Some people think the Bible isn’t a funny book. They’re right. We’re not reading The Big Christian Joke Book here. The Bible is, however, a book with funny parts. Perhaps none of it strikes you as particularly amusing, and I certainly can’t fault you for such a reading of it, but there are certain passages that can be humorous when viewed in a certain light. Take, for example, a scene from today’s chapter.
It’s a genealogy, everybody. It’s literally just Esau’s descendants.
Sometimes a lot of different things happen in a chapter. In today’s chapter, for example, God tells Jacob to go dwell in Bethel, which Jacob does, and God has a message of blessing for him once he settles there. Also, people die: Rebekah’s nurse Deborah, Rachel as she gives birth to Jacob’s twelfth son Benjamin, and then old Grandpa Isaac. If you can find a common theological or spiritual thread through all these events, more power to you. But as far as I can tell, the only theme tying them together is “some things pertaining to Jacob’s family happened in Canaan.” Sometimes chapters are like that.
For better or worse, the text of the Bible doesn’t generally come with content warnings, so I feel like I should begin with one. The story in today’s chapter deals with sexual violence, and the victim is in all likelihood a minor. I often make flippant or lighthearted remarks here on Chocolate Book, but I’ve had to scrap more than one incomplete intro here because the tone wasn’t appropriate to the subject matter. The story of Dinah, Shechem, and Simeon and Levi’s revenge is intended for mature audiences, in that if you or I aren’t going to treat it with the gravity it merits, we have no business discussing it at all.
Okay, we are in chapter 33; we can give away the ending now. Esau does not kill Jacob! In fact, quite the opposite.
Take your time machine back to late 2003, track me down on the campus of St. John’s College, and ask me who my favorite Bible character is, and I’ll tell you it’s Jacob. Why, you ask? My sophomore self tells you that it’s because God uses him in spite of his faults. In a book of hot messes, Jacob’s debatably the hot-messiest. But God gives him the name “Israel,” makes him the literal namesake of an entire race, and changes him dramatically over the course of his life. Jacob grows both in humility and courage; he learns to leave behind his swindling and cheating and to face the world honestly instead. Jacob’s story is hope for schmucks.
I hope you like more bad behavior from bad people, because Genesis has got it in spades. This book is not afraid to show its protagonists’ faults and shortcomings. I don’t think I need to recapitulate all the bitterness between Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael, or how Noah and Lot both exit the narrative on a low note, or Abraham and Isaac’s habits of lying to kings. I don’t need to, but I will. The account has got no qualms about making you ask yourself, “What is wrong with these people?”
Good lord, where do I begin? This chapter’s got more drama than a 1980s daytime television serial. First we pick up where we left off in Rachel and Leah’s race to have as many sons that they can call their own as humanly possible, and then Laban tries to convince Jacob to continue working for him when Jacob has clearly had enough of employment under his uncle. The friction is palpable, and all through the chapter my soul is facepalming. Remember how I ended Friday’s post with the observation that maybe, just maybe, human relationships are worth it? That’s a hard “maybe.”
As I’m writing this, it’s about twenty past noon on Thursday, and I’ve got my laptop out in the lunchroom at work. However, we’ve had thunderstorms all day, and the overcast skies are blocking out my cell phone reception, so I can’t use my phone as a wi-fi hotspot. I can’t hit up Biblehub or BlueletterBible for Strong’s Concordance references, I can’t google for commentaries, I can’t even tweet out a link to the post that published earlier this morning. This evening, I’ll go home and finish up the post over my home internet connection, but for now I’m feeling landlocked. And I expect I’m feeling not unlike Jacob must have felt in the past couple chapters.
We left Jacob in a precarious situation. He’s safe as long as his father lives, but it’s a thinly-veiled secret that Esau plans to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac dies. However, Rebekah has a plan to get Jacob far away from his brother. She drops a hint to Isaac that she would absolutely hate it to death if Jacob married anyone from Canaan. So, in today’s chapter, Isaac sends Jacob to Rebekah’s family, so that he can marry one of Laban’s daughters.
Laban is Rebekah’s brother. Rebekah intends to save Jacob’s life under the pretext of having him marry a cousin.