SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 20 Genesis 33

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis** 33**. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13
Genesis 14-15
Genesis 16
Genesis 17
Genesis 18-19
Genesis 20-22
Genesis 23-24
Genesis 25
Genesis 26:1-33
Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9
Genesus28:10-30:24
Genesis 30:25-31:55
Genesis 32

[Genesis 33

New International Version (NIV](http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2033&version=NIV))

Jacob Meets Esau

33 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. 2 He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. 3 He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. 5 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.”

6 Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. 7 Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.

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

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

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

10 “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.

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

13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. 14 So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

15 Esau said, “Then let me leave some of my men with you.”

“But why do that?” Jacob asked. “Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord.”

16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. 17 Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Sukkoth.

18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. 19 For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. 20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.

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This story recounts the reunion of Jacob and Esau. Remember that Jacob, having cheated Esau (with their mother Rebekah as co-conspirator), fled from his home; Esau threatened him, and not without reason. Jacob spent 20 years with Laban, getting rich, marrying, and having a flock of kids. Now, he’s been told to return home, and so he does. In the prior chapter, we saw that Jacob was (and still is, as Chapter 33 starts) terrified that Esau would attack.

So, Chap 33 begins with Jacob tryng to protect his wives and children. He puts Rachel and Joseph at the end, the most protected. We’ve had earlier hints of how Jacob shows enormous favoritism to Rachel and (especially) to Joseph, which will result in sibling rivalry and hatred in just a few more chapters.

In v 3, Jacob bows seven times to Esau. Seven is a number of completeness, so he’s showing complete submission. (There are other ancient writings, outside the bible, where bowing seven times before the king is mentioned.) There is some irony here, this is a reversal of Isaac’s blessing on Jacob (Gen 27:29) “Be master over your brothers/and let your mother’s sons bow to you.”

Esau is apparently moved by Jacob’s extravagant gestures, the gifts and now submission. There follow several short sentences, Esau with action verbs: he ran, he embraced, he threw his arms around him, he kissed him. Litarary note: The same verbs (in almost the same sequence) will be used later in Gen 45:14-15 when Joseph is reunited with his brothers.

Note the ritualized behavior in verse 8 – 11, Jacob offers a gift which Esau refuses, and Jacob insists. This is fairly common social ritual, both in ancient times and today, that the recipient only reluctantly accepts a gift.

In verse 12, the NIV says “Let us be on our way,” but the verb here is “to walk", the verb so often used with Abraham and later with Rebecca.

Verse 12 -13, and again v 15 is like some dramatized ritual. Esau says, “Come home with me.” Jacob says, “Yep, I’ll come later.” Esau says, “I sure want you to come now.” Jacob says, “No, I’m not going with you.” For all of the show of reconciliation, Jacob is still dubious about Esau’s potential mood-swings, and delicately slides out of the reunion. They part amicably.

Verse 18: The Canaanite city of Shechem is mentioned in other ancient tablets and writings around 1800 BCE. (The biblical text here probably dates to 1200 – 1000 BCE, depending on who you think wrote/edited it.) Abraham came into Shechem back in Gen 12:6-8. Joshua will gather the Israelites at Shechem after the Exodus, and Shechem will become the capital of the northern kingdom after the splitting of the tribes (roughly 930 BCE.) The few verses here are a prelude, setting up the action to come in Chapter 34.

Verse 20 is the first reference to “the God of Israel.” The name “Israel” here means Jacob, rather than the Israelite people. There will be some slight ambiguity for the rest of Jacob/Israel’s life; after Jacob dies, “Israel” will refer to the Israelite people.

I wonder what the Edomites knew of the story of Esau and what they thought about it. The closeness of the relationship in the story probably reflects the writer’s sense of cultural commonality and shared history. We have that with Ishmael and his descendants and even Lot before him but this is the last brother to go and found another nation. After this all the brothers found tribes that are part of Israel.

The is an obvious theme in the story that the Israelite nation has a sense of its common origins with some of its neighbors and that they are the new guys in power. The older brothers are superseded.

Based on the map of the time it looks like Judah (the tribe) was the Edomites direct neighbor. Was some victory over/accord with Edom part of Judah’s rise to power? The story of the early monarchy has the Philistines as the main enemy. Did Judah need Edom’s help to beat the Philistines? Is that the real reason for the gifts and the story of brotherhood restored?

Interesting thought, Sir Prize. My study and knowledge is primarily literary and textural rather than politico-historic, so I gotta say: I don’t know. If Prof P is (one hopes) feeling better and pops by, perhaps he has some insights.

Scholars accepting multiple authors usually attribute this chapter (or most of it) to the E-writer, although there is (as with all scholarly matters) some dispute. The E-author would have flourished in the northern kingdom, around 900 BCE or shortly after, so probably wouldn’t have been too concerned about Edom (in the far south.) Thus, if it’s an E-story, my guess would be that it was about Jacob and Esau the individuals rather than about Judah and Edom the tribes. But that’s only my guess.

Certainly I agree that there was considerable awareness of neighboring tribes/clans and kingdoms, and awareness of “common descent.” They were all Semitic tribes, and presumably all related. This story could reflect that, but it also reads very much like a very normal human interaction (i.e., real story about real people rather than [I dunno the word for] metaphor about tribes/clans.) We mostly get Jacob’s point of view, which reads to me like a family reunion story that could happen today: “I’ll give him a present first. Honey, you and the kids wait in the car until I see what our reception is.” Etc. That doesn’t preclude it also being a story to tell the Edomites at a later date, to try for some political assistance, for instance, as you hypothesize.

My assumption is that there’s no way of knowing to what extent the stories refer to real-live ancestors/individuals and to what extent they refer to neighboring clans/families/tribes/peoples, and to what extent there’s some mixture. However, as noted, this is more Prof P’s area than mine.

I’d go with it being a personal reconciliation rather than a political one. There’s very little in the rest of the OT that speaks well of Edom, and much that condemns it: not stuff to show the neighbors to make diplomatic accord. Numbers 14 speaks of how Edom denied Israel passage through their land during the Exodus, and Isaiah, Ezekiel and Obadiah all prophesy that the place with be a perpetual wasteland.

And then there’s Malachi 1.1-4:
The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How hast thou loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau; I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, till they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the LORD is angry for ever.”

New thread Genesis 34

Welcome back Prof! Hope you’re feeling better.