Judaism prt 4

As I moved forward in my investigation, I was equipped with an obvious yet often overlooked understanding that I’d gathered anecdotally from my Jewish friends. The Jews are called “Jews” because they are the descendents of Judah.

Judah was the fourth son of Jacob. His mother was Leah. Leah received her husband by the deception of her father and Jacob did not love her as much as he loved her sister, Rachel.

Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years. When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.” Genesis 29:30-32

God, in his compassion for the unloved, allowed her to conceive and bear a number of sons and one daughter. While a couple of those sons were born by her handmaiden, Zilpah, the first 4 were directly from her own womb, plus three more after Zilpah bore two.

Judah, or Yahudah in Hebrew, means “praise” because she was able to praise God despite her husband’s lack of love toward her after giving birth to him. Even though she knew that God continuously showed love and compassion for her in her plight, she was still consumed by jealousy of her sister and the fear of being beneath her. Leah is described as having “nice eyes.” By contrast, Rachel was extremely beautiful. The narrative implies that Leah was placed below Rachel in the eyes of her family. In fact, she was led to believe that the only way she could possibly obtain a husband was through deceit. Personally, I feel that Leah carried deep emotional scars of rejection and believed that her worth hinged solely on her ability to bear children, sons, in particular. So while she was able to praise God after He opened her womb, she still lived in constant fear of losing what significance she had acquired through childbirth. In addition, though the scripture does not specifically mention it, we can see that Leah’s jealousy and insecurities may have been passed down to her children. All we have to do is look at their treatment of Joseph, Rachel’s son. They treated Joseph badly even before he started having his prophetic dreams. Of course, Jacob did not help the situation by his blatant favoring and spoiling of Joseph. Even Rachel’s “adopted” sons (born through her handmaiden Bilhah) despised him for Jacob had made Joseph a supervisor over all his brothers.

Furthermore, when Joseph was about seventeen, he started to have dreams that symbolized his family bowing down to him and did not hesitate from sharing! One day, after the dreams began, he was sent to “check up” on his brothers and bring back a report of their business to his father. I have to say one thing here, the text insinuates that the sons of Jacob must have been in the habit of not obeying their father’s commands if Jacob found it necessary to appoint someone to keep a check on them in the first place.

Anyway, all of his brothers were together (where they shouldn’t have been) and when they saw him coming, they plotted his death. Well, all except Reuben, that is.

Now when they saw him afar off, they conspired against him to kill him. Then they said to one another, ”Look, this dreamer is coming!” “Come, therefore, let us now kill him and cast him some pit: and we shall say,’ some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!” But when Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, “Let us not kill him.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him” that he might deliver him out of their hands and bring him back to his father. Genesis 37:18-22.  

As the eldest, Reuben is clearly the most morally responsible out of the bunch and tried to talk the other brothers out of their desire to commit this murder. At first, he is only able to postpone the act.

They ripped his many-colored coat from him, a gift from his father and threw him in a hole. An old Hebrew commentary provides some fascinating information about this coat. 

“People have often wondered why a trifle like this gaudy garment should have provoked the murderous hatred of all the brethren. We now know from the painted Tombs of the Bene Hassein in Egypt that, in the Patriarchal age, Semitic chiefs wore coats of many colours as insignia of rulership. Joseph had made himself disliked by his brothers for reporting on them; and Jacob, in giving him a coat of colours, marked him for the chieftanship of the tribes at his father’s death. Add to this the lad’s vanity in telling his dreams, and the rage of the brethren becomes intelligible, This sign of rulership and royalty was still in use in the household of King David, as seen from 2nd Samuel 13, 18, though the chronicler must explain this strange fashion in dress. The fact that in the Joseph story no such explanatory gloss is given is proof of the antiquity of the narrative. When it was first written its implications were perfectly intelligible (M.G.Kyle).

So, according to this historical commentary, by giving Joseph the coat, Jacob/Israel had already set him up to rule over his brothers.

The situation becomes more disturbing when we learn that there is no water in the pit where they throw him in. This hole in the ground is actually a cistern, a common device used by indigenous peoples to catch the winter rains. Quite often when they are found empty of water, late into the summer, they are not truly empty, as scorpions and snakes will have likely taken up residence there. Perhaps this could be one reason that Joseph cries out so much and so loudly in the account. 

It’s also thought that the brothers motivation involved leaving him there to die of thirst, starvation, and the stings and bites of whatever creatures might have been down in the pit with him.  

While Rueben is off planning Joseph’s rescue, the remaining brothers sit around eating and discussing what to do with their “dreamer” of a brother. Suddenly, in the distance, they spot a caravan travelling toward Egypt. It’s then that Judah comes up with the final plan. They will not murder their brother. Rather, they will sell him. 

Some time later, we find Joseph in an Egyptian prison where he meets up with Pharaohs’ butler and baker. These men both had interesting dreams and Joseph provides interpretations which eventually, turn out to be true. He only requests that they remember him when they are retuned to the king’s court. During this encounter, he mentions that he had been “stolen away” from his family and home. This comment has led some commentators to believe that the brothers actually didn’t get the chance carry out their plan because, as the scripture shows, some Midianites were travelling by the cistern where Joseph was imprisoned, they heard his cries, stopped, pulled him up, and they sold him.

Years later, after Joseph’s rise to power during a great famine, the brothers return home from a voyage to Egypt in search of food. They explain to their father that they were ordered (by Joseph who they do not recognize) to return and Benjamin with them the next time they went or they would not be given any more food. Keep in mind, at this point, Simeon is being held in an Egyptian prison to ensure their return. To reassure their father, Reuben even offers to forfeit the lives of his own two sons if Benjamin is not returned safely home, but Jacob refuses to even consider the idea of Benjamin going anywhere.

However, when the time came that they had to go back to Egypt for more food it was Judah who did the talking. He reminds his father of the words of the “lord of the land” to bring back their youngest brother. Judah takes full responsibility and makes “surety” for Benjamin. This means that Judah will become Benjamin’s ultimate protector and if anything should happen to the youngest brother, Judah’s very life could be forfeit. At the very least, he will be obligated to carry the burden of blame for the rest of his life. Jacob finally gives in and allows Judah to take responsibility for the boy. Later, when “the lord of the land,” i.e. Joseph, plots to keep his younger brother with him while he sends the rest home to bring back their father, Judah begs him for his brother and offers himself in his place. By making this offer, he, in essence, has “redeemed” himself of past deeds toward Joseph.

In my studies on Judah, I have come to the conclusion that while he makes a lot of bad decisions, he does eventually take responsibility for them, albeit grudgingly. Most people are aware that God fully intended, from the very beginning, to establish the throne of Israel from Judah’s lineage, as He later promised that David would continue. However, I do not see anywhere in scripture where God made a “pure” Israelite race a condition of that promise.

We can also conclude, based on scriptural and historical context alone, that neither Judah nor his descendants after him, for many generations at least, were ever referred to as “Jews.” More on this next time… Until then, continue to pray for truth.  

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Judaism prt 3

Now, let’s get back to Jacob’s story. Curiously, the next time we see him, he’s making a stew. Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day.” And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:29-34)

This interaction is the first of two incidents that earns Jacob the reputation of being “a dirty, sneaky thief,” but is this characterization altogether accurate or fair? As is so often the case, when we dig deeper into the cultural context of scripture, things get a little more interesting and complex.

According to some sources, in ancient times, it was tradition that when a particular individual died, the eldest, second generation relative made a special red stew of mourning for the closest direct relative of the deceased. The direct relative could be a parent, sibling, child, or spouse, with the second generation relative being a cousin, niece/nephew, or child. In this particular instance, it is thought that Abraham is the recently deceased. Therefore, it should have been Esau’s responsibility to make the stew for his father, Isaac. However, it appears that Esau could not be bothered with this task. He stayed away all day “in the field” and as soon as he had eaten, he left once again. The story says that he did not even pay his respects to his father at all. Jacob, who loved his father and was always trying to gain his approval, made the stew, but as he was not the firstborn, he could not bring it to him. So when Esau showed up wanting some of the stew, Jacob saw his opportunity to gain the ability to honor his father by serving him this special stew. That is why it is said that Esau “despised his birthright” because he could not be bothered to honor his father nor his grandfather, and he gave it up easily for a bowl of soup.

Of course the evidence supporting this scenario is merely circumstantial and, naturally there are “nay-sayers.” These skeptics claim that the Jewish Rabbis invented the tradition in order to paint Jacob in a better light. That certainly could be true, but let’s take a quick look at this circumstantial evidence and you can decide for yourself.

First, we need to determine if Abraham could have truly died around this time. The Scripture shows that Abraham was 175 years old when he died. He was 100 years old when his son, Isaac was born. Isaac was 60 years old when the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau were born. So with a little simple subtraction (175-100-60=15) we are left with the possibility that Esau and Jacob were 15 years old when Abraham died, making this story plausible where age is concerned.  

But what about the subject of the stew itself?  According to scripture, it was a lentil stew (Genesis 25:34), and it was red (Genesis 25:30).  If you research the main staples in the diet of those living in Canaan during this time period, you will discover that lentils were common and readily available. However, some contend that the lentils used for this particular stew are unique to the stew of mourning, the detail of its distinct red color being the most compelling evidence. Of course, it’s not possible to prove whether this dish was intended to be “Jacob’s stew of mourning” based solely on the text and the specific color of dish, but it is a compelling possibility nevertheless. 

Now, I would like to address one point from the second notable interaction between the brothers, which further contributes to the breakdown of their relationship.

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to Esau his son. And Esau went to the field to hunt game and to bring it. So Rebekah spoke to Jacob her son, saying, “Indeed I heard your father speak to Esau your brother saying, ‘Bring me game and make a savory food for me, that I may eat it and bless you in the presence of the Lord before my death.’ “Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to what I command you…”

Genesis 27:5-8

Notice that it was not Jacob’s idea to carry out this plan. He (although approximately 40 years old by now) was only doing as his mother “commanded.” His ultimate guilt or innocence in this scheme is not the issue. However, the fact that he did not personally concoct the plan is worth considering. He even points out an obvious flaw in the plan his mother has devised.

And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, ”Look, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth-skinned man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be a deceiver to him; and I shall bring a curse on myself and not a blessing” Genesis 27:11-12. 

Just an interesting side note: 

Just as Adam was WITH Eve when the serpent “beguiled” her and she ate of the fruit,  Jacob still bears the consequence of his role in this deception. the consequence being that Jacob was later deceived by Laban…many times over.  Finally, we will move onward to the most significant moment of Jacob’s life as it pertains to this study.

Then Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled him. He said to him, “Let me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”

There is so much more to explore in the life of Jacob and I encourage you to do so, but how is this brief overview of Jacob’s life relevant to the broader subject of Judaism in general? To answer that, let’s summarize what we have covered so far up to this point in our research: The Hebrews in the man, Abram, “crossed over” the river to come to the place known as Canaan. They are then expanded into Israel in the person of Jacob who “wrestled with God and man and prevailed.”

The conclusion here is similar to what we determined previously regarding the Hebrews: All Jews, whether natural descendants or adopted in, are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews. As we continue this investigation, may God bless you all with peace in His truth.