The Story of Jacob Pt.2 (Genesis ch. 35-50)

Part 2 of an overview of the story of Jacob in Genesis 35-50 with some commentary.

In Chapter 35 some time has passed and God has Jacob move to Bethel and he builds another altar there. Jacob had everyone get rid of their idols and purify themselves. Jacob buried their idols and earrings under a tree in Shechem and God protected them as they set out. The nations in the region were terrified of Jacob and his sons and no one bothered them. Jacob returned to Bethel/Luz (from Genesis 28) where he dreamed of the heavenly ladder, and he built an altar now called El-bethel (“God of Bethel”). Around that time, Deborah, Rebekah’s nursemaid died and was buried in Bethel under an oak tree called Allon-bacuth (“oak of weeping”). After this God renames Jacob to Israel permanently and renews his covenant, and introduces himself as El-Shaddai (“God Almighty”). Jacob builds another altar and worships God as Israel at Bethel. (In Genesis 37 we learn that at this point, when Jacob was 108, Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers and they lied and said he was eaten by a wild animal.) Israel was grief-stricken at the “death” of his favorite son and left Bethel for Ephrath. Rachel is pregnant again but dies in childbirth. She named her son Ben-oni (“son of my sorrow”) but Israel renamed him Benjamin (“son of my right hand”). Rachel was buried on the road to Ephrath (later known as Bethlehem) and Israel set up a stone monument to her. Israel traveled to Migdal-eder where Reuben had sex with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, and Israel was upset with him for defiling his marriage. Then when Israel was 120 years old he went to Mamre in Hebron to see Isaac, who then died at 180. Isaac’s sons buried him at Hebron with Abraham and Sarah.

In Genesis 36 after Isaac dies at 180, Israel (Jacob) and Edom (Esau) are now 120, and the land of their father cannot support their livestock so they separate and Esau goes to Sier. From this point on the chapter gets into genealogy, and we are introduced to Esau’s descendants. His first had 2 Hittite wives, Basemath daughter of Elon, and Judith daughter of Beeri in Gen 26:34–35. Then the sister of Nebaioth, Ishmael’s daughter Mahalath (Gen 28:8-9). But then later it says in Gen 36:2-3 that his wives are Adah the daughter of Elon, Aholibamah the daughter of Anah (granddaughter [or daughter] of Zibeon the Hivite), and Bashemath the daughter of Ishmael. Esau’s children were Eliphaz (from Adah), Reuel (from Bashemath), and Jeush, Jaalam, Korah (all 3 from Aholibamah).

Comment: It seems like he either had 6 wives, and the first three gave him no sons or he had 4 four wives, and two of them had name changes. If he had 6 wives, the first three Judith, Basemath, and Mahalath didn’t give him any sons, so he married Basemath’s sister Adah, and Mahalath’s sister Bashemath. Then he got a final wife named Aholibamah, a granddaughter (or daughter through incest) of Zibeon. Zibeon the Hivite was one of the clan leaders of Horites at Sier. The other leaders were Lotan, Shobal, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. Lotan’s sister Timnah became a concubine of Esau’s first son Elipaz and gave him one son named Amalek, he had 5 other sons from his wife. If there was a name change then Judith gave him no sons and Aholibamah gave him 3 sons, and the other 4 names represent two sets of people each with a name change. The daughter of Elon the Hittite had a name change from Basemath to Adah, and the daughter of Ishmael, sister of Nebaioth went from Mahalath to Bashemath. In genealogy list like in Gen 36, typically only male heirs are listed, and women are only listed as a rare exception, usually to point out something. So if the wives only had daughters they would not have been mentioned here.

The Edomites had kings long before the Israelites and this chapter shows a list of the kings of Edom: Bela son of Beor who ruled at Dinhabah, Jobab son of Zerah from Bozrah, Husham from the land of the Temanites, Hadad son of Bedad who ruled from the city of Avith (Hadad’s father Bedad was famous for defeating the Midianites in Moab), Samlah from the city of Masrekah, Shaul from the city of Rehoboth-on-the-River, Baal-hanan the son of Acbor, and lastly Hadad who ruled from Pau, and his wife was Mehetabel, daughter of Matred and granddaughter of Me-zahab.

This list likely ends around at the time of Moses who compiled the book of Genesis in the Torah. The Edomite land factions by the time of Moses were divided into 11 tribes: Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram. The Horites were the original inhabitants of Mt. Sier but then Edom’s family intermarried with them and eventually conquered it and Sier became Edom.

Genesis 37 is a flashback to when Israel was 108 years old, before the death of Rachel when giving birth to Benjamin. At this time Joseph was 17 making him the youngest son. He was his father’s favorite son because his mother was his favorite wife. Israel made Joseph a “coat of many colors” as a special gift. He often would tell on his brothers when he saw them doing things they shouldn’t and they hated him. One day he had a dream that he and his brother were in the field and their bundles of grain bowed before him. Then he had another dream of 11 stars representing his brothers (including the unborn Benjamin) and the sun and moon representing his parents bowing before him. These dreams irritated his brothers, but they made Jacob curious. One day Israel sent Joseph to check on his brothers, and his brothers made a plan to kill him and say a wild animal did it, but Reuben the oldest didn’t allow it, instead told them to throw him in an empty well. Reuben secretly planned to rescue him and bring him to his father for some special favor. When Reuben went away the other brothers took Joseph, ripped his coat, and threw him in the well to leave him for dead as planned, but then saw a traveling band of Ishmaelites accompanied by Midianite traders heading to Egypt, and Judah decided to sell him as a slave for 20 shekels of silver. They did so and when Reuben came back, he freaked out because Joseph was gone. They went back to the original plan and faked his death by taking his coat and covering it in goat blood and ripping it up, and they told Israel he was killed by a wild animal. Israel was inconsolable by his sons, daughters, and wives. Meanwhile in Egypt, Joseph was sold to Potiphar the captain of the palace guard.

Genesis 38 focuses on Judah after he sold his brother. He moved to Adullam and stayed with a man named Hirah, and married a local Canaanite woman, the daughter of Shua. He had three sons from her, Er, Onan, and Shelah who was born much later when they moved to Kezib. When Er was of marriable age Judah arranged marriage with a woman named Tamar. Er was wicked so God condemned him to death for his sinfulness. Then, Judah had Onan take his brother’s wife in levirate marriage so that Er would have an heir. Onan agreed to the marriage but he refused to give his brother any heirs (it seems that he hated his brother) and would pull out during sex with Tamar. This was the point through levirate marriage to produce an heir for the deceased and preserve the family line. God judged Onan and he died for breaking the levirate marriage agreement and disrespecting his dead brother. Judah was afraid Shelah would suffer the same fate and probably considered Tamar bad luck, so he agree to let her marry Shelah when he was older but never planned on keeping that promise. Years later Judah’s wife died and he was sent to Timnah to shear sheep by Hirah. Someone told Tamar and she realized that despite the fact that Shelah was old enough Judah had forsaken his promise. To get back at him she disguised herself as a prostitute with a veil and seduced him at the entrance to Enaim. Judah didn’t suspect a thing and agreed to pay her with a goat and gave her his seal and walking stick as collateral. The next day he sent Hirah with the goat to Enaim but she was gone, and when asked about the prostitute no one knew what he was talking about. Judah was embarrassed and let her keep his things. Three months later it was discovered that Tamar got pregnant and Judah wanted to burn her alive as punishment for breaking the engagement to his son Shelah. She said the man who got her pregnant gave her the seal and walking stick, this exposed Judah. He felt ashamed for mistreating her and agreed to marry her himself to make up for ignoring his obligation for arranging her marriage with Shelah, but he never slept with her again. She gave birth to the twins Perez and Zerah. While in labor Zerah’s hand came out first and the midwife put a scarlet string on it he went back in and but Perez broke out and came out first. Perez’s name means “he broke out”, and Zerah was named after the “scarlet” string.

Comment: A question arises, why does Genesis 38 exist? This story of Jacob ends in Gen 35, and Joseph’s story picks up in chapter 37. Esau’s descendants are listed in Chapter 36 ending his saga. However, Genesis 38, seemingly disrupts Joseph’s story to tell us about Judah. My thoughts are that this story is here to show how Judah felt after the events of Genesis 37. Genesis 37 and 38’s events take place just before Genesis 35:16 since Joseph never knew Benjamin, so he must have been sold as a slave before his mother died in labor with Benjamin. Genesis 38 does take place right after 37 but it focuses on the events of Judah’s life for the next 22 years. Judah most likely left because he felt guilty for selling his brother Joseph. Especially after Joseph’s mom, Rachel died in childbirth with Benjamin. His father was so devastated by the loss of his son that no one could comfort him (Gen 37:35), how much worse was he after losing Rachel? We know he spoiled Benjamin and treated him like a child even when he was a grown man with 10 sons because he resisted letting him go to Egypt with his brothers to meet Joseph in disguise. It seems likely that Judah left because it was his idea to sell him (Gen 37:26-28). Originally his brothers plotted to kill him but Reuben talked them out of it and told them to throw him into a well to abandon him. Reuben secretly plotted to come back and rescue him, probably to gain favor with their father (Gen 37:21-22). Then when the Ishmaelites and Midianite caravan came, Judah had the idea to sell him and did so without Reuben’s knowledge, causing him to freak out. Judah likely felt very guilty, and his guilt grew worse when Rachel died since now his father lost his favorite wife and son.

Furthermore, it seems most likely that this chapter concludes right before the family reunion with Joseph in Genesis 42-45. Israel was 108 when Joseph was sold by his brothers, and they are reunited in Genesis 45 when Israel is 130, so Genesis 38 spans 22 years. Judah moved to Adullam and married the year they sold Joseph at the earliest. His wife likely gave birth to Er the next year (Israel is 109) and Onan the following year (Israel is 110). Then Shelah could have been born about 3 years later when Israel is 113. Then let’s say Er gets married at 18 when Onan is 17 and Shelah is 14. He dies that year and Onan marries Tamar and dies the same year. Then 2-3 years later when Israel is 129-130 and Shelah is 16-17, Tamar marries Judah, giving him Perez and Zerah as sons. Then he moves back to his father’s house two years into the famine at the latest.

Chapters 39 – 41 are all about Joseph in Egypt:
Chapter 39 starts back at the end of Chapter 37 when Israel was 108. At age 17 Joseph was sold to Potiphar in Egypt by the Ishmaelite/Midianite trading caravan, that his brothers sold him to and lied about to their father. Israel grieved the death of his favorite son. Afterward, Rachel dies in childbirth with Benjamin and all Israel has left of his favorite wife is his son Benjamin. Unknowingly to Israel, Joseph was excelling as a slave in Egypt but then he was falsely imprisoned because of a slanderous accusation by his master’s wife. Chapter 40 picks up 11 years after Joseph went to Egypt, so Joseph was 28, and Israel was 119. And Joseph interprets the dreams of 2 men in prison and one of the dies but the other lives. The living one was supposed to tell Pharaoh about Joseph’s unjust imprisonment but he forgot. Then one year later when Joseph was 29 while Israel was 120, Isaac dies at 180. In Chapter 41 Pharaoh’s dream about a coming 7 years of abundance followed by 7 years of famine, is interpreted by Joseph, and Joseph is made vizier of Egypt in order to prepare for the famine. Joseph is named “Zaphenath-paneah”, given a wife, and has two sons. The chapter ends 9 years later (2 years into the 7-year famine), and the land of Canaan is hit hard by the famine.

In Chapter 42, the famine in Canaan struck the house of Israel. So he sent his 10 older sons down to Egypt to buy grain. Benjamin who is around 21-22 years old, stayed behind because Israel was afraid something could happen to him. Israel’s son went to Egypt and met with the vizier Zaphenath-paneah, who was actually Joseph, the brother they sold. They bowed before him, fulfilling Joseph’s dream 22 years ago back when he was 17. Joseph recognized them but they didn’t recognize him. He accuses them of being spies, so they tried to convince him of who they are and where they come from. They mentioned their father Israel and youngest brother Benjamin. Joseph throws them in prison for 3 days, then decides to send them home to get the younger brother so he can verify their story, and he kept Simeon in prison as collateral. He sent them home with the grain they came to purchase and told the servant to put their money back in their bags so that they will be afraid of being accused of stealing. On the way home they realize the money was still in their bags along with the grain they were supposed to pay for and they were terrified. They told their father Israel all of this, and he was deeply upset and didn’t want to send Benjamin out of fear. Reuben offered to guarantee his safety and put up his own sons as collateral, suggesting Israel has the right to kill his own sons if Benjamin dies, but Israel still refuses.

In Chapter 43 Israel and his sons eat all of the food they got from Egypt, and Israel sends them back to buy more. However, they remind him that the Vizier doesn’t want to see their face unless they bring Benjamin. This time Judah guarantees Benjamin’s safety and tells Israel that he can hate him forever if anything happens to him. Israel finally gives in and agrees to send Benjamin. In addition, he sends them extra money to pay double on top of the money that was refunded to them in order to show that they had no intention of stealing.

In Chapters 44-45, the brothers come back to Canaan to tell Israel all that happened on their second trip to Egypt and reveal that Joseph is alive and he was the Vizier the whole time. They told Jacob that, when they return to Egypt they tried to explain to the Vizier that they had no intention of stealing, but then he said he already had been paid and God must have blessed them and they didn’t owe anything back. He invited them to eat lunch with him and brought Simeon out of prison for the meal. After lunch, Joseph sends them on their way and gives them the grain they need. However, he has his servant put one of his silver cups into Benjamin’s pack, and then as they leave the servant goes out to accuse them of stealing the master’s divining cup. They all swear they haven’t stolen a thing but the cup is found in Benjamin’s pack. Joseph wants to make Benjamin his slave as a repercussion while sending the other brothers can go home. However, Judah speaks up and says he promised to bring the boy back to his father because the boy is all his father has left of his favorite wife, and the older brother is believed to be dead, so it would grieve his father to death if something happened to Benjamin. Then Joseph breaks down reveals the truth, and he tells them to bring their father to Egypt so they can live together in Goshen. The Pharaoh gives Joseph his blessing and even sends them away with gifts like new clothes, food, etc., as well wagons for the women and children. Israel didn’t believe their story until he saw the wagons and Pharaoh’s gifts and wanted to go immediately to see Joseph.

In Chapter 46, Israel worships God at Beersheba and God says to him that he is with Israel and that his descendants will return to Canaan long after he dies. Israel and his whole family all came down to Egypt on the wagons that Pharaoh gave them. Then there is a genealogy list. There are 70 people from the House of Israel, 33 descendants from Leah, 16 from Zilpah, 14 from Rachel, and 7 from Bilhah. 66 of them, plus Israel himself came to Egypt, and the last 3 are Joseph and his 2 sons. Then Judah leads the family and all of their possessions to Goshen, and Israel reunites with Joseph. Joseph tells them to tell Pharaoh they are shepherds, and he will give them permission to live in Goshen because Egyptians hate foreigners and shepherds.

Comment: How many children did Jacob have? The numbers don’t seem to add up, how did Leah have 33 children but only 23 descendants are listed by name? We know later on that Jacob has more than one daughter because he was comforted by them and the rest of his family in Gen 37:35 after Joseph was sold off. Daughters in the bible typically aren’t mentioned in patriarchal lineages, Dinah was only mentioned because of her rape in Genesis 34. In addition, in Genesis 46 there are 67 people of the House of Israel that go to Egypt, however, the number of grandsons that Jacob has does not add up to the total sums of descendants he has from each of his wives. For example, Jacob has 33 descendants from Leah (Gen 46:15), but only 6 sons, one daughter, 23 grandsons, and two great-grandsons’ names are mentioned, which means that two of them are unnamed daughters, granddaughters, or great-granddaughters. For Rachel, there is Benjamin and his 10 sons, but the total is 14 (Gen 46:22), so there are 3 unnamed daughters, granddaughters, or great-granddaughters. Rachel’s descendants do not include Joseph and his two sons because they are already in Egypt, moreover, the three of them add to the 67 total of the house of Israel in migration making a final total of 70 descendants of Israel/Jacob (Gen 46:26-27). Zilpah has two sons, 11 grandsons, two great-grandsons, and one granddaughter named Serah. Since the total of 16 (Gen 46:18) is equal to all the names mentioned, the granddaughter is likely named because there was only one. Lastly, Bilha has exactly two sons and five grandsons making a total of 7 (Gen 46:25), so no daughters or granddaughters. There were 67 descendants that migrated with Jacob which included his great/grandsons, great/granddaughters, sons, and daughters. This doesn’t include his wives who are still alive or his son’s wives, however, according to Gen 46:26.

In Chapter 47 Joseph’s brothers tell the Pharaoh that they are shepherds, and Pharaoh gives them his permission to live here and even asks Joseph to let them work on the Pharaoh’s livestock if they have the skills. Israel meets and blesses Pharaoh, and Pharaoh tells Joseph that his family can have any part of Egypt they want. So Joseph assigns his family the best land in Goshen and provides all of their needs. Joseph makes Pharaoh very rich over the next five years during the famine. He collects all the money in Egypt so then the people gave him their livestock. Then when they had no livestock left, they gave up their land to Pharaoh. At this point, the people of Egypt were now all debt slaves to the Pharaoh. Then Joseph provided them seeds to plant and they now owed Pharaoh 20% of all of their yield, and only the priests were exempt. The house of Israel was wealthy through Joseph and multiplied in Goshen. Israel lived another 17 years and died at 147. Israel made Joseph promise to bury him in the cave of the father and grandfather in Hebron before dying.

In Chapter 48 there is a flashback from before Israel died. Israel first blessed Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. He blessed them as if they were his own sons so they would get their own allotments in Canaan. Israel was half-blind and Joseph positioned his sons near Israel’s hands. Israel crosses his hands to bless Ephraim the younger with a greater blessing (right hand), and Manasseh the 1st born with the lesser blessing (left hand). Joseph was upset and tried to correct him, but Israel did it on purpose. Israel also promised to give Joseph’s descendants an extra portion of the land he took from the Amorites in Shechem. 

In Chapter 49 Israel gives a final speech to all of his sons. Reuben loses his status as firstborn because he slept with Bilhah Rachel’s maid (one of Israel’s concubines) after Rachel died. He scolded Simeon and Levi for their violent tendencies (like their revenge on Shechem for Dinah’s rape in Gen ch. 34). He exalts Judah as a “young lion” and says “his brothers will praise him, and that his descendants will be rulers until the coming of the Shiloh, the one who will unite the people” (messianic prophecy?). Zebulun will “settle by the shore in Sidon and will have territory for shipping”. Issachar is “like a stubborn donkey, and when he sees how good the land is he will be broken and submit to hard labor”. Dan will be “a harsh judge like a viper that bites the heels of a horse to attack its rider”. Gad will be “attacked by troops but will return the attack and send them fleeing”. Asher will be “rich with food and provide for kings”. Naphtali is like a “doe set free who bears beautiful fawns”. Joseph is given the greatest blessing, to “prosper against all enemies and be greater than his brothers”. He is “like a fruitful tree, when attacked he will stand his ground with the help of God”. Benjamin is “like a wolf, devouring the prey and dividing the spoils from morning to evening”. He reminds them to bury him with Abraham and dies at 147 when Joseph was 56.

In Chapter 50 Israel is embalmed by the Egyptians and Joseph asked permission from Pharaoh to keep his promise to Israel and bury him in Hebron and Pharaoh approved. Israel’s body was taken to Hebron to be buried with his wife (Leah), father, and grandfather. Joseph’s brothers feared him, since his father died, they thought he would get revenge. However, Joseph reassured his brothers that all is forgiven and they lived in peace together in Goshen.

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