The wider meaning of prophet

The term prophet had a wide meaning among the Israelites, since it also included people like Abraham, Moses, and Miriam.  That is why some so-called historical books are often called the early prophets.  Jewish traditions hold that there were 48 male prophets, and seven female prophets, Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther.  Others have recognized Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah as female prophets also.  Thus, there is a wide range of written prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament.  The Hebrew prophetic dominant message was a return to Yahweh and his laws.  They were to protect the poor, the orphans, and the widows.  Justice and righteousness dominate in their messages.  Yahweh would judge them.  Although some Israelites were sinners, they would have a bright future if they turned from their evil ways to Yahweh.

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Jacob separates from Esau (Gen 33:12-33:17)

“Then Esau said, ‘Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.’  But Jacob said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me.  If they are overdriven for one day, all the flocks will die.  Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

Esau wanted to stay with Jacob.  However, Jacob wanted to move more slowly because of the animals and children.  So Esau left first to go to Seir. Jacob continues to refer to his brother, as lord, and himself as your servant.

“Then Esau said, ‘Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.’ But he said, ‘Why should my lord be so kind to me?’  So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir.  But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle.  Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.”

Instead of going to Seir, Jacob went to Succoth and built a house there with tents for his cattle, refusing the help of Esau.  This could be trouble brewing. Succoth is east of the Jordan, north of the Dead Sea, probably not too far from Penuel, while Seir is further south of the Dead Sea.

Jacob arrives at Haran (Gen 29:1-29:14)

 “Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east.  As he looked, he saw a well in the field, and three flocks of sheep lying beside it.  For out of that well the flocks were watered.  The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place upon the mouth of the well.”

This Yahweh tradition continues as Jacob traveled further until he came upon ‘the people of the east’ at a well that had a stone on top of it with three flocks of sheep around it.  This phrase ‘people of the east’ refers to Arameans, somewhere in Syria.  The shepherds would roll the stone off the top of the well to water the sheep.  Then put it back when they were done.

“Jacob said to them, ‘My brothers, where do you come from?’ They said, ‘We are from Haran.’  He said to them, ‘Do you know Laban son of Nahor?’ They said, ‘We do.’  He said to them, ‘Is it well with him?’  ‘Yes,’ they replied.  ‘Here is his daughter Rachel coming with the sheep.’  He said, ‘Look, it is still broad daylight.  It is not time for the animals to be gathered together.  Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.’  But they said, ‘We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well.  Then we water the sheep.’  While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep.  She kept them.  Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban.  Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud.  Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son.  So she ran and told her father.  When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him.  He embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house.  Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh!’  He stayed with him a month.”

Jacob asked them where they were from and they responded, Haran.  Then he asked if they knew Laban, the son of Nahor.  They answered that they did and said that his daughter Rachel was coming with the sheep, because Rachel was in charge of her father’s sheep.  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.  He explained to Rachel that he was related to her father since he was Rebekah’s son, the brother of her father.  They ran to tell Laban, but he came running out to greet them, embraced them, and brought them to his house.  Laban said, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh,’ and Jacob stayed a month.

Isaac sends Jacob to Laban (Gen 27:46-28:5)

“Then Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I am weary of my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women such as these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?’  Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, ‘You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women.  Go at once to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father.  Take as a wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.  May El Shaddai, the Almighty one, bless you and make you fruitful and numerous, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give to you the blessing of Abraham, and to you and your offspring with you, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land that God gave to Abraham.’  Thus Isaac sent Jacob away.  He went to Paddan-aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.”

Rebekah did not like the Hittite women and did not want Jacob to marry any of them.  Isaac also said not to marry any Canaanite women.  Isaac decided to send Jacob to Rebekah’s brother in order to marry one of his daughters, one of his first cousins.  Once again Isaac gave him the blessing of Abraham as Jacob went to Haran to visit Laban.  Now this story contradicts the Yahweh story ahead of it.   There Rebekah sent Jacob away without the advice of Isaac, but here it is a joint action and in fact it is mostly Isaac who favors him leaving.  Paddan-aram is the same as Haran.   Notice Isaac thinks it better to marry your first cousin than any of the local women.  This has God El Shaddai, the almighty one, bless him rather than Yahweh.

Jacob cheats Esau out of the blessing of Isaac (Gen 27:1-27:45)

“When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, ‘My son.’   He answered, ‘Here I am.’  He said, ‘See, I am old.  I do not know the day of my death.  Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me.  Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.’”

This starts out as a simple Yahweh story.  Isaac, who was already old and blind, liked Esau.  The conversation begins with the famous response, ‘Here I am.’ Isaac sent Esau out to hunt game and provide ‘a savory meal,’ since he wanted to bless him before he died.

 “Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it,  Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, `Bring me game, and prepare for me savory food to eat, that I may bless you before Yahweh before I die.’  Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you.  Go to the flock, and get me two good kids, so that I may prepare savory food for your father, such as he likes.   You shall take it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.’”

Now the plot thickens.  Rebekah, who liked Jacob, was listening and told Jacob to listen to her. She told Jacob to get two choice kids from the flock so that she could prepare the ‘savory meal.’

“But Jacob said to his mother Rebekah, ‘Look, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a man of smooth skin.  Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him, and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.’  His mother said to him, ‘Let your curse be on me, my son.  Only obey my word, and go, get them to me.’  So he went and got them and brought them to his mother.  His mother prepared savory food, such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau,  which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob.  She put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.”

Jacob resisted saying my brother is hairy and I have smooth skin.   I may bring a curse if my father thinks that I am mocking him.  Rebekah said that she would assume the curse.  Then she cooked the meal and got Esau’s clothes and put kid skins on Jacob’s hands and neck.

“So he went in to his father, and said, ‘My father’.  The he said, ‘Here I am.  Who are you, my son?’  Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me.  Now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.’   But Isaac said to his son, ‘How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?’ He answered, ‘Because Yahweh your God granted me success.’  Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.’  So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, ‘The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’  He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him.  He said, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ He answered, ‘I am.’  Then he said, ‘Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.’ So he brought it to him, and he ate.  He also brought him wine, and he drank.  Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come near and kiss me, my son.’  So he came near and kissed him.” 

Then Jacob went to Isaac who asked who are you, my son?  Jacob said to his father that he was Esau your firstborn and told him he prepared the meal and now asked for a blessing.  Isaac was a little concerned because Esau had done it so quickly, but Jacob responded that Yahweh had granted him success.  Isaac still wanted to feel him because the voice sounded like Jacob.  However, his hands felt like Esau.  After eating and drinking the food, he asked Esau to kiss him, but Jacob had the smell of Esau’s garments so that all went well for Jacob.

“He smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said, ‘Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that Yahweh has blessed.  May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!’”

Then Isaac gave the famous blessing that was clearly meant for Esau.  The smell of a field blessed by Yahweh field is yours.  Lots of grain, wine and a good earth is yours.  All will bow down to you and others will serve you.  Cursed are those who curse you.

 “As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of his father Isaac, his brother Esau came in from his hunting.  He also prepared savory food, and brought it to his father.  He said to his father, ‘Let my father sit up and eat of his son’s game, so that you may bless me.’ His father Isaac said to him, ‘Who are you?’ He answered, ‘I am your firstborn son Esau.’  Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, ‘Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him?  Yes, and blessed he shall be.’ When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, ‘Bless me, me also, father!’  But he said, ‘Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.’  Esau said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright.  And look, now he has taken away my blessing.’ Then he said, ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’  Isaac answered Esau, ‘I have already made him your lord, and I have given him all his brothers for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?’  Esau said to his father, ‘Have you only one blessing, my father? Bless me, me also, father.’ And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.”

Then, just as soon as he had finished this blessing, Esau came in from hunting.  He prepared the food and brought it to his father and said sit up, eat it, and bless me.  Again Isaac said, ‘Who are you?  He answered I am your firstborn son, Esau.’  Isaac trembled violently and asked then who brought me the food that I just ate and then blessed.  Esau cried out violently, then ‘Bless me, me also, father!’  My brother deceived me and got your blessing.  Esau wept and said that he had been tricked twice, first his birthright and now the last blessing.  ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’ Isaac, however, said that he had already given the blessing that put Jacob in charge of everything. Esau feels betrayed and angry.  Why can’t he get some kind of blessing?

“Then his father Isaac answered him: ‘See, away from the fatness of the earth shall your home be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother.  But when you break loose, you shall break his yoke from your neck.’”

There is then an opposite blessing for Esau.  He will have to live by the sword and serve his brother.

“Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching.  Then I will kill my brother Jacob.’  But the words of her elder son Esau were told to Rebekah.  So she sent and called her younger son Jacob and said to him, ‘Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you.  Now therefore, my son, obey my voice.  Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away, until your brother’s anger against you turns away, and he forgets what you have done to him.  Then I will send, and bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?’”

Obviously Esau was mad and hated his brother Jacob, so he began planning to kill Jacob once his father Isaac died.  Once again, Rebekah found out about this and told Jacob how Esau was preparing to kill him.  She told him to go to her brother Laban in Haran until Esau’s ‘fury’ and ‘anger’ went away.  Perhaps he might forget what happened.  She was going to call him back when it is safe, ‘Why should I lose both of you in one day?’

Of all the strange stories of Genesis, this Yahweh tale has more direct deceit than any other story.  Obviously no one was killed like the story of Cain did to Abel.  However, Rebekah and Jacob clearly and deliberately deceived Isaac so that the whole course of history was changed in Jacob’s favor.

The Hittite wives of Esau (Gen 26:34-26:35)

“When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.  They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.”

When Esau was 40 years old he married Judith, the daughter of Beeri, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon, both were Hittites.  Judith was also the name of the Book of Judith, found in the Septuagint only. There is no further mention of this Judith when the list of wives of Esau appears later.  Beeri was also the name of the father of Hosea the prophet. Basemath is mentioned more often than Judith.  Elon was a common name and the name of a place.  These two wives made life ‘bitter’ for Isaac and Rebekah, with no mention of why.  Perhaps the Hittites apparently were not too friendly.

The birth of Esau and Jacob (Gen 25:19-25:28)

“These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son.  Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean.  Isaac prayed to Yahweh for his wife, because she was barren.  Yahweh granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived.  The children struggled together within her.   She said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’  So she went to inquire of Yahweh.  And Yahweh said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples, born of you, shall be divided. The one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’”  

Isaac, son of Abraham, was 40 years old when he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel. Bethuel lived in Haran, but in the priestly late tradition it is called Paddan-aram.  Rebekah, who was barren, prayed to Yahweh.  She then conceived twins who struggled in the womb.  She wanted to die, but Yahweh told her that two nations and two peoples  were to come from her womb.  One would be stronger and the elder would serve the younger.  Once again there is a prophesy while the children are still in the womb.

“When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb.  The first came out red, all over his body like a hairy mantle.  So they named him  Esau.  Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel.  So he was named Jacob.  Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.”

The birth of the twins took place when Isaac was 60 years old after 20 years of marriage.  The first to come out of the womb was red with a hairy covering named Esau.  The second child, Jacob, came out of the womb grasping the heel of Esau.  

“When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.  Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game.  But Rebekah loved Jacob.”

As the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, whom Isaac loved, while Jacob was quiet and loved by his mother Rebekah.  This shows the two rival ways of life, the hunter and the shepherd/farmer.  Once again, there will be a contrast in life styles and preferences.