Tag Archives: isaac

Stealing from the Blind – Jacob Receives Isaac’s Blessing

1024px-Capra_ibex_nubiana_near_Mitzpe_Ramon_in_summer_2011_(4)You hear about these cases all the time: men and women who take advantage of an elderly or infirm person for monetary gain. Sometimes, the theft is large such as a police sergeant who stole $20,000 last year near Chicago, or the Boston couple that stole $130,000 from an elderly man and his handicapped daughter. It is easy to imagine many more crimes going unreported– like credit cards used by a caretaker without permission, or easily forgotten items being sold. To take advantage of anyone in their time of need is one of the worst violation of trust that I can imagine. I did not know how common this was until I researched for this post.

And yet, this is exactly what we are told Jacob did when he conspired with his mother to steal his father’s blessing and, by extension, the patriarchy of all of Israel. It is a violation of trust on a terrible scale, made all the worse because we readers of Genesis have seen Isaac grow from a boy to a man and now finally to this humbling end. Jacob is one of the great heroes of Genesis, and this is not a great way to start his story.

It all begins with a home-cooked meal. Read on for more.

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Esek, Sitnah, and Rehoboth: What Ever Happened to Isaac’s Wells?

The Landing of the Pilgrims by Henri Bacon (1877)In 1643, a group of British colonists from Plymouth journeyed west to find a new home. It had been a generation since the founding of Plymouth colony and the world was changing rapidly. The colonists had seen war and hardship, they saw their hard-fought religious idealism of the New World diluted by a rapidly growing Massachusetts Bay colony to the north, and back in England the country was in the early throws of a civil war. It was in this climate that this group of colonists were inspired by the story of Isaac and his wells. God had “made room” for them and, like Isaac and the subsequent Israelites, they could be “fruitful” (Genesis 26:22) in the land. Today, this town is known as Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Throughout history, the story of Isaac finding room has resonated by settlers of all stripes. In 1845, mixed Protestant missionaries founded a town of Rehoboth in pre-colonial Namibia. In 1873, a group of Methodists founded a resort town of Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. There are other towns with similar stories in New Mexico, Ohio, Alabama, and Maryland. It was also the name for a US Navy ship during World War I, historic buildings in New York and Maryland, and there’s even an asteroid. This is a story that has resonated down through the generations.

These stories had meaning which we carry to this day. But what ever happened to those wells? Read on for more.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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