58. Genesis 33:18-20; 35:1-21; 35:22b – 36:42; and I Chronicles 1:34-54

III. C.  continued

8.  Jacob’s Later Years (Genesis 33:18-20; 35:1-21; and 35:22b-27)

I will now use Jacob’s new name, except in the title of the section. Later in Scripture “Israel” is the name applied to the nation as a whole rather than to the individual, so when we get to Exodus, I will resume calling the man “Jacob”, and use “Israel” as the national name. It may be confusing, but I want to use “Israel” for this particular man while I finish discussing Genesis because I wish to keep clearly in view what God did at Peniel. The focus of Genesis now turns to the children of Israel, but there are a few details of the life of Israel that we will consider first, even though they will be out of chronological sequence. Then we can then turn our attention fully to the twelve sons.

The camp at Succoth was probably only a short term resting place. Within a year or two Israel journeyed on to a more permanent dwelling at Shechem near the oaks of Moreh across the Jordan and twenty miles west, one of the sites visited by Abram when he had first arrived in the Promised Land. At Shechem Israel bought a piece of land to make into a permanent camp, and he built an altar to “God, the God of Israel”. He must have told his family about wrestling with the stranger and about his new name. It was an event obviously worthy of  incorporating into the oral tradition without even being told to do so.

Israel showed no hurry to get back to his father or mother. He had left his family at Beersheba but would have heard that Isaac had moved on to Hebron and that Rebekah had died. He seems to have lived near Shechem for around ten years, at least until his older children were adult and potentially dangerous. Probably he visited his father at some point shortly after his arrival in Canaan, but the visit was not recorded. His relationship to Isaac was not a close one, so there was no hurry to get back “home”. Besides, he was fundamentally a nomad as his father and grandfather before him.

The events in Shechem primarily concern some of his sons so we will skip chapter 34 for the moment. But the events in Shechem were of such a nature that Israel could no longer feel comfortable living in that land, and the inhabitants of that region were terrified of him as well. Fortunately God directed him to move twenty-five miles south to Bethel, perhaps in another dream or perhaps not. It is clear that Israel wanted and needed to leave the area, but whether he would have done so without authorization is not clear. Israel was still something of a ditherer, and I think God gave him a necessary push.

Bethel was the place he had first camped when he fled from Esau and where he had had the dream of the ladder going up to heaven with the angels ascending and descending. In sending him back to Bethel, God was bringing final closure to that episode of Israel’s life. Israel, remembering the dream and his certainty that God Most High was present at that location, had everyone in his household, wives and servants, bury their household gods before he moved. This would have included Laban’s household idols; if he hadn’t learned of Rachel’s theft he would have learned it now. It also included their earrings as well, which were sometimes worn as amulets or charms for magic.

God had not commanded him to get rid of the idols; he took this action on his own initiative as a better appreciation of God’s glory began to dawn in him. Israel was just beginning to feel that God Most High did not mix well with other gods. Returning to Bethel, he wanted to especially devote himself to God Most High out of gratitude for the blessings he had received. He may have planned on coming back for the idols and jewelry later. We don’t know if he ever did, but he was leaving part of his flocks and herds at Shechem anyway, probably under the care of Simeon and Levi who were about twenty years old, so he easily could have done so.

At Bethel God again met with Israel, and again it does not seem to have been in a dream. This time He formally renewed the Covenant promises He had made to Abraham and to Isaac. Specifically God repeated the promise that Israel’s descendants would be great and that they would inherit the land. The other promises of the Covenant had not disappeared, but were tacitly included. A man who fails to mention something may have forgotten, but God never forgets. Also God again changed Jacob’s name to Israel, just in case there was any doubt that the angel he had wrestled was speaking on God’s behalf. Thus all three of the patriarchs received their names directly from God, and Ishmael as well. This marks the end of God choosing the names of His people, with a few notable exceptions. Israel’s children are not recorded as being given special names by God, nor is Esau, but that does not mean that they didn’t have special names that only He knew. God has always done and said too much to have it all recorded. In the book of Revelations, in 2:17, the idea that God has a secret name for each of His people is specifically mentioned.

The only other event at Bethel of note was the death of Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah. It is easy to miss it in the narrative, just one verse, but I think it is important. It is not clear how Deborah came to be with Israel at Bethel; she would still have been with Isaac at Hebron after Rebekah’s death, thirty miles to the south. Probably Israel had visited Isaac much earlier, as a son should, without moving his whole household to Hebron, and had brought Deborah back with him. Being Rebekah’s nurse she had probably played an important part in raising the twins, but perhaps she had been more especially involved in Israel’s childhood. The description of Deborah’s death is striking; she was so mourned that the tree marking her grave was given a name: Allon-bacuth, the Oak of Weeping. We can only wish that more details of her life were given so that we could have another example of another heroine to study. But then the details of her life were no doubt not the kinds of things that can be easily written about. It was not heroic deeds that made her a heroine to her people but how she lived, blessing the people around her by the quality of her character.

Sarah and Rachel were particularly mourned when they died; Israel mentions burying Leah; only Rebekah was passed over in silence. Of course, the purpose of the narrative here was not to be a complete obituary and the narrative was focused elsewhere when Rebekah died, presumably while Jacob was in Haran and after Isaac moved to Hebron. Still it is significant that there is no mention of her death in the Bible, no mention of her funeral, no mention that Isaac mourned for her. Rebekah took the curse for the plot to steal Esau’s blessing on herself, and I think she did bear some of the consequences. After Jacob’s flight, Rebekah is only mentioned one more time in Genesis 49:31 when Israel reports that Isaac had buried her in the same cave as Abraham and Sarah. This makes Deborah’s inclusion all the more significant, not only the absence of any reference to Rebekah but the unusual honor given to Deborah. Rebekah’s character, what we know of her as an ambitious and ruthless woman, caused strife and bitterness in the lives of her family; and so she was not particularly missed nor mourned when she died. Israel thought of Deborah, not Rebekah, as his mother.

After Bethel, Israel decided to move to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem, more than half way to Hebron where Isaac was dwelling. On the way to Bethlehem Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. As Rachel had been the favorite wife at the beginning, she still occupied that favored position in Israel’s affections and her death was a severe blow to him. His devotion to Rachel was so great that he had real difficulty recovering and he transferred all the weight of his love to Joseph and Benjamin. In this way a family that was already dysfunctional became more so, for the jealousy of the other brothers toward Joseph and Benjamin could only lead to trouble.

Finally, after all of these things Jacob came to Isaac at Hebron, where Abraham had lived so long. It isn’t clear how long Jacob stayed at each place, but Jacob was living either at Bethlehem or with his father Isaac when Joseph was sold into slavery. The later narrative relates that Jacob still had flocks at Shechem, and it is possible that he moved from Shechem to Bethel and then to Bethlehem and then to Hebron because his possessions were becoming too great and needed to be spread out more. Perhaps he left part of his flock at Shechem under the care of older sons, and the same at Bethel, and so on. Thus Jacob’s holdings were becoming so great that he was occupying a wide part of the land. It seems reasonable to construct events so that Jacob was with Isaac during the last ten years of Isaac’s life. Isaac may have been present when the brothers reported Joseph’s death, and may have heard of Joseph’s dreams, and would have seen the strife and envy among his grandchildren. I do wonder if he regretted some of his indiscretions as a father, or if he even realized that so much of the strife around him was in part his own doing. And I wonder what he thought of Joseph’s dreams. After all, he knew about the prophecy to Abraham about being enslaved in a foreign land. And I wonder if he missed Esau.

9. Esau’s Descendants (Genesis 36 and I Chronicles 1:34-54)

Chapter 36 wraps up the story of Esau by giving his genealogy. 36:5,6 suggest that Esau did not move to the land of the Horites until after he had married Basemath the daughter of Ishmael, which would mean that he moved after Jacob had fled to Laban. Probably his and Isaac’s combined wealth was too great. If so then after Jacob left, the inheritance was split up and Esau took his share from Isaac and just moved away. Presumably Esau honored his deal with Jacob and took only one part out of three of the herds with him rather than the two parts out of three he would have been entitled to.

The names given for Esau’s wives here in verses 2 and 3 disagree with the names given in 26:34 and 28:9; there is a copying error somewhere. Most likely the error is to be found in chapter 36, which seems to have been inserted when the oral tradition was written down to tie up loose ends. There would have been little need, and little opportunity, for the oral tradition itself to keep a list of Esau’s descendants. This chapter was probably obtained from the official records of the kingdom of Edom after Israel had escaped from Egypt, centuries after these events. The discrepancies in the genealogies are irritating, but you have to have an obsession with the details to notice them at all. They seem to me to have nothing to do with the revelation or its integrity.

The Horites lived in the land that was called Seir, named for their dominant clan, just south of the Dead Sea and not far from what had been Sodom. The Horites have only been mentioned previously in Genesis 14 as one of the tribes casually conquered by Chedorlaomer and his allies before they proceeded to punish Sodom. Once Abram had defeated Chedorlaomer, the Horites were left in peace, and Seir was the first of their chiefs. It seems likely that Esau took a fourth wife just as he was moving to Seir, namely Oholibamah, a great-granddaughter of Seir himself. If so then he was connected to the most powerful family of that land by marriage.

In 36:20 we find a good example of how the word translated “sons” was being used in a loose way to mean a descendant in general, for Anah is listed here as a son of Seir and in verses 2 and 24 he is listed as the son of Zibeon the son of Seir. The genealogy is confusing. Esau’s son, Eliphaz, then took Timna, the sister of Lotan and daughter or Seir, as a concubine. This make Esau’s son’s concubine, Timna, the great-aunt of Esau’s wife Oholibamah, possible but weird, a twisting of the generations. Timna is important as the mother of Amalek, a grandson of Esau, whose descendants became notorious for evil and for their enmity toward Israel. However, both Timna and Oholibamah are listed as chiefs who descended from Esau – possible, but not likely on the face of it. The genealogy recorded by the officials of Edom do not appear to have been kept very carefully.

Esau’s descendants became closely intertwined with the descendants of Seir and many of them became chiefs themselves in the land of Seir. Eventually, Esau’s descendants came to predominate in that land and it became named for Esau by way of his nickname, Edom. Thus Esau simply drifted away from his heritage; though God blessed him and made him a nation, it was at the cost of losing his identity and blending with this other people, the Horites. Eventually the nation of Edom would be absorbed into the surrounding nations and lose its distinct identity entirely. However, an outside observer in those centuries might not have been sure who was the blessed of the two brothers. While the descendants of Israel went into Egypt and became slaves, the descendants of Esau grew into a strong nation just south of Canaan. A century or two after the death of Isaac, it would have appeared that Esau had been blessed and Israel had been cursed.

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