Handout #10 – Hebrews/Canaanite gods, Israelites, 1st Commandment, rationalism, Rebekah, Bilhah, Hebrews, pure blood lines, marriage, divorce, D&C 132, three good gifts dispensations, chart: wives, sons of Jacob March 2014

When the Hebrews arrive at Canaan (1250-1050 b.c.), the land promised to them millenia earlier when God told Abraham at Shechem that the land would belong to his descendants – they begin the long, painful, and disappointing process of setting the land. There were, after all, people already living there. These people, the Canaanites, were a Semitic people speaking a language remarkably close to Hebrew. They were farmers, some were nomads, but they were also civilized. They used the great Mesopotamian cities as their model and had built modest imitations of them.

They had also learned military technology and tactics from the Mesopotamians, as well as law. So the Hebrews, uncivilized, tribal, and nomadic, found themselves facing a formidable enemy. Even the accounts of this period in the Hebrew bible, the books of Joshua and Judges paint a pretty dreary picture of the occupation. There was also intermarriage and mixing of tribes, and it continues through gentile and Jewish history!

Israelites and Canaanites: Embedded in Mosaic Law during the wanderings, Israel was not to bow down to the Canaanite gods, “nor serve them, not do after their works” after Israelites had crossed the Jordan, but instead were to “utterly overthrow them… break down their images”. (Ex 23:23-24). But many Jews adopted the Canaanite ways including their religion. Living conditions between the two societies were somewhat agrarian: those near the rivers seldom experienced fears of draught, whereas those in the interior had only rain to water their crops, hence their belief that only God and His power could guarantee their survival.

Canaanites built a religion around a series of mythical ritual acts – in hope of coercing the “gods” into dealing kindly with them. These acts were performed in their temples and sanctuaries. Main Canaanite gods: Ba’al (rain, fertility). Anat (war, love). Yam (god of waters). Mot (sterility of land, death). Astoreth (Goddess, fertility, productivity). Worship of pagan gods is the reason for the First Commandment of God and His admonitions to the Israelites (and later, the Jews) in Ex 20:2-5:

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me…

In polytheistic religions the line between gods and demons is a shifting one: there are both good demons and gods who do evil. Defense against evil spirits was a concern in Mesopotamia from earliest times, beginning with the Sumerians, to whom much of the terminology and practice connected with demons may be traced. There is no qualitative difference between great gods and demons; one name for demon is “an evil god.” Demons, however, have less power, though occasionally myths depict them as rebelling against the great gods, with some success.

The Israelites were the first people to bring their reason systematically to bear on religious questions. From Moses’ day onwards, and throughout their history, rationalism was a central element in Jewish belief. In a sense, it is the central element, for monotheism itself is a rationalization. The idea of a limited god is a contradiction. Once the process of reason is applied to divinity, the idea of a sole, omnipotent and personal God, who being infinitely superior to man in power, and therefore virtue, is consistently guided in his actions by systematic ethical principles, follows as a matter of course. …

Judaism… is the most conservative of religions. But in its origins it was the most revolutionary… God is the cause of all things. Jews were the first people to bring reason… to bear on religious questions. (Johnson, A History of the Jews)

Rebekah=to bind. (Heb רִבְקָה). Abraham’s servant travels several hundred miles north to find a wife for Isaac. The sign he was given of God: she would give him to drink and water the camels, which she did. Isaac and his wife were childless for twenty years. Eventually Esau-rough, hairy, and Ya-acov (Israel). Esau, progenitor of the Edomites-reddish skin tone- are born.

In Genesis, Esau returned to his twin brother Jacob, famished from the fields. He begs Jacob to give him some “red pottage” (a play on his nickname, Edom, meaning “red”.) Jacob offers Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for Esau’s birthright (the right to be recognized as firstborn with authority over the family), and Esau agrees. He is willing to forsake it in a moment of hunger.

Thus Jacob bought/exchanged Esau’s birthright (bilhah). This is believed to be the origin of the English phrase “for a mess of pottage”. In Genesis 27:1–40, Jacob uses deception, motivated by his mother Rebekah, to lay claim to his blind father Isaac’s blessing that was inherently due to the firstborn, Esau. Esau vows to kill his brother, but he flees to his uncle Laban. Eventually he asks to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel. After seven years he finds he has been given Leah instead and has to work seven more years to formally have Rachel, though they were also married during that time. Jacob and Esau (who married two Canaanite wives) are eventually reunited in Genesis 32.

Bilhah(Heb. בִּלְהָה), servant girl presented to Rachel by her father (Gen. 29:29). Bilhah was given by Rachel to her husband Jacob as a concubine. Bilhah bore him Dan and Naphtali (30:1–8). Reuben cohabited with her while his father was still alive, apparently by way of asserting his right of primogeniture (35:22). This offense is given as the reason for the loss of birthright by Reuben (Gen. 49:3–4; I Chron. 5:1). The meaning of the name is uncertain. It may be derived from the Arabic root balaha which means “to be confused” or “lacking in understanding”.

The close relationship between the Hebrews and the people of the desert and steppes is recognized in the story of Ishmael, the nomadic first son of Abraham; but it is through Isaac, the second son about whom so very little is recorded, that the Hebrews trace their own family line. Both Isaac and his son Jacob maintain a separateness from the people among whom they dwell, taking wives from among their own kin in Haran (Gen. 24; 28). The story of Jacob, who becomes Israel, and his twin brother Esau, who becomes Edom, is colored with rivalry, trickery and bitter misunderstanding but also contains echoes of Hurrian custom. In Hurrian law, birthrights could be purchased, and some of the terminology associated with Isaac’s blessing of his sons reflects Hurrian patterns. (an Asiatic people who invaded the Semites). Their territory included the city of Haran, where Abraham had his roots.

Sometimes we tend to oversimplify the concept of a covenant people and the heritage of certain groups of people. For example, we tend to think of the Arabs as descendants of Ishmael or Esau, the Jews as descendants of Judah, the American Indians and South Pacific Islanders as descendants of Laman, and so forth. In broad terms all of these statements are true, of course, but through centuries of intermarriage and conversion, the “pure blood lines” (an impossible term in reality) of the various ancestors have been vastly intermingled.

Surely down through nearly four thousand years the descendants of Isaac have intermarried with the descendants of Ishmael and the other sons of Abraham. We know that after the ten tribes were taken into captivity the term Jew was used in a nationalistic sense (to mean a member of the kingdom of Judah-Yehuda – Hebrew יְהוּדָה– and not just in a tribal sense (to mean a descendant of Judah, son of Jacob). Thus, Lehi, who was of Manasseh (see Alma 10:3), and Ishmael, who was of Ephraim were Jews, that is, were living in Judah. Judah=gratitude-“Now I will praise God”. (Old Testament Student Manual, 1980)

Marriage – Hebrew=bashert-beloved) in Jewish custom has always been regarded as meant to last forever. It may be considered that the ring is used as a symbol of “eternity”… words such as “until death do you part” are not part of Jewish wedding ceremonies. The ring is examined by a Rabbi and is considered “kosher” only if it is unblemished and with no pits. A “huppah” or canopy is used, probably to symbolize the Temple. A glass is shattered symbolizing the destruction of the Temple. Both the bride and groom are addressed by their Hebrew names. The “tallith” (prayer shawl) is used – may be draped over the couple – perhaps the remaining garment used in the ancient temples.

A Levirate marriage requires that a man marry the childless widow of his brother to produce a child who will carry the decease brother’s name so the name will not be forgotten. (See Deut 25:5). If the brother will not marry the widow, she disdains him and is free to marry another.

What about divorce in O.T. times? There were many tractates and opinions of this, especially in Rabbinic times (after the destruction of the Second Temple, called the Diaspora). The Bible presents divorce as a unilateral action, undertaken by the husband. The woman may neither initiate the process herself, nor protest it. It tells us that the husband who wishes to divorce his wife issues her a Get, the writ of divorce. The women has no role or say in this process. A” Get” is a formal writ of divorce. This law was liberalized in Rabbinic times, but still followed by Orthodox Jews. (From Jewish Virtual Library)

How wonderful it is to have the Doctrine and Covenants – a miracle of God’s grace to His children. We have D&C Section 132 that sets forth the eternal nature of the marriage relationship and the family. Celestial marriage and a continuation of the family unit enable husbands and wives to become gods (132:15-20).

The portions of the covenant that pertain to personal salvation and eternal increase are renewed with each individual who receives the ordinance of celestial marriage. Those of non-Israelite lineage… gentiles, are adopted into the house if Israel and become heirs of the covenant and the seed of Abraham through the ordinances of the gospel (Gal 3:26-29). (LDS Bible Dictionary)

To the three good gifts which the people Israel have left as an inheritance to the entire world: monotheism, refined morality, and the prophets of truth and righteousness, a belief In the Messiah. No other nation knew a belief like this. From Krausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s time = fourth dispensation- approx. 1917 b.c., 427 years after the third dispensation begins and includes about 6 generations. In the Book of Mormon, this is comparable in time to the Jaredite dispensation which includes the Tower of Babel confusion of tongues and scattering of languages and people.

The term “dispensation” is translated in the New Testament from the Greek oikonomia, denoting an idea of stewardship and of ordering affairs of a household.

“Dispensations” are also time periods in which the Lord placed on the earth the necessary knowledge, priesthood, and keys of authority to implement his Plan of Salvation for his children. This plan, along with priesthood, was first given to Adam (Moses 5:4-12;6:62-68; D&C 84:16-18; TPJS, pp. 157, 167), but as a consequence of later apostasy and fragmentation among his descendants, it did not remain constantly upon the earth. Hence, from time to time the Lord called new prophets and again revealed the plan and bestowed the necessary priesthood authority, creating a new dispensation.

Each new dispensation, or period of restored truth, presents men and women with a divine stewardship in performing the Lord’s work on earth. The recipients become custodians and coworkers with God in bringing to pass his purposes. They work according to his orderly and revealed design. His plan takes into account human weaknesses and provides for times of renewal following apostasy, just as it provides for a redemption from individual failings through repentance and obedience (D&C 121:31-32). The concepts of stewardship and orderliness are important themes in LDS theology.

Note 2: Leah was Jacob’s wife. Zilpah and Bilhah were Leah’s and Rachel’s servants, respectively. They were actually younger daughters of Laban. According to Rashi, an 11th-century Talmudic commentator, Zilpah was younger than Bilhah, and Laban’s decision to give her to Leah was part of the deception he used to trick Jacob into marrying Leah, who was older than Rachel. The morning after the wedding, Laban explained to Jacob, “This is not done in our place, to give the younger before the older” (Genesis 29:26). But at night, to mask the deception, Laban gave the veiled bride the younger of the handmaids, so Jacob would think that he was rally marrying Rachel,the younger of the sisters(plenty of intrigue in these desert scenarios – we are their descendants!)

Zilpah also figures in the competition between Jacob’s wives to bear him sons. Leah stops conceiving after the birth of her fourth son, at which point] Rachel, who had not yet borne children, offers her handmaid, Bilhah, in marriage to Jacob so that she can have children through her. When Bilhah conceives two sons, Leah takes up the same idea and presents Zilpah as a wife to Jacob. Leah names the two sons of Zilpah and is directly involved in their upbringing. In Jewish tradition, Zilpah is believed to be buried in the Tomb of the Matriarchs in Tiberias.

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