Friday, June 14, 2013

Genesis 49: Nice Chosen People You Got There

Today's podcast

Jacob Blesses His Sons (v. 1-27)

Jacob gathers his sons so he can tell them what is going to happen to them.

The section title says he blesses them, but in the actual text he says he's giving them a prophecy. And it certainly seems more prophetic then blessing to me. Strange.

v2 "Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father."

We have the same strange name thing here. He calls himself Jacob and Israel within a few words. I just don't get it.

From Guzik's commentary (note: all commentary today will be from Guzik)
At the very beginning of the blessing, Jacob realized he was both Jacob and Israel, and his sons are sons of each. This was a place of spiritual maturity, realizing both what God made him (Israel) and what he had to battle against (Jacob)
I guess that explanation makes some bit of sense, I certainly don't know what else this could be. Still, seems weird as hell to me.

Reuben: Preeminent in dignity and power, unstable as water. He is the firstborn but not preeminent because he defiled his father's bed.

He has a ton of power but he's unstable? Awesome. Also, what does it mean that he defiled his father's bed?
Reuben’s immorality with his father’s concubine Bilhah (the mother of his brothers Dan and Naphtali) is recorded in Genesis 35:22.
Whoa, I don't remember that at all. I apparently didn't notice it when I read that chapter, although I don't really fault myself too much. I went back to the text, and this is just stuck in there in the middle of some other boring stuff. Nothing is made of it at the time.

Simeon and Levi: They are very violent. They have killed men in anger and hamstrung oxen willfully. Their anger is fierce and their wrath is cruel, they shall be separated and scattered in Israel.

Holy crap! Great job picking the chosen people God.
The second-born son Simeon and the third-born son Levi received the same “blessing” for the same evil deed. They were instruments of cruelty when they wiped out all the men of Shechem in retaliation for the rape of their sister Dinah (Genesis 34:25-29)
Ahh yes, that little incident
The sins of our past can come back and haunt us. Even when forgiven, they may carry consequences we must face for a lifetime.
I would hope so, if that sin includes slaughtering and looting an entire city.
The real problem with Simeon and Levi was their anger (in their anger they slew a man). Their anger was sin because it was rooted in self-will
No, I'm sorry but they didn't kill a man, they killed all of the men in a city, took the women and children and looted the place.

Judah: Your brothers shall praise you because your hand will be on the neck of your enemies. He's like a lion. The scepter shall not depart from him, obedient people will come to him.

So he'll kill his enemies and wind up in power. Great.
Judah wasn’t a completely exemplary character. He suggested a profit motive in getting rid of Joseph (Genesis 37:26). He did not deal faithfully with his daughter-in-law Tamar (Genesis 38:26), and he had sex with her as a prostitute (Genesis 38:18). But he did shine when he interceded and offered himself as a substitute for Joseph (Genesis 44:18-34). Overall, this blessing is an example of the riches of God’s grace.
So he did some really bad stuff but also some good stuff. I guess that's pretty much the pinnacle here.

Zebulun: He will found a port city bordering Sidon

That's pretty good. Go Zebulun!
The tribe of Zebulun was noted for its faithfulness to David, supplying the largest number of soldiers to David’s army of any single tribe: of Zebulun there were fifty thousand who went out to battle, expert in war with all weapons of war, stouthearted men who could keep ranks (1 Chronicles 12:33).
Apparently being a haven for ships means that he can move men around for the wars that will come up. Not so much a port city but a Navy. Awesome.

Issachar: He was strong but lazy and became a slave

I am not sure how well I understood this one, I'm going to just copy the text here, do you think my summary is accurate?
v14-15: Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds. He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant, so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant at forced labor. 
“The meaning seems to be that Issachar was strong, but docile and lazy. He would enjoy the good land assigned him but would not strive for it. Therefore, eventually he would be pressed into servitude and the mere bearing of burdens for his masters.” (Leupold)
Looks like I got this one right. Go me!

Dan: He shall be a serpent who bites the horse's heels so the rider falls backward

But Dan was a troublesome tribe. They introduced idolatry into Israel (Judges 18:30). Jeroboam set up one of his idolatrous golden calves in Dan (1 Kings 12:26-30) and later Dan became a center of idol worship in Israel (Amos 8:14). 
Some think the serpent by the way refers to the idea that the Antichrist comes from the tribe of Dan (based on Daniel 11:37 and Jeremiah 8:16).
So he was trouble, good enough for me I guess.

Gad: He will be raided, but he will raid at their heels.

So is he raiding them back?
The tribe of Gad supplied many fine troops for David (1 Chronicles 12:14)
More fighting. That seems to be all that is important to these people

Asher: will produce rich food and royal delicacies

That sounds good
In Deuteronomy 33:24, Moses again took up this prophecy regarding Asher: Asher is most blessed of sons; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil.
This one I thought seemed pretty clear, but I find the commentary completely baffling.

Naphtali: He is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns. There's a footnote that this could also be translated to mean "he gives beautiful words" or "he bears fawns of the fold"

So he either has beautiful offspring or creates good art?
Naphtali’s land was in a key portion near the Sea of Galilee, the region where Jesus did much of His teaching and ministry. It is fittingly said of him that he gives goodly words.
Joseph: He'll be attacked but will not waver, he will stand strong and be blessed by God

Well, I guess there was a little bit of blessing here, although Jacob didn't exactly bless Joseph, he just said God would in the future.

Benjamin: He is a ravenous wolf, devouring the prey and dividing the spoils

At least he shares. 

These guys seem pretty violent on the whole, they are the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel? I've asked this before, but why are these guys God's chosen people?

Jacob's Death and Burial (v. 28-33)

He told his sons he wanted to be buried next to where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebekah were buried. Then he died.


  1. That's pretty cool that you remember the context for some of the characters. If I was told to read this chapter by itself I would have missed a ton of context which you provided.

    1. I remembered a few of them, but mostly I had to look things up. The commentaries were very helpful on that front for today's reading :)

  2. Strange, my comment system reverted back to the old one on this post. I don't think I changed any settings last night.

    1. It happens with Blogger. :(

      God really chose outstanding characters as the heads of the tribes or as the characters of the tribes. We have murderers and rapists and the rest are lazy. Go team god, you should pick the next Yankees line up, what could possibly go wrong.

    2. I must admit I have found it pretty surprising. It's not even like some are bad and some are good, they just all seem to be crap

  3. I don't know what happened to the comments here. TWF posted a comment that seems to have disappeared. Anyway, he said

    "These hardly seem like blessings, huh? :-)

    Many of your questions will be revealed as you continue to read, other than, maybe, how Guzik comes up with such strange interpretations. So keep these in mind."

  4. I have not commented here yet, I think, although I have you on my blog roll because I read your blog often. I haven't commented because I am not sure how to comment. I think one of the these that is being missed is the true earthiness of the epic morality story that actually unfolds in the Bible. This thought occurred to me when I read a comment on Anna Maria's piece about Einstein at

    The comment by Lona Inero there pointed out Einstein's 'darker side' or at least that side we might commonly refer to as full of 'human frailty'. It seems a clear counter-balance, to our propensity for elevating people to glorified positions of sainthood (or even just mere celebrity), to be reminded that such saints may be rank sinners in their private lives. But isn't that always the problem? Pretty slim pickings among us humans, so to speak?

    So what's a poor guy like God supposed to do about it?


  5. Errata, sorry about that: ... one of the things that is being missed ... not one of the 'these' that is being missed ...

  6. To extend my remarks a bit, given Jacob's history and background (eg,; and, including the manner and methods employed in between, in which this family of twelve children was built up, the diverse characteristics of the twelve 'blessed' tribal leaders seem about right, don't they? What would Shakespeare, or Bob Dylan for that matter, do with this story of conflicting values and twisted fates? ... perhaps write about it, or sing about it ... maybe set in Denmark or somewhere out on Highway 61 ... So keep writing and podcasting. Good work.

  7. Thanks c emerson, glad your reading :)

    I'm not completely sure what you mean about the "epic morality story" that unfolds in the bible. Although perhaps I'll find out soon enough as it happens.

    About saints even having a dark side, that is an interesting point, but I don't see a ton of light sides in many of these characters. Furthermore, events that I see as pretty horrible (say Abraham being willing to kill his son) are often touted as good, which I just find puzzling. Perhaps I'm focusing on the bad and ignoring the good, but I do try really hard not to do that.

  8. I think you do a great job at pointing out good and bad features of these ancient characters (based on modern standard views of morality). What I am trying to get at is this: a lot of ancient religious texts (all religions) are surprisingly frank in describing ancient mores and the exploits of ancient heroes. Shakespeare, and Dylan, too, I think, are respected for doing exactly that. So where do the real differences between Shakespeare and the authors of Genesis actually lie? Both authors are constantly dealing with reprobates in their stories. And the lines of kings and queens in England (and elsewhere) are still there, too. There is nothing really new about the socially powerful getting and maintaining huge rewards despite bad actions. Even here in America. So what makes the Bible different? Just wondering.

  9. I think the difference is that these are supposed to be God's chosen people. You would think that they would have better moral character. Perhaps I am imposing my modern sensibilities too much, but many things that take place were clearly bad from their perspective too, for example, selling their brother into slavery.

    Perhaps it is important whether these are just supposed to be stories, or if they are supposed to be role models as well. If they are just supposed to be stories, a history of sorts, I don't think we have as much of a problem. Although I still would ask the question of why God chose these particular people. Many Christians (my church growing up included) look at the characters from the bible as role models and I think that is a problem. Luckily, they typically don't seem to look too deeply into the stories, but they do focus on certain horrible things as ideals to strive for. Again, I think Abraham being willing to kill isaac is a perfect example, as that is often described as a great thing, but it seems terrible to me and leads to tragedies sometimes. I did a and found such a story from just a few years ago. In that case the child lived, but it doesn't always go that way.

    1. strange, the link didn't display the way it was supposed to.

  10. Which religion doesn't make that claim, in one way or another? What view of human nature (or morality) would free humans from the trap of "depravity"?

  11. The claim that they are role models? Often times when I point out how horrible many of the characters in the bible are, people will try to brush it off saying that it is merely a record of what happened. I always interpreted this type of thing as "their actions aren't something to live up to, this is more history than anything"

  12. Wow, fast response! Thanks. No, I meant the "chosen one", or "we have the only correct view", mentality, that all religions (and perhaps all ideologies) appear to exhibit.

    Second, if these twelve (plus Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) are in fact 'bad' actors, how does your view avoid falling into the exact same "humans are depraved by nature" trap that is arguably at the core of the standard Judeo-Christian view of human nature?

  13. I think I have not stated my questions very well and they may sound more argumentative than I mean them to be, so let me restate my intent:

    1) You have stated that these guys (children if Jacob) are pretty unsavory. The question is, by what standard?

    2) You have stated that it is strange 'God' would have 'chosen' unsavory guys for special treatment (given that they are bad role models). My question here was not well expressed. Given that the present standard view held by many Christian denominations is that humans are depraved by nature (original sin at least after Adam) ... given that proposition, my question is who should 'God' have picked as chosen since everyone must be 'fixed'? In other words, no matter who 'God' picked they would all have looked like this group since everyone under the prevailing view is corrupted. (BTW, I don't accept that view).

    3) I agree with your later post and the comments there that a view that crams down that "humans are by their very nature all depraved" leaves very many, if not all believers, in a horribly depressing and perhaps untenable position that "there is no way out of here" - a truly tyrannical dilemma -- [which happens to be a take-off of a Dylan quote in All Along the Watchtower - "there must be some way out of here said the joker to the thief"]. That schema seems to really conflict with the notion of an all-powerful AND loving 'God'. My question here is intended to be: what view of human nature would resolve or eliminate this proposed dilemma?

    4) Finally, if you, H are seeking better role models to have been picked by a hypothetical 'god' are you suggesting that we live in a world with predetermined saints and sinners? Doesn't that just create either a new dilemma (who is who and who judges) OR play back into the very view you state you want to escape from (humans need a means to be fixed or -- shudder -- redeemed)?

    5) So let me repeat my question#3: what view of human nature would resolve or eliminate this proposed dilemma?

    Just trying to further the debate here. I could not 'resolve' this dilemma in my own mind until I essentially eliminated the notion that humans are somehow depraved in their 'natural' condition. Thanks for 'hearing me out'. Tespond only if it interests you or makes any sense. And keep posting, because you certainly have made me think long and hard about these things. Thanks.

  14. Ahh yes, that does help quite a lot, and those are excellent question. I'll just take them in order

    1) By what standard do I judge these guys unsavory? If I'm being honest, I would have to say first and foremost that I judge them by my own standards. Perhaps it isn't fair to judge ancient characters by modern standards, but since there are people out there who try to say we are to use this book as a source of morality, it's at least somewhat reasonable.

    But if we look further, I think a lot of the time we can judge them poorly by their own standards as well. For example, Joseph's brothers considered killing him, but at the last minute opted to sell him into slavery instead. They also murdered all the men in a city and looted everything else. These are things that even in the story are considered bad.

    2) Now this is an excellent question. Given the Christian idea of everyone being horrible sinners who deserve hell, it could be assumed that anyone who was chosen would have been a horrible piece of crap. He had to choose someone, so he did, perhaps he picked the best of the turd pile. This is a point that I hadn't really considered, but it does fit very well with the total depravity doctrine. Within their worldview, perhaps there is no escape from this, one more reason I would argue this point of view is poisonous.

    3-5) I would argue that the total depravity doctrine is just garbage. People are not bad, people are not evil. Another view that you mentioned is saints and sinners. This is much better than total depravity, but it is still way to simplified.

    People are complicated, I would argue that (possible with a few exceptions here and there) everyone does good things and bad things. Nobody is perfectly good or perfectly evil. We all land somewhere on a spectrum. Between nature and nurture, some people tend to always be considering other people and trying to do the right thing, other people are generally selfish, not too concerned about other people just so long as it benefits them. Of course, we can move up and down this spectrum. There's no reason an "evil" person has to be that way forever. You can imagine a murderer having someone he loves killed and suddenly realizing how much pain he is causing to other people.

    Anyway, that may have been a bit rambly, but the point is there is a sinner and saint aspect to it a bit, but it's much more complicated than that. As to who God should choose, I would say there are two different types of people God should choose.

    A. the "saints": people who are generally very high on the spectrum, who will generally do the right thing, and will definitely do the right thing in a pinch.

    B. The redeemable. Perhaps they are pretty bad at the start, but throughout the story they grow and become much more saintlike.

    The closest we come to B I think is probably Joseph. He's a cocky douche bag at the beginning of the story, at the end he seems like a pretty good guy overall.

    The brothers are by and large still crappy people at the end of these stories, even after all of this they are very selfish, we can see that next chapter with their lying.

    This was a really good question. I might think about this more and make it a post of it's own. Thanks!


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