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The Bible – Just The Tip

Jacob's Vision and God's Promise, as in Genesi...

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I bet you thought that we were done with people being dicks with each other, didn’t you? Well we’re not. Chapter 34 of Genesis is the tale of what happens when you defile one of Jacob’s relatives. And there’s a twist and some foreshadowing which really reinforces that the Bible needs a better editor.

Jacob’s daughter Dinah goes out for a walk on her own. She was seen by Shechem and he decided that he wanted her. He did this in the traditional way – by raping her and then by going to his father and asking if he can arrange a marriage. The father thinks that this is a great idea and goes to Jacob to ask his permission for the two to marry. He really goes to beg for their to be no quarrel between them and says that if this can happen then Jacob’s tribe and his tribe can inter-marry and all will be well.

Jacob’s sons hear this

7And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter: which thing ought not to be done.

So not a good start. And Jacob’s sons hatch a plan.

13And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully, and said, because he had defiled Dinah their sister:

14And they said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that were a reproach unto us:

15But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised;

16Then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people.

Now, if you ask me (and you didn’t), this seems perfectly reasonable and is a quick way to increase the size of the tribe and get goods and cattle and you gain allies by marriage. Of course, Jacob and his family have to overlook the fact that Dinah was raped for this alliance to happen.

Hamor, the local King and Shechem’s dad, thinks that this is a fine idea and makes every man in his kingdom get circumcised so that the alliance will start quickly.

25And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.

30And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.

31And they said, Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?

Interesting thing here: Jacob is thinking as a politician and the sons are thinking as brothers. Jacob is worried that he will be attacked by larger forces in revenge for wiping out Hamor’s people. The brothers are thinking only of making an example – not against all rape, just against the rape of their sister.

Chapter 35 is a naming convention. God escorts Jacob and his entire family to Bethel and he makes sure that every place they pass does not rise up against them.

5And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.

God, in this chapter, although he allegedly made everything, is just one of many gods. Jacob tells his people to gather up their strange gods and their earrings and he hides them beneath a tree. Most odd – Jacob (and his entire family) seem to have a personal relationship with God; God even appears to them directly, but Jacob allows other gods to be worshipped. “One true God” my eye.

Bethel is named differently several times. It is the place where he built an altar and is called Bethel. It is the place he fled to when he and Esau fell out, so he called it Elbethel. Deborah, Rachel’s nurse, died and was buried there and the place is called Allonbachuth. Jacob finally settles on Bethel as the name, and God again says that Jacob’s new name is Israel (maybe an alias, because Jacob has been a dick several times now).

They all travel to Ephrath and Rachel dies in childbirth. She names the son she bore Benoni. Jacob (or is it Israel now?) renames him Benjamin. Clearly Rachel’s wishes stopped being important when she died. Probably because Benoni sounds Italian. Rachel’s tale ends when she is buried in what became known as Bethlehem.

We end this chapter with a list of the names of Jacob’s sons:

22And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve:

23The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun:

24The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin:

25And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali:

26And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid: Gad, and Asher: these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padanaram.

12 sons. Remember this, it will be important later on. Finally, Isaac dies aged 180 and is buried by his sons. And this is where, I believe, we get the phrase “gave up the ghost”, to mean died:

29And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Chapter 36 is yet another list of people who lived and died. This entire chapter, like all the other similar chapters, could have been left out entirely without losing any story. Really, these lists serve only to verify the legitimacy of one character. In this case, it’s a list of the descendants of Esau. We are never given an idea of the timescales that these lists cover so they are utterly useless.

Chapter 37 next time, where we meet Joseph and he sings some memorable tunes.

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  2. Sire says:

    The way I see it the Bible shows that there always was one true God but the Jews had a habit of losing their way and worshiping other gods. Jacob knowing this told them to hand over their false gods. I'm not sure if he allowed them to worship them, more like he couldn't stop them.
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    • ray says:

      That is certainly one explanation. But if you were a king (or tribe leader) and you knew for certain that there was a one true god, why would you let your subjects worship anyone else? Jacob had dealt with God and an angel, isn't that enough for him to declare a state of monotheism?
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  3. Sire says:

    Perhaps he was not quite the leader yet. It's possible his relationship with God was still in the early stages and his faith had not developed to it's full extent yet.
    My recent post In Life And In Blogging Observation Is Important