Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why the Guided Tour



Since we have little time at hand today, I thought of sharing with you what prompted me to give you a guided tour of the Holy Bible. I will sincerely and strongly tell you - at least one of you readers who is currently on this guided tour is dearly loved by God to the extend I cannot explain.

History
This blog was started as a central place to communicate and update my Sunday school students, back in 2008. For the next few years, it continued to post related information, and hence the name was changed to 'Beyond the Sunday School'. It was updated for the sake of ones not present in my Sunday school class. Majority of those postings were from numerous other sources, and stayed in status quo - FYI.

One day a dear friend asked me a simple yet powerful and profound question, "Why is wisdom called She?" The search for that answer took me to wonderful places which I had never journeyed before. It took me to writings of King Solomon, Aristotle, Isaac Newton, and numerous other authors, who led me towards the Holy Spirit and ultimately all their writings converged at a single location - The Holy Bible. A bit of this journey was through the Hindu and Greek mythology drawing parallels. Even within the Bible, wisdom writings appeared at several locations - some even in those secret writings, Apocrypha.

Being Prompted
About a month ago, I posted an article on Jesus at Gethsemane. While composing it, I could feel myself standing and witnessing the one hour of agony Jesus endured. Tears were rolling down my eyes when I tried to experience that hour myself. Couple of days later, I wrote a mini article on The Letter to Galatians and could feel those emotions which St.Paul felt while authoring the letter.

Around that time, a voice within me prompted me to write about the entire Bible. I questioned this voice and genuinely asked, "Who, among my readers or church members is interested in learning about the Bible?" I tried very hard to convince that voice, "No, I do not think anyone is going to read it." If it were a 'spicy topic', there would be numerous followers - but this is the Holy Scripture which nobody wants. Those days, I could not accomplish anything else - it was as if my hands were tied and I felt helpless.

Over the course of day and night, this voice came repeatedly towards me. Now, the voice grew stronger and I could hear as if I was being given clear instructions - "Complete Old Testament before Christmas, and New Testament by Easter." I still battled this voice and stopped posting articles on the blog. To me, this seemed an impossible task, as Bible contains so many books and so many chapters. It appeared as if it will take two to three years to complete such a work. I asked myself, "Who is going to read this?" The answer I got was, "That is not your job." Then to my dismay, everything else around me stopped and I could not accomplish a single thing. Seeing me toss and turn in bed all night, my wife asked me what was bothering me so much. I explained the situation and finally I decided to follow and submit myself to that inner voice.

Organization
My next task was to come up with a study plan. Amazing, I would call, help came to me withing my own house - walking into an old bookshelf, I found an old book which gave me many of those answers I was seeking. Considering and respecting holidays, I was able to come up with a schedule. Next, I had to find my audience. At first, I was bit shy to send an email out to people - it would seem like one of those solicitation emails, I thought. Then, as I started doing it, I felt no shame and reached out to almost everyone in my address book with courage - my father, brother, cousins and family members, church members, and even to my high school friends. At that time, I was planning on sending out emails everyday and to set up a new blog for this purpose. As I started sending out initial emails, one day an old Bible verse came to my mind - which said, "Don't waste what is holy on people who are unholy..." That's when I revered to this blog.

Reference Material
Finding study and reference material was my next challenge. I am not a Biblical Scholar and have only limited knowledge - few broken pieces which I gained from Sunday school and was not aware of any scholars who could guide me. As I sat down to begin writing, miraculously or astonishingly, I should say, material started pouring towards me, as if it were raining - Ancient Jewish writings in Hebrew dated to BC (which I gladly translate and study), Medieval writings, Comments of Philosophers, Books from Princeton Theological Seminary few centuries old, and several other sources. In short, I did not go anywhere, supporting material just flew towards me.

What was even wonderful was that, while writing, I could literally picture these characters alive in front of me going through these incidents. I could relate and reason why a certain person did so under a particular circumstance. Just to name a few, I used to wonder:
- what a grandiose project with infinite wisdom it was, to create the entire universe;
- how handsome Adam would have been - if the innocence on a child's face is so attractive, how graceful it would have been on a fully grown man;
- how wonderful, beautiful and innocent looking would have been God's most lovely creation - Eve;
- how hard Adam and Eve would have fought, to stay back in the Garden of Eden;
- when it is so difficult to catch a mouse, how easily Noah gathered all those animals, wearing the 'Coat of Adam';
- the extend of evil, corruption and homosexuality that prevailed at Sodom and Gomorrah which made God destroy the entire city;
- how beautiful Sarah would have been, if Abraham was afraid of his life when she was 90 years of age;
- how Isaac spent his days being almost blind;
- the depth of Jacob's love for Rachel;
- the extend of animosity between Jacob & Esau, and how they reconciled;
- the difficulties Joseph had to encounter away from his family;
- how miraculously God protects and takes care of those who love him;
- and many more.

With the library of information I now have at my disposal, all I lack is time to digest all those. What you probably read in a matter of 3 to 4 minutes or so on the blog, is a result of 6-8 hours of work. I do enjoy spending time and do not even feel like eating, drinking or sleeping - this stuff is too good to miss!! Now, I am trying my best to discipline myself, so that you readers can read everyday at the earliest.

Initial Response
Some of you sent me long emails about this project, some called me, and some sent brief mails sharing your thoughts of being on the tour. As a request, please do not thank me, as now you can relate, I did not take up this project by myself and I certainly do not deserve it. I believe God loves one or many of you so dearly and wants to read His letter - you probably know that already. My role is just being a guide. One of you even volunteered to correct any errors and be the editor of this blog - another example of how God prompts others.

Here is the crux of the matter - only when we read and study the Bible, we will experience and appreciate the beauty of God's work, and learn human behavior. With a tight schedule and limited time to pen the summary, I naturally tend to skip numerous things - right now, I want all of us to be on track as time is important and limited.

Feedback & Update
Thank you for your comments - they are valuable feedback. By doing so, you are actually contributing towards the construction of this little project. I have organized Genesis 1- 5 with titles, posted few more paintings that I had, for every posting. Paintings used to be the only means to share and learn God's words in those early days (other than word of mouth), as Bible was not accessible at all. Hopefully you can now take a closer look at a painting and explain the story which the painter was trying to narrate.

In the future, based on your comments, I shall make corrections and adjustments. Let's think long term - someone who is in search of wisdom or God's words may stumble upon these writings several years or decades from now. Let's make it a wonderful reading experience for everyone, keeping those future readers in mind. God only knows if we will ever get a chance to travel these fabulous paths again.

One day while you are coaching your grandchildren to walk in God's ways, you can narrate these stories to them with a a smile on your face.




Genesis 43 - 50

Joseph and his brothers

Today we complete our guided tour through Genesis, slightly ahead of schedule. Originally, we were supposed to complete Genesis by tomorrow (Sunday). I thought of giving you all a short break, to relax and get caught up on your reading assignments, over the weekend. May the Holy Spirit provide you the necessary wisdom to understand the Holy Scripture. If any of you are behind, or have pending reading to do, please utilize your time this weekend to bring yourself up to speed. We will continue our tour on Exodus on Monday.

Before we proceed into chapter 43, one question remains to be answered, "How was the Pharaoh convinced that Joseph's interpretation was truthful?" Just because the Chief Cup-bearer pointed out Joseph, and Joseph was able to interpret the dream, the Pharaoh was not convinced - especially since Joseph was talking about the future. In fact, the Pharaoh asked him this very question. Joseph gave a sign, saying the Pharaoh's wife was about to deliver her second child. Once the second son was born, the first son would die, and the Pharaoh would find comfort in the second child.

The Pharaoh's wife gave birth to a son the same day. When news reached Pharaoh, he rejoiced. Later, he heard that his elder son had fallen down on the ground (from a height) and died. There was mourning in the royal family and it was a sign Pharaoh could not neglect. He soon called for his council meeting to discuss about Joseph. There were several hot topics - Joseph was a Hebrew (not Egyptian); he did not know the Egyptian language, and so forth, for discussion. An angel of God appeared to Joseph the same night and taught him all languages of man. Later, Pharaoh was convinced in Joseph's wisdom and was appointed the Governor.

As Governor, Joseph had unlimited powers, only next to Pharaoh. As a recognition, Joseph was taken around the country in a large procession consisting of over 5,000 men. While ascending onto his ornate chariot, Joseph looked heavenwards and acknowledged his happiness. He was presented numerous lands and vineyards, 3,000 talents of silver, 1,000 talents of gold, onyx stones and many presents. Next, Pharaoh issued a mandatory order for people of Egypt to bring gifts to Joseph, and everyone gave something valuable out of their possession. Joseph was the one giving out monthly salary to every officer in Egypt from the Pharaoh's treasury.

The Pharaoh also arranged for a virgin named Osnath, to be married to Joseph. She was the adopted daughter of Potiphar and Zuleikah. The love relationship between Joseph and Osnath had gradually developed while he was serving at Potiphar's house. As a young girl, she had witnessed Joseph struggling against the consuming passion of Zuleikah.

Further, Pharaoh gave over 100 servants to serve Joseph. Joseph took three years to build him a palatial house. He also built an army consisting of over 40,000 men to protect the kingdom and Pharaoh and trained them with weapons.

By the time Joseph was 34 years of age, Osnath gave birth to two sons - Manasseh and Ephraim. Both boys feared God, were bought up along with Pharaoh's children and were filled with wisdom and understanding.

Second Journey to Egypt
Now, coming to chapter 43, it is a straight read, without much complexity. Simeon was held captive by Tzophenath Paneach (Joseph) when he sent his brothers away, demanding them to bring Benjamin. Famine was so hard the brothers had to return to Egypt to get some more grain for Jacob's family. Judah vouched for Benjamin and started to convince Jacob about Benjamin's safety. Jacob agreed to take Benjamin along with them, and insisted on returning the money they found in their sacks. Jacob also sent presents for Tzophenath Paneach (Joseph), consisting of honey, spices, myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Jacob was still mourning the separation of Joseph. Now, sending Benjamin away was heart breaking as well.

When Joseph saw his brothers along with Benjamin, he told them to meet him at his house. He also asked his servants to prepare a meal for them. The brothers returned the money they found in their sacks to the officer and the officer told them it was a gift from God. Joseph then brought Simeon to accompany them. Simeon told them that he was treated very well, while he was kept captive. Joseph inquired about their father and the brothers were surprised at the warm reception they were provided. Judah presented gifts to Tzophenath Paneach (Joseph), along with a note written by Jacob. Joseph, seeing his father's handwriting, went inside and wept. He returned to meet his brothers and when he saw Benjamin, he could not hold back his tears again - he went and wept in private, washed his face and returned at the table.

Tzophenath Paneach (Joseph) held the silver cup from which he used to drink from - a silver cup inlaid with onyx stones and bdellium. Once food was served, he asked them to drink wine. But the brothers said they stopped drinking wine the day their brother (Joseph) went missing. Tzophenath Paneach (Joseph) insisted them, and they drank merrily. He then gave each one of them presents. Next, he gave a special gift to Benjamin. Observing this, Osnath and both his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim gave their share of special gifts to Benjamin. In all, Benjamin was holding five gifts in his hands.

Silver Cup in the Sack
While filling their sacks with grain, Joseph ordered his men to put their money in the mouth of the sack. He gave special orders to put his silver cup into the grain of Benjamin, along with his money. The brothers were sent away home. While they had not gone too far into their journey, Joseph's men came and asked them why they repaid good with evil, and why they stole the silver cup. The brothers admitted no wrong doing. Joseph's men met with them and told whoever is found to possess his silver cup will become his slave.

Upon searching, Benjamin's sack contained the silver cup, and they started to take him captive. The brothers returned to Tzophenath Paneach (Joseph). Judah did his best not to give up Benjamin. He pleaded on behalf of Jacob and told how sad he was while letting Benjamin go along with them. There were heated arguments from Judah's side - he described this as a plot to capture Benjamin. Judah would not sacrifice his brother Benjamin at any cost. When Judah noticed Tzophenath Paneach (Joseph) would not budge an inch, he started pleading. He described the mourning state of his father due to the loss of Rachel, and Joseph. He explained that his father could not bear the separation of Benjamin.

Joseph Reveals His Identity
After visualizing Judah's affection towards his brother and willingness to self sacrifice, Joseph was so moved. He had seen with his own eyes that his brothers had changed their conduct. He asked all his servants to leave the room and called all his brothers together and wept so loudly. All along, Joseph was speaking in Egyptian and used an interpreter to translate the conversation to Hebrew. Now, he asked his brothers in Hebrew, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?"

The brothers were astonished and were fearful. Joseph told them it was all God's plan and he held no grudge against them. He asked them to bring their father Jacob to Egypt as the drought was just in the second year. When Pharaoh heard about Joseph's brothers, he welcomed them, and asked them to relocate to Egypt and promised them the best land. He even gifted them with clothes, loads of grain and silver.

When Jacob heard that Joseph was alive and the ruler of Egypt, he wanted to go meet him soon, before he died.

Jacob Goes to Egypt
Chapter 46 talks about Jacob's trip to Egypt. Before Jacob left, God spoke to him, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”

The entire household consisting of 70 members left for Egypt. Judah was sent ahead of them to make preparations. The family would meet at Goshen, since they had cattle and livestock. Joseph arranged it as such to meet at Goshen for several reasons - it was closer to Canaan, the land was fertile, it gave them a sense of privacy, they would not be brought to the heart of the city, they would not be exposed to idol worship, etc, . Foreign shepherds were detestable to Egyptians and it was better to keep them here.

When Jacob and Joseph met, they hugged and cried for a long time. Jacob said he was so happy he was ready to die.

Joseph arranged the meeting between his brothers and the Pharaoh. He had specifically instructed what to say when they met the Pharaoh, and the brothers did so. Pharaoh wanted to meet Jacob, and he was brought in. The two had a lovely meeting, Pharaoh was well pleased and Jacob blessed the Pharaoh.

Joseph sent both his children to Goshen to stay with their grandfather and to be instructed in the ways of God.

Joseph and the Famine
When famine became severe, food grains were released from the warehouse. In exchange, Joseph purchased land, livestock, and all of it was added to Pharaoh's name.

Jacob and his family lived and flourished in Goshen for the next 17 years. When Jacob was 147, he became sick. He called for Joseph, and asked him to put his hand under his thigh and promise not to bury him in Egypt, instead at the place of his father's at the Cave of Machpelah. This was where Leah was buried along with his forefathers. Even though he had given so much trouble to Leah earlier in his life, his final resting place was with her.

Jacob Blesses Joseph's Children
When Jacob (Israel) was seriously ill, Joseph was called in with his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob (Israel) said that he was going to bless Manasseh and Ephraim at the same level as his own sons. He made Ephraim and Manasseh members of the twelve tribes of Israel. The two sons of Joseph took the place of Joseph and Levi.

Jacob blessed both of Joseph's sons and said the younger will be greater than the elder.

Jacob Blesses His Sons
Jacob called all his sons and blessed them accordingly. This is recorded in chapter 49.

Jacob's Death and Burial
With all his children around, he instructed them to be together at all times. He emphasized the importance of staunch belief in God. He once again requested to be buried at the Cave of Machpelah. At the age of 147, Jacob's soul was gathered to his people before him. Joseph was extremely sad and wept a lot. He instructed the physicians to embalm the body. Joseph took time off from Pharaoh to go bury his father. Along with Joseph, all of Egypt mourned Jacob's death. Jacob's coffin was carried all the way to Canaan.

Thirty one kings met the procession at the the border of Canaan to pay their homage. Esau heard about Jacob's death and arrived as well. While burial preparations were underway, Esau objected the burial of Jacob next to Abraham and Isaac - he wanted to reserve the place for his burial. Esau had earlier sold this right to Jacob, but now he wanted to claim it for himself. The deed which recorded this property right was now in Egypt and men were sent to fetch it.

Arguments grew into fight and Esau's men clashed with Jacob's sons. Forty of Esau's men were killed in the fight. When one of Jacob's grandson, Hushim (Dan's son), who was partially deaf inquired about this delay, he was told Esau was blocking it. He took a sword and beheaded Esau. The decapitated head rolled into the Cave of Machpelah and came to rest in Isaac's lap. Esau's body was not buried there, but in Seir, his hometown.

Finally, Jacob was buried in the Cave of Machpelah. Joseph paid such great honor to his father during burial, it seemed to be a burial fit for a king. After burying his father, Joseph and his brothers returned to their place.

Jacob and Esau shared the same parents, a birthday and the same burial day.

Joseph Reassures His Brothers
After the burial of Jacob, Joseph's brothers worried whether Joseph would now take revenge over them. They sent a note asking forgiveness. When Joseph read this, he wept. He later reassured them of no harm and asked them to view it as God's plan.

Joseph's Death
When Joseph was 110 years of age, he sensed his death. He called his brothers and asked them to swear that when the day arrives - the day promised by God when they will be taken from Egypt to Canaan, they would carry his bones along with them. Joseph died soon and his body was embalmed and kept in a coffin made of stone (sarcophagi). The coffin was let down into River Nile. At first, the Egyptians thought that the children of Jacob (Israel) would never be able to fulfill their promise, and would therefore remain in Egypt forever.

However, this promise was kept for several generations till their departure from Egypt. When Moses was about to leave Egypt, he went looking for Joseph's coffin. A prophetess led him towards the location of the coffin, where it was immersed in water. When Moses called out to Joseph, the coffin came up from the water. The children of Israel (Jacob) carried it throughout their journey through the desert. Joseph's bones were buried at Shechem, in the parcel of ground which Jacob had purchased and is now identified as Joseph's Tomb.

This concludes our tour of Genesis.

As we move on to the next book, Exodus, please look at it this way - there are 66 rooms, plus few additional rooms to visit, as part of this guided tour. We just finished the first one, Genesis, with many more to come.

How are we doing? Boring, lengthy, short, vague, complex, fine, cryptic, just let me know. I am interested in knowing your thoughts. Kindly reach out via email, phone, or even comments. If you want to stay anonymous, that is perfectly fine - am just looking for someone to provide feedback or to critique me.

Reading Assignment:
Genesis 43     Read     Listen
Genesis 44     Read     Listen
Genesis 45     Read     Listen
Genesis 46     Read     Listen
Genesis 47     Read     Listen
Genesis 48     Read     Listen
Genesis 49     Read     Listen
Genesis 50     Read     Listen

---------------Additional Info
Jacob's knowledge:
One would wonder if Jacob ever knew about his sons misconduct towards Joseph. Knowing the grudge that prevailed between his sons and Joseph, Jacob suspected it. However he had no fear that Joseph will seek revenge, knowing his good nature. It is quite logical to assume that the brothers did not make a confession to Jacob. In the scripture, we read the brothers repenting their ill treatment towards Joseph, and Joseph realized their hearts had changed.

Image: The Triumph of Joseph in Egypt - Antonio de Castillo (1655)

Image: Joseph Receives His Father and Brothers in Egypt - Salomon de Bray (1655)

File:Tissot Joseph and His Brethren Welcomed by Pharaoh.jpg
Image: Joseph and His Brethren Welcomed by Pharaoh - James Tissot (1903)


Image: Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh - Guercino (around 1666)


Image: Jacob's Burial


Image: Joseph's Death

Friday, July 19, 2013

Genesis 39 - 42

File:Joseph and Potiphar's Wife.jpg

Joseph and Potiphar's wife (Zuleikha) - Guido Reni, 1631  

Background: 
The Ishmaelites sold Joseph to Midianites at the Egyptian border for 20 shekels of silver. Just to refresh your memory, these Midianites were the descendants of Midian, who was a son of Abraham through his wife Keturah (See Genesis 24 - 26, Abraham's Death). These Midianites were going towards Egypt, and they had heard that Potiphar was seeking a good servant to attent his household. They took Joseph to Potiphar. When asked his price, they wanted 400 pieces of silver. Potiphar, after seeing young Joseph, was impressed and was willing to pay the amount if those Midianites could provide the sale record, convincing Joseph was not stolen from his parents. They then presented the Ishmaelites from whom Joseph was purchased, after which the deal was closed. 

Joseph and Zuleikha
Potiphar took Joseph to his house so that he might serve him. Joseph found favor in the sight of Potiphar, and he placed confidence in him, and made him overseer over his house, and all that belonged to him he delivered over into his hand. And the Lord was with Joseph and he became a prosperous man, and the Lord blessed the house of Potiphar for the sake of Joseph. Potiphar left all that he had in the hand of Joseph, and Joseph was one who regulated everything at Potiphar's house.

Joseph was a handsome young man with beautiful eyes - which he inherited from Rachel. His eyes were so beautiful that there were none such in the whole of Egypt. Potiphar's wife, Zuleikha, coveted the beauty of Joseph, and her soul was always fixed on Joseph. Zuleikha enticed him day by day and did her best to attract Joseph by arousing desire. Zuleikha would comment about his body, eyes, hair, but Joseph would not even raise his eyes towards her

Zuleikha desired to sleep with Joseph and would come sit in front of him seducing him, while he was doing his work. She would request him at least to look at her. She had even threatened him to death if he did not oblige to her wish. When she could not persuade Joseph, her desire threw her into a grievous sickness. When her other women friends came to visit her, they inquired her about her sickness and they could not see any reason why. Zuleikha ordered her maid servants to prepare a banquet for these women and all of them ate at her house. 

As part of the banquet, she had served citrons and knives to peel them. Joseph was ordered to be dressed in costly garments and asked to appear in front of her guests. When all the women looked at Joseph, they could not lift their eyes off him, and it is said all of them cut their hands with knives. Now, they knew the reason why Zuleikha was feeling sick. She shared with her guests that she's been trying to promise him everything and persuading him daily without much success. Some advised her to entice him and seize him in secret and perhaps he may give heed. Zuleikha's health was declining. 

The Nile is of great significance for Egyptians, which provided them everything. The Feast of the Rising Nile, also known as the Festival of Anklets is an important festival of rejoicement for Egyptians. On that day, the entire household would go attend services at the temple and take part in dances and have fun. Zuleikhas stayed back home saying she was feeling sick, and knowing Joseph would be home since he never attended any Egyptian worship. Hoping to spend an entire day with Joseph, she dressed accordingly, beautified her face, perfumed herself and the house, and created a special environment. 

When Joseph came in, he was asked to perform her request. Joseph tried to flee and she caught hold of Joseph's garments. Potiphar, returned home and was met by an infuriated wife who was holding Joseph's garment in her hand, and a story against his favorite Hebrew servant, accusing him of making improper advances towards her. Potiphar was ignited with anger and ordered Joseph to be punished with whip. Finally, Joseph was put in prison for twelve years. Chapter 39 describes those events.

Even while Joseph was in confinement, Zuleikha visited Joseph trying to persuade him. During those visits, she promised Joseph to be freed once he submitted himself to her wishes. Joseph preferred staying inside the prison, where he found favor in the eyes of the prison warden. Joseph was put in charge for all the work at the prison and Joseph was reliable. After a while, Zuleikha stopped visiting him. 

In the meantime, Jacob was mourning the loss of Joseph and refused to be comforted. 

In the Bible, Potiphar is identified as Pharaoh's 'official'. This is how it appears in all of English translations. The Hebrew noun 'saris' means either a ‘eunuch’ or an 'official’. We will tend to look at  Zuleikha's attraction towards Joseph from a different angle if indeed Pothiphar were to be a eunuch. Biblical scholars have elaborated extensively on this possibility, thereby reasoning Zuleikha's desires to be one of an ordinary woman's. 

While reading chapter 39, most of the people tend to pay attention at Zuleikha in the story. As your tour guide, I request you to shift your focus from Zuleikha and instead, pay close attention to Joseph here. All those promises held by Zuleikha could not tempt Joseph to stay with her. Every time Joseph is tempted, he kept asking, "How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” In short, the lesson learned as a layman here is, about retaining one’s chastity and making proper sexual choices in today's sexualized and lustful world. 

The Cupbearer and the Baker
The Pharaoh of Egypt was unhappy by his Cup-bearer and Baker on account of negligence in their services. He now locked them up in the same prison where Joseph was held captive. During his role as the prisoner-in-charge, Joseph became good friends with these two courtiers. They spent many hours together in conversation - as one would have all the free time in the world at a prison.

One day Joseph found them unhappy and miserable. While inquiring as to the cause of their grief, he was told about a dream they had and nobody was able to interpret their dreams. Joseph assured them that the meaning of dreams was in God’s hands, and perhaps he might be able to interpret them.

Joseph interpreted the Cup-bearer's dream that, within three days the Pharaoh will restore his position, and he will continue being Pharaoh’s Cup-bearer. Joseph requested the Cup-bearer to make a recommendation on his behalf to the Pharaoh, once he was released from captivity.

Interpreting the Baker's dream, Joseph said that in three days the Baker will be hanged and later birds would eat his flesh.

Joseph’s interpretations proved to be accurate. Three days later was Pharaoh’s birthday. He reviewed the cases of the Cup-bearer and Baker. The Cup-bearer was restored to his position, while the Baker was ordered to be hung. The Cup-bearer was very much filled with joy, but was ungrateful to Joseph as he forgot about Joseph in the prison.

Pharaoh’s Dreams
After two years Joseph interpreted the dreams of the Cup-bearer and Baker, Pharaoh had a dream. The Pharaoh saw himself in his dream that he was standing besides the the river of Egypt - Nile. Standing there, he saw seven beautiful cows coming out of the Nile to graze on the meadow. Behind them, climbed up seven ugly and malnourised cows from the water and swallowed the beautiful ones. Pharaoh awoke but soon fell asleep again. This time, he saw seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted - thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. These strange dreams worried Pharaoh, and he summoned every astrologer in the land to interpret his dream. There were several interesting interpretations that were presented. However, Pharaoh was not satisfied with any of their explanations.

Now, the Cup-bearer remembered Joseph interpreting his dream along with the Baker's. He now told this to Pharaoh, along with Joseph's skill in interpreting dreams. Soon, Pharaoh sent for Joseph.

Joseph was thirty years old, when he appeared before Pharaoh. Pharaoh told him that he had heard of Joseph’s great gift to interpreter of dreams. Joseph replied that his wisdom was not of his own, but that of God's. Pharaoh explained his dreams to Joseph, and Joseph knew right away that God had revealed their meaning to him.

Joseph explained to Pharaoh that both dreams essentially had the very same meaning. God wanted to tell Pharaoh what He was about to do. Egypt will be blessed with seven years of abundance, but followed by seven years of famine. Hunger and privation would be so great that the abundance of the preceding years would be completely swallowed up and forgotten. The fact that Pharaoh had seen the same thing twice meant that God had definitely decided to have these incidents come true within the very near future. It was now the task of Pharaoh, to find a wise and honest man to administrate and control the economy of the land during the seven years of abundance, so that sufficient provisions would be stored away for the seven lean years to come.

Joseph's explanation and advice impressed Pharaoh and his council profoundly. Pharaoh was convinced that he could not find a better and wiser man than Joseph himself, who was blessed by God's wisdom.

Pharaoh immediately appointed Joseph as the Governor of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. Joseph was dressed in royal apparel, and Pharaoh gave him the royal authentication ring and a golden chain as tokens of his position. Joseph was given an Egyptian name, Tzophenath Paneach, was led through the land on the royal chariot, accompanied by a royal suite and messengers, who hailed the new Govenor and proclaimed his authority. Entire Egypt paid homage to Tzophenath Paneach, and he soon became very popular among the people of Egypt.

Joseph instituted a strict control over the entire food production of Egypt. Joseph had large storehouses erected all over the country. Then he bought up most of the surplus that had flooded the markets and stored it away in warehouses. People followed Joseph's example and stocked up, as they believed in the truth of Joseph’s prediction. But since people did not take all necessary precautions to preserve their food over long period, their stores were spoiled by the time the years of hunger arrived.

Those even years of abundance passed and the years of famine began. The entire country found itself dependent upon the provisions stored away by the state, under the wise administration of Joseph. In exchange for food, people sold their livestock and land, and by the end of the famine, Joseph was in complete control of the entire country's food. Now, all the people were his assistants, everyone working for him and depending on him for their food needs.

Those neighboring countries were hit with famine and they depended on Egypt to provide food for them as well. Many from far and near arrived in Egypt for food. Joseph expected to see his brothers one day, and to ensure he would not miss them, he ordered every purchaser to register before buying food in Egypt.

Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt
Ten of Joseph's brothers, except Benjamin arrived in Egypt to buy food. Joseph saw them, but they were unable to recognize Joseph. They were treated harshly by Tzophenath Paneach (Joseph), questioned of their intention of entering the country, and finally imprisoned. He even questions their authenticity and asks them to bring their youngest brother, Benjamin. This was just to scare them, and Joseph did not mean any revenge towards his brothers. Joseph is desperate to meet his younger brother, Benjamin.

While we read this chapter, we can see Joseph breaking down in tears, going away and washing his face numerous times. He was filled with love and pity for his brothers. He even realized how sorry they were, for the cruelty they did towards him. He surprises his brothers by returning their money along with grain.

Finally, Jacob hears about the demands of Tzophenath Paneach to see Benjamin. There are serious discussions going on at Jacob's house since he is extremely sad at Joseph's loss.

Let's just conclude here for today.

----------------------------
Reading Assignment: 
Genesis 39     Read     Listen
Genesis 40     Read     Listen
Genesis 41     Read     Listen
Genesis 42     Read     Listen

Image: Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of the Butler and Baker - Benjamin Cuyp (1630)

Image: Joseph and Potiphar's wife - Guercino (1649)

Image: Joseph interpreting Pharaoh's dream - Anthonie van Blocklandt - 1533-1583

Image: Joseph Interpreting Pharaoh's Dream - Arthur Reginald, 1894


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Genesis 35 - 38


Update:
One of you readers yesterday pointed out a small error during our tour Genesis 27 - 30 under 'Tension between Brothers'. Thank you for pointing that to me. I've corrected it - Rachel was referred at two places instead of Rebecca.

I've also included some additional info in yesterday's post Genesis 31 - 34 for those interested.

If you come across any errors, please bring it to my attention. One of the frequent questions I get is, "Where do you get all those additional information which is not in the NIV version of Bible?" Well, I read and refer numerous sources to piece up the events together. I shall share the Bibliography towards the end of our tour. For now, let's just focus on what we have.

Thank you.
-----
Jacob was not impressed that his sons Simeon and Levi had killed hundreds of Shechem's men and took captive of their wealth, women, children and everything in their houses.

Next, Jacob plans on moving to Bethel, where he first met with God. He asked his entire clan to get rid of any other gods they may have. This instruction was aimed at those Shechem's women & children, and those belonging to the defeated 7 kings. All those jewlery were burried under an oak tree in Shechem.

Once they reached Bethel, they camped at this location and built an altar. God appeared to Jacob again, and said he will be known as Israel.

Few unpleasant events:
A series of unpleasant news take place at Jacob's camp.

Deborah, Rebecca's nurse died and was buried outside Bethel

Jacob's love of life, Rachel, had given birth to a son earlier - Joseph. She was now pregnant and on their way to Bethlehem, had difficulty during child birth. She gave birth to a baby boy, whom Jacob named Benjamin. Rachel died during childbirth and Jacob set up a pillar, which still marks the place Rachel's tomb (see below). Rachel was just 45 years of age at the time of her death.

After the death of Rachel, Jacob used to sleep in the tent of his concubine, Bilhah. If you recall, Bilhah was Rachel's servant girl whom she gave Jacob as his wife to have children. Ruben, Jacob's and Leah's son reportedly was jealous for his mother Leah, due to this account and slept with his father's concubine, Bilhah. Ruben did this out of anger and also removed Jacob's bed out of Bilhah's tent. Jacob was unhappy with this action of Ruben's and hence took away the birthright, along with kingly and priestly rights from Ruben. Jacob gave the birthright to Joseph - the son born to Rachel, the kingly authority to Judah, and priesthood to Levi. Judah and Levi were both born to Leah.

Isaac breathed his last in Hebron at the age of 180. Isaac was laid to rest in the Cave of Machpelah, and his burial was attended by Easu and Jacob. After Isaac's death, Easu held on to all his father's wealth and movable possessions, while Jacob inherited the land of Canaan.

Easu's Descendants
Easu is known as the father of Edomites and the family lineage is listed in chapter 36. Edomites used to engage in constant fight with Israelite and it continued to rage for quite some time. Since the Israelite were close relatives of Edomites (according to Israeli culture), they were forbidden from hating them. In the Book of Numbers we will come across Edomites again - when Israelites ask them to use the Kings Highway as an exodus route from Egypt and Edomites did not permit so.

Fight with Seven Kings
Due to the fertility of the Shechem land, Jacob returned to that valley. When the neighborhood kings heard about Jacob's arrival, they devised a plan to attack Jacob. Seven Canaanite kings teamed up together against Jacob. A small army consisting of Jacob's sons and servants fought them and defeated them. Since Joseph and Benjamin were very young, they did not accompany their brothers in those fights. Thousands of men from the opposing army were killed in various fights. The rest of the Canaanite kings were afraid to challenge or initiate any fight - hence they made peace treaty with Jacob's men.

Leah's death
When Jacob was 106 of age, Leah died. She was 51 years of age, and buried at the Cave of Machpelah.

Joseph's Dreams
Joseph had great praise for his brothers as he used to hear those brave stories while growing up. Joseph had inherited Rachel's beauty and was very handsome. He stayed with his father, and became his favorite son. Joseph was asked by Jacob to go and check on his brothers. Upon return, Joseph would report to his father about the his brothers' mischief. Being his favorite son, Jacob gave Joseph a 'Coat of many colors' which was a special gift. This is believed to be a long sleeved woolen striped coat reaching till his feet. Jacob's brothers envied at the special treatment Joseph was receiving. This is explained in chapter 37.

Jacob once had a dream, and he shared it with his brothers - all of Jacob's children were binding sheaves in the field, and Joseph's sheaf rose and placed itself upon the ground and the brothers' sheaves surrounded it and bowed down to it. The brothers wondered if Joseph had in mind that he would reign or rule over them.
When he shared his dream with his father Jacob, he kissed Joseph and blessed him. When the brothers noticed Jacob kissing him, blessing him, and loving him more, their hatred towards Joseph increased further.

Later, Joseph had another dream which he shared with his father in the presence of his brothers. In this dream, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars bowed down to Joseph. Jacob  knew about the hatred of his children towards Joseph. He therefore rebuked Joseph in front of his brothers saying, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him. Jacob realized there was truth in Joseph’s dreams, and Joseph was destined to become a powerful ruler. However, Jacob kept this matter in his mind.

Joseph Sold by His Brothers
One day, Jacob's sons had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem. Jacob had heard no news from his sons. Due to the prevailing tension with other kings in the region, he was worried about their fate. At this time, Joseph was 17 years old and Jacob sent Joseph to the fields to check on his brothers.

After wandering over the fields in search of his brothers, Joseph met a man who directed him towards Dothan. So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him from the distance, since Joseph was wearing his 'Coat of Many Colors', and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

They stripped Joseph of his robe and threw him into a dry well. Ruben, the eldest brother, was planning to take Joseph out of the well eventually, and returning him to their father. In the meantime, Ruben went home to take care of some business. Judah, one of the brothers did not want to kill their younger brother. The brothers instead old sold Joseph to a passing caravan of Ishmaelite merchants heading towards Egypt for 20 shekels of silver. When Ruben returned to the field, Joseph was not there in the dry well. His brothers had already sold him .

The brothers then tore Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood to make it look as if some ferocious animal had eaten him.

Jacob Mourns Joseph's Loss
The brothers showed this blood stained coat to Jacob and he mourned very much. Jacob mourned for many years and was unwilling to be consoled at the loss of his dear son.

In the meantime, Joseph was sold in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials who happened to be the captain of the guard at that time.

Judah and Tamar
Chapter 38 narrates the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Judah went off to Canaan and met a woman named Shua. She gave birth to three sons one name Er, next Onan and later Shelah. Er was married to Tamar. Er was wicked and died soon.

Judah now wanted his son Er Onan to sleep with Tamar and raise an offspring. But Onan knew that the child would not be his. Whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, Onan spilled his semen on the ground to prevent Tamar becoming pregnant. This act was not acceptable in God's sight and as a result, he died as well. At this point, Shelah was too young to marry Tamar. Hence, until he grew up, Tamar was asked to go stay at Jacob's house as a widow. Judah's wife Shua died and Judah was mourning her death. In the meantime, Shelah had grown up, and Judah was not paying attention to give Tamar as his wife.

One day, when Judah had gone to shear sheep, Tamar took off her widow clothes, veiled herself and sat in an open place, hoping she would catch the attention of some men passing by.

Judah saw her and did not recognize her, since she was not wearing her widow clothes. He thought she was a prostitute, Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.” The rest of the story is explained in chapter 38. In the end, she became pregnant by Judah and she sent word to Jacob.

There were twin boys in her womb. While she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand and the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist saying, “This one came out first.” But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” Hence he was named Perez. Next, his brother who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.

This concludes our tour on chapter 38.

Reading Assignment: 
Genesis Chapter 35     Read      Listen
Genesis Chapter 36     Read      Listen
Genesis Chapter 37     Read      Listen
Genesis Chapter 38     Read      Listen

-------------------Additional Info:
Rachel's tomb:
Located near Jerusalem.

Rachel's Tomb - Early in 1900's
Rachel's Tomb - in 2000's

Image: Joseph's Dream

Joseph's Coat Brought to Jacob - Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari, (1640)

Judah and Tamar - Rembrandt (1650-1660)

Image: Judah and Tamar,  Horace Vernet - 1840

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Genesis 31 - 34

File:Francesco Hayez 061.jpg
Image: Jacob and Easu


We see from yesterday, that Jacob's encounter with God was a life changing event. Due to Jacob's faith in God, he began to lead a honest life. He was not taking advantage of situations, as earlier. Instead, he started creating value in everything. Even when Uncle Laban was setting up roadblocks, Jacob did what was right by creating value. Thus, everyone around him including Laban prospered.

Jacob's children.
Yesterday we saw those children of Jacob, from four wives. Here are those 13 children:

Leah - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah (daughter)
Rachel - Joseph, and Benjamin.
Bilha - Dan and Naphtali
Silpa - Gad and Asher.

Let's start our tour for today, starting at chapter 31.

Jacob flees from Laban
The sons of Laban were envious towards Jacob due to his wealth. Laban's attitude had changed and he did his best to deprive Jacob whenever there was a chance.

God spoke to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers, and I shall be with you.” With the approval of his wives, Leah and Rachel, Jacob prepared for the difficult journey - by now he had a large group. The plan of departure was not revealed to Laban. The daughters could feel the difference in treatment towards them during the time of the wedding and now. They also realized that Laban was not planning to give any portion of his inheritance to them, and instead to his sons. They feel deprived because Leah and Rachel were given to Jacob in return of his fourteen years of work, and not any dowry and instead treated like slaves. They signify to Jacob that they were willing to leave Laban's house.

When Laban was out shearing his sheep, Rachel stole the household gods. In the Biblical passage, they are referred to gods in a superstitious manner. These are believed to be images of angels - seraphims, which are placed for the protection of the house. Certain Persian translator seems to have considered these gods as tables or instruments that served for purposes of judicial astrology - one which could tell the location of a person. Rachel may have did this to conceal their own location and not be followed. She probably thought these might be of some use to herself one day.

Laban pursues Jacob
When Laban heard about Jacob's departure, he gathered men and followed him. They were caught up at the border of Canaan. That night, Laban had a strange dream not to harm Jacob. When he met Jacob, he complained that he did not get a chance to say farewell to his daughters and granddaughters. Next, Laban asked Jacob why he stole his gods and Jacob has no knowledge of this. He says if anyone in his group has done it, they shall be killed. Laban's men search their baggage, but do not find it. Apparently, Rachel was sitting on them and said she cannot get up due to her menstrual period. If caught, Jacob would have killed Rachel - that was the word he gave Laban in front of everyone. Rachel gave a satisfactory reason to her father, and if these gods were used for any religious purpose, Laban would not suspect a woman in a similar situation would sit on them. Laban departed without suspicion.

Before departure, Laban made a covenant with Jacob - two things: not to marry any more women beside his daughters, and not to harm him.

Laban provokes Easu
Laban was not very happy and was thinking how to destroy Jacob. As soon as he departed from Jacob and his family, he sent his son Beor to Esau. This was to to inform Easu about  the great wealth Jacob had amassed during the years of service at Laban’s, house. Further, Laban provided the location and direction of Jacob's caravan, so that Easu could take his revenge. 

Esau did not need to hear anything more, as his old hatred for Jacob still remained in his heart. He gathered four hundred able-bodied and well-trained and equipped men and moved against Jacob. This is the setting where chapter 32 starts. 

Jacob prepares to meet Easu
Jacob heard about Esau’s army approaching towards him. He sent messengers of peace and good will to his brother Easu, asking him to forget those old grievances since Isaac’s blessings. The messenger returned with disappointing news and shares the news that Easu's 400 strong men are in the mood to fight and kill. 

There was no choice left for Jacob other than to fight. He therefore divided his camp into two groups - if one group was defeated, the other could escape. Even during the time of preparation for a battle, Jacob prayed ardently to God to help him in this uneven fight against Easu. Further, he did not give up hope. 

He sent several groups of servants who took two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. Next, the plan was, when Easu asked them who they belonged to, they would say, "They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us." Jacob ensured they said, "Your servant Jacob is coming behind us." The idea was to pacify Easu with these gifts. 

These gifts went ahead of Jacob and he spent the night at the camp. 

Jacob wrestles with an Angel
Paralyzed at the thought of meeting Easu, and the imminent danger to his family members, Jacob was disturbed. He was unable to have a sound sleep that night. At one point, Jacob thought of fleeing as well. Easu was all that Jacob thought about that night. 

He cried out to God for strength and deliverance that he would end up wrestling with the Guardian Angel of Easu. He wrestled in prayer, and it was when he felt God's presence with him.  Jacob held on to God so hard, that Guardian angel finally gave him the blessing he sought. Next, the socket of Jacob's hip was slightly dislocated. This was to remind Jacob about this experience forever, and as a punishment for wanting to flee and not relying on God.

Jacob is told by the angel that he will be known by the name Israel. The word Israel is the result of two Hebrew words - sarah and el. The meaning: one who prevails victoriously with God.

Jacob meets Easu
The next morning, Esau arrived with his men. Easu was impressed by those presents bestowed by Jacob. By now, he had abandoned his grudge against Jacob. This is described in chapter 33 - a wonderful biblical scene of two brothers meeting.

Jacob arranged his camp in a particular fashion. He went ahead an bowed down seven times to Easu. That's when Easu came running to his brother. Here is how Bible portrays it:

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.

Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”

Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down.

Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.

Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”

“To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” he said.

But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”

“No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.

Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.”

Jacob and Easu parted on a good note afterwards.

Jacob arrives in Canaan
Chapter 34 talks about their first experience in the land of Canaan. Once in Canaan, Jacob bought some land from the the father of Shechem, and pitched his tent. There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel. It means, mighty is the God of Israel.

It may have during the time of this transaction, Shechem saw the daughter of Jacob and Leah - Dinah. One day while Dinah was away attending a women's festival, Shechem kidnapped her and finally raped her (see below).

Jacob's sons were horrified and humiliated by this outrage. They were determined to avenge their sister’s dishonor. This was a crime punishable by death. Finally, the father of Shechem interferes and asked Jacob to allow his son to marry Dinah. Jacob's camp would not give their daughter to a person who was not circumcised. Later, the entire men of Shechem agreed to be circumcised for the sake of this marriage. Those who got circumcised were 645 men and 246 children. After three days, when the men were still in pain, Jacob's sons Simeon and Levi took their swords and went on a killing spree - killing every male member of Shechem, taking their women and others as possessions.

This concludes our tour for today.

Reading Assignment: 
Genesis Chapter 31   Read        Listen
Genesis Chapter 32   Read        Listen
Genesis Chapter 33   Read        Listen
Genesis Chapter 34   Read        Listen

--------------Additional Reading 1
Jacob meets Easu
Easu speaks of Jacob's children as gifts of God, and as instances and pledges of his favor and good will to him, which he thankfully acknowledges. Easu speaks very respectfully to his brother, and with humility. It is so true that any enmity between brothers can be healed by time and distance, along with sincere prayers. Again, how lovely it is, to watch brothers dwelling happily together with love and peace.

The same night Jacob wrestled with an Angel, the army of Esau and his people saw a vision. Jacob's army consisting of 2,000 men, riding upon horses furnished with all sorts of war instruments, appeared in the sight of Esau and all his men. They seemed to be divided into four camps, with four chiefs to them. One camp noticed Easu with just 400 strong army and terrified, Esau fell off the horse. All of Easu's men separated from him at that place and were afraid.

In the morning, those gifts for Easu arrived (from Jacob).

--------------Additional Reading 2
About Dinah
Dinah was about 14 or 15 years of age during the time of this incident. She had gone out for a woman's festival, dressed in her best clothes. The new land of Canaan fascinated her and she was curious to learn more about the jewelry and fashion at that place. She was also looking towards to make new friends at this place. When Jacob heard about what Shechem had done to his daughter, he sent twelve servants to fetch Dinah from Shedhem's house. When the arrived, Shechem was sitting with Danah kissing and embracing her before her eyes. He even drove Jacob's servant's away using his men. Jacob's servants came back and told him what they saw. Jacob's sons were feeding cattle in the field and he said nothing to them now. Instead, he sent two maidens from his servant's daughters to take care of Dinah at Shechem's house. Shechem's family tried persuading him to find another woman for wife, but he would not agree.

--------------Additional Reading 3
Rachel's Excuse 
For many of us today, it is hard to understand why those searching for Laban's gods avoided searching Rachel. During those early ages, women were considered 'unclean' during menstrual cycle. An account of this is given by Moses in Book of Leviticus.

Leviticus 15: 19 - 30

“When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. Anyone who touches anything she sits on will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, they will be unclean till evening. If a man has sexual relations with her and her monthly flow touches him, he will be unclean for seven days; any bed he lies on will be unclean. When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Anyone who touches them will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. When she is cleansed from her discharge, she must count off seven days, and after that she will be ceremonially clean. On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the Lord for the uncleanness of her discharge."

Since Laban's search team arrived at Jacob's camp in the morning, they probably did not want to risk staying unclean till evening, considering all those formalities of washing their clothes and bathing in water.

File:Laurent de La Hyre - Laban Searching Jacob's Bagagge for the Stolen Idols - WGA12321.jpg
Image: Laban searching Jacob's luggage for stolen idols


Image: Jacob wrestles angel - Rembrandt

Image: Jacob Wrestling With the Angel - Eugène Delacroix (1854-1861)


Image: The Reconciliation of Jacob and Laban - Pietro da Cortona (1630-35)

File:Rubens Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau.jpg
Image: The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, Peter Paul Rubens (1624) 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Genesis 27 - 30

File:Tissot Jacob and Rachel at the Well.jpg

We will go over Genesis chapters 27 through 30 today.

Please use the Archives located on the right side of this blog to read any any previous post you may like to read or browse. During this guided tour, I will spend more time in showing you how things are connected, how events are related and so forth. For those areas that are straight forward and easy to understand I will not spend much time

Just one request to those on the tour - please read the Bible after reading contents from this blog. Bible is primary, and everything including this blog is just secondary.


Background for today's reading. 

Jacob was attending the academy of Shem and Eber to study God's teachings. Shem, Noah's son, who survived the great flood was heading a Scripture study class. Easu, on the other hand led his life in his own way. He honored his father, Isaac and tried to appear obedient in front of him. As long as anything involved no studies, Easu was interested. 

Isaac was confined to his tent as his eye sight grew dim. Rebekah, saw the ways of both her boys and clearly knew Jacob was the one capable of leading the clan. Isaac was feeling weak and tired and he knew he would not live long and wanted to bless his children. Still believing Easu could carry on Abraham's tradition, he called Easu for blessings. 

Now, we let's start our tour on chapter 27. 

When Rebekah heard what her husband, Isaac told  Esau, she was not quite satisfied, knowing the nature of Easu. She believed her younger and wiser son, Jacob should receive the father's blessings. She went to Jacob, told him what had heard, and then suggested him that he prepare some meat which she would cook and make it taste like deer meat. Then she wanted Jacob to take it to Isaac, disguised as his brother Esau. Jacob was reluctant to trick his father, even though he knew his mother was right. But Rebekah ordered him to do so as she took full responsibility of the act.

Isaac's blessing to Jacob
Isaac suspected the quick return of Easu, and asked him numerous questions to confirm this was Easu indeed. He touched his hands, asked for a kiss, smelled his clothes, and suspected the voice was Jacob's. 
Jacob deceived his father by lying, dressing up as Easu, and finally gave him the meat cooked by his mother. 

Isaac blessed Jacob, thinking it was Easu: 
“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.
May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness - an abundance of grain and new wine.
May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”

Isaac's blessing to Easu
Right after Jacob left his father's presence, Easu walked in with the cooked deer meat and asked his father to sit up, eat, and bless him. Isaac trembled violently at the thought he had been cheated, and told Easu that the blessing was already given to the person before him. He was furious that it was the second time Jacob took advantage of him. Weeping, he asked Isaac to bless him too:
“Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above.
You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.
But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.”

The blessing Easu received sounded temporal than the one Jacob received earlier. He knew Isaac's days were near and there would be a mourning period for few days. After that, he planned on picking up a quarrel with Jacob about the title and inheritance of his father's possessions. He planned on killing Jacob during that quarrel. Since Jacob was unmarried at that time, and had no children, slaying Jacob would help regain the birthright and his father's inheritance. 

We will see later, in II Kings, how Edomites, Easu's descendants break off the yoke from Jacob's descendants during the time of King Joram, thus fulfilling Easu's blessing. 

Tension between Brothers
When Rebecca heard about Easu's grudge, she immediately asked Jacob to return to Eber's house where he was taking his Scripture lessons. Later, Jacob came back home and Rebecca noticed the old grudge within Easu flare up. Easu was plotting a scheme to secretly kill Jacob. But, he was reluctant to do so, fearing Isaac, because he did his best to look good in front of his father. By now, Easu had married a Hittite (Canaanite) woman. To safeguard Jacob from Easu, Rebecca presented a case in front of Isaac. She concealed from Isaac, the prevailing tension and animosity which she sensed between two brothers. Rebecca then framed an excuse for Jacob's departure. Rebecca wanted to sent Jacob away to her brother Laban until Easu had cooled down further. For this, she had to obtain the consent of Isaac. 

Rebecca presented a case to Isaac, saying, Abraham had been solicitous to get a wife for his son Isaac from a branch of his own family; hence she was brought from Syria. Rebecca is now afraid, or pretends to be afraid, that her son Jacob may marry among the Hittites (Canaanite), as Esau had done. Thus, she convinced Isaac this to be a valid reason why Jacob, 57 years of age, should immediately go to Haran (Padan-Aram), near her brother Laban, where he might get a wife there. 

Chapter 28 opens with Isaac blessing Jacob and commanding him not to marry a Canaanite woman and instead go to Haran (Padan-Aram). Jacob left for uncle Laban's land soon. When Easu learned about the pious advice Isaac gave Jacob, he realized how displeasing Canaanite women were to his parents, rather how his own wives were  looked down upon, in his family. Now, he made a serious attempt to please his own parents by marrying someone from Abraham's own family. He went off to Ishmael and married Ishamel's daughter Mahalath. 

Jacob and Eliphaz
Jacob was on his way to Haran. Now, Easu found this as a good opportunity to kill Jacob. He summoned his eldest son Eliphaz and ten armed men to pursue and kill Jacob. Eliphaz and his men, instead of killing Jacob, took all of Jacob's possessions and allowed Jacob to continue his journey. 

Jacob's Dream
Jacob was still in the Canaanite territory of Luz, when he had to stop for a night break. He took stones for his pillow and lay down to rest. With earth as couch, and the bright starlit heavens as his canopy, he fell asleep. In his sleep, he was favored by a marvelous dream. A long ladder seemed to rise beside him, the foot of which rested upon the earth, and the top of which reached to heaven. Up and down this ladder ascended and descended the angels of God. From above came the voice of God, promising him strength, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All people on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

When Jacob woke up from his sleep, he exclaimed, “Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know about it.” He was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” When someone comes close to God, feels His presence, or even sees God, the very first emotion that comes across is fear, followed by colossal excitement. 

Jacob's Pledge
Next morning, Jacob rose early. He took the very stone that had served him as a pillow and set it up in memory of this holy vision, and called the place, 'Bethel' - The house of God. Then he made a promise that if God would be with him and return him safely to his father’s house, he would erect a house of God where he had set up the stone, plus, he would give a tenth of everything he owned, to God.

By now, you must have rightly guessed - Yes, this is where tithing began in the Bible. 

By erecting a house of God, Jacob had essentially established a monument of the presence of God among his people, and a symbol of the indwelling of His Spirit in their hearts. Jacob opened his heart, his home, and his treasure to God. These simple elements are the foundation towards establishment of a true religion. By morning, the spirit of power, that of love, and a sound mind, has begun to reign within Jacob. 

Jacob arrives in Haran
During afternoon, Jacob reached the outskirts of Haran. He found shepherds resting near a well, watching their flocks. Jacob greeted them and inquired them about the town of Haran and his uncle Laban. Just then, Rachel, Laban’s daughter, a shepherd herself, arrived with her father’s herds. Jacob inquired them why the shepherds did not water their flocks while it was still day. They told Jacob that only the combined efforts of all those shepherds could move the rock that covered the mouth of the well. Sensing this as an opportunity to impress Rachel, Jacob walked over to the well and rolled the stone from its place - single handed. Rachel, who watched this astonishing feat of Jacob’s strength, was overjoyed to hear that he was none other than her own cousin. She hurried home to tell her father Laban, about Jacob’s arrival. Laban came out to greet his nephew into the house. 

The affair between Jacob and Rachel is regarded as one of the top love stories in the history of mankind. 

Jacob's price for a wife
After a month's stay, Laban told Jacob that he should not be working for free and asked what his wages should be. By now, Jacob was in love with Rachel. Jacob replied that he was willing to serve Laban for seven years. In return, he asked for the hand of his younger daughter Rachel. Laban was quite satisfied with this proposition, as he could hardly find a better son-in-law. Further, he wished his daughters should be married within the family. 

After seven years, the day of wedding arrived. Laban switched Leah, his elder daughter in place of Rachel. Jacob was able to foresee this happening, and had provided numerous hand signals to Rachel prior to the wedding - to ensure it was her, during the heavily veiled ceremony. Now, Rachel felt sorry for her elder sister Leah and wanted to relieve her from shame and embarrassment. She also knew her father's intention and concern for Leah. Rachel now exchanged those signals to her elder sister. It was only the next day Jacob learned about the swap. When questioned, Laban said that it was the custom of the land to let the elder sister get married first. Due to his immense love for Rachel, he agreed to work another seven years for her hand. Jacob, here is willing to overlook any unfair treatment because of his love. Those seven years just felt like few days for Jacob. 

Jacob's Children
Apart from Leah and Rachel, Jacob married Silpa and Bilha, two members of Laban’s household. Chapter 30 describes the jealousy and competition between these women to conceive - which we will skip here, and can be read in the Bible. Finally, Jacob has twelve sons and one daughter. The twelve sons of Jacob would later become leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. 

Jacob's Prosperity
After fourteen years of stay with Laban, Jacob's wealth had increased and he wanted to return to Canaan. Now, he was 91 years old and still an exile and servant. Laban did not want Jacob to leave, but giving him some of his own flock and Jacob stayed for another six years. Laban regularly cheated Jacob in his wages and payments in their agreement. Jacob was again willing to overlook any unfair treatment because of his love for Rachel. With God's blessing, Jacob's wealth soared and his flock multiplied rapidly and he became rich. Chapter 30 tells us how Jacob grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

We will conclude out tour for today. 

-------------------------
Reading Assignment: 

Food for thought: 
Just like Easu, many Christians today neglect religion, and give away their Christian birthright to what is perishable and perish with it.

Authenticity of Bible:
A mother teaches her favorite son to cheat and defraud his brother, deceive his father, and tell the most execrable lies. If Bible been the work of an impostor, a single trait of this sort of history would have never appeared in it.


Image: Isaac blessing Jacob



Image: Jacob meets Rachel - William Dyce

Monday, July 15, 2013

Genesis 24 - 26

Rebekah at the Well, painting by Michael Deas 1995

Before we begin today's tour, let's take a quick look at the composition of a family during ancient times.

Family Structure:
So far, we've been reading about Abraham, who was the Patriarch. When we hear the word 'family' in the Bible, it could be anywhere between 20 to 200 members or more. The concept of a nucleus family such as our's did not exist at that time. People lived together with extended families consisting of uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, grandfathers, grandmothers, and so on. Then there servants and their families and slaves - free servants, bond servants, house born slaves, foreign slaves, and debt slaves.

A Matriarch was the woman within the central family with the highest social standing, and she received the greatest respect. The Matriarch was responsible for the well being of all the members of the clan, and was expected to oversee all household tasks. She made the day-to-day rules for the clan and resolved disputes between women. There were various grades of women in the family. A married woman could have been a wife or a concubine. A wife was one who had brought bride-money into the family. A concubine was a secondary wife, or a wife without dowry, and therefore maintained a lower status with fewer legal rights than a wife.

During Biblical times, women were not just sitting around at their homes as many would think. To list a few, here were some of the daily tasks of ancient women:
- Maintain a clean body and dress herself well and attractively
- Preserve her own physical and mental fitness
- Spin and weave cloth material
- Design and stitch suitable clothing for all members of the household, for every weather
- In earlier times, even make those tents in which they lived in
- Make and sell finished items of clothing
- Grind all the grain to feed their family
- Gather food and assemble a varied and healthy diet for the members of the household
- Get water from the nearby well for the household
- Administer finances of the family and oversee family business, with all necessary skills
- Plan and buy investment property
- Supervise investments and make a profit from them, then reinvest these profits
- Perform charitable work and provide care for the poor
- Find a respected, learned and proper man to be her husband
- Take care of all aspects of her children
- Provide religious instructions to her children, and act as the first teacher
- Organize and supervise the tasks of all the servants in the household
- Oversee the emotional and physical well-being of every member of the household
- Be available at all times, to anyone who needed her

After reading this list of tasks, it's quite reasonable to ask, "What where the men doing?" Well, men in those days had a long list of chores, primarily consisting of cultivation, shepherding the flock, and many others similar to the one above.

Abraham had a large family consisting of many members. After the death of Sarah, there was not a capable woman to take up the position of a Matriarch. 

Now, let's continue our today's tour. We are starting at chapter 24, and will conclude at chapter 26.

Isaac and Rebecca
Sarah lived as a beacon in Abraham's life. After her death, loneliness and gloominess prevailed in Abraham's family. Sarah's tent remained vacant for three long years. Isaac was deeply immersed in studying about God. Abraham wanted to find a wife for Isaac with similar character as of Sarah. He knew he would not find a suitable bride among the Canaanites.

At this time, Abraham called his most trusted servant, Eliezer, who followed him from the court of Nimrod and was in charge of all of household and asked him to take an oath.

If you are reading the NIV version of Bible, you may read Abraham asking Eliezer in verse 24:2 as, “Put your hand under my thigh" or even "Put your hand under my leg". The placing of one’s hand under the “thigh” or "leg" is an euphemistic way of swearing upon the genitals of the master (see below).

Abraham was so emphatic about not allowing Isaac to go with Eliezer to choose a wife for himself, because Isaac was considered 'an offering' completely devoted to God that he was not permitted to depart from the promised land of Canaan. Historians claim the age of Isaac to be of 40 years of age. Now, Abraham could have gone instead of Isaac, but he stayed back as well. The reason was because all his life, Abraham has been moving from place to place, giving up his entire past, based on God's commands. He wanted such a woman who was ready to commit to a life of faith with God, ready to leave her own land, and be a torch bearer of their family, in place of Sarah, as a Matriarch.

The resourceful Eliezer embarked on this sacred mission by taking ten camels, loaded with all sorts of precious silver, gold jewelry and beautiful garments. His destination was the house of Nahor, Abraham's brother, in Mesopotamia. It is similar to a caravan of  'ten stretch limousines' loaded with girly stuff. Arriving early, Eleizer waited by the well outside the city, where women come to draw water.

Picking a life partner is no easy task. It is always a wise idea to submit the search in the hands of God. Evidently, before we dare to ask a sign from God, the case must be a noble one. Standing by the well, Eliezer prayed to God to show him a girl who was kind towards him and his caravan of camels. The sign which he asked God was in line with Isaac's very own nature. It was to reveal a girl with good-heart, with readiness to oblige and show courteous activities towards the hospitality of strangers, per those prevailing cultural standards. The step-by-step signs Eliezer asked God is narrated in chapter 24.

Hardly after Eliezer completed his prayer, he saw Rebecca, the daughter of Abraham’s nephew Bethuel, approaching the well. Rebecca was beautiful, and Eliezer was impressed by her gracious behavior. When she came up again, Eliezer asked to be permitted to drink from her pitcher. Rebecca answered, “Drink my master.”

Once she quenched his thirst, she said,  “For your camels I will also draw water until they have had enough.”

Saying these words, she filled the trough, time and again until all the camels were satisfied. Eliezer had no doubt that he had found the right bride for Isaac. Even before asking her name, he presented her a golden ring and two bracelets, and only later he asked her name and credentials. When Rebecca answered that she was the granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, Eliezer bowed before God and thanked Him for the discovery he made - the one Abraham was seeking to be Isaac’s wife.

Rebecca hurried home and told her people about this meeting and also invited Eliezer home to feed his camels. Her brother Laban came out to welcome Eliezer into the house. Soon Abraham’s servant told Bethuel and his family about his mission and how God had miraculously helped him to find Rebecca. as Isaac's wife. Bethuel and family agreed to this God favored match. Next challenge for Eliezer was obtaining the consent of Rebecca in accompanying them. At first, Bethuel and family wanted her to stay back 10 days. Upon in inquiring with Rebecca, she said, "I will go (right now)."

Isaac was in the fields when he noticed the camels approaching. He met Rebecca on the way, and later took her to tent once occupied by Sarah. There were celebrations when the couple got married.

Abraham's Death
Abraham took another wife - Keturah, who bore him many children. At the age of 175, he breathed his last, leaving all his inheritance to Isaac. He was buried by Ishmael and Isaac at the same cave where Sarah was buried. We call him 'Father Abraham' who is a key figure in four religions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Baha'i faith.

Jacob and Easu
Twenty years went by, but the couple was not blessed with children. The prayer for a child which Isaac uttered was one of deeper intensity, which reminded him of his own birth. To Rebecca, it was pain, anxiety, inward strife and deep dejection, until her pregnancy was confirmed by God. Later, twins were born to Rebecca - Easu, covered in hairy garment and Jacob, grasping Esau’s heel with his hand. Both boys were different in nature. Esau became a skillful hunter, while Jacob preferred staying indoors at home among the tents, engaged in study of scripture with Abraham and Isaac. Isaac loved the eldest Esau, while Jacob was mother's pet child.

Easu used to go off on hunting trips on many occasion. At that time, King Nimrod was the superior hunter of the land, because he possessed the 'Coat of Adam' and all animals would listen to him. One day Esau went in the field to hunt, and he found Nimrod walking in the wilderness with his two men. All the king's mighty men and his army were with him in the wilderness, but at a distance from him, in different directions while hunting. Esau concealed himself from Nimrod, and he lurked for him in the wilderness. When opportunity came, he drew his sword, beheaded Nimrod and took away the 'Coat of Adam'. Nimrod's two men came running and Easu fought a desperate fight with them, finally killed them with his sword too. Nimrod was 215 years of age when he died.

Those mighty men and army heard the cries of the men and approached only to find their King and two men dead. When Esau saw the mighty men of Nimrod coming towards him at a distance, he fled, and thereby escaped with the most valuable possession. As soon as he got home, he hid the 'Coat of Adam' inside his house. Wearied and exhausted from fight, his clothes covered with human blood and mud, ready to die through grief, he approached his brother Jacob.

Seeing Easu in such a condition, Jacob rebuked Easu for neglecting his holy duty as first-born. Esau, however, ridiculed Jacob and spoke very mockingly of the birthright. Jacob was shocked to hear such abuse of, and disrespect towards, the sacred privilege of the first-born. Now, Easu was very hungry and asked Jacob to let him eat some of the red stew that was being cooked.

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

Easu was aware that Nimrod's mighty men and army was on the lookout for him and they would be at his tent any moment. For he knew he had stirred up a hornet's nest and would be captured and killed on the same day.

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

Jacob acted wisely with Esau in this matter, and Esau sold his birthright to Jacob. Further, Jacob also bought Easu's portion of the cave, which Abraham had purchased as a burial ground, and many other possessions from Easu for an agreed value. Jacob recorded whole of these transactions in a book, and he testified the same with witnesses, sealed it, and the book remained in the hands of Jacob. He then fed Easu with some bread and lentil stew. Thus Jacob came into the possession of something he cherished more than all the treasures of the world.

Isaac and Abimelek
When there was a second famine in the land, Isaac was thinking about going to Egypt. God ordered him not to go to Egypt, and instead, he went to Abimelek, the king of the Philistines in Gerar.

While in Philistine, Isaac told everyone that Rebecca was his sister - he too was in the same situation as Abraham. Isaac feared that the people might kill him and take Rebecca away, since she was beautiful. Abimelek even wanted to marry Rebecca and used to keep a close watch over her. One day, Abimelek while looking down through his window, saw Isaac caressing Rebekah. The two were summoned and questioned about their relationship. Once Abimelek learned that Rebecca was Isaac's wife, he ordered everyone not to cause any harm to Isaac or Rebecca, or even touch them. He let them stay there and do cultivation.

With God's blessings, Isaac's crops yielded hundredfold, he became rich and continued to acquire wealth by adding many flock, herds, and servants. The Philistines grew envious due to Isaac's wealth power and they requested him to leave. Isaac left their presence. Later, Abimelek sent his personel staff requesting Isaac not to harm them and to sign a peace treaty.

Let's stop here for today and continue tomorrow. Please make sure you read your Bible - that is the True Scripture. Treat me as just a tour guide aiding you in your journey.

Reading Assignment:
Genesis 24 Estimated Time: 11:30
Genesis 25 Estimated Time: 5:00
Genesis 26 Estimated Time: 5:30

-----------------Additional Reading 1
Taking an Oath:
In today's world, we place our hand over our heart while taking an oath.
In ancient Roman courts, those taking oath held their testicles, as they regarded it sacred. If found guilty of perjury, the result was castration. From this practice stems the word, 'testimony', testify etc.
During the time of Abraham, it was common to hold the testicles of the master - to show the seriousness of the oath. Here, the testicles of Abraham literally contained the “seed” that God had promised.

-----------------Additional Reading 2:
Birthright:
Birthright was the sacred privilege annexed to the firstborn. It had an honor and authority in the family next to parents - in terms of being the heir and successor. It meant a double portion of inheritance, the parental blessing, and especially in this case, the promises of the Messiah, and of inheritance of the land of Canaan. Isaac's firstborn was supposed to be devoted to God, but Easu was just not that person who could devote himself to this sacred duty. Jacob on the other hand was studying scripture with Abraham and Isaac, staying at home. Rebecca knew about this being reserved for Jacob when God spoke to her, while she was pregnant.

------------------Additional Reading 3
Jewelry:
Since ancient times, women have used jewelry to display their status and wealth and to enhance their beauty. Biblical archaeology has excavated numerous remarkable jewelry from ancient world.

Mycenaean gold pendant, 17thcentury BC
Gold Pendant - 17 Century BC

Jewels of a tribal princess like Sarah, circa 1500BC
Jewels owned by Matriarch such as Sarah

Gold jewelry and artifacts excavated at Troy
Gold Jewelry - 3 Millennium BC

Jewelry,jewellery,Bible archaeology: Nimrud: ugal or headdress worn by the Queen
Queen's headdress - from Nimrud
Jewelry,jewellery,Bible archaeology: Nimrud: gold bracelets
Gold Bracelets - from Nimrud


Image: Jacob and Esau presented to Isaac - Benjamin West (1738 - 1820)


Image: Esau sells birthright to Jacob - Hendrick ter Brugghen (1627)