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Judges, Time of the

The Book of Judges chronicles the time between the chaotic period after the death of Joshua up to the appointment of Israel’s first king, Saul. This is listed on the Bible Timeline Poster between 1254 – 1104 BC. Israel, under Joshua’s leadership, had conquered much of Canaan. Except the territories of the Philistines, the Geshurites, and territories of the Canaanites “extending from the stream of Shihor on the border of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron” (Joshua 13:3). A full text of territories yet to be conquered can be read in Joshua 13:1-6 and the division of land among the tribes follows that.

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Judges
Moses and the Ten Commandments

As the time of Joshua’s death approached, he gathered all the tribe leaders and reiterated God’s commandments to them. That they were not to deviate from the laws given through Moses, worship other gods except Yahweh, and intermarry with the remaining people in the land who may lead them astray. These were explicitly and repeatedly stated in Joshua 23:6-16 and 24:14-19. As shown in the Book of Exodus, as well as the succeeding books, the people of Israel were prone to be led astray. There were also several complaints and sporadic bursts of rebellion. Such as the instances when they worshiped the Gold Calf (Exodus 32), their complaints about the manna (Numbers 11:4), and the report of Canaan by the scouts (Numbers 13 and 14).

Confederation of Tribes During the Judges’ Time

The cycle of Israel’s apostasy and deliverance continued to the time of the judges when the tribes of Israel had already settled in most of the conquered lands. These territories, however, were surrounded by hostile peoples and the tribes’ failure to purge them completely was a source of the problem. The condition set out by God through Moses and Joshua was for Israel to follow the Lord and refrain from worshiping other gods, but more often than not this condition was violated, and hostile people soon took over.

List of Judges and Hostile Tribes

Hostile Tribe/Nation Judge
Aram Naharaim Othniel (3:7-11)
Moab Ehud (3:12-30)
Philistia Shamgar (3:31)
Canaan Deborah and Barak (4:1—5:31)
Midian Gideon (6:1—8:35)
Hard times under Abimelech, Tola, and Jair (9:1—10:5)
Ammon Jephthah (10:6—12:7)
Minor judges Ibzan, Alon, and Abdon (12:8—15)
Philistia Samson (13—16)
Samuel is last of the major judges including his sons (1 Samuel 8:1-7)

 

This period of chaos also produced some of Israel’s most courageous leaders and put a spotlight on Deborah, the lone female judge. It also highlights the accomplishments of Gideon, who slew thousands of Midianites and their allies with the help of just 300 Israelite men. One of the most outstanding judges was Samson, who led Israel for 20 years and delivered them from the oppression of the Philistines. He was one of Israel’s last great judges before Samuel.

The succeeding chapters after the heroic sacrifice and victory of Samson in the temple of Dagon (or Dagan, ancient Semitic deity) was of several notable stories about the life of the Israelites. Including the idolatry in the tribe of Dan and Israel’s war with the tribe of Benjamin. The time of the judges ended with the death of Samuel and the appointment of Saul as the first king of Israel.

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Israel under Midianites

Around 1229 BC, Israel found itself under the rule of the Midianites where it is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart. The years following the conquest of Canaan and the death of Joshua saw Israel without a ruler. The book of Judges chronicles Israel’s cycle of worshiping other gods such as

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The book of Judges chronicles Israel’s cycle of worshiping other gods (such as Baal and Asherah) to repentance during times of oppression. This led to deliverance through the leadership of various judges until the appointment of Saul as king over a unified Israel. Various nations, such as Syria or Aram Naharaim (Judges 3:8), Moab (Judges 3:12), Ammon, Amalek, Philistia (Judges 3), and Canaan (Judges 4) took turns in conquering and oppressing the people of Israel. Each time they were delivered by God when they repented. He also appointed judges who led them to victories, such as Othniel (Judges 3:7), Ehud (Judges 3:12), Shamgar (Judges 3:31), and the prophetess Deborah (Judges 4).

Israel_Peace
“An angel announces Gideon his victory against the Midianites.”

This cycle of turning away from God and repentance continued till the time of Gideon, the son of Joash from the tribe of Manasseh. He helped deliver them from the oppression of the Midianites. The Midianites and the Israelites had a long, intertwined history as Midian was one of Abraham’s son by his third wife, Keturah. The Midianites settled in the area of the Sinai peninsula and may have also settled across the Gulf of Aqaba on the west coast of Arabia.

Moses, later, moved to Midian into voluntary exile after killing an Egyptian. He then and married Zipporah, daughter of Jethro, priest of Midian. The relationship between two groups of people teetered between alliance (such as in the case of Moses’ father-in-law Jethro and his son Hobab [Numbers 10:29]) and much of the time, hostile aggression.

In Judges 6, Israel once again turned away from God and worshiped other gods. They were handed over to the Midianites. Then they suffered from economic sabotage when Midianites and allied peoples such as the Amalekites destroyed their crops. The livestock was also taken away, reducing the Israelites to starvation.

Raiding and stealing of Israelite crops and livestock was so severe that when God sent an angel to Gideon, he was found “threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites” (Judges 6:11). This went on for seven years.

The Israelites were successfully delivered from the oppression of the Midianites through the leadership of Gideon. Other judges followed, delivering the people of Israel from their enemies after Gideon’s death. It even seemed that the Midianites were completely subdued after the time of Gideon and soon faded into obscurity.

References:
http://www.britannica.com/topic/Midianites
Picture By Wolfgang SauberOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34868324
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Saul Loses Kingship

Saul’s dethroning is recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart around 1050 BC. However, to fully understand his story, let us start from the beginning in 1 Samuel 8. This was when the disgruntled leaders of Israel met with Samuel in Ramah to insist on him appointing a king over them. Samuel was now well into old age and his sons Joel and Abijah whom he appointed as judges were deemed unfit because of their greediness for money. He was displeased with their request for a king but acquiesced after consulting the Lord, who gave him permission to grant it. Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, was later on anointed as king over Israel.

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Saul’s Downfall

Saul started out strong, but his rash character and poor decisions ended his promising future as Israel’s king. The first instance was during the war with the Philistines when the troops of Israel were routed after a battle. Saul was at Gilgal and his impatience drove him to sacrifice the burnt and peace offerings when Samuel himself instructed him to wait for seven days (1 Samuel 10:8). The burning of the offering was a task delegated exclusively to priests (in this case, Samuel who was descended from the tribe of Levi) because of the degree of purity and holiness they were attributed to. Making Saul’s actions a severe offense to God and Samuel (1 Samuel 13).

Saul_Dethroned
“David and Saul”

The next example of Saul’s poor decision-making was during the war with the Amalekites. Through Samuel, God directed Saul to purge all the Amalekites including, their livestock. This was because they refused to allow the Israelites passage through their territory after they were freed from Egypt. Saul, however, failed in this task by sparing the Amalekite King Agag and keeping the livestock for himself and his men. Destroying only those that are of poor quality (1 Samuel 15:1-9).

The Lord was disappointed with him when he kept the plunder and Samuel admonished Saul for his disobedience. Saul added to his sins when he said that that he kept the livestock so he could sacrifice them to the Lord. This incident pushed Samuel to find a replacement for Saul as king of the new nation.

Mental Illness and Attempts at David’s Life

It has been proposed that Saul exhibited severe mental disturbance that may have contributed to his unstable personality and failed leadership. In 1 Samuel 16:14, the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul altogether, and an evil spirit tormented him. He may also have suffered from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Probably, as a result, of the violence he experienced during the war with the Ammonites, Amalekites, and the Philistines. David helped soothe Saul during these episodes by playing his harp.

As Saul’s behavior became increasingly erratic, he exhibited paranoia and jealousy toward David’s success and popularity. This would later drive him to make several attempts at killing David. These repeated attempts at murder would forever mar his reputation. It can even be said that he lost the kingship over Israel long before his demise. His death along with his sons on Mount Gilboa during a battle with the Philistines was the end of his reign. After his violent death, Saul was mourned by David and memorialized in a lament (2 Samuel 1:17-27).

Aftermath and Saul’s Legacy

Further violence erupted, and the young nation descended into civil war as Judah supported David as king while the northern tribes of Israel stayed loyal to the house of Saul. Particularly his son Ish-bosheth who ruled in Israel for two years. Ish-bosheth was later murdered by Recab and Baanah, his own tribesmen and leaders of his raiding band. David ruled over a united Israel and Judah after his death (2 Samuel 2-5).

Saul’s reputation as king and as a person overall was tarnished due to his unstable character and bad decisions. But he was also a mighty warrior who gave Israel some of its most important victories against its enemies during a time of chaos. He was then used by God to pave the way for David and future kings of the nation.

References:
http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/resource/priests.xhtml
http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v68i1.906
Picture By Julius Kronberg – nationalmuseum.se, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936125
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David Subdues All Neighboring Tribes and Leads Israel Into Great Prosperity

Israel was a fledgling country during the reign of King David with enemies that surrounded the country on all sides. This part in history is listed on the Bible Timeline Poster around 1029 BC. Throughout Saul’s reign, incursions by neighboring tribes were constant, and it was no different during David’s reign. King David himself started his military career by slaying Goliath, one of the Philistines’ well-known giant warriors. 2 Samuel 8 offers a glimpse of David’s victories at the height of his reign.

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Philistia

The Philistines were mentioned in the Bible as early as Genesis 10, in the Table of Nations under Ham (Genesis 10:14). The relationship between earlier patriarchs and the Philistines was civil. It was only when Israel emerged as a nation after the Exodus from Egypt that the relationship between the two turned hostile. The Philistines emerged as their archenemies after the Israelites settled in Canaan.

These ancient people lived on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean in cities that include Gaza, Gath, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron. Raids, as well as full-blown wars with the Philistines, were common from the time of the judge Shamgar (Judges 3:31) to Samson to David. After many years of war with the Philistines, they were finally subdued by David and he took control of Gath and its surrounding villages (1 Chronicles 18:1).

David_Brings_Peace
“Matteo Rosselli, The triumphant David.”

Moab, Ammon, and Amalek

The Moabites and Ammonites lived respectively east of the Dead Sea and Jordan River; while the Amalekites settled north of Kadesh Barnea in the Negev Desert. In Deuteronomy 2:9 and 2:19, the Israelites were instructed not to harass or provoke the Moabites and Ammonites owing to their descent from Lot. The Amalekites (who were Esau’s descendants) were Israel’s enemies as early as the days of wandering in the Sinai desert (Exodus 17:8).

These three surrounding tribes, however, were used by God to turn the Israelites around each time they did evil at the time of the judges. They were still raiding Israelite towns during the time of David. After he had been proclaimed king, David subdued the Ammonites. This was following the humiliation his delegates suffered while offering sympathy to the king of Ammon from his father’s death. Hanun, king of Ammon, further provoked David by assembling a coalition of Arameans and Ammonites to attack Israel. David’s commanders of the army, Joab and his brother Abishai defeated this alliance.

The last details about David’s war with the Moabites are in 2 Samuel 8:2 and 1 Chronicles 18:2. Where he dealt with the Moabites violently after their defeat and they became his subjects. The Amalekites, however, continued to be Israel’s enemy. It culminated when the Amalekites raided Negev and Ziklag. They held captive all the women and children and carried them off. Two of David’s wives were among the captives. David and his men later pursued them and recovered the women and children (1 Samuel 30).

The Amalekites gradually disappeared from the Biblical narrative after David’s time, while the Moabites and Ammonites made intermittent incursions and waged war against Israel.

Aram

There were three Aramean kingdoms mentioned during Saul and David’s reign: Damascus, Beth Rehob, and Zobah. Arameans antagonized David in the alliance with each other and once in alliance with the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10:8). All these kingdoms were defeated by David (2 Samuel 8).

Edom

Edomites and Israelites were related through their ancestors Esau and Jacob, but the Edomites refused Israel passage through their territory on the way to the Promised Land. Furthermore, there was enmity between them during the reign of Saul. David defeated the Edomites in the Valley of Salt and made them his subjects (2 Samuel 8:12-13).

Israel’s Golden Age

David’s victories against neighboring tribes are listed in 2 Samuel 8. It could be said that this was the golden age of the fledgling nation. The tribes that were subdued became subjects who paid tribute to David and plundered goods were dedicated to the Lord. David’s influence reached north when the king of Hamath sent his own son Joram to congratulate him and give gifts. Solomon reaped the benefits of his father’s military victories when he consolidated power and ruled from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines after David’s death (2 Chronicles 9:26).

References:
http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsMiddEast/SyriaAramaeans.htm
http://www.ancient.eu/israel/
Picture By Matteo Rossellihttp://pintura.aut.org/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6633706
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Saul wars against the Ammonites, Moabites, Syria, Idumea, and Philistines

Israel’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land in Canaan was long and full of battles against her neighbors. These conflicts are listed on the Bible Timeline Chart around 1079 BC. All throughout the books of Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, and Judges, Israel was surrounded by hostile peoples. Which included the Amalekites, Edomites, Amorites, Canaanites, Arameans, Moabites, Ammonites, Midianites, and Philistines. Israel’s long-standing archenemies in the region, however, were her immediate neighbors: the Ammonites, Moabites, and Philistines.

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According to the Old Testament, the Ammonites and Moabites were descended from Lot through his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). The Ammonites settled east of the Jordan River while the Moabites settled east of the Dead Sea. The Philistines were the Israelites’ adversaries during the years of the Judges and well into King David’s reign. The origin of the Philistines is still up for debate, but it was hypothesized that they were one of the Aegean peoples who settled on the Mediterranean coast around the same time as the arrival of the Israelites in the area.

Saul_at_War
“According to the Old Testament, the Ammonites and Moabites were descended from Lot through his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38).”

Against the Ammonites

Saul went to war against the Ammonites, Moabites, and Philistines during the early years of his reign and was victorious against them. His first victory was against the Ammonite King Nahash. This was before Saul was even crowned the King of Israel (1 Samuel 11). The Israelites who lived in Jabesh-Gilead near the territory of the Ammonites sent a peace treaty to King Nahash, which he agreed to honor but laid out a condition that the right eye of each citizen will be gouged out in exchange. Saul rescued the people of Jabesh-Gilead after he mobilized thousands of men from Israel and Judah and launched a surprise attack against the Ammonites. The people of Israel held a ceremony in Gilgal that proclaimed him king after his victory against the Ammonites.

Against the Philistines

His next battle was against the Philistines, who lived on the west coast of the Mediterranean (1 Samuel 13). Due to the number of Philistine warriors and advanced weaponry that they used during the battle (1 Samuel 13:5, 1 Samuel 13:19), Saul, his son Jonathan, and their men were routed and dispersed. The Israelites were victorious against the Philistines later on with the help of Jonathan’s daring plan (1 Samuel 14:1-15) and the Philistine warriors’ confusion that resulted in them killing each other instead (1 Samuel 14:20).

Further Victories

Israel’s army led by King Saul was victorious later on against their hostile neighbors as summarized in 1 Samuel 14:47. He won battles against Moab, Ammon, the kingdom of Zobah (Aram-Zobah, in Syria, Edom (Idumea), and Philistia during this period.

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Abraham Gave Tithes to Melchizedek, and Was Blessed By Him

Genesis 14:18 offers a succinct introduction as to who Melchizedek was. He was the “King of Salem… [and] priest of God Most High”. He blessed Abraham (called Abram at this time) after receiving a tenth of all the goods he recovered from the war between allied kings in the area. This event is listed on the Bible Timeline Poster around 2004 BC.

Melchizedek’s name was not mentioned again till much later. Starting in Psalms 110:4 and several chapters of Hebrews where it is evident that he was known and even revered generations later. In Hebrews 6:20, Jesus was likened to Melchizedek and has become “our eternal High Priest”.

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Background

Abraham and his nephew Lot had stayed together since leaving Ur of the Chaldeans. Temporarily settling in Haran, and moving again to Canaan after Abram received a message from God. They settled amidst Bethel and Ai. The flocks owned by both men increased to the point that the land could not support both of them. Disputes broke out between their herdsmen, and they decided to separate. With Lot moving to the fertile Jordan valley to a place near Sodom (Genesis 13:12) while Abraham settled in Hebron.

Abraham_Blessed
“Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek”

Lot’s proximity to Sodom did not work out for his benefit as war broke out between allied kings of the area. The kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim went up against the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (Genesis 14). The Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah were defeated and fled. Leaving the people and their properties vulnerable to captivity and plunder which King Kedorloamer and his allies did after their victory. Lot was one of the captives; this news reached Abraham, who promptly gathered his men and went in pursuit of the kings with their captives. He defeated Kedorloamer and his allies north of Damascus. Then freed the captives and returned all the possessions they recovered to the king of Sodom.

Melchizedek was introduced in the following passage as he brought out bread and wine, blessed Abraham, and received the tenth of everything they had recovered.

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Abraham’s Long Journey to Canaan, Trusting God:

Has God ever taken you on the long route to a promised blessing or leading?  You could see a faster way, but instead off you went in almost the opposite direction. Maybe you are in the middle of one now.

Below is a quick summary of Abraham’s long-way-round journey from Ur to Canaan.

Let us know about your long journey (or journeys) in a comment, please.

The 11th chapter of Genesis tells us the story of the Tower of Babel and the journey of Terah along with his son Abraham with his wife Sarai and Terah’s grandson Lot. For reasons not specified in Genesis Chapter 11 of the Bible, they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans (present-day southern Iraq) to Canaan on the Mediterranean coast. We can only speculate as to why Terah did this but a peek at the location and political situation in Mesopotamia at that time would give us clues why he would take his family elsewhere.  (For a better picture of Bible events and location, refer to the Holy Land Map in conjunction with this article.)

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Ur was a place of upheavals and it was under constant attack from hostile neighbors during the time of the patriarchs, so leaving the city for a more peaceful land would have been a more feasible choice for Terah and his family. Another possibility is that Terah may have recognized and worshiped the true God while Ur was a city full of people who were devoted to the Sumerian moon god Nanna (or Sin in Akkadian). We can see a problem in their beliefs if this is the case which may have driven Terah and his family to leave Ur.

Shorter Desert Route versus Longer River Route

Whatever the reason, Terah never reached his original destination of Canaan and they settled instead in Haran (present-day southern Turkey) where he died.

If we look at the map of modern day Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, and Israel, a journey from east to west through the Arabian desert would have been the shorter route. Terah and his family, however, took the longer route by following the Euphrates river upstream towards Haran. This makes more sense rather than making the journey across a perilous desert.

External factors that may put their life at risk during the desert journey include a lack of reliable sources of water, intense heat, constant temperature changes, and unpredictable sandstorms. Lack of food can also be a problem in a sparsely vegetated land while dangerous insects and animals also pose a threat. Bandits preying on passing vulnerable caravans also endangered their lives. There may have also been established routes throughout Mesopotamia that followed the Euphrates, so northwards to Haran is the better and safer choice.

Abraham_to_Canaan
Traveling straight through the desert had many dangers.

Onward to Canaan

Abraham’s family settled in Haran for many years until Terah died at the age of 205, then God called Abraham to go and continue the journey to Canaan. We can only surmise as to what drove their family to settle in Haran temporarily (whether it’s the town’s prosperity or relative peace), but to uproot himself and his family from a familiar land to live in another which was inhabited by people whose customs and gods differ from his can be unsettling.

He was 75 years old at that time and moving was not an easy task especially in his age. But this time, the command to move to Canaan came with a blessing explicitly stated in Genesis 12:2-3. So he packed all their belongings and journeyed again, reaching Shechem in Canaan first, then the hills of Bethel, and finally south to the Negev.

Our Own Long River Route

Abraham was often held as one whose faith and obedience shined brightly among the other characters in the Bible. The material and spiritual blessings that followed his obedience were well-documented, and he is recognized as someone Christians should emulate in faith.

We also take journeys, literally and spiritually (just like Abraham) and make hard decisions that will significantly impact our lives. Making the right choices (such as who to marry or whether to move to another city to pursue a leading) takes a lot of faith in God. The question is do we trust God enough to lead us out of our Ur of the Chaldeans and take us to a better place which He promised us? Do we take the shorter yet perilous desert route or do we have the patience to take the longer river route? Do we trust in our own intelligence or do we seek God first for His word in our decision-making process?

In your life, has God led you to the longer river route and how did it become a blessing?  Comment below, please.

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Abraham, 75 years old, departed with Lot from Haran

For reasons not stated in the Bible, Terah took his son Abraham (then called Abram), his grandson Lot whose father died earlier in their homeland, and Abraham’s wife Sarah from Ur of the Chaldeans (traditionally modern day Tell al-Muqayyar, Iraq) to Canaan. Instead of continuing to Canaan, they stopped and settled in Haran where Terah died at the age of 205. Abraham’s departure from Haran is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart around 2004 BC.

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The Call of Abram (Abraham)

After staying in Haran for an unspecified period, God told Abraham to leave his country again and go to the land that the Lord would show him. This message contained a promise of great blessings for Abraham and his descendants. It was also extended to all the families on earth that would be blessed through him.

Abraham
“A painting of Abraham’s departure by József Molnár.”

Abraham was 75 years old when he left Haran along with his wife Sarah (then named Sarai), his nephew Lot, their livestock, and everyone in their household. Their destination was far South into the land of Canaan. He went as far as Shechem (Tell Balata in present day Nablus city) where he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh.

In the succeeding verses, God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants. He moved on to the hills east of Bethel and later continued South to the desert area of Negev. He built altars and worshipped God in both places.

References:
Genesis 11:31-32
Genesis 12
http://www.penn.museum/sites/iraq/?page_id=24
Picture By József MolnárOwn work (scanned), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2684048
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Circumcision, God’s Covenant With Abraham, The Law Of

God‘s covenant with Abraham with regards to the law of circumcision was a command given to Abraham by God instructing him to be circumcised. This event is listed on the Bible Timeline Chart around 1879 BC. God told Abraham that he and his descendants after him had to circumcise the flesh of their foreskins. This covenant between God and Abraham applied to all males of his generation and future generations. All had to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. The circumcision was seen as a covenant between the participant and God. This was significant because it was a reminder of the covenant embedded into their flesh.

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Circumcise
“The Vision of the Lord Directing Abraham to Count the Stars “

People who weren’t circumcised were viewed as sinfully stubborn people. God viewed males who refused to be circumcised as people who have walked contrary to God and are unfaithful to him. The refusal of circumcision was also seen as a confession of inequity, not only of said person but also of his forefathers. Even though God was very critical of the uncircumcised, in the covenant he also stated that if a person is circumcised and does not keep with the righteous requirements of the law while an uncircumcised person does, the latter shall be more favorably viewed upon.

This covenant was only limited to Jews and did not extend to Christians. For Christians, it was optional, but God did emphasize that following his commandments were more important.

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Jacob Blessed Joseph’s Sons

Jacob lived a long and colorful life with more than his fair share of highs and lows starting from Genesis 25 up to Genesis 50. His history is listed on the Biblical Timeline Chart around 1704 BC. After his clan’s migration from Canaan to Egypt at the behest of his son Joseph, Jacob lived 17 more years. Bringing his age to a total of 147 at the time of his death (Genesis 47:28). In Genesis 48, old age had taken its toll on his body and the end of his life drew near. With his death fast approaching, he called Joseph to his side and made his son swear to transport his body out of Egypt and bury him where Abraham and Isaac were buried (Cave of Machpelah in Hebron).

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Not long after, Jacob fell ill. Joseph took his sons Manasseh and Ephraim to his father to have them blessed before Jacob died (Genesis 48). These were his sons by Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, priest of On (Heliopolis). The boys were born to Joseph in Egypt, but Jacob claimed them as his own (Genesis 48:5) and gave them his blessing. This is why after the establishment of Israel in Canaan, the Promised Land land was divided among the original ten sons of Jacob (except Joseph and Levi), plus Manasseh and Ephraim.

Jacob_blesses_Ephraim_and_Manasseh
Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh

His eyesight was failing, so Joseph had to introduce his sons to his father. Following the custom back in the days of the patriarchs, older sons were placed on the right side, and younger ones were placed on the left side for the blessing. Jacob crossed his arms and laid his left hand on the older Manasseh’s head and favored the younger Ephraim with his right hand.

This perplexed Joseph, and he tried to correct his father, but for unknown reasons Jacob was bent on giving the younger Ephraim a greater portion of the blessing. This draws a parallel to the case of the other patriarchs when the younger son is favored by the father above the older one, including the cases of Ishmael and Isaac, as well as Esau and Jacob. The chapter is followed by Jacob giving all of his sons blessings in Genesis 49.