Saturday, January 30, 2010


Exodus 12-14

In chapter 12, God tells Moses how to prepare for the coming of "the destroyer," that will take all of the firstborn of Egypt while "passing over" the Israelites. He describes how and when they are to prepare a lamb, eat it, dispose of the leftovers and put blood on the tops and sides of the doorframes. He tells them they must prepare a feast with unleavened bread, and clean any yeast out of their houses. These are all instructions for what is still celebrated today as Passover. The LORD tells Moses to "obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants." The Israelites did what the LORD said, and at midnight, the LORD strick down all the firstborn of Egypt - "there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead."

Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron and told them to "take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go." The Israelites did and also "asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold," which the Egyptians provided. The Israelites, six hundred thousand men plus women and children, traveled from Rameses to Succoth. They had been 430 years in Israel, "to the day." The Lord gave Moses and Aaron the regulations for the Passover.

In chapter 13, the Lord tells Moses that the Israelites must consecrate every firstborn male to God, and that the "first offspring of every womb...belongs to [God], whether man or animal." The Lord then led them with a pillar of cloud to guide them by day, and a pillar of fire to give them light by night.

In chapter 14, the Lord parts the Red Sea, and the Israelites pass between walls of water. First, they wandered in the Egyptian desert for a time. During htis period, Pharoah and his officials changed their minds, and decided to take their chariots and bring them back. All of Pharoah's horses, chariots, horsemen and troops caught up with the Israelites camped by the sea. The Isrelites were terrified, and cried to Moses, "was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?" Moses told them that "the Lord will fight for you; you need only be still." So, at the Lord's instruction, Moses reached out his hand over the sea and the wind drove the sea back, "and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground." As the Egyptians followed, the Lord "made the wheels of their chariots come off." When the Israelites reached the far side, Moses stretched out his hand again, and the waters flowed back, and covered the chariots, "the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • It's interesting that the Egyptians are accommodating when the Israelites ask for "silver and gold." If that's really true, it's hard to come up with a legitimate reason other than "the LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people."
  • Six hundred thousand seems like an awfully big number. But it also says that they were in Egypt for 430 years. Assuming that a new generation is born at approximately 20 year intervals, we're talking about 69 men growing to 600,000 in 21 and a half generations. Through the miracle of compound interest, we see that that represents growth of about 52% per generation. That works out to just over 1 1/2 procreating sons per man. Which actually seems conservative.
  • One of the key components to the bible story is the people of God repeatedly turning away from him, doing what they are not supposed to do and not doing what they are supposed to do. Sometimes, it's more understandable than others. That the Israelites would cry out to God from the edge of the sea is neither surprising nor disparaging. That their first reaction is to blame Moses for getting them in trouble is indicative of a problem. This is a people that has just watched as God has done miracles to free them from bondage. A little bit more faith would have been appropriate. And, as subsequent acts were to show, justified.

Proverbs 17:15-28

It's a modern cliche to say that "better for 10 (or 100 or 1000) guilty to go free than one innocent man to go to jail." Proverbs seems to say otherwise.

Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—
the LORD detests them both.
Of course, later in the same chapter, it says
It is not good to punish an innocent man,
or to flog officials for their integrity.
Not that anyone would debate it.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Exodus 9-11

The plagues which came upon Egypt in chapters seven and eight continue in chapters nine through twelve. The plague of flies is followed by a plague on livestock - "all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died." Pharoah investigated and found that all of the Israelite animals were all right, but still did not relent. Next, Moses tossed soot from a furnace into the air in the presence of Pharoah, "and festering boils broke out on men and animals." When this did not work, the next plague was hail. Lightning and thunder filled the sky, and rain and hail pelted down, destroying all of the crops in the fields, and killing men and animals who weren't under cover. Only in Goshen, where the Israelites lived, was spared in all of Egypt. At this point, Pharoah relented and told Moses that the people of God could go. But after Moses raised his arms and the hail stopped, Pharoah "hardened [his] heart" and refused, again, to let them go.

In chapter 10, a plague of locusts descends on the land after Pharoah refuses to take the advice of his officials to let the Israelites go. Pharoah agreed to let the men go and pray and sacrifice in the desert, but not the women and children. So "Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt" and the Lord brought swarms of locusts, that "covered all the ground until it was black," and "devoured all that was left after the hail." Pharoah called Moses and Aaron and agreed to let them go, and the Lord ended the plague, but "the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go." Then Moses stretch out his hand toward the sky and darkness descended on the land, "yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived." So again, Pharoah agrees to let them go, and again "the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart." Pharoah tells Moses to leave his presence, and that if he sees him again, Moses will die.

Chapter 11 is very short, and God tells Moses that he will bring one last plague on Egypt, after which Pharoah "will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely." He tells Moses to tell the people to ask their neighbors for gold and silver. The text then informs us that the Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and that Moses was highly regarded by the Egyptians, including Pharoah's officials. Moses tells Pharoah that the firstborn sons in Egypt will die, "from the firstborn son of the firstborn son of the slave girl...and all the firstborn of the cattle as well." He tells Pharoah that his officials will come to Moses, bowing and down and telling him to go, with all of his people. "Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh." "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Modern day people living in Israel - Israelis. Ancient descendants of Israel living in Egypt - Israelites. I'm not sure why, but every time I'm tempted to write "Israelis," I recognize that it isn't right.
  • The plagues sent on Egypt:
    1. The Nile turned to blood (Ex 7:19-24)
    2. The plague of frogs (Ex 8:5-15)
    3. The plague of lice [KJV]/gnats [NIV] (Ex 8:16-19)
    4. The plague of flies (Ex 8:19-29)
    5. The plague of livestock (Ex 9:1-7)
    6. The plague of boils (Ex 9:8-12)
    7. The plague of hail (Ex 9:13-33)
    8. The plague of locusts (Ex 10:3-20)
    9. The plague of darkness (Ex 10:21-29)
    10. The plague on the firstborn (Ex 11:1-12:30)

  • From the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, John Martin's "The Seventh Plague of Egypt

  • Ex 9:6 says that "all of the livestock of the Egyptians died," but the plagues of boils affect "men and animals" and the hail "will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in." One could interpret that as meaning that not all of the Egyptian livestock was killed.

  • Several of the plagues end the same way. Pharoah agrees to let the Israelites go, the plague is removed/relieved, "but the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go..." This, then, is the "why" question I refered to yesterday: why does God keep "harden[ing] Pharoah's heart?" I know that he gave a reason.

    "I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." (Ex 9:16)

    "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD." (Ex 10:1-2)

    So it's the "shock and awe" method of message delivery. But why? Aren't there miracles which would "show [God's] power" and tell the people of Israel that "[HE is] the LORD" without the destruction and despair inflicted on the Egyptians?

    God is the creator of the universe, and created man in his own image, so the Egyptians are also men in the image of God. God created the Israelites, but he also created the Egyptians. To choose a people to use as an example for others seems more acceptable than choosing a people to reward above others. The plagues in Egypt don't feel fair.

    If Pharoah won't listen to the word of God, as we all fail to listen, that's one thing. But in the events portrayed here, Pharoah does listen, and then God "hardens his heart" just to continue making an example of him. It seems sadistic. It seems unfair, unjust and cruel, none of the things that we want to think of as being characteristics of God.

Proverbs 17:1-14

I'm going to refrain from making a political comment here.

A lesson that most of us need, and don't take very well, from verses 13-14.

If a man pays back evil for good, evil will never leave his house.

Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.

Obviously, there are some things that need to be dealt with. But quarreling about unimportant things, quarreling just because you're irritated, that's not a productive behavior.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Exodus 5-8

Chapter five begins with Moses and Aaron addressing Pharoah. They tell him that the God of Israel says to "let my people go," so that they can hold a festival in the desert. When Pharaoah claims ignorance of the God of the Israelites, they tell him that the people want to take a three-day journey into the desert to make sacrifices and offerings, otherwise he will bring plagues upon them. But Pharoah just berates them for taking the people away from their labor. After Moses and Aaron have left, he tells the slavemasters not to give any more straw to the Hebrews making bricks, to make them find it themselves, but not to reduce the quota. When this happens, they cannot meet the quota, and are punished. The people complain to Moses and Aaron that they have brought this increased punishment upon them. And Moses "returned to the LORD," echoing the complaint.

Chapter six reveals, for the first time, the name of GOD, as he once more reminds Moses that he is listening and will deliver the Israelites. He tells Moses that he will make his power known and that "because of my mighty hand he [Pharoah] will drive them out of his country." He instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that he (GOD) will bring them out of bondage in Egypt. Moses delivers this message, but the Israelites didn't listen because they were discouraged. The Lord then told Moses to go back to Pharoah but Moses, again, resisted. "If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?" The rest of chapter six is taken up with the genealogy of the house of Levi down to Moses and Aaron and Aaron's sons, and then, again, Moses question for God about "faltering lips."

In chapter seven, God tells Moses that he has been made "like God to Pharaoh," and that Aaron is like his prophet. Moses is to say everything that God tells him, and Aaron will tell Pharoah to let the Israelites go. They tell Pharoah, and when he demands a miracle, Aaron throws his staff to the ground where it became a snake. Pharoah's priests threw their staffs to the ground where they also became snakes, but Aaron's snake swallowed the others. Pharoah still would not listen. Next, God tells Moses and Aaron to meet Pharoah at the banks of the Nile in the morning. They do so, and when Aaron holds out his staff and strikes the water with it, the Nile turns to blood. But Pharoah still would not listen.

Chapter eight continues the now-established pattern. Moses and Aaron demand that Pharoah let God's people go, Pharoah refuses, and a plague ensues. First is a plague of frogs, followed by gnats and then flies. After the plague of flies, Pharoah allows them to go to the desert to pray, and implores Moses to pray for him. But when they left his presence, and God removed the flies in response to Moses' prayer, "Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • One of the things that is difficult, conceptually, in dealing with passages like Ex 5:2 is understanding exactly what the phrase "God of Israel" would mean to an Egyptian at the time. He was certainly a pagan, polytheist of sorts, but, while I've read and heard many things about Egyptian religious belief and the trappings thereof, that's different from actually thinking that way. Would Pharoah think of the "God of Israel" as a real being with real power? As an icon or symbol? As a mistaken belief? Certainly, he doesn't, by any of his responses, indicate that he has any fear of this entity.
  • In chapter six, we see, for the first time, the name of God. Prior to that, in dealings with Abraham and Isaac, the terms have been "adonai" or "elohim," but now the tetragrammaton יְהֹוִה ("Yahweh" or "Jehovah") makes its first appearance, as God tells Moses who he is, and tells him that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob did not know him by this name.
  • The geneaology of Moses and Aaron (Ex 6:13-26): Israel->Levi->Kohath->Amram (father of Moses), Israel->Levi->Jochebed (mother of Moses.) So Levi was the paternal great-grandfather, and maternal grandfather, of Moses and Aaron.
  • The Hebrew word which the NIV translates as "faltering," עָרֵל means, literally, "uncircumcised." The KJV uses that.
  • I have to confess that there are parts of this story that I don't believe. I can believe that God turned Aaron's staff into a snake, but not that Pharoah's priests could do the same thing with theirs. I can believe that God turned the Nile to blood, but not that "the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts."
  • There's a big question, of course, about all of the trials and plagues in Egypt. I'm going to save it for later (but is starts with "why").

Proverbs 16:17-33

A couple of verses from this section is echoed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

Pv 16:25 "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."

Mt 7:13 "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it."

Pv 16:17 "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."

Mt 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Exodus 1-4

Exodus, chapter one, continues the story of the Hebrews in Egypt, right from where Genesis left off. The descendants of Jacob/Israel are prospering in Egypt. Eventually, Joseph and his brothers and that whole generation dies, "but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them." The Pharoah also died, and a king came to power in Egypt who didn't know Joseph, didn't remember what he had done to save Egypt, and saw the Israelites as a threat to the Egyptians. So he had slave masters put over the Hebrews, and they were used for forced labor. "But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly."

Still seeing a threat, the king of Egypt, called the Hebrew midwives (Shiphrah and Puah) and told them that if a boy was being delivered, they were to kill it, and only let the girls live. The midwives "feared God" and did not do what the king instructed. When he asked them why, they told him that the Hebrew women were different than Egyptian women and had their babies before the midwives arrived. And God propered them and gave them families because of what they had done. The Pharoah, though, ordered all of his people that male Hebrew babies should be thrown in to the Nile.

In chapter two, a Levite woman gives birth to a son. She hid him, but when he reached three months, she could hide him no longer. She put him in a basket coated with tar and pitch and put it into the reeds along the bank of the Nile, with his sister watching at a distance to see what would happen to him. The basket was found by Pharoah's daughter, who had gone to the river to bathe, and she felt sorry for him. His sister asked Pharoah's daughter if she would like to fetch one of the Hebrew women to nurse him, and when she said yes, the boy's sister fetched his mother. Pharoah's daughter paid the woman to nurse the baby, and when he was older, she got him back and named him Moses.

When Moses was grown, he saw an Egyptian guard abusing a Hebrew. Looking about him, he killed the guard and buried him in the sand. The next day, seeing two Hebrews fighting, he asked one "why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?" The man asked, in return, if he were going to kill him like he did the Egyptian. Moses feared for his life, and fled to Midian before Pharoah could kill him.

In Midian, he aided the seven daughters of a priest of Midian in drawing water from a well for their father's flock. When he heard what Moses has done, he invited him in to his home. Moses stayed and took the man's daughter Zipporah as a wife, with whom he had a son, Gershom. During his time in Midian, Pharoah died but the slavery of the Israelites continued. God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

In chapter three, Moses is tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro on the far side of the desert when he sees a bush burning without being consumed on Horeb ("the mountain of God"). As he approached, God spoke to him from within the bush. God told him to remove his sandals and not to come any closer, as it was holy ground. He then told Moses that he was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Moses hid his face. God told him that he had seen "the misery of my people in Egypt" and "heard them crying out because of their slave drivers." Moses wanted to know who he should say had sent him, and GOD replied, "I AM THAT I AM." So he was sending Moses to Pharoah to bring the the people of Israel out of Egypt. Moses resisted, offering excuses and reasons, to all of which God said "I will be with you."

In chapter four God offers Moses signs. First, he has him throw his staff to the ground, and turns it in to a serpent. He then told Moses to put his hand inside his cloak. When he withdrew it, it was white and leprous. He repeated the process and saw it back to normal. Moses continued to resist, saying that "I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." When Moses asked God to send someone else, "the LORD's anger burned against Moses." Despite that, he acquiesced and chose Moses' brother Aaron to assist him.

Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and told him that we was going to go back to Egypt to see whether any of his people were still alive. Jethro told him to go and wished him well. Moses took his wife and sons and put them on a donkey and traveled to Egypt.

On the way, at an inn, the Lord "met him and sought to kill him." But Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off her son's foreskin and tossed it at Moses' feet, saying, "surely, a bloody husband art thou to me." Then he let them go.

The LORD then went to Aaron and commanded him to meet Moses in the desert. So he went and met Moses on Mt. Sinai in Horeb, the "mountain of God" where Moses had earlier seen the burning bush. Moses told Aaron all that the Lord had said, and what their mission was. And they went and gathered together all of the elders of Israel. Aaron spoke and showed them all the signs that GOD had said, and the people believe, and worshipped GOD.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Exodus is the second book in the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, the Torah. It follows the stories of the patriarchs from Genesis, which ended with Israel in Egypt. When Exodus opens, Israel is not longer a welcome visitor, but a captive people. Exodus is the story of how they are delivered from bondage in Egypt.
  • I'm not sure what to make of the midwives. On the one hand, the king is concerned that the Israelis outnumber the Egyptians. On the other, there are two midwives for the Israelis, and they are named in the text. Are they meant to represent a large number of midwives? What is the significance, if any, of the names?
  • In chapter 2, the man with the daughters is called Reuel. In chapter 3, the same man, unless I'm badly mis-reading something, is called Jethro.
  • When GOD called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he went up to the mountain, bound his son, and raised the blade before God stopped him. When GOD called Moses to lead the Israelis out of Egypt, Moses begged him to find someone else. And even after seeing three miraculous signs, he still wants more.
  • God names himself "I AM THAT I AM." One of the issues in philosophical debates is whether the universe requires a creator, a first cause, an uncaused cause. Logically, there is not effect without a cause, and everything we see is an effect. What is the cause?

    "I AM THAT I AM" (or "I AM WHO I AM" [NIV]) can certainly be read as a claim to being that uncaused cause.
  • One thing that is unclear in this story is how, or how well, Moses and Aaron knew one another. We don't know at what age Moses went to live in the palace, whether Aaron was older or younger, how it was that Aaron wasn't killed during the Pharoah's purging of male Hebrew babies or whether there was any interaction between Moses living in Pharoah's house and Aaron living (presumably) in Hebrew slave quarters.
  • I like the imagery of God "stretch[ing] out my hand over Egypt."
  • Ex 4:24-26, the story of the meeting and conflict at the inn, and the circumcision of Moses' son(s), is one of those that I really have no context for. I don't understand who "the LORD" is, in this context, because surely, if the LORD had tried to kill Moses, well, Moses would have been killed. Nor is there any reason which strikes me as plausible for GOD to attempt to kill Moses who was on a mission which GOD had just given him. I can't see any reason that Zipporah would react by cutting of her son's foreskin. I don't understand why she calls him a "bloody husband" (though I can't help but wonder if that's the etymology of that particular piece of Bristish slang.) In short, it's a two-verse story that I find myself completely unequipped to deal with, which is probably why I quickly forgot it the last time I read the book.

Proverbs 16:1-16

So many of the lessons in the book of Proverbs use, at least figuratively, the idea of wealth, riches, gold and silver and jewels, as things that people want. And as rewards for good behavior. 16:16 is a verse in which that idea is used to make wisdom itself even more desirable.
How much better is it to get wisdom than gold; and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Mark 13-16

In chapter 13, Jesus preaches to his disciples that "not one stone here [of the temple] will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."  He foresees the end times, that "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom," with earthquakes and famines.  He tells them that these are the beginning - the KJV says of "sorrows," the NIV "of birth pains."  He explains that they will be "handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues."  But "the gospel must first be preached to all nations."  He warns them to beware of false prophets, and to know that heaven and earth will pass away but never his words.  And he tells them that these things will happen before this generation passes, but that no one but the father knows the time.  So that they must constantly watch for the signs.

Chapter 14 starts with Jesus and his apostles in Bethany "in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper."  A woman anointed him with "expensive perfume" and some of the disciples grumbled that they could have sold it and given it to the poor.  Jesus tells him that the poor will always be with them, but he won't, and that she has done a good thing.  Then Judas went to the priests to betray him.  Jesus sent his disciples to a house where a room was prepared for the Passover, and they had the last supper.  He poured out the cup and said, "this is my blood."  He broke the bread, saying "this is my body which is broken for you."  "When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."

Jesus told them that they would "all fall away," quoting Zechariah.  When Peter protests, Jesus tells him that he will deny Jesus three times before the rooster crows twice.  They then went to a place called Gethsemene, and Jesus asked them to sit for a while as he prayed.  He prayed to God that he would "take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."  When he came back to the disciples, three times, they were sleeping.  Then Judas appeared with a crowd sent from the chief priests and elders.  He kissed Jesus, thus identifying him for the crowd as the one they wanted.  There was a scene and one of those standing near cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, but Jesus stopped them, asking why they hadn't just taken him from the temple courts where he had been preaching.  "But the Scriptures must be fulfilled."  A young man, "wearing nothing but a linen garment," was following Jesus.  When he was seized, the young man fled, leaving the garment behind.

They brought him before the Sanhedrin, and when they asked if he was the Christ, he responded, "I am.  And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."  They high priest asked whether they needed to hear any more blasphemy, and they condemned him as worth of death, and began to beat him.  Meanwhile, Peter, in the courtyard, denied three times that he was a follower of Jesus, and wept when the rooster crowed for the second time.

In chapter 15, we are told that the "the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin" came to a decision to hand him over to Pilate.  Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews and Jesus answered, "yes."  He then asked the crowd whether he should release Jesus or Barabbas, and the priests incited the crowd to say Barabbas.  Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, and they cried, "Crucify him!"  And to satisfy them, Pilate released him to the crowd.  The soldiers led him away, mocking him.  They put him in a purple robe and twisted a crown of thorns on to his head.  They made a man named Simon from Cyrene carry his cross and they took him to Golgotha.  They crucified him, and divided his clothes casting lots.  There were two robbers crucified, one on either side of him.

At the ninth hour, he cried out ""Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  The soaked a sponge in vinegar, put it on a stick and offered it to him.  Then, with a loud cry, he breathed his last.  At the same time, the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom.  And the centurion watching said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

It was the day before the sabbath.  Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for the body, which surprised Pilate, as he didn't expect him to have died yet.  Learning that it was true, he gave the body to Joseph, who wrapped it in linen and laid it in a tomb cut out of rock.  A large stone was rolled in front of the entrance to the tomb.  Mary Magdelene, and Mary "the mother of Joses" saw where he was laid.

In chapter 16, when the Sabbath was over, the Marys went to anoint the body.  When they arrived at the tomb, they found the stone rolled away.  When they entered the tomb, "a young man dressed in a white robe" told them that "He has Risen!"  He gave them a message to take to Peter, that he would see him in Galillee, and the women fled in fear.

Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and she went and told the mourning disciples, who didn't believe her.  Later, Jesus appeared to the eleven while they were eating, and rebuked them for their lack of faith.  He told them to go out in to all the world and preach the Gospel, and that "all who believe and are baptized will be saved."  After he spoke to them, "he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God."  The disciples went out and preached everywhere, "and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it."

Thoughts, questions, issues
  • Jesus quotes Isaiah extensively - chapter 13 seems like something that could almost have come from Isaiah (and part of it did, as verses 24-25 are quotes from Isaiah) or Jeremiah.  It's an apocalypse.
  • In 13:8, the Greek word "ὠδίνων" is translated "sorrows" by the KJV and "birth pains" by the NIV.  It seems likely that the NIV is more accurate here (and in almost all cases where there is a translation conflict.)  It appears four times in the New Testament.  In Acts 2:24, it is used for the "agony" or "pains" of death, but in the other three cases, "birth pains" is either most likely correct (Mk 13:8, Mt 24:8) or obviously correct (1 Th 5:3).
  • 13:10 has Jesus using the Greek word "εὐαγγέλιον" for the first time in this book.  It's generally translated as "Gospel" or "Good News," and it's clearly the Greek word from which "evangelical," "evangelist," et al., are derived.
  • I've already mentioned the fully formed Christology that appears in Mark.  Here we see it again in what is almost a quote from Daniel:
    Dan 7:13-14

    I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.

     14And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

    Mk 13:26-27

    26"At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

  • It's hard to know just what Jesus means by "this generation."  Read literally, with the strictest possible definition of "generation," we're talking about these things happening within the next twenty years or so.  But the Greek word, "γενεὰ," can also mean "age" or "race" or "nation."
  •   So there are at least a couple of possibilities:
    1. Jesus is speaking of the race of men - the race of men will still live when the end times come.
    2. Jesus is speaking literally of the current generation, and the end times actually began at the resurrection.
    3. Jesus is speaking figuratively, to emphasize the fact that no one knows when the end will come, it could come at any minute, and the need for watchfulness is urgent and imminent.
  • in 14:10, does that "then" ("then Judas Iscariot went...") imply causation?  Or is it simply a temporal link?  In computer programming (and logic), the "if...then..." construct is a fundamental building block.  Is this a case of "IF Jesus won't rebuke the woman for not giving that money to the poor THEN Judas will betray Jesus?"  It almost reads that way.  The preposition could have been left out and the ordering would have been assumed.  The "then" seems to link the betrayal to the previous action. (In John's Gospel, it is Judas, in fact, that is the one complaining that the oil has been wasted, because he has been stealing from the money bag [Jn 12:4-6)].)
  • Is there a tradition that associates the anointing woman with Mary Magdalene?  Does one of the other Gospels identify her?  Or it that a connection that I've made sometime in the past for no good reason?  [John does, in fact, identify the woman as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, but that's a different setting than the story Mark and Matthew tell.]
  • The precise meaning of the cup and the bread is, of course, one of the significant disagreements between branches of the church.  I won't comment on it until I've read through all four Gospels again.
  • Who is the young man in linen, fleeing naked from Gethsemane?  I have seen interpretations suggesting that this was Mark (John Mark) himself, or others that associate that young man with the rich young man from chapter 10.  I don't know.
  • I'd never noticed before that the Sanhedrin "reached a decision" "very early in the morning."  So even after bringing him in and putting him on trial and convicting him, they were still unsure of what, exactly, to do with Jesus.
  • It is my understanding that Mary, the mother of Joses is Mary, the mother of James and Joses, and also Mary the mother of Jesus Christ.  I'm not sure why that's my understanding, but it is.
  • There was little-to-no-regard for women, culturally, at the time of the Gospels.  The weakness of the witness is actually one of the strengths of the case for historicity.  A later invention would not have had Jesus appearing before women.

Proverbs 15:18-33

As I've noted before, there's a lot of duplication in the lessons in this book.  Here in chapter 15, for example, verse 18 echoes verse 1.

  1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
       but a harsh word stirs up anger.

18 A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension,
       but a patient man calms a quarrel.

The first talks about behavior, the second about the characteristics of men that exhibit those behaviors, but the message is virtually the same.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Mark 10-12

In chapter 10, Jesus is teaching when the Pharisees ask him about divorce.  He asks them what Moses had said, to which they replied that a man could divorce his wife.  Jesus quotes Genesis (1:27) that "in the beginning, God made them male and female" and that they "will become one flesh (Gen 2:24)."  For this reason, "what God has joined together, let man not separate."

His disciples try to keep children away from him, but he rebuked them, saying that "anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."  A rich young man asked what he could do to enter the kingdom of heaven and Jesus told him to sell all his goods and give away his wealth, and follow Jesus.  When the young man was saddened, Jesus lamented to his disciples how hard it was for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.  When the disciples wondered "who then can be saved?" Jesus responded that "with man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." 

James and John asked to set at Jesus' right and left hand "in your glory."  Jesus told them that those places belonged "to those for whom they have been prepared."  The other apostles were indignant with James and John, but Jesus told them that "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant...for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  He healed a blind man, Bartimeus, and told him that his faith had healed him.

Chapter 11 tells of Palm Sunday and Jesus' "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem.  He told his disciples that there was a house with a colt tied there, and tells them to bring it.  They brought it to him and threw their cloaks over it and he sat on it.  Some people spread their cloaks on the road while others spread branches.  The crowd around him shouted "Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  He entered the city and went to the temple, but it was empty, so he went to Bethany with the apostles.  In the morning, on the way back to the city, he cursed a fig tree, then went to the temple, where he cleared out the money-lenders and merchants who were profiting from the rituals of God's house.  Mark suggests that this was the last straw for the chief priests and they "began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching."  On their way back to Bethany, they saw that the fig tree he had cursed had already withered on the spot.  The next day, the chief priests challenged him on whose authority he was acting.  He asked them, on whose authority did John act?  Fearing either answer, they said that they did not know, and Jesus said "neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

In chapter 12 he tells his disciples the parable of the tenants.  The landowner kept sending representatives to the tenants to collect the rent, but they abused and killed the messengers.  Finally, he sent his son, but "they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard."  The chief priests and elders "knew he had spoken the parable against them."  Some of the Pharisees asked about paying taxes, and he pointed out Caesar's image on the coins and said "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."  He explained to his disciples that in heaven, there is no marriage and that all "will be like the angels."  And he told them that the most important commandment was "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" and the second was to "Love your neighbor as yourself."

While teaching, Jesus asked why the "teachers of the law" say that the Christ is the son of David.  Jesus said that "David himself calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?"  And he criticized the "teachers of the law" for their affection for the trappings of their office.  He then talked about the generosity of a poor widow who "gave out of her poverty," while others "gave out of their wealth."  Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others."

Thoughts, questions, issues
  • Chapter 10 continues with the Markan parallel to the sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5-7.
  • There's a line in the story of the rich young man that I've never noticed before.  He tells Jesus that all of his life he has followed the commandments and then "Jesus looked at him and loved him."  It was at that point that, loving him, he tells him how to "inherit eternal life." 
  • It seems to me that chapter 10 is striking in its summary of the Gospel message.  The children, the rich man, the request of James and John and Jesus' response to them - all of these stories are focused on one of the key messages of the Gospel - there is no way for a man to earn his way in to heaven.  The grace and mercy of God are bestowed upon us as a gift, like our lives themselves, if we are only willing to humble ourselves to God's will and accept them.  We must accept them as little children, and not be so attached to the riches of this world, either in material wealth or status.  And we cannot do it by ourselves.  "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
  • One of the arguments made by people who actively speak or preach or talk against historical Christianity is that the belief in Jesus as the son of God is a late corruption of what he said.  That Paul changed the movement and distorted it, that Jesus had never claimed to be anything other than a man.  But here in chapter 10 of Mark's Gospel, which was certainly written within the first or second generation after the crucifixion and resurrection, we have Jesus saying that "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  That is the essential message, the one that Paul spread around the Mediterranean basin.
  • "Hosanna" is apparently a Hebrew word meaning "Save."  Obviously, since then it has been a word of praise.
  • The story of the fig tree is one of those hard stories - what do we do with it?  Yes, the tree had no figs, but Mark explicitly says that it isn't the season for figs.  Yet Jesus curses the tree anyway.  Daniel Harrell preached on this chapter last April (audio), for anyone that wants more about it than I'm going to give you.  Basically, Daniel's take is that the fig tree is another parable.  It represents the forthcoming destruction of the temple, and echoes back to Jeremiah.  Note that the story of the fig tree surrounds the story of the cleansing of the temple.  So that seems to make some sense as an object lesson.  There must be some motive, else it makes no sense and is destruction for the sake of destruction.  That's not the way we think about Jesus' mission here.
  • I don't remember ever before noticing verses 12:35-36, either.  Nor do I really understand them.  Obviously, the teaching was that the Christ would be a son of David, and Jesus seems to be mocking, or at least refuting, that claim.  Yet we still consider that Jesus was of "the house and lineage of David."  The "stem of Jesse's rod."  True, Jesus' is God, not David, not Joseph.  But if Jesus taught this in Mark's gospel, why do we still think about the prophecies in those terms?

Proverbs 15:1-17

There are several verses in this set which focus on the contrast between human pleasures which result from good vs. bad, moral vs. immoral behaviors.  And in all them, there is the implication that God is observing, and that makes a difference.
3 The eyes of the LORD are everywhere,
       keeping watch on the wicked and the good.

 6 The house of the righteous contains great treasure,
       but the income of the wicked brings them trouble.

 8 The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked,
       but the prayer of the upright pleases him.

 15 All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
       but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.

 16 Better a little with the fear of the LORD
       than great wealth with turmoil.

 17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is love
       than a fattened calf with hatred.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Mark 7-9

Chapter seven starts with Jesus and his disciples eating a meal.  The Pharisees observe them and criticize them for not performing the ritual hand-washing before starting their meal.  Jesus tells the Pharisees, in essence, that they have ritualized the law and lost the true meaning.  Later, Jesus drives out a demon from the daughter of a woman, "Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia."  He went down to the Sea of Galilee, into the region of Decapolis, and opened the ears of a deaf and mute man.  He told the man not to tell anyone but the more he told people that, the more they talked.

In chapter eight, he is again preaching on a mountainside, and again multiplies loaves and fishes, feeding seven thousand.  He got into a boat with his disciples and went in to the region of Dalmanutha.  There, the Pharisees questioned him again.  They demanded of him a sign from heaven.  He laments that this generation wanted a sign, and said that no sign would be given.  He then crossed again with his disciples.  He spoke to them of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod, but they did not understand.  He reminded them of the loaves that fed the 5,000 and the 7,000, but they still did not understand.

At Bethsaida, he healed a blind man.  He asked his disciples what people were saying about him.  "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." When he asked them what they thought, Peter said "the Christ."  He told them not tell anyone.  He then began to teach them that his death would come at the hands of the "elders, chief priests and teachers of the law," and that after three days he would rise again. 

In chapter nine, he went up in to a high mountain with Peter, James and John.  While there, he was transfigured, garbed in white, "whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them," and Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Jesus.  A voice then came down and said, "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!"

When they came down to where the other disciples were, a crowd gathered around them.  The others had been attempting to drive an evil spirit out of a boy who had suffered from birth, and were unable to.  But Jesus did.  Later, the disciples asked him why they had been unable to do it, and he answered that "This kind can come out only by prayer."  He then taught his disciples that the "Son of Man" will be killed and "and after three days he will rise."  They didn't understand, but were afraid to ask.  After that, he taught them further, including that everyone who was not against Jesus was for him, and that it was better to lose an eye than to keep it and go to hell.

Thoughts, questions, issues
  • Jesus said in the sermon on the mount that he did not come to abolish the law but that "until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."  Here in Mark, though, he suggests that, at the very least, the interpretations of the law are going to change.  He talks as if the dietary laws are not important ("nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'").  An Mark comments that "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean.'" 
  • In chapter 8, we not only get the foreshadowing of his death, but the first mention of the cross, as he tells his disciples that "if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
  • I don't understand the conversation with the Phoenician woman.
    First let the children eat all they want," he told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."

    "Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

    Then he told her, "For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter."

    I don't understand the impetus for his comment, and hers seems like a non-sequitur.  Obviously, there's always a reason, but I don't see this one.
  • The last part of chapter nine includes teachings that Matthew presents as part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Proverbs 14:19-35

I have no particular questions or insights on this set of verses.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Mark 4-6

In chapter four, Mark begins with Jesus preaching at the shore, and he shares with his listeners the parable of the sower.  Later, he expounds on the meaning of the parable for his disciples.  He then relates the parable of the lamp on a stand instead of "under a bowl or a bed."   Also the parable of the seed, and the parable of the mustard seed.  After those parables, he tells of the crossing of the Galilee, with Jesus asleep in the stern as a storm rose up.  His disciples woke him, and he rebuked the storm, and then the disciples - "do you still have no faith?"

Chapter five begin on the other side of the lake in the region of the Gerasenes/Gadarenes.  There, the met a man possessed by demons.  Jesus asks his name, and the demon replies "Legion, for we are many."  Jesus sent the demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs nearby, and the pigs "rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned."  The man wanted to go with them but Jesus instructed the man to go home to his family and "tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." 

Jesus and his disciples crossed again to the other side of the lake and a large crowd gathered.  Jairus, one of the synagogue rulers fell at his geet and pleaded with him to heal his dying daughter.  As they were walking to Jairus' house, a woman "who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years" reached out and touched his cloak and was healed.  Jesus "realized that power had gone out from him" and turned and asked who had touched him.  When the woman told him, he told her that her faith had healed her. 

When they reached Jairus' house, they were told that his daughter had died, but Jesus said that she was asleep.  He "put them all out" and then took the girl's hand and told her to rise.  And she did.  He told them not to let anyone know, and to feed her.

In chapter six, Jesus returns to Nazareth, where he taught in the synagogue.  But the people there knew him and "he could not do any miracles there," other than some healings.  And then he sent out the 12 apostles to preach repentance.  They drove out demons and performed healings in his name.

John the Baptist, meanwhile is imprisoned by Herod at the request of Herodias, Herod's brother Philip's wife whom he had married.  John had told Herod that marrying his brothers wife was a sin.  At a party, Herod offered anything she wanted to Herodias' daughter and she said that she wanted the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  So Herod had had him executed.

Jesus preached on a mountainside to 5,000 and fed them from five loaves of bread and two fish.  Then he sent the disciples on ahead while he prayed.  He then walked across the water to where they were struggling against the wind, and after boarding the boat, calmed the wind.

Thoughts, questions, issues
  • The most striking thing about the Gospel of Mark, at least at this particular time reading it, is how plain it us.  Straightforward, brief, unornamented, this is the Joe Friday "just the facts" version of the story.
  • In chapter 4, verses 12-14, Jesus quotes Is 6:9-10, in saying that he teaches in parables so that the listeners "may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'"  I do not understand this.  I've tried to understand it, and failed.  Interestingly, just before Christmas, about four-five weeks ago, Gordon Hugenberger spent about five minutes on Is 6:9-10, and I sort of get his point.  But I do not understand it at all coming from Jesus.

    The part that most perplexes me is "otherwise they might turn and be forgiven."  The King James Version puts it "lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them."  In Isaiah's case, God had decided to punish Israel, and the messages were getting more obscure to try to force them to listen harder and work at understanding God.  At least, that's my understanding of Gordon's message on that passage.  But when Jesus echoes it, I do not understand.  Wasn't his teaching meant to, well, teach?  The "otherwise," the "lest," that I don't understand.
  • One of my favorite paintings, stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, is from Mark chapter 4.

  • This section shares some of his teaching but is largely focused on healings.
  • There are several miracles in this short section, too.  The calming of the storm, the feeding of the 5,000, the healings, walking on water.

Proverbs 14:1-18

There's a verse in this section that is different than much of what surrounds it.

4  Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.

I like it, and it carries a lot of wisdom in it.  It's different in that it is neither praising nor condemning human behaviors or characterics.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Mark 1-3

Mark 1:1 is "the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God."  It starts with the story of John the Baptist, who provided "the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" (Is 40:3)  Many came to John and were baptized, but he claimed to be preparing the way for one greater, "the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie."  Jesus came and was baptized, and he saw "the Spirit descending on him like a dove" and a voice said "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."  Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days.

Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, proclaiming the good news that "the kingdom of God is near."  He called disciples Simon and Andrew, telling them that he would "make you fishers of men."  Next, he called James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  In Capernaum, he went in to the synagogue and began to teach "as one who had authority" on the Sabbath.  He cast out an evil spirit, and news spread quickly about him.  They went to the home of Simon and Andrew and Jesus healed their mother.  People gathered around the house and he "healed many who had various diseases.  And then he travled through Galilee, preaching and healing.  He healed a leper and told him not to tell, but he did and because of that, "Jesus could no longer enter a town openly."

In chapter two, the story of Jesus' ministry continues with the healing of a paralytic.  The "teachers of the law" were appalled that he told the paralytic that "your sins are forgiven," but Jesus said to him, "take your mat and go home."  The next one he called was Levi, the son of Alphaeus.  While eating dinner at Levi's house, he was asked about sitting with "tax collectors and 'sinners'" and he responded that "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."  When asked about eating on the Sabbath, he gives the first foreshadowing of the crucifixion ("the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast").  When asked about his disciplies picking heads of grain on the Sabbath, he replies that "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," and refers to himself, for the first time, as the Son of Man.

Chapter three opens with another healing.  Great crowds began to gather around him.  He went on to a mountainside "and called to him those he wanted," and appointed twelve that he designated as apostles that he could send out to preach and drive out demons.  As another crowd gathered at a meal, the teachers of the law accused him of being possessed by Beelzebub, but he asks, "how can Satan drive out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand."  Later, discussing his mother and brothers, he says that "whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

Thoughts, questions, issues
  • The book of Mark is generally considered to be the earliest of the four gospels.  Both Matthew and Luke are assumed to have had access to Mark, which explains the synoptic nature of the first three gospels.  The name Mark is traditionally associated with John Mark, a follower of Peter.  Because of this, Mark is sometimes thought of as representing Peter's point of view.
  • Forty days is the same time that God made it rain to flood the earth.  (Gen 7)
  • All three of the synoptic gospels have the story of Jesus' temptation in the desert, but Mark just lists the bare fact while Matthew and Luke each have specific details about the temptations.
  • Did he call twelve because of the twelve tribes of Israel?
  • The twelve:
    • Simon (whom he called Peter)
    • James (Son of thunder)
    • John (Son of thunder)
    • Andrew
    • Philip
    • Bartholomew
    • Matthew
    • Thomas
    • James, son of Alphaeus
    • Thaddeus
    • Simon the Zealot
    • Judas Iscariot
  • The most common name that Jesus used for himself is "Son of Man."  This is a reference to Daniel 7:13-14 - "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." 
  • This is one of the reasons that the contention of some modernists that Jesus never claimed to be any more than a man falls flat.
  • It is also one of the reasons (not the only reason, or even the main reason) that Isaac Newton said that he would be willing to rest the entire historicity of the New Testament on the book of Daniel.
  • It was also the reason that many skeptics believed for a long time that the book of Daniel was a Christian forgery dated to the 3rd century, until many fragments found at Qumran confirmed the textual integrity.

Proverbs 13:13-25

Wise man vs. fools.  Righteous vs. wicked.  Discipline and correction.

I really don't know what else to do with this book.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Yes, I skipped yesterday.  There are 3-6 days of slack built in to each month's schedule, and I used one of January's yesterday...

Genesis 47-50

In Genesis 47, Joseph brought five of his brothers before Pharoah, who asked their occupations.  The explained that they were all shepherds, from a line of shepherds.  Pharoah tells Joseph to settle his family in Goshen, and if any had "special ability," to put them in charge of Pharoah's own livestock.  Joseph then introduced Pharoah to Jacob, who blessed him.  Joseph then settled his family in "the best part of the land, the district of Rameses" and provided them with food.

The famine was still in effect, and the people of Egypt came to Joseph.  First, Joseph "collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying," then he took all of the livestock of the people in exchange for food, and then Joseph "bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh."  Joseph established a law - "still in force today" - that one fifth of all of the produce in Egypt belonged to Pharoah.  And "the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen...acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number." 

As Jacob aged, he made his son Joseph swear to return his body and bury him where his fathers were buried.

In chapter 48, the dying Jacob called Joseph to him, and told him of the promises of God Almighty to "make you fruitful" and to give the land of Canaan "as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you."  He said that Joseph's sons would be reckoned as sons of Jacob "just as Reuben and Simeon" were.  Any subsequent children born to Joseph would be Joseph's, "reckoned under the names of their brothers."  And then Jacob blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, but he crossed his arms to give the right-hand blessing to the younger brother.

Chapter 49 shows Jacob's blessings for his sons.  After giving those blessings, and instructing his sons to bury him where Abraham and Sarah are buried, he dies.

Genesis concludes in chapter 50 with the burial of Jacob.  He is mourned in Egypt, then Joseph informs Pharoah of his (Joseph's) oath to bury Jacob in Canaan.  A large group goes up, they mourn Jacob, and bury him.  With their father buried, Joseph's brothers are concerned, again, that he will take revenge upon them for their actions selling him into slavery.  He reiterates that while the meant ill, God meant well by it, and that he holds no grudge.  Joseph lived to 110 years old, and was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • It seems as if Joseph was personally responsible for selling the entire population of Egypt into slavery under Pharoah.  Before the famine, the people had money, livestock and land - afterwards, they had nothing.
  • There is a parallel between Isaac's blessings on Esau and Jacob, and Jacob's blessings on Manasseh and Ephraim.  In each case, the younger son gets the blessing that "should" have gone to the older.  Unlike the case of Isaac, Jacob knew and understood who he was blessing.
  • The odd statement that I noted in chapter 35 about Reuben and Bilhah leads directly to Reuben's blessing.  Jacob tells him that "you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father's bed, onto my couch and defiled it."
  • Some of the blessings don't seem much like blessings.  Such as "Simeon and Levi...cursed be their anger...I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel."  Or "Issachar is a rawboned donkey...he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor."

Proverbs 13:1-12

The in this set of verses, the focus on the speech continues, as well as truth and integrity.  Verse 7 is one that, unlike so much of the book of Proverbs, does not have an obvious surface meaning.

"One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth."

I don't know what to make of that.  It does not appear to be an instruction.  If describing particular conditions, it is not clear to me what those conditions would be, not with any specificity.  It's just an odd verse, and uncharacteristically obscure in this context.  I strongly suspect that there are cultural and linguistic barriers that leave this less clear than it would have been at the time.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Genesis 43-46

Genesis 43 starts with the continuing famine in Canaan.  Jacob's sons, other than Simeon, have returned, but the food they brought back is running out and Jacob implores them to go back to Egypt and buy more.  His sons resist, protesting that the overseer told them they would not see him again if they did not bring back their youngest brother.  Judah tells Jacob that he will stand as guarantor for Benjamin's safe return, and that he is willing to lay down his life if Benjamin does not come back.  Jacob relents, and the 10 brothers take the silver that was returned to them on their last trip and enough for purchase of more grain, and head to Egypt.  When Joseph sees them, he instructs his steward to prepare a meal for them at his residence.  They gather at Joseph's house, where Simeon is brought out to them.  Joseph sees Benjamin and inquires after their father, then retires to his private quarters to weep.  Then he came out and feasted with them. 

The story continues in chapter 44 when, following their feast, he has the stewards fill his brothers bags with grain.  He also has their silver placed back in the bags, and one of his own silver cups into Benjamin's bag.  His brothers head back to Canaan, but Joseph sends a his steward after them, and when he overtakes them, accuses them of having stolen a silver cup.  They deny it, and agree that if any one is found to have taken it, that one will become a slave to Joseph.  They all drop their bags and the steward finds the cup in Benjamin's.  They all go back to Joseph's house, where his brothers fall down and bow before him, acknowledging themselves as his slaves.  He says that only the one found with the cup is his slave, the rest are free to go.  Judah pleads with Joseph to keep him instead, as Benjamin is the youngest, the only remaining son of the wife their father loved, and the loss of him would kill their father.

Finally, in chapter 45, Joseph acknowledges his identity to his brothers.  He sends everyone else from the room, and tells his brothers who he is.  They are frightened, but he tells them not to be frightened and not to be angry, that they hadn't sent him into slavery, but GOD had sent him ahead into Egypt to prepare for the time of famine.  And after they all threw their arms around one another and wept, he told them to go back to Canaan and get their father.  Pharoah gave Joseph and his family the land of Goshen, so they took carts and donkeys and returned to Canaan where they told Jacob that Joseph was still alive and the ruler of Egypt.

In Genesis 46, we get a genealogy of Israel as it entered in to the land of Goshen at the behest of Pharoah.  After packing up, they headed towards Egypt.  At Beersheba, they stopped and Israel prayed to the LORD, who told him that he would bring him back out of Egypt.  The list of direct descendants of Israel, not counting sons' wives, is said to be 66, and, with Joseph and the two sons born to him in Egypt, 70.  They settle in, and tell Pharoah that they are shephards.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • I'm hesitant to call Joseph a jerk, and certainly they warranted some punishment for having sold their brother into slavery, regardless of how well it turned out, but his treatment of his brothers was cruel.  Keeping Simeon and then framing Benjamin were frightening and unpleasant acts.
  • "Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  He said to them, 'Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.'" (Gen 37:5-7)
    "Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him." (Gen 44:14)
  • When he finally acknowledges his identity, Joseph does demonstrate that he has handled his experience well.  Rather than recriminations, he expresses to them that GOD has sent him in to Egypt, that what has happened in his life has been done for GOD's purposes.
  • The entire story of Joseph's exile to Egypt, his reconciliation with his brothers, their return with Israel to him, is as easily understandable as anything in Genesis, and much more so than most of it.  Even the actions of his brothers, selling him, is understandable, albeit reprehensible.  This whole section (excluding the Judah/Tamar interlude) is straightforward history.
  • I count 71 male descendants, three of which (Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim) were already in Egypt and two of which (Er and Onan) were dead.  So that does make 66 that went down to Egypt.  And three makes 69, which is not exactly 70.

Proverbs 12:15-28

The last 14 verses in chapter 12 extol honesty, truthfulness and discretion, while condemning laziness, dishonesty and imprudence.  13 of the 14 are antithetical parallelisms.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Genesis 40-42

In Genesis 40, Joseph is joined in prison by the Pharoah's cupbearer and chief baker, both of whom have displeased Pharoah.  During their first night they each of a dream, which they share with Joseph the following day.  Joseph interprets the dreams (saying "interpretation belongs to God") and informs them (correctly) that the cupbearer will be restored to his position in three days, and the baker will be hanged.  The cupbearer promises to remember Joseph, but promptly forgets him upon being restored in his position.

Chapter 41 starts with Pharoah's dreams.  He dreams of seven fat cattle being consumed by seven skinny cattle, and seven full ears of corns being swallowed up by seven thin ones.  He sends for his wise men and magicians but no one can interpret the dreams for him.  Then his cupbearer remembers Joseph.  Pharoah calls for him from the prison.  Joseph says that he can't interpret Pharoah's dreams but that God will give Pharoah the answers that he wants.  He then says that the dreams represent seven years of plenty which will be followed by seven years of famine.  Pharaoh needs to go throughout the land and stockpile food during the years of plenty to survive the years of famine.  As Joseph clearly has the support of God, Pharoah appoints him to be the overseer of this effort.  Joseph becomes the most powerful man in Egypt (other than Pharoah) and gathers huge stores of food during the next seven years.  He also marries and has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  And then the famine begins, and he opens the storehouses and sells food to Egyptians.  "And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world."

In chapter 42, some of the men from other countries turn out to be Joseph's brothers, all of whom other than Benjamin have been sent to Egypt by their father to buy grain.  He recognized them and spoke to them harshly, accusing them of being spies looking for weakness in Egypt.  He told them that to prove they were not spies, one of them would be held and the others must go get their youngest brother.  He had Simeon taken and bound, then gave the rest of them grain and sent them back, holding Simeon hostage until they returned with the youngest brother.  In each of their sacks, he also placed the money which they had used to buy the grain.  Jacob/Israel refused to let them take Benjamin to Egypt, as he had already lost Joseph, and now Simeon.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • Each time that Joseph is asked to interpret a dream, he gives essentially the same response - I can't do that, but God can.
  • The dream interpretations are in keeping with everything else that we know about Joseph in Egypt.  God is helping him, providing for him, supporting him.  In other words, preparing him and using him.
  • On the surface it might seem strange that Joseph recognizes his brothers but none of them recognize him.  But there are legitimate reasons for this to be the case.  For one thing, he was the youngest of that group and likely changed more than any of the others.  For another, he was seeing them in a group, as he had seen them before, whereas they were also used to seeing him in the group.  And there was no reason for him not to expect that travelers from Canaan might be his brothers, but they had sold him into slavery and he was now a figure of great power and authority.
  • Joseph's brothers are in fear when they see that they've got both the grain they bought and their money, too.  It seems a strange response, but he kept their brother Simeon, and they are, I suspect, frightened simply because they don't know what's going on.  Do they think that they just effectively sold Simeon into slavery in Egypt?

Proverbs 12:1-14

It occurs to me, as I go through this process, that I don't recall ever hearing a chapter of Proverbs read in a service, or a sermon preached on a chapter of Proverbs.  And I think I see why.  There are a couple of meta-messages - wisdom is good, the righteous are better than the wicked, God loves righteousness and wisdom - but no narrative structure and no message cohesion.  There are a lot of pithy sayings, some good imagery and metaphorical and poetic language, but not much that builds on what came before or prepares for what comes next.  The lessons all come in little chunks, and they are almost all surface lessons, valuable, yes, but not warranting much in the way of commentary.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Genesis 37-39

Genesis 37 begins with Joseph, now 17, working in the fields with his brothers (mostly half-brothers).  His brothers resent Joseph, for being his father's favorite, shown by, for one example, receiving a "richly ornamented robe."  He describes for his brothers a dream in which they are gathering sheaves in the field and his brothers' sheaves bow to his.  Later, out in the fields, his brothers decide to kill him, but Rueben convinces them to throw him into a cistern, thinking that he can be rescued later.  They throw him into a cistern, but see a group of Ishmaelites traveling and sell him into slavery.  They tear his robe, cover it with goat's blood, and return it to Jacob/Israel, who mourns his son.  Joseph reaches Egypt and is sold to Potiphar, captain of the Pharoah's guard.

In chapter 38, we get the story of Judah and Tamar.  Judah took a wife and fathered, over a period of years, three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah.  Er married a woman named Tamar, but "was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death."  Judah told Onan that he needed to father children with Tamar, to "fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother."  Onan lay with her but intentionally did not get her pregnant, "spill[ing] his semen on the ground...What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also."  Judah told Tamar to live as a widow in her father's house and that Shelah until Shelah grew up.

Some time later, after the death of Judah's wife, he traveled to Timnah to shear his sheep.  Tamar, hearing about this, put on a veil and went out to that part of the country, because, though Shelah was grown, he had not been given to her.  Judah, thinking her a prostitute, offered to pay a kid (goat) for sex.  As he didn't have the kid with him, he gave her his signet and staff as collateral.  When he later tried to pay, she, having dropped the veil and returned to her father's house, was not to be found.  No one knew anything about a prostitute having been there. 

Three months later, they came to Judah saying that his daughter-in-law Tamar was pregnant and, therefore, "guilty of prostitution."  He said that she must be burned.  She sent a message saying that she was pregnant by the man who had given her "these" and sent back the signet and staff.  He reacted that "she is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah."  She later gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah.

Genesis 39 returns to the story of Joseph, now living as a slave in Potiphar's house.  He is trusted by his master, as the LORD helps him and gives him success in all he does.  Potiphar's wife is attracted to him, and attempts to seduce him, but he refuses to violate his master's trust.  He flees the house, leaving his cloak behind.  When Potiphar returns, his wife presents the cloak as evidence in support of her story that Joseph tried "to make sport of" her.  Potiphar is furious and Joseph is thrown in to prison.  But even in prison, "the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden."  As in Potiphar's house, the LORD gave him success in all that he did.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • It says that Joseph was Israel's favorite because he was the child of his old age, but Benjamin was younger.  And there's no indication earlier that a) Jacob was (or was feeling) particularly old when Joseph was born, nor b) that there was any significant gap in age between Joseph and his older brothers.  What would seem a more likely source of favoritism is that Joseph was the first son born to Rachel, whom Jacob loved and chose to wife, rather than those wives imposed on him by circumstance.
  • There are indicators that Joseph might have been a jerk as a young man.  "He brought their father a bad report about" his brothers.  He wore his lavish robe out to the fields.  He told them about his dreams of them bowing before him.  A favorite child can be one of the group or he can flaunt his status.  It sounds as if Joseph may well have done the latter.
  • The story of Judah and Tamar predates any of the Levitical laws, and there has been no mention of brother's giving deceased brother wives children.  Is this a cultural imperative?  What is the source of the compulsion for Onan?
  • The double standard is not new.  Judah bought Tamar, Tamar sold herself to Judah.  He thought that he'd done nothing wrong, and she deserved the death penalty.
  • If Tamar was to be burned for presumably engaging in prostitution, how is it that proof that she had actually engaged in prostitution got her off the hook?  There are, presumable, class or caste distinctions, but [MSW] it's very hard for a layman to read this story and understand many of the motivations.
  • The motivations in the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, on the other hand, are not that difficult for a modern man to follow.  She wants him.  He doesn't want to violate a trust.  She's scorned and furious.  Yeah, that one works.
  • Tom Robinson = Joseph.  Mayella Ewell = Potiphar's wife.  (To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • The key, I think to this story is that the LORD prospers Joseph.  Both as a slave and as a prisoner, he is guided/aided/supported, and everything he does succeeds.

Proverbs 11:16-31

This set of verses extols the virtues of kindness, generosity and discretion.

If there is some kind of overlying structure to this section of the book, I have not yet recognized it.  I do see a few verses in each set that are related to one another, but it's not at all clear to me that they're organized for that to be the case rather than just random.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Genesis 33-36

In Genesis 33, Jacob returns home.  He meets with his brother Esau, and they throw their arms around one another and reconcile.  Esau doesn't want the gifts of sheep and cattle, but Jacob insists.  They settle back into Canaan, with Jacob buying land from "Hamor, the father of Shechem."  "There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel."

I said yesterday that Dinah had disappeared from the narrative, but she returns in chapter 34.  She is raped by Shechem, the son of Hamor.  His claims to be in love with her, and tells his father that he wants her for his wife.  Hamor tells Jacob, but Jacob's sons have found out what happened and are furious.  They deceitfully agree to intermarry with Hamor's people if, and only if, the men are all circumcised.  The "Hamorites" agree and all the men are circumcised.  Three days later, while the men are all recovering from the procedure, "still in pain," Simeon and Levi take their swords and kill every male in the city.  Then "the sons of Jacob" loot and plunder the city.  Jacob is upset, feeling that this will make it much harder and more dangerous for them to live there, but his sons think that doing otherwise would have meant allowing that their sister be treated as a prostitute.

Genesis 35 - God appears to Jacob and tells him to return to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar.  So he has his family give up all of their "foreign gods" and "rings in their ears" and he buries them "under the oak at Shechem."  The return to Bethel and Jacob builds an altar "and called the place El Bethel."  God again tells him that his name shall be Israel and that "a nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body.  The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you."

As they moved on from Bethel, Rachel went in to labor and struggled to give birth.  As she was dying, she named her new-born son Ben-Oni (son of my struggle) but Jacob called him Benjamin (son of my right hand.)  Rachel was buried.  Eventually, they return to Hebron.  Isaac "died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years."  Esau and Jacob buried him.

Chapter 36 lists the descendants of Esau, sometimes called Edom.  First, he and Jacob separated, much as Abram and Lot had done earlier, because the land could not support all of their wealth (livestock).  Then we get "the account of Esau the father of the Edomites."  Notable descendants are mentioned, as well as chiefs and kings of his line.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • Jacob deceived his father to get his older brothers blessing on the belief that his father was on his deathbed.  He then left the area and spent 20 years in Laban's service.  But when he comes back, not only does Esau greet him, Isaac is still alive.
  • To save myself from repetitively apologizing for repeating myself, I'm going to define an acronym.  Whenever you see MSW, that's a "Modern Sensibilities Warning."  That means, "yes, I know that I'm looking at this particular issue through the lens of my chronological snobbery, and I'm aware of the potential for misunderstanding, or just plain missing, the point."
  • The reference to Israel ("Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in [or against]] Israel") in 34:7 seems anachronistic.  That same chapter refers in every instance to "Jacob's sons" and "Jacob's daughter."
  • MSW:  If he wants to marry the girl, why did Shechem "violate" here first?  Wouldn't it make more sense to wait?
  • What is there in what has gone before to make anyone thing that the kind of behavior exhibited actually warranted retribution?  Lot offered his daughters to a mob.  Simeon and Levi were sons of Leah, but several of their brothers were the product of (MSW) rape.  (Certainly there's no reason to think that Bilhah and Zilpah had any input whatsoever in their bearing Jacob's children.)
  • Sly and clever, I suppose, to deal with the Hamorites the way they did, but dishonest, too.
  • There's an odd statement in the middle of chapter 35, saying that "Reuben went in and slept with his father's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it."  There's no obvious connection between that comment and what precedes and follows it.  Presumably, there's a reason for it being there, but the placement seems very strange.
  • There are, I believe, five sons listed by three wives.  Most of which are not names that I recognize.  And presumably, many, if not most, are not to be heard from again.
  • The one notable name (to me) from the Esau genealogy was Amalek, who I presume was the father of the Amalekites.

We've now been introduced to the 12 tribes of Israel:
    Sons of Leah
  • Reuben
  • Simeon
  • Levi
  • Judah
  • Issachar
  • Zebulun
  • Sons of Rachel
  • Joseph
  • Benjamin
  • Sons of Rachel's maidservant Bilhah
  • Dan
  • Naphtali
  • Sons of Leah's maidservant Zilpah
  • Gad
  • Asher

Proverbs 11:1-15

The themes continue to repeat.  Wisdom, following wisdom, righteous vs. wicked, speaking wisely, plainly and truthfully - it's difficult to summarize a set of 16 proverbs.  To the extent that they have a common theme, well, they don't.  There are some extolling honesty in this set.  Some extolling humility.  Others condemning gossip and praising the man of understanding who "holds his tongue."

Monday, January 11, 2010


Genesis 30-32

In chapter 30, Rachel, upset that her sister Leah is bearing sons to Jacob (four so far - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah), sends her maidservant Bilhah to Jacob to provide children for her.  Bilhah bears two sons (Dan, Naphtali).  Leah, who had stopped having children, sent her maidservant Zilpah to Jacob, and he fathered two more sons (Gad, Asher).  Then Leah gives Rachel some mandrakes which Reuben had gathered in exchange for the right(?) to go and sleep with Jacob again, and she eventually produces two more sons (Issachar, Zebulun) and a daughter (Dinah).  Then "God remembered Rachel...and opened her womb."  She bore a son (Joseph) and prayed for another.

After the birth of Joseph, Jacob went to Laban and expressed a desire to return to his "own homeland."  Laban wanted him to remain, knowing that God had blessed him through Jacob, but said he could leave if he wanted, and "name your wages."  Jacob proposed to take all "speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat."  Laban agreed, then promptly removed all of the described animals from the flock and into the care of his sons, and three days travel away from where Jacob was tending his flocks.  Jacob peeled strips of bark from trees, exposing white wood, and putting those strips into the watering trough "so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink."  And the animals mated in front of the trough and had spotted or streaked offspring, which he separated from Laban's flock.  He did this when the strong animals mated but not the weak, so the weak animals went to Laban and he kept the strong.  "The man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys."

In Genesis 31, Jacob sees a change in Laban's attitude towards him.  Then the LORD tells him to "go back to the land of your fathers."  He calls Rachel and Leah in from the fields, and describes for them the ways that Laban has been unfair to him, and a dream in which God encouraged him to leave.  They gather together all of the children, and all of Jacob's herds and flocks and head back to Canaan, without telling Laban.  In the process, Rachel takes Laban's "household Gods."

Laban (of course) pursues, and catches up with them in the hill country of Gilead.  They talk, and Jacob says that he left without telling for fear that Laban would take his daughters, Jacob's wives, from him by force.  And he agrees that "if you find anyone who has your gods, he shall not live."  They search the entire camp but do not find the gods (which are hidden in Rachel's camel's saddle, and she refuses to stand up from it, claiming that she's having her period).  They set up a pillar of stone at that spot, and agree that neither shall pass it to harm the other.  The next morning, Laban kissed and blessed his daughters and grandchildren and turned back towards his home.

Chapter 32 deals with Jacob's return home.  He knew when he left that his brother Esau wanted to kill him, and he knows that he must deal with Esau.  First, he divides his party into two groups, on the grounds that if Esau finds and destroys one, the other will survive.  Then he gathers groups from his herds and sends them ahead with messengers, as a gift to Esau.  That night, he sent his two wives, 11 sons (no mention of his daughter) and possessions across the ford of Jabbok.  Alone on the other side, he wrestled with a man until daybreak, and then the man injured Jacob's hip.  Jacob demands a blessing, and the man tells him, "your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel [he struggles with God], because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

Thoughts, questions, issues
  • This passage, chapters 30-32, introduces us to Israel, and 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel.
  • One of the hardest things to do when documents from antiquity is to avoid seeing everything through the lenses of our modern culture.  Because there's very little in this book that isn't offensive to our modern sensibilities.  Consider the multiple wives sending their maidservants in to be impregnated by their husband.  Leaving aside the question of sexual fidelity, the maidservants are clearly chattel, unworthy of consideration or contribution to a decision.
  • The disappearing Dinah would seem to show the same thing.
  • Laban has "household Gods."  This is, of course, before the revelation on Sinai and the handing down of the ten commandments.
  • It's interesting, and a bit uncomfortable, to see reference to what is generally a fairly personal and private aspect of a woman's life in a story like this.
  • Is the putting of the stripped wood into the trough an "old wives tale?"  Was that a cue for God to create streaked or spotted animals?  Or is there (which would shock me) some actual biological fact at play here?
  • The dishonesty is rampant.  Laban agrees to a price and quickly attempts to reduce, if not eliminate, it.  Jacob cherry picks from Laban's herd.  Rachel steals her father's household Gods.  None of this seems to be a character flaw.
  • It says that Jacob is alone and wrestles with a man.  As the man is never identified, and claims to speak for God, it is clear that a) the man is an angel or b) the man is an incarnation of God's power or c) the man that Jacob wrestles with is himself.  The first option seems the most likely.
  • I don't know enough anatomy for the hip reference to mean anything to me, if it's something specific.  I don't get it.

Proverbs 10:17-32

More parallelisms, again mostly antithetical.  These parallelisms will make up most of the remainder of the book. 

Thoughts, questions, issues
  • Nine of these verses present a comparison between the righteous and the wicked.
  • Six of them are related to the lips or tongue, that is, to thinks that people say.  (There is significant overlap between these verses and the righteous vs. wicked verses that I've already noted.)  Jesus would later say that "the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.'" (Mt 15:18)  The question is, do the things come affect what a man is, or merely reveal it?  Certainly the latter, but I think that these Proverbs imply the former, as well. 
  • Three verses relate to the LORD, to his blessing, his way, and the fear of him.
  • One verse extolling wisdom, one extolling discipline, and one condemning sloth ("the sluggard"), comparing him to "vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes."
  • That adds to 21, but again, there's overlap in these 16 verses.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Genesis 27-29

In Genesis 27, Isaac, aging and blind, wants to bless his elder son (and favorite) Esau.  He sends Esau out to hunt, telling him to return and prepare a meal for him, and receive his blessing.  Esau goes out hunting, but Rebekah, having overheard, encourages Jacob (her favorite) to kill a goat, prepare a meal, and receive Esau's blessing.  He protests that Isaac won't be fooled, as Esau is hairy and Jacob isn't, but Rebekah prepares the goatskins and hangs them on Jacob's neck and arms.  Jacob feeds Isaac and receives the blessing intended for Esau, including "be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you."  Esau returns, prepares a meal for Isaac and prepares to receive his father's blessing, only to find that his younger twin has already received it.  Isaac blesses him, but not with the same blessing.  Esau determined that he would kill has brother as soon as the days of mourning for their father had passed.  Rebekah hears this and encourages Jacob to leave for Haran, to escape his brother's wrath, and also to look for a non-Canaanite, non-Hittite wife.

Genesis 28 features the story of Jacob's journey to Haran.  He actually goes at the behest of his father, as Isaac wants him to find a wife from his own people.  He stops and sleeps in Bethel, and has a dream.  In his dream, he sees a ladder (or staircase) reaching to heaven, with Angels traveling up and down upon it.  At the top, God stands and tells him
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 peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.

In Genesis 29 Jacob arrives in Haran where he meets his mother's brother Laban, and Laban's daughters (Jacob's cousins) Leah and Rachel.  He stays and works for Laban, who agrees to give him Rachel as a wife after 7 years.  When the 7 years ends, there's a wedding feast and Laban brings his daughter in to Jacob, but he discovers the following morning that it was Leah rather than Rachel.  Laban explains that they don't give the younger daughter in marriage until the older is wed.  The upshot is that Jacob remains for seven more years, and then marries Rachel.  He loves her, but Leah, who is unloved, begins having children, while Rachel remains barren.  At least, that's the case through the end of chapter 29.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • "The Wilkes' always marry their cousins." 
    - Gone With The Wind

    There's a lot of that going on here, but I guess it lasted a lot longer than I was really thinking earlier in the week.
  • One of the striking things about the patriarchal stories is how dishonest they are.  From the repeat denials of the identity of wives to Jacob's lie to get Isaac's blessing, we actually see very little in the way of admirable behavior.
  • The issue of the "stolen" blessing is another one that doesn't sit well with our modern sensibilities.  Why is it that Isaac cannot just bless Esau the same way?  If there is some kind of essential or mystical quality to the blessing, why can't he withdraw it from Jacob?  It's an odd passage, and it reads very oddly now.
  • "We are ... climbing ... Jacob's Ladder ... Children of the cross..."
  • I've lost track, already, of how many times the LORD has promised the "promised land" to Abraham and his sons.
  • And the dishonesty shows itself again, with Laban sending Leah rather than Rachel in to Jacob.
  • How old is Rachel?  If she's of a marriageable age when promised to Jacob, well, she's 14 years older before the wedding.  That seems...unfair.  Unrealistic.  Yet another example of a time scale that seems questionable.
  • Obviously, bigamy wasn't a concern.  Polygamy was a realistic and acceptable practice.

Proverbs 10:1-6

Whereas the first several chapter of Proverbs, most of which focused on the benefits of wisdom, read best in paragraph form, with themes and "thought units" that are more than a line or two, chapter 10 begins a new style or form of text.  Here are what we generally think of as proverbs, aphorisms of advice or information or wisdom.

The verses in this section express ideas using a poetic technique of parallelism,
proverbial sayings in poetry of two lines each (distichs).  The parallelism [in this section] is almost always antithetical1.

That is, a positive quality is described as a producing a positive result, but ("but" being the key word to an antithetical parallelism) the absence or opposite of that good quality brings about a negative result.

e.g., Proverbs 10:12
Hatred stirs up dissension,
but love covers over all wrongs.

1 - Arnold, Bill T., Beyer, Bryan E. - Encountering the Old Testament, 1999, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 318