Biblical Period 2
Lesson # 6

Almighty God and Father,
In Your great love for mankind You did not create us as slaves or servants but raised us to the status of sons and daughters. You gave us the power of free will: the power of the will to determine itself and to act of itself-- creating us as intelligent, rational beings with the freedom to love You as well as the freedom to reject Your love.Only a great God would take such a risk with His greatest creation. Send us Your Spirit, Lord, to enkindle in us a passionate desire to know and serve You. It is through Your holy words in Sacred Scripture that we can grow clearer in our understanding of the choices You set before us. Guide us Lord as we continue our study of the lives of these ordinary men and women called to extraordinary greatness in obedience to You.In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


Yahweh to Isaac: "I shall be with you and bless you, for I shall give all these countries to you and your descendants in fulfillment of the oath I swore to your father Abraham.I shall make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven, and I shall give them all these countries, and all nations on earth will bless themselves by your descendants." Genesis 26:3b-4

Yahweh to Jacob: "Your descendants will be as plentiful as the dust on the ground; you will spread out to west and east, to north and south, and all clans on earth will bless themselves by you and your descendants." Genesis 28:14

"But to those who did accept him [Jesus] he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself."Gospel of John 1:12-13

The test of man's "free will" in the Garden of Eden revealed that man preferred himself to God when Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and usurped God's power and authority in judging good from evil.The consequence of this tragic first sin is that Adam and Eve immediately lost the grace of original holiness and their place as a divine son and daughter of Yahweh [see CCC# 397-399]. But how did Adam's sin become the sin of all his descendants?St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that the whole human race is in Adam "as one body of one man" [St. Thomas Aquinas, De Malo 4,1.]. It is through this unity of the human race that all of us are implicated in the sin of our first parents just as all of us are implicated in Christ's saving justice. This "original sin" of our first parents wounded all of humanity.This wound of sin that we now inherit as a condition from our original parents, along with our DNA, is the reason man needs a Redeemer.Original sin is an essential truth of the faith: CCC#389 "The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the 'reverse side' of the Good News that Jesus is the Savior of all men, that all need salvation, and that salvation is offered to all through Christ. The Church, which as the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ."

But God in His goodness and holiness did not abandon humanity.In His loving desire to bring man back into full fellowship with Him God established animal sacrifice as a temporary remedy in that the blood of certain sacrificed animals could temporarily cover a repentant man and woman's sins so that communion with Yahweh might be restored.Along with this remedy God promise a future redeemer.From the time of Adam's son Seth a holy line, a faithful remnant, would be preserved from which the future redeemer would comeThat line was protected during the Great Flood in the man Noah and through his righteous son Shem. Through this holy line God established a covenant relationship to bind these children of hope to Himself. God bound them to Himself after the Great Flood God by establishing a Covenant with Noah and all creation. Throughout Scripture this is the reoccurring theme of the holy, faithful remnant being established and maintained through a Covenant relationship with God the Father as the children of the promise. The Covenant with Noah was followed by the Covenant with Abraham:

The Abrahamic 3-fold Covenant is foundational to all other Biblical Covenants between Yahweh and His people:

Question: As New Covenant believers what is our connection to Abraham?Hint: see Romans 9:6-8.
Answer: As New Covenant believers we become the heirs of Abraham: Romans 9:6-8 "For not all Israelites are true Israelites nor are all Abraham's descendants his children, but as Scripture says, 'through Isaac shall your descendants be called.'That means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God; it is the children of the promise who are to be considered descendants."


Please read Genesis chapters 24-32
Genesis 22:20-24 is a toledoth listing the increase in the family which Abraham and Sarah had left behind in Mesopotamia. There are 12 names listed which may suggest a comparison between the 12 sons of Ishmael, and these 12 who are also not of the promised line, and the 12 sons of Jacob in Genesis 49:28, the promised line who will become the 12 physical fathers of the Old Covenant Church. In any event, the list introduces the name of the virgin Rebekah [22:23a] and shows that she was of the lineage of Abraham's family, a daughter of his nephew Bethuel, son of Abraham's brother Nahor by his legal wife Milcha and like Isaac not the issue of her father's concubine .

At the venerable age of 127 [Genesis 23:1-20] the once beautiful Sarah, who stirred the hearts of kings, dies in Kiryat Arab--the city of Arba which is today the city of Hebron in the Palestinian sector about 20 miles south of Jerusalem.Abraham mourns and asks the local residents to sell him a burial site for his wife.The locals, whom the Bible identifies as Hittites [like Abraham immigrant people from Mesopotamia] give him their sympathy and respect and when Abraham offers to buy the field and cave of Machpelah which belongs to Ephron son of Zohar, Ephron offers to make a gift of the land.Abraham refuses the offer and insists on paying 4 shekels of silver, which is the going merchants' rate. Abraham's response to the offer of the Hittites is similar to the refusal of the reward from the king of Sodom in chapter 14.In both cases Abraham would not accept a gift from the dwellers on the land promised to him by God. The point of this section of the narrative is to show that God and not any human being was the source of Abraham's hope of blessing associated with the land.He would not seek to become wealthy or to own land apart from the promises of God. Abraham paid the price and legally came into possession of a section of land in Canaan that became the burial site for the Patriarchs and their wives. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Leah and Jacob will all be buried at the "cave of Machpelah". This same site can be seen today in the modern city of Hebron. [The Hebrew meaning is uncertain but in Arabic the city's name is El Khalil, "the friend" referring to Abraham as God's friend].It is holy to Moslems [who control the site]'the sons of Ishmael, to the Israelites'the sons of Isaac, and to the Christians'the adopted/spiritual heirs of Abraham: "And simply by being Christ's you are that progeny of Abraham, the heirs named in the promise." Galatians 3:29

The archaeological discovery of the Hittite Legal Code [dating from c. 1300BC] also offers an explanation why the Hittites may have urged Abraham to accept the entire parcel of land more out of self interest than out of friendship. According to the Hittite code the owner of an entire parcel of land must carry out the duties of feudal service to the Hittite lord, including pagan religious observances.Since Abraham was a powerful chieftain having him politically obligated as a vassal would have been very desirable to Ephron the Hittite. It makes sense that Abraham refused to purchase any more than a small portion of the tract of land in order to avoid any involvement not only in being established as a Hittite vassal but to avoid having to make a sacrifice to the false gods of the Hittites.If this part of the narrative does indeed reflect this tradition then the events must have proceeded the fall of the Hittites in the 13th century BC and casts doubt on this narrative being written at a much latter date when such traditions no longer existed.

Please read Genesis chapters 24-32
Isaac the son of Sarah, and not Ishmael the son of Hagar, becomes the "son of the promise".   There was more to separate these two sons than their mothers.

Question: Why didn't God choose Ishmael?What was it that made Isaac God's choice instead of Ishmael?Hint: see Romans chapter 9
Answer: St Paul speaks of this difference in Romans chapter 9 where he writes that there was more than the issue of physical descent: "It is not that God's promise has failed.Not all born Israelites belong to Israel, and not all the descendants of Abraham count as his children, for 'Isaac is the one through whom your Name will be carried on [Genesis 21:12].' That is, it is not be being children through physical descent that people become children of God; it is the children of the promise that are counted as the heirs." [Romans 9:6-8]. Isaac was "born after the spirit" and Ishmael was "born after the flesh".


Please read Genesis 24:1-9 The Servant's Oath and a Bride for Isaac
Abraham is concerned for God's promise which was to continue through the descendants of Isaac [see Genesis 21:1] and is therefore determined to find a bride for Isaac from among his own people.As his emissary Abraham will send his senior servant back to Mesopotamia. Before sending him on his mission Abraham makes the steward swear an oath of fidelity, which is in the form of a self-curse [24:3], to bring back a bride [the servant will be cursed if he does not endeavor to succeed] who is acceptable to God.

Question: What two important points are being made regarding the future of Abraham's promised holy line? See Genesis 24:3-4 and 24:6.

  1. The holy seed was not to be mixed with the seed of the Canaanites. Abraham does not give a reason for his desire that Isaac not take a wife from the Canaanites but it may be a further expression of the curse on Canaan from Genesis 9:25-27: "cursed be Canaan" but "blessed be Yahweh the God of Shem."The inhabitants of Canaan are considered to be under a divine curse for their iniquity [see Genesis15:16] and so the line of Abraham, God's promised line, must be kept separate from the cursed line of Canaan.
  2. The promised seed of Abraham is not to return to the land of Abraham's father. The Promised Land is the inheritance.

Question: The Unnamed Servant is concerned about the success of his mission to find a bride; he asks what he should do if the girl will not leave her family. What assurance does Abraham give him? See Genesis 24:7
Answer: Once again the central theme of God's faithfulness in protecting the promised seed is expressed in Abraham's prophetic reply that God will send His angel to prepare the way and a girl will be found but if she refuses to leave her people his oath will have been fulfilled.

The Unnamed Servant travels with a caravan of men and camels to Upper Mesopotamia, to "Aram of the Rivers" and the city of Abraham's brother Nahor.

Question: Near the well of the town what petition does the Unnamed Servant make in his prayer to God when asking for help in determining God's choice of a bride? Genesis 24:12-14
Answer: He asks that God show him which young woman is God's choice for his master through the test of offering him water from her water jar as well as drawing water for his camels.

His prayer is answered when Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham's cousin Bethuel, gives him water to drink from her jar and freely offers to water his camels.The Unnamed Servant meets with Rebekah's brother Laban and her father Bethuel and relates the purpose of his mission including a description of Rebekah's test. He includes the information that when she identified herself as a kinswoman of his master that he not only gave her jewelry but praised God saying" "I bowed down and worshipped Yahweh, and I blessed Yahweh, God of my master Abraham, who had led me by a direct path to choose the daughter of my master's brother for his son.   Now tell me whether you are prepared to show constant and faithful love to my master; if not, say so, and I shall know what to do." The words translated as "faithful love" express the Hebrew concept of the fidelity of covenant union.The expression in Hebrew, "hesed we'emet", is the fidelity and loyalty, the "faithful love" of God in covenant bond with those He has chosen.Hesed expresses the persevering piety towards God as well as the fidelity and loyalty of "faithful love" of one human being to another united in a bond of covenant, an example of which is the covenant bond of marriage.

Question: Even though Rebekah's relatives have agreed to the marriage and have accepted the "bride price" [Genesis 24:53] they want Rebekah to wait 10 days before leaving her kinsmen.When the Unnamed Servant insists the journey cannot be delayed Rebekah's family leaves the decision to go or not to go in her hands.What does the girl decide? See Genesis 24:54-60.
Answer: Rebekah replies that she will go. The destiny of the "promised seed" was expressed in the maiden's "yes".

Question: In Genesis 24:60 Rebekah's family blesses her.What other blessing made by God to Abraham which concerns Isaac is similar to this blessing and why is this link important?Hint: see Genesis 22:15-17.
Answer: This blessing for Rebekah by her kinsman and the blessing of God to Abraham in 22:17 both include the statement "may your seed possess the gates of their enemy."The purpose is to again show God's careful attention in choosing this wife for Isaac. In the first blessing to Abraham and Isaac as the chosen seed in 22:15 Scripture states that "I swear by my own self [literally = I seven myself] Yahweh declares..." and promises the blessings of abundant descendants and the promise of possession of the Promised Land in the prophetic statement: "Your descendants will gain possession of the gates of their enemies." In this episode it is the Unnamed Servant who swears the oath but God has overseen all these events even to the same blessing that has been given to both Isaac and his bride--the promise that the descendants of this couple will inherit the Promised Land.

Rebekah returns with the Unnamed Servant to Abraham's people and is given in marriage to Isaac.Isaac loves Rebekah and the promised line will continue through their descendants.

The Fathers of the Church saw the Unnamed Servant as a symbolic "type" of God the Holy Spirit.The Holy Spirit is the only person of the Holy Trinity who does not have a personal name. Compare the major players in this narrative with the Most Holy Trinity and the Church:

Just Father Abraham Yahweh, God the Father
Righteous Son Isaac Jesus the Son
Servant Unnamed Servant Holy Spirit
The Bride Rebecca The Church

Question: "The Unnamed Servant" is a name that the Fathers of the Church used for God the Holy Spirit. WHY? What is his mission in the New Covenant?
Answer: He is the only person of the Trinity not to have a personal name.It is His mission to bring the "Bride"= the Church, to the Bridegroom = Christ! "However, when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth..." John 16:13 [also see John 14:26; 15:26].

Please remember this encounter with the bride at the well as "the encounter of well #1". Be watchful for more wells and more brides. Repetitions of words, phrases or events in Scripture are significant signs that contribute to the interpretation of the Biblical text.

Genesis 25:1-8 Abraham remarries and has 6 more sons.The problem of infertility was not his but Sarah's.He dies at the age of 175 and the covenant continues with his son Isaac. Notice in verse 3 the name Midian. This son of Abraham will become the father of the tribe of desert people who give sanctuary to Moses after he flees Egypt the first time.Moses will marry the daughter of a priest of Midian in Exodus 2:21-22.

Question: How old is Abraham when he dies, and where is he buried? See Genesis 25:7-9
Answer: Abraham dies in his 175th year and is buried in the cave of Machpelah facing the Oak of Mamre; the site where God came to him and announced the birth of Isaac.

Sarah's son Isaac will settle with his family at the well of Lahai Roi, the site of Ishmael's mother's encounter with the Angel of Yahweh in Genesis chapter 16.St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians written circa 57AD during a time of persecution [chapter 4: 21-31] saw in Hagar, the slave-girl, and Sarah, the covenant wife, the contrast between the Old and New Covenants.The children of the Old Covenant are slaves to the old Law of Mt. Sinai, a law that cannot save them but only convict them of their sins, whereas the "long barren"= long awaited New Covenant frees God's children who, even though persecuted for their faith by their "older brothers", have received the promise of eternal life and a world-wide blessing as inheritors of the Kingdom of God.


Please read Genesis 25:19-28
Question: What prophecy does Yahweh reveal to Rebekah about her sons in Genesis 25:23?
Answer: The struggle in the womb is only the beginning of the struggle between these brothers. This struggle will become the central theme of the story of Jacob.The prophecy is that the younger son, Jacob, will dominate the older son, Esau. The younger will be the re'shiyt, the heir of the promise.Rebekah will prefer her younger son to the elder, but Isaac will love Esau, a thoughtless and careless man who despises his birthright. The etymology of Esau's name is uncertain although most scholars associate it with the color "red". Jacob, Ya'akob, means "heel catcher" or "supplanted".

The struggle between these two brothers is also an omen of the enmity between the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, and the Israelites, descendants of Jacob.The Edomites will be subjugated by Jacob's descendant King David of Israel [see 2 Samuel 8:13-14], but the struggle will reach its climax in the time of the Herodian Kings of Judah. Herod the Great, an Idumean [Edom] descendant of Esau, Roman puppet king of Judea and "seed of the serpent" will struggle against Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, descendant of Jacob and rightful King of the Jews.

Read Genesis 25:29-34

Question: What do these events reveal about Esau's character-- about Jacob's character?
Answer: It is clear that Esau was indifferent to his birthright while Jacob is portrayed as the one who would do whatever was necessary to get it.

Question: In Genesis 26:3-5 what promise does Yahweh make to Isaac?
Answer: Yahweh renews the covenant blessings of land, descendants, and world-wide blessing with Isaac.

Question: Is Isaac a perfect man of faith?See Genesis 26:6-11
Answer: No, he seems to have many of his father's same weaknesses.

Question: What similarities are there between the events in this chapter and those events in the life of Abraham in Genesis 12:10-20 and 20:1-18?

  1. Abraham dwelt in Gerar and received God's blessing and so did Isaac [see Genesis 20:1 and 26:6]
  2. Abraham devised a scheme to present his wife as his sister and so did Isaac [see Genesis 20:2 and 26: 7-8
  3. Abraham is rebuked by Abimelech [20:9] and so is Isaac. [26:10]
  4. God protects Rebekah just as He protected Sarah.
  5. Abimelech will come to Isaac and seek to enter into a covenant relationship [26:28] just as with Abraham [21:22].

Isaac repeats his father's cowardliness in allowing his wife to be taken into another man's harem. God however, just as He did in the case of Abraham and Sarah, will protect Rebekah and eliminate the threat to the promised line. It is interesting that there is another allusion to Isaac's name in that Abimelech saw Isaac "laughing"[literal Hebrew] with Rebekah and realized that she was not his sister.This is the 3rd instance of such behavior with Abraham and the Pharaoh of Egypt, with Abraham and the first King Abimelech and now with Isaac and this King Abimelech. It is unclear if this is the same man, or a son, or a Philistine throne name. Abimelech means "the father is king". It is ironic that these men seem to be more honorable than either Abraham or Isaac.In fact Abimelech is said to have a "pure heart" in Genesis 20:6 and in the episode in chapter 26 God did not even have to warn the Philistine king who did what was right and just in contrast to Isaac who is shown to be less just and righteous. The point is--not all the gentile nations surrounding Israel were evil people.Unfortunately this covenant relationship with the Philistines does not extend to future generations.The Philistines will become the great enemies of the children of Israel from the time of the Judges to the time of David.

Question: In Genesis 26:3-25 Yahweh speaks to Isaac just as he had spoken to Abraham in Genesis 13:14-17. What promise is renewed?
Answer: The promised blessing of land, descendants and great prosperity.

Question: Like his father what was Isaac's response to this renewal of covenant?
Answer: He built an altar and worshipped Yahweh as his father had in Genesis 12:7; 13:4, 18; and 22:9.

Question: What kind of son is Esau?See Genesis 26:34-36
Answer: His foreign marriages outside the covenant community are a bitter disappointment to his parents. He does not respect the necessity of safeguarding the promised seed.These passages, as well as the episode in Genesis 25:34 when Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge, demonstrate that Esau was not fit to inherit the blessing and continue the promised line.

By right the blessing and the birthright -- the material and spiritual blessings, belong in double portions to the heir, the firstborn son.

Question: Jacob has already cheated Esau out of his birthright, now how does he cheat him out of his blessing and who is Jacob's accomplice?See Genesis 27:1-29
Answer: Jacob's mother suggests that he masquerade as his brother and deceive his father into giving him Esau's "firstborn" son blessing.

Question: When Esau discovers the deceit is he able to obtain an equal blessing? See Genesis 27:30-45
Answer: No, blessings and curses once pronounced were regarded as irrevocable.

Esau's cry of anguish in Genesis 27:36 is heartbreaking: "first he took my birthright, and look, now he has gone and taken by blessing!" There is a play on the word birthright [bekorah] and blessing [berakah].

Esau threatens his brother's life. To save her younger son Rebekah arranges to send him to her brother's home to find a wife.

Question: What two reasons are given for Jacob's journey to Paddan-Aram in Northwest Mesopotamia [modern Syria]?
Answer: Fear of his brother's vengeance and the desire of Isaac that Jacob should marry one of his kinswomen and not a Canaanite woman [Genesis 27:42-28:5].

Jacob's deceit was not necessary to obtain the blessing and the birthright.He is God's choice but like Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rebekah usurp God's sovereignty. Jacob will, however, be accountable for his sins.Jacob the deceiver and the trickster will himself suffer cruelly at the hands of other deceivers and other tricksters within his own family.

Genesis 28:10-22 The vision of Yahweh at Bethel [house of God]

Like his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham Jacob receives a confirmation of the promised blessing in Genesis 28:12. Abraham received a "vision" [Genesis 15:1] and Jacob sees God in a "dream" [28:12].In each of these encounters with God a divine confirmation is given regarding the establishment of the same covenant in the promise of (1) land; (2) descendants; and (3) a world-wide blessing:

First Generation Second Generation Third Generation
Abraham Isaac Jacob
Land: 12:2; 15:7, 18; 17:8; 22:17 Land: 26:3 Land: 28:13; 35:12
Descendants 12:2; 15:4-5; 17:2-6; 22:17 Descendants: 26:3,24-25 Descendants: 28:14; 35:10
World-wide blessing 12:2; 22:18 World-wide blessing: 26:4 World-wide blessing: 28:14

Question: Why is the promise of the covenant blessings only given to Isaac once but to Abraham at least three times and to Jacob on two occasions?
Answer: The first revelation to Abraham is a promise of the blessings to come through a covenant God will establish with him and his "seed". God establishes the covenant in chapter 15 when Abraham performs the covenant ritual. In between the establishment of the covenant in chapter 15 and the reaffirmation of the covenant in chapter 17 Abraham has traveled to Egypt and has had a son by Hagar.Traveling outside the Land of Promise and usurping God's sovereignty in the birth of Ishmael necessitated the reaffirmation of the covenant promises and the instruction that this perpetual covenant be maintained in the "promised seed" through Sarah in a son not yet born who will be called "Isaac". It is in this reaffirmation of the covenant that God establishes circumcision as the "sign" of the covenant to be enacted on the 8th day of a boy child's life. The third affirmation of covenant comes after Ishmael is expelled when God 7s Himself = "swears by Himself" again to continue the covenant through Isaac.

Question: What does Jacob see in his dream?
Answer: The way into heaven is opened.Jacob sees a ladder [stairway] reaching into heaven with angels [heavenly messengers] ascending and descending the ladder.  

The Fathers of the Church saw in Jacob's vision the foreshadowing of the Cross of the Crucifixion opening the way into the presence of God.St. Rose of Lima expressed this same view when she said: "Apart from the Cross there is no ladder by which we may get into heaven."

Question: In the liturgy of the Eucharist when is the "door of heaven" wide opened and if we were truly "seeing" with pure eyes of faith when would we see angels ascending and descending?
Answer: After the words of Consecration.

Question: What is it that God reveals to Jacob?
Answer: God identifies Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac and repeats the 3-fold covenant blessings.

Question: Why is it that God's holy covenant name Yahweh is used in this passage when that was a revelation not made until Exodus chapter 3?
Answer: We cannot know for certain but an explanation might be if only Elohim and El Shaddai were the names of God used in the creation, flood and patriarchal periods these passages could be interpreted to mean that various gods had revealed themselves to these men [as the Mormons, for example interpret these passages] and not the One and Only True God who at various times in Salvation History has been called Elohim, El Shaddai, and Yahweh.Moses' entire message in these narratives is that the God of Creation is the same God of Noah and the same God of the Patriarchs and the same God who calls the children of Israel out of Egypt. The use of His holy Covenant name revealed to Moses at the burning bush should establish that Yahweh is the God of Creation and the God of the Patriarchs even though they did not know Him by that name. Since these narratives are written for future generations who know Him as Yahweh, Moses interjected the proper name of God that was not known to the Patriarchs, so that the future generations could make the connection from Creation to Exodus to the future.

Question: Jacob is journeying to Mesopotamia to find a bride among his kinswomen. What prophecy does God make for Jacob regarding this journey in Genesis 28:15.
Answer: "Be sure, I am with you; I shall keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this country, for I shall never desert you until I have done what I have promised you."

Question: What vow does Jacob make to God in Genesis 28:20-22?
Answer: "If God remains with me and keeps me safe on this journey I am making, if he gives me food to eat and clothes to wear, and if I come home safe [literal = "return whole in peace"] to my father's home, then Yahweh shall be my God. This stone I have set up as a pillar is to be a house of God, and I shall faithfully pay you a tenth part of everything you give me."

A Bride for Jacob
Genesis chapter 29

Note: notice the 3s and 7s in the narrative

Question: Read Genesis 29: 1-14. Where does Jacob find his wife?
Answer: He meets his bride, Rachel at the well. This is well #2.

Hint: In Scripture any 3 repeated items, people, events etc. indicated something important is happening in the narrative. Any series of threes indicates that those 3 events are in some way related unusually and sometimes with the very next, 4th similar event united in some way to the other 3. These series can occur within the same chapter or be repeated in several different books of Scripture.

Question: When Jacob first arrives he sees 3 flocks of sheep beside the well. Why do the shepherds assembled at the well with the sheep tell Jacob they cannot water their flocks?What happens that indicates God's hand in these events?
Answer: The shepherds are not strong enough to remove the huge stone that covers the well without the help of the other shepherds [Genesis 29: 2] but when Jacob sees Rachel and the shepherds identify her as the daughter of Laban Jacob single-handedly and with supernatural strength removes the stone to water Rachel's flock. This is an event orchestrated by God. Just as with the Unnamed Servant in Genesis chapter 24, God has directed Jacob to the well where Rachel watered her flocks. Jacob's emotional response in Genesis 29:11 shows that Jacob saw in these circumstances the guiding hand of God.

Laban has two daughters, Rachel [Hebrew= ewe-lamb] is the younger daughter, and Leah is the elder [Hebrew = cow]. Jacob loves the little lamb, Rachel, and asks Laban for Rachel's hand in marriage.

Question: For the first time Jacob the trickster discovers to his horror that he is not the only deceiver in this family. How will his Uncle Laban cruelly deceive Jacob? See Genesis 29:15-30
Answer: Laban has promised Jacob that he will accept 7 years of labor as the bride-price for the younger daughter Rachel but on the wedding night the older sister takes Rachel's place.

The custom of keeping a bride veiled until the wedding night explains Laban's success in substituting Leah for Rachel. See Genesis 24:65. Note: marriage with two sisters will not be forbidden until the legislation of the Sinai Covenant in Leviticus 18:18.

In Genesis 29:25 an outraged Jacob demands "What have you done to me?" but he is speechless when Laban gives his reply.

Question: What does Laban give as his reason for the deception and what does he offer Jacob?
Answer: Laban replies that it is not the custom of his people to marry the younger daughter before the elder and offers when the 7 days of the wedding feasting are complete that he will give Jacob Rachel if he will work another 7 years. Notice the repetition of 7s.[for more information on the 7-day wedding custom see Judges chapter 14:12].

It is ironic that Laban's words concerning the younger daughter being placed before the elder daughter summarizes the very circumstances that had led Jacob on his present journey. Jacob's past has caught up with him and he must have realized the irony as well as the justice. Jacob's deceptive schemes for obtaining the blessing and birthright did not meet with divine approval. Even though Jacob's deceitful plans did not prevent God's will from being accomplished, the fact remains that these schemes and tricks were not of God's design. Jacob has succeeded in only fooling himself.

The competition between Jacob's two wives will produce 12 sons and one daughter*

Ruben #1 Gad # 7 Joseph #11 Dan #5
Simeon #2 Asher #8 Benjamin #12 Naphtali #6
Levi #3      
Judah #4      
Issachar #9      
Zebulon #10      

*A daughter, Dinah, was born to Leah after Zebulon and before Joseph.

Question: After the birth of Joseph Jacob wants to return to his own country, but why is Laban reluctant to let him leave?
Answer:  He has benefited through Yahweh's blessing Jacob, but just as with the Philistines that Isaac entered into covenant with in Genesis 26:14 became jealous of Isaac's wealth, so now Laban is angry and jealous of Jacob's wealth.

Question: What compromise does Jacob offer for his wages?
Answer: He will accept all the abnormally colored sheep and goats as his wages. In Eastern flocks the sheep are usually white, and the goats are black.Jacob is requesting the kids that are born much less frequently, black sheep and white-spotted goats.Laban agrees because he thinks Jacob's return from the birth of these animals will be meager. Jacob's plan is to:

  1. Arrange for the goats to mate in sight of white-striped rods which he believes affects the formation of the embryo
  2. Arrange for the sheep to look at black goats in the flock when they mate, effecting the formation of the sheep embryos.
  3. He selects only the most robust animals and leaves the weaker animals and their offspring to Laban.

In Genesis 31 Jacob explains his strategy to his wives and reveals that it is God's plan that he should receive his rightful wages for all his years of labor.His wives agree that what Jacob has done is just because their father has not only misused their husband but he has withheld their inheritance from them. In Upper Mesopotamia it was the custom for a father to return to his daughter a part of the bride-price so that she would have some money of her own in her marriage. Laban had clearly exploited his daughters as well as his son-in-law.

The result is that God gives Jacob justice and brings retribution on Laban for his deception in the matter of Rachel as well as the abuse Jacob suffered at Laban's hands [see Genesis 31:36-42]. God has defended Jacob's honor and now he can return to the land God has promised to him.

Question: In Genesis 30:36 Laban put a 3-days journey between his flocks and Jacobs. In Genesis 31: 22 how many days pass before Laban realizes Jacob has left with his flocks and his family and retainers? How many days does he pursue Jacob before catching up with him?
Answer: Three days; seven days

Question: Laban has been warned by God not to harm Jacob but what accusation does Laban make?
Answer: That his household gods have been stolen.

It is Rachel who has taken the household gods [teraphim] and Jacob is innocent of the theft.This is evident by Jacob's threat in Genesis 31:31-32 that whoever took these idols will die. Had he known that his beloved Rachel was the thief he would never have made such a rash statement. Rachel hides the idols in a camel cushion and tells her father she cannot rise to greet him because she is having her monthly period.Bible scholars never understood the reason for Rachel's actions until the discovery of the archives of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nuzu [Nuzi].These tablets yielded numerous 15th century BC legal documents that record the legal restrictions concerning the inheritance of illegitimate children by slaves [like Abraham's obligations to Hagar and Ishmael]; the claim that an oral deathbed will is legally binding [Isaac's to Jacob]; and the necessity of producing the family gods, teraphim, to claim inheritance rights.This custom may explain Rachel and Leah's concern over their inheritance in Genesis 31:14-16. In the event of their father's death if they can produce the "household" gods they can claim a part of their inheritance from the estate.It should also be noted that many of these ancient customs recorded in the Nuzi documents were common in the second millennium BC but were not practiced in the first millennium BC pointing to the antiquity of the customs accurately recorded in the Pentateuch.

Laban and his men allow Jacob and his people to depart after entering into a covenant [Genesis 31: 44, 53 &54] and sealing the covenant with a sacrificial meal.

Questions for group discussion:

Question: What is the importance of the sacrificial meal in association with a Covenant?
Answer: A sacrificial meal was a ritual that signaled ratification of the Covenant: an oath was sworn and a meal consumed.The sacrifice was burned on the altar as an offering to God but when the roasted meat was eaten the meal became a covenant seal between the participators in the Covenant in partnership with Yahweh.

Question: Is the Eucharist a sacrificial meal?What similarities do you see between receiving the Eucharist and the sacrificial meals of the Old Covenant?What are the differences?
Answer: The Eucharist is indeed a sacrificial meal.Like the Old Covenant it signifies the binding oath of the Covenant [our word sacrament is from the Latin for "oath swearing"] but in this case the meal is the mystical body of Christ consumed by the faithful.All the sacrificial meals of the Old Testament were meant to prepare us for understanding our covenant participation in the sacrificial meal of the Most Holy Eucharist.For more information please see the document "Is the Eucharist a True Sacrifice" in the Resources section.

Resources and recommended reading:

  1. Many Religions--One Covenant: Israel, the Church and the World, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, [Ignatius Press, 1999].
  2. Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Karl Keating, [Ignatius Press, 1988].
  3. Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J.,[Bruce Publishing Company, 1965].
  4. Tanach, edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, [Mesorah Publications, Ltd,, 1998].
  5. Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, [William Morrow, Inc., 1991, 2001].
  6. The Navarre Bible Commentary: the Pentateuch
  7. The Anchor Bible Commentary: Genesis
  8. On Genesis, St Augustine
  9. "The Patriarchal Age: Myth of History?", W.F. Albright, [Biblical Archaeology Review, March-April 1995].
  10. "The Bible After Twenty Years of Archaeology", W.F. Albright, Religion in Life, 1952
  11. The Bible in Its World, Kenneth A. Kitchen, [InterVarsity Press, 1978].

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.