The problem in Shechem

In Genesis, chapter 34, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, went to visit some women in the region of their new home.  However, Shechem, the son of Hamor, a prince of this region, raped her, but he loved her and spoke tenderly to her.  He asked his father Hamor if he could arrange to have Dinah be his wife.  When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were still in the field, so he held his peace until they came home.  As Hamor went to speak with Jacob, the sons of Jacob returned from the field and became indignant and very angry when they heard what had happened.  Hamor asked Jacob to have Dinah marry his son.  Then he told Jacob that his sons could marry Shechem’s daughters, indicating that they can all get along.  Shechem, whom the town was named after, said, “Let me find favor with you.  Whatever you say to me, I will give.”  This was a very strong plea for reconciliation between the two families.  Should there be punishment or reconciliation?  What was the role and intention of Dinah?  No one seems to ask her.  However, Jacob’s sons were not happy.  They were not going to give their sister to an uncircumcised man, because that would be a disgrace.  Only if all their males would be circumcised would they consent to have their sisters and daughters be their wives.  This biblical writer said that they were being deceitful without any explicit indication.  If there was no deal, they would move on from Shechem.  Hamor and his son Shechem seemed pleased, so that they went to the gate of the city and spoke to the people about how friendly the family of Jacob was.  The sons and daughters of Jacob could live and trade with them, as well as have marriages with them.  The only condition was that they become circumcised.  The people of the city agreed and all the males were circumcised.  It sounded like everything was going well, but then this story took a sudden turn.  Three days later, the two sons of Jacob and Leah, Simeon and Levi, the true brothers of Dinah, took their swords and killed all the men in the city, including Hamor and Shechem.  They took Dinah from Shechem.  What happened to her is not clear.  When the other sons of Jacob came and found out what happened, they further plundered the city, taking all the herds and whatever was in the city.  They captured everyone and everything.  Jacob said that Simeon and Levi had brought trouble to him among the Canaanites and the other people.  They were only a small group.  He was afraid of the other Canaanites.  However, the brothers were defiant.  Our sister should not be treated like a whore.  Clearly, this was breaking a covenant or treaty.  Hamor and Shechem had done what they were asked, but the concept of revenge and deceit was very common among the sons of Jacob.  Jacob himself was a crafty man as can be seen with his dealings with Esau and Laban, but not a killer like his sons Simeon and Levi.  This ancient traditional punishment of killing for a rape offense still exists in eight countries today.  Notice too, the other brothers joined in the looting.  They used circumcision to make the men of Shechem vulnerable to an attack, when there was no clear indication that they were circumcised when they lived with Laban in Haran.  What do you think about the sons of Jacob?

Jacob and Esau meet and separate

In Genesis, chapter 33, the reunion of Jacob with his twin brother Esau, after 20 years of separation, took place.  The story of Jacob continued the next day, as Jacob looked up and saw Esau with 400 men coming.  He divided up his family and put the servant maids with their children up front with Rachel and Leah and their children in the back.  Then Jacob went out front, bowing to the ground seven times until he came to his brother.  Esau, however, ran to Jacob, embracing and kissing him.  Esau asked, “Who are all these people with you?”  Jacob responded that these were his wives and children, as each mother with their own individual children came forward to bow down before Esau.  Esau said that he did not need all of Jacob’s presents, since he had enough by himself.  He was rich enough.  However, Jacob insisted that Esau keep the presents.  He said that seeing Esau’s face was like seeing the face of Elohim, because he had been so nice to him.  Finally, Esau took the gifts.  It looked like this brotherly reunion was going to work out fine.  Esau wanted to stay with Jacob.  However, Jacob wanted to move more slowly because of his animals and his children.  Thus, Esau left first to go to Seir.  Jacob continued to refer to his brother, as lord, אֲדֹנִ֤י (Adoni), and himself as his servant, עַבְדּ֑וֹ (Abdow).  However, instead of going to Seir with Esau, Jacob went to Succoth, a name that appears 18 times in the Hebrew Bible.  There he built a house with tents for his cattle, refusing the help of Esau.  This could be trouble brewing.  Succoth was east of the Jordan River, north of the Dead Sea, probably not too far from Penuel, while Seir was further south of the Dead Sea in Edom, a name that appears 39 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Then Jacob came to Shechem in the land of Canaan.  There he bought some land for a hundred pieces of silver, from the sons of Hamor, probably Hivites.  Hamor was the father of Shechem whose name appears 13 times in the Hebrew Bible, mostly in this episode, while the name Shechem as a place and a person appeared 63 times in the Hebrew Bible.  This is the second purchase of land after Abraham had purchased the land for Sarah’s tomb.  Jacob had built a house at Succoth, but here in Shechem he pitched a tent.  He also erected an altar called El-Elohe-Israel, אֵ֖ל (El) אֱלֹהֵ֥י (Elohe) יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (Yisrael), a combined name that does not appear anywhere else in the biblical literature.  However, the separate word of El appears 284 times. The name Elohim appears 2,598 times and Israel appears 3,478 times.  Thus Shechem, about 34 miles north of Jerusalem, will become a place of worship.  Abraham had passed through here near on his original journey, so that Jacob was tracing the footsteps of Abraham.  Have you ever had a good reunion with your brother?

The origin of the term Israel

Genesis, chapter 32:22-32 has the struggle of Jacob with someone, either a man or Elohim.  That night, Jacob got up and took his two wives, their two servants, his eleven children, and all his possessions as he crossed the Jabbok River, near where they were staying.  This river appears 7 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Jacob stayed on the other side of a stream alone.  There he wrestled with a man until daybreak.  This man is often identified as God, but the text said man, אִישׁ֙ (is).  This man could not prevail so he hit Jacob in the hip.  Thus, Jacob’s hip was put out of joint.  This man wanted to go when day broke, but Jacob asked for his blessing.  The man blessed Jacob and said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob anymore, לֹ֤א (lo) יַעֲקֹב֙ (Yaaqob) יֵאָמֵ֥ר (yeamer) עוֹד֙ (howd), but Israel, שִׁמְךָ֔ (simka) כִּ֖י (ki) אִם־ (im) יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל (Yisrael).  You have struggled, persevered, or persisted, שָׂרִ֧יתָ (sarita), with Elohim and with humans, and you have prevailed.”  Jacob become Israel, a play on words with El and sarita.  Israel meant “he who strives with God” or “God strives”.  Was this a man, God, or an angel?  The question remains open.  Jacob then asked for his name, but he did not get it.  Jacob then called this place Peniel.  He had seen God face to face, and preserved his life.  However, the next sentence said that Peniel became Penuel, a place north of the Jabbok River near the Jordan River, that means face of God, that appears 9 times in the Hebrew Bible.  These names seem interchangeable.  There was an interesting comment in the text itself, “Therefore to this day, the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.”  This is an attempt to explain the origins of a practice that the biblical authors were familiar with.  We also have the first use of the term Israel.  Here is the establishment of the Israelites in Jacob’s struggle with the God/man who could not defeat him before sunrise, just like many of the other ancient legends.  This rich man, who cheated his brother and had children with four different women, became the foundation of Israel because he had seen God face to face but could not pronounce his name.  Thus, Jacob becomes Israel which aptly means struggle with God or God rules.  This term will appear in the Hebrew Bible 2,506 times, while the name Jacob appeared 349 times.  The term Israelites will refer to his descendants.  Sometimes they will be called the children of Israel or the people of Israel, and since 1948, the state of Israel.  At a certain time, it referred to all the area that was not Judah.  This is the story of how Jacob became Israel.  What do you know about Israel?

Jacob prepares to meet Esau

In Genesis, chapter 32:3-21, Jacob returned to Canaan with his large family, servants, and possessions, after 20 years working for his uncle Laban.  He wanted to reconcile with his twin brother Esau.  Jacob sent messengers to Esau who was in Seir in the land of Edom.  He instructed his messengers to tell Esau that he had been an alien with his uncle Laban, but now he had wealth with oxen, donkeys, and slaves.  He wanted to gain favor in the sight of Esau.  However, Jacob’s messengers returned to say that Esau was coming to meet Jacob with 400 men.  Jacob was distressed and decided to split up his people into two separate groups.  Then at least one of the groups would survive an attack by Esau.  Jacob prayed to Elohim of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, to say that he was not worthy of Yahweh’s love.  He had left the Jordan area with just a staff and now he had two companies.  However, he asked to be delivered from his brother who was coming to kill him, because Yahweh had said that he would be with him.  Then Jacob decided to send a gift to his brother Esau: 200 female and 20 male goats, 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 milking camels and their colts, 40 cows and 10 bulls, 20 female and 10 male donkeys.  Wow, this was quite a herd.  If these were the gifts for Esau, imagine what he kept for himself.  The servants took this gifted herd ahead of Jacob with him behind them.  Jacob instructed them to say that this was a present for Esau.  Jacob thought that this great present of so many animals might appease Esau and make Esau welcome him.  Have you ever tried to make up with a family member?

Laban and Jacob meet

In Genesis, chapter 31:22-55, Laban pursued Jacob.  Three days after Jacob had left, Laban found out about his departure and spent seven days chasing him until he caught up with him at Gilead, in the hill country east of the Jordan River, in the present-day country of Jordan.  Gilead as a name appears 134 times in the Hebrew Bible, both as a place and the names of people.  However, Elohim appeared to Laban in a dream and told him not to say a good or bad word to Jacob.  Nevertheless, Laban went to Jacob and accused him of stealing his daughters.  He wanted to know why they were sneaking away when he would have sent them away with mirth and songs.  He never got to kiss them goodbye with a correct farewell.  The Elohim of his father had come to Laban in a dream to tell him not to speak ill to Jacob.  However, Laban called Jacob foolish and asked why he had stolen his Elohims,אֱלֹהָֽי׃ (Elohay).  Jacob responded that he feared that Laban would take his daughters by force.  He also said that whoever stole Laban’s Elohims אֱלֹהָֽי׃ (Elohay) would not live.  Jacob did not know that Rachel took Laban’s idols.  The previous text called them household idols, but this text said that Laban called them Elohims, not idols.  Laban searched the tents of Jacob and his entourage.  He could not find them because Rachel had put them in the saddle of the camel that she was sitting on.  She said that she could not get off the camel because “the way of women is upon me.”  Then Jacob became angry towards Laban and let him know that he was not pleased.  Laban had searched all his goods and found nothing.  Jacob had worked for Laban, day and night, over 20 years, to gain his daughters and his flock, as Laban changed his wages ten times.  Jacob justified his leaving by talking about the 20 years he had spent there working for Laban.  Elohim was on his side.  If the Elohim of Abraham and Isaac had not been on his side, he would have been sent him away empty-handed.  Laban responded that these were his daughters, sons, and flocks, but he realized that they could do whatever they wanted.  However, he also said, “let us make a covenant, you and I, נִכְרְתָ֥ה (nikretah) בְרִ֖ית (berit) אֲנִ֣י (ani) וָאָ֑תָּה (waattah).”  Jacob took a stone and set up a pillar and asked everyone to gather stones.  He called this place Galeed.  Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha.  However, neither Galeed nor Jegar Sahadutha ever appeared in the biblical literature again.  However, they agreed on the name of Mizpah, that appears 36 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Laban said that this pile would be a witness of their parting, saying that Yahweh would watch over all of them.  He warned Jacob not to take other wives or mistreat his daughters because Elohim would be his witness.  This heap set up some sort of territorial line.  Laban asked the Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Nahor, and the Elohim of Jacob’s father to be with them.  They spent the night in a feast on a mountain.  Early in the morning, Laban said good-bye to his daughters and grandchildren, blessing them.  The angels of Elohim met Jacob and told him to call this place Elohim’s camp, Mahanaim, an east Jordan town that appears 13 times in the biblical literature.  Obviously, this story was a combination of the Yahweh and Elohim traditions.  Thus, the story of Jacob and his uncle, also father-on-law, came to a happy ending.  Have you ever parted ways with your in-laws?

Jacob and Laban split

In Genesis, chapter 31:1-21, the sons of Laban were mad that Jacob had taken all the wealth of Laban.  Even Laban was looking less favorable towards Jacob.  Yahweh appeared to Jacob and told him to return to the land of his ancestors, referring to Canaan where Abraham and Isaac lived.  Yahweh would be with him.  Jacob called his two wives into the field and said that their father had been unfair to him, since their father had changed his wages ten times.  The Elohim of his father Isaac had been with Jacob.  Elohim had kept Laban from attacking him.  He had taken away Laban’s livestock and given it to Jacob with all the speckled and stripped animals. Then Jacob told them about his dream where the male speckled goats were being attacked by the rest of the flock.  The same was true for the lambs.  Then the angel of Elohim appeared to him in a dream.  He said that he was the El of Bethel, where Jacob had made a pillar and vow.  Jacob responded with the common response “Here I am.”  Then the El of Bethel told him to leave this land at once and return to the land of his birth.  Both Rachel and Leah, although they legally were part of Laban’s property, agreed to do whatever Elohim and Jacob wanted.  They also felt mistreated by their father.  Thus, Jacob got his children, his wives, and all his property and livestock and headed back to the land of Canaan and his father Isaac.  For some reason, Rachel stole her father’s household idols, הַתְּרָפִ֖ים (hatterapim).  Obviously, they were not monotheists.  Notice that God was called Yahweh, Elohim, and El in this narrative.  Jacob did not tell Laban that he was leaving, as he set out crossing the Euphrates River on his way back to his father.  Have you ever had any trouble with your uncle?

How Jacob got rich

Now that Jacob had twelve children from his two wives and their two maid servants, he wanted to leave Laban in Genesis, chapter 30:25-43.  Laban said that he would give Jacob his due wages. Jacob responded that he had made Laban rich, because Yahweh had blessed them with abundance.  Jacob wanted to take every speckled sheep, black lamb, and goats that were an abnormal color.  Laban agreed and said fine.  However, Laban took all these abnormal colored animals from his flock and gave them to his other sons.  They then moved that flock three days away.  There always seemed to be a problem with uncle Laban and his nephew Jacob, since they did not trust each other.  Jacob then had a plan.  He put some peeled fresh white branches or rods of poplar, almond, and chestnut trees by the watering hole where the flocks came to drink.  These animals used to bred in front of these branches.  Thus, they produced young animals that were striped, speckled, and spotted.  In other words, Jacob produced his own abnormal colored animals.  The ancient belief was that animals would produce the color of what they were looking at when they were breeding.  He then separated them out from Laban’s flock and made sure that the strong animals had the spotted branches in front of them.  Jacob had his own way of breeding these strange colored animals.  This is how Jacob got rich with large flocks.  He made sure that the strong animals saw the speckled and spotted branches, while the weak ones did not.  Thus, Jacob got wealthy, while Laban and his flocks got weaker and poorer.  He and Laban were always at odds with each other, since Jacob had so many wives and children to take care of.  Have you ever been involved with breeding animals?

The children of Jacob

This Jahwist story of Jacob continued in Genesis, chapter 29:31-30:24.  Although Jacob loved Rachel, she was barren, like Sarah and Rebekah for a while.  On the other hand, Leah bore four sons to Jacob.  The first son was called Reuben, which literally means “he saw my distress” or “behold a son”.  Yahweh had blessed Leah with a son, whose name Reuben appeared in the Hebrew Bible 72 times.  Then Leah conceived again and bore a son names Simeon, that means “he has heard”, a name that only appears 44 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Leah then had a third son with Jacob called Levi, meaning “he will cling”, a name that appears 58 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Then, Leah had a fourth son called Judah, that means “I will praise”, that appears 818 times, clearly the most influential son of Jacob.  Each time she bore a son, Leah praised Yahweh and hoped that her husband Jacob would love her.  You would think that these four sons would be important, but only Levi, from whom the Levitical priests come, and Judah, the land where Jerusalem will be, play a significant or important role in Israelite history.  Leah did not have any more children, so that she was responsible for a third of the twelve families of Israel.  Rachel envied her sister Leah for all the children that she had.  She went to Jacob and said to give her children, or she was going to die.  Jacob got angry and said it was Elohim’s will for her not to have children.  Rachel then gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob to have children, and Jacob had sex with her.  Bilhah had two sons with Jacob, Dan, whose name means “judge”, and appears 71 times in the Hebrew Bible, and Naphtali that means “my struggle”, whose name appears 51 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Jacob had sex with three women producing six sons.  Then Leah asked her maid Zilpah to sleep with Jacob.  Thus, Zilpah and Jacob had two more sons with him, Gad, that means “good fortune”, whose name appears 73 times in the Hebrew Bible, and Asher, that means “my happiness”, whose name appears 43 times.  This makes the fourth woman for Jacob with eight sons.  One day Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob and Leah, brought mandrakes, some sort of aphrodisiac, to his mother Leah, but Rachel wanted some.  Thus, Leah gave Rachel the mandrakes in exchange for sleeping with Jacob that night.  Thus, Leah bore a fifth and sixth son, Issachar, whose name means “he has hired”, that appears 43 times in the Hebrew Bible, and Zebulun that means “he will honor me”, that appears 45 times in the Hebrew Bible.  However, there is also a mention of a daughter, Dinah, whose name means “justice” and appears 8 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Leah then had six sons, one daughter, and two sons by her maid, 75% of the children of Jacob.  Then Elohim remembered Rachel and “opened her womb”. Finally, Rachel conceived a son called Joseph that means “may he add”, that appears 213 times.  This time, the blessing is from Yahweh, not Elohim.  Of course, he will become the most famous of the sons of Jacob, beside Judah.  Now Jacob had eleven sons, all born outside Canaan, while he was with his uncle in Haran.  Only one more to come to make up the twelve tribes of Jacob.  Have you ever heard of the twelve tribes of Israel? 

The two marriages of Jacob

Instead of just a month, Jacob would stay longer.  This story continued in Genesis, chapter 29:15-30.  Laban decided to pay Jacob because he was a relative.  He would not be a servant or slave of Laban.  They had to decide on the wages for Jacob.  Apparently, Laban had two daughters, Leah, the oldest, and Rachel, the youngest.  Leah’s name will appear 34 times in the biblical literature, while Rachel’s name will appear more often at 47 times.  Jacob loved Rachel and he said that he would serve Laban for seven years in order to marry her.  This appeared to be a real love story when years seemed like days to Jacob.  Laban seemed happy to have this marriage of his daughter within the family.  Jacob would marry his first cousin, Rachel, after seven years of work for her father Laban.  After seven years or work, Jacob wanted his wages, Laban’s daughter Rachel as his wife.  On the wedding night, Laban brought the veiled Leah, not Rachel, to Jacob.  “He went in to her”, a euphemism for intercourse.  Laban also gave Leah a maid called Zilpah, whose name appears 7 times in the Hebrew Bible.  This time, it was only in the morning that Jacob realized that he had been deceived.  Laban explained to Jacob that in their country the older daughter had to be married before the younger daughter.  Nevertheless, they completed the week of marriage festivities.  However, Laban told Jacob that if he worked another seven years, he would give him his other daughter Rachel, the younger one, with a maid named Bilhah, whose name appears 11 times in the Hebrew Bible.  It turns out to be a two for one deal, as Jacob married two sisters at the same time, but it took him fourteen years of work for his uncle Laban.  Clearly, the father made all the decisions about marriage for his daughters.  Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah.  This might not go too well.  Do you know anyone who married two sisters?

Jacob arrives at Haran

This Jahwist tradition continued in Genesis, chapter 29:1-14. Jacob traveled further until he came upon “the sons of the east”, that refers to Arameans, somewhere in Syria.  He stopped at a water well that had a large stone on top of it with three flocks of sheep around it.  Water wells played an important role in an arid land, both physically and socially.  The shepherds would roll the stone off the top of the well to water the sheep and then put it back when they were done.  Jacob asked these shepherds where they were from.  They responded that they were from Haran.  Then Jacob asked if they knew Laban, the son of Nahor, and was he well?  They answered that they knew him and he was well.  In fact, his daughter Rachel was coming with their sheep, because Rachel was in charge of her father’s sheep.  However, the stone could not be rolled off until all the sheep were gathered there.  Jacob then rolled the stone off the well, kissed Rachel, and wept.  This was a bold move.  He explained to Rachel that he was related to her father since he was Rebekah’s son, the sister of her father.  They were first cousins.  Her father was his uncle and his mother was her aunt.  They ran to tell Laban, but he came running out to greet them, embraced them, and brought them to his house.  Jacob told Laban all about his family.  Laban was happy to see his sister’s son, and said, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.”  Jacob stayed a month with Laban and his family.  The reunion was successful.  Have you ever met a long-lost uncle for the first time?