May 25, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Genesis: Jacob and family return to Palestine

John F. Fink(Sixth in a series of columns)

Last week, I summarized the story of Isaac and Jacob as told in Chapters 24-30 of the Book of Genesis.

It ended with the love story of Jacob and Rachel in Mesopotamia, where Jacob went to escape the wrath of his brother, Esau. Jacob then had children with his first wife, Leah, Rachel’s older sister; with Rachel’s maidservant; Leah’s maidservant; and finally with Rachel.

The middle of Chapter 30 through Chapter 35 tells about Jacob’s decision to return to his homeland, where his father Isaac still lived.

After Jacob has worked for Laban (Leah’s and Rachel’s father) for 20 years, they start to have serious disagreements and Jacob decides it’s best for him to return to Palestine. He has to outwit Laban to get away from him, but eventually he, Leah, Rachel and their children make their escape and head back to Palestine.

Laban chases after them, catches up with them and demands the return of his daughters and grandchildren. Finally, though, the two men make a pact then Laban kisses his daughters and grandchildren goodbye and allows them to continue their journey.

On the way, Jacob has a wrestling match with another man, who turns out to be an angel. During the match, the angel wrenches Jacob’s hip socket and the Bible passage says that that explains why the Jews do not eat the sciatic muscle that is on the hip socket.

Jacob prevails in the wrestling match and, in the morning, the angel changes Jacob’s name to Israel “because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.” (Later, God appears to him and confirms the name change.)

The next part of the story is Jacob’s reunion with Esau. When Esau learns that Jacob is returning, he goes out to meet him—accompanied by 400 men. Jacob, naturally, is frightened. However, after all these years, Esau’s anger has cooled, and the reunion is peaceful.

Now we get one of many salacious passages in the Bible. During the journey, Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, goes to visit some of the women of the land. While she is there, a man named Shechem rapes her. Then he decides he wants to marry her and sends his father to negotiate with Jacob.

Jacob’s sons say that they could not give their sister to an uncircumcised man but would do so if all the men in the village would be circumcised. The men agree and then, while they are in pain after the circumcisions, Jacob’s sons massacre all the men, sack the city and seize all their flocks, herds and women. I think I’ve warned you that not everything in Genesis is a pious story.

During their journey, Rachel is pregnant again. As they near Bethlehem, she goes into labor. She bears another son, Benjamin, but she dies in childbirth and is buried there. Today, Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem is one of the most popular Jewish shrines, especially for expectant mothers.

Jacob, now named Israel, settles in the land of Canaan with his 12 sons. †

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