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Rebekah’s Sacrifice

Isaac Blesses JacobLet me set the scene: Rebekah peered through an open doorway at her husband, Isaac. Age had wilted the once proud man, the son of Abraham, until he was only a shadow of his former self. His eyes had failed and he could no longer look upon his home or the people that he loved. He could no longer even walk. But Isaac was loved: his twin sons, Jacob and Esau, remained close to him even as they entered their fourth decades. Although Esau’s Canaanite wives caused some consternation, he remained Isaac’s favorite son. At 100 years of age, Isaac had lived a long and good life and he felt that it was time to pass on his blessing, the inheritance of God’s promise, to one of his children.

As Rebekah watched unseen, Isaac called his eldest son, Esau, to his deathbed to make his request:

Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”
Genesis 27:2-4

As she heard these words, Rebekah’s heart hardened. In a few short minutes, she would betray her eldest son and her husband. She knew her actions could drive her family apart and that she may never see her sons together again.

Why did she do it? Because God had told her a secret. Read on for more.

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Isaac in Abraham’s Shadow

Christians and Jews both refer to God as the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”– the big three patriarchs of Genesis. But while the bible goes to great lengths to teach us about Abraham and Jacob, Isaac is almost a mystery. So much of his story is told through other eyes: we know of his torment by Ishmael through Abraham’s and Sarah’s reaction to it, we know of Abraham’s anguish at being asked to sacrifice his only remaining son, and later in the story we will see his granting of the birthright to Jacob through his and Rebekah’s eyes. Isaac is rarely a doer in Genesis, only one that reacts to things being done.

Timeline of Key Figures in Genesis (after Abraham)
Timeline of Key Figures in Genesis (after Abraham)

Fortunately for us, the Genesis narrator is crafty: several of the events in Isaac’s story closely parallel events in his father’s life. This grants a certain narrative economy, but more importantly allows us to learn who Isaac is by underscoring how he is or is not like his father. What kind of man do you think Isaac is? Read on for my view.

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Ishmael’s Daughter(s) and the Riddle of Esau’s Wives

In my previous post on the twelve sons of Ishmael, I left out at least one of Ishmael’s most important children: his daughter, or perhaps, his daughters. Their story is tied to Esau, Jacob’s brother, and chronologically comes later in the biblical narrative, but in the interest of keeping the Ishmael family together, I want to discuss it now. And what the story lacks in narrative, it gains in confusion: Genesis is simply unclear about exactly how many wives Esau had, what their names were, and who their parents were. And, depending on how you read it, Ishmael could have been blessed by one daughter who married Esau, or two. And before you dismiss that out of hand, remember that Jacob himself married two daughters of Laban, so it is entirely reasonable for Esau to also marry sisters.

A complicated tale that involves wading through bible genealogies? Where do I sign up!? Read on for more.

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Ishmael’s Children and Descendants

Ishmael by James Tissot (Source: Wikimedia Commons)The story of Ishmael is the next to come to a close, in the middle of Genesis 25. But before he passes away at the ripe old age of 137, the bible tells us a bit more about his children. Ishmael’s family, like Abraham’s children with Keturah, don’t factor into the biblical story directly. Instead, they are the founders of twelve more tribes of Canaan that the post-exodus Hebrews will have to deal with upon their return.

These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps.
Genesis 25:13-16

I thought it would be fun, just like I did with Abraham’s kids, to look at what the bible says about each of these twelve tribes and how they impacted our story, in big and small ways. One omission from this list, is Ishmael’s daughter (Mahalath, otherwise known as Basemath), but that story is complicated enough that I’m going to save it for another time.

I know that genealogies bore some of you to tears, but I love them and the way little connections are sprinkled throughout the bible, if you care to look for them. They make me feel like it’s all part of one connected story, rather than   bumps along the road to Jerusalem. Every story is important, though some are more fun than others.

Twelve more tribes for Ishmael! Read on for more.

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My Favorite Moment in Genesis – Isaac and Ishmael at Peace

In the bible as in life, sometimes the best things come in small packages. Hidden between two boring genealogies in Genesis 25 is a three line mini-story that is one of my favorite moments in Genesis. Here it is:

Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah.
Genesis 25:8-10

The story is profound in its simplicity: Isaac and Ishmael, two half-brothers who did not get along, come together in peace to bury their father. It’s an amazing story of forgiveness that I think says a lot to us still today. Read on for more.

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Keturah and Abraham’s Other Children

His story being told, God grants Abraham something of a retirement for a job well done: roughly 35 years where he can settle down with a new wife, have six more children, and generally just stay out of the way. Isaac and his descendants will take the stage in a moment, but before that happens let’s take a brief look at Keturah, his new wife, and what the bible says about his new children. It’s not much, but anything the bible can do to flesh out the final days of the first great patriarch is welcome.

A mysterious new wife (that may have been an old wife)? New children who will lead great nations? Read on! Continue reading Keturah and Abraham’s Other Children

My Son Is Born!

My son, Abram, was born this week– very premature, but doing well and his mother and I are thrilled to discover our new little person. For now, we have some walls separating us as he works very hard to finish being ready for the world, but I look forward to the day that he can come home.

In Buddhism, there is a story about the birth of the baby Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. His parents were of a highborn Hindu family and because of a prophecy, his mother was traveling to his father’s kingdom late into the pregnancy. While they had stopped so that she could admire a garden, the baby Buddah was suddenly born! He walked a few steps, announced to the world that this would be the reincarnation where he would reach enlightenment, and then promptly settled back down into being a baby.

I bring this up because in the delivery room, none of the doctors or nurses mentioned our child suddenly getting up and talking, so he’s probably not going to be a reincarnation of the Buddha. Which is good, because since neither his mother or I are Buddhist and it would be terribly difficult to explain to our rabbi, or to my Christian side of the family.

For now, I plan to keep posting when I can. Writing and studying is calming, even as I sit with my wife as she recovers.

Matchmaking of the Patriarchs – Finding a Bride for Isaac

019.The_Meeting_of_Isaac_and_RebekahAfter coming down from Mount Sinai and the death of his mother, Sarah, Isaac was in a bit of a funk. He may not have been on speaking terms with his father and had gone off with his mother’s tent to live near Beer-lahai-roi, in the south of Israel. Abraham knew that the future of his line, of God’s promise, rested in the unsteady hands of his second son. But Abraham had a plan to set things right: he would find a bride for Isaac, someone that could take his mind away from his troubles. It was time for some matchmaking!

Although this is Isaac’s second story as an adult, this is really the story of Abraham’s final victory. This is the moment when he makes his inheritance secure and could go off and be happy on his own. In the process, we also get to meet one of the strong-willed wives of the patriarchs, Rebekah. What are you waiting for? Read on!

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Stateswoman or Propagandist? Unraveling the Song of Deborah

deborah-detailWhere we left off in our story, Deborah and Barak– with an assist from a housewife and a tent spike– had succeeded in conquering Jabin, one of the kings of the Canaanite kingdoms, and his 900 iron-fortified chariots. This post will revisit a lot of that material, so see my previous entry if you want a refresher.

What did they do when they won this peace? Like any great Broadway musical, they sang a song about it. I will leave you to imagine the choreography, but it probably didn’t involve dancing girls. The Song of Deborah offers a second look at the events of Judges 4, but also depicts how Deborah wanted the story to be remembered. This song, far from being just an epilogue, depicts a woman that was both an expert at statecraft and perhaps a little bit of propaganda. Read on for the end of the story about this amazing woman.

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Who was Deborah, the Mother of Israel?

Today’s post was inspired by my wife. And whidevorahle I say “inspired”, I mean something else entirely. When I come home from work, if she beats me home, our conversations start off something like this:

Me: Hello! How was your day?

Wife: Have your written that post about my Hebrew name yet? (*)

And you know, I was going to get around to it… in a few years… when I made it to the Book of Judges. My wife’s Hebrew name is “Dvora”, better known in English as Deborah, the so-called “mother of Israel” and the only female Judge mentioned in the Bible. And while I thought I could hold off, in truth Deborah is a fascinating biblical figure and worthy of a deeper look. She’s also one that I had only the vaguest recollection of before I started working on this blog.

But what made the story of Deborah so special? Not one, but two powerful and influential women and a fantastic bit of false foreshadowing that reads like something out of the Lord of the Rings. Read on for more.

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