Tag Archives: abraham

Abraham’s and Isaac’s Wells

500px-Well_of_Isaac_in_BeershebaIn the television show Survivor, fire means life. But in the Book of Genesis, water is the element that saves your life. Wells found in the wilderness save the lives of Hagar and Ishmael, wells are the community meeting place where both Isaac’s and Jacob’s wives were found, and wells mark a territorial claim to a plot of land. To have a well demonstrates that the land is capable of sustaining life; you can live there.

One of the lesser-known stories of the bible, one of the very few where Isaac is more than a passive actor, is the story of Abraham’s wells. This is a story of Isaac’s success against all odds, of a compromise with the Philistines, and setting one of the borders of the future land of Israel. It also happens to involve quite a lot of wells.

Let’s grab some shovels and dig in!

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Esau’s Stolen Birthright

It was the heist of a millennium: Rebekah and her second-born son Jacob conspired to rob her first-born, Esau, of his birthright. At stake wasn’t just gold or silver, servants or sheep, but rather the patriarchy for the whole future nation of Israel. To complete the theft, they would have to manipulate a blind and crippled Isaac, husband and father, into confusing his children and blessing the wrong one. It was an inauspicious start to the tribe of Israel, to say the least.

Rightly or wrongly, Rebekah was persuaded to do this by a vision from God given to her in pregnancy. But what led Jacob down this dark path? Was it greed? Did he, too, have a vision from God? The bible is mostly silent, but for me it comes down to one bowl of delicious soup. Read on for more.

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Timeline of Genesis From Adam to Joseph

According to the story in Genesis, there were around 2,300 years from the creation of Adam in the Garden of Eden to the exodus of the Israelites in Egypt. Along the way, there were 23 generations, a flood, several famines, and generation after generation of lost stories. Many readers skim over these sections for the narrative portions of the book, but if we look carefully at these “begats” we can not only seeing biblical man becoming more like us, but there is also plenty of room for surprise. Did you know that Abraham could have met Noah? Or that Eber, for whom the Hebrew tribe is named, outlived his great-great-great-great grandson?

Come, take a look! There will be graphs!

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One Abimelech or Two?

'King_Abimelech_Restores_Sarah_to_her_Husband,_Abraham',_Flemish_tapestry_by_Frans_Geubels,_DaytonTry to put yourself in King Abimelech’s shoes: He was eighty years young, having held sway over his kingdom for more than half a century through war and peace. He’s a Philistine, who the Egyptians called the “Sea People”, and a descendant of a tribe of seafarers and raiders that were not unlike the Vikings of their day. We might say that his olive complexion looks a bit Greek, but it’s hundreds of years before Homer composed his first stanza. At this time, the Philistines controlled a coastal area of Israel from what today would be Gaza to just south of Tel Aviv. Abimelech is ruling from a town called Gerar, though it’s not one of the principal Philistine cities. In the time since the Philistines had come to Canaan, the local customs had rubbed off on them: they still spoke a separate language, but were increasingly worshipping Canaanite gods.

One day, Abimelech’s kingdom was greeted by two wanderers, a brother and sister from Canaan who had fallen upon hard times. Something was familiar about them, but he couldn’t quite place it– they both had just the hint of a Mesopotamian accent. Where had he heard that accent before? But the young lady was attractive and even though Abimelech was too old for those kinds of thoughts, he didn’t see the harm in letting them stay in Gerar.

But Abimelech didn’t live to his eighth decade by taking chances: he kept a close watch on the couple. After all, they could have been spies or worse. Not that it was too much of a chore to keep tabs on the young lady, after all. But a few weeks later, as he watched from afar, he caught the supposed siblings in a lover’s embrace. Realization dawned: they weren’t siblings! He stormed out of his hiding place to confront the young man. “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” The king fumed. He paused for a second, his brow creased, “Wait a second… have we done this before?”

That narrative is a fabrication, a mix of details from historical and biblical sources. But Abimelech is undoubtedly one of the most unusual figures in Genesis: a polytheist who nonetheless talked with God and may have been rewarded by Him. But was the Abimelech who met Abraham the same man who met Isaac? The bible isn’t clear and there is some disagreement. Read on for a look at what the early Jews and Christians thought.

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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

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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Is Eliezer Abraham’s Servant in Genesis 24?

Rebecca and Eliezer by Paolo Veronese, c1580 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Who was the servant that Abraham sent away to find a bride for Isaac? The bible itself does not say, but out of habit I referred to him as Eliezer when I posted about the text on Facebook. Both Jewish and Christian sources agree that Eliezer, a man otherwise mentioned only once in Genesis 15, was the servant that Abraham entrusted the future of his line to.

This post is brought to you thanks to the generous help of Jeremy from Study With Jeremy. I’ve misplaced my copy of Genesis Rabbah and he was kind enough to delve into the original Hebrew to help bring this mystery to a satisfactory conclusion.

So, who was this Eliezer fellow anyway? Sounds like a great mystery! Read on for more.

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Abraham’s Oath Upon his Thigh

Abraham's Servant Swears Upon His ThighA few months ago, I stalled on Genesis 24: it was too complex a chapter to comment on and instead of commenting, I found other things to write about until real life caught up with me. I’m determined to continue, so let’s start at the beginning.

Genesis 24 begins with a very odd oath. Abraham is too old to go off to find his son a wife on his own, so he sends his faithful servant to do it. But before he leaves, he asks his servant to “put […] thy hand under my thigh. And I will make the swear by the Lord” (Genesis 24:2). Why does this swearing on a thigh come from and what does the bible have to say about it? Sounds like a great topic to dig into a little more! (Hint: It may involve testicles.)

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Much Ado About Camels… in the Bible

Somehow in all my reading of Genesis, I missed one of the great controversies of the bible: camels. Dromedaries appear in several Genesis stories, but most notably in the story of Isaac and Rebekah. In this story, Rebekah waters Abraham’s camels and fulfills a prophecy to be Isaac’s wife. I never thought twice about camels in biblical times, but science disagrees. Robert Alter summarizes the controversy best:

Archeological and extrabiblical literary evidence indicates that camels were not adopted as beasts of burden until several centuries after the Patriarchal period, and so their introduction to this story would have to be anachronistic.

Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses

Rather than point at camels as an indication that the bible is “wrong”, I argue that the rarity of camels fits the biblical narrative. The authors may even connect Abraham to the rise of camels in all of Canaan. Read on for more.

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