Monday, March 9, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 26 & 27

Chapter 26
Summary:A severe famine swept the land (as had happened before in Abraham's time) so Isaac moved to the City of Gerar where King Ambimelech, king of the Philistines, lived.

God appears to Isaac and tells him not to travel into Egypt, to do obey him, and to stay in this land - and it will be blessed to Isaac and his descendants, just as it was blessed to his father Abraham before him. So Isaac remained in Gerar, and when the men of the city began to ask him about Rebekah, he claimed that she was his sister, fearing that they would kill him to get to her, as she was very attractive.

When King Ambimelech spotted Isaac caressing Rebekah while looking out his window he summoned Isaac. Seeing that Rebekah was Isaac's wife, he asked Isaac why he had said that she was his sister. Isaac answered that he feared being murdered so that someone could take Rebekah from him. Ambimelech asked Isaac why he would treat the people of his kingdom that way, stating that if Rebekah were to be harmed or raped, that his people would be doomed. King Ambimelech then made a public proclamation to his people that anyone who harmed Isaac or Rebekah would be executed.

That year Isaac had a tremendous surplus in crops, 100 times the grain he sowed, and became a wealthy man. He had large flocks of sheep, goats, great herds of cattle, and many slaves. The Philistines grew very jealous of Isaac and filled up his wells with dirt, wells that were dug by his Abraham's servants. King Ambimelech later asked Isaac to leave his land as he had become too rich and powerful for Ambimelech's kingdom.

Isaac moved to the Gerar Valley and redug the wells of his father, and gave them the same names that his father originally gave them. His shepherds also dug a new well in Gerar Valley and found a gushing underground spring.

The local shepherds came and claimed the well for themselves and argued over it with Isaac's herdsmen. Isaac named the well Eseb (meaning "Well of Argument"). Isaac's men dug another well, but it too was fought over by the local shepherds. Isaac named this well Sitnah (meaning "Well of Anger"). Abandoning the "Well of Anger", Isaac dug another new well and the locals finally left him alone. He named this well Rehoboth (meaning "Well of Room Enough for Us at Last").

When Isaac went to Beer-sheba, God appeared to him on the night of his arrival reaffirming (and repeating) what he had stated to Isaac many times already (that he was blessed, and that God will give him many descendants, and that he will keep his promise with his father Abraham through him, etc.). Isaac built an altar and worshiped God; he settled there and his servants dug a new well.

King Ambimelech paid him a visit one day from Gerar along with his advisor and military commander. Isaac demanded to know why they had come, stating that it could not be a "friendly visit" considering how he was kicked out of Gerar in what he felt was the most uncivil way.

Ambimelech stated that it was plain to see that Isaac was blessed by God, and asked for a treaty between his kingdom and Isaac. Isaac held a feast to celebrate the treaty and both King Ambimelech and Isaac took an solemn oaths to seal a non-aggression pact. That same day, Isaac's servants found water in the well that they'd been digging, so they named the well Beer-sheba (meaning "Oath").

Esau, at the age of forty married a girl named Judith, daughter of Be-eri the Hethite; and also married Basemath, daughter of Elon the Hethite. However, both Isaac and Rebekah did not approve of Esau's marriages.
Thoughts:Poor King Ambimelech finds himself virtually repeating history again with Abraham's son Isaac. Although King Ambimelech did not this time take Rebekah (as he and the Egyptian Pharaoh had claimed Sarai/Sarah), once again we're faced with the similar story of Isaac claiming that his wife is actually his sister. However, unlike Abraham who at least had a grain of truth to his story (Sarai/Sarah was his half-sister) Isaac is flat out lying - much to the anger of King Ambimelech who had been through this charade before.

The rest of the chapter seems to serve only to explain the names of the wells in the region featuring slightly comical stories of the local shepherds fighting over and claiming the wells Isaac's slaves had just finished digging for themselves. Almost as an afterthought and an aside, we're filled in about Esau's polygamist marriages much to the displeasure of his parents.
Chapter 27
Summary:In Isaac's old age he had gone half-blind and expecting to die soon, he called for his elder son Esau.

He told Esau to take his bow and arrows and to hunt some venison to be prepared just the way Isaac prefered it. Furthering that he would give Esau his blessings that were due to him from his birthright. Rebekah, having overheard their conversation, called to her son Jacob and told him what had been said to his brother Esau. She instructed him to bring two young goats from their flock and that she would prepare his father's favorite dish from them. She tells him that he is to bring the dish to his father so that Jacob will be blessed instead of Esau.

Jacob protested knowing that his father would not be so easily fooled, yet did as his mother requested. She then took Esau's finest clothes and made Jacob put them on. Rebekah also fashioned a pair of gloves from the hairy skin of the goats and fastened a strip of the hide around Jacob's neck. She gave him the plate of meat with some freshly baked bread and sent him into his father's room.

Jacob called out to his father, and Isaac unsure of which of his sons was calling asked if it was Esau or Jacob. Jacob lied and identified himself as his brother Esau, and announced to his father that he had brought him the venison he requested. Isaac asked his son how was he able to hunt and prepare it so swiftly, to which Jacob claimed that God had put it in his path for him.

Isaac, asked his son to come closer so that he could feel if he was indeed speaking with Esau or not. Isaac proclaims that while the voice is of Jacob, the hands are certainly Esau's - and asks his son point blank if he is truly Esau. Jacob answers "I am"*.

Isaac ask for his son to kiss him, and when Jacob draws close as he kisses his father on the cheek, Isaac smells Esau's clothes and finally erases his doubts. He blesses Jacob with this blessing:
28: Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine:
29: Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.
As soon as Jacob departs Esau returns from his hunt, also bringing his father's favorite dish to bring to him. As Esau announces that he has returned with his father's venison, his father asks who has approached him. When Esau identifies himself, Isaac begins to tremble noticeably and asks who it was that was just here and whom he just irrevocably blessed.

Esau began to sob bitterly before his father explains that although Esau's life will be difficult and that he will be forced to serve under his brother Jacob for a time, that he will eventually shake loose from him and be free.

Esau was now filled with hate for his brother Jacob and swore to himself that he would kill Jacob after his father dies. Somehow(!) someone got wind of what he was planning and warned Rebekah. She then told Jacob to flee to his Uncle Laban (her brother) in Haran, and instructed him to remain there until Esau's anger blows over and/or he forgets what Jacob had done. Rebekah tells Jacob that she will call for him when the time comes.

The chapter closes with Rebekah complaining to Isaac that she would rather die than to see Jacob marry a local girl.
Notes:1.) The exact translation is debated, where it is thought that Jacob answers something to the extent of "I am, me" or "I am who I am" in order to preserve an element of truthfulness to his reply.
2.) The bible does not explain how "somehow" Esau's thinking to himself became known by someone else. Perhaps God was listening in?
Thoughts:Although it mentions that Isaac is half-blind at this time, I can't seem to find any translation for this chapter that implies that he's half-stupid as well. Any father that could mistake the sound of one son's voice for another - after a lengthy conversation, and mistakes goat fur for human hair, either hasn't spent much time around his kids (or goats for that matter) or is a couple of sandwiches short in the picnic basket. I find it extremely difficult to believe that this deception could have taken place considering the amount of doubt Isaac is voicing throughout. However, perhaps it's not much of a stretch to doubt Isaac's lack of brain power when compared to his son Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of soup.

I also find it strange that God doesn't apparently have veto power over Isaac's blessing, especially when it was obtained through Jacob (and Rebekah's) lying and deception.

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