah were buried together at Hebron, and that would explain why her nurse, Deborah, had left the family’s camp at Hebron and gone to Bethel. While they travel, Rachel, who is pregnant with her second son, goes into labor. She dies in childbirth and is buried at Bethlehem. Before she dies she names the child Benoni (child of my sorrow), but Jacob names him Benjamin (child of the South), and the ancestor of Israel’s 12th tribe enters the world.
22-26: They pause at Eder, an unknown place, and there Reuben lay with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. Bilhah had been the maid of his mother Rachel, who has just died and been buried. Freudians can have a heyday with this one. The text now lists the 12 sons of Jacob, not in birth order, but in the order of the wives and concubines he bedded. In spite of verse 26 they were not all born in Paddan-aram, for Benjamin was born in Bethlehem.
27-29: Isaac dies in Hebron at a ripe old age. He lived long enough to see his son return. Rebekah, the one who did all the scheming on Jacob’s behalf, apparently did not.
Genesis 36 (day 36)
1-3: Now we’ll catch up with what’s been going on with Esau. He marries two Hittite girls who are a source of vexation for Isaac and Rebekah (26:34-35). Later, when they send Jacob away to find a wife in Haran, he marries within the family to a daughter of Ishmael, a first cousin. However, this is a different tradition and the names are somewhat confused. Here is a chart showing the two lists side by side:
Genesis 26:34-35 | Genesis 36:1-3
Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite | Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite
Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite | Oholibamah daughter of Anah the Hivite
Mahalath daughter of Ishmael | Basemath daughter of Ishmael
4-5: While still living in Canaan with or near Isaac and Jacob, Esau has five children whose names are listed here.
6-8: Esau then moves to the hill country of Seir, in what will later be Edom. Edom is located on the east side of the Jordan rift valley, south of the Dead Sea. The reason given for his moving is that he and Jacob have too many animals for the land to support them both, a situation that we saw once before between Abraham and Lot (13:5-9). However, the chronology seems to be a bit confused because when Jacob was returning from his time in Haran, he sent messengers to Esau “in the land of Seir,” (32:3), indicating that Esau had already moved there.
9-14: All the sons and grandsons of Esau when they settled in Seir are listed here.
15-19: Now the record of lineage expands to show how certain clans or tribes within Edom are direct descendants of Esau through each of his three wives.
20-30: But now a curious thing happens. The list of Esau’s descendants is interrupted to give the lineage of one Seir the Horite. The linkage between the two is not readily seen, but in fact Esau married Seir’s great-granddaughter Oholibamah (verse 25). She was the daughter of Anah (verse 25), son of Zibeon (verse 24), son of Seir (verse 20). Oholibamah, then, comes from a prominent family in Edom, which is probably why we have this paragraph listing the descendants of Seir.
20-39: And now an even more curious turn: A list of the kings of Edom who ruled before there were kings in Israel is given, but no explanation as to why they are named here, when in fact this same list is repeated almost exactly in I Chronicles 1:43-50 where it is more appropriate. The list has no application in this part of the story of Israel’s pre-history.
40-43: The list of the Edomite clans descended from Esau is concluded here. We will see that Edom and Israel are often allies in the future because the Edomites are considered to be descended from Isaac through Esau just as Israel is considered to be descended from Isaac through Jacob.
Genesis 37 (day 37)
1-2: After the brief excursion into Edom we return now to Canaan and the story of the covenant people, Jacob and his descendants.
2-4: We are introduced to Joseph. Joseph is the oldest son of Jacob and Rachel. His mother Rachel died giving birth to his little brother, Benjamin. This introduction paints Joseph as Jacob’s favorite because he was born in Jacob’s old age, but that doesn’t track with the story of Jacob’s stay in Haran working for his father-in-law Laban, where 11 of his 12 sons were born, including Joseph. Nevertheless, we get the picture. Jacob loves him best and gives him a special coat to mark his favored status: a “coat of many colors,” in older translations; a “long robe with sleeves” in others. The Hebrew words cannot yet be accurately translated. Joseph is Jacob’s favorite and therefore his brothers hate him. It is interesting that Jacob assigns him to help the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, and not the sons of Leah.
5-8: As his father’s favorite, Joseph apparently leaves no opportunity lost to lord it over his brothers. He has a dream in which they are all tying sheaves of grain in the field, and their sheaves bow down to his. Telling them the dream only serves to make him even more loathsome in their eyes. He is a spoiled brat and a braggart to boot.
9-11: Joseph has another dream, and can’t keep this one quiet, either. He dreams that the sun, the moon and eleven stars all bow down to him. This dream irks even his father who interprets it to mean that his parents (although Leah is not his actual mother) will be beneath him. This makes his brothers even more jealous, but it causes Jacob to ponder. Jacob takes dreams seriously, you know.
12-14: Shechem is quite a distance from Hebron; some 45 miles to the north. Joseph’s brothers (probably not including Benjamin) are there with the flocks, and Jacob sends Joseph to find out how they are faring.
15-24: Joseph has no luck finding his brothers when he arrives at Shechem. He has a “chance” encounter in the grazing lands with a man who tells him that his brothers have gone another 15 miles further north, to Dothan. We might wonder how it was so easy for Joseph to find someone who would know his brothers’ whereabouts (most commentators think the man in the fields is intended to be an angelic messenger), but don’t forget that Jacob and his sons are well known around Shechem (see chapter 34), although probably not very welcome there. His brothers see him coming and plot to kill him. They’re 60 miles from home, they’re in a locale where they have killed before, and they hate Joseph. But Reuben, the oldest, counsels them not to kill him but only to throw him into a pit. They think Reuben means for Joseph to die there rather than by their hands, but he really means to rescue Joseph later and send him back home. They take his cherished robe away from him and throw him into the pit.
25-28: Now the story gets a little confusing. The brothers see a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants (that would be Esau’s people) on their way to Egypt with a load of goods to sell. Judah comes up with the idea of selling Joseph to them, and they agree. But they must be some distance from the pit where they left Joseph, because before they can carry out their plan some Midianite traders capture Joseph and sell him to the Ishmaelites. So Joseph’s brothers, although culpable, are not actually the ones who sell him into slavery.
29-35: Now Reuben comes to the pit to rescue Joseph, but Joseph isn’t there. He returns to his brothers and tells them Joseph is missing. It would be easy enough for them to simply tell their father that Joseph never found them, but instead they decide to smear his cherished robe with blood and cook up a story about finding it. The robe is delivered to Jacob, who immediately indentifies it as the one he gave to Joseph, and he assumes that his favorite son has been torn apart by some wild beast. He tears his clothes and dons sackcloth as a sign of mourning and grieves terribly for a long time, causing no small concern on the part of his sons. At this point they have no idea what really happened to Joseph.
36: We are told that Joseph is sold by the Midianites in Egypt to one of Pharaoh’s officials named Potiphar. How he got back into the hands of the Midianites is not explained. Either they bought him back from the Ishmaelites or perhaps the teller of the tale is himself a bit confused at this point and meant to say the Ishmaelites, and not the Midianites, sold him to Potiphar.
Genesis 38 (day38)
1-11: Judah is the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He camps near an Adullamite (origin of this clan is unknown) settlement under the rule of one Hirah, with whom he becomes fast friends. He marries a Canaanite woman and they have three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. In due time Judah finds a wife for Er, named Tamar. Er dies before they have children, and Onan is ordered to do his duty and have children with her for his brother. Onan enjoys the duty but won’t carry through with it, and he dies also. Judah tells Tamar to return to her father’s house until the third son, Shelah, is old enough to get her pregnant.
12-19: Time passes. Judah’s wife dies. After an appropriate time of grieving he goes to visit his friend Hirah during sheep shearing. Tamar hears of his plans, dresses like a harlot and plants herself along the route she knows he will take. Shelah, she sees, is old enough to do his duty but Judah hasn’t given permission yet. Judah sees her and propositions her. They make a deal whereby he leaves some of his personal belongings with her until he can pay her price. They go inside and have sex. When he leaves, she resumes her identity as the widow Tamar.
20-23: Judah sends a kid from his flock with Hirah to give to her as the agreed-upon price of the sex, but Hirah can’t find her and brings the kid back. Judah is ready to forget the whole incident.
24-26: Three months later Tamar is found to be pregnant, and Judah gets word that she has been a prostitute. This is an affront to Judah’s family for she is legally his daughter-in-law. He demands that she be brought out and burned, but she calmly sends his belongings with a messenger, and he realizes what has happened. She has simply taken matters into her one hands because he hasn’t carried out his promise regarding his son Shelah.
27-30: Tamar has twins, and due to the unusual circumstances of their birth they are named Perez and Zerah. We can only guess as to why this rather sordid story is kept in the record; perhaps to emphasize the dangers inherent in marrying Canaanite girls. For us Christians, of course, the significance of the story is that Perez becomes the direct ancestor of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 1:3).
Genesis 39 (day 39)
1-6: We return to the story of Joseph, now a slave in Egypt. He is purchased from the Ishmaelites by Potiphar, head of the Pharaoh’s palace guard. To our surprise Joseph, a spoiled brat with a huge ego, does everything well and succeeds in every task Potiphar gives him. He puts Joseph in charge of his entire household and all his domestic affairs, and under Joseph’s leadership Potiphar’s household flourishes. This only takes six verses to tell about, but obviously happens over a period of time, perhaps several years.
7-18: But trouble is in the air. Potiphar’s wife turns out to be a brazen hussy who openly invites Joseph to her bed. He refuses, again showing more character than we might have guessed. She persists day after day, and although he doesn’t give in, she finally will not take “no” for an answer and one day she grabs hold of him and shamelessly insists that he have sex with her. He runs for his life, unfortunately leaving an article of clothing in her hands, which she presents to her husband Potiphar when he comes home as evidence that this “Hebrew” slave has tried to molest her. (This is only the 2nd time the word “Hebrew” has occured. The first use was in reference to Abram – see 14:13 – before he became Abraham. Some scholars think the word was a sort of racial slur the Egyptians used for foreigners.)
19-23: Surprisingly, the incident does not result in Joseph’s immediate execution, which has led some commentators to speculate that Potiphar knows what kind of woman he is married to and suspects that Joseph isn’t entirely at fault. Potiphar has Joseph put into prison, but may have given the jailer special instructions because the jailer pays special attention to Joseph and assigns him some rather surprising responsibilities over the other prisoners. Once again we find that Joseph has become a mature and dependable and capable man. Go figure.
Genesis 40 (day 40)
1-8: Two of Pharaoh’s servants, his cup-bearer and baker, offend him in some way and Pharaoh turns them over to none other than Potiphar. Although Potiphar is not mentioned by name, his is in fact the “captain of the guard” (see 39:1). He puts Joseph in charge of these two royal prisoners. After some time they both have a dream. Next morning Joseph notices that they are not their usual chipper selves and asks them what is wrong. They explain that they have both had dreams but there is no one to interpret the dreams. Joseph, showing a bit of his old egotism, says that only God can interpret a dream and therefore they ought to tell their dreams to Joseph.
9-15: The chief cupbearer tells his dream first. (When he was put into prison he was just the cupbearer. He has gotten a promotion.) He dreamed that a vine with three branches budded , blossomed, and put forth grapes. He pressed the grapes into Pharaoh’s cup and gave it to Pharaoh. Joseph says the interpretation is that in three days (corresponding to the three branches) Pharaoh will “lift up his head” and restore him to his former position. When that happens, he says, please tell Pharaoh about me, that I was wrongfully kidnapped and brought here and have done nothing to deserve jail.
16-19: The chief baker (he has gotten a promotion, too) is encouraged now and tells his dream. He dreamed that he was carrying three baskets on his head, the top one filled with bread, and birds were eating the bread. Joseph says the interpretation is that in three days (corresponding to the three baskets) Pharaoh will “lift up his head,” right off his shoulders, hang him on a pole, and let the birds peck the meat off his bones. You would think he could break the news a little easier!
20-23: Three days later (I wonder if the baker got any sleep) Pharaoh hosts a banquet, has the cup bearer and baker brought up from prison, gives the cup bearer his cups and hangs the baker on a pole. The cup bearer forgets all about Joseph.
Genesis 41 (day 41)
1-8: Time passes. Two years after reinstating the royal cup bearer, Pharaoh has a couple of powerful and disturbing dreams. In his dream he sees 7 fat cows come out of the Nile. Then 7 gaunt cows come out of the Nile and eat the other 7. We know, of course, that cows are vegetarians, so this is a shocking scene. It wakes him up. He falls asleep again and dreams that he sees 7 plump ears of grain on one stalk, then 7 blighted ears sprout from the same stalk and eat the other 7. It wakes him up again. He summons all his magicians and wise men and tells them the dreams, but they don’t have a clue what the dreams mean.
9-13: That’s when the cup bearer said, “Oops. There’s a guy in jail who can interpret dreams,” and he tells the story.
14-24: Joseph is summoned, cleaned up and presented to Pharaoh. Once again Joseph gives God credit for dream interpretation, and offers to disclose God’s interpretation to the Pharaoh. Pharaoh recounts his dreams, adding the detail that in the first dream the 7 thin cows were just as thin after eating the fat cows as they were before.
25-36: Joseph explains the dreams: the 7 cows and 7 ears of grain all mean 7 years. There are going to be 7 years of bountiful harvests, followed by 7 years of famine, he says. Then he offers Pharaoh some advice: Find some smart fellow to organize the country and collect 20% of the harvest during the good years so you’ll have food stored away for the bad years.
37-45: Pharaoh and his advisors are bowled over by Joseph’s suggestion, and Pharaoh chooses Joseph to be the brain behind the operation. He puts his own signet ring on Joseph’s hand, conferring his authority, dresses him up in nice clothes and jewelry and makes a public announcement about Joseph’s appointment. In addition he gives Joseph a wife, a daughter of a priest (whose name, Potiphera, is very like Potiphar – poetic justice!), making Joseph an integral part not only of the administration but also of the religious establishment of Egypt.
45-49: At the ripe old age of 30 Joseph goes to work organizing the country with store houses in every city. Over the next 7 years he stores up more grain than they can keep track of.
50-52: Joseph and Asenath have two children, Manasseh and Ephraim. Their birth makes Joseph forget all his hardships and all his father’s house. In other words, he is now an Egyptian.
53-57: The boom years come to an end and the famine begins, but people come from all over Egypt and the Near Middle East to buy grain from Joseph. Please note the word “buy.” He isn’t giving this food away.
Genesis 42 (day 42)
1-5: Jacob hears that grain is being sold in Egypt, and sends all his sons but Benjamin to buy some. Benjamin is, he thinks, the only surviving child of his beloved wife Rachel.
6-17: It has been a number of years since Joseph has seen his brothers – perhaps 10 or more – but he recognizes them immediately. They don’t recognize him, however. He toys with them, accusing them of spying. They beg their innocence, telling him things about their family he already knows. He pretends ignorance, of course, and tells them they must prove their story by bringing their little brother to Egypt. He puts them in jail for three days; partial payment for the years he spent in jail – some scholars think three years.
18-25: Joseph sends for them on the third day and tells them he has modified his demand. He will keep one of them in custody and let the other 9 go home to bring their younger brother back to prove their story. He hears them talking among themselves, saying that they are being repaid for their cruelty to their long lost brother Joseph. It gets to him and he has to take a break. When he comes back he chooses Simeon to stay. Before they leave he gives orders to put their money in their bags with their grain.
26-28: The brothers leave. Eventually one of them opens a sack of grain to feed the animals and discovers the money. They are distressed, but afraid to return to Egypt.
29-34: They arrive at home and try to explain the whole tragic trip to Jacob.
35-38: They empty their sacks and find their money bags in each one, adding to their distress. Furthermore, Jacob refuses to hear anything about taking Benjamin to Egypt. Reuben offers to be custodian for Benjamin and protect him, but Jacob will not hear of it.
Genesis 43 (day 43)
1-10: The famine’s severity increases and Jacob once again wants to send them to Egypt to buy grain, but they remind him of the conditions laid out at their last visit; they must bring Benjamin with them. Note that in this paragraph their father is called both Jacob and Israel, though no explanation is given and the significance, if any, is unknown. This time Judah offers to go surety for Benjamin.
11-15: Israel finally relents. This time he sends gifts as well as money, enough money to repay the Egyptians for the first batch of grain.
16-25: Joseph prepares to receive his brothers in his house. The steward brings them there. They try to explain about the money left in their sacks the first trip, but he waves them off, saying their money was paid and God must have put money in their sacks. This is, first of all, an acknowledgment of the God of Israel/Jacob, but it is further a denial that the steward could possibly have made any mistake in the accounting. He gives them water with which to wash their feet, reunites Simeon to them, and feeds their animals. They wait anxiously for the Egyptian overlord to arrive, who of course is their own brother Joseph.
26-34: Joseph arrives. They give him the gifts from their father. He asks about their father’s health. He acknowledges Benjamin, but then has to leave to recover his emotions. He puts himself together and returns to the dining hall and orders the meal to be served. They are seated in separate groups: Joseph alone, the Egyptian entourage together, and the Hebrews together. They are surprised when they are seated in their order of birth. They are served from Joseph’s table, and Benjamin is given a noticeably larger portion, but they all eat and drink and things seem to be going swimmingly.
Genesis 44 (day 44)
1-5: Joseph hasn’t finished playing with his unsuspecting brothers. He has their sacks filled with grain, puts their money bags in the sacks and his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. After they leave he has his steward chase them down and accuse them of stealing his cup, adding that it is the cup which he uses for divination. Whether that is true or not it certainly heightens the drama of the moment.
6-13: The steward catches them and lowers the accusation. They deny it and offer the life of any one of them in whose sack the silver cup is found. The steward agrees, but says he will only enslave that one (the Egyptians seem to eschew capital punishment – remember that Potiphar only imprisoned Joseph when his wife accused him of rape with the evidence of his cloak in her hand). The bags are searched and, curiously, no mention is made of their money that Joseph has replaced. However, the silver cup is found in Benjamin’s sack, and they are all distraught. They reload their donkeys and return with the steward.
14-17: There follows a poignant scene. The sons of Jacob all bow down before Joseph just as his dream had foretold many years before. Joseph plays his role superbly, claiming to be able to “divine” things. Notice that Judah has become the family spokesman. Knowing that they cannot return home without Benjamin he offers that all of them will remain in Egypt as slaves, but Joseph will hear none of that.
18-34: Now Judah gives a long and heartfelt defense. He tells of his concern for his father and how he fears that the enslavement of his younger brother might lead to his father’s death. He explains that he himself promised his father that he would be responsible for Benjamin’s safe return and begs Joseph to allow him to remain as a slave and let Benjamin go home to his father.
Genesis 45 (day 45)
1-3: Joseph is overwhelmed with emotion and can no longer carry on his charade. He sends the Egyptians out and breaks into sobs and wails. He reveals himself to his brothers, blurting out his identity and asking about his father’s welfare. His brothers are stunned, to say the least.
4-15: He calms down a bit and tells them again who he is. He tells them not to blame themselves for selling him into slavery – from his point of view that is what they did, although we were told that he was taken out of the pit by Midianite merchants and sold (37:26-28). Joseph says that God sent him ahead of them to save lives – to save their lives in particular to preserve for them a “remnant” to survive the famine. God sent him, he says, so hurry back and bring my father and move into the region of Goshen. This has not been mentioned before and indicates that Joseph has perhaps been planning their resettlement all along. Go get my father and tell him how I’ve turned out, he says, then hugs them all and cries, especially with Benjamin.
16-20: Pharaoh hears about Joseph’s family, and invites them to Egypt. He’ll pay the travel expenses, he says, so send carts for the women and children.
21-24: Joseph prepares the caravan for his brothers to return to Canaan to move his family to Egypt, with special provisions for his brother Benjamin and for his father.
25-28: They return home. Jacob is afraid to believe their tale at first, but the evidence finally overwhelms him and he determines to go to Egypt.
Genesis 46 (day 46)
1-4: Jacob packs up lock, stock and barrel and heads toward Egypt. When they get to Beer-sheba he stops and offers sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac. Beer-sheba already has a long history with his family, and is in fact where Jacob was living with his parents when he left to go to Haran to escape Esau and to find a wife (28:10). At Beer-sheba God appears to him one last time in a dream and reassures him that everything will be all right in Egypt.
6-7: They leave Beer-sheba head for Egypt; the whole family is with Jacob along with everything they own. They are not going to Egypt for a temporary visit; they are relocating there.
8-27: The names are listed according to the women who bore sons to Jacob. 33 were supposedly born to Leah, but the only way to get 33 from the list is to include Er and Onan who died earlier (38:8-11) and exclude Dinah even though verse 15 specifically says “sons and daughters”. 16 are said to be from Zilpah, Leah’s maid, but that would exclude the one daughter mentioned there, Serah. 14 are attributed to Rachel, including Joseph’s children in Egypt; 7 to Bilhah, Rachel’s maid. I can’t figure any way to come up with the total of 66 in verse 26. The 70 mentioned in verse 27 results from adding 33, 16, 14, and 7.
28-34: Jacob sends Judah to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. Joseph is reunited to Jacob there with hugs and kisses and tears. Joseph outlines his plan to persuade Pharaoh to let them settle in Goshen, an area somewhat removed from the main population of the country. He explains that the Egyptians detest shepherds, perhaps an example of the old war between cattle owners and sheep herders.
Genesis 47 (day 47)
1-6: Joseph brings in five of his brothers to meet Pharaoh and carry out the plan to settle them in Goshen. Pharaoh questions them and agrees that they should possess the “best part of the land,” which Goshen is not, but Pharaoh is trying to be nice and make it sound like such a deal. It is grassland, not farmland, so Goshen is not as valuable to the Egyptians; but it is in the north near the border and that will prove to be important later.
7-12: Joseph brings his father Jacob to meet with Pharaoh. Jacob summarizes the years of his life as “few and difficult.” Jacob blesses Pharaoh, although an alternate reading is that he “bade farewell” to Pharaoh. Goshen is now identified as being in the district of Rameses, which will spell trouble for them later on (see Exodus 1:11).
13-19: The severity of the famine grows with each passing year. Joseph collects all the money in the land, then acquires all the livestock. Having nothing left, the people offer to sell themselves and their land to Joseph for food.
20-26: Joseph thus acquires all the land and reduces the people to servitude (alternate texts add that he moves them into the cities where they can be controlled more easily). He does not, however, acquire the lands of the priests because Pharaoh is their benefactor. Joseph offers to give the people seed to plant in return for 20% of the harvest. They agree. The 20% becomes a permanent law in the land of Egypt. Joseph is thus setting in place the policies that will in the future result in the slavery of his own people.
27-31: The Israelites settle in Goshen and prosper. Seventeen years pass, and Jacob realizes that his remaining days are few. He summons Joseph and tells him that he does not wish to be buried in Egypt, but that he wishes to be buried in Canaan “with my fathers.” Joseph swears to it.
Genesis 48 (day 48)
1-7: Jacob is ill and Joseph goes to visit him with his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. This is perhaps the first time Jacob has seen them. He recalls the dream he had at Bethel (here he calls it by its older name, Luz – see 28:18-19) of the ladder reaching into heaven, and the words God spoke to him in the dream promising the land to his descendants. He claims Ephraim and Manasseh as his sons and thus among his descendants who will settle Canaan. He sadly remembers that Joseph’s mother Rachel is buried in Bethlehem.
8-16: In the last paragraph he was called Jacob; in this paragraph he is called Israel. Some scholars believe this is an indication that two different traditions are woven together here, and indeed in verse 8 Israel seems to notice Ephraim and Manasseh for the first time even though he claimed them as his own in verse 5. Here he is nearly blind, doesn’t recognize them and has to ask Joseph who they are. Then he embraces them as if he has never seen them before. For the blessing Joseph guides the eldest, Manasseh, to Israel’s right hand and the youngest, Ephraim, to his left hand, but Jacob switches hands to bless them. Yet the blessing he gives is for “the boys,” without distinguishing between them.
17-22: Joseph protests, but Jacob insists he’s doing what he wants to do and that Ephraim will be greater than Manasseh. (This is what occurs later when they settle Canaan. Indeed, in later years the nation of Israel is often referred to as Ephraim.) Then he gives Joseph the inheritance of the eldest son – a double portion of the estate. Of course, Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob and Rachel, but the eleventh son overall, and when Jacob blesses his sons in chapter 49 Joseph will be the 11th in line. Here, though, Jacob gives Joseph an extra inheritance, the ridge of land Jacob took from the Amorites (which is the city and region of Shechem – see chapter 34).
Genesis 49 (day 49)
1-2: Jacob gathers his sons to tell them what he thinks of them:
3-4: Reuben’s lot will not ultimately be favorable: he defiled his father’s bed by having sex with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine (35:22). Jacob also seems to blame Reuben for letting Joseph be sold into slavery; we notice that Jacob did not trust him with Benjamin’s life later (42:37-38). The tribe of Reuben will be given land on the east side of the Jordan River when they return to Canaan and will be overrun by the Assyrians when the northern kingdom of Israel begins to weaken.
5-7: Simeon and Levi are handled together. They are violent men and Jacob curses their violence (see 34:25). After the Exodus when they settle the land they will be divided. Simeon initially received a grant of land within Judah, but long before the Exile the tribe seems to have faded away. Levi will be separated out from the other tribes and serve as priests and temple workers.
8-12: Judah is praised and a bright future is foreseen. Of course, King David will be from the tribe of Judah, and the nation of Judah with its capital at Jerusalem will survive longer than the nation of Israel with its capital at Samaria. For Christians it should also be noted that the family tree of Jesus is traced back through Judah (Matthew 1:1-16).
13: Zebulun later settles beside the Sea of Galilee, (see Matthew 4:13). There is no record in the Bible that they had territory at Sidon on the Mediterranean Sea (see Joshua 19:10-16 for their original allotment of land).
14-15: Issachar is pictured as a hard-working bumpkin. That tribe will be settled in the hill country in the north, good pasture land and good farming land. They will be eventually exiled by the Assyrians.
16-17: Dan is seen as providing justice, but that fate is not supported by later stories in the Bible, either.
18: About halfway through, Jacob catches his breath.
19: He sees a violent future for Gad.
20: These verses probably reflect some aspect of each tribe later in their history, but again there is nothing in the Bible about Asher providing “royal delicacies”.
21: The tribe of Naphtali will eventually settle beside Zebulun in Galilee alongside the Sea of Galilee.
22-26: Joseph’s treatment is as long as Judah’s. Joseph (later divided into Ephraim and Manasseh) will be the primary tribe in the north when the land of Canaan is settled, and indeed the northern kingdom of Israel will often be referred to as Ephraim.
27: Benjamin is called “a ravenous wolf”, but it’s hard to see how later history supports such a description. Esther’s uncle Mordecai is of the tribe of Benjamin (Esther 2:5); and the apostle Paul will trace his ancestry to the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1)
28: The previous verses are said to be a blessing for each of the twelve “tribes” of Israel, but some of them don’t sound like blessings.
29-33: Jacob asks to be buried at Hebron beside Leah (and Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah) instead of in Bethlehem beside Rachel. Then he breathes his last.
Genesis 50 (day 50)
1-3: Joseph has Jacob embalmed, a 40 day process of preserving the skeletal and external features. The Egyptians kept 70 days of mourning for him, treating him as a high official.
4-6: But now it appears that Joseph has lost some favor. He has to ask Pharaoh’s court to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf and beg permission to bury Jacob in Canaan. They do, and Pharaoh gives his consent.
7-14: But the consent is not as complete as we might expect, for Joseph is accompanied not only by his family, but by Pharaoh’s court along with an escort of chariots and horsemen! Not only that, but they leave their flocks and herds behind in Egypt when they go. The distinct impression is that their lot in Egypt has changed rather drastically over the last 17 years. Their journey carries them across the Jordan Rift Valley into what would later be Edom. The place is given an Egyptian name, Abel-mizraim, raising the question of whether or not in the intervening years Egypt’s territory has expanded substantially. They move further north and back across the Jordan valley to the burial place beside Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, where they bury Jacob and observe 7 days of mourning.
15-21: Joseph’s brothers concoct a story to persuade Joseph not to retaliate now that Jacob is dead. Notice that they never claim to be the ones who sold Joseph into slavery. Joseph again repeats his belief that God arranged his deportment to Egypt, and promises to provide for them and their children. But why do they need Joseph to provide for them? Haven’t they settled in Goshen and prospered (see 47:27)? Obviously their situation has changed, and although Joseph is still an important man in Egypt he no longer has the exalted position he once had.
22-26: About 70 years pass, and Joseph dies. He lives long enough to see his great-grandchildren. Before he dies Joseph tells his Hebrew family that the day will come when God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled and they will leave Egypt and go to that promised land. There is again the hint that Joseph has lost favor – he says to them, “God will surely come to your aid, and take you out of this land to the land he promised.” Joseph is 110 years old. If he was 30 when he came to power, and the bounty lasted 7 years, then he was 37 when the famine began. He would be 44 when the famine ended. Jacob and family came to Egypt sometime during the famine; perhaps in the second or third year of it. That means they had been in Egypt about 70 years when Joseph dies. Why do you think they are still there? Clearly they are not free to go at this time. Joseph is embalmed and buried in Egypt, but asks his family to take his bones with them back to Canaan when they return.