Monday, March 9, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 24 & 25

Chapter 24
Summary:Abraham was now a very old man, yet blessed by God in every way. He asked his head servant to promise not to allow his son Isaac to marry a local Canaanite girl, instructing the servant to instead travel to Abraham's homeland to find a wife for Isaac there.

The servant asked Abraham as to whether he should bring Isaac to live amongst his relatives if he should find that he cannot find a girl willing to travel the far distance to Canaan. To which Abraham emphatically warns against, stating that this land has been given to him by God for Isaac. He tells the servant that God will send an angel ahead of him that will see to it that that the servant will find a girl to be Isaac's wife. He tells the servant that if he does not succeed, then he is free from his promise, but under no circumstances is he to take Isaac there.

The servant packed samples of the best of Abraham's wealth along with ten of Abraham's camels and journeyed to Iraq to Nahor's village. When he arrived he parked the camels next to a spring and asked God to give him a sign to help him pick out the right girl for Isaac. Knowing that the girls of the village would be fetching water from this spring, he sets out a criteria for God to fulfill for him: he states that whenever a girl approaches the spring to fetch some water, he will ask them if they could spare some water for himself; if God "guides" the girl to not only agree, but to offer some water to the camels, the servant will be affirmed that God has chosen this girl for Isaac.

Sure enough a beautiful young girl named Rebekah (the daughter of Bethuel, son of Nahor and his wife Milcah) arrives with a water jug and upon the being asked, agrees to give some water to the servant, and offers to water the camels also. After the camels were finished drinking he gave her a golden earring and a pair of golden bracelets and inquired to whose daughter she was and whether her father could put him up for the night. When she told him who her father was, the servant pauses to thank God for leading him to his master's relatives.

When the girl went home to tell her family, her brother Laban saw the golden jewelry and heard her story. He rushed out towards the spring and invited the servant back to their home.

After they settled the servant and his camels in, and as they were about to serve dinner, the servant insisted on explaining his visit before the meal. He explains to them*. what Abraham had sent him to do, and about his prayer to God by the spring - including his "offering water to the camels" provision. He concludes that God had lead Rebekah, being family, to the servant and now asks if she will be permitted to travel back with him.

Laban and Bethuel, convinced that God had brought Abraham's servant here, tell the servant to take Rebekah and allow her to marry Isaac. Rebekah's mother tries to stall the servant's departure by another ten days, but when the servant protests they both agree to ask Rebekah whether she is ready to leave. With Rebekah's okay, they sent her on her way (along with her childhood nurse) and her family blessed her with a prayer as they parted:
Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.

Meanwhile, Isaac had returned to Beer-lahai-roi, and as he was out talking a walk he spotted the camels approaching. Rebekah dismounted and asked the servant who it was that was approaching to meet them. When she was told that it was Abraham's son, she covered her face with a veil. The servant then told the entire story to Isaac*.

Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother's tent and she became his wife. He loved her, and she became a comfort to him after the loss of his mother.
Notes:1.) The bible has the servant recount the entire exchange adnauseum.
2.) Thankfully, the bible does not repeat the story in full for a third time.
Thoughts:This chapter begins by yet again reinforcing the stigma that geography and ethnicity determines a person's worth, virtues, morality, and class. Abraham immediately elevates every female citizen from his birth place to a higher status than every single Canaanite. Sadder still, is to know that in our modern society this kind of prejudice was common place only decades ago, and still to a smaller extent continues to exist. Catholic parents don't want their sons to marry a Jewish girl; protestant parents don't want their daughters to marry a catholic; white (or other race) parents don't want their children to marry someone of a different race; etc. People are unfairly judged as a whole instead of as individuals by their race, their hometown, their choice of religion (or their lack thereof), and are instead lumped into groups weighted with predefined judgments against them.

Following this, we then travel along with Abraham's head servant and read the silliest description of a "sign from God" - that if a girl offers to give water to the servant's camels that she was somehow persuaded by God (or chosen by God) to do so? In the chapter it isn't clear whether God confirms that he'll even play along with this request that the servant prayed for which pretty much makes the criteria seem about as reliable as a fortune cookie or one of those Magic 8-ball novelty gifts.

Anyways, the girl who guesses what's behind Door #2 turns out to be Abraham's niece, so it appears that should appease Abraham's scrutiny and keep things in the family.
Chapter 25
Summary:Abraham married again, this time to a woman named Keturah who bore him the following children (and their descendants):
  • Zimran
  • Jokshan:
    • Sheba
    • Dedan:
      • Asshurim
      • Letushim
      • Leummim
  • Medan
  • Midian:
    • Ephah
    • Epher
    • Hanoch
    • Abida
    • Eldaah
  • Ishbak
  • Shuah

Abraham deemed everything he owned to Isaac, however he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away to the east away from Isaac. Abraham died at the age of 175* and his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Mach-pelah near Mamre, in the field that Abraham had purchased from Ephron. After Abraham's death, God poured out rich blessings upon Isaac, who had now moved south to Beer-lahai-roi in the Negeb.

Ishmael lived until the age of 137 and left behind 12 sons. The following is a list of Ishmael's twelve sons (who founded the twelve tribes that bore their names) by the orders of their births:
  • Nebaioth
  • Kedar
  • Abdeel
  • Mibsam
  • Mishma
  • Dumah
  • Massa
  • Hadad
  • Tema
  • Jetur
  • Naphis
  • Kedemah
These descendants of Ishmael were scattered across the country from Havilah to Shur (which is northeast of the Egyptian border towards Assyria) and were constantly at war with one another.

Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, and after twenty years of remaining childless and pleading to God to grant them a child, she finally became pregnant with twins whom she could feel fighting within her womb. Troubled by this she consulted God about her pregnancy in which he replied that the sons in her womb would become fierce rivaling nations. He continued to explain that the older son would become a servant to the younger.

The first born twin was born covered in thick red hair and was named Esau, while the younger twin was born clutching Esau's heel and was named Jacob (meaning "grabber").

As the twins grew, Esau became a skilled hunter while Jacob was more of a quiet type, who preferred to stay at home. Isaac's favorite was Esau, for the venison he brought home, while Rebekah favored Jacob.

One day Esau returned from an exhausting day of hunting to find Jacob at home cooking a stew. Famished, Esau begged his brother to share his stew. Jacob agreed on the condition that Esau defaulted his birthright to him. In desperation from hunger, Esau saw little value in the birthright he had just surrendered to Jacob and accepted the meal that Jacob fed him.
Notes:1.) This is not a typo. The bible lists Abraham's actual age at death as 175 years old.
Thoughts:Another poorly laid out chapter that intermingles long lists of descendants (most of whom will not be mentioned much further) with narrative stories.

What we walk away with is that Abraham finally dies at age 175(!) - and despite the brief mention of his wife (concubine) Keturah and her children - we're meant to focus on Isaac (and finish off Ishmael's part of the story).

The focus of the story has now shifted away from Abraham's life and onto the lives of Isaac and his twin sons. From our meager introductions to Esau and Jacob bargaining over their birthrights versus a hearty stew, we can deduce that either Esau is probably not the sharpest tool in the shed, or that Jacob is simply one hell of a cook.

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