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Friday Bible Blogging - Genesis 31 to Genesis 40

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleAlong with continuing the story of Jacob, chapters 31 to 40 of Genesis include the start of the well known story of Joseph of many colored coat fame, though the NRSV translates it a little differently. Also included is the brief story of Onan, which was the inspiration for the term, onanism.

Genesis, Chapter 31

With tension building between Jacob and Laban, Jacob decided to leave and return to his home country. He left suddenly, without warning. His one wife, Rachel, stole her father's household gods on the way. Laban caught up to them on the road a few days later, and was angry about the gods being stolen. Jacob allowed him to search for them, but Rachel had hidden them in the saddle of her camel. When Laban came to her, she said, "Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me." After that, Laban and Jacob made their peace, made a covenant between them and sacrificed some animals to their gods, and then Jacob was on his way.

Genesis, Chapter 32

As he approached his homeland, Jacob worried about how his brother, Esau, would greet him. So he sent some of his servants ahead with a gift for Esau, "two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys," spacing them out so that Esau would get gift after gift after gift.

One of the stranger stories I've read in Genesis took place at the end of this chapter. After sending his wives and children on, Jacob spent the night by himself, "Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak." When the man saw that he was going to lose, he knocked Jacob's hip out of joint. When day was breaking and Jacob had the upper hand, he told the man, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." After asking Jacob for his name, the man responded, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." There was a bit more exchange where Jacob asked the man for his name, but the man wouldn't tell him.

So once again, this part of the Bible presents a very anthropomorphic god - one who physically wrestled with someone. And not only that, the man was able to overpower God.

Genesis, Chapter 33

This was a short chapter. Jacob and Esau reunited, and it was a happy reunion.

This chapter had more of a just-so aspect that I haven't discussed much yet - place names. Sprinkled throughout what I've read so far are little statements of, 'so and so did such and such, and that's why the place is called what it is to this day'. For example, here's verse 17 of this chapter, "But Jacob journeyed to Succoth [meaning booths], and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the place is called Succoth."

Genesis, Chapter 34

While out and about visiting women of the area, one of Jacob's daughters was seized by "Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region", who raped her and wanted to take her for a wife. The Israelites were understandably outraged, but met with the Hivites. Apparently acting 'deceitfully', they agreed to go along with the Hivite request only if all of the Hivite males would become circumcised. "Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people." While the Hivite males were still recovering from their procedures, two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, went in and slaughtered them all. Then, the rest of Jacob's sons went in to plunder the city, taking all of the women, livestock, wealth, etc. Simeon and Levi were at least called out for their violent ways, but it was because of their tactical mistake, "my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household." But still, this was a pretty horrible act committed by all of Jacob's sons, who instead of trying to right the wrong committed by their brothers, went in and plundered instead.

Genesis, Chapter 35

This chapter involved more moving around and more genealogy. A couple notable occurrences were the death of Rachel during childbirth, and one of Jacob's sons sleeping with one of Jacob's concubines.

This chapter contains a separate account of Jacob earning the name, Israel. "God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him. 10 God said to him, 'Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.' So he was called Israel." I guess this came from a different tradition than the one where he wrestled with God.

At the close of this chapter, Isaac died, with only 2 verses devoted to his death and burial.

Genesis, Chapter 36

This chapter was devoted almost entirely to genealogy. About the only 'action' was Esau moving to a new land "For their possessions were too great for them to live together; the land where they were living could not support them because of their livestock." And of course, since Esau's alias was Edom (see Chapter 25), his descendants became known as the Edomites.

Genesis, Chapter 37

Chapter 37 starts the story of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, or rather, as the NRSV translates it, Joseph and his "long robe with sleeves". It's not quite as glamorous, but probably more accurate. Joseph, being the youngest son [correction - second youngest], was Jacob's favorite. In addition, he had dreams that foreshadowed him ruling over his brothers. For those reasons, his brothers became jealous of him and plotted to kill him. At the last, they decided to sell him into slavery, instead. Only one brother, Reuben, disapproved of what they had done. To cover their tracks, the brothers took his long sleeved robe, soaked it in goat's blood, and told their father that Joseph had been attacked and killed by a wild animal.

Genesis, Chapter 38

Here is a slight interlude from Joseph's story to focus on one of his brothers, Judah. This chapter is notable as being the inspiration for the term onanism. "Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death." So Judah told his other son, Onan, to "Go in to your brother's wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her; raise up offspring for your brother." Onan wasn't too keen on making children that wouldn't be counted as his, so he 'pulled out', and "spilled his semen on the ground". This angered the Lord, so God put Onan to death, as well. So from this chapter, wasting semen without attempting to impregnate a woman, whether as coitus interruptus or as masturbation, has been termed onanism.

After Onan's death, Judah told the widow, Tamar, to wait on his other son, Shelah, to grow up and be old enough to marry her. This is where the story really begins to get interesting. Several years later, after Judah's wife had died, he went to Timnah to have his sheep sheared. Tamar heard he was coming, and also realized that she hadn't yet been married to Shelah even though he was old enough, so she went to a town on their way to meet them. Because "she had covered her face", Judah mistook her for a prostitute and propositioned her. He promised her a goat as payment, and for collateral until she actually got the goat, he gave her his signet, cord, and staff. After the deed was done, she left that town and returned home. When Judah sent a friend with the goat, she was nowhere to be found. Judah decided to cut his losses and let the 'prostitute' keep his things.

Three months later, there was a rumor that "Tamar has played the whore" and become pregnant. Judah called for her to be burned until she presented him with the signet, cord, and staff. Judah responded that "She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah", and he never slept with her again.

When it came time for her twins to be born, when the first stuck his hand out, a red thread was tied around it. But then, he pulled his hand back in, and the other twin came out first. They were named Perez (meaning breach) and Zerah (meaning brightness).

Genesis, Chapter 39

Chapter 39 got back to Joseph's story. He was sold to "Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian". Joseph did such a good job that Potiphar put him in charge of his entire household. Unfortunately, Potiphar's wife was taken with Joseph, and continually tried to seduce him. After repeatedly getting turned down, she finally framed him and had him thrown in her husband's prison. But "the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favour in the sight of the chief jailer." The chief jailer put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners, making his life about as good as it could be while still being locked up.

Genesis, Chapter 40

At one point, Pharaoh became angry with both his cup bearer and baker, and had them thrown into the same prison Joseph was in. "One night they both dreamed -- the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison -- each his own dream, and each dream with its own meaning." Through the Lord, Joseph was able to interpret their dreams for them - that the cup bearer would be pardoned by Pharaoh and released in three days, while the baker would be condemned and hung, "and the birds will eat the flesh from you." Joseph asked the cup bearer to remember him once he was released. The future came to pass just as Joseph had predicted, but the cup bearer forgot about Joseph, and Joseph remained in prison.


I find myself jumping between different mindsets when reading these chapters. At times, I'll imagine that these people were real, and try to imagine what might have been happening in reality to make them think that they were interacting with the divine. Other times, I'll imagine that they were real but that the story had been passed on many times, and try to imagine what might have caused the legend to grow to what it became. Other times, I'll just read the story as entirely legendary without trying to think up historical inspirations.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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