Monday, February 29, 2016

Monday - Genesis 35 - Bethel, Bethlehem, Benjamin & Bilhah

In this chapter it is recorded that Jacob met with God several times and that he was again reminded of God's covenant with him... and of his new name, Israel.
Contrary to Jacob's fears, the people of the land were afraid of him rather than being ready to retaliate as he had supposed they would (as a result of the violence of Simeon and Levi against the Hittites). Not that they were naturally afraid of Jacob; God actually caused them to be afraid.
In obedience to God, Jacob sanctified his family by burying their idols and jewelry under an oak tree in Shechem. Then he went back to Bethel and built another altar to God. There he buried his mother's nurse who had evidently "graduated" into his household upon his return to Canaan. A short time later he buried his wife Rachel in Bethlehem after she had died giving birth to Benjamin.
As if these sorrows weren't enough for Jacob, his eldest son committed incest with one of his surviving wives, Bilhah (who had been Rachel's servant). This is one reason why Judah became the blessed and royal son of Israel instead of Ruben (Genesis 49:4).
Now, as if all of these heartaches were not enough, Jacob had to say goodbye to his father too. Isaac passed away at the ripe old age of 180.

Truly the words of Job 14:1 apply to the life of Israel, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble."

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Saturday - Genesis 34 - Ugly Truth

There's nothing pretty in this chapter. So, be reminded that this is God's inspired Word ... which doesn't mean that God approved of all that happened; it means that all of the facts are accurate and God had a reason for including this story.
After the family of Israel had settled back in Canaan, Jacob's daughter Dinah went out to make some friends ... but in the process, she found a man. Well, he found her.
She was probably a novel beauty compared to the local girls. She caught Shechem's eye.
Shechem wasn't just anybody. Shechem was an aristocrat. He was a man of influence and power. And, he was a man of fleshly passion; he and Dinah committed fornication.
Now, though he was immoral, he was more moral than those around him (Genesis 34:19). This indicates that the Hivite culture was horridly debauched... as the story will indicate. Shechem did actually fall in love with Dinah and was nice to her, even desiring to marry her.
Jacob heard what happened, but he held his peace. Of course, some of his sons weren't quite so restrained.  Shechem and his dad came and requested that Dinah and he be allowed to marry. They were so intent on this purpose that they offered an unlimited dowry and suggested that more marriages between their "peoples" be advanced (Genesis 34:9).
The response of Israel's sons was doubtlessly unexpected. They proposed that every man in Shechem's city become circumcised (Genesis 34:15). They could have made such a proposal sincerely. They could have explained that their father was a worshipper of THE Mighty God; that circumcision was representative of His covenant with them; that they were not willing to intermarry with idolatrous and uncircumcised peoples, but they didn't. At least, they didn't do it truthfully. They spoke of circumcision reverently but had ulterior intentions. Either they hoped that such a standard would dissuade Shechem from his objective, or they were setting him up for what did actually come to pass.
Amazingly the whole city...well, all of the males... agreed to the surgical procedure. This reveals to us that Shechem had an incredibly high level of influence in his city. But, despite their commitment to this treaty (albeit financially motivated), two of Israel's sons, Simeon and Levi, took swords and, at the point of their maximum weakness, killed every male in the city... including Shechem. Then, they took Dinah back home.

Afterward, all of the brothers joined in and took all of the wealth and women of the city for themselves. But, Jacob wasn't pleased... mainly because he feared retribution from other Canaanites. Sadly, the rough character (and shadows of the future misdeeds) of Israel's sons are seen in their answer to their father's rebuke. They retorted, "Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?" No apology; only defensive defiance.  Jacob would shortly be hurt deeply by their hardness.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday - Genesis 33 - Peace

After his meeting with God, fortunately Jacob had a much less eventful reunion with Esau. Jacob went ahead of his spouses and children and discovered that God had given him favor in the eyes of his brother.
One has to wonder for what purpose the 400 men accompanying Esau were originally intended. Nevertheless, Esau pulled Jacob up from his repeated bows and hugged him in tears. Then, in response to Esau's inquiries (and through his own tears), Jacob introduced his ladies and their offspring in order of favor... saving the best, Rachel and Joseph, for last. Following that answer, Jacob persuaded Esau (presumably against his will) to accept all of the gifts that had preceded him. Above all else, Jacob was exuberant that his arrival had evidently been an acceptable thing to Esau. What a relief!
But, was Jacob completely relieved? Esau wanted to journey back with Jacob to the old home place... but suspicious Jacob refused.  So, Esau went south to Seir while Jacob turned aside and stopped short in Shalem (very near to Bethel where he had first met God). When we see Jacob (at this point called, Israel) in a city called Shalem, it should cause us to pause. Shalem, Salem... Jerusalem... some scholars believe that all three places were the same. Abraham had met the King of Salem upon his return from battle after delivering his nephew Lot. David would eventually put Jerusalem on the map for good. Solomon, Ezra and Nehemiah would also contribute significantly to the immortalization of that city. And, Jesus, of course, sealed its import with His death there. Someday, He will do even more for its name when He sets up His very throne there. Jerusalem... indeed, the city of our God!